Note: Inspired by Rand's "The Riverwalk Conspiracy". I owe this to him. Note 2: Excuse the length and the foul language present at times.
June 18, 2010 10pm "The Lair"
The room Gregg Popovich sat in could best be described as a control room, a personal lair for one of the greatest NBA coaches of all time. The room was dark lit up only by the flashing images from the set of TVs and computers in front of the beardless coach. The coach stared coldly at the constant ESPN re-runs of Game 7 of the NBA Finals. He saw the elated expressions of the delighted Lakers' team dancing around. In the center was Kobe Bryant, of course, looking proud and smug as always.
"That smug bastard." Coach Popovich murmured as he sipped a red wine. He shook his head in disgust, both at the fool prancing around in front of millions of people and at the wine, which definitely wasn't his finest.
Popovich sat back into his purposefully stiff, cold granite chair. Years of conditioning and training in the Air Force taught this once young man the importance of duty, focus, and stoicism. He did not give into pleasures lightly except for the defeat of his enemies and wine, both of which he admitted he liked to indulge in a little too much. The serious coach reflected on his career. To his right was a set of personal mementos on a metallic bookshelf: medals and trinkets from his Air Force Days, a few basketballs from important life-defining games, championship rings, and finally some pictures of the glorified championship-winning teams.
Yes, those were good memories, his smiling players standing proudly before him after celebrating a victory and sharing the O'Brien trophy amongst them. He vividly recalled the spraying of the champagne bottles, which was rather tasty, and the unleashing of emotions which had been stifled since the opening home game. This had been true of all the championship teams and he had hoped it would have been true of the 2010 Spurs team, a team which had taken on the offensive talent of Richard Jefferson, the defensive genius of Antonio McDyess, and the raw strength and power of DeJuan Blair. It had been a crummy season all around. Just as the team had looked to find its form and make a late push to challenge the Lakers for West Conference supremacy, Popovich's hopes had been dashed against the cragged and sharp rocks of reality as the team was quickly dispatched by a fully charged and explosive Suns team.
If nothing else, Popovich had wanted to win the championship to upset the Devil himself, David Stern. He remembered his conversation with Stern after the first championship:
"Gregg, come now, you can't do this."
"Do what? Win?"
"Of course. You know 'the plan'.
"I do know the plan and I'm not following it anymore."
The NBA Commissioner swiveled around his Palpatine-esque lordly chair to face the Coach and the then General Manager of the San Antonio Spurs. Though his facial movements and eyes hardly showed it, Popovich peaked over Stern's graying head to see pictures of his 'glorious' money-making buddies: Kobe and Shaq, Michael Jordan, 'Magic' Johnson, and even Larry Bird.
"Listen here Pop. No one cares about the San Antonio fucking Spurs. America does not want to see David Robinson or Tim Duncan dribble the rock slowly down the court. Defense doesn't sell. People want excitement, they want dunks, blocks, and buzzer-beaters. They want athletic and skilled players so they can worship them. I am here to sell just that. The Spurs don't fit into this plan. Your team is not exciting and can never win a championship ever again. You got that?"
The Coach never took his eyes off Stern as the dictator himself spoke. As soon as Stern finished, Popovich replied calmly but sternly,
"Defense might not sell, but it wins games and eventually championships. I am here to uphold the integrity of the game and to win. I will do whatever it takes to stop you and the titans you throw at me. Bring it on cracker. I'll see you crowning me at least three more times."With that Popovich did a quick about-face and walked swiftly out of the office.
The coach awoke from his reminiscing. He had finished the glass of wine in the meantime. The coach set the glass down and stood up quickly, but not so quick as to have the wine rush to his head, and said in a determined voice, "There's work to do."July 13th, 2010 7pm Spurs practice stadium
Matt Bonner heaved up another three-pointer in an empty stadium. In stark contrast to the bricks he threw in the series against Phoenix, the ball went smoothly into the welcoming hoop.
"Geez! Why can't I ever do this during the playoffs? What am I missing?"
"YOUR BALLS BONNER! YOUR BALLS!"
Bonner ducked awkwardly as Pop chucked a ball straight at his head. The orange ball flew just over his head barely grazing the red hair he was most famously known for. Popovich cackled crazily as he walked over to the 6'10 jump-shooting no-rebounding center.
Bonner walked hurriedly back, clumsily tripping on several basketballs he had been shooting for three hours. Popovich walked steadily towards him smiling as he clutched something tightly behind his back.
Oh Jesus, Bonner thought. He's going to kill me. Is it a knife? Probably a gun with a silencer. Shit, the rumors are true! He is 'CIA Pop'. He's going to get rid of the "weak link" of this team right now.
