Jordan entered the towering office building, its plate glass windows gleaming in the afternoon sunlight. He had evaluated the numbers and got off the plane, around two hours late. No matter, they’d wait for him. As leader of the hardliner owners’ group, Jordan’s voice was one of the predominant ones in the room, and without him they couldn’t begin the meeting anyway. He smiled inwardly. The players union was crumbling, its membership split between those who wished to decertify and ride this storm out, and those who couldn’t afford to do so, and just wanted to capitulate to Jordan’s will. While on some level he relished the challenge from the former, there was no denying he would rather the latter group win out. The sooner he could break these kids over his knee, the sooner he could get back to working on his golf swing and counting his money. A pleasant thought, indeed.
He entered the board room.
Immediately a stench hit his nostrils that he hadn’t smelled before. It was unfamiliar, yet on an instinctive level it sent a chill down his spine. Humans are animals, and an animal knows the smell of death. The board room was absolute carnage, it was as though a hurricane had whirled through. Jordan had never seen such devastation in such a small area. The extravagant floor-to-ceiling plate glass windows cracked and spider-webbed, so battered by blunt force that one could barely see the environment outside. The long mahogany table splintered and split clean in two, at the center the broken suit-clad body of a small, dick-headed man; his once sleazily slicked back hair wildly askew and matted with clumps of dried blood. The detail that his arm had been seemingly been forcibly inserted into his rectum through the fabric of his tailored suit pants was not one that escaped Jordan’s keen eyes, which narrowed as he continued to survey the room. Where a water cooler had been slumped the bloated corpse of Paul Allen. It had been bloated before, of course, but this was different. This was the kind of expansion that took place within a water-logged corpse; a result Jordan quickly realized was due to the empty water cooler jug somehow completely around his head. Mike didn’t know how Allen’s head had gotten inside the water bottle with no signs of damage to the container, but he imagined the water that had been held within, now absent, must’ve been absorbed within Allen’s gaping, fuck-headed mouth. It was grotesque, and Jordan’s lip curled slightly as he curled his hands into fists. An array of bodies littered the room, most bludgeoned to death, as though subjected to a sudden and thunderous impact of blunt force trauma the likes of which the human body was in no way designed to endure.
But Jordan was not the only living being remaining in the room. Sitting in one of the few unbroken pieces of furniture in the room, though it’s Italian leather upholstery was deeply stained by the blood of many, was a man whose face Jordan knew all too well. A face he knew as well as his own. Jordan’s fists uncurled in shock. He reached for words, but found himself, for once, failing to find any that seemed right. At last, he managed at least one.
The figure slowly stood, his powerful chocolate muscles rippling through the faded and torn b-ball jersey clad around his torso like a Greek warrior’s toga.
“They deserved this Mike. You brought this on yourselves.”
Michael felt an anger welling up inside him, one that as it fought to burst forth he found himself strangely ashamed of. Almost as though somewhere, in some part of himself, he knew the man was right. But he couldn’t let this stand.
“You’re wrong! How could we have deserved this!? Forty-seven percent! I could’ve stuck with thirty-seven, but I didn’t! We tried to be reasonable!”
Jordan’s words poured out of him, a mixture of defensive outrage and pure rage. He realized that his words, no matter how emphatic, would not settle this. As he wound down, he found his body, though weaker and thicker with age, adopting a coiled stance he knew all too well. The stance of an athlete, a warrior, prepared to move and to execute its purpose. In the silence of the ruined board room, he felt himself suddenly acutely aware that the air conditioner had kicked on, producing a chill on his brow as it mingled with the sweat. The other man still had said nothing, choosing to remain silent throughout Jordan’s long outburst. His eyes fixed squarely on number 23, on the man he knew better than anyone. On the man he had come to confront, and to end. On the man he regarded as a brother. Finally, he spoke.
“Maybe Mike…I might be wrong.”
A long silence settled over the room, as both men knew that the statement was unfinished. Jordan let his tailored suit jacket fall from his shoulders as he prepared for what would be the most difficult battle of his life, more important than any he had faced in his life, on or off the court. And still he waited for the other man to finish his thought. He knew he would. But as Jordan rolled up his sleeves and steadied himself, leaning forward on the balls of his feet like a lean panther ready to pounce, the other man produced something from behind his back. It must’ve been there the whole time, how could it not have been? Yet Jordan didn’t see it. In another time, he never would have missed it, so important, so crucial. But he had missed it. The man held the object in one palm, clutching it, his powerful fingers running nearly the length of its black laces. A basketball. The orangey brown leather shone under the fluorescent lights of the board-room. Somehow brighter and more beautiful than Michael had ever seen. As though it glowed with the very essence of the game. It was glorious. The man took it in both hands, and Jordan saw both of his enormous sinewy arms flex with raw power. The look in the man’s eyes all thunder and vengeance and resolution. And then he spoke.
“I might be wrong, Mike. But I doubt it.”
Charles Barkley rocketed upwards in a pillar of fire.