Los Angeles Lakers vs. San Antonio Spurs
November, 2009

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From the shadows of mystery beneath Lakers’ own goal, #24 Bryant (90 kilos), throws the basket-ball at #2, Fisher (95 kilos), who seizes it successfully. But this exchange does not constitute a score. To triumph here, at the highest level of the sport, requires more than mere throwing and catching. One must make goals—goals by the hundreds!

Fisher proceeds to bounce the ball once, twice, thrice, then many more times as he progresses to where the other players have assembled in the room’s distant sector. The players’ specialized jogging shoes squeak like so many rubber mice on a floor fashioned from lacquered wood over which have been painted a veritable Pollack of abstract stripes. At the room’s nucleus, one finds the insignia for Lakers, a yellow sun around which the players orbit in the heliocentric universe of today’s match.

Fisher brazenly traverses this sun—though he is not scalded, only inflamed with passion for the sport of basket-ball, which he so clearly loves and would even die for probably. A single opposing Spurs, the Frenchman #9 Parker (a paltry 84 kilos), attempts to intercept and impede Fisher, who in turn makes him scuttle in reverse until Parker looks an absolute fool. Yet the supporters of Lakers display admirable gamesmanship; not a single man bursts into laughter or hurls comments of ridicule such as, “Fisher has bested you!” or “Fisher has made you run backward, idiot!”

His body glistening with sweat from the sheer force of will required to control the disdain and pity he feels for Parker, Fisher arrives at some arcing boundary and stops and holds the ball. His mind races. What will he do? Hundreds of bystanders lick their lips in anticipation. Here it is: he concedes to his Lakers colleague #7 Odom (104 kilos), who is lithe and wears the beleaguered expression of one who has witnessed many horrors, sporting and otherwise.

Perhaps this explains why Odom refuses to bounce the basket-ball, even once. Instead he caroms it off the floor to the Spaniard, #16 Gasol (115 kilos), who is facing the wrong way! For a moment we in attendance think to warn him. Yet perhaps it is more tantalizing to see if this Spanish dastard will realize the error in his ways? Yes, the knock of anticipation is precisely what sport is about!

But Gasol is as clever a Spaniard as has ever lived, for he has duped us all: he proceeds to move in reverse, perhaps as a jibe against Parker’s inept francophone flailings at Fisher only seconds prior. Backward he jiggles. His colleagues are stunned; no one moves. Even the umpires can only watch, goggle-eyed, at this unprecedented display of hubris and athletic wizardry.

The Spurs behind him, a great sad giant, #21 Duncan (also 115 kilos—a perfect match!), is forced into sympathetic movement. Clearly he is at Gasol’s mercy. Perhaps sensing his colleague’s distress, another Spurs, #15 Bonner (107 kilos, allegedly), arrives on the scene offering assistance, flapping his arms in a sort of delirium like a flightless or wounded bird. It works. Whatever cheeky game Gasol has been playing is up. Forlornly, he returns the ball—not to Odom, but Fisher, who has replaced Odom in a divine act of conjuring! When did this happen? Through Gasol’s powers of distraction, we were unaware of the goings-on of Lakers, switching places hither and thither, a soundless dance of men like the sublime interplay of the planets and stars.

Some thoughts thus far: basketball recalls a goose chase, yet with little of that pursuit’s inherent wildness. And the goal, denuded of a goalkeeper, is almost sexual, the way it gapes like an orifice waiting to be filled. And yet, also, the drizzle of mesh recalls a fishing net. Who will be the fisherman to land a mighty two-points salmon? Fisher, one might expect—but no, he appears reluctant. The Iberian, Gasol? Or perhaps the stoic #17 Bynum (a whopping 130 kilos!), heretofore excluded from the proceedings, who mopes inconsolably away from the goal? Surely it will not be Odom.

But of course the hero will be Bryant, who demands a turn from the ever-deferent Fisher.

And yet! With a shriek, play stops. One of the umpires is pointing at the gingery Bonner, who stands beneath his own goal eyeing but not following Bynum, who in turn is approaching Bryant with his hands inexplicably cupping his penis. (What this might have portended is best left to the imagination.) “You,” the umpire seems to be telling Bonner, “are at odds with justice.” He wags his arm thrice in the air—and then, in an act of drama, stabs one hand atop the other in cruciform. Bonner has been martyred!

In shame, all the players begin to clear away—excepting Bryant, who approaches the goal alone. He stops maybe three meters away, and waits, alone with one of the umpires, who has corralled the ball and stands under the goal, exactly where Bonner had been metaphorically crucified. Perhaps Bonner is being held responsible for Bynum’s sudden act of perversity? (Perhaps he drove him to it?!)

What is happening? No one knows. There is something vaguely paternal about the scene, and also lonely. At last the umpire bequeaths the ball to Bryant. Everything is silent. No shoes are squeaking. Bryant is still; the umpire is too. One is reminded of a father and son, some divine right of passage: “Here, take this ball,” the umpire seems to be saying, “and hold it, totemically, while I tell you the story of how I first seduced your mother.”

But it seems Bryant might go for goal! Mysteriously no one from Spurs makes any move to stop him. Each “man in black” seems to sense the need for intimacy in this moment. What gentlemen, one thinks! What a noble sport, this basket-ball! Unlike gladiators, or when certain barbarians joyously kicked the severed heads of enemies through the streets.

And here is the moment: with all the skill he can muster, thrice Bryant bounces the ball, places it to his forehead—the umpire looks on, as we all look on, tantalized—and maneuvers it airborne using, remarkably, what seems a single hand! Toward the goal the ball sails, tracing a slight parabola… Will this be the moment everyone in attendance has been waiting for? Will we rocket to our feet in ecstasy or fall to our knees in agony?

Wonderful! The ball enters the goal and nestles into the netting and falls through. Triumph! Glory! Bryant has done it! And yet, from the hundreds of onlookers, why only a bemused spattering of applause? And why is Bryant so blithe about the whole business, merely wheeling away—nary a flicker of pleasure has ventured cross his face. Even his teammates seem nonplussed. Perhaps they have seen too much? Or perhaps they are saving their energy for the next turn at goal—for here is the mighty Fisher, marshaling the ball once again away from the meddlesome Parker.

There is more basket-ball to be played, it seems. And praise God for that, for baffling though it may be, this truly is the world’s most beautiful game.