The Tired Man and The Hoop
(With slight apologies to Ernest Hemingway)
The man drove to the baseline, allowing sweat to drip into his eyes. "Nice try," he said. "You can try to defend against me, but I will keep driving until I can take a clear shot." He began to bounce the ball with his other hand and jerked his head to the left. The defender took his bait. He dribbled the ball past the defender. The ball dropped through the net.
"You make it, you take it," the defender said.
"I do," the man said.
This time won't be as easy, he thought, because that trick won't work again. I need a new trick, he thought. But what kind of trick? A kind he has never seen before. But he has been playing this game for a long time. I will have to be resourceful.
The man put the ball between his legs, his tired legs wrapped in flimsy sweat pants. He wiped the sweat off his hands onto the pants, and then retrieved the ball. I will have a better grip on the ball now, he thought. Such a grip may serve me well.
He stared into the eyes of the defender and knew how difficult his task was. He could not pass the ball to teammates because he had none. Being alone was what made one-on-one the challenge it was. The defender was also sweating, not only because he was tired, but because he was losing by two baskets.
The man started dribbling; he worked his feet back and forth in false drives to the basket and switched the ball between his hands. He moved to the far right of the court, the cracked high school court he had always used for these challenges. It had been a long time since he had lost. He did not like to lose.
"You're bad luck for me," he said to the right side of the court. "I can't ever make a good shot from this side."
The left side would be better, he thought. I can get past my opponent there.
He kept his dribble and moved to the left. It was a better side, less cracked than the right. Just then a wave of fatigue washed into every crack of his body. It had been a long game, and there was only so much his body could take.
"I will defeat you," he told his opponent.
If I don't collapse first, he thought.
He turned to look at the basket and saw it hanging in the sky behind his opponent, beckoning like a comfortably rickety front porch in someone's hometown.
"I am coming for you," he told the basket. He shook his fist at it.
He became angry when he realized that shaking his fist had caused him to stop dribbling the ball.
In a moment, the opponent was close. He jostled the man repeatedly, knowing that the man's only recourse was to shoot the ball. Such a shot would certainly miss. The opponent had the man covered too closely.
You have me in a bad situation, the man thought. But your situation is even worse than mine. You are four points behind me. How did I allow myself to be trapped in this corner, without my dribble? I must be getting very tired. Or I was looking at the basket and was distracted by my thoughts. Now I will perform my trick and then I will score the basket. He will be defeated.
"Look up in the sky," he said nonchalantly. "It's the space shuttle."
The opponent looked up, not because he was stupid, but because their basketball court was not too far from where the space shuttle lands.
Astronomy was the opponent's pastime, other than one-on-one basketball. And the man knew it.
The man turned as his opponent was looking, and hurled the ball through the air. The ball a high arc and bounced off the backboard. They watched the ball drop through the soft net and onto the hard pavement below.
"That was a dirty trick," the opponent said.
"I know," the man said.
He picked up the ball, and knew that he was now leading by six points. I will win, he thought. He will not score eight points in a row.
"You make it, you take it," the opponent said.
"Yes," the man said.
Jason Snell (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the editor of InterText and TeeVee. He's the Features editor at Macworld magazine.
InterText stories written by Jason Snell: "Mr. Wilt" (v1n1), "Haircuts $20" (v1n2), "Peoplesurfing" (v1n3), "Gravity" (v2n1), "The Tired Man and The Hoop" (v2n6), "The Watcher" (v4n3).
InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 2, Number 6 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1992 Jason Snell.