1 Getting tired and getting old

In the back of the gym a group of men dressed in sweats holding clipboards were watching as different groups of people played 5 on 5 basketball on different courts.

One of the younger men asked an older man "So what do you think coach Bradford? Anyone catch your eye?" Coach Bradford seemed a bit older than middle-aged.

His short brown hair was beginning to show signs of graying. And faint traces of wrinkles could be found on his face.

He was tall at around six foot four and his body seemed to still be in good shape despite his age. Coach Bradford continued looking at the different groups "I thought having these guys scrimmage would help them look good but.... it's not really doing much."

As he continued to watch the different players, coach Bradford's attention was pulled towards one court in particular. There was a player on that court who was hunched low in a defensive stance.

The courts were like a melting pot of diversity where people of varying ages, hairstyles, skin tones and sizes were all gathered. But even among this pool of diversity one man stood out more so than the rest. But not because he was the most athletic or the most gifted.

Standing six foot one in shoes he would be considered tall in regular society but out on the court he seemed to be dwarfed by every other player here. His frame showed well-toned muscles but he was far from being physically intimidating.

The straight black medium length hair held back by his sweatband combined with his stereotypical eyes and paler skin tone made it easy to see that he was of Asian descent.

Although he didn't have the lateral quickness to stay with his defensive assignment who had good burst and tight handles.

He was a tenacious defender who fought through screens, didn't reach for risky steals, contested shots without fouling and seemingly stayed with his man using effort alone.

The player also showed great hustle diving for every loose ball and taking charges against much larger players.

And although he lacked the vertical to finish over defenders on his attacks to the basket he would go in strong taking all the contact head-on.

His playstyle showed no remorse for his own body as the number of times he had hit the hardwood were hard to count at this point, and yet it didn't seem to faze him. He would hit the floor and bounce right back on to his feet to get back into the play.

"Over there on court 4, who's the Asian guy wearing number 13?" asked coach Bradford. One of the younger men seemed to immediately know who he was asking about as he quickly answered

"Oh that's Jason Yang sir. He's not on any rosters for any development league teams. He's one of our regulars. He always comes whenever we have open tryouts".

The young man had a sympathetic expression on his face "This is his tenth year showing up to open tryouts" he then shook his head "The farthest he's ever gone is getting a spot in our training camp".

Coach Bradford was surprised "Tenth year!? I thought he was a four-year college athlete at most. How old is he?"

The younger man answered back "Well, he was a four-year athlete at the University of Los Angeles.

This year he turned 32 but I don't blame you, coach. He looks almost the same from his college days."

Coach Bradford was surprised again "University of Los Angeles? If he played for that school for four years.... and that was ten years ago... that means he was part of the teams that dominated college ball for a couple of years."

Coach Bradford was deep in thought for a moment "I remember him now. He was the backup Point Guard that used to guard the opposing team's best offensive wing player. People used to call him Junkyard because he was as tough and as scary as a junkyard dog."

Coach Bradford watched Jason play with a slight frown "He had winning DNA, the drive, relentlessness, and heart.

Too bad he wasn't blessed with just a little bit more. Just a little more height, just a little more athleticism and he might have been able to make it to the big league."

The young man nodded "Yeah if he was just three inches taller and a bit more athletic he could make the league with his defense alone. "

The young man continued " He's improved on offense. Compared to college where he couldn't shoot anything other than free throws he's a decent three-point shooter now 37% is not bad. But that's only on open catch and shoot opportunities, he can't shoot off the dribble.

He lacks the athleticism to finish over defenders at the rim and he doesn't have the body control or finesse to adjust his shot in order to finish below the rim.

His playmaking and court vision are decent but his ball-handling and dribbling aren't at the professional level. He just doesn't have the offensive ability to jump to the next level"

The scrimmages were done and all the players were gathered around the coaches. Coach Bradford called out a few names "- if your name was called please stay behind. For those of you who were not picked thank you for your time and effort, I wish you all good luck next time."

Jason wore a calm expression on his face but his fist was gripped tight. 'God damn it! Again, another failure!'

As Jason was yelling in his head a figure approached him. Jason recognized it as Martin Newman, one of the assistant coaches for the Los Angeles development team.

Martin walked up to Jason with a big smile on his pudgy face "Jason, nice to see you as always. Sorry to see that you didn't get a spot on our training camp.

You might not be able to come to our training camp as one of our players but we are looking for training partners and temp staff. Your defense would make you a great training partner for our guys. What do you think?"

Jason smiled "Thanks for the offer, Martin. I'm not sure yet, but I have your number and I'll definitely let you know if I decide to take you up on it."

Jason was smiling as he shook Martin's hand but inside his head 'Fuck you martin, how many times did I help you out already?!

You guys hardly paid me, didn't provide housing or transportation and I still signed up to be a training partner multiple times.

After all that you couldn't even pull a couple of strings and at least get me a spot on the training camp roster!?'

On his way out of the gym players and staff that had seen Jason before or were acquainted with him greeted him and wished him better luck next time.

