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The Final Countdown

The ghosts of past postseasons hang over the Toronto Raptors as they prepare for the coming weekend.

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

Beads of sweat were still appearing randomly on Kyle Lowry’s face and body, as he donned an all-black tracksuit and topped it off with a dark grey beanie. He slung his backpack over one shoulder and headed out of the locker room, satisfied with the day’s work.

Someone else had taken his place in the otherwise empty gym, as he heard one swish follow another. Irritated mumbling followed every made shot attempt, with the occasional obscenity thrown in. Kyle peeked his head inside, recognizing the flawless shooting form of one CJ Miles.

“I don’t need to hear this right now!” the shooter exclaimed, exasperation in his voice, as another shot met nothing but net.

Kyle lowered his head knowingly, lifting it again to inspect the bright blue halo emanating from an immaterial form floating over Miles. The spirit was dressed in a sharp and unique style, whispering to CJ after every shot. It was the spitting image of DeMarre Carroll.

“It won’t matter anyway,” the distinctly lifelike Carroll said, “not like you’re gonna see the ball when it matters anyway. You know Kyle and DeMar are gonna take those shots.”

The visibly-wearied Miles was doing all he could to ignore the spectre. Kyle considered stepping in and saying something, but nothing came to mind. He turned around and walked down the hall instead.

A calming classical tune was emanating from the weight room, accompanied by ill-fitting grunts. Lowry followed the sounds, walking into an active scene. DeMar and Serge were doing push-ups in the stretching area, each rising and falling in rhythm to the music. In the corner, Norman was playing the massive piano delivered by GoDaddy a few weeks prior. Powell was focused, his eyes shut.

Pretending to sit atop the dips machine nearby was DeRozan’s ghost, wearing a vintage Lakers jersey with the number 8. “Load that clip boy, come on. They ranked you 46th! 39th! Load that clip!” transparent-DeMar encouraged, as Ibaka’s arms gave out and he fell flat onto the mat. DeRozan never skipped a beat, keeping pace with the intensifying music. His was the only ghost in the room.

“Yo Norm, shouldn’t you be putting up shots?” Kyle questioned.

“Don’t worry about me, the postseason is my jam.” The youngster responded, never opening his eyes. Shrugging, Kyle left them alone.

Next up on his path was the recreation room. There, with their game consoles hardwired to the local network were Jakob, Delon and Pascal. With headphones in their ears, they occasionally yelled something out, their gaze never leaving their individual screens.

“Ya’ll ready for the weekend or what?” Kyle said. The only thing resembling a response was Delon reaching for his Frappuccino.

“Boogie bomb!” Pascal exclaimed, momentarily startling Lowry. That was when he noticed the barely-visible apparition huddled in the far corner of the room. It was Terrence Ross, quietly reading a comic book. His was the rare ghost that never spoke.

Kyle turned toward the exit, jumping backwards at the sight of his young rookie standing right next to him.

“OG! How many times did I tell you to stop sidling up like that?!”

The rookie stared at him blankly. “Here,” Lowry said, “carry these. Always!” he handed OG a box of Tic Tacs, which the rookie pocketed. Lowry nodded approvingly at the consistent rattle as OG made his way to the couch alongside his fellow young Raptors.

Here we go again,’ he thought, sauntering over to the exit. Everyone was in their own world, their own mind. Even his brother DeMar. This had been a consistent trend each April, every successive year getting worse. His thoughts raced, but he shook them off forcefully. He looked down at his phone: “At Wasaga, come by.”

The streets near Wasaga Beach were all but empty, the poor weather rightfully keeping most people away. He arrived at the vacant lot to the sight of a giant lugging a long wooden beam around before lodging it into its assigned spot. Kyle laughed out loud for the first time that day as he stepped out of the car.

“First coal mining, now construction?”

Jonas shrugged. “God gave me strong arms, why not use them?” he smiled, embracing his point guard warmly. “I always wanted a beach house here, so I decided to build one. Come, let’s have a drink!” he beckoned. He handed Kyle a filled cup, as they sat near a makeshift fire pit for warmth.

“What is this?” Lowry asked.

“Krupnikas. Good, sweet. Trust me,” Valanciunas smiled warmly as they cheered and took big gulps.

“Oof!” Kyle said before their faces took on more serious expressions.

“So, how are you doing?” Jonas asked.

“You know, it’s alright. Getting a little nervous, honestly. I think a few of the others are feeling it too. Their ghosts look sharp, clear, talking trash all day. You seem to be all good?”

Jonas chuckled. “It’s not all flowers here, brother. Kevin Love visits me sometimes, daring me to contest his shot again and again. This helps.” He pointed at his construction project.

“This got to be the year though, right? The year we beat James?” Kyle asked, his tone uncharacteristically uncertain.

“We have a chance, for sure,” JV nodded. “But we should not focus on this so much. You know, there is Michael Jordan, and there is LeBron James. It’s not easy. We need to keep playing together, like this year. And we give it the best shot. I know you feel pressure, and Deebo too. But we are there for you, and you will be there for us.” He leaned forward, placing one long arm on Kyle’s shoulder. “Together, we win.” The Lithuanian concluded.

Lowry nodded in agreement. “Hey, have you seen Freddy?”

“Ha! I heard he is going into John Wall’s dreams, burning him like he does. If anyone is ready, it’s Freddy.”

The two talked for a while longer, as afternoon gave way to evening, and the cold became too much to bear. They said their goodbyes and parted ways, the long drive back to Toronto giving Kyle plenty of time to reflect. He would hide from the confrontation no more.

Looking directly into his eyes with disdain in the rear view mirror was his own ghostly visage. Ghost-Lowry’s arms were spread over the seat tops to his sides. His translucent body was nearly twice as large as the other ghosts, his neck bent sideways, barely fitting inside the vehicle.

“Are you done?” Ghost-Lowry questioned. “Can we go back home and relax already? Had enough of watching over these grown men.”

“They’re my boys, I gotta make sure they’re all good for this weekend.” Real-Kyle replied.

“Man, all that matters is you’re okay. You’re the man on this squad, you and Deebo. Why you gotta worry about these others?”

“They’re my brothers, my family, that’s why.”

“Since when? Your people are back in Philly, in Villanova, that’s your brothers and sisters. They’re your community, they’re the ones you can’t let down.”

“I gotta do right by them, yeah. And I do. But I can’t forget about the Six, about Canada. Man, this fanbase follows us everywhere.”

“Who are they, man? They don’t know you. They don’t know where you came from. They don’t know what you’ve been through. You owe them nothing.” Ghost-Kyle stated firmly.

“I owe them everything!” Real-Lowry snapped back. “I’m done listening to you. This organization, this city, this country – they believed in me, gave me the chance to be great. I’mma pay them back. No more trips to another timezone the night before a big game. No more putting my All-Star appearance above my commitment to the squad. No more silly techs that hurt ‘em. I’m gonna lead by example. I’m gonna take this city to the top, and it starts this weekend.”

Ghost-Lowry had been laughing through the latter half of that monologue, as Europe’s ‘The Final Countdown’ came on the radio. “You actually believe all that?”

Real-Lowry’s stony expression held his ghost’s gaze through the mirror. “Watch me.”

If you enjoyed this one, here are the other episodes in the Alternate Basketball Histories series: P.J. Tucker’s originsOG Anunoby’s origins, Jonas Valanciunas’ trials in IndianaNorman Powell’s instrumental contemplationthe dark secret behind Freddy’s rise, DeMar DeRozan’s mysterious experience in L.A, and Pascal Siakam’s never-ending quest for recognition.

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