Thanks to Mikothebaby for editing this story with her usual panache even though she wemt through hell this week. Thanks also to those of you who read last week's story.
Every year at about this time, the entire country goes just a little bit basketball crazy. Okay maybe I'm understating it a tad, but it's pretty harmless isn't it? For just a little while, we concentrate on something other than which politicians are robbing us and which countries around the world want to destroy us. It's one of those rare things that can bring us all together as we all cheer on our favorite teams.
At least that's the way I always thought of it. I guess I should know a bit more about it than the average person does since I'm a basketball coach and this year I got to see it from the inside. I'm sure there are lots of you who've already heard the story I'm about to tell you. Most of you think you know something about what really happened. A very few of you actually might really know at least parts of it.
The story has been big news for a while. It even pushed the actual winners off of the front pages with everyone and his brother wondering why the hell I did what I did. I have reporters and TV people from all of the major networks camping out on my doorstep trying to interview me. Unfortunately for them, I'm not there. After the whole thing ended, I sat down in the office of the university's president with him and the athletic director to discuss how we'd handle things and then I came up here to think.
Here, of course, is Crystal Lake. It's a place I remembered from my childhood. There used to be a camp on the other side of the lake as I recall it. But years after I grew up, there was some kind of incident there. They ended up tearing the whole camp down to try to erase the memories of whatever happened there.
I don't think they were successful anymore than I'll be successful at trying to forget what just happened to me.
My name is Jim Turner. I am, at least for the moment, the head basketball coach for Pineland University. See, I knew that as soon as I told you that you'd start looking at me funny. You're wondering why I did it too aren't you? Maybe you or someone you know lost money on that game huh? Well all I can say is never bet money that you can't afford to lose. Or maybe there are no sure things. Never count your chickens before they hatch. Hopefully one of those make you feel a little better. Of course they don't work for me, but then I lost so much more than money.
Fifteen years ago I was the starting point guard for my own college team. I was pretty good and even as a sophomore was beginning to get some interest from NBA teams. But it was never to be. In my last game of my sophomore season I went up for a jumper and the guy guarding me bumped me in mid air. It didn't help. I still scored. But when I came down, I landed awkwardly and there was this little popping sound from my knee. It didn't really hurt that badly, it was just a burning sensation. Two days later I couldn't walk on the leg at all.
My knee had grown to the size of a Cantaloupe and I was scheduled for surgery. It turned out to be the last game I ever played. Even after multiple surgeries, by some of the best doctors in the state, there was simply nothing they could do. I am, of course, glad that I can walk without pain, but my knee will never allow me to run faster than a light jog. And even then I have to wear a knee brace, run on soft surfaces and be very careful changing directions. Any attempt at leaping or jumping brings me off the scale pain and days of recovery.
After a few years of bitterness, during which I had to actually study some, I went back to basketball; this time as a volunteer assistant coach. It was very different from being a player. At first, I was nothing more than a glorified water boy. I made sure all of the practice equipment and balls were stored and set up for each practice. I monitored practice time since there were rules against working the players for longer than a certain amount of time each day or each week. I also had to make sure that the players kept their grades at a certain level. That sometimes meant speaking to professors or even picking classes that were not only easy but where the instructor was aware of the big picture.
Before too long, I was also the fundamentals coach. It was my job to work with the incoming freshmen and make sure that they were ready for the college game. It was a big step up from playing in high school. The game is faster and more dynamic. Some of our most highly touted prospects just couldn't make the transition. There was also a period of time where they had to get their heads around the fact that literally thousands of people came to every game and millions watched on TV.
Some of those kids couldn't actually even dribble. Others were so used to the fact that their height advantage over most of the people they played against in high school meant that they barely had to jump. So they had never actually developed a good shot. Of course, there were also the ones who felt that since they had such a good shot, there was no need for them to develop any kind of skills as a defender. My job was to determine their weaknesses and strengths and to make them stronger where they were weak and stronger still at their specialties.
Perhaps the biggest difference in the position was that it actually gave me both a true status on the coaching staff and a paycheck. Our head coach, Jerry Atrick, seemed to be taking me under his wing. He asked for my opinion on all sorts of things and started taking me along with him on his recruiting trips. Of course, we were never able to go after the top recruits. Even in our area, our school was simply too small to interest them. The top kids all wanted to go to Michigan State or Michigan. But we did okay in our conference and dreamed of someday making it to the big dance.