Jason smiled back at them and returned their greeting and well wishes. He made it out of the gym and walked to the parking complex.

He walked into the elevator and saw that it was empty besides him, once the doors closed "FUUUUUUCK!!! GOD DAMN IT!!!"

He screamed and cursed as the elevator made its way down four floors. Right before the doors opened he stopped screaming and put a smile on his face.

He unlocked his beat-up two-door car and tossed his gym bag into the passenger's side before slumping into the driver's seat.

As he started the engine he pulled out his phone and checked the time " Fuck, is it already eight?".

The tryouts started at six in the morning so Jason had to wake up at five in order to have enough time to get ready and beat the morning traffic.

He ruffled his hair in annoyance "I have an hour to get back home, take a shower and get ready for work".

He stared off into space for a moment with a blank expression on his face before punching the passenger seat "fuck!" The radio played as he drove away from the practice facility.

- - -

A well dressed Jason sat in front of a computer in a small cubicle. His blue coat hanging on the back of his chair and he wore black slacks and a white button-up long-sleeved shirt.

His brown leather shoes tapped the floor as he smiled and spoke on the phone "Yes Mr. Banes, we currently have a promotion for small local businesses.

If you purchase any combination of our computers plus accessories we include the installation and set up free."

The nasally voice that came from the phone asked "So if I buy one of your guys' computers I get an accessory for free?"

The corner of Jason's mouth twitched as he continued to smile 'No bitch! Were you even listening!? That is not what I said!'

Contrary to his thoughts Jason spoke in a very friendly tone "haha no sir, the offer is if you purchase one of our computers and an accessory lets say a monitor. We would then do the installation and set up free of charge".

The nasally voice spoke out again "Oh okay, so the special offer is the free installation and set up." Jason responded "Yes sir" Mr. Banes then asked "So is the monitor still free if you guys do the installation and set up?" Jason's face started twitching 'For the love of God!!!'

Thirty minutes later "Thank you for your business, Mr. Banes. The delivery of your order should happen by this Friday. Our technician will let you know when he is close by. Thank you again and you have a nice day." Jason sighed as he hung up the phone.

Thinking back to the last thirty minutes he had to pull out a stress doll from his drawer. He squeezed it in his hand and the eyes of the doll popped out.

He squeezed and let go repeatedly, and a few moments later the head popped off the doll. "Shit" Jason cursed under his breath.

He tossed the doll into the trash bin under his desk. On closer inspection the trash bin was half-filled with similar stress toys.

'Why? why are there so many dumb asses in the world?'. He rubbed his face as he thought 'man, my face is getting tired. I hate having to put this fake smile on day after day.'

He leaned back into his chair and stared at the ceiling 'what am doing with my life? I've been in this same fucking cubicle for five years now.

And there's not so much as a whisper of me getting a promotion. And I've been trying out for development league teams for a decade now... coach'

As he got lost in his thoughts Jason was brought back to a memory from twenty years ago.

- - -

Inside an old gym sat a little kid on the floor of the basketball court. His black hair was in a bowl cut and he cried as he was dressed in basketball shorts, a jersey, and sneakers.

Either from having his head tucked into his knees or because his crying made it hard to hear he didn't notice a figure approaching him.

It was a young man dressed in sweatpants and a white shirt. His smooth dark skin contrasted against his bright white shirt.

His figure was visibly muscular through his clothes and he sported a fashionable flat top with a fade.

The young man patted bent down to one knee and patted the child on the back "What's wrong Jason? You were having so much fun during the tryouts?".

Jason slightly moved his head up to make eye contact with the young man "Coach Butler. I tried, I really tried my best. I worked so hard in the weeks before the tryouts and I-I still couldn't make the starting five"

Jason broke out into tears again. Coach Butler let out a light chuckle "hehe is that what this is about? I almost thought it was something serious for a second".

Jason was about to break out into even more intense crying but then he saw coach Butlers smile "Jason, I know that it hurts right now. You put in a lot of effort and you didn't get the results that you wanted.

But that work that you put in, it didn't go to waste. It didn't just disappear into thin air. That work went into here and here"

He pointed at Jason's chest and then at the basketball next to him. Coach Butler smiled even brighter "Whenever you put in work, that helps build up heart. And that's something all champions have in common, they have heart.

Whenever you put in your best effort and as long as you don't cheat the game or yourself that work will find its way to the ball. Because ball don't lie"

Seeing that Jason had stopped crying, Coach Butler ruffled his hair with one hand as he picked up the basketball with the other.

"Ball don't lie. That's a quote from one of my favorite basketball players of all time. It means that although players and refs can lie.

On the court the basketball will never lie to you. You might be able to lie to the ref and flop your way to the free-throw line but if you didn't put in the work and your shot sucks then the ball won't go into the basket.

So from now on instead of crying whenever things get tough I want you to put your head down and just put in more work okay" with tears still in his eyes Jason nodded and got back up to his feet.

Next chapter