Pygmalion & Galetea by Anne-Louis Girodet-Trioson
Henry squats and keeps his hands up, but Travis dribbles around him and tosses in the layup. Travis smiles.
Henry moves closer and lifts his heels for more control, but Travis crosses him over, steps back, and swishes a three pointer. Travis fistpumps.
Henry digs his elbow into Travis’s side to repel the post-up, but Travis twists left, then right, then nails the fade away jumper ala Kobe ala Jordan. Travis laughs.
Henry’s teammates ask if he wants to switch, asks if he wants a double, asks because the team falls further behind in the score, and Henry just falls further behind.
Henry is not a bad basketball player – he performs the drills, puts in the reps, even watches YouTube videos to get better. But playing basketball, like sketching a portrait or coding a photo filter, is an art. The rhythm of basketball evades him; he cannot intuit steps and motions embedded in the dance of sport.
Travis is a virtuoso, a prodigy, the music of basketball pulsing in sync with his heartbeat, from his toes to his fingertips. He dribbles with power and control, as if the ball were a harp string. He shoots the ball with perfect form, turning his feet, dipping his elbow, and swaying his legs. He launches each shot with high arc, and expects them all to fall through the net.
Henry leaves the game early though he is not tired nor sore. He walks quickly to the parking lot, his teeth gnashing, his heartbeat racing.
He hears footsteps behind him and a man says, “Tough game, but good effort.”
Henry turns out around to see an Asian man in tanktop and shorts. The Asian man was shooting a basketball on a side court in the gym. Every time Henry went to see him, the man was swishing a jumpshot.
Henry sighs. “Yeah he got me beat. Dude can play.”
“You got good fundamentals.”
“They don’t matter when you play a guy like that. When you play talent like that.”
“Working hard don’t mean shit, does it? Sometimes they’re just more talented.”
Henry smirks. “Some guys just got a gift.”
“But what if could be yours?”
Henry stares at him. “I don’t do drugs.”
The Asian man shakes his head. “Not drugs, something easier, less invasive. As easy as watching a video.” He pulls out a smartphone.
“I could explain but it’s easier if you experience it. Watch for thirty seconds and try not to blink. Then let’s go back on the court.”
The screen comes alive, and what starts off as a highlight reel of Stephen Curry transforms into a flickering panorama of light and color.
“I’m not going to have an epilepsy, am I?”
“No, all that flashing is meant to trigger neuronal impulses in your brain and elicit responses in your spinal nerves, particularly the ones which control body control, balance, and muscle memory.”
Henry brings his fingertips together, as if he were brushing away sand. “There’s a strange tingling.” The video stops.
The Asian man smiles. “Go back to the court.”
Henry jogs back, just as the previous game breaks. He signals to sub in. His team tries to have him guard someone else, but Henry points at Travis.
In twenty minutes, Travis kicks the ball against the wall. He unleashes a litany of “fuck,” twisting the word as a noun, verb, and adjective in ways its inventor never intended. He stomps out, his head pointed to the ground like Napoleon defeated at Waterloo.
Now Henry laughs. The Asian man smiles again.
“Keep playing, you’ve got another ten minutes or so.”
“This is a prototype. But if you want more, take my card.”
It says Eugene Chun, followed by ten digits and an email address.
“Happy to be your guinea pig Eugene.”
“Email me and come by the office. We’ve got more than just basketball.”