I wish that I could even pretend that my life was wonderful and that I'd come to terms with things. The truth is that I hadn't. On the court and on the job I was thoroughly professional, but away from the school I was one messed up individual. It wasn't unusual for me to spend the majority of my nights in seedy bars downtown drinking away a large chunk of my small salary while I bemoaned how unfair it was for God to have taken my knee and my career away from me while giving it to a bunch of kids who neither appreciated or deserved what they had.
When I think back on it, I guess I was lucky because my life could have changed in any one of several different ways. First off, the amount of alcohol I was drinking could have destroyed my liver and killed me. Or one of the university's boosters or alumni or even a relative of a current student or player could have heard me whining and reported me. That might have ended my career. Or while I was drunk someone could have robbed and killed me. Or even one of the women I ended up going home with all too often could have had a terrible disease and just loaded me up with it. When I was drunk, every woman I spoke to was a ten.
If you're thinking that this is one of those stories where the hero picks himself up by his bootstraps and gets on with his life due to his awesome ethics, morals and determination to do the right thing, you're going to be sadly disappointed. Left to my own devices, I'd have ruined my life. My carefully crafted façade of professionalism was just beginning to crack around the edges when it happened.
I can remember it like it was yesterday. I was two years past graduating and in my third year of coaching. It was three days after my twenty-fourth birthday. We'd just defied the odds and beaten the hell out of East Virginia Tech. It was the eighth straight game we'd won at home and everyone was feeling really good. The problem we had was that we couldn't beat ranked teams and we just couldn't win on the road. I'd taken notes on everything we'd done that was successful during the game and was still sitting on the bench as the stands emptied. It was my habit to sit there and go over every play long after the pats on the back from well-wishers and fans were over.
I liked the solitude of the empty gym. The quiet just resonated with echoes of cheers and the ever present sound of the ball on the floor even though they were long past over. Most of the players and even the coaches were out somewhere celebrating our victory while I went over my list of things for each player to work on before our next game.
She never made a sound. I don't know what caused me to look up from my notebook and into the clearest prettiest bluest eyes I'd ever seen, but I did. She smiled and I waved. I guess to her that was the signal that it was okay to approach me.
I was ready for her though.
"Hi..." she began. She smiled again and hesitated as if she was unsure of what to say next. She was so pretty that I decided to make things easier on her.
"I'm sorry," I said. "But most ... well probably all of the guys are gone. But if you write down your name, your phone number and the name or number of the guy you're interested in. I'll pass it on to him the next time I see him. If you have an envelope on you, you could just put his number or name on the outside and that way even I won't be able to read it."
Her smile changed then. In a face that pretty it was remarkable that her entire expression could change so seamlessly even though for all intents and purposes she was still smiling. The corners of her beautiful lips softened very subtly. I don't think you could have measured the difference with a micrometer. Her eyes lost just a tiny bit of their incandescence. Again, the degree of difference was so small that most people wouldn't have noticed it but for me it was vast.
"So is that how your life is?" she asked. "You put people into little boxes like the ones on that sheet you're looking at? Every person you meet is instantly measured, assessed and put into a position in a little box like some basketball play?"
Now I was the one confused. I looked at her again. She was still just as pretty as she was only seconds ago, but now I'd begun to question her sanity.
I covered my notebook unconsciously. I guess I'd hoped that it would seem like a natural movement not as if I were accusing her of something.
She stepped even closer to me. "So you think I'm a whore, huh?" she asked. "Or worse yet, I've come to steal your precious play book and notes?"
She sat down on the bench a little bit away from me. "How can you sit on this thing?" she asked. "My ass already hurts."
I looked at her and smiled. She smiled back and then frowned. "Don't try to change the subject," she said. "I'm still trying to get my point across."
"Uhm you might be able to get it across easier, if I knew what your point was," I said.
"Oh yeah," she said. "You have your mind all made up that I'm just some whore who came down here to meet one of your players. You think I'm going to just become another notch on some guy's belt because he, while possibly a God damned moron, can jump up in the air and drop a ball through a hoop."
I tried to fight it, but my facial muscles were out of my control. I never said a word. I never uttered a single syllable or made a sound, but suddenly she was pissed.
