Lying in waiting, locusts and epic mountain tales, slow-motion highway drifts. The season had threatened to derail yet somehow, events kept sinking back into the primordial stew. Magic Johnson called out Jim Buss but a week later, questions and articles were erased, as if in a cyberpunk novella.
All-Star weekend had come and gone. Craig Sager was in his hotel room, picking the best parts out of a complimentary fruitcake. His rack of network-approved synthetic blends stood there silently. America’s sideline reporter peered at his cell. There were no text messages, no emails. There was a line of ants approaching the fruitcake from the left flank of the bed. There comes a tipping point in one’s life. Sager called the airline and changed his reservation.
An endless patchwork of ugly earth tones and smog unfurled as the 747 banked down. Sager looked out the window dispassionately. He had his headphones on. ‘Cause she knows that, it’d be tragic... if those evil robots win. Forty minutes later he successfully negotiated rental terms and marched through rippling heat waves toward a blue Chevrolet Aveo.
Nobody at the team’s headquarters in El Segundo had any idea where Jim Buss might be. It was true that he had an office here at the Toyota Center, supposedly. There didn’t seem to be a lot of people working today. Craig Sager sat in a waiting lounge and checked his messages. He was supposed to be in Atlanta. The girl’s voice sounded harried. He purchased a soda from the vending machine and carefully unfolded a piece of paper towel. The fruit cake was still pretty good. He had all the time in the world.
Hours passed. Sager wandered around the hallways. A couple young office workers hurried past, carrying cardboard file boxes stuffed with papers. Inside a copy room, a paper shredder had jammed. A security guard approached, put a gentle hand on Craig’s shoulder. “You really shouldn’t be here, Mr. Sager.” The man looked around carefully, then slipped a small piece of paper into Sager’s hands. “We never met.”
Sager cranked up the AC and began backing out. He noticed an older gentleman exiting a Mercedes S-Class, painfully. The man began walking, if you could call it that - his torso seemed to be advancing a foot or two in front of his legs. A blonde woman was accompanying him, along with a figure in a white robe, swinging an incense pot and looking skyward now and then. Craig shrugged off an uneasy feeling and drove away.
The strip club sported a facade with neon palm trees, currently experiencing electrical problems. Craig’s eyes adjusted to the gloom inside, the place smelled of stale smoke and room deodorizer. A girl squirmed halfheartedly on a small stage ringed by low chrome bars. A guy in familiar baseball cap was resting his head on his forearms at a table. Sager approached. “Is your name Jim?”
The head twisted up at him and the tiniest, most imperceptible spark might have winked from the corner of a bloodshot eye. He rolled his forehead back and mumbled into the table. “All I ever wanted was to please my father. We should party.” Sager shook his head slowly, something didn’t feel right. “No, we should get out of here.”
Jim said he wanted to go hiking. Craig just nodded as he piloted the Aveo through traffic. Any connection with reality had been left in Saskatchewan, a long time ago. He pulled into a 7-11 and purchased some terriyaki jerky and a slushy. Jim got a Mountain Dew Big Gulp, without ice.
The path began a gradual ascent, sloping canyon walls on either side. Loose pebbles and the dimples of a thousand footprints, plastic water bottles and soda cans, dented and bleached in the sun. Craig’s white leather loafers slipped and skidded and everywhere there seemed to be golden weed and sagebrush, low-lying clumps of prickly pear cactus. A red-tailed hawk circled high overhead, drifting in the late afternoon haze.
They had reached the top and were sitting. The city of angels stretched out forever below them, or until it disappeared into the smog. The sun was going down. Sager took a bite of his jerky. “You’re not really him, are you?” Jim shrugged, “who are we really?” He pulled out a wrinkled SAG card. “I never really worked a lot. Casting directors said I looked too much like Clint Howard. They gave me season tickets and then they said I couldn’t come around anymore. I don’t know what happened to the real Jim.”
Sager handed the card back. “You haven’t touched your Mountain Dew.” The actor looked sideways at him and smiled. Then turned his attention back to the smog belt. Layers of red and purple.
Ernie Johnson looked up from his notes and frowned. “What is it this time, Craig?” Sager smiled toothily, savoring the moment. “Okay, so the whole damned thing with Kobe and Jim Buss, right? Have I got a story.” Ernie stared. The tiniest spark might have flickered across his eyeball, behind the bifocals. Craig took an uncertain step backward, reached into his pocket for his android. His stubby fingers danced across the touch screen, pages scrolled. Jim Buss had never existed. Only broken noses and trade rumors.
A girl entered the room. "They’ve been waiting for you down in wardrobe, Mr. Sager. There’s a new chiffon sports jacket they’d like you to try.”
Sager’s eyes rolled wildly between Ernie Johnson and the girl. He tried screwing his courage to the sticking place. “Right. I just have to use the restroom first. Diet soda.” He shrugged, helplessly. Ernie frowned. “What were you saying before?”
Craig Bartholomew Sager shook his head. “Ah, haha. Nothing Ernie. Excited to try the jacket.”
The girl looked toward Ernie who nodded. She headed out the door. “We’ll be down in wardrobe, Mr. Sager.” She wagged a finger and attempted a playful tone. “Don’t you keep us waiting this time.”
Sager turned on the faucet, splashed his face. He straightened up, pulled a paper towel from the dispenser, folded it neatly and blotted his face. He considered saving the towel but it was starting to come apart at the folds. He examined his reflection from several different angles. He tried smiling at himself but only his mouth moved.
High tracking shot of a RAV4, heading north past the Canadian border. Intercut the slip of paper, now folded into a tiny Origami unicorn, perched by the washroom sink. Inside the car, Craig Sager had his eyes on the the road ahead. Jim was looking out the window at scenery floating by.
Sager’s V.O. “The security guard said the first Jim was special, no termination date. I didn’t know how long we’d have. No one does.”