"The assistant coaches?"
" Dikembe Mutombo. Alonzo Mourning."
" Mutombo? Mourning? Instead of me?"
"It is nothing personal, Shaq. There were only so many bodies to go around. A former Encyclopaedia Britannica salesman is representing our team at Kenny Anderson's house. A talk show host is with Juwan Howard. Your friend Horace Grant? A team ball boy is putting millions of dollars on the kitchen table at this moment. Call if you don't believe me. This simply is a strange day."
I have been told to feel as if I am Humphrey Bogart and this meeting is taking place in the Sierra Madre. I am supposed to do anything to enlist my man. Ethics and economics are not to be considered. Shaq on our team! Better to have him in our city in this sports-crazed time than the Eiffel Tower or the Bolshoi Theater Ballet or a new computer plant providing 5,000 jobs. He will give us a focus for our dreams. He will give dignity to each and every citizen. He will make us a contender!
"A small token of our esteem," I say. "It is called the Hope diamond. We have purchased it from the Smithsonian. For you."
"A house, Shaq. Here are the pictures. It once was owned by a Vanderbilt. Or an Astor. Can't remember. It's yours now. Cars? Name the models. Name the colors. Boats? We are talking with the owners of the Queen Mary in Long Beach. We think that sucker can sail again. Under your flag!"
I am talking fast, I must admit. Saying whatever I think will help. Practice? The great man will not have to practice. Of course not. Endorsements? I have a signed document from our mayor that 96.5% of the residents of the city have promised to wear whatever shoes Shaq wears, drink whatever he drinks, watch whatever movies he appears in. There is a good chance that a local ordinance will be passed to make this law.
The arena, let's see, will be named Shaqtopia. The team will be renamed the Shaqs. The uniforms will be designed whatever way he wants them. A special sales tax will provide him with 10 cents of every dollar spent at every game.