Pete Maravich and Oscar Robertson stand
on a moon-lit basketball court in the heart
of the South Dakota Badlands. Two hardwood
legends set for some one-on-one in the dirt.
Pistol Pete, from Louisiana, nods at
his Ohio opponent, nicknamed Big O.
He wants to say something, but a whistle blows.
Chief Sitting Bull is tonight’s referee and
he takes guff from no soul, alive or not. Both
men turn and listen to his instructions and I
take a quick trip around, looking at the crowd.
Ghosts of living and dead people line the court.
Hank Aaron’s there, 41 feet from Babe Ruth.
The two of them nod, politely. Mean Joe Greene
has a wheelbarrow full of jerseys, some his,
some not. The natives refuse to accept them,
fearing small pox or athlete’s foot or something.
John Madden, Walter Cronkite, Howard Cosell
and Gus Johnson are being led into a
soundproof box, so no one has to hear them yell.
Kobe Bryant and Shaq are separated
by Aristotle and Sonny Corleone.
Al Pacino and Meryl Streep want to speak
with John Cazale, but he’s busy chatting with
R.P. McMurphy and Ken Kesey. Vroom! Vroom!
A line of motorcycles pulls up, led by
Marlon Brando, Old Ralph Barger and Charlie
Hunnam. Hunter S. Thompson and the Rolling
Stones just ran for the hills. Bob Dylan and Joan
Baez looked up for two seconds, then went back
to whatever they were talking about. John
F. Kennedy keeps glancing at Marilyn
and Joe DiMaggio’s pissed. Mickey Mantle
won’t stop dunking his donuts in coffee. The
Chief is done talking to Pistol and Big O.
He calls for the basketball. McMurphy smirks
and tosses him a bounce pass under the pale
moonlight. A loon runs past at full gallop. Geese
soar overhead. Sitting Bull blows his whistle,
and we’re ready. The ball is tipped. Here we are.
A single star falls from the heavens above.
Oscar controls the basketball. The crowd cheers,
then falls deathly silent. The only noise is
the steady WHUMP of leather on cold red dirt.
Robertson goes right after a crossover.
Maravich blocks his path with his left knee. Tweet!
The ref calls a foul. General Custer boos,
a bit too loudly. The whole crowd turns and glares
and old Custer just throws his hands up, like, “What?”
One minute into the game and I feel ill.
The wind picks up and I’m scattered away with…