This is an excerpt is from “A continued introduction to the life & times of Naismith Mandeville,” which is the first chapter of Everything that Dunks Must Converge, Act Two: Guards of Cronos.
Penny Hardaway and Mr. McGrady (I was instructed to address him in a formal manner, as opposed to T-Mac) escorted me into a chic study; the walls and shelves and furniture were all flawlessly white. I felt afraid to touch anything. Through the closed double-doors, I could hear light conversational jazz and a clinking of fine china that suggest a rather stuffy and boring party going on in the adjacent room.
Since the discussion about Greenblatt’s book had come and gone, Penny had said very little, and Mr. McGrady even less. I sat on the couch a while, at least an hour. Finally I started strolling around the room, eyeing the various artifacts and sculptures adorning the walls and shelves. I held my hands behind my back, my right fingers clasped around my left wrist. I was afraid of knocking anything over, of disturbing the order of this meticulous universe.
I turned around to face the double doors when I heard the jazz piano keys grow louder. Either T-Mac or Penny said, “That Deron Williams sure can play, can’t he?” To which the one who hadn’t spoken said, “it’s a shame every riff has to end.” A man wearing a tuxedo entered the room. He closed the white doors behind him with little effort, a swan’s graceful wings folding after a long flight. I thought about Zeus. I thought about Leda. I regretted having ever left my apartment.
“I trust your trip down was comfortable, Mr. Harvey.” I could hear the clasp of the lock on the doors. “My men didn’t alarm you, I hope.”
He approached me with his hand extended. “My name is Hill—Grant Hill.”
“I know who you are, Mr. Hill,” I said, trying and then failing not to sound like my giddy middle school self. “Your years with the Pistons were awesome, absolutely awesome!” I had watched this man turn into a triple-double machine alongside Joe Dumars and whatever else was left in the ruins of old Detroit. I was, now, trying not to break anything in his study.
“What do you think of your surroundings? Did my associates offer you anything?”
I looked at Penny and T-Mac. One of them shrugged. The other did not acknowledge me. “They didn’t.”
“Well, what would you like?”
“I don’t know. A beer or a water’s fine.”
“Well, which one is it?”
“A beer,” I said. “I’ll take a beer.”
“I think moving forward it’s better if you act more decisively.”
I aimed to change the subject: “You have some nice pieces here.”
“That we do. During my many rehab stints, I became more and more interested in antiquities.”
“Yeah, I definitely noticed.” I wanted to ask about Naismith Mandeville. Part of me wondered if the name that I had come to assume was a pseudonym belonged to Grant Hill. I also wanted to play it cool; I was in a room with three of the greatest perimeter players never to win an NBA championship. This made them appear sadly and strangely at home among the cracked and broken vases and bowls and urns from various places around the globe, the prized relics that had somehow found their way into this immaculately white room. I was awed by them all the same.
“Have a look over here, Bryan,” Hill said. “Do you mind if I call you Bryan?”
I followed him over to what appeared to be a glass coffee table, its legs cut from stone. He pressed a button on the corner of the table. A panel in the floor slid open in the same way that a sunroof on a car might, and I noticed that between each stone leg of the table stood a glass wall. It wasn’t really a coffee table, but a glass cube. As the panel opened fully, a platform rose from the dark antechamber below. Stretched across its surface, was a document of historical importance. As it rose, Hill purred: “This might interest you.”
“Well,” I said. “It looks important. It’s old. I can tell that. Probably from the sixteenth century. Is it part of the Codex? Yes, it resembles the fifth codex.”
“It’s actually a copy of James Naismith’s official rules of basketball,” Hill said. “As you may recall, it drew approximately $4 million at auction in 2010.”
I did remember something to that effect, although I also recalled another detail which called into question the claims of Mr. Hill. “Didn’t a group of Kansas Jayhawk alum bid on it? If this is the real thing, shouldn’t it be in Lawrence, Kansas?”
“Trust me, Bryan, if you were to visit Allen Fieldhouse, you would find almost an exact replica of this document,” Hill said. “But it would be just that—a replica.”
I bent down towards the glass cube for a closer look.
“We switched them just before the auction.”
“Why the men in this room, and a few others not in this room. We,” he said grandly, “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.”
“I think that name’s already taken.”
“It isn’t,” Hill answered sharply.
“It’s just that you’re referencing the wrong Sean Connery film, that’s all. It’s a fine name besides that.”
“I’m an art and history buff, Mr. Harvey. I do not go in for popcorn or fluff.”
“Why did you switch them?”
“We needed the original.” He hit another button that changed the color of the glass cube from transparent to ruby. “We had reason to believe that a secret inscription was on the back of Naismith’s Rules.”
“Okay, now you’re not even dealing with Connery films.”
“This is not a movie, Mr. Harvey.”
“Then what is it?”
He stepped away from the cube, moving with grace towards the bar. “Can you make out the secret inscription?” I heard the snap and release of a bottle cap. “It’s faint, but it’s there.”
I leaned in and, admittedly, I did have to squint in order to read it. I read it once to myself and then out loud:
Whoever hunts and kills the one true jaguar and drinks its blood will rise like a feathered serpent towards the outer rim of his salvation.
I looked at Mr. Hill. “This is nonsense, right? It’s gibberish.”
“Is it?” asked Penny.
“Okay, I’ll give you this: it’s coincidental gibberish that on one side you have Naismith’s rules, which read like the Ten Commandments of basketball—”
“Which,” Mr. Hill cut me off, “imply a certain rigidity to the game; a certain exactitude in its fixed and unchangeable nature.”
“Do you want that beer, Mr. Harvey?” He extended an open bottle to me. “Or, would you like to try something else?” He extended a bottle full of a deep red liquid.
“Is this my red pill-blue pill moment?”
“You enjoy your movie references. It’s important that you be precise here, and choose wisely. We already have our doubts that you’re the right man for this job.”
“The publishing of Naismith Mandeville’s works.”
“I still don’t know who Naismith Mandeville is!”
He ignored my anxiety, or didn’t notice it. “Which will it be?” he asked.
The bottle of beer and the dark red liquid were extended before me. I grabbed the latter. I looked for a tell in Mr. Hill’s face, but there wasn’t one to find. I raised the bottle to my lips. I tipped it so the contents flowed over my tongue. I swallowed.
“It tastes like Gatorade,” I said.
“That’s what I thought,” said T-Mac.
“Wanna be like Mike?” asked Penny.
And Grant Hill added in a cool manner, “You chose wisely, Mr. Harvey.”
Then he handed me the beer. “You still might want to wash your mouth out with this. You have just swallowed jaguar blood. It’s an acquired taste.”
I took hold of the beer bottle: “I still don’t get what the hell is going on, Mr. Hill.”
“How’s your travel schedule looking?” Hill asked.
“Um, I teach on Monday.”
“Maybe call in for a sub.”
“We’re traveling to Houston.”
“What is it?”
“Nothing. I just thought if we went anywhere it would be Orlando.” I could feel all three gentlemen cringe at the naming of that cursed Florida cowtown. “My bad, guys,” I said.
I was not surprised, when we stopped by my apartment later that night, to find that it had already been ransacked.
Guards of Cronos is the second installment of a 55,000 word NBA fan fiction novel, titled Everything that Dunks Must Converge. Everything that Dunks tells the story of those players who inherited the NBA in the aftermath of Michael Jordan’s third and final retirement. To read the remainder of the novel, including Acts One and Three, visit You Can’t Eat the Basketball. To receive updates on any future collaborative projects, sign up for YCETB’s newsletter.