SHAD3 by Dexter Alvaro
(Chapter 3) “Crossover”
TIM ‘TINKER’ NAKAMURA-KERR:
I have been Tinker for twenty-three years now.
From the time I was born till I transferred my senior year in high school here in San Francisco, I identify myself to my birth name, Tim Nakamura-Kerr.
It’s quite interesting how my nickname “Tinker” came to fruition.
My father loved basketball because it’s a thinking man’s game, and he used to say to me, “Tim, you have to outsmart every bloke on the court. You may not be the biggest of the bunch; you could be at the very least the smartest.”
I pride myself on being a “thinker.” But that’s not the reason why I am now called Tinker.
I shared the last name “Kerr” with a basketball player at Nob Hill High. He was in the team since Freshman year, and people were accustomed to seeing his six foot nine frame with Kerr above number 33 on the back of his jersey.
And my school’s solution to avoid confusion between the big Kerr and the small Kerr is identifying the back of my jersey with “T.N.Kerr” above number 3.
It’s funny how life rewards the underdogs. My teammates, students, and parents who watched our games ridiculed me in the beginning because of being 12 inches shorter than big Kerr.
I was called Tinkerbell, but after making a noise, showcasing my basketball skills and averaging 20 points and 5 assists per game and being the starting point guard, they dropped the “bell” and just called me Tinker.
Height is might. Especially in basketball. Truth hurts. Let me give you three excruciatingly painful examples: Michael Olowokandi, Kwame Brown, and Anthony Bennett. These giants were all 1st pick in the NBA draft.
Touted as saviors of their respective franchises but were never canonized, instead offered as living sacrifices to be devoured and ripped to pieces by heart-broken fans and story-hungry talking heads.
It pains me even to say it, but Red Auerbach is right, “You can’t teach height.” But you know what else you can’t teach: Heart.
There are plenty of passionate vertically-challenged hoopers who were talented enough to sustain a long-lasting career in the Association and yet have to battle the system and their mental state of being for not being embraced or celebrated.
Thus, falling out of favor and being kicked out to the curb: Development League or playing overseas. With dreams never realized and potential not being recognized because they are treated more like liabilities than an asset for their team.
I guess luck has to play a role of course before a Brink’s truck parks in your driveway to unload the bags of cash freely given by your generous owner with the approval of your machiavellian general manager.
Allow me to give you three famous victims of this circumstance: Keith “Mister” Jennings, Nate Robinson and Isaiah Jamar Thomas, or IT. Jennings is 5 ft 7 inches, Nate and IT are both 5 ft 9 inches. The NBA did not draft Jennings in 1991, while Nate was the 21st pick in 2005, and IT was the 60th and final pick of the draft in 2011.
These three are dear to my heart because Jennings and Nate played for the Warriors and IT suited up for the Kings.
I related to those three gentlemen. I am a NorCal man at heart, despite being born in Sydney, Australia to a free-spirited Japanese Sushi-Chef father and a worrisome Aussie social worker mother. God bless their souls.
There are times that I wish I were strong mentally when I found out that they died immediately after being involved in a head-on collision on their way to watch my last home game.
The drunk driver survived.
I hated my coach for not informing me before the game. He did not want me to be distracted, so he told me after the game.
I scored 30 points and had 3 assists, 3 rebounds and 3 steals versus our rival Saint Francis Academy. That was my last game. Ever.
The sad thing is that game was a meaningless game because our team clinched the playoffs.
My parents didn’t have to fly 6,445 nautical miles to watch me slice through defenders like a half-cast Samurai. Why did they have to fly?
They didn’t haven’t to take a holiday to see their only child play a silly game they don’t even understand. They didn’t have to die. I can’t reconcile the crazy thoughts I have inside my head every time I think of that fateful day. Was it their fate?
As I stand inside my small windowless office staring at a picture frame of seventeen-year-old Tinker dribbling the ball hovered over by three six-footers from Saint Francis Academy, reminiscing, the Park & Recreations Director, Keyshawn Kent, aka Keys, stands behind me scolding me for not playing college ball and making bank.
“Yo! You could’ve been the Japanese-version of ‘The Answer,'” Keys declare with his animated hand movements like a possessed opera conductor.
I scoff, then reply, “First, don’t disrespect Iverson. Second, half-Japanese. Third, forget the past, Keys.”
Keys shakes his head, gestures to the glories of my past: trophies, medals, plaques littered all over my office. “You had options, Tink. Didn’t capitalize on it. You just sold yourself short, partna. We could’ve been loungin’ by a pool in Miami; instead, we here stuck in Frisco living paycheck to paycheck. This ain’t the life I envisioned for us, homey.”
