Coming Off the Bench

The (un)true story of how one Atlanta Hawks player came to realize his basketball destiny.

Preface

‘Come on, man, just do it.  You won’t get in trouble, I’ll take the blame for it, I swear.  Just hook me up this one time.’

The man had a gentle voice, trustworthy.  He sounded like a grandpa compared to the rest of the guys that Jacob had been dealing with.  He trusted this man with the nice voice, but he couldn’t shake the worry that what he was being asked to do was against the rules.  Did he really want to get fired after just 48 hours?  What would he tell his mom, or his older brothers?  He’d never be able to live that down.

Jacob looked back over his right shoulder, saw the man’s salt-and-pepper goatee and freshly shaved bald head (probably hiding more gray hair), and thought ‘screw it.’  No risk it no biscuit, right?  Or at least, he heard that somewhere, he thinks.

The file finishes uploading, Jacob hands the iPad to the man who turns and hustles out of the room without saying thank you and before Jacob can remind him of this, he’s gone.  Jacob turns back around in his chair, once again facing his computer screen and starts to get back to editing training camp videos.

More like half-man, half-rude jerk, Jacob thinks, as an impressed-with-himself smirk crosses his face.

Chapter 1

Jabari is his sitting up on his hotel bed, bathrobe on, and he surveys the setup in front of him:  TV turned to Sunday Night Football, one of the bathroom towels spread out like a tablecloth over the bed, a dozen snow crab legs, a large order fries from McDonald’s with a container of Big Mac sauce on the side, and three packs of strawberry Jell-o neatly arrayed in front of him, all within an arm’s reach.  On the nightstand next to him, also within an arm’s reach, is a liter of bottled water and two 16 ounce cans of Four Loko.  For the next 3 hours, he won’t have to move more than an arm to get anything that he could possibly want.

Life, for the moment, is absolutely perfect.  And then there’s a knock at the door.

Jabari’s heart skips a beat, but doesn’t move.  The volume is turned low enough, he thinks, that he can just pretend not to be there.  He stays perfectly still, holding his breath.  There’s another knock.

‘Jabari man I know your Sunday night routine. I know you’re in there open the door.’

Jabari stays perfectly still, exhaling slowly, but he still doesn’t move.  This time, no knock, just the voice.

‘I got something for you, you’re gonna love this.  Just open the door man, trust me.’

He holds tight for what felt like 3 minutes but was probably more like 3 seconds, carefully swings his legs around his food so as not to disturb a thing, tightens his robe, and heads to the hotel room door.  It’s his first year on the team, but Jabari doesn’t need to look through the peephole – he recognizes the voice.  Hell, everyone recognizes his voice, he’s been in the league for over 20 years.

‘Yo Vince, whatup my guy.  This better be good.’  They do the handshake/hug thing and Vince and Jabari walk into the room.

Vince takes a look at the setup in the hotel room and performs the physical manifestation of SMH.

‘I had heard stories about this, man.  But to see it in person?  Four Loko? Jell-o?  God damn millennials, man, I’ll never understand ya’ll. I’m not here for that though, sit down.’

They both look around and realize, aside from the king size bed with all the food and Jell-o on it, there’s only the one chair.  Jabari sits, Vince stands and pulls out an iPad.

‘There’s some video on here, you need to watch it. Now now now don’t give me that.  This isn’t game tape, really.  This is some inspirational shit here.  Watch your Sunday Night Game, eat your crab legs and Jell-o and drink your Four Locos. And…Is that Big Mac sauce?’ At this, Vince’s tone went from routine, matter-of-fact, here’s-what-you-need-to-do-son-ness, to shock and amazement, with a tinge of FOMO mixed in. ‘You can order Big Mac sauce on the side?!?’

Jabari’s only response was a smirk, impressed with himself; that’s one thing the old timer doesn’t know about.

Vince continued, back in his here’s-what-you-need-to-do-son voice,  ‘Do all that shit, alright.  But when you’re done, just watch this.  Trust me, I been in this league a long time, and this shit right here….this shit will make your career.’

Jabari takes the iPad – not even that reluctantly, considering how rudely he was interrupted – and agrees to watch the iPad later.  He still gets to do his Sunday Night routine, there’s just a little extra added on.  That won’t be too bad, he thinks.  Plus, he knows the legend that is Vince, and after what happened last year in Chicago and Washington, he’ll take anything that will help his career.  Watch some video on an iPad?  Sure, why not.

Chapter 2

The bed is cleared off, but Jabari is in a bit of a predicament.  The iPad Vince gave him had a dead battery, and the only charger that is in the room has a cord shorter than Trae Young’s arms; he can’t sit up on the bed and watch the iPad like a normal person.  So Jabari, still in the bathrobe, is laying on his right side, holding the iPad, which is plugged in charging, lengthwise.  After 7 minutes of trying different positions, this was the winner, the least worst.

The video starts playing, and at first he thinks he’s watching the wrong video.  Why would Vince have me watch the 2012 Olympics?  He decides to text Vince.

‘Yo, V.  Y U got me wtchin olympics????’

‘Just keep watching, youngin’.  Have faith.’  Vince’s grammar is so good he uses proper punctuation, even in his texts.

Jabari sighs, tosses the iPhone next to the bed, and turns his focus back on the iPad.  It’s the USA vs. France and, according to the announcers, is the first game of the Olympics for both teams.  Jabari is watching, although admittedly not very attentively, when all of a sudden something catches his eye.

Sometime in the first quarter, Jabari notices something weird about one of the players on the screen.  He squints.  That’s me, he says to himself, that’s definitely me!  How the hell…

Jabari keeps watching and finally realizes that Vince, or, more likely, the new video guy that Vince paid, had photoshopped (Is it photoshop if its on a video? Jabari’s not sure.) Jabari’s head onto Carmelo Anthony’s body.  I look good in that Team USA jersey, Jabari thought.  I wonder if Vince is telling me to try out for the Olympic team?

The video keeps playing, one game after another, and Jabari is mesmerized.  The quality of the photoshopping is exquisite.  Hopefully Vince tipped him.  But its not just the quality of the video that’s caught Jabari’s eye.  Its the play of him/Carmelo. 16 against Tunisia, 37 against Nigeria and 20 against Lithuania.  All off the bench, all on easy, wide open shots.

Jabari stays up until 4am watching and re-watching the games.  This is it, Jabari thinks to himself.  I’ve got it.

Epilogue

Jabari Parker came off the bench for all 5 games of the 2019-20 NBA season so far.  As of this writing, he is currently averaging a career low in minutes played, but career highs in: Field Goal Percentage, Three Point Percentage, Effective Field Goal Percentage, True Shooting Percentage, 3 Point Attempt Rate, Win Share per 48, and Box Plus/Minus.  His Usage Rate has not dropped from past years and is above his career average. (All stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com). In his most recent game, Jabari had 23 points, 8 rebounds and 2 assists on 8-13 shooting from the field.

Time will tell if these changes stick.  But if they do, Jabari, Vince, Jacob and the rest of the Atlanta Hawks universe will be able to point to that fateful Sunday night as the turnaround point.  When Jabari turned into Olympic Melo.

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