Sitting in the empty bleachers with a basketball sitting inertly between his feet, Ben Simmons idly browsed his phone. He knew he was supposed to be grateful that the 76ers had lined up an empty gym, completely free of COVID-19, for him to practice in, but he just couldn’t work up the motivation to actually make use of it. With no trainers to help him run drills and no teammates to serve as a target for his passes, there was only one skill he could really work on, and it was the skill that he had the most distaste for:
Every time he thought about the act of shooting a jumpshot, he remembered the pleading statements from coaches and teammates, begging him to be a more willing shooter, and remembering those things caused him to shut down. He couldn’t deal with the public shame of having a pathological fear of jumpshots, so he ignored it. If he ignored it, then it wasn’t a problem.
But it was a very hard thing to ignore when by yourself in a gym and having had it suggested to you that the epidemic would be a good time to work on his jumper.
The wooden bleacher underneath him creaked loudly, which was strange since Ben hadn’t shifted or otherwise done anything to cause the noise. He looked down at it with distrust, but when it was silent, his attention went back to his phone. Joel had just sent him a message asking how the workout was going. Ben wondered if he had it in him to lie and say that he had gotten hundreds of shots up. In reality, he had half-heartedly worked on his ball-handling for three minutes. That had been an hour ago. He had been sitting in the bleachers ever since.
Suddenly, the bleacher he was sitting on splintered completely, sending him plummeting towards the floor. But the expected impact with the floor never happened. Instead, he was falling through a dark void, the illumination of the gym getting fainter as he fell further and further away from it. Soon, it was pitch-black. For how long he tumbled through the blackness, he didn’t know.
Ben opened his eyes to find himself at the edge of a rocky precipice. Towering columns of flame rose up all around him. Screams of torment filled the gloomy cavern, each piercing shriek of agony multiplied tenfold by the maddening echo. It didn’t take long for Ben to realize where he was.
He was in Jumpshot Hell.
Below him was a roiling, searing inferno, and one careless step would send his soul plunging into that infernal chasm full of damned souls sentenced to an eternity of suffering. Ben scooted himself backward, away from the rocks’ edge, then got to his feet. However, as he walked away from that terrifying ledge, a wall of pure flame rose from the ground, blocking his path. Escape from Jumpshot Hell would not be so easy.
“Help us! HEEEELP USSSSSS!” issued a voice from one of the condemned.
“Don’t you wish to see who is begging for your aid?” came a mocking voice from above. “Maybe you can help them, Ben. Maybe you can give them some pointers.” This statement was followed by screeching, demonic laughter.
Ben couldn’t bear to look directly at the tormented soul pleading for mercy. Instead, he looked up to see a bat-like creature descending from the ceiling of the cavern to perch on another ledge that was nearby. When it landed, it morphed forms, turning into a human shrouded in a black cloak. In place of a head and face was a ball of fire in shape of a skull.
Stricken with pure despair and terror at the unholy sight, Ben fell to his knees. “I’m sorry I wasn’t practicing my jumpshot! I’m sorry! Please spare my unworthy soul! I’ll do anything!”
“Anything?” repeated the Overlord of Jumpshot Hell. More bats were descending, gibbering in a chorus of occult tongues, waiting to grab Ben and throw him into the waiting abyss.
“Anything!” Ben wailed.
Suddenly, they were back in the gym. But it was subtly different; the walls were warped like they were melting, and outside the windows there was not sunlight, but only the light of the unquenchable fires of Jumpshot Hell. He had escaped, but not really. He dripped with sweat from the unbearable heat as he stood face to face with the Unholy One.
“If you can make five-hundred three-pointers, I will release your soul from the unbreakable chains of damnation,” said the flame-entity in a booming voice.
“No problem,” Ben said. “Where’s the ball?”
The figure held its hands out. A perfect sphere of flame formed there. “You can use this.”
Tentatively, Ben reached out. Despite being made of pure flame, the sphere had mass to it, and he gripped it with both hands. Quickly, he took his first shot, his hands screaming in agony. It airballed. When he looked down, his hands were already blistering.
“Don’t worry if you miss a few, Benny boy. I’ve got all day,” said the Infernal Overlord. “One could even say that I have…an eternity.”
Cacophonous laughter filled the gym.