Voodoo's Second Chance (Part 1 of 4)
May 13, 2014
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Moki Ixtlahuac shifted in the bed for what must have been the hundredth time that night. The gentle buzz produced by the half bottle of Jack Daniel's he'd downed earlier in the evening couldn't quite drown the powerful snoring emitted by his teammate Adil Ghafoor, the Pakistan-born brown bear sleeping like a log in the bed nearby.
For some reason, the imminent EuroBasket qualification game against Bosnia-Hercegovina was oddly distant from the buck's hazy thoughts, right at the moment where his focus should have been the highest. The Netherlands hadn't a good track record in the competition, having missed the qualification for twenty-five years straight, but a recent resurge of interest in the country (helped by the presence in the roster of two FBA prospects such as Christiaan Hengst and Debbie Michaels) had finally propelled them to the second round.
Regardless of that, one single thought kept insinuating into Moki's mind. One that had been haunting in his head for the better part of the last two years, often aided by generous amounts of alcohol and the victimization and frustration that followed all those lonely, whiskey nights.
Can you really get booted from the FBA because people think you're too nice to play pro basketball?
That one statement had been tailing him since his very first steps in the big leagues. After being picked by the Lorain Firestorm at the very end of the 2010 draft, Moki surely didn't expect to make an impact right off the bat, the young and inexperienced buck trying to make his way into a strong, close-knit rotation. The hard work he'd put in the gym every day would be rewarded sooner or later, he thought as he sat on the end of the bench, game after game, scrapping some garbage minutes here and there when the starters already had assured the 'Storm yet another victory.
That until he got to learn how often luck finds a way to strike in the most unexpected ways.
During an away game against the Keystones, with the result still up in the air, starting center Erich Haber had collapsed on the floor with a back injury. After the mink had been carried off on a stretcher, Coach Dresden had slidden Aisha Melbourne to center and Gerry Cross to point forward, putting Moki in as small forward in order to bring some much-needed athleticism to the crippled line-up.
Even without the German giant, the team could ball. Shot after shot had fallen, the lead on Pittsburgh quickly regained and then changing over and over in an exciting game of back-and-forth. The game was down to the wire – the two teams tied with 102 apiece and twenty seconds on the clock - when on a fortuitous fast break the ball had gotten to the buck, allowing him to score the easiest uncontested layup in basketball history. Which he'd missed.
A few seconds later, a 3-ball from Anthony Rios had handed the victory to the Keystones, 105-102.
From that moment on, Moki's destiny in Lorain had been marked. Within a week the Firestorm message board had exploded with all sorts of messages begging the team's GM Anthony Morrison to trade him as soon as possible. People called him “Extra Guac” and made up countless snarky remarks and jokes about that fatal play.
That, ultimately, turned out be the reason of his demise.
Until the team was doing well, Moki thought he could ignore the negative feedback and just focus on his game – people were more incline to compliment the Mink Trio for the astonishing numbers they posted than to blame the buck for Lorain's (few) losses. But after the cruel outcome of the 2011 Finals, where the Firestorm had lost a closely-contested game 7 after having been up 3-1, he saw himself quickly becoming one of the fan's favorite scapegoats. They said he didn't push himself hard enough – that he wasn't aggressive enough to withstand the attack of brutes like Onca, or Munt.
The worst thing was that Coach Dresden seemed to share that line of thought. The next season, as the 'Storm collapsed to the league's bottom in what was eventually one of the worst seasons in their history, the young buck saw the court just a single time, wondering for most of the time if the German ferret even remembered he was on the roster. Maybe the reason of such a choice was to appease the already angry supporters, but it certainly did nothing to add to his career as a basketball player.
At the end of the season, it had been a surprise to nobody that Lorain's GM had decided not to renew Moki's contract – and that no other team had come forward saying they wanted to see the true Moki Ixtlahuac.