"If that's what you think then fuck you," she yelled. Her voice was amplified at least several times in the silent gym. Her last two syllables echoed into infinity, reverberating off of the walls with each iteration becoming slightly less audible. "FUCK YOU ... UCK you ... uck you ... k you ... you ... u."
Her beautiful smiling confident face morphed into a mask of rage and pain. I saw tears forming in the corners of her eyes.
She turned and tried to leave but I grabbed her arm. "Look, I'm not judging you," I said. "I know how it is. You're young and you should be able to experience things. You never know what can happen. You're certainly pretty enough. Maybe he'll see you and feel the same way."
Her face got even redder and she looked like she was about to split open. Why is it that the prettiest girls get the ugliest when they're upset?
"No, you don't know shit about how it is," she snapped.
"Of course I do," I hissed. "I used to be one of them." Now it was my turn to be angry. "Of course, it was a while ago but there used to be girls staying after the games to try to meet me too."
"But you never took any of them up on it," she hissed right back. Our faces were so close together that we could have kissed.
"How do you know what I..." I began.
"James Turner. Number fifty six," she said. "Your jumper was your best shot. You preferred the right side of the court. You had trouble shooting on the left side, which was your weakness. You could barely make a layup on the left side of the basket. Your free throw percentage your last season was almost 90 percent. Most teams hated to foul you because you were money in the bank from the line. Some of the teams were starting to figure you out though. They'd double team you when you went to the right side of the court or try to squeeze you over to the left."
My mouth dropped open.
"If you'd played for your last two years, you'd probably have been a first round draft choice. That is, if you had taken those two years to develop your skill on the other side of the court."
"Ancient history," I said. "But thanks for the trip down memory lane. Is that why you came? You stayed after the game and waited all of this time to remind me that I was a great half assed player on one side of the court a few years ago? Thanks so much, it's not like I don't think about what could have been every day."
"You're pretty bitter aren't you?" she asked. "I've heard that being bitter can make you stupid. I couldn't figure that out. It just didn't seem to make sense. Now it does. Have a nice life."
She got up and walked away. This time she looked back at me and there was something different in her eyes. Over the past five minutes or less I'd seen her happy and confident. I'd seen her confused and angry and now I saw something in her eyes that looked like pity.
"Wait a minute," I said. "Why did you actually come down here?"
She stopped but didn't turn around. It looked as if she was debating whether or not she should even bother to speak to me again. I guess speaking won the debate though because she turned and walked back over to me.
"I'm at all of your games," she said. "I have been for the whole season."
"I don't get it," I said.
"And you probably never will with that attitude," she said. "Jim, have you ever considered the possibility that maybe I like you? And that I like you for reasons that have nothing to do with basketball? Maybe I saw you around the school and found you attractive and wanted to meet you. Believe it or not you really are a very nice looking man. But like most men, you see yourself in some weird one dimensional way. Most men see themselves as some extension of their jobs. Women only see the guy they care about. So I don't care if you're a basketball player or a coach or a plumber. I just wanted a chance to get to know you before I graduate and figure out what my life will be."
My mouth dropped open again.
"This is the part where you ask me my name and ask me to go out with you," she said. "And it's the part where I say, "Gloria and yes."
Over the next few months, Gloria changed me. She both stopped me from drinking myself into an early grave and made me appreciate my situation. Sure, I couldn't play basketball anymore, but if I truly loved the game, being a coach was almost as good and my career would last a lot longer.
There was also the fact that on a college level, the teams had so much turn-over that the programs were more clearly identified with the coaches than any member of the teams. When you think of Michigan State's basketball team who do you think of? Though there have been many legendary players there, you think of Tom Izzo more than any of them. That got me thinking that maybe she was right. It was time for me to put what might have been behind me and concentrate on what could be.
Of course, I also fell hard and fast for Gloria. Before a year was out we were married. I quickly ascended the ranks of the coaching staff and before long was in line for Atrick's job. I'd had a couple of offers from other small colleges and even a few offers as an assistant coach at several larger schools.
I didn't want to make those kinds of decisions without Gloria's input. I was very surprised when she told me that she thought that we should stay put.
"You know this program better than anyone else does," she said. "Jerry himself wants you to take over for him when he's ready to step down. Plus our house is here. Our lives are here. This is the perfect place for us to start our family."