As Bonner was about to shout, Popovich whirled out a rolled up packet of paper. He grinned venemously and said,
"Here's a new contract for you. I'm going to re-sign you. All I need is your signature."
Bonner stared dumbfoundedly at the contract. Could this be a mistake? Is this a dirty trick? Is he going to kill me after I sign it? He might as well give me a cigar and then shoot me.
"You think I am insane and truth be told, I probably am. But I have brains too young man. It's no coincidence that you were one of the best long-range shooters in the league this past season. You can and will do it again this next season and for as long as you remain a Spur. You will shoot the ball as soon as you get it: catch-and-release, catch-and-release. Be prepared to work hard this summer. Otherwise, I swear to God, you won't eat another sandwich ever again. Don't let this be the blight of my career. It's your choice. Remember Bonner: It's all part of my plan!" The coach dropped the contract and walked away. Bonner slowly picked up the contract and stared at it, nervously reaching for the left-over 'Classic Italian' Quizno's sub he had in his back pocket.
July 21st, 2010 Tony Parker's house 4pm
Tony Parker sat in his room listening to a French drama. His wife Eva Longoria talked vigorously on a gold-plated cell phone in the background speaking to someone from New York about a possible new TV show. The doorbell rang, Parker sighed, and stood up.
"I'll get it." He waited for a response but Eva wasn't even listening. Muttering a growling "mon dieu", he walked over to the door and opened it.
A tranquil Tim Duncan walked in followed by a timid Richard Jefferson. They exchanged greetings and sat down in the living room. Parker turned off the TV and looked at Jefferson.
"So you know why you're here?"
Jefferson cleared his throat and said, "Yeah (cough), Pop said something about a meeting for 'the future'?"
Parker nodded. Duncan, seemingly absorbed in himself nodded zombie-like. The doorbell rang and Parker slowly walked over and opened it.
Manu Ginobili, panting, ran in hurriedly, apologizing quickly for being late. "Sorry, I just finished a game of 5 on 5, what's up?"
"Nothing. We're waiting for Pop." said Parker, scratching his head.
"HONEY! Why don't you offer Coach Popovich a drink?"
"He's not here Eva. We are still waiting for him."
"Then why do I see him on the back porch sun-bathing? He's been there for at least ten minutes..." said Eva.
"What? Mon Dieu! Why didn't you tell me?" Parker shouted incredulously.
"I thought you knew. Anyway I'm too busy taking a phone call."
All four Spurs players hustled outside. Even Tim Duncan moved a bit faster than normal. Popovich looked over to see the core of his team assembled before him.
"God damnit Coach. Why didn't you tell anyone you were here? How did you get here anyways? This place has security!" Parker said angrily.
"Security, ha! A Soviet prison camp in Siberia had better security than this place. That's not the point though. We have to talk about the future, specifically two contracts."
"Tony's and Bonner's?" whispered Jefferson hopefully.
"NO! Well, yes, kind of, but that's not the point. I already took care of that."
"You killed Bonner!?" Ginobili said worriedly, his eyes getting wider.
"NO! Where the hell did you get that impression anyways? No, I re-signed him."
Duncan frowned but said nothing. Popovich took that as his cue to continue.
"I want to talk about your contract Jefferson and yours Tony. Actually, Tony there's not much to talk about. You are resigned. I just need your signature. You, Jefferson, are a totally different beast. What am I to do with you?"
Jefferson stared at the ground and said nothing. Popovich continued,
"I'm going to re-sign you too," which came to the surprise of the "Big Three". Parker sputtered, Ginobili began arguing in Spanish, and Duncan coughed.
"Yes. You will be re-signed. Your contract will be divided a bit more evenly over a longer period of time to avoid the potential lock-down. You're a star Jefferson albeit not a top tier one. You have skills, offense, and a commitment to defense once we get that crap you learned in the East out of your system. You are the final link."
"Not Bonner, eh?" said Duncan light-heartedly. Popovich stared coldly at Duncan. Duncan stared non-nonchalantly back.
Turning his gaze away from Duncan, Popovich looked at Jefferson. He told him about his championship experiences of years past. He told Jefferson about his conversation with Stern. He talked and Jefferson listened. Soon Jefferson felt a strength inside of him, a desire to prove the haters wrong.
"So what do you say, are you in?" Popovich asked Jefferson. All eyes were on Jefferson.
"I'm in. Let's do this chit." replied Jefferson confidently.
Everyone smiled. They all stood up to leave. As they shuffled into the house for a cheese and wine snack, Duncan stopped and turned around to face Popovich.
He didn't say anything because nothing needed to be said. That's how deep their friendship and connection was.
Popovich replied, "You will see. Remember: It's all part of my plan."
Duncan smiled. "Of course."