Ginobili vs. Dracula, Chapter 3

The private court perched on a hill overlooking the choicest homes in Newport Coast. The view could be extraordinary, but every window was thrice sealed with mortar, stone and heavy curtains.

The court was itself was built with the finest in arena craftsmanship. An expanse of black marble framed a playing surface of aged maple cut from the Black Forest of Germany. The boundary and three point lines all painted in a black gloss -- FIBA regulation -- with the familiar half circles parqueted with black tiles. In center court burned six overlapping runes in velvety crimson, thirteen inches in diameter.

"The accommodations are adequate. Phil Jackson me serves well," thought the lean figure in midnight black warm-ups. The only light in the gym flickered from a laptop's browser window, an electronic news reader:

"Former all-star guard Allen Iverson wasn't around Tuesday night as the Memphis Grizzlies returned home after a disappointing 0-5 west coast road trip."

The dark Prince chuckled as he looked across the width of his court. Slumped on the vistors' bench: a bloodless corpse in cornrows, a proud man once.

"The custodial service could be prompter -- Jackson will see to it," the dark Prince thought as he wiped a red drop from the corner of his smile with the black linen gym towel and yawned. With a key stroke he flipped to "bookmarks" and then to Mike Monroe's San Antonio Express News column:

"Tony Parker and Tim Duncan were out for the Spurs' game against the Toronto Raptors on Monday night, but when it came time for the opening tip, Manu Ginobili was in his customary spot the past two seasons: on the bench, awaiting opportunity to impose his will on the game.

"Ginobili's will produced 36 points, eight assists, four blocks and an important victory for the Spurs."

The laptop shattered into glossy black shards onto the dark wood of the court. The processor that took the impact of the angry fist was melted, but frigid.

"There is but one will. My will."

That iron will burned cold in the death master's mind. Ginobili will pay dearly for his insolence. He, too shall crumble before the will of Dracula.

Gregg Popovich thought nothing could surprise him. The losses to Utah and Portland were written long before the Spurs even boarded the charter flights.

"We caught both teams at a bad time, that’s for sure," Popovich said. "They both needed to pick it up. In past years, I’ve said the same things about my team that those coaches said about their teams."

The funny thing was that the Spurs should have lost to Toronto, too. The Raptors shot 59% from the field, and 64% from three. Improbably, impossibly, Ginobili would not let his team lose.

Popovich looked at the portrait of the 2002-03 Spurs hanging on the wall of his office, David Robinson's last year, and Ginobili's first. It all seemed so easy then. He only worried about the game of basketball. But now, they played for much dearer stakes. Team owner Peter Holt knew it and put his money behind him. Should he tell the rest of the team?

"Not yet," Popovich said. "I’m trying to be patient, as hard as that is for me." Other than Duncan, who could he really trust? Each of the Spurs would learn in time.

It was eight in the evening and they played the Mavericks tomorrow... enough for the day. Pop was eager to get home. He had a new wine for his cellar, a rare Californian vintage, a gift from Phil Jackson.

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