P.J. Tucker: Origins – Birth of a Madman

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*Please note this story is entirely fictional, and is the fruit of the author’s imagination.

 

“What did he do?” A man asked, his voice resigned.

“The boy and his friend tried to sneak into an ‘R’ rated movie! That won’t fly here,” a weathered man asserted gruffly. “Don’t let me catch this one here again,” he added.

“You won’t,” the first responded, grabbing the forlorn-looking teenager roughly by the arm.

“I’m good, I’m good,” the youngster protested, but the grip only got firmer.

“You have nothing to say right now. Get in the car. Where’s Shawn?”

“His mom got him.”

“Was this his idea?”

“No,” the teen offered, his voice betraying a lie, “it was mine.” He got into the passenger’s side with a ‘helpful’ shove from behind.

The drive was mostly bereft of conversation, ultimately broken during Lenny Kravitz’s newly-released rendition of ‘American Woman’ playing on the radio, “What was the movie, anyway?” the driver asked.

“American Pie,” the youngster replied.

“What’s that about?”

“Some high school stuff. I didn’t really get a chance to see,” the teen’s gaze remained fixed on the floor before him. “You gonna tell mom?”

The man laughed. “You don’t want me to?”

“Please?”

“How about we make a deal?” the older man said after a brief pause. “You gotta do something for me first, then.”

“Anything, dad!” the boy exclaimed.

“I’m gonna drop you off at a court at the other end of town, I want you to earn your place among those guys, and I then I want you to dominate them.”

The youngster looked up at his father, perplexed. “Play ball? And you won’t tell mom?” he couldn’t help laughing despite his best efforts to keep a straight face. He was, after all, the best basketball player at his middle school. “Done!”

“Good, P.J., good,” his father smiled.

The car stopped at a marked parking area, not a hundred feet from a clean pavement court with chain nets on a single basket. Eight guys were playing, the game’s intensity evident even from a distance. “Your ball is in the trunk, I’ll pick you up at 9,” the man said calmly, but P.J. did not open the door.

“Dad,” he said, concern in his voice, “these guys are seniors… in high school.”

“Right, and?”

“They’re way bigger than me!”

“Right, and?”

Finally, the youngster gave in. “I’ll see you at 9,” he said weakly.

“Remember, dominate,” his father said casually before driving off.

Turning towards the court, ball in hand, P.J. made his way to the grassy hill behind the basket. “I got next,” he said, taking a seat. There was no acknowledgment whatsoever.

Studying the players in their 4 on 4 game, he recognized three of the guys. They played on the Greensboro Day high school team, an outfit that was consistently among the city’s elite. One of them stood out in particular – Reggie Jay, a six-foot-three athletic specimen that could both handle and shoot the ball at a remarkable level, touted as a potential tar heel in the making.

“Game!” the Greensboro star exclaimed after rising above his defender and hitting nothing but net. P.J. rose to his feet, as the teams trash talked each other sarcastically. He stepped onto the well-paved dark grey court, looking around uncertainly.

“Run it back,” one of the guys said, passing the ball to Reggie at the top.

“I had next though,” P.J. said.

“Man, get off the court,” a six-foot teen wearing an Iverson jersey said dismissively, as he shifted his focus back to guarding his man. Struggling to supress the mix of anger and dejection boiling within him, P.J. stepped back onto the grassy hill, sitting down reluctantly.

It wasn’t until the sun began to fade into the western horizon that he was finally let onto the small court, and that was only since the older guys had said their goodbyes, sweaty and exhausted. He practiced free throws, threes, and step backs for the better part of an hour, as the occasional dog owner and their pet walked through the park nearby. With the sky darkened and the court lit by a single street light, his father’s car finally appeared.

“Did you dominate?” the driver asked as P.J. got in.

“Nah,” the youth replied, barely audible.

“Tomorrow, then.”

P.J. nodded.

In the two weeks that followed, P.J. was dropped off at the suburban park after school nine times; nine times he arrived before the older boys did, and worked on his game; nine times he wasn’t given the chance to play while they were around; nine times he stayed and practiced after they had left, well past dusk.

“Dad,” P.J. began at a late-evening dinner, “can I go back to playing with kids my own age tomorrow?”

“We had a deal, son.”

