DISCLAIMER: This piece was written for a Knick fiction contest a few years back. The publisher never ran it, because he values his reputation and access to the Knicks and such. I do not.
As you can probably imagine, this was prompted by reports floated earlier that James Dolan nearly traded Iman Shumpert after Shump expressed that he didn’t want to participate in Summer League.
If it even needs to be stated, none of these events are true. That we know of.
“Glen! Glen, come here a second. You haven’t seen this one yet. Wait’l you see these tits.”
James Dolan, his face five inches from a blue Apple laptop, is smiling. From across the room, Glen Grunwald, a Knickerbocker front office staple since 1996 – a full three years before the younger Dolan’s official ascendance – rises, gingerly.
“You sure?” Grunwald inquires half into standing, hoping – against all reason and history – that a second thought might save him the trip.
“Naw, you weren’t there for this one. You woulda’ remembered the tits on this backup singer. Epic. Fucking epic tits.”
Emptying a sigh, Grunwald quickens the five paces to his boss’s heirloom desk. Even in the evening half-light he can make out the knife holes and sepia stains – old booze, dried deep down in the oak – that peppered its surface. Normally, Glen would crouch down beside him, maybe rest an arm over the leather chair’s vaguely sweat-darkened headrest. Instead, he thrusts both hands in his pant pockets and guides his eyes at the screen, where he sees a years-old YouTube clip of JD & The Straight Shot performing a song at the Midtown Hard Rock Café, somewhere around 6:45pm.
“Which one?” Glen tries to sound interested.
“The blond right there, Judy. You ever meet Judy?”
“The one with the nipple rings?”
“You’re thinkin’ of Monica. Monica’s the one Zeke banged at the Christmas party. You remember that party.” Glen remembered it. He closed his eyes and fought the memory. “Judy’s the one with the tits,” Dolan said. “Epic tits.”
Dolan raises both hands to his face, as if to grab at a pair of suspended cantaloupes, shaking his head side to side rapidly and making an indiscernible guttural noise. “Bbblbbblpppppfffftttt! You know what I’m talking about!” Glen smiled, hated it. “Judy was fun, man. I should give her a job here some day.”
And now Grunwald stares back at the screen, doing his best to force a chuckle. “She looks like fun,” he quips. “What’s the song, is that ‘Slow Motion in Reverse’?”
Dolan’s laugh dies. He shoots Grunwald a bewildered gaze before turning back to the screen and the song. “No no, that’s ‘Shoot That Dog’.”
“Shit, you’re right. Has the same rhythm though. Same, uh… tempo.”
“It’s a blues song, Glen. The tempos are going to be similar.” The air was heavy for a moment; there was a chance that this would soon get louder, angrier. “Anyway,” Dolan shrugged, “what a fun show. We closed with ‘Beyond the Horizon’ – just killed it. Here, I think there’s link down here near the bottom somewhere…”
“Hey,” Grunwald interjected, rapidly and with what he hoped seemed like real concern. “What time are Donnie and Allan supposed to be here? Five-thirty?”
“Yeah. Donnie’s probably out there plowing a butt.”
Grunwald walks back to the sofa, pulling out his iPhone en route. “I’m gonna’ call him,” he says, in a brisk pitch to match his gait. “I can’t be late for dinner tonight. Wife will kill me.”
Just as he begins feigning “call” on the screen, fully prepared to sit through 40 fake rings, the double-doors open to reveal the tardy tandem. Allan Houston, former Knick All-Star, enters first, exchanging the doorknob with his slower-moving mentor.
“Well, look who decides to show up!” barks Dolan, playful save the unmistakable pitch. “You out there plowin’ a butt Donnie?”
Walsh, weary just from the short jaunt down the hall, approaches with head hung low. “Well, you know it helps me relax the half a tongue I still have left, Jimmy” he says. There’s exhaustion in the quip.
Dolan pauses for a second before howling back, “Bet his wife loves that, right Allan? The old half-tongue? The old Dirty Donnie?”
