December 23, 2011. It was late afternoon, the temperature was dropping. There were decorations and window displays along Park Avenue, together with grimy snow banks and the ever-present cacophony of car horns. Inside the Waldorf Astoria, at the end of its famed long bar, a trio of weary scribes with laptops and digital devices nursed colds and the futility of covering the NBA lockout, now in its 177th day.
League matters had been traveling in a byzantine fashion since November. A disclaimer had been filed and the union heads were no longer called union heads but were still asked to come chat now and then, as matters slithered through a dystopian morass and legal giants grappled futilely. It could have been a scene from the movie Brazil.
In an upstairs conference suite, Billy Hunter had created an impressive pile of wadded up tissues as he sipped tea and doodled in the margins of the owners’ latest proposal - now standing at 25% of basketball related income. Derek Fisher was slouched in a chair, trading texts with his wife and young daughters. He looked over at Billy, "I thought we weren’t allowed to be here."
Hunter’s eyes blazed brightly, for just a moment. "The North American Roundball Trading Company can talk to whoever they want, whenever they want!"
Fisher shook his head, it made no sense anymore.
Just down the hall, David Stern was ensconced in a game of bridge. He wore a cardigan sweater and a sour expression. His second, Adam Silver, squirmed in his chair, supremely uncomfortable with the angles of his body. "We could lower the offer to ten percent."
Stern glared. "What good does that do? What’s your bid?"
Silver pursed his lips and laid down his cards. "I have no bid."
One of the league’s young lawyers looked up hopefully. "My wife’s firm is having its office party tonight."
Silver craned his head around and chaffed his raptorial hands until they made a low, droning hum. The young lawyer looked down and hoped he would live to see the dawn.
As had been the case before, there were lives of people involved in some convergent story and hopes had faded and many had turned away. Media outlets reduced their presence, concession stand workers had sought other employment and some found none. And parents and children posed bleak scenarios but there were those that would not relinquish their lists and they tallied them and sought relief. And once again, dusk turned to night.
The man stomping snow from his boots was heavyset, with an overcoat and Santa’s stocking cap. He placed a leather satchel on the stool next to him, wiped a sleeve across a wet, gray beard and asked the bartender for a hot toddy. "It’s wicked cold out there."
A dark-haired writer with a patchy goatee, looked up from his unpronounceable lager and smiled slightly. "Nice hat for a winter evening."
The large man sipped his hot drink. "Sometimes it makes giving the gifts easier". He turned and offered a meaty hand. "The name’s Chris."
Another of the journeymen kept a lantern jaw behind his hand and snickered, "It’s not yet Christmas eve, Mr. Kringle." .
The man with the hat laid some crumpled bills on the bar. "You boys covering the lockout?"
A third writer polished his glasses and watched the sports roundup on an overhead television at the end of the bar. "If you could call it that. I’m not sure why we’re still here."
Chris shrugged, "There’s always a story to be told, gentlemen."
The television glowed brightly for a moment and then winked out, leaving only a luminescent reminder in the center of its screen. The writers seemed drawn to the distant light. When they looked back, the large man had left.
The elevator opened with a soft ding. Chris knocked on a door which presently opened. Adam Silver looked out and calibrated the possibilities. "How may we help you?"
David Stern peered around his deputy’s back with a peevish expression. "What is it, Adam? What does he want?"
Chris opened his leather satchel. "Commissioner Stern. I have a gift for you."
A couple of NBA security guys were on the heavyset man in an instant but he maintained his grip and withdrew a simple roll of banner paper, not unlike what you’d find in an arts and crafts store.
David Stern stared down his nose through his bifocals and offered caustically, "I don’t have my crystal ball, Santa. What is it?"
"Signatures mostly. And wishes. Kids, grownups, workers. They want their season back."
Stern scowled. "Tell it to the players and their mendacious agents. They’ve brought this pox upon us all."
The man with the gray beard nodded agreeably. "My old man used to take me to the Garden when I was a kid to see Connie Simmons and Carl Braun play. Some of those guys had to take other jobs."
David Stern’s expression turned. "Yes! This is what I’m talking about! Adam, listen to this man!" He leaned forward, beaming.
"Yeah, those were the days." He pulled a lanyard from his overcoat. "Chris Kowalski, I’m a licensed process server. The players have been joined in their class-action suit by the likes of over a million fans and workers. You might want to be sitting down when you take a gander at the damages they're seeking. Goodnight gentleman, I got miles to go, before I sleep."
The commissioner stared down at a sheaf of documents that had been thrust into his hands. And let out a long keening wail.
And not far away, Derek Fisher heard the anguished cry and tapped his tiny keys and finally smiled. "Daddy’s coming home for Christmas."
It was the wee hours of the morning. The slush had turned to ice. The writers were now making their way along a slippery sidewalk, their ever present backpacks and shoulder bags bumping together. In the distance, an all-night pizzeria.
An older model Crown Vic came yawing around a corner but the driver inside seemed unperturbed. Antlers were fastened to the grill with bungee cords. Strains of Ave Maria could be heard.
The window lowered as the Crown Vic sailed past. "Hope you fellas find what you're lookin' for!" Kowalski tapped the gas and the great hood lifted.