I loved Gloria so much that I'd have done anything she said anyway. You know all of those stories you hear about player and cheerleaders getting caught or almost caught under the bleachers? I think that Gloria and I were the reason that so many rumors about coaches and women got started at our university. We fucked like bunnies whenever and wherever we got the chance to.
We had a very vigorous and spontaneous sex life but it had built up over the years. Gloria was ashamed the first time we did it because she wasn't a virgin. I was actually the second man that she'd had sex with. The first guy had been some guy she'd met when she was twenty. He'd literally charmed the pants off of her. He taken her cherry and she'd never heard from him again. Of course, she'd heard about it from everyone else she knew and even some people that she didn't know. The experience had been painful and unfulfilling for her. So she'd decided that the next time she did it she'd have to be really in love with the man or it simply wouldn't be worth it.
She'd told me all of that through tear filled eyes after one of our really intense sessions of kissing and making out before we actually had sex.
"Glo, why are you telling me this?" I asked her.
"Because, I didn't want you to be disappointed that you weren't the first man to have me," she sniffled. "But I still wanted you to know that in my heart, I'm all yours and I always will be."
"Glo, honey," I said. "I love you. And not being the first won't change that. The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese. All he got to give you was pain and bad memories. I'm the one who'll get to be with you for the rest of your life. I get the cheese, Glo."
And we're still as much in love now after being married for ten years as we were then. Of course, a few years ago we discovered that if we were going to have kids we'd have to go with one of those alternative methods or have someone carry the baby to term for us. Gloria had some abnormalities in her womb that wouldn't allow attachment. She was devastated and I took her away on a long vacation to remind her just how much I loved her. I told her that the best possible thing for us to do would be to take a couple of years and figure out what we wanted to do and how we wanted to do it. Everything from surrogacy to adoption was still on the table for us so we could have kids, we'd just have to be more deliberate about it.
We found out, of course, that both hiring a surrogate and the medical procedures associated with doing it are way beyond an associate coach's salary. We stuck that in the back of our minds and realized that Jerry wouldn't be around forever, maybe a year or two more at the most. Gloria started planning.
I guess things got a bit hectic about that time and maybe since things were going okay with Gloria and me, it just slipped my mind. My life changed again then too because one night in the middle of a game, Jerry had a heart attack. While the other coaches were looking around trying to decide what to do I just picked up Jerry's notes and started telling the players what to do. I also started yelling at the refs. We were behind by 8 points. Jerry recovered from his heart attack and we won the game.
The AD and the Dean were both there. There was no question of who should coach the team for the rest of that season and for the future.
I got a bump in salary. I still wasn't making anywhere near what the big guys made, but Gloria and I were more than comfortable. There was also the case that I was now free to pursue my own agenda. I started staking out the high schools and the play grounds in some of the more crime ridden and lower parts of the state. Places like Flint and Highland Park, were kids were more likely to go to jail than they were to college.
I spoke to a few parents and for the chance to get their kids not necessarily to the NBA but just for a chance at college and a decent future, transfers to different schools were made. My track record was terrible. Out of eight kids that I thought were promising, three joined gangs and went to prison before high-school ended. Another two dropped out of school before their senior year. One got his girlfriend pregnant and got a job. One more OD'd on drugs and the last one ... He became my starting point guard. Jamal Johnson was as smooth as ice cream on a stick. He was totally unselfish as a player and also totally unflappable.
Jamal kept his nose clean, his grades up and enjoyed his first year in college. He made friends and did well in his studies. The only problem was he didn't fit in with the other players on our team. He had great leadership abilities but unfortunately, he was the only player on the team with the potential to go beyond the box we found ourselves in.
By the end of his first season, there were other schools trying to steal him away from me. That gave me an idea. If other schools could try to poach my players why couldn't I? I, of course, would stay within the rules. I wouldn't go after any team's active roster but what about their castoff kids?
During the summer I looked at nearly every team in existence. And I found what I was looking for. I found other players to put around Jamal. From Ohshiticantstandit Tech I found my shooting guard. Okay he wasn't much of a guard. He couldn't even dribble. But Timmy Turner could shoot the lights out from any place on the court. He'd already been cut from his small West Virginia technical school and was about to lose his basketball scholarship. He had two choices. Move to Michigan or move into the coal mines. It was a tough choice but he picked Michigan. My associate coaches looked at me as if I was crazy. "Have you seen any film on this guy?" they asked. I nodded.
