“You liked her?”
Karan was shocked at the revelation. “Dude! Why didn’t you tell her? You didn’t even speak to her after 10th grade!”
Lokesh had excused himself from his team’s locker room. He was now alone, heartbroken, and almost crying.
“I know, man. She topped the state, and I barely passed!”
“That doesn’t matter!” yelled Karan. “Loki! You’re about to be an NBA star! Talk to her, man! Tell her at least now!”
“No,” said Lokesh firmly.
“What do you mean no?” said Karan. “Tell her, bro!”
“Absolutely not,” said Lokesh. “She’s about to get married and start a new life. This is the worst possible time to tell her. She’s probably happy anyway!”
“She can’t be happy! She’s 20!”
Lokesh shook his head. “Neha is a tough, brave girl, man. If she’s made her decision, I’m not getting in the way!”
“That’s enough,” said Lokesh resolutely. “Don’t tell her anything. Enjoy the ceremony, and be calm.”
“It’s about time I focused wholly on my career anyway!”
In the next game, Houston was facing off against the San Antonio Rodeo. These guys were interstate rivals, and everyone expected Lokesh and the Spacewalkers to beat them up.
Kobayashi dribbled the ball in to start the offensive possession. He threw up a perfect lob for Lokesh to catch and dunk.
But he wasn’t there.
A San Antonio player stole the lob and scored easily at the other end. Lokesh didn’t even attempt to stop him. He seemed…lost.
On another possession, Odai Beckham Jr spun past a defender and flung a pass at Lokesh. But, Lokesh fumbled the pass and lost the ball.
“Out of bounds! San Antonio ball!” yelled the ref.
“That was an amazing pass! How’d he lose it?” thought the fans.
His heart just wasn’t in it.
The last straw for Coach Steven Walker came when Lokesh dribbled the ball in. he then threw a slow, lethargic pass to nobody standing nowhere. The ball rolled out of the court.
“Out of bounds! San Antonio ball!” yelled the ref.
Steven Walker had to make a hard decision.
He subbed Lokesh out, who didn’t even protest.
As the Houston Spacewalkers lost five games in a row, the media went into a frenzy, trying to get behind the scenes and figure out why Lokesh was playing so poorly. His team had respectfully refrained from sharing anything with the media.
One of the games they lost was against Miami again. The player who had botched an easy layup because of being affected by Lokesh’s aura of a franchise caliber player’s Raw Intimidation put up 30 points the next game. He wondered how the demon had turned into this docile, harmless kitten he was seeing.
After another disastrous game, Keon Jordan Jr couldn’t take it anymore. He confronted Lokesh in the locker room.
“What’re you playing at, Low-Cash?”
“Then what’s with the pathetic shows you’re putting up?” Keon said.
“It’s not nothing!” yelled Keon. “Something’s bothering you! Get over it! Get help! You’re depressed!”
“I’m not depressed.”
Keon lost it. He grabbed Lokesh by the scruff of his neck and pinned him against the lockers.
“So you failed to get this girl you like,” he said angrily. “So what? We’re here for you now. Don’t take failure seriously, or personally, man!”
“AND HOW WOULD YOU KNOW WHAT FAILURE FEELS LIKE?” bellowed Lokesh. “YOU’RE SOME RICH, SPOILED BRAT FROM CARNEGIE HILLS! STOP PRETENDING TO EVEN CARE!”
He pushed Keon off him and stormed out of the room.
Keon stared hard after him. He then shook his head.
“I know what failure feels like, man.”
He was referring to his multiple defeats against Jared McRod.
He knew the pain of defeat.
“If I really didn’t care, I wouldn’t have even tried to talk to you, bro!”
Last but not the least. If the man who had just been insulted was really the spoiled, haughty Keon Jordan Jr of old, he would have exposed Lokesh’s failure at love, and the locker room incident to the media the very next minute.
But he didn’t.
Keon had finally grown into a man.
Apart from Keon, there was another man who was tired of the string of low performances.
He was the head coach of the Houston Spacewalkers, Steven Walker.
He saw Lokesh going through his usual punishment drill of shooting threes from the door. He beckoned over to Lokesh. “Come here.”
Lokesh obeyed and sauntered to Steven.
Lokesh sat on the floor next to Steven.
“I know you’re upset. Losing the one you love can be hard. But you have to get over it! Your entire career awaits!”
“You don’t know what I feel, coach.”
“Oh, but I do,” smiled Steven. “I lost my first love too. And much worse than her marrying another guy.”
“Oh absolutely,” said Steven. “My first wife, Kristen, had an affair with the neighbor!”
“Yeah, it was an unpleasant surprise, let me tell you. We were together since we were fifteen! We made so many promises to each other and swore to devote ourselves to our marriage! But this other guy, he was younger, fitter, and better-looking! We had a nasty divorce after that.”
“I loved her so much, man.”
“I’m sorry, coach.”
“Don’t worry about it, kid. You loved this girl too, right? You’ve got to love her enough to let her go!”
“What happened after that, coach?”
Steven Walker grinned. “Met my current wife at a baseball game! Sure, she ruined my life with her nagging. But in all the difficult times, she stood by me like a rock and shielded me from everything. She stuck with me even when I sold food at a Chipotle outlet in Omaha!”
“That’s nice, sir.”
“See?” Steven chuckled. “It’ll get better! Just let time do its thing, and dedicate yourself to basketball! You love basketball too, right?”
Steven pushed a basketball into Lokesh’s enormous hands.
“I want thirty points next game, get it?”
Lokesh grinned. “Make it forty, coach!”
“Good!” said Steven. “Now, go apologize to Keon! You owe him that!”
HOUSTON VERSUS DALLAS
Kobayashi Ichikawa ran the play and crossed two defenders. He then lobbed the ball up. “Oh no! It’s too high!” he thought.
Lokesh Kumar catapulted into the air like a lynx as two defenders also went skywards to stop him. But, Lokesh seemed to hang in the air like a hovering chopper as the defenders succumbed to gravity. He then threw down a loud, two handed poster windmill dunk on their heads. THUNK!
“Oh my god!” howled Keon. “What was that?”
But Steven Walker knew.
Lokesh was back.