Spurs 97 Washington 86
Roger Mason long since finished his Herb Crusted Salmon Salad. He would have much rather hang out with his family, especially after playing a great game in his hometown D.C. against his former team .But Gil's text seemed desperate:
mt @cheasteak factory@3 vv nt jk :<
Meet me at the Cheesecake Factory at 3, not a joke? But what did "vv" mean? It wasn't like Gil. He used to be so scrupulous about capitalization, grammar and punctuation, even when texting.
"Money! Money Mase!"
Roger nodded when he heard his nickname, earned by fearlessness in the clutch.
Gil? Hidden behind the thick drapes lining the back dining room. Before Roger could acknowledge him, Gilbert "Agent Zero" Arenas was jogging around the empty booths in a mockery of casual. Along the way Gil snatched a plate of Certified Angus Hanger Steak with Shiitake Mushrooms, Onions, Bean Sprouts, Wasabi Mashed Potatoes and Tempura Asparagus from waitress making her way from the kitchen -- the Cheesecake Factory's famous Hibachi Steak.
Gil chewed as he slid into Roger's booth. He talked incessantly through mouthfuls of Shitake. What was he saying? Campfires? Damp briers?
Arenas used to be one of the most talented guards in the league. Just two years ago he dropped 60 on Kobe and the Lakers in L.A. The next season the knee problems started. Gil was in and out of the line up and had never been the same. It was like he was cursed; the Wizards actually played better without him. Taking Zero's minutes, Mase got some burn and the Spurs got interested. The Wizards let Mase go thinking Gil would be back, but Gil never really came back.
Just last week he pulled a gun in the locker room. What happened?
Gil swallowed the last of the lettuce garnish washing it down with the watery dregs of Roger's Malibu Colada. Gil pulled the apron of a waiter as he passed the booth. With grunts and points he ordered a Four Seasons Pizza, two plates of Road Side Sliders and a Peach Smoothie, all presumably on Mason's check.
With more food on the way, Gil made a show of relaxing, draping his arms over the booth back. He scooted close to Roger. Gil's breath smelled of fermented Red Bull.
Oblivious to Roger's wincing, Gil drew closer and whispered, "At Staples in LA, after the 60 point game -- I felt great. Just messing around in the empty stands hooting, swagging out. I wandered into the Lakers locker room...
"A door was open in the back, it was some sort of executive dressing room or something, painted this deep purple, almost black. It was getting cleaned or something, and a locker was open. In it I saw these immaculate black kicks, not Nike or anything. They looked custom-made, Italian. Butter. On the tongue there was a single drop of red, a ruby or something... no one was looking...
Lakers 131 Dallas 96
"Mase, I took a poop in his shoes!"
"That was unbelievable," Lakers center Andrew Bynum told a half-listening reporter after the game.
"I think the rim was like the ocean for everybody today. Everybody was just throwing it up there and it was going in." Andrew's phone buzzed -- ugggh grandma again. She just wants a piece of a winner, like everyone else. He silenced her call once more.
Coach Phil Jackson was pleased with the win. The team shot 63.4 percent from the field -- nearly the number the Master wanted. They played well after the black masses. Was it time to move to the next phase?
Jackson absently watched Adam Morrison saunter onto the court flanked by ball boys, trading high-fives.
Morrison, a perennial bench warmer, high-fived the other team the last game. "He's over 30 minutes late -- it's nearly 5pm," Jackson thought. "Never mind, sunset's coming, Fish should be here soon."
On cue, as the last rays of light were doused in the pacific, veteran point guard Derek Fisher jogged up to his coach and smiled with a glimmer of fang. He had taken care of the Maverick Jason Terry, as instructed.