It had all started with wanting to have some fun on the town after a tough loss against the Celtics, one of many losses that had been piling up at the beginning of the season. It wasn’t Jahlil’s style to mope around his hotel room after such a loss; he wanted to experience the NBA lifestyle. Hence, a trip to the nightclub at one in the morning.
Jahlil was used to being the center of attention; he couldn’t walk anywhere in Philadelphia without being recognized, and other cities were hardly better. Even growing up in Chicago and then playing a year at Duke, he learned quickly to ignore the inevitable trash-talking, and to be gracious towards those who showed him appreciation. But the crowd at this place was rowdier than he had ever experienced, and as he became more and more inebriated (despite being under the legal drinking age, no bartender had ever refused him a drink), the harder and harder it became to prevent himself from talking back.
Richaun Holmes leaned over the table. “Yo, Jah, we should get going.”
Nodding, Jahlil couldn’t help but agree with his teammate. The hecklers seemed to be getting more aggressive by the minute.
“76ers suck!” yelled one of them, a twenty-something man holding a tall can of beer and nearly falling out his chair from drunkenness. His friends all laughed at this very clever and articulate bit of discourse. The language was tame by heckling standards, but it was tinged with a genuine malice that made Jahlil uncomfortable.
As the two got up and walked towards the door, they were followed by the group who had laughed. This made Jahlil even more uncomfortable; usually he would be left alone once he had the benefit of physical distance on his side. He began to mentally prepare for some type of confrontation.
He didn’t have long to prepare; as they walked down the street, he was bumped into intentionally by the same man who had yelled his creative insult earlier. Jahlil spun around. “Watch where you’re going, man,” he said, confident that his ten-inch height advantage would deter the man from causing any more problems.
This confidence was short-lived, as the man had enough liquid courage in him to dare to push Jahlil in the chest. This act shocked even his friends, most of whom were hanging well back from the developing fight. One of them said, “Come on Matt, I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
Meanwhile, Richaun was likewise backing away from his teammate, who had quickly abandoned all attempts at self-control. “Dude, forget about it, let’s just leave,” Richaun said as Jahlil raised his fists.
Jahlil gave no indication that he heard his teammate’s pleas. When the man, apparently named Matt, saw that Jahlil was ready to throw fists, he turned to run away, but immediately had his shoulder grabbed by an extremely large hand. This same hand forcibly turned Matt around so that he and Jahlil were again face to face. Matt looked scared for his life. Jahlil thought this wasn’t an unreasonable worry.
When the first fist connected, Matt’s drunkenness had only allowed him to make a feeble attempt at dodging, so nearly the full power of Jahlil’s punch was transferred directly into his jaw. He remained on his feet, but only barely, staggering backward on the snow-slick sidewalk. Jahlil followed up the first punch with a second that was just as devastating, and this one was a clean knockout. He leaned over the man, preparing to deliver additional punishment, but seeing him unconscious and with a bloody cut on his face from where he hit the ground, decided to restrain himself. He waited for shouts of “Worldstar!”, but none were forthcoming.
“Dude, we gotta bounce, they’re calling the cops,” Richaun said anxiously, having spied one of the man’s friends dialing a number on his phone.
“No point,” Jahlil said shortly. “They know it was me. Might as well tell ’em what happened.” He looked over at the crowd of men who had been harassing him all night. “Does anybody else over there feel like backing up their words?”
As expected, there were no takers. Jahlil sat down on the curb and waited patiently for the police to arrive as Matt’s friends dragged his slowly-stirring form to a spot far away from either Sixers player.
But the police never came. After sitting for twenty minutes and letting the cold Boston air negate the effects of the alcohol in his system, he got up with Richaun and started walking back towards the team hotel, which was only a few blocks away.
“You know the team’s gonna find out about this, even if the cops ain’t involved,” Richaun said.
Jahlil shrugged, already resigned to his fate. “What’s the worst they can do? Suspend me? It’s not like that would cost us any games.”