“Haha,” Houston chuckles, guardedly. A prayer of repentance unfurls silently above his head, near-visible to Grunwald. He doesn’t like this kind of talk. “Well, I think Mrs. Walsh is just happy Donnie’s walkin’ around and raising hell like he used to.”
“Isn’t that the truth, Allan. Isn’t that the truth. Alright, everyone sit down.”
The Knick brain trust each take their separate seat; Dolan in his requisite cowhide throne; the other three in polyester rolling chairs at the opposite end of the desk. Walsh, still wobbling under the residual gimpiness of his hip surgery, leans back crookedly. His peers sit rigid, hands intertwined in front of them. “Awright,” Dolan begins, following Grunwald and Houston’s suit with a forward-leaning handclasp. “We’re almost home with this. I talked to Ujiri and Kroenke, and we’re gonna’ get Melo.”
The three opposite glance briefly at one another in succession. Cautious smiles escaping along with light sighs from both Houston and Grunwald, Walsh simply stares back, laser-eyed and knowing. “Wow, that’s great, Jimmy, really great,” Grunwald bellows. “So beyond the Minnesota thing, we’re lookin’ at Wilson, Ray, Gallo, and the pick, right?”
“And Moz,” Dolan shoots back quickly, as if the statement’s brevity might somehow carry it unheard.
Walsh, who until that moment had approached the forgone subject matter with nothing short of clammy disinterest, uses his left hand to push himself forward and upward. “What?”
“We’re throwin’ in Moz,” Dolan insists, half-smile now tempered by his Walsh-ward glower. “He’s the final piece.”
Walsh erupts. “The fuck do you mean ‘final piece’, Jim? We’ve had fucking four ‘final pieces.’ Remember when they were insisting on Gallo and Fields? You wanted to do it, and the only thing that stopped you from doing it was when I showed you that Stephen A. Smith piece where he says you had to do it. Remember that?”
“Fuckin’ hate that guy,” Dolan grunts, hoping the conciliatory remark might help temper his subordinate’s rising rage. He’d seen Walsh go completely sideways before – probably more times than either would admit – and had the window bills to prove it.
But Walsh is going, forward and sideways, pressing on. “Well, I guarantee that clown is out there right now quite-franklying a little screed about how you better include Mozgov in the deal. This is nuts, Jimmy. You know where these clowns have you? Right where you had that Hard Rock Café waitress. You’re the Hard Rock Café waitress.”
“Pam,” Grunwald adds, cautiously.
“Not Pam,” Walsh was tart. “The other time. The...”
Dolan pauses, looking briefly down at the standard rule legal pad – its blue ink triangles and oblong dinosaurs a calming respite – stroking his goatee. In an instant, his head snaps back up. “What, over a rail?”
“That’s right, Jimmy. They got you over a fucking rail, and they’re fucking you. How many times did I tell you I had this? I had it! These clowns had no leverage. We stand pat with what we had three weeks ago and he’d be here. Maybe a week late, but he’d be here. I told you to stay out of this. There was no…”
“Cut the shit, Donnie!” Dolan yawps, legs rocketing to a full stance. “I gave you three fucking million to go out and grab a big, and you come back with that stone-handed Eurasian stiff? He’s played one good game all season! You’re telling me Mozgov was gonna’ hold this deal up? No way. No fuckin’ way.”
“Jimmy, we don’t have a center now. Do you understand that? Ronny’s a sweetheart, but the guy is a walking sprain. And you know Amare’s a liability down there. Moz wasn’t no Willis. Shit, he wasn’t even Eddie Lee Wilkins. But there was a player there. You know that.”
“What about Williams?” Dolan retorts easing back into his seat, a slight smile curling in the wake of an imagined discursive trump.
“Who, Shelden Williams? Shelden Williams as our starting center? Or are you talking about Shawne? Please tell me, because they make about the same amount of fucking sense.”
“Shelden’s no worse than Mozgov!” Dolan barks. “Look at the resumé. Besides, it’s not like we were gonna’ win a title this year. We needed to make the move for our future.”
