The reception area in front of James Dolan’s office consisted of a few small chairs that were not nearly large enough to accommodate the size of the man sitting in them. For the tenth time in the past ten minutes, Mitchell Robinson nervously checked his phone for nothing in particular, but this attempt at providing himself a distraction was unsuccessful; thoughts of self-doubt continued to swirl in his mind. Had he done something bad? Had posted something insensitive on social media? Why would the owner of the Knicks want to meet him unless he had somehow brought shame upon the Knicks name?
“Mr. Dolan is ready to see you now,” the receptionist said from behind her desk. Mitchell got up to cautiously open James’ door.
“Mitchell! Come in, come in,” James said warmly, sensing the player’s hesitancy. “Make yourself comfortable.” As Mitchell sat down, James switched demeanors and fixed Mitchell with a stare. “Tell me, Mitchell. Do you like playing for the Knicks?”
Mitchell felt uncomfortable being stared at. He also didn’t know where James’ line of questioning was going to lead. He had been warned that the Knicks owner could be…enigmatic…at times. “Uh, yeah. For sure,” he eventually answered.
“Good to hear,” James replied. “Since you enjoy playing for the Knicks so much, you must understand, then, that direct requests from the owner of the team should be unquestioningly complied with?”
It took a while for Mitchell to fully comprehend this question, and when he did, he wasn’t sure he agreed with the premise. But James seemed to be in a mood where it would be unwise to disagree. “Yeah. Sure. I guess.”
“Fantastic. Then you’ll have no problem agreeing to play with my band tonight as a fill-in bass player.”
Mitchell did have a problem with that. Not only did he strongly prefer rap to the blues-rock style of James’ band, but he had never played a bass guitar in his life. The former was an issue that could possibly be overcome, but the latter was a show-stopper. “I don’t play bass.”
“You do now,” James continued. “If you want to keep playing for the Knicks, that is. Here’s a flyer with the name of the club we’re playing.”
Mitchell read the name of the band: “JD and the Straight Shot.” Below that was text which read “With Special Guest: NBA Superstar Mitchell Robinson!” He looked up at James to protest his inclusion on the flyer, but James was already on his feet and shooing him out of his office.
“We’ve got a bass you can use,” Dolan said to Mitchell as he closed himself back into his office, answering one question but leaving a multitude unanswered.
Mitchell arrived early to the club, intending to let James know that a terrible misunderstanding had occurred and that he wouldn’t be able to play bass for the band. He wandered around backstage for a bit, wondering where James was; not finding him, he checked the stage instead. James wasn’t there either, but the band’s drummer was there setting up his drum kit.
The drummer grimaced when he saw Mitchell approach him. After introducing himself as Bill, he said, “Sorry, man. Dolan’s always pulling off these stunts. You didn’t need to show up.”
“He was gonna cut me from the team if I didn’t.”
“Oh,” Bill replied. “Well, the good news is, I gave the sound guys the bass tracks for all our songs, so they can pipe them through the speakers while you pretend to play. We don’t even have to plug you in.”
That sounded good to Mitchell. For the first time, he allowed himself to hope that he would make it through the show without getting his contract voided.
As Mitchell stood there with the bass guitar in his hands, playing a fake bassline to a song he had never heard before in his life, he thought to himself that things could be going worse. James, enamored with his own rock-star image and the “adoration” of the “crowd”, hadn’t noticed that Mitchell wasn’t actually playing anything.
The song ended, and James pointed to Mitchell. “Let’s hear it for our bassist and Knicks star center Mitchell Robinson!” To this, there was a small amount of applause which was nevertheless more applause than any of the band’s songs had gotten. “And now, he’ll be treating us to a bass solo! Take it away, Mitch!”
Mitchell looked at James in disbelief, then at the bass (which didn’t even have a cable plugged in), then at the drummer (who looked mortified). Calmly, he set the bass down on the stage and walked off.
“Just nerves,” James reassured the crowd, but when it became clear that the bassist wasn’t coming back, he started to panic. “Mitchell! This is your contract we’re talking about! Get back here and play a BASS SOLO!”
Mitchell was walking out the back exit, but could still hear James becoming more unhinged as more references to contracts were made. He wondered if he would get cut after all. If that meant no longer playing for a Dolan-owned team, he decided that being off the Knicks might not be so bad after all.