“They won’t let me play though, I’m not getting any better. What’s the point?”

“Listen,” his father’s voice took on a serious tone, “we both know you’re head and shoulders above kids your own age. Dominating these guys is how you’ll get better. You will get your chance, I promise.”

That night was a formative one for P.J., as a special guest visited him in his dreams. While driving a car in the middle of a gushing river, he turned to see a familiar face beside him. The man had piercings on every part of his face, and his short hair was dyed yellow with red streaks. “You ready, my man?” the visitor asked coolly in a hoarse voice.

“Ready for what?” P.J. questioned, somehow unsurprised by the presence of arguably the greatest rebounder of all time in his dream.

“Your chance, man. It’s coming. You have to be ready to scrap. They’re bigger, stronger, quicker. But that don’t mean a thing.”

“I need to play with heart, I know,” the young man nodded.

“Heart is nice, but it won’t be enough. You gotta be mad. You need to play with crazy, you hear me?”

“Crazy?”

“Yeah man. Crazy. Get in their head. Be unexpected. Make them guess and second guess themselves. Crazy. You got it?”

“Yeah, I think so,” P.J. nodded more actively this time.

“Alright,” the pierced giant said, “I gotta go. Make sure you and your friends watch ‘Simon Sez’ when it comes out, it’s gonna be a hit. Later.”

P.J. sat up as he awoke abruptly from the dream, “What the…”

He was practicing spin move layups the next afternoon, as the older ballers started trickling in. Once they were all ready and made their way onto the court, P.J. noticed one of the Greensboro guys was missing.

“You wanna play, kid?” the guy wearing the ‘Iverson’ jersey asked casually.

“I… yeah, yeah for sure man,” the young teen couldn’t believe it. And off they went.

 

The game was tight, the defense strangling, the offensive combinations impressive. P.J.’s guy didn’t see the ball much, which didn’t stop him from pushing the middle school kid around, taking advantage of a significant weight disparity. Unsurprisingly, whether he made smart cuts or not, the youngster did not see the ball when his team had it, but he did not give up.

“10-8, game point,” Reggie noted as he checked the ball and got it back. He motioned for a screen. P.J.’s guy hurried over to set it.

“Switch!” P.J. yelled at the top of his lungs as Reggie dribbled over the screen.

“What you doing man?! Switch back!” ‘Iverson’ fired back, stepping up towards his man. P.J. pushed him off forcefully, “I got it!” he said, getting deep into his defensive position. Reggie’s eyes lit up, as he sized up his young defender, and began crossing the ball back and forth between his legs in a fluid motion.

“Go easy on him, Reg,” a teammate laughed out loud.

Young Tucker knew this was his chance, the one his pierced prophet had predicted. He was not going to let it go. He kept a bit of a distance from the explosive talent dribbling the ball, looking him straight in the eye and shifting with speed from one foot to the other in quick bursts, keeping his left hand in front. He closed the gap as Reg made an initial motion suggesting a pickup and a shot. It was nothing more than a clever ploy though, as the Greensboro star sped right past P.J.

“Hell no!” Tucker yelled out after a momentary lapse, shifting his weight, turning and speeding towards the rim on Reg’s heels. Adrenaline coursing through his body, he leapt with power he did not know he possessed, blocking the young star’s layup off the backboard and collecting the rebound, as the attacker lay on the ground in utter disbelief.

“Yeah!” P.J. cried savagely, elbows out, squeezing the ball with both hands, as his teammates joined the chorus.

“Foul!” Reg shouted with the delay of a seasoned NBA official, and the other players stopped.

“No way! All ball, I saw it!” ‘Iverson claimed. “Let’s go, our ball. Check it, young gun. You got Reg.”

 

Tucker made a host of defensive plays that evening, and even saw the ball on offense on occasion. With each successive stop, he became more primal, more feral, frustrating Reggie again and again.

“Hey man,” ‘Iverson’ approached him on the way out, “there’s a city tournament we were gonna play in next weekend, full court. We could use another guy. And you, you’re crazy, man. We could really use that. You in?”

A proud smile creased young P.J.’s face. “Yeah man, for sure.”

“Cool. I’ll see you tomorrow, same time, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Tucker replied, his breath finally settling, as he sat on the soft grass. He would sleep well that night.

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