Keystone Park, 7:49pm
September in Omaha. Forecast for rain, the air hangs heavy with humidity. All the kids have gone home, it’s a school night. Khyri stays out, staring at the red rim that hangs just a few feet in front of him. Averting his gaze now would be a fool’s errand; the punishment that this simple piece of metal has had inflicted upon it all evening is beginning to show its wear.
Khyri lines up to give the white backboard a shake and swirl as he prepares to dunk the basketball one final time; he knows that the structural integrity of the rim has reached its breaking point.
Like a cleaver slicing through prime rib, Khyri rips his way towards the basket. His feet leaving the ground, his body pushing through the thick atmosphere, his arm arching backwards, then violently towards the rim. A crash. A break.
Landing on two feet, Khyri holds in his hand the rim of the basket. The break is clean.
His ball bounds away, into the shadows.
Khyri Thomas has just destroyed yet another basketball hoop.
To celebrate, he places the rim around his neck and sets off to look for his ball.
This process has become all too familiar. There isn’t a park in Omaha that hasn’t felt the eternal wrath of the dunk of Tazz. Sometimes he’s able to treat the neighborhood folks to a show, other times he’s methodically mashing on hoops in the company of his own consciousness.
Downtown Omaha, 6:21am
It was an unusually chilly September morning in the city of O!, but this wasn’t enough of a deterrent for Khyri for he had planned to take a jog around the city.
Getting into a rhythm, Khyri was able to let his mind free. He pondered of greatness. He pondered of stoicism after achieving greatness. He pondered if ramen noodles had any nutritional value. He pondered of major sport stars taking up activist roles. His mind and feet remained in a harmonious swing.
That is, until, his path was suddenly obstructed by construction. A look of wretched disappointment overcomes the young man’s face.
“Rats,” he whispers.
The only path available, other than the one whence he came, is to his immediate right. An adventurous thought overcomes him, so he takes the path to his right, his feet and mind finding their balance, and he begins to regain his rhythm.
A dark alleyway awaits Khyri, but he pays no mind. He’s known the ins and outs of O! his entire life.
He enters the alleyway and his surroundings become engulfed in the void of light. His pace quickens, his breath beginning to gain a sense of panic, his eyes narrowing to escape from the darkness.
Bursting through the other side of the alleyway, Khyri slows to a standstill. He glances around, but fails to recognize any of his surroundings. The alleyway has disappeared.
There’s nothing but a basketball court in front of him.
The Ether - 0:00
“Hello friend,” a distant voice calls out, “Would you enjoy playing a game of skill - a game that we both know well?”
Terror strikes the hair upon Khyri’s skin. Goosebumps. Could it be?
“It is I, the ghost of Marvin Barnes’s prime. Shall we play a game of H-O-R-S-E, winner goes back to the physical world of earth?”
What fear Khyri once had has now dissipated as the ghost of Marvin Barnes in his prime presents himself from the fog.
“Yeah, sure,” Khyri responds.
“Then it shall be! This will be the greatest test of your basketball career, and you will be unable to defeat I, the ghost of Marvin Barnes in his prime!”
A ball bounces from the ether and lands in Khyri’s hands. With a subtle nod to the ghost of Marvin Barnes in his prime, Khyri begins the game of H-O-R-S-E with a shot from half court that offers a satisfying whap as it falls through the hoop.
The ghost of Marvin Barnes in his prime immediately begins to sweat and as he attempts to replicate the shot - a shot he misses badly - as the two of them watch the ball bounce into a pile of ghosts laying beyond the basketball court.
“I suppose that would be H for me!” the ghost of Marvin Barnes in his prime wallows.
Khyri retrieves the ball and lays the ball in from directly under the rim.
The ghost of Marvin Barnes in his prime looks visibly ill and is stricken with worry. As he attempts to get a decent hold on the ball, he violently throws the ball against the backboard.
“Oh my, that must be an O for me,” the ghost of Marvin Barnes in his prime says softly.
“I’m starting to feel bad, man. Are you sure you want to keep doing this?”
“Just toss the gosh dang ball friend-o, and we will reach a conclusion to see who is winner!”
Khyri proceeds to lay the ball in from the opposite side of the rim, literally the easiest shot he could possibly make.
“The degree of difficulty is paramount to your success, I see you have figured out the game of H-O-R-S-E!” the ghost of Marvin Barnes in his prime exclaims as he collapses to the floor, “I guess, since I cannot lift myself from the ground due to gravity, that you have won the R in the game! Curses!”
At this point, Khyri proceeds to lay the ball in two more consecutive times and watches as the ghost of Marvin Barnes in his prime slowly disintegrates into the basketball court.
Just then, a stone staircase emerges from afar with sunlight cutting through the fog. Khyri shrugs his shoulders and proceeds to climb the staircase.
