Ben Simmons stared at his coach in disbelief.
“How many do I have to make?”
Brett Brown, already in a sour mood, glared at Ben. “Was I not clear? Five thousand free throws. You embarrassed me tonight, and I don’t want what happened tonight to ever happen again. Five thousand makes from the stripe, then I’ll let you go home. Until then, get shooting.” He turned without another word and walked out, locking the doors as he left.
Ben watched him go, furious. He was tired, he was hungry, and here he was trapped in a practice gym with nothing but a basketball and his own thoughts. Not even a rebounder. He thought about just sitting on the floor and refusing. They’d have to let him out eventually, right?
Suddenly, the lights went out, leaving only the tiniest glow coming from the outline of the door. That was enough, Ben thought. Really time to quit now. He had found the coziest corner of the gym to try and get some sleep when coach Brown’s voice boomed over the PA system.
“Get shooting, Benny boy! I’m watching you! You think I’m joking? You’re not getting out of there until you do what you’re told!”
Ben stumbled to his feet, grabbing the basketball he had been trying to use as a pillow. His eyes were getting used to the darkness now, and he could faintly see the outline of a backboard. He got as close as he could figure to free-throw distance, and began shooting.
It was tough going. Every miss sent the ball careening into some pitch-black corner of the gym, slowing his progress considerably. He tried to keep count in his head, 10, 20, 30, but he soon lost count, and in the darkness his thoughts began to turn inwards. Soon, he wasn’t thinking at all about the free throws, but about the injustice being wrought upon him, and of the jeers of the Philly crowd earlier that night…
Ben kept his eyes closed as a strong hand shook his shoulder. “Did I finish? Can I leave?”
“Finished? Boy, you made about 100 before you feel right asleep on the court!” laughed an unfamiliar voice.
Ben opened his eyes. The gym was still completely dark, but a glowing figure towered over him. A giant of a man, wearing a vintage-looking 76ers uniform with tiny shorts…
“In the flesh. Or, not in the flesh. Not technically.”
Ben stood up, his joints creaking like they hadn’t moved in a hundred years. He grimaced, stretching his arms over his heard.. “So, are you real, or is this just a hallucination brought on by overexertion?”
“Who says the two are any different?”
Ben pondered this for a moment, then shrugged. “Whatever. Let me guess what wisdom you’ve got to share with me. I don’t need to shoot free throws well to become a great player. I can play my own game and find success in my own way. Believe in yourself. Strength comes from within, not from without. Don’t stick your dick in crazy.” he said slightly sarcastically, ticking off his fingers. “Am I missing anything?”
Wilt looked slightly put out. “No, I think you covered it all. I come all this way, at great personal cost, just to have some punk rookie tell me all the wisdom I learned over an illustrious career spanning several decades?” He was angry now.
“Yeah, well, maybe your wisdom kind of sucked in the first place.”
Ben noticed Wilt start to fade out. “Have fun with your career, kid.” said the rapidly diminishing specter. “Let me know when you score 100”. With that, he disappeared, leaving the gym in blackness once again.
Ben stood for a minute in silence. “I will” he muttered at the emptiness where the legend used to stand. Then, he grabbed his ball and resumed shooting.