His only hope to keep his career going had come in the form of an orange envelope coming straight from Old Europe. Taking advantage of the buck's Dutch heritage – his mother Lijsbeth had emigrated to the States and married Tohopka Ixtlahuac, the young leader of a Hopi reservation in southern Arizona - Coos Voorthuizen, the head chairman for the Netherlands Furry Basketball Federation, had offered Moki a starting spot in the Netherlands' national senior squad should he file in the application for Dutch citizenship.
Moki had instantly accepted, thinking that such kind of international exposure would get the attention of European FBA scouts. That worked for the national team games, but not for the ones he played within national borders with the Rotterdam Rovers, the club that had offered him his first European contract. Lack of money and media attention (except for the Amsterdam Royals, the team who took part in the EFBL circuit) had forced highly valued talent out of the Netherlands, and while Moki was one of the best players there, the level of competition was relatively low compared to other European countries.
After spending almost two years out of America, it looked all but certain that the young buck would never make it back into the league. Nobody cared if he averaged a triple-double, not if his usual opponents were called Almere or Zaanstad.
As soon as Moki realized all that, it was all it took for him to plunge into depression. He started drinking heavily, either to celebrate if he'd played well or to forget if he'd done poorly. He neglected his look, letting his hair grow down to his shoulders, greasy and stringy. The short stubble he'd sported as he'd left Ohio turned into a full-on beard, one he once thought he'd never be able to grow. By the end of his second Dutch season, he was just going through the motions, reduced to a shadow of his former cheery, energetic self.
At twenty-four years of age, after spending the last four on and off the basketball courts, he was effectively ready to call it quits.
Tomorrow's will be my last game as a pro, he resolved that night, as he examined the strange patterns in the room ceiling's decoration. One final hurrah with the guys, then I can leave this country for good and get back to the reservation. I'll finally see my family and friends. I could even find a steady girlfriend. He wasn't sure if alcohol was making the decisions for him at that point, but the more he thought about it, the more that seemed to be the right choice.
Then, just as his mind was ready to surrender to the numbing embrace of drunken sleep, Adil emitted a single, long, modulated snore, bringing the deer back to full consciousness. He couldn't figure why, but his head felt suddenly clearer than he'd even remember, just like someone had screamed right in his ear. He decided to take it as a sign.
Moki...wait a minute, he said to himself. If you quit pro basketball right now, when you're still young and have a lot to prove to the world, your existence will cease in these very moment. You'll burn out slowly, amidst general apathy. If you give up on your career you'll bail on the dream you've pursued for your whole life – to stand for your people on the international stage, dominating the Kachadas at the game you were born to play. It'll be no more FBA for you. And you won't regret it because you'll be too depressed to do so.
It's your time to decide. Decide if you wanna be that pushover redskin deer who'll always be too nice to play basketball, or if you wanna be Moki Ixtlahuac, the buck that doesn't know fear.
All of a sudden, Moki knew what he needed to do. He stood up and headed to the bathroom, where he grabbed his roommate's electric clippers from the shelf.
Slowly but surely, the young buck started to shave off the thick black hair that covered his head, starting from the sides of his scalp to run all around his antlers. More and more of his hair pooled into the sinker, taking away with them all the frustrations which had affected the buck in the past twenty-four months. Moki didn't stop shaving until his hair was reduced to a strip down the center of his scalp, which he trimmed down to a couple inches with a pair of scissors.
After more than a hour of obstinate work, the buck finally dared to take a good look at himself in the mirror. He barely recognized the deer staring back at him – the long, oily bangs which had been covering his ears and temples for years had been replaced by an untidy, rough-looking mohawk.
As soon as his brain took note of the changes, the nervous excitement who had been filled Moki for the past hour got replaced by an unusual weariness. Making a mental check of getting someone to make him presentable the morning later, he crashed on the bed, surrendering to sleep in mere seconds.
The next day, those who were at the game could have sworn that a different player was on court. Sure, the buck leading the Dutch charge had “Ixtlahuac” written on the back of his orange jersey, but didn't look like the player they knew, both in appearance and playstyle. Grabbing a steal off the unattentive Bosnian center, slamming a huge dunk off a perfect inside pass, encouraging young shooting guard Tijs Lusink after a missed three – Moki's performance was nothing short of outstanding, resembling more than ever what American scouts had hoped he'd become upon getting drafted by Lorain. The hashtag #whosthatbuck even got briefly trending on Twitter.
