It took only the first few minutes of the game for Eddie to see that the crazy sonofabitch still had some ball in him, underneath all the tat graffiti and rolls of jiggle and the tits he seemed to have grown while he'd been over here.
Eddie knew that most of the playground shuck and jive was for his benefit. When Eddie had still thought he could come all the way back from the reconstructive surgery on his knee and Earthwind Morton had been an All-Star with the Knicks, they'd go down to the playground on West Fourth Street in the summer, just wait on the side until it was their turn to get into a game. Once they did, they'd play all night. Earthwind wasn't doing anything harder than grass; it'd be a couple more years before he'd upgrade into the heavier stuff. So he was still the fastest big guy anybody'd ever seen in those days, every bit as big and strong as Magic at six-nine, but faster, even better with the ball, especially on the run, built like a football tight end, not an ounce of fat on him in those days. Shit, he really could run like a good wind in those days. Sometimes in the summer, they'd get bored with West Fourth, or the jive-ass summer league games uptown, and go over to Penn Station, jump on the Metroliner, go down to the Baker League in Philadelphia, and kick some ass down there, on a whim, just for the fun of it.
Now just about everybody was faster, even the white guys in Stade Louis II, and it didn't matter, because Earthwind was better than all of them, even sweating gravy, making his shots from the outside, doing it up like a Globetrotter for the royals when he'd play with his back to the basket, even giving a high five to Princess Stephanie--the lady next to Eddie pointed her out--as he went past her one time.
Another time in the first half, after he made a three from so far outside Eddie thought it was a thirty-footer, Earthwind ran by the small press table, grabbed the p.a. guy's microphone, and said, "Yo, all you madames et monsieurs: Where's the damn love here?"
A few minutes into the second half, Olympique Antibes was ahead twenty points and Eddie was starting to think about heading back to Le Freaky Bar, or this other place he'd heard about, called DC, when the Antibes coach put in what looked like one of the local kids, a guy about five-ten or five-eleven so skinny Eddie thought he might be a high school kid, wearing an old green Celtics cap pulled down tight over his eyes, his jersey looking to be about three sizes too big. Eddie looked at the single-sheet program the wiz-or-wizzout girl had handed him when she sold him his Perrier, looking to see who No. 14 was, the one who thought he was so cool he didn't have to take off his fucking hat.
D. Gerard, it said. Eddie saw that they let him go in for Black Messiah Lewis, an old Syracuse teammate of Earthwind's, at the point. Earthwind stayed in the game but went to center now, where he wouldn't have to run too much more the rest of the night, which Eddie thought was good, he didn't want to have to call Michael De la Cruz when the game was over and tell him the good news was that Earthwind could still play and the bad news was that he'd had a fucking coronary.
D. Gerard came up the court the first time, before the Villeuranne defense was set, and threw a behind-the-back pass to Earthwind from half-court. It caught the Villeuranne players so flat-footed that even Earthwind, dragging ass the way he was by now, was two steps behind everybody. He had time to mug for the crowd with this wild-eyed, amazed look before he dunked the ball.
It was the same as it had always been with him: Hey, look at me.
Except the play wasn't about him.
It was about the pass.
While Earth was still playing to the crowd, D. Gerard was already back on defense himself, ignoring the way his pass had brought the house down, the Monte Carlo people, who'd been getting bored themselves, back into the game now.
Reprinted from Full Court Press by Mike Lupica by permission of G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2001, Mike Lupica. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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