The Ether - 0:00
The top of the staircase featured another basketball court, similar to the one before, but with glass backboards.
“Hi bud, name’s Pete Maravich, but you can call me Pistol.”
“I’m probably going to call you Pete if you don’t mind.”
“Uh, well, sure. That’s fine, I guess. A lot of people called me Pistol, though.”
“I’d rather call you Pete. I’m sure your parents didn’t name you Pistol and I want to keep this as semi-casual as possible.”
“You’ve got some strange ethics, kid. Welcome to the basketball ether. Did everything go fine with the ghost of Marvin Barnes in his prime?”
“Yeah, we played H-O-R-S-E but he disintegrated before we could actually finish. Are you going to do that too?”
An air of silence envelops the both of them.
“Yeah, probably,” the ghost of Pete Maravich sheepishly replies.
A ball bounds into Khyri’s hands from the abyss. Knowing that Pete Maravich was an excellent jump shooter, Khyri proceeds to dunk the ball with a windmill motion.
Pete Maravich shoots a jump shot.
“Well, looks like I’ve got H. Look, why don’t you just move on to the next round? This is a waste of everybody’s time. I don’t even know what you just did but it scared the bejeebus out of me. Good luck!”
The ghost of Pistol Pete Maravich proceeded to disintegrate into the ground as another staircase appeared.
“Whatever, man,” Khyri sighs.
The Ether - 0:00
As Khyri ascends the staircase, the ghost of Julius Erving appears beside him.
“Hello Khyri, how are we doing today? Are you enjoying your time in the basketball ether?”
“No. This seems like a complete waste of my time.”
“Oh. Oh, well, you’ve got one more challenge before you can go back home. It’ll be your hardest challenge yet, the most difficult task you’ve ev-”
“Is it going to be someone who sucks at H-O-R-S-E?”
“Well, yeah. But this isn’t H-O-R-S-E my dear boy. This... this is one-on-one with a living legend. This is a game to 21 with one of the most fearsome basketball players to ever play the game of basketball!”
As the ghost of Julius Erving and Khyri Thomas reach the top of the stairs, a man from a throne sitting atop a glass pyramid yells out,
“Halt! Who dare challenge me in my own Kingdom?”
“It’s me, Khyri Thomas.”
“Khyri Thomas, eh? You think you can beat me in a game of one-v-one?”
“If you’re like either of the last two bozos then yeah, there isn’t a doubt in my mind that I can succeed in beating you.”
“You’re wrong! I’m nothing like those bozos! That’s because I’m-”
“Let me guess - the ghost of Bob Schafer? Bob Boozer? Dana Altman?”
“No you fool, I’m Spud Webb!”
There you have it.
That’s Khyri Thomas’s final opponent, and all he has to do is put up 21 points on him.
Mind you, this isn’t Spud Webb in his prime. This is Spud Webb right now. He’s currently 53 years old and hasn’t played professional basketball since 1998. That’s before some of you, or your kids, or your grandkids, were born.
Khyri Thomas absolutely ran the table on Spud Webb. Standing at 6’3 and a full 30 years younger, Spud Webb didn’t stand a chance.
First, Khyri dunked on him. It was make-it take-it so Khyri set up at the top of the key and dunked on him again. In fact, Khyri proceeded to dunk on Spud Webb 20 consecutive times before Spud Webb stole the ball and banked in a three.
So it was 20-2. Spud Webb proceeded to throw up another desperation heave, only for the ball to end up right in Khyri’s hands.
From the sidelines the ghost of Julius Erving could be heard yelling in an exasperated tone, “Dr. J believes in you! You can do this Khyri! Give him the dunk of Tazz!”
Khyri shrugged his shoulders and mashed the orange orb into the hoop over Spud Webb, breaking the rim off the backboard, and winning the game.
Khyri then placed the rim around his neck, high-fived the ghost of Julius Erving, and reveled in the fact that he just high-fived Dr. J.
Spud Webb wept, but as he wept the opening to the alleyway began to present itself. Khyri had completed all that was asked of him, and his journey home finally came to a close.
CenturyLink Center, Omaha - 7:05pm
As the basketball season finally came into fruition, young Khyri Thomas would never forget the time he spent in the basketball ether. He learned that ghost players will disintegrate if you play H-O-R-S-E against them and that Spud Webb challenges players to one on one games - even though he’ll probably lose.
As the ball is tipped and the season begins, the ghost of Dr. J, Pete Maravich, and Marvin Barnes in his prime look down longingly from the rafters at Khyri bounding up and down the court, playing stellar defense, and dunking over opposing players.
“That’s our boy,” the ghost of Marvin Barnes in his prime says with a tear in his eye, “That’s our boy.”