Vol. 1, No. 4: Shammgod Unbound photo

NBA 2K22 MyPlayer Builder Derek Andersen

Name: Dad

Facial Features: Eyes that hardened when he stepped onto the asphalt. They contained no trace of the man who tousled my hair and cut the crust off my sandwiches. Within those steely irises was only pure killer instinct.

A purple vein that snaked through his forehead when he chose to taunt me. To chuck his “check” pass at my feet. To watch the ball bounce down the driveway, into the paths of the Subarus that whooshed through our subdivision. To say, with a voice like gravel, “Go get it.”

Hair: Lush, golden curls that swallowed his sweat-stained headband. When he left the ground, they bounced like coil springs. Their shimmer blinded me.

After he started treatment, his curls lost their sheen. They came out in clumps when he removed his headband. But he never spoke of his affliction. It hung there, an ugly specter in the skybox, cackling at the futility of every dribble, every pump fake, every hopeless airball.

Clothing: Larry Bird short shorts that exposed his pasty thighs. Of course, I gave him all kinds of shit. “Next time, do you think you could wear a tighter pair?” But he pretended not to hear me. For him, the shorts were more than a wardrobe choice—they were an homage to an era. A time when hand checks were doled out freely, elbows were thrown with abandon, and the refs just shrugged their shoulders and let ’em play. A time when the NBA’s greatest superstars weren’t “a bunch of pansies.”

One night, when my father drove the lane, he knocked me flat onto the asphalt. Blood gushed from my nose, soiling my new Curry jersey. When my mother asked what happened, he started to fess up. But I cut him off, “My shoelace was untied. Fell flat on my face.” Across the room, my old man donned an expression I’d seen but a handful of times: a beaming gaze of admiration.

Height & Weight: 5’10’’, 200 pounds. As a child, I couldn’t shoot over my father, nor could I drive around him. I could only cower in his hulking shadow. I may as well have been playing Godzilla.

As I went through my growth spurt, he began to wither. His spine curled at a violent angle. His beer gut shriveled, exposing his ribcage. I found that when I bumped him, even slightly, he lost his balance. So, I left the lane open. I stopped contesting rebounds. “Don’t you fuckin’ dare go easy on me,” he said between wheezes. That’s when it hit me: for all those years, the old man wasn’t trying to humiliate me. Nor was he trying to mold me into a child prodigy. There was a hunger in him that his cushy domestic life couldn’t satiate. That tortured him in the walls of his cubicle, while his 401(k) accumulated interest. The only way to fill it was with pure, fangs-bared competition.

Shooting: My father’s jump shot transcended into the realm of mythology at our block party. On that cloudless summer day, he sank six threes in a row. The wives sat courtside, jaws hanging open. When Mrs. Roddy fanned herself, a bolt of rage shot through her husband. “I bet you can’t do that again,” he said, nostrils flared. “Ok, let’s make it interesting,” my father replied. After some back and forth, they shook on it: if my father hit his next three, Mr. Roddy would forfeit his watch. With a wry smile, my old man snagged the inbound pass. Unfazed by the full-court press, he dribbled behind the back, pump faked, and let it fly over the outstretched hands of Mr. Roddy, Mr. Green, and Mr. Thompson. The instant the ball left his fingertips, he knew. He turned his back as it sailed through the net with a crisp “swish.” I watched from the sideline, pride swelling in my chest.

Jumping: I choose to forget the man who required supplemental oxygen to go up for a rebound. Who coughed bloody phlegm onto the asphalt between plays. A victory over him brought no sweetness, no satisfaction. He was not my father. He was a stranger with weak-ass hops.

The man I knew and loved soared above his opponents, hangtime defying his age, his stature, his bloated gut. Every time he left the ground, the Earth halted on its axis. Sprinklers paused mid-rotation, passing planes hung suspended in place, and the neighborhood kids stared in awe. This is the version of my father I choose to immortalize in pixilated graphics. This stupid video game is the closest I’ll ever get to playing with him again. To feeling the beautiful sting of one more elbow to the ribs, one more “Nancy boy” taunt, one more crushing posterization.