By Eddie's count, Gerard had five assists the first six times he touched the ball. He hadn't taken a shot yet or come close to driving the ball to the basket. He just stayed on the outside and ran the fast break and seemed to find the right guy on Antibes every single time with his passes. Suddenly the charity game in Monte Carlo was about this skinny kid, whoever he was.
Eddie couldn't even tell whether he was white or black.
It was interesting, though, watching the way the kid somehow managed to keep everybody on his team involved--interesting to Eddie, anyway. He had played the point his whole life, all the way back to Christ the King High, and knew how hard that was, passing out the sugar, making sure everybody was happy, trying to let the hot guy stay hot and not pissing off everybody else. It wasn't just who you passed it to, it was where you made the pass, and when. Mostly passing was about creating angles. Eddie knew, because Eddie had always known angles, Eddie'd always figured he saw things nobody on the court could see. It was that way even now. It didn't matter whether it was college or the pros, how good the game was, Eddie always imagined he was still playing the point, that he still had the ball. A pilot friend of his said it didn't matter whether he was a passenger or not, he always felt as if he were at the controls. That's the way Eddie felt watching basketball, as if he were still out there creating the angles.
It was the way he felt now, watching this kid.
Who was he?
The coach, Barone, knew enough to keep him in there the last few minutes. The kid kept making plays. There was another half-court job, behind his back, not just hitting Earthwind right in stride but zipping the ball. The only guy Eddie'd ever seen who could throw that pass that way was Ernie DiGregorio, back at Providence College when Eddie was growing up.
There was a no-look to Black Messiah Lewis, back in the game, Eddie nearly missing the pass because Gerard sold him so well that he was going left with the ball instead of right.
The crowd went nuts again and the kid just got back on defense, ducking his head, just giving a little low-five to Black Messiah as he ran by.
Eddie noticed Gerard didn't even have any tats on skin that was the color of a light coffee.
The big finish came with about fifteen seconds left, everybody in Stade Louis II on their feet by now. Even the Prince, who'd just been sitting there all night like he was asleep. Antibes was ahead by a lot. Barone had taken out Earthwind with about two minutes left, but now he put him back in, as a way of getting a curtain call now that the kid had stolen all his thunder. It was like this night at the Jersey shore when Eddie was a sophomore in college, driving down there with some buddies from Queens, pounding beer at this little jazz club, and all of a sudden there's Springsteen up on the little stage, jamming with Clarence Clemons.
The Villeuranne coach had emptied his bench, but even the scrubs had lost interest by then, so only two of them were at the Antibes end of the court when D. Gerard came upcourt with the ball. Earthwind was with him--Eddie thought his name should have been Suck Wind by then--somehow managing to bust it down the right, sure that Gerard would give him one more piece of cake.
Gerard came up the middle at full speed, looking up as he did to get one little check of the clock. When he got to the key, he saw the two Villeuranne guys on defense coming to him, like, the hell with it, they weren't going to get embarrassed one more time at the buzzer.
Gerard stopped then, the ball going behind his back. From where Eddie was sitting, high up in the corner, the play coming toward him, the ball actually seemed to disappear for a second, except that Gerard had both hands showing, and neither one had the ball in it.
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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