The Best of Us

He was raised Catholic, but this was the only time in his life he ever truly felt close to God. Six foot six and six foot nine, respectively, seemed like miles and miles instead of feet, and they were here. A boom mic’s distance between Andy and two titans, the closest he’d ever come to the sublime realm he’d see his grandmother enter into during Sunday mass. Larry Legend and His Airness, side by side, for what: fucking McDonald’s? He’d assumed they subsisted on a diet of mana and adoration. 

But it wasn’t adoration that led him here, much more like a combination of chance and pity. A friend, knowing Andy was down on his luck, set him up with a gig that would provide a long-awaited application of his AV Production degree. Playing boom mic for a couple of athletes for a commercial; Unglamorous, but money is money. He didn’t even like basketball that much. He’d caught a couple of games here and there in assorted break rooms and bars in his life, but when the sport didn’t confuse him, it mostly bored him. 

Michael Jordan, however, was beyond basketball. Beyond sports, even. Andy knew nothing about his individual skills or talents, but shit, he must be pretty damn good to have his essence bleed into almost every aspect of his waking life. Advertisements, clothes, conversations with friends, and now his work seemed to bend to the will of the man who could be recognized simply by silhouette. He knew less about Larry Bird, but he must have been no slouch himself to be standing with Jordan in this empty stadium. 

He knew about the stature and standing of these men, but didn’t, couldn’t, comprehend the aura that they projected. When the shoot began, they paraded around set as if unencumbered by their own myth, swagger and suavity in spades but no hint of recognition, not to themselves nor to the peons clambering to make this production meet the desires of another omnipresent entity in Andy’s life. The two only seemed to respect each other, a relationship forged in the flames of competition on the highest stage. 

The premise of the advertisement was simple: Jordan and Bird play a game to see who can miss a shot first (HORSE he believed it was called), winner gets a delicious meal from McDonald’s. The shots become more and more ludicrous, shooting from the rafters, from the parking lot, each time the shot being called and made. This serves as both farce and worship, because who’s to say they couldn’t make those shots? You weren’t there. Andy figured he could tell his friends that every shot displayed in that commercial was 100% real and that he’d bet his dear old mom’s life on it. He’d probably only have to press the issue slightly to turn it into fact, a historical record written in apocryphal ink. But the comedic ha-ha-he-can’t-really-do-that element was important too. A commercial has to be funny, or sad, or infuriating, or prodding in some way, because if it’s not then the whole thing just feels like a waste of time. 

It was lowbrow, this middling commercial work, but simply the presence of these two figures was enough to convince Andy that he was a functioning cog in something great. He was not creating an ad or even art but instead alchemy, transmuting moving images and audio into influence; He himself was playing a part in the shaping of public opinion, he was Paul transcribing the words of Jesus into red, green, and blue. He was even helping bend time, deciding a lunch or dinner for himself two weeks in the future depending on what channel he was watching. He held no actual power in his hands, held no control, but he felt imbued with a certain sense of dignity and status, like his just being there alone afforded him an amount of wisdom and control that segregated him from the lower dregs of society.

“Cut, cut cut cut.” The director halted the shoot. “Fuckin’ boom was in the shot.” Ah, shit. He’d done it now. The director was one thing, but to fail like this, in the primetime, in the middle of his craft, in front of two towers of clutch decision making and mad dog winning instincts, was devastating. He was going to lose his spot in Eden. Rookie, he told himself, idiot rookie, dumb motherfucking shit for brains rookie what are you doing here? You’re a trespasser, caught red-handed, stealing time and space that you foolishly thought you deserved. Whatever happens to you next is your own doing and your name will be scattered to the wind like sand. Fucking moron. “Sonofabitch alright, from the top.” 

The rest of the shoot went off without a hitch, as Jordan and Bird were consummate professionals as well as well-seasoned entertainers. This was old hat for them. As Andy drove back home that night, he played that moment over and over and over again in his head. In memory, the only thing that remains is the icy glare sent his way by the players, angled down, brows furrowed ever so slightly in frustration. They didn’t say anything. Didn’t have to. He thought about what those two could do to him if they saw punishment was needed. They could tear him apart limb from limb effortlessly. They could throw a basketball so hard at his head that it would explode like watermelon dropped onto asphalt from the top of the Hancock building. Hell, they’d even get away with it. As is their right. As is their reward. 

The conclusion Andy arrived at after shutting his apartment door and grabbing a can of beer from the fridge was that he would never let them down again. If the situation came, he would put his life on the line for them. He would take any bullet, smuggle any drug, hide any body, and do it with a smile on his face. If they ran for office, he would knock on doors until his knuckles were bloody. They were the only thing that gave him faith in the supremacy of humanity, that evolution didn’t make a wayward mistake in giving us the reigns to its kingdom. He would now wear his beat Bulls cap with pride instead of necessity, and he would tell everyone that Michael Jordan and Larry Bird were two of the nicest, humblest, and most deserving people he’d ever met in his entire life. This was his station, and there was no desire or need to rise above it.

Two months later, Andy found himself in the fortunate position of seeing the Bulls play live in a roaring Chicago Stadium. They were competing against the Jazz, who were from Wyoming or something or other. The seats were of surprisingly good quality coming from an untrustworthy friend, but higher or lower didn’t really matter to Andy. He was most excited to find himself by the tunnel that the team entered and exited from once the game was finished. It was everything he wanted and more. Jordan live and in motion was, well, you just had to be there. The Bulls won handily, and as the team sauntered to their exit, Andy positioned himself near the guard rail, his gut pressing against the bar and threatening to send him over into the floorboards. As Jordan walked by, he yelled, “Mike, Mike! Mike, it’s me! From the commercial! The mic guy!” Jordan looked briefly into the stands, and Andy thought for a second he might have caught a glint of recognition in his eye. The team was fully down the tunnel before he could confirm, but that was enough. “Yeah,” he said out loud to anyone who would listen, “he remembers me.”

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