“Jimmy, we sold our future. Sold it. Our roster just doubled in age. And we have no cap room, unless some crazy shit happens this summer. We do this, we have a three-year window to win. That’s it. You better MySpace or Twitter Chris Paul, because….”
“What that’s Allan?”
“Tweet. Not Twitter. Twitter’s the thing, Tweet is what you do on it. Also no one really uses MySpace anymore.”
“Thank you, Allan. Jimmy, get these guys on the phone and tell them we’re not including Mozgov. In fact, tell them you’re thinking of pulling the pick. I’ll bet you a vintage Fender those fuckers fold like cheap lawn chairs.”
“It’s done, Donnie. The deal’s done. They weren’t going to budge. Ask Warkentein.”
“Bullshit,” Walsh chortles, a slight wheeze trailing. “You haven’t talked to Warkentein since he got here. You don’t even know what he looks like.”
“He looks like Jeff Goldblum, Donnie!” Dolan barked.
“He doesn’t,” Grunwald said.
“He’s the... Warkentien’s the fucking nerd from Independence Day. That’s true?”
“Who’d I fucking hire, then? Glen, come on.”
“Jim.” Walsh was even, now, not quite wheedling. “Even Mark knows they were pushing their luck. That’s why you fuckin’ hired him, isn’t it? If you weren’t going to listen to the guy who just came from Denver in a trade with Denver, who were you going to listen to, Jimmy? Isiah? Everything that guy touches turns to weeping cancer, you…”
“Fuck you,” Dolan barks, nerve clearly breached. “You watch your mouth. Isiah Thomas is an NBA Great. How many titles you got?”
“Actual cancer that cries tears that also have cancer.”
“He’s an unofficial consultant, Donnie, and he’s going to stay that way. I value his advice. Maybe you should learn to value it, too.”
Walsh thought better of it. Of a response, of any of it. He was too old, this wall was too hard and too thick to throw himself against. Dolan had taken to gently rocking in his chair, elbows on armrests and fingers interlaced at his mouth, satisfied.
“Come on, Allan,” Walsh says, will visibly sapped and voice a full octave lower.
Walsh and Houston both rising, Grunwald remains seated. Dolan and Walsh shake hands, before the former turns towards the door, moving at a clip both faster and more purposeful than any present had seen in months.
Walsh invites Houston through. Before he crosses the threshold, the one-time pro turns once more to his CEO, who can only stare past him and at his elder’s exit. Slamming the door behind him, Walsh stops. Houston, who’d begun to approach the elevator, turns back.
“Hold on a second, Allan,” Walsh implores as he reaches into his pant pocket, unearthing an unopened pack of Camels. “You remember I said ‘only on special occasions,’ right?”
“This qualifies?” Houston walks back towards Walsh, hands in pockets and head down. “Hey, we all knew this was coming down to the wire. I don’t want to see these guys go any more than you do. God’s got a plan for this, man.”
“I hate to break it to you, Allan,” Walsh grumbles, voice muffled slightly by the warming filter, “but God didn’t plan that guy. His daddy didn’t even plan that. He happened. God is not here with us right now.”
Camel dented, Walsh taps his index finger, sending a small flurry of gray ash raining as he moves past Houston and towards the elevator. Neither speaks. He disappears into the door, a cloud of smoke trailing behind him. Houston, having given his boss the proper space, moves towards the nearby stairwell. Just then, the office door behind him opens, revealing Dolan.
“What the fuck was that all about?” Dolan inquires, face noticeably red.
“I just think Donnie needs to blow off some steam.”
“Fuckin’ A. Forget him. Come inside, you gotta’ see this video. You like tits?”
Jim is a regular contributor to Knickerblogger, the True Hoop Network's Knicks affiliate blog. His work also appears regularly at the New York Times' Off the Dribble NBA blog and ESPN. A lifelong hoops lover, Jim has always insisted on wearing glasses during games, a life choice that has earned him the occasional chant of Ram-bis and cost him hundreds of dollars in repairs. He currently leads his old man league in techs and three pointers attempted. Follow him on Twitter @JPCavan.