"Can you prove to me that he can move?" some of them asked. I just smiled because I had a plan. Timmy reminded me of someone else.
My two forwards I found in two equally unlikely places. I found Igor Wastichevski in a Hamtramck bakery. He was on a break from making paczkis and I saw him playing against a bunch of black kids in the neighborhood. For a white guy he sounded like them. He kind of looked like a taller version of the rapper Eminem.
Joel Grissom I found in prison, of course. He been caught stealing everything in his neighborhood that wasn't nailed down. The judge had given him a choice. Go to the army, go to college or go to jail. Joel thought that if he went into the army he'd get killed. He tried his ass off but he couldn't get into a college to save his life.
After pulling a few strings and getting a judge to review his case, I managed to get Joel out of jail. His release was contingent on him getting into school. There was also the condition that he stayed clean and away from any type of criminal behavior. If his name was even linked with any type of wrong doing he'd be sent back to jail. The judge also had him fitted with a very sophisticated tether. It was different from the ones the guys on work release wore. Besides giving us his location at any given time, it would store everywhere he'd been. Joel was so tired of getting his asshole plugged in jail that he was ready to try anything to get out.
That second season we won a lot more games, even though my team hadn't really had a chance to gel yet. The only thing I was really missing was a big presence in the center. Even some of the major schools in our area were impressed with my team. They called them the best three and a half man team they'd ever seen.
That summer I found my missing piece. Surprisingly enough he was already right there under my nose. Billy Bathgate was a student at my own school. He was a wrestler of all things, from Boston. He was almost seven feet tall and still growing. He'd been kicked off of the wrestling team for being too aggressive and was about to lose his scholarship. I spent the summer teaching Billy the fundamentals of basketball. Unfortunately, his shots were hit and miss. Over the course of the summer I was able to impart a few basic skills to him. I taught him to pass, to dunk and to elbow.
Billy's job would be mostly to keep the opposing teams players out of the paint. Jamal would handle everything else.
Going into Jamal's junior year was scary. I felt sure that we were on the verge of greatness, but my staff looked at my team like they were all from the island of misfit toys. Our offense was simple but devastating. The pick and roll had been employed by NBA teams and college teams since time began. It was all based on Jamal's reads and situation awareness.
Jamal was my unquestioned floor leader. He was the second coming of Jordan. He spread the ball around the floor so no one could ever tell who'd be the one in scoring position. He learned to use the weaknesses of the other players to our advantage.
Igor and Joel were both ball hogs who liked to score. Jamal had no problem drawing the attention to him-self and then passing to whichever one of them was in scoring position. That made the two of them deadlier. And since Jamal did most of the ball handling, it left the two of them free to get into scoring position. They ran around like track stars, getting free of defenders and waiting for the ball.
Billy had a tendency to foul out. And putting him on the foul line was a nightmare. We may as well as just put down zeros. His free throw percentage was in the low teens. We were all actually surprised when he made one. Surprisingly though, very few teams tried fouling him as a strategy. Billy had clotheslined a few players early in the season and most of our opponents wanted no part of him.
On the good side though, as Billy got more games under his belt he became a rebounding machine. It was a normal sight on both ends of the court to see him leap high in the air snatch the ball out of midair or an opponent's hand and deliver it to Jamal. If Jamal was covered, then the deadly elbows kept defenders at a distance until Jamal got clear.
That left only the immovable Timmy Turner. Timmy's job was not to run plays or even to try to defend overly hard. Timmy was as clumsy as the day is long. He had a habit of tripping over not only his own two feet but anyone he tried to defend. Timmy's job was to post up somewhere out in the boonies of three point land and get comfortable.
Most teams double teamed Jamal and or Billy, so if Jamal was double teamed and couldn't get free. He just chucked the ball out to the deadly accurate Timmy Turner in three point land and made the opposition pay.
If Jamal was my bargain basement Michael Jordan, then Billy was Bill Laimbeer and Timmy was Steve Kerr. During their junior year we rolled to the undisputed top spot in our conference and right into the NCAA tournament. It was the school's first time ever in the big dance. We would have made it a lot further than the first round, but my guys had no experience playing at that level. We also had no bench and no reserves. So If Bill fouled out, which wasn't uncommon or was thrown out of the game like he was against our first round opponent, things went downhill fast.
