[Editor's Note: This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any people living or dead is entirely intended. The events ... not so much. -jrw ]
Coach Gregg Popovich had been standing at the presser for more than twenty minutes. From time to time (as his feet shifted to and fro in boredom) his eyes would drift from the assembled press to his greatcoat in the corner. As soon as his meeting with the press was over, he could gather his greatcoat, go into the next room for a meal, and leave for the comforts of home.
In this state of ennui, he decided to play a little game. "I always choose my starting lineups for the season based partially on whatever random songs are on the radio while I'm deciding," Popovich deadpanned to the shocked press. "No, really. Every year. I find it strengthens my decision-making to have an element of chance present, monitoring my intuition."
As the press sizzled in the presence of this tidbit. Popovich laughed. "But you wouldn't be interested in all that, would you?" Popovich continued, ignoring any response, even pretending to end the conversation right there, pretending to pull the plug at this point as he'd done so many times before.
But today - after 20 minutes of substanceless whistling and thinking out loud - Popovich now felt bored of the quiet brinksmanship and sarcasm of an ordinary audience with the press. No, today Popovich would elaborate on his methodology for the benefit of a mere tool. "It's not like you'll tell anyone, anyway," Popovich said as he electrified the press again. But in a way, he was right: There were no recorders, and even if the press had had recorders, it would take a tremendous amount of effort (and startling advances in intelligence) for the press to do any harm at all with what Popovich had said.
"In fact, let's decide the starting lineups for next season right now," Popovich laughed and gestured to a small radio on his right, which he immediately turned on. A psychedelic fishbowl streamed forth.
"Good sense, innocence, cripplin', and kind," the radio sang, first lines of the hippie song "Incense and Peppermints".
"Sounds like Boris Diaw to me," Popovich told the press. The first response was silence and then a fizzling noise that could have been cross-talk. Popovich laughed.
"Incense and peppermints, the color of thyme," the radio continued.
"Boris Diaw, ravaged by time," Popovich said in rhythm, "I guess he'll start this year. Now, I obviously don't just write this down. I make sure that the other songs on the radio confirm this guess," and Popovich tuned the radio again. Billy Preston held court now.
"Nothing from nothing leaves nothing, you gotta have something, if you want to be with me," Billy Preston sang from the tinny speakers.
"What a great description of why I'm starting Boris," Popovich said drily. "He needs shooters and slashers to be effective. Truly nothing from nothing leaves nothing. What wisdom."
"Don't want to be your hero, 'cause that zero's too close to see...," Preston continued.
"Do you see how easy using the radio makes things?" Popovich asked rhetorically and transitioned into a big-picture quote, "Also notice how Billy Preston was the perfect fifth player for the Beatles, but wanted to be a creator. Just like Boris." The press made sounds that could have been mutterings. It had been primed for shocks and this was just one more.
"Let's figure out our situation for bigs," Popovich continued with barely a pause. A couple fans overhead caught this statement and turned up their intensity, but Popovich decided that he didn't want to deal with them right now and shut them down. He turned the dial. Bonnie Tyler's epic "Total Eclipse of the Heart" was playing in all its Wagnerian glory.
"Once upon a time I was falling in love, now I'm only falling apart. Nothing I can do, a total eclipse of the heart," Bonnie Tyler sang through the radio.
"I've heard this one before. What it's telling me is that DeJuan will start next season," Popovich told the press, interpreting the radio's code to noncommittal whispers from the press. Not so secretly, Popovich hoped that Blair would get back to the heart of his rookie season that had made the Spurs swoon.
"Then, I guess we just have to figure out the remaining three," Popovich deadpanned, now barely concealing laughter at his own matter-of-fact process.
Flipping the radio dial, Popovich noticed "Waterfalls" by TLC: "Don't go chasing waterfalls, please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you're used to." Then he flipped the dial again and heard the great Bob Marley's "No Woman No Cry" and its lyric, "In this great future, we can't forget the past. So dry your tears I say."
"Just as I thought. Tim, Tony, and Manu will round out the starters. I wonder how well we'll do!" Popovich mocked the standard enthusiasm of the press, which was dulled and muted in earshot of these absurd revelations.
The press couldn't say a word. Of course it couldn't: It was just a panini press at a soup kitchen where Popovich was volunteering. The panini press was - once again - the only witness to his dark designs.
• • •
Just then, a little girl from the dining room - holding a little teddy bear - walked in and asked something of the man who had told the kitchen to just call him Gregg.
"Gregg, can you make me and my bear a panini?"
"Why, of course I can! What do you want, ham or bacon?" Popovich innocuously asked.
"Ham," the little girl said. Aggressive offensive schemes, gradually develop the defensive rotations, Popovich decided for the coming season.
"Okay, do you want Brazilian or American cheese?"
"Brazilian, I think. What's the difference?" Defense, mostly. And spacing.
"Not much. Brazilian is a little more refined. I recently switched over myself."
"Okay, Brazilian." Pencil in Tiago for 25 mpg this season, Popovich decided. Bonner will need a great year to compete with Tiago for minutes.
So Popovich sat silently at the panini press, preparing the girl's meal. He had already talked to this girl at the meet and greet, before he went into the kitchen, so there wasn't much to say, but he asked a question that was always fun. "So do you watch the Spurs?"
The girl smiled. "Yes, whenever I can!"
"Who's your favorite Spur?"
"Tony!!!! He's socute! He's my favorite of all! But I'm starting to like his friend, Boris too"
"Well, good news, because I think you'll be seeing a whole lot of Boris in the future!" Popovich smiled. But at what position? "By the way, can I ask how old you are?"
The girl said matter-of-factly, "I'm three and three-quarters years old!" Small ball it is.
Popovich put his hand on his chin in contemplation before laughing as he opened the press to reveal the perfectly toasted panini, "Wow, that's pretty old! Here's your panini! It was nice talking to you!"
As the girl left, Popovich called his training staff for the coming season, "Get Boris fit for the season -- trim, but with as much strength as possible. He's going to be starting as a four for most of the games." Three quarters, to be precise. With a laugh, he hung up on startled silence, before they could ask whether he was serious or not.
Popovich unplugged the press. As he did, he turned on the radio once more. It was the Eagles' "The Long Run," a song he'd heard before and - apparently - would be hearing again pretty soon. Rejoining the mealtime at the kitchen, looked for his 3-year-old companion, wondering what her thoughts would be about the reserves.
The press in question