(8) Thomas Shepherd, Above The Rim vs. (9) Saleh, The Air Up There
“Yoooo, he’s playing ball without a ball!”
No, couldn’t be. But there he is on the other end of the court, warming up without any type of basketball. From right to left, he moves, smoothly faking dribbles around his legs. The night air is stuffy; the sky, completely black. But we all can see him.
“He looks like he’s auditioning for the Twilight Zone, b…”
The crowd lined around the court can’t figure it out either. Half of them have blank looks, their eyes staring right through him. The other half are chuckling or pointing or coiled over in laughter or all three. The man out there doesn’t seem to care. He’s in his own world. There’s a wet spot crowning the top of his white long sleeve shirt. His forehead is glistening under the light behind the backboard. The bottoms of his pants are ragged.
The attention won’t be leaving Tom Shepherd’s corner anytime soon. His competition for the day hasn’t arrived yet. He’s flying in from Africa, and the only thing anyone really knows of him is that he looks good on film and has this one killer move called the Jimmy Dolan shake-n-bake.
“I saw him play before,” someone pipes up. “He can play.” The group around you turns and faces the voice. It’s coming from a guy with a dark blue and yellow jumpsuit, a huge bundle of blonde hair that’s swaying in the breeze and a boyish look that leaves him looking about half of his probable 40 years of age.
Everyone inches closer. We all want answers. Hype can kill someone, especially if they can’t meet those expectations. We’ve all heard about this kid. The second coming of the Dream, some are saying. No one is willing to believe it. They need proof.
So the guy in the wind suit tells the story of how he first discovered the kid. It was in a movie on a projector, grainy and hardly a place you expected to find a prodigy. In the background, the man could see a skinny basketball player with octopus arms and light feet. He was dunking, blocking shots and dominating. “…He was just killing these kids, all the children in the village…”
Everyone looks around and laughs. One guy, his belly flopping out from under his shirt, giggles. He was playing against kids though, everyone says. The belief dwindles.
“There he is,” the man finally says, pointing to a spot about 30 feet away where the crowd is giving way for a tall, spider-skinny teenager. The kid isn’t carrying a ball, doesn’t have a change of clothes and seems somewhat lost. But once he finds the court, he sees his friend and a smile spreads all over his face.
“That’s him,” the man says again. “That’s Saleh…”
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