“Substitution, Houston! Number 64!” announced the referee.
“And here he is! The frontrunner for Rookie of the Year! I’ve been watching his game for the last month, Bill, and I think that Houston and GM Marcello Rodriguez have found a real stud in this young man!”
“About a year ago, he was playing the national tournament in India, Matt. The transition from there to the NBA has been amazing from this kid. So much potential. Let me warn you, he’s going to be a star in this league!”
Odai heard the TV commentators and smiled.
The minute Lokesh stepped onto the court and his teammates saw a glimpse a glimpse of his name and jersey number, they felt the familiar jolt of vigor, zeal, and pride. They wanted to play alongside this man. They wanted to be on his good side. They didn’t even feel like they were depreciating themselves. They just wanted to stand by his side and face the opposition team.
The crowd felt it too. Lokesh’s back was displayed on the big screens, and it was making the fans more confident and excited than ever. They grew louder and louder as they cheered their team on.
Odai ran towards the other end of the court with breakneck speed, two defenders on his tail. He then flung a bullet pass to Lokesh, who tore off towards the rim. The defenders shifted their attention to Lokesh and got in front of him, moving backwards rapidly to steal the ball.
Suddenly, he stopped moving with such dexterity that the defenders were flung backwards by their own momentum. The very next second, he took off the ground tilted backwards in a fadeaway jumper. Odai was shocked by how deft the move was. It was like the moves were just one flawless stop and fadeaway.
The crowd roared their approval as the coach of the Tallahassee Cascades jumped off his seat and called a timeout. Lokesh waved his arms enthusiastically to hype the crowd up, who just roared louder. He displayed the city’s name to the audience by drawing a box around it and pumping the air to hype up the fans further, and they responded with shrieks of elation.
It was the same thing NBA legend Terry Parker had done in front of them all those years ago.
“OH MY GOODNESS!” screamed the commentators. “LOKESH KUMAR WITH THE COLD-BLOODED FADEAWAY JUMPER! TALLAHASSEE CALLS A TIMEOUT AS KUMAR HYPES THE CROWD UP! THEY LOVE IT! THEY LOVE HIM! IS THIS THE MAN THIS CITY HAS BEEN WAITING FOR?”
“You know who this guy reminds me of, Bill?”
The repairing of his legacy had begun.
“Well done, guys!” said Steven Walker. “One more game, guys! Just one more! We’ll make the playoffs!”
“I cannot stress enough how incredible you all are! How incredible we all are!” said Danny Reynolds.
“Who are we playing next?” asked Keon Jordan Jr.
Steven’s expression turned serious.
Lokesh’s rematch with Josh Okongo couldn’t have come at a better time. The last game of the regular season with a playoffs berth at stake made this one of the most hyped rematch ever. It was amidst much anticipation and emotion that the team got into their flight to Baltimore.
They were going there on a mission to make the playoffs.
And they could afford no mess-ups.
“Okay, guys. This is it! It’s make-or-break time! Let’s stay calm, stay focused, and keep it simple! We make our shots, rebound like mad, and play selfless basketball!” said Lokesh.
“LET’S WIN!” yelled the team.
“What will you do about Josh, man?” asked Keon. “He kicked your bottom last time!”
Lokesh smiled. “I have a plan.”
“Kicked your bottom?” asked Odai Beckham Jr. “You sound like my elementary school teacher! Just say the proper word already.”
“He’s too much of a bottom to say the word, man,” laughed Lokesh. “And hush, bro. There are kids in the vicinity!”
He gestured to Kobayashi Ichikawa.
“Kids?” laughed Kobayashi. “I’m older than you!”
He knew that all this sarcastic bickering was a good thing.
Team chemistry was building.