“No, you can’t do that anymore,” Andrew said, left hand on his hip, right pointer finger raised and shaking back and forth. He was the sassiest ginger kid Dave had ever met, but god damn did he suck at basketball. Sure, he loved the sport, knew more about it than even Dave with his encyclopedic knowledge of essentially anything NBA-related, but absolutely had no functional ability of any sort when it came to playing. He was like a paraplegic child in an Olympic swimming competition. Dave almost felt bad when they played together, Andrew’s score rarely hitting digits over zero. In truth, however, Dave knew that playing against Andrew was becoming more and more of a waste of time if he really wanted to compete at a professional level someday.
“Can’t do what anymore?” Dave said, chasing the basketball toward the far end of the court. It was now slowly rolling beyond the basket, heading toward the folded bleachers and threatening to get lost in the inaccessible abyss beneath.
“You can’t shoot from the three-point line anymore.”
“Wait, what?” Dave said, grabbing the basketball just short of the bleachers.
“Yeah, that’s no longer allowed,” Andrew said. Dave watched from the corner of his eye as Andrew quickly wiped his face off with Dave’s Space Jam towel. He pretended not to notice, but cringed inside. That was his towel—he brought it from home, carried it all day, and kept it clean for his own, personal use. Now Andrew’s disgusting sweat would be seeping into Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan’s faces, which meant he’d certainly end up rubbing it against his own mouth if he used it. The idea of licking Andrew’s sweat was incredibly unappealing, even if it was done via official Space Jam towel.
“Since when?” Dave said, walking back toward Andrew with the basketball under his arm.
“Few weeks ago. NBA passed some rule about it. Said they were unfair for the less-skilled shooters and promoted a rape culture.”
“Really? A rape culture? That’s a ridiculous claim,” Dave said, studying Andrew’s face. He was still so sweaty—it was almost inhuman how much Andrew sweat. He could be in a pool and still come out soaked in more sweat than pool water. Dave always assumed it had to do something with his ginger-genes, that bright-orange hair infesting his sweat glands and producing more than anyone ever needed.
“That’s the word,” Andrew said. “Something about the whole ‘three pointer’/’third base’ analogy. It’s supposed to protect our sensibilities as a culture. The NBA is taking a very stern anti-rape approach this season, as opposed to last season’s astoundingly pro-rape message.”
“Pro-rape? Are you serious?”
“Yeah,” Andrew said.
“Fine, whatever. My ball?” Dave said, dribbling the basketball.
“Sure.” Andrew stood in front of Dave, eyes following the bouncing ball. “What are you doing?”
“What?” Dave said.
“The ball, what are you doing with it?”
Dave stared down at the ball, watching it bounce up and down in his hand.
“Dribbling, I guess?”
“Yeah, no, you’re going to have to stop that.”
“I can’t dribble anymore?”
“No, NBA said it wasn’t fair to taller players. They had to exert more effort for an effective dribble than the shorter players. Instead you have to cradle it like an infant. If you drop the basketball now, you actually are removed from the game for poor simulation parenting. It is supposed to help promote family ethics and equality.”
“Are you shitting me?” Dave asked, ball now stationary on his up-turned palm.
“Whoa, language. But yeah, no more dribbling.”
“Whatever, can we just play the damn game?”
“I’m the one waiting for you, man. But one second.” Andrew reached into his back pocket and pulled out glittery mask, green and red rhinestones plastered over the face. It had two slanted, rhomboid eyes and a slight bump for a nose. It reminded Dave of Mardi Gras.
“The fuck is that?” Dave asked.
“NBA started making defensive players wear masks, so as to protect their identity if they smack the basketball too hard. They were worried about lawsuits from the Child Protective Services.”
Dave stared at Andrew and shook his head, deciding not to point out the hundreds of flaws in such a stupid statement. He sighed and moved his feet into position, turning his body in preparation for a run to the net. He rotated his hand, allowing the ball to fall to the floor, then caught it mid-air, remembering the new rules. He brought it back toward his chest, cradling it like a new-born infant. He rushed to the right two steps.
“What is that?” Andrew shouted, pointing at the ball.
“You’re shitting me, right? What now?”
“You’re going to hold the ball like that? What about its head? Have you any idea how delicate an infant’s neck is?”
