A lone figure in a very expensive, stylish, black overcoat struggles against the wind on a deserted, dark street. Sheets of rain pummel him, but he barely seems to react. He looks wistfully into the sky for a moment, and the wind whips a pair of protective goggles from his face, sending them spinning off into the night and smashing against a building. Being made of space-age kevlar, they survive the impact. The figure makes a move toward the goggles, wincing as he struggles to push off one knee. The goggles are swept up in a torrent of water over a wall of sandbags and down a subway entrance. The man’s head drops and his large shoulders convulse with sobs. He limps toward the nearest wall and sits against it, rain soaking through his trousers.
Suddenly, the beams of a vehicle’s headlights play on him. He blinks, but otherwise doesn’t react. A large SUV skids to a stop at the curb in front of him. A tall figure in a grey overcoat steps out and attempts to open an umbrella. The umbrella immediately gets knocked inside out by the wind, and is swept out of the hands of the man emerging from the vehicle.
"&$%*$ crappy umbrella!" Mutters the man. He then looks toward the figure sitting on the sidewalk. "Amar’e! Yo, Amar’e!" He shouts. The figure does not respond. "^(*&," he says, pulling up his collar and stepping gingerly toward the sitting figure in the black trenchcoat. He squats, trying to orient his head to see Amar’e’s face. "Amar’e," he says, softer, "Man, what you doin’ out here?"
Amar’e lifts his head, eyelashes blinking off beads of water. "’Sup ’Melo," he says, looking up to the sky, "Phenomenal storm."
"Amar’e," responds Carmelo, "What you doin’ out here, man? You’re gonna catch cholera or some shit." Putting his arm under Amar’e’s arm, he attempts to lift Amar’e up. Suddenly, with lightning quick movements, Amar’e swat’s Melo’s gloved hand out of the way, causing Carmelo to almost lose his balance.
"Why the hell not," Snaps Amar’e, "Cholera, Pnemonia, the Fucking plague, bring it on. Phenomenal."
"You’re talkin’ crazy, Amar’e, c’mon man."
"I can’t catch a break, Melo," responded Amar’e, lifting his head, and letting Carmelo see his moist eyes, "I couldn’t work any harder this offseason. How much harder am I supposed to work? Maybe I shouldn’t have gone around hawkin’ those children’s books. Man, look at me. Standing Tall and Talented? Hrgfh."
"Amar’e, c’mon, shit happens. You’ll be alright, ready to go, 6 weeks, man, that’s nothing."
"Then what? What’s it going to be then? Maybe my other knee. Maybe my other eye. I’m a joke, Melo, look at me, I’m washed up. Those kids are laughing at me."
"You washed up pretty good, out in this soup, I’ll tell you that," replied Carmelo, with a hint of a half-smile, "In fact, this town doesn’t smell like piss, for once."
Melo’s jocularity returned a slight bit of light to Amar’e’s eyes. But he remained downcast. Melo continued: "C’mon man, you gonna let this shit beat you? That’s not that Amar’e I know. The Amar’e I know gets up and gets after it, stronger."
"Ah, but Melo, there comes a point, when you’re down 20 to the heat, and there’s only, like, 3 minutes left in the game. No matter how phenomenal you play…." his voice trailed off and he looked to the side, a pained expression on his face.
"C’mon man, there’s time left in the game, tho," retorted Melo, "Look at Kurt. Dude’s 40. That’s like 12 more years than you. Translated into game minutes, that’s like, um, I don’t know, 12 minutes left in the game, or maybe even more, like a whole quarter or something."
Amar’e looked at his phenomenally talented friend, whose continued inability to remember the length of an NBA game was endearing. It humanized the often aloof quasi-superstar. He needs me, thought Amar’e.
As if on cue, Carmelo, looking to his left, and with a slightly pained expression, softly admitted, "I need you man," then regaining his composure a bit, continued, "I need you to prove that I can do it, with you, that we can blend on the court."
"Naw, man, " replied Amar’e, his mood brightening, "You need me to win, to win games. That’s what it’s all about. Remember what Rasheed said?"
"It’s about winning games," Carmelo rememberd, "Weird, I never heard a player say that before, except maybe to the media. I thought that was something they only taught you in coaching school."
"It’s real, Melo. I saw into Rasheed’s soul. Man, it was phenomenal. Hakeem said the same thing. We need to walk this path together, Melo…." Suddenly Amar’es mood darkened and his head dropped, "If only I could, Melo, damn, this knee…."
"Hey man!" clipped Melo, suddenly slapping Amar’e across the head, "Injuries ain’t nothing, don’t let that shit stop you. Have you seen Kurt’s MRI?"
"I didn’t know he had one."
"He swiped that shit before the training staff could get a look. But he showed it to me. Dude’s knee is totally gone. Replaced that shit with a rusty hinge from his uncle’s barn. Threw a piece of a plastic spatula in there for cartilege."
"Microfracture THIS," said a low, humorless voice from inside the SUV.
"C’mon Amar’e, let’s do this. C’mon," said Melo, "I got some chocolate milk in the car."
"Too cold for that," protested Amar’e weakly.
"We can microwave it. Ray-ray knows how. Says he can make it into hot cocoa."
"Wow, dude is phenomenally talented. Is he in there too?"
"We all are, Amar’e," replied Melo, "Well, not all of us, we couldn’t all fit. But we all care about you."
"Alright," said Amar’e, "Help me up."
Supporting his teammate in a way that he had perhaps never had before, Melo lifts Amar’e to his feet. Together, they walk to the car.
"Thanks Melo. We gonna do this, right?"
"One way or another, Stat," replies Carmelo, "One way or another."