JaVale McGee stepped out of the taxi and, after collecting his luggage from the trunk, gave the driver a sizable tip. In one of the carriers, a trio of restless penguins stared out at the unfamiliar surroundings with distrust, then back to JaVale, as if demanding an answer to their silent question, “where are we?”.
They were in the Philippines to visit an old friend of JaVale’s who had extended the invitation. And while some of the neighborhoods they had driven through had caused JaVale to wonder if he would have the same level of comfort here that he was used to in his own country, the house they were currently standing in front of put his mind at ease. It was large, well-kept, and had plenty of visible security. He walked up to the front door and run the door bell, a small pang of nervousness flowing through him. It had been so long since they had seen each other…
Before JaVale could pursue that thought further, the door opened. A smiling face, unmistakable despite the decade that had aged it, greeted him. “JaVale! Good to see you my man!”
JaVale set his things down on the stoop as Andray Blatche brought him into a hug. “Good to see you as well, old friend.”
“Come in, man!” Andray said, finally releasing his former Wizards teammate after many pats on the back. “And don’t worry about your stuff, I got a butler who can take care of all that.”
“Actually, I’ll take this one,” JaVale replied, nudging the carrier with his foot. “My lovelies are feeling grumpy from the plane ride. They need to flex their legs.” As soon as he brought them inside and opened the door of the carrier, the three penguins scampered out and made themselves at home on the furniture in Andray’s living room.
Andray watched the semi-aquatic avian visitors with confusion. “Penguins?”
“Meet Beaks, Squabbles, and Mr. Tuxedo,” JaVale said, pointing to each of his pets in turn. “I stole them from the zoo I was employed at.”
Andray laughed heartily. “Classic JaVale.”
JaVale winced. The reputation he had garnered as an immature bonehead, while well-earned at the time, was something he wished to leave in the past. “I would not repeat such childish antics these days, of course.”
Mr. Tuxedo had waddled up to Andray with his wings extended, waiting to be picked up. The bird’s request was ignored. “You want something to drink?” Andray asked before a fond memory brought a new smile to his face. “Remember how me, you, and Nick used to hit five clubs in one night after home games? Those were the days, man. Everybody knew us. Free drinks everywhere we went.”
“We were all so young then,” JaVale laughed, trying not to let his unease come through in his voice. Recently, he had been feeling that his immature teammates in Washington had stunted his growth, not just as a professional basketball player, but as a professional human being. Playing with legends like Steph Curry and LeBron James had opened his eyes to what true leadership and professionalism were. “I’m not so much partying for me these days. All I need is a quiet night at home with a good book.”
Andray’s butler arrived with a tray on which stood two full bottles of whiskey and two shot glasses. Andray ignored the glass and began drinking straight from the bottle, while JaVale politely poured himself a dainty amount of the drink. Squabbles, knowing that her owner often drank sweet, fruity concoctions, jumped on JaVale’s lap, but once she sniffed the strong-smelling brown liquid, she hopped back off in protest.
“There ain’t no quiet nights in the Blatche household,” Andray said proudly. “I’ll take you out tonight, remind you what a good time is. I gotta tell you, there’s so many beautiful women here, my man.”
The saucy wink that followed this statement made JaVale’s stomach flop with disgust. He wanted to be a gracious guest, but also didn’t want to end up in any uncomfortable situations. Going out on the town, with the expectation of bedding one or many of the local female population, was not what he had in mind when he agreed to visit his friend. “I must decline. That time of my life has passed, Andray,” he said firmly.
Andray turned his head to and fro as if looking for something missing. “Yo, what’d you do with JaVale? Who’s this imposter in my house?”
“I am no imposter,” JaVale replied.
“You sure is talking like one. The real JaVale would do three chicks in a row and look around for more. The real JaVale loved pitbulls, not penguins. The real JaVale would at least take a sip of the booze that his friend generously poured for him! You’re not the real JaVale!”
“I am the real JaVale,” JaVale said, standing up in anger. “And I should have known better to think that the real Andray would accept the changed man that I am! Come, my lovelies. It is clear we are unwanted here.” And with that, JaVale wrenched open the front door and walked out, a parade of three black-and-white penguins shuffling after him.