Dave glanced down at the ball, which was resting within his crossed arm. “Dude, it’s a ball. It looks fine to me.”
“Looks dead, man. If this were the NBA, you’d be suspended for who knows how many games.” Andrew walked over to Dave and turned the ball 180 degrees so that the black air-pump circle was facing away from Dave. “There you go.”
Dave stared at Andrew and rolled his eyes. He got into position to, once again, rush toward the net. Andrew always sucked at defense, and Dave constantly took advantage of this. Yet his go-to three pointer had apparently become obsolete. Dave glanced up at the basket, then faked to Andrew’s left, quickly switching direction and heading to his right. He was clear of his shoddy-defense. Dave jumped upwards, dunking the ball through the hoop. His feet hit the ground before the ball.
“Dave! Are you serious?” Andrew said, running after the ball. He stopped it with his left hand and bent down to pick it up, then softly cradled the ball in his arm. Dave watched as Andrew lifted his mask and placed a delicate kiss upon what would be its head. He seemed to be whispering softly to it.
“Andrew, what in the fuck are you doing.”
“What am I doing? What am I doing, Dave? What are you doing? You just basically threw the ball at the ground. Who knows what kind of damage you just did to it.”
“It’s a ball, Andrew. Balls are meant to hit the ground.”
“Not according to the NBA. You broke two cardinal rules with that little game of yours. Not only has dunking been made illegal to assist the melanin-impaired players, but—since the basketball is now treated as a new-born infant—dunking is a huge ethics violation. It’s like throwing a baby against the ground, which is highly frowned upon with almost all cultures except, I think, the Swiss.”
“Andrew,” Dave said.
“No, Dave, this is serious. Yes, you were always pretty good at basketball, but it’s an evolving sport. You need to understand these rules and not violate them. If this were the NBA, I honestly think you might have some jail-time right now.”
“Andrew,” Dave continued, “I think I’m done with this game. This is crazy, it’s nanny-state basketball.”
“That’s pretty short-sighted of you, Dave. This is the future of sports and you’re basically like the bigoted old grandfather who refuses to attend the wedding of his grand-daughter and her lover who also just so happens to be a basketball.”
Dave stared at Andrew, his head still bent down next to the basketball. He was softly rubbing his cheek against it, eyes now closed. He lightly kissed the ball. Dave turned and began walking toward his Space Jam towel, no longer caring about the inordinate amount of sweat that had likely drowned Michael and Bugs.
“Wait,” Andrew shouted. He ran up behind Drew, his sneakers squeaking softly against the laminated court. “Let’s just play one more point. My ball.”
“I don’t know, man, this kind of sucks now.”
“Come on, don’t be a—” Andrew covered the sides of the basketball with his palm, “—puss.”
Dave stared at Andrew, one eyebrow raised. His face was absolutely soaked in sweat, as if someone had thrown several glasses of water on it and then never stopped doing so. A large garbage bin of various sports equipment—balls, sticks, clubs, nets—stood beside him, which he had brought out when they first arrived for apparently no reason.
“Fine, one more point, then I’m out of here.” Dave turned and walked back toward the hoop. A smack echoed through his skull, knees buckling immediately beneath him. He fell to the floor, a sharp pain emanating from the back of his head and running down his spine. He reached back, groaning softly in pain.
“Man, this game really isn’t for you anymore, is it,” Andrew said. Dave turned his neck up toward him, careful not to touch the now-throbbing back of his head to the floor. Andrew, his mask back over his face, was still cradling the basketball like an infant, but now had a hockey stick in his left hand.
“What the fuck was that?” Dave moaned, surprised by how whiny his voice sounded.
“Seriously? Do you even follow this sport anymore?” Andrew said. “You are now allowed to hit the other players with hockey sticks so long as they aren’t carrying the ball, don’t have a mask on, and are not facing you. Also, if you are the one carrying the basketball, you are given ten points and a free coupon for ten dollars off breakfast at Denny’s. Product placement, I know, but who’s complaining? I am going to call up the league and see if I can get mine shipped.”
Dave closed his eyes, not entirely sure if playing professional basketball was a realistic dream anymore.
Writing Prompt: He was once a master of the game, but the rules changed, and he could not.