That brings us to this year. Over the summer I had a chance to develop every aspect of the player's game and even bring some of my supporting players' standards up as well. I brought them up at least to the level where if I had to take one of my Fab five out for a rest the whole game wouldn't collapse and we could at least stay close.
Billy actually developed a short distance hook shot and a very effective short distance jumper. He also developed acting skills. I sent him to improv classes in our performing arts department. The goal was to have him get some of those close calls by flopping and pretending to be hurt.
Over the season he was able to parlay his acting talents into possessions. Several times he'd actually run roughshod over opposing players, knock the shit out of them and make it seem like he had been the one who was fouled.
Everyone was taking notice of us. Not only around our own school but Sports Illustrated and ESPN were often at our games and on our campus. The AD and the Dean, both friends of mine, were ecstatic. Since during the course of the season we'd beaten many of the perennial big time champions, Las Vegas odds makers were calling us a certainty to be this year's Cinderella story.
All of the experts were predicting that we were an upset in the making and might possibly go as far as the final four or beyond.
Gloria seemed to be behind the team as much as I was. She did her brackets just like all of the guys around campus did and even asked me for help doing it. I was sure that she was making two and three dollar bets with the ladies from her club like everyone else on campus.
I'd been interviewed by so many magazines and sports shows that I couldn't keep them straight. Our first round opponents were beaten badly this year. We beat them by twenty points. We also broke their spirit in the process and did it with style. At our end of the court, Igor missed an easy jumper, but Billy got the offensive glass for a second chance. He fed the ball out to Jamal who immediately passed it across the court to Joel. Two defenders headed for Joel who immediately threw the ball upwards towards the basket in perfect position to Alley oop Jamal who slammed the ball into the net with unbridled ferocity.
The slam sent the entire backboard shaking and vibrating so loudly that the crowd was stunned into silence. We rolled onto fifteen more unanswered points and any question of us being a one and done team like last year were put to rest.
My team, my staff and my entire university celebrated the victory and looked forward to our next game. My starting five were on the cover of that week's Sports Illustrated with a small inset picture of me cheering them on.
It got to the point where I couldn't drive through the streets. Anywhere my Torch red Mustang was seen a riot ensued. My car's Magnaflow exhaust system was loud enough that it could be heard before I got to wherever I was going. I'd thought several times about getting a less noticeable car. But that car was the first thing I'd given myself and I loved it.
After two more victories against good teams, we were not only in the elite eight, but our path seemed clear. The next opponent we had to face was UNLV and we'd beaten them twice during the regular season. We'd beaten them both at home and on the road in front of their home crowd. ESPN thought that we were a shoe in for our first final four appearance.
That night I was so happy I didn't know what to do. I wanted to go out and celebrate after the game. I called Gloria but her phone went straight to voicemail. I figured she was out grabbing a drink with the girls the way she did after most games this season. The girls were the dean's wife Harriet and the AD's wife Millicent.
Over the past ten years that we'd been married, the years had been kind both to me and to Gloria. She'd picked up a few pounds, mostly around her breasts and her ass, but she was still beautiful. The slight curve to her tummy only served to enhance her femininity. She was just as sexy to me now as she'd been the day we met.
Harriet and Millicent were slightly older and though I couldn't exactly call them sexy, they were fun girls. We all got together for barbecues and had even taken a few trips together during the summers. I didn't begrudge Gloria a little bit of fun with her friends. God knew she deserved it for putting up with my obsession with the team during the season. The term basketball wives had been coined just for women like Gloria, Harriet and Millicent.
Since I couldn't find my wife, I decided to celebrate with my team. I figured a chance to bond would do us good. Especially since Jamal would be graduating this year. The other guys had another year of eligibility and I had a few recruits who might be able to fill a part of Jamal's shoes. I also had a few other players in mind. I was sure that next year's team might not be quite as good, but we had a good chance of making the tournament yet again. I was also beginning to get better quality recruits.
After making the tournament two years in a row, players were beginning to take our little school seriously. I'd gotten offers as well to coach at a couple of much bigger schools that bore looking at. I figured that after the tournament was over, Gloria and I would decide our future together the way we always had.