I know he’s right, Keys’ always been my Flavor Fav. My hype man. The brains of my operation, really, had I followed the path to the NBA. He’s always been a loyal and faithful and tested friend.
His delusions of grandeur are magnanimous. Keys carefully thought of grand plans of escaping the ghettos of Frisco and into the pristine neighborhood of Pacific Heights.
It has been about MJ years, and he still sits patiently on his surfboard waiting for my big my wave, but it’s never coming, and he knows it. The truth is, he’s been the shark, and I, the remora.
Nevertheless, I ignore him, and I keep staring at the picture on the wall, reliving the moment when I was truly happy. I hadn’t realized at that particular moment that the compact car my parents rented was about to be crushed like an aluminum soda can.
I wanted so bad to relive that moment of innocence. The time when I was a highly sought out commodity is long gone. I may be a few years shy of forty, not old in the traditional sense but an AARP card holding baller. A depleted and deteriorated asset with no salvage value.
Keys taps my shoulder. I turn to face him. He stares at my bruised face. He rubs his forehead with his hand and sighs heavily. I smell trouble.
“‘Sup, brother?” I gently ask.
He bites his lower lip and avoids eye contact, “You know I always got your back, right?”
My heart skips a beat. Keys is about to deliver bad news. It has to be. “You firing me, mate?”
Keys sits down, motions me to sit on the folding chair facing him. I sit next to him instead. He stares at the fake wood flooring and makes no eye contact. Keys pulls his cell phone from his pocket, fiddles with it and plays a video.
Tinker sits on the bleachers and barks to the children in a slurred speech, “Wanna make it big? Be a dope hooper like Steph Curry. Keep shooting! You hear me? Keep shooting! Shoot for the stars! Damn it!”
Tinker slowly maneuvers himself down the bleachers. Clanking bottle noises as he takes each step like an astronaut eager to land on the moon. Tinker falls and tumbles down. Tiny alcohol bottles spill out of his sweatpants.
I give Keys back his phone. Role reversal: I look away and avoid eye contact, and he stares at me. I’ve known him for more than half my life, and I can feel his laser eyes piercing through my soul.
“Speak the truth, bro. Didya get into a fight or naw?” he barks at me.
I shoot him a nervous grin, and massage my bruised face, “I wasn’t man enough to admit that I fell off the bleachers.”
“Stop grinning. You lied to my face, Tink.”
I feel like I gulped down a plate full of sashimi without grinding it into chewable pieces; it’s hard to swallow the rawness of this situation. I clear my throat. I say softly, “My apologies, Keys.”
Keys stands up. Then, he grabs me and shakes my body. “What the hell is wrong with you?”
Like a cornered prey, I prayed to the heavens to get me out of this unsavory predicament. From the innermost part of my heart, I utter, “I didn’t…I mean, I couldn’t tell you the truth, mate. You have so much faith in me. I couldn’t bear to disappoint you. You are all I have, brother.”
Keys knows that I speak the truth. He releases his hold. Keys can barely look at me, and I can’t blame him. He massages his face as he paces back and forth. “You said you gonna be sober, bruh. Was that a lie, too, huh?”
I didn’t want to lie to him again, and I don’t want to tell him the truth. The truth is, alcohol is my left crutch and Keys is my right.
How else could I balance my life if I give up my affair with my liver-busting loyal friend? Who else would love me unconditionally?
Well, I don’t know if I could even categorize it as unconditional, being that the bulk of my earnings go to my secret lover.
When on the other hand, my best friend has been my rock, always quick to help me get a job to fill my time and support my daily needs.
But, despite all this, I say to Keys, “Stop acting like you’re MJ. Like you never made a wrong decision in your life.”
He stops pacing. My words pierced deep into his hardened heart. Keys shoots me an evil look with his piercing brown eyes. He wags his pointer finger at my mug. “I ain’t savin’ your ass this time, bloke. Ain’t no joke.”
“Just say it. I know you’ve been itching to say the “F” word.”
He scoffs. “You’re fired, Tim. I’m sick and tired of carrying your lazy ass. Get your shit out of this office. Don’t want your stinking smell infect the aura of this gym.”
“Glad to finally see the true Keyshawn Kent. Just because you’re the Parks and Rec director don’t mean you’re the shit, mate. Get off your little pony, Keys. You’re just another government pencil pusher.”
Keys shakes his head, breathes heavily and wags his finger. Then, he storms out.
As much as I want to run after him and apologize, I know it’s not a good idea. I should let him cool off.
Keys bailed me out so many times, and I know that he will bail me out again.
What the hell am I doing with my life? I crossed over continents to improve my life.
They say life begins at Forty.
So, I reckon it is another beginning to my self-destructive ending.