Creative Nonfiction

Button Mashing With The Fadeaway

18 July 2016

So here I am staggering over pinecones and ostrich shit at five in the morning convinced I see a cat in the bushes. My cat. The cat I had come home to look after. But it’s just another pile of branches. I turn and there’s a thick yellow fog surrounding me. Across the paddocks are the silhouettes of sheep, goats and chickens. I’ve left a gate open somewhere and it’s anarchy. I can hear glass breaking. My cousin is in a prickle bush trying to pry open a bathroom window. We’ve managed to lock ourselves out. He’s using wire, a plank of wood and some pliers. It starts to rain again. I think I see movement but it’s just leaves. Writhing in the wind or in my pupils. I feel like Lucy Westenra, hallucinating in Transylvania.

Where are you, master?

With the NBA finals season coming to a close, my cousin and I decided to rain down a few last buckets to celebrate. Four litres of Stanley’s Shiraz Cabernet, a packet of Winfield Jets and a copy of NBA 2k16, we headed to Ballarat for the weekend to fire up the consoles and make sure the cat didn’t go AWOL. We played what was appropriate – a seven-game series between the Warriors and the Cavaliers.

Five games, four hours and two litres later, Doris Burke recounts another halftime report. There’s a lot of work to be done. A better effort in the paint. More ball movement around the perimeter. A transformation needed by both players.

So we abided.

We punctured our lungs with tobacco. Our bottom lips turned purple. Teeth grey. Our hair became thinner, greasier. Lines of consternation built up across our foreheads. Our hearts palpitated and our dialogue became slurred, aggressive and confused. References to our dicks took the place of earlier, more cultivated discourse: Cormac McCarthy. The election. The environment.   

We became the depraved interlocutors to our virtual coaches. Shouting orders to our team, demanding answers and when appropriate, bringing up the kind of personal attacks that have threatened to dismantle player’s lives. Assaults; lawsuits; prostitutes; coke; comas.

They weren’t listening. They were jogging into the crowd or head-butting the ball. Shanking threes or stepping out of court. Even the umpire sometimes stood there inexplicably holding the ball for minutes at a time. Occasionally, the players’ mouths would drop open and their heads would slowly move from side to side. Searching for something. Someone. They seemed on the edge of self-realisation – attempting to reject their base programming to follow our orders.

But they never quite could. And all throughout our adolescence, they never did.

Growing up in a country town, the NBA provided the kind of thrills empty malls and catholic school never could. Michael Jordan, AND1 mixtapes, NBA Live and Tracy McGrady’s shoes defined our childhood. We listened to rap music and dropped our pants. Shopped at Kickz101 and pulled our socks up to our knees. I grew out my afro. We modelled our games and our lives on players like Allen ‘The Answer’ Iverson. We self-applied nicknames like ‘Isotonic’ and ‘the Wizard’ and we appropriated others like ‘Hot Sauce’.

Whoever dominated the courts on a Saturday afternoon demanded more respect at school on Monday morning. This was more than a love for a sport, it was a love for a culture and lifestyle built on style and showmanship. Go and take a look at some NBA post-game press conferences. It makes football players look like they’re jostling for position in a Centrelink queue.

The video game that first gave us access to all this was NBA Hangtime. That two-dimensional beast of the 1990s was pure adrenaline. Players somersaulted through the air to the rim. The commentators sledged you. You could spin from opponents to the sound of car engines or score so many points the ball would light up in flames. Holding that three-pronged N64 controller, you had the opportunity to win the game for your heroes.

But, perhaps more importantly, you also had the opportunity to do other things. You could repeatedly push them to the ground. Throw the ball from half court or hold it ‘til the siren. You could simply stand there swiping at the air for a whole quarter.

The game allowed you to hurt and degrade the players you knew you could never become.

The closest we were ever going to get to the NBA finals was sitting in front of a screen with Allen Iverson jerseys on at seven in the morning, drawing the blinds on an impending hangover and raining down threes while we waited for a cat that honestly couldn’t be blamed for never returning home.

But at least King James finally did.

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