(When I told him I couldn’t think of anything to write about the Pelicans, Prominent sportswriter Miles Wray suggested I write Omer Asik fan fiction. This is the fruit of that labor.)
Omer Asik stood on top of the levy that held the ocean’s mighty power an arm’s reach from his new home. He looked into the ocean, with power that could destroy.
“I have become that ocean,” he said, as he fiddled with the cloth wrapped around his hands. “I have become the wave of destruction.”
After a disappointing season in Houston, Omer got on his motorcycle and just drove into the Texas desert. He just wanted to forget. Forget Dwight, forget the bench, forget Mchale and Morey and the Trail Blazers and everything. He just wanted to be a body in the desert, a cactus, a nothing.
Somewhere in Terrell county, Omer’s bike ran out of gas. He pulled over to the side of the road and looked around. Emptiness spread out in either direction. His map indicated that the next gas station wasn’t for another 50 miles. He had a tent and three days worth of water and food, so he wasn’t terribly worried, but he wasn’t crazy about having to haul his bike 50 miles.
After ten miles or so, a truck pull off to the side of the road.
“Just out of gas.”
Omer wasn’t terribly scared of anyone, so he took the ride. He never went on these trips without packing, one at the hip and one at the boot, just in case. They rode for 20 miles in silence. The stranger spoke first.
“So, what do you do for a living?”
“I play basketball.” Hardly, he thought. I sit on a bench. “For the Houston Rockets.”
Not for long, hopefully.
“Oh, well, I see - you are a tall fella, that certainly do make a lot of sense.”
Silence for another five minutes.
“You are, uh, Omer Asik, right? Big Turkey?”
“Yes.” He was not fond of that nickname.
“You know, I have a friend, he’s a basketball coach. I think he could teach you something.”
Omer heard stuff like this all the time. It drove him crazy. “What, is he a free throw specialist or something? No thanks, I’m fine. I have enough coaches, I think.”
The man chuckled.
“No, he’s not a free throw specialist. He invented a whole new way of thinking about basketball.” He looked Omer right in the eyes, with a low key fury. “It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen in my life.”
When they finally stopped at the gas station, the stranger scribbled an address down on a piece of paper.
“About 50 miles southeast there. You’re going to have to go off road for ten or so miles. But, Omer; it’s going to change the way you play basketball, forever.”
As Omer stared at the ocean and thought about how he had brought himself to this place, he tried to parse out why he took that old man’s directions. Was he sold by his intensity? Was his opinion of his own game so low, so bottomed out, that deep inside he was looking for any solution? Was he just getting bored, riding his motorcycle on that endless Texas highway?
Coach Badland’s house was a shithole. One bedroom, the roof collapsing, run down ranch fences, a half hearted vegetable garden that was full of dog shit. One hoop that couldn’t have been taller than nine feet, set up above a hard patch of dirt. Badland was sitting in a deckchair outside.
“Who are you.”
“Omer Asik. Someone told me you were a basketball coach.”
Badland got up and looked at Omer.
“Yep. I is. Got a method for success. Five points. Can you do it?”
Omer, in the throes of the biggest crisis of confidence in his professional career, decided that he wanted to prove something to himself. “Absolutely.”
“Do you want to?”
It wasn’t extraordinary, at first. Omer would wake up. (He slept in a tent; Badland’s house smelled like dead coyotes.) He’d spend two hours running around the property, do standard basketball drills for five hours, Mikan Drills and shooting circles and dribbling stuff. Then he would run for another hour, eat dinner, and go to sleep.
Badland was clearly once a professional coach. He was an encyclopedia of jargon and had an acute knowledge of drills and skills. Omer didn’t see anything extraordinary in it, per se, but it was one of the best training situations he had ever been in. The modern professional athlete trains in an aseptic environment to avoid injury, but it also drains them of any experience with nature, a true pushing of the self. When Omer ran in the desert, he felt himself breaking through his limits every day. He was getting stronger. More resilient.
One week in, Badland handed Omer a plastic blue ball about the size and weight of a grapefruit. “Hold this in your shooting hand while you run.”
For three days, Omer did this without noticing any particular difference.
One the fourth day, when he went to his shooting drills, he felt different. Like he had more control. He drilled 20 straight free throws at one point, as if it was nothing.
By day seven he had started to feel a new presence in his hands, as if they had grown a new sense he had never had before.The basketball felt like trillions of vibrations in his hands, which also became vibrations. He was one with the ball, in total control.
On the ninth day, he tried something. He stood 30 feet from the basket and took the basketball in his hands, close his eyes, and thought, ‘In the basket.’ The ball launched out of his hand in a perfect arc with a faint blue trail, like a small comet.
Omer couldn’t believe his eyes. He stood another ten feet away from the basket and did it again. Then another ten. Then another ten. Then another ten. Then a mile.
Then he started to dribble. Between the legs. Behind the back. He threw a bounce pass that went over Badland’s shack, hit the ground on the other side, and drifted back over the building right into position for Omer to leap up and dunk it in. He was amazed.
“Coach Badland! What is this?! What are these powers? What is that blue ball?!”
“That ball, is the spirit of the original ball that Dr. James Nasmith used to create basketball. It is the purest essence of the game. Right in your hand.”
Omer looked at his hand. It was glowing blue, the spirit of the first basketball pumping through his molecules.
“Hey, Badland. Does this ever stop?”
Badland looked at Omer’s hand. “It should, certainl-”
All of a sudden, the blue energy coming out of Omer’s hand burst into a blue flame. It got bigger. Then bigger. THen bigger.
“What’s happening?! BADLAND!”
The flame turned purple.
“My god, it’s combining with your energy! Omer, you need to-”
Before Badland could finish his sentence, a massive purple blast emerged from Omer’s hand and annihilated Badland’s shack.
“What do I do?!”
“I don’t know, this has never happened before! It’s trying to free itself! Just… point it away from something!”
Omer panicked. He thought about pointing his arm in the air, but an airplane was flying by and would see the energy bolt. So he pressed his hand against the ground. At first, nothing happened. The portal seemed to be closed. Then, all of a sudden, a rumble. And a flash. The sandy ground where there were standing headed up and turned into purple glass, as if a nuclear bomb had gone off. Omer pulls his hand away from the ground, his spirit exhausted by this release. He passed out.
When he woke up, there was a wrap on his hand. Badland explained that it was a normal piece of cloth with a symbol written on it that was designed to contain excess spirit energy. He would need to wear it for the rest of his life. A player with his talent and experience level had never handled the ball before. It combined with his personal energy and, clearly, became unstable.
“I need to wear this, even when I play basketball?”
“Especially when you play basketball. Omer, if you ball out too hard without that wrap on your hand, horrible things could happen.”
“But the spirit is still in my body? I can still use it.”
“Omer, I won’t be responsible for whatever happens if you use your bare hand to play basketball in an arena of people. Now leave. There is nothing else I can teach you.”
Omer took the wrap off his hand and pointed it at the ocean. Nothing. How unsafe could this really be? He was fine. It was fine. He would play without the wrap. He could play without the wrap. He was sure. He would learn to control it.