I walked out of the gym and dodged several reporters who wanted to interview me. Good Lord, we had a press conference scheduled for early tomorrow morning and another for the morning before the game in two days. Wasn't that enough? What more could I say that I hadn't said when they interviewed me before the game.
As I snuck into my Mustang, my cell phone rang. I started to ignore it. I looked to see if it was Gloria and it wasn't. But I recognized the area code and the number and answered it immediately.
"Hi Sheila," I said.
"Hi Jim," she replied. "I just called to thank you and to let you know that you made his last years, happy ones with what you did to the team. He always said that since we only had daughters, you were like the son he never had. He respected you both as a player and as a coach. He always said that you were the finest player he'd ever seen and that your knowledge of the game that you got on the floor was what made you the coach you became."
"Sheila, why are you talking in the past tense?" I asked.
"Jim, Jerry passed away an hour ago," she said. "He died cheering his team on and watching you lead them further into the tournament than he ever dreamed they'd go. If it makes a difference, he was happy. He died with a smile on his face. He'd just been telling some of our friends about the way that you always came to him for advice during the season and during the summer to plan next year's strategy. He'd just gotten quiet after bragging to some of them that he was going to be on the bench with you next year in the tournament if his health let him. He just got quiet and slipped away right after that."
I had no words. I just sat there in my car crying like a baby. Finally, I got myself together and started speaking to her again.
"Sheila, he'll be there with me wherever I go not only for next season but for all the ones that follow. Please call me with the arrangements so I can attend the ceremony."
I started my car and the Mustang's normal aggressive growl was a little bit more subdued than normal. I'm sure that most of you think that it was me. That maybe I'd changed my driving style because of my own personal sadness. I really believed that that car sensed my pain and responded accordingly.
I drove to the motel that my players were staying at. There seemed to be a party going on. God damn it, I thought at first. Those guys should know better. But then I thought about it again and decided that life was too short; especially for young guys like them. There was simply too much uncertainty. You were riding high one day and the next day it was all taken away from you. My case had been a perfect example of that. I went up for a shot as the best player on my team, with a bright future ahead of me and came down a coach.
There was no way I could begrudge them something as simple as a party. As I drew closer to their room, the alarm bells went off in my head. Oh shit, they had girls in there with them. That was a huge violation of both the university's and the conference's rules. Sure they were rules that most of the time got glossed over, everyone knew that healthy young kids were going to pursue their fun. But the policies had been set up to make sure that any abuses or orgies or things of that nature didn't reflect back on the member universities or the conference.
That kept me from going in. But I did look in the window. I wish to hell I hadn't though, and to this day it's still the worst memory I'll ever have.
I saw Igor, all six foot six of him ramming his long thin dick into some chubby blonde girl. She was pushing her hips back at him and matching every stroke he made. Billy was shoving his dick down her throat and she was bobbing her head up and down on it like there was no tomorrow.
Joel was fucking another woman. I called her a woman because she looked older to me. She was bent over the arm of the sofa and he was slapping her ass while he fucked her. Timmy was next to the woman Joel was pumping, he was sitting on the sofa that she was bent over. He was licking one of her huge saggy breasts while yet another woman sucked his dick.
Suddenly recognition sank in. The woman sucking Timmy's dick was Millicent, The Athletic Director's wife. She was at least fifty if she was a day.
The woman Joel was fucking turned towards me and I saw that it was Harriet. I looked back to the other side of the room and there was no doubt that the younger woman being double teamed was my own wife, Gloria.
The pain that flashed through me at that moment is incomprehensible to anyone who hasn't personally experienced it. It was like death. Gloria was more than my wife, she was my partner in life, my best friend my confidante and my lover all rolled into one being.
Gloria, more than anyone else, was responsible for giving me my second chance. Without her, I'd probably be dead or rotting away in some dive bar right now. I wouldn't have the lease on life that I have now or any of the success. I felt like screaming or doing something but I did nothing. I just stood there. I did pull out my iPhone and take a few seconds of video but I didn't go into the room and confront them. I didn't know what I'd say.
I felt betrayed. Not only by the woman who had just that morning swore to me again that she loved me more than anyone or anything on earth, but by the team of misfits who I'd given a second chance at success as surely as Gloria had given me mine.