Jakob Poeltl was staring at his locker, looking for the second sock of a pair (the first sock being already on his foot), when a hazy apparition appeared in front of him. As Jakob watched with astonishment, it slowly coalesced and gained form until it took the unmistakable shape of a human. The spirit-cloud was glowing with a bright light, but when Jakob looked around to see if any of his teammates had taken note of the supernatural episode happening in Jakob’s locker or the emanating glow that was brightening the room, they were all oblivious. He returned his attention to the spectre, waiting for it to do something.
“Hello Jakob,” said the spirit-being in a dreamlike voice that did not travel through physical space, but instead, entered directly into Jakob’s auditory cortex.
“Who are you?” Jakob asked, drawing a weird look from Patty Mills, who was getting ready for the game in the adjacent locker.
“You don’t need to speak. I hear your thoughts,” the spirit told him. “As to my identity, do you have a guess?”
Jakob squinted at the misty, ethereal figure in front of him. There was a face there, but it was indistinct. The figure was quite tall, though. “Um, are you a dead NBA player?”
“Not dead,” the spirit replied.
Deciding that the “NBA player” part of his answer had been correct, Jakob had one more guess. “Tim Duncan?”
The spirit scoffed. “You think somebody like Tim Duncan would waste his time visiting you? He’s probably harrassing Deandre Ayton as we speak. You know, somebody with superstar potential.”
“I have superstar potential,” Jakob retorted feebly, with no conviction behind this thought.
“Trust me, you do not,” the spirit said. “That’s why you’re getting visited by the spirit of Tiago Splitter.”
If Tiago expected this statement to make a big impact, it did not. All Jakob did was raise his eyebrows slightly. He had heard the name before, but didn’t remember when Tiago had played or which teams he might have played for other than, presumably, the Spurs. “Why are you visiting me in my locker?” he asked, keeping his lack of knowledge of Tiago’s career to himself.
“You’re gonna get some minutes tonight, Jakob,” Tiago said in his ethereal voice which was unlikely to be the same voice he used while in his mortal form. “You need to stop being passive and just shoot the ball when you get it. It’s cool to be low-usage, but it’s not cool to be so low-usage that nobody can tell why you should get minutes.”
Again, Jakob raised his eyebrows. He didn’t think of himself as low-usage, just as a player who only took shots he was confident in. “Sure. Aggressive. Got it.”
“Two and a half seasons in the league as a lottery pick and not even one twenty-point game,” Tiago mused, correctly ascertaining that Jakob was still unconvinced. “Real impressive, dude.”
“I could score twenty if I felt like it,” Jakob replied surlily. “That’s not what coach needs me to do, though.”
“Forget that old man,” Tiago said. “What’s he gonna do, punish you for trying to score points in a blowout?”
Tiago chuckled. “Sorry, I forget that you mortals don’t have the benefit of being able to discern future events. Forget I said anything.”
Jakob had more questions, but the glowing haze was dissipating and the light level in the locker room was returning to normal. “Remember, Jakob. I want twenty points. Remember.” As this final sentence was said, the voice got quieter within Jakob’s mind until it was barely a whisper. Then, it was gone.
For a long time after that, Jakob simply stared at his locker, lost in thought. He only came back to his senses when Patty tapped him on the shoulder. “Yo, man, you find that sock yet? We gotta get going.”
Startled, Jakob again looked around his locker for the missing article of clothing. It was there at the bottom of the locker in plain sight. How had he missed it? Had it been there the entire time. “Found it,” he announced, grabbing it. “I’ll catch up in a minute,” he told Patty, sitting down to finish getting ready.
When he bent down to put the sock on his foot, he saw there was something written on it. Holding it up to his face, he read the words written in handwriting that wasn’t his:
“Jakob Poeltl – 20 Points – December 4, 2018”.