Friday, November 30th. 9:48pm
Coconut Grove, Miami (BP) -- A
cold wind blows down the alleys of South Beach. A row of drab and dingy
apartments seem to soak up the darkness of the night. One building in
particular appears ready to collapse under the weight of all the grime and
decay. A gate off the side of the building swings open in the wind.
Beyond it is a narrow drive, and then several small shacks, the smallest
of which glows with a dull flickering light. From the window, the
figures inside can hardly be distinguished from smudges on the cracked glass.
Inside a family of five sits around a can of beans on
a hotplate. Their faces are gaunt and discolored with soot. The entire domicile consists of one room with a single bed next to a battered looking shared bureau. The home's sole decoration sits on this bureau, a
large framed picture of Danny Green surrounded by candles. The mother's hair is abnormally short, and she
wears a homemade dress that's the same fabric as the baby's diaper. Her
two boys wear shorts with their shirts hanging on by tatters. The father is a bleary-eyed man still in his work uniform, whose age can not be estimated from years of hard living. A rat
darts along the line where the wall meets the floor and disappears. Everyone watches the
beans heat in silence.
There is a knock at the door. The family at first doesn't even register the long forgotten sound. There is another knock. This time the father looks at the door, while the rest of his family continues to gaze at the beans. After a moment of quiet, the father turns his head back to the beans. The knock returns louder than before, and this time continues until the father has walked over and opened the door.
A lone figure stands in the dark of the doorway. A sudden wind blows into the room and the candles flicker as shadows dance about wildly. Finally, the wind dies down and the candlelight settles on the stranger's face. The father gasps when he recognizes the visitor, then exclaims in an awed tone, "Commissioner Stern! What are you doing here?"
The visitor pauses a second at the entrance's threshold. Noticing this the father quickly says, "Please come in Commissioner Stern." At this invitation, the old man in the doorway smiles and says, "Please, my young friend, it's Poppa Stern tonight." The father ushers his guest towards his family. When they see the familiar face of the NBA commissioner, everyone jumps up in excitement. The youngest boy immediately offers Poppa Stern his seat and his precious portion of the beans. Stern chuckles at this avuncularly, and then takes a seat, inviting the boy to sit on his lap. Once everyone is settled, he starts to speak in a kind voice to those who have gathered around him.
I have been informed that this family recently went to see a Miami Heat game. According to my sources, this was at quite an inconvenience for you, with Dale here having to pick up an extra shift at the diseased animal crematorium, and Daisy having recently sold most of her hair. As you know, the wretched coach Popovich decided that these sacrifices were unimportant and sat all his starters for the game. So, I just have one question for you. Was your experience at that Heat game satisfactory?
The whole family immediately starts chirping all sorts of positive sentiments, explaining how much they love the league, and what a great job the commissioner had always done. Every word drips with the honey of their wholehearted sentiments. As he listens, Stern's fingers tap on the table almost imperceptibly, but the eldest boy's eyes are drawn to this from across the table. Stern lifts his hand and the family grows quiet. A smile grows across his lips, and he turns to the young boy sitting on his knee to ask him what he thought of the game. The young boy begins too quietly to hear, before Stern, chuckling, tells him to speak louder.
Well, it was a pretty good game, I guess. We got to see Gary Neal and the score was pretty close, but... Well, it's just that...
At this Stern coaxes him gently with the words, "It's OK, son", and the boy immediately bursts into tears. The family watches horrified, but a smile from their visitor shows them all is well. The boy expresses himself haltingly through sobs.
We wait every year to see Danny Green play, and that mean old Mr. Popovich robbed us of that! We love Danny Green, he's the only reason we ever watch the home team Heat, and now we won't get a chance to see him in the flesh for a whole year. It's hopeless! All that hard work was for nothing, and now I have a bald-headed mommy.
Stern looks around at the family—their heads all hung low, their eyes gazing at the floor. The beans have started boiling over, but nobody notices. The visitor clears his throat, and begins to speak in a grand and solemn tone.
You know, this family, everybody sitting here, you are the real NBA fans. You are the people who have made this league great. And that is exactly why I fined the Spurs $250,000 dollars for what they did to you. Which brings me to why I'm here.
From his coat, Stern pulls out a large wad of bills and places it on the table. The family stares at the pile in awe, as periodically little spurts of boiling bean juice stain the green paper. Stern laughs.
What are you waiting for? That's 20,000 dollars just sitting there. It's yours, take it. I would never dream of fining a team that much money and then just making the money disappear being a wall of unaccountability. And that's why I'm doing what's right, and going around giving it to those who deserve it most. What? Did you think I was just gonna take this money and buy a new Lamborghini? (Laughs) I would never do that. My current Lamborghinis are far too nice.
The father reaches ever so slowly for the money pile. He picks the cash up and holds it in his hands, still not believing. All of a sudden, he bursts into hysterical laughter. He looks at his wife who starts laughing too. Soon the children join in, and the whole family's laughter fills up their modest home with the snugly echoing sounds of joy. This causes the old man with the child on his knee to smile. As he looks around from smiling face to smiling face, the candle light dances across his eyes. When his gaze comes to the eldest child, he is surprised to find that the boy has stopped laughing. Instead, a concerned look has fallen across his face with the shadows. The boy looks up and sees he's being watched. He stares back for a moment while his family goes on laughing, and then the curious expression he sees on his guest's face inspires the child to speak.
This is very generous of you Poppa Stern, but I can't help but feel a little funny taking this money.
This causes the families laughter to die out, and everyone looks at the NBA commissioner, who let's out an uncomfortable laugh. The child on his knee looks up at him expectantly.
Why do you say that, my son? The money is yours. You should take it.
The questioning child shifts in his seat uncomfortably. He looks over at his father, who gives him a disapproving look. At the sight of this, the boy lets his head droop down towards the table. For a moment, it seems like that will be the end of it, but then the precocious youth looks back up and continues his thought.
It's just that, it isn't really our money, you know? It belongs to the San Antonio Spurs, and they worked hard for it. I can't help feeling that you should have, I dunno, warned them or something before fining them a quarter of a million dollars.
The room is so quiet that the sounds of mouse feet can be distinctly heard. Stern's face has grown as white as freshly fallen snow. In a barely whispered tone, the words, "I see", escape his lips. At this, he rises, causing the child on his knee to fall to the floor with a thud. The child starts to cry loudly. The commissioner's eyes dart over to the father, still holding the money. He grabs the money away from the father in one quick violent motion, and stuffs the bills back into his dark overcoat. He then turns and exits, leaving the family staring at the slammed door.
Outside there are three large men who meet him. Stern makes a few gestures before walking into a black car with tinted windows. The men act quickly; one of them nails a board across the front door, while the other two begin dousing the house with gasoline. One man retreats to the driver seat of the car, which pulls away as another man strikes a match and throws it on the shack, causing it to burst into flames. The two men stare on expressionless, watching the door, and listening to the cries from within the burning building as the glowing flames grow higher.
The luxury car purrs along the highway. Inside, Stern is seated on the leather upholstery, looking out the window at the city lights. An assistant sits next to him, sharply dressed, with a face too generic for description. The assistant looks forward in silence. Stern turns to him and asks something. The assistant produces a long list from his pocket that's written on thin paper, curling up at the end. Stern asks: "Who's next? The kid with the paper route who saved up for front row seats?" His sycophant nods. "Good. I hope he's less problematic, for his sake. But if not...(laughing) that's why God created gasoline."