Then, in the final minutes of the game, with the Dutch teams up by a couple buckets, it happened. Stallion center Christiaan Hengst got a block on the Bosnian point guard, stripped the ball from the surprised beaver’s paws, then passed it up the court to Ixtlahuac for the fast break.
All of a sudden, just as he saw the ball leaving Hengst’s paws, a light bulb went off in the deer’s mind.
It was the same exact play that had ended his chances in Lorain, almost four years before. Same uncontested layup, off the same free pass from the team’s center. Same chance for him to screw up again.
But now, Moki knew what he had to do to change the epilogue of his story.
The deer grabbed the ball, made up the last three steps that separated him from the hoop, then concluded the play with a rim-rocking windmill dunk that brought the crowd to their feet. After getting up, he clenched his right paw in a fist and loudly thumped his chest, the other paw up in the air and pointing to the cheering audience.
Up in the stands, Wieczyslaw Motyl – the European scout for the Biloxi Voodoo – jutted down something in his notebook, a pleased smile on his canine muzzle.
September 7, 2014
Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Dear Mr. Ixtlahuac,
your time has come again. Show us that you still got what it takes to play in the FBA, and we can assure you will be rewarded.
General Manager of the Biloxi Voodoo
Moki Ixtlahuac re-read the mail for what was probably the hundredth time that evening. Even though he knew its content by heart, his mind was still unable to grasp their implications and accept that those two lines contained everything he’d dreamed for the past twenty-four months.
After that fateful game, the deer had spent the whole summer whipping himself back into shape. He’d quit drinking, changed diet and spent more time than he'd ever done into the gym, in the hope that the voices he'd heard about a surge of interest in him by some FBA GMs would turn out to be true.
This is real, Moki. Biloxi’s taking a chance on you. You’re getting another shot at the fame you deserve…
A pair of feminine paws slipped under the buck’s grey T-shirt, waking him up from his reverie. Nimble clawtips ran all over his back, feeling the hardened muscle underneath his brown, sleek fur - apparently, Moki’s personal bootcamp had paid off.
“My strong buck…” Sosthène Kamara, the black antelope who had roomed with Moki for the past four months, peeked at the PC screen, her hands still tracing the powerful column of his spine. “Someone write to you…?”
Turning his head to face her, the mohawked buck let out a huge grin. “You can’t imagine, babe. Biloxi just offered me a contract.”
“They…they want you play for them?” Having fled Sierra Leone’s long civil war just ten years before, Sosthène didn’t have an adequate knowledge of English language, despite speaking Dutch fluently.
“Yeah, they do. We’re moving to the States, So. We goin’ back home.”
“Home? America is your home. I can’t…” She paused for a moment, looking for the right word, then decided to switch to Dutch. ((“I can't quit my modeling job, or my family won't get the money they need.”))
Moki got off the chair and pulled her close. “We're going together, So. You've seen me training this summer – I didn't push myself so hard just to leave you behind once I'd be granted a shot.” He caressed her long, black hair, then took her round face into his paws. “Besides,” he said, “I bet in a year you'll be America's most requested ungulate model.”
Moki could feel her hot breath on his face as he talked. Their noses were almost touching. “So, you're one of the reasons I got this call. You helped me out of a very dark place and I want to have you alongside me in my new life. You won't have to worry about your family – once you land the right job, you'll make more money than you can imagine. Do you trust me, So?”
The antelope didn't answer, but closed the distance between them to kiss his lips. It was more than the confirmation Moki needed.
As the deer gave in to his girlfriend's instincts, he realized how much he'd grown in the past months, and how he couldn't wait to show his detractors this was the right moment in his career to take a second plunge into the big leagues.
Too nice to play basketball? In your dreams, buddies.
The home of all rumor-mongering and chatter for the East Coast.
1 post • Page 1 of 1
Who is online
Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest