Friday, February 8, 2013

The End of Things

The End of Things

By Jon Bishop

Jason Jackson laces up his shoes.

In a few minutes he will begin his tenure with a new team—one last shot at a title, he says with confidence to the media.

He looks at the mirror in his locker. He is tired, worn. His fifteen years in the NBA are obvious in the lines on his face, the bags under his eyes. He has also gained weight. Earlier in the day he found the profile the newspaper did about him. He smiled at his youth—fresh out of college, lean, eager.  The headline read:  “Hope.” He would resurrect the team from obscurity, they wrote. And he did that.

But then, as teams are wont to do, everything started to decline:  players aged, guys were traded. The record fell apart and ticket sales plummeted. Something had to be done. So, the general manager one day called Jason into his office.

He inhales, remembering.

“Sit down, Jason,” he said with a smile. His office was large and clean—a plant here, some pictures there. Papers and clutter covered the desk at which he sat.

“So, this is—“

“Yes, this is it.”

“Where am I going?”

“We’ve sent you to Denver. We’re getting two first round draft picks in return.”

Silence. Jason looked around the office. The general manager stared at his desk.

“Well, at least they’re good.”

“Yeah, they’re good. You’ll like it there.”

Jason cleared his throat. He tried to force down the emotion that had welled up, but it remained. The general manager noticed that his eyes rippled with tears.

“I’ve really enjoyed this team. But, you guys need to do what you need to do.”

A pause.

“I know you understand. Thank you for your service. You can be assured that we’ll retire your number. I’m serious—I don’t know if I’ll still be here, but, if anyone says otherwise, then they’re going to hear from me.”

“I appreciate that.”

They shook hands. Jason left.

He exhales. He sees a ghost in the mirror. He sees someone who has not yet been accepted by his new teammates and the fans in Denver. He sees a target of the sportswriters:  “Can Washed-Up Jackson Still Play?”

But he has to ignore all of that.

He’s here for one season, maybe two—and he has to make the best of it. They have a shot at a championship, he was told. He wants one more ring, one more shot at greatness. He wants to be remembered as an elite player. 

He bounces up and down. It’s something he started doing in high school. It gives him energy and quells his nerves.

The other guys have already left the locker room and are shooting around on the court. Thirty minutes until the game begins. Most of them are young:  twenty-three and twenty-four and twenty-five. Some are in their late twenties and early thirties. Jason is thirty-seven.

He is, for all intents and purposes, a basketball dinosaur.

He begins walking out of the locker room and he stops when he sees a picture on the wall. His friend and former teammate, John Williams, used to play for Denver. He has long since retired, but he finished his career when Jason was beginning his. He was a great mentor.

Jason inhales; his breathing grows unsteady. If he isn’t careful, he’ll cry—and then that will draw the attention of the commentators and the teammates and the coaches. So he stops for a moment and settles himself.

He has to focus now. He needs to put on that game face. It has intimidated many teams in the past. When players saw it, they knew that he was going to give a masterful performance.

He shuts everything out now. He is in the moment, eternal and forever. The crowd outside murmurs and applauds but he does not hear it. He cannot see the cameramen and the dancers and the ball boys and the referees. He does not notice the other team.

As he approaches the court he hears the public address announcer say:  “Jason Jackson has made it onto the court. Let’s give it up for him!”

The crowd applauds, but it is as if it were a dream—ephemeral and fleeting. He picks up a basketball and begins shooting.

The lights are dimmer, as if it is twilight.

Only twenty minutes until the game.

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