The well rounded, elderly-but-still pretty face slowly rose into the view of the portly, bearded man in his red underclothes. He was getting ready for his big night, the most wonderful night of the year. To her though, it was only one of many wonderful nights. She was a New Yorker, and though he had whisked her away in her chariot back in '58 and she had lived with him and loved him since then, she was still true to her roots.
"You said,", she said, eyes squinting, "You promised."
"I know," he replied with exasperation, "But the owner isn't."
"The owner doesn't count," replied Mrs. Claus, dug in, "We agreed on that."
Santa rubbed his substantial beard. He thought of a way out. He couldn't. His eyes relaxed to their usual gentleness, though touched with a hint of despair. "An entire NBA team on the nice list," he said, "I never thought this was possible."
"And they're winning," Mrs. Claus reminded him.
"So are other teams," Santa retorted, "They don't have the best record."
"Those teams have at least two naughty list players," She reminded her increasingly forgetful husband, "Now, in accordance with our agreement..."
"Mrs. Claus, please, no... don't humiliate me like this."
"Humiliation?" She said, looking down at her ridiculous read frilly attire, "Don't talk to me about humiliation. We agreed."
Santa sighed. "You're right, dear. All right, let's see it."
Mrs. Claus stepped over to a large, oaken trunk and knelt before it. She opened it's ancient iron latch, and a glow washed over her face. She lifted the garment out as she stood and turned back toward her husband.
It was a pretty standard Santa suit in its cut, generous with velvet and sasquatch fur. But instead of being a deep crimson, it was instead a rich blue. And the fur trimming was from the incredibly rare orange sasquatch.
"Oh god," moaned Santa, "Are you really going to make me wear that."
"You better believe it," confirmed Mrs. Claus with glee. Her glee, however turned to a sympathetic pity for the old guy. She had drawn him out of his defensive position... and now was the time to whip a pass to the metaphorical Steve Novak for the three. "Of course there is an alternative."
"What... alternative?" asked Santa, hope rising in his voice. The red suit was a part of him, and he loved it. He couldn't believe that he had loved someone so much that he had agreed to this stipulation... and yet, he knew he did love her that much. He was powerless.
"You're getting too old for this, Chris," She said, calling him by the name she rarely used, "You've got three herniated disks. Your knees are bone on bone. You've had too many concussions."
"I ain't retiring, Mrs. Claus," Santa retorted, again wondering why he had never bothered to learn his wife's name, "The kids need me."
"The kids need Santa," Mrs. Claus replied, "They need a new Santa. A Santa with the energy not just to reward the nice, but to nudge the naughty niceward. Chris, you used to be so good at that... but .... It's time..... to pick your replacement."
Santa knew she was right. "It's too late in the the season. Whoever replaces me would need a full training camp."
"That's what you said last year," said Mrs. Claus, sternly, holding up the blue suit for him to put on.
"I'll tell you what," stammered Santa, desperately, "Let me wear the red suit one more time. And I promise, I'll pick a successor and retire."
"Agreed... on one condition," replied Mrs. Claus, "You decide on the successor....tonight."
"But who, Mrs. Claus, who could replace me?"
Mrs. Claus smiled slightly. She knew who it should be, and began her pitch. She knew she would succeed. He was putty in her hands now, almost Brook Lopez-esque. "Perhaps the fact that all the Knicks are on the nice list this year is a sign," she began, "there's a person associated with the team that I know would make the perfect successor. And I know you better than anyone."
"I can't just snatch someone from an NBA team. They need to be ready for the next challenge. And don't say Jason Kidd. That guy is one turnover away from going back on the naughty list."
"I didn't say a player on the team. I said someone associated with the team."
"Coach Woodson?" Santa queried. He knew Woodson since his Indiana days and liked him. He had the right build and decent facial hair.
"Not a bad idea... but Woodson's place is with the team. He has much work to do. The person I'm thinking of was part of the only other team to even get close to getting everyone on the nice list."
"Oh," said Santa, recognizing the team she was talking about, "Phil Jackson saved my ass that year."
Mrs. Claus looked at him. She needed him to guess. She needed him to see what she saw. He did, but he couldn't admit it just yet.
"Reed?" Santa offered weakly.
"His knees are in worse shape than yours. Even the regenerative powers of the North Pole's elf surgeons can't do anything for him."
"Bradley?" Santa whispered
"That over-intellectual icicle? C'mon now. Bradley's smart and could shoot, but you and I both know he's not Santa material."
Santa gulped. He knew who she was talking about, and he knew she was right. But it was difficult for him to give up the job he had done for so many years. He looked down, and in a deep, resonant voice uttered the word he knew he had to utter.
Mrs. Claus hugged her husband. Together they cried tears of sadness and joy. "Lord only knows what he's going to wear!"
They both laughed.
"As always, you're right, my dear," continued Santa,"I haven't told you this, but Woodson actually asked for something this year. He asked for a championship that he could share with his team. I'm inclined to grant it. And while I'm down there, I'll have a chat with Mr. Walt Clyde Frazier. He's still in great shape and looking for a new challenge. A Knicks championship will open the door to him to his new life."
"Long live Santa Clyde!" they both yelled in unison. And with that, Santa Claus smoothed his red suit and stepped onto his sleigh for one last ride.