Michael Barry is a writer who lives in Boston, MA. He received his B.A. in Financial Economics from St. Anselm College and his MFA in Creative Writing from the Stonecoast Program at the University of Southern Maine. Check him out at MichaelBarryWriter.com.
IMAGINED CONVERSATIONS WITH LEBRON JAMES
It was being whispered around that Lebron James was in Manchester, NH, incognito. Why he made his way to a city with no professional basketball I wasn’t sure. We met up on Elm Street, outside the Black Brimmer. We both knew where we were meeting and when, the details prearranged elsewhere. On the curb a valet weaved his way through a number of smoking college students. They were enthralled in the story of a girl they’d passed around. None of the flat brimmed polo hat bros gave heed to the 6’8” athlete in two pieces of a three-piece plaid cashmere suit. On another night in another city we might have been looking for the red carpet, the next party, the third piece of his suit. In ManchVegas we were on our way to a nightcap.
The first thing we saw turning up Lowell Street was a tow truck dragging away some unsuspecting drunk’s Cutlass Ciera. It was too early for the college kids to be at The Red Arrow Diner. The car belonged to a local. How unlikely a local would be unaware of the tow zone, Lebron stated so matter-of-factly, as though this were his usual Thursday-night-spot.
Lebron walked into the diner like it was a nightclub. He had a pseudo secret handshake with the lady behind the register and shot a kiss at the heavyset guy manning the grill before bear hugging an older gentleman reading yesterday’s paper at the counter. He had a swagger as we made our way down the line. I loved that about Lebron, that he waited in line. No shortcuts. When we got to our place at the end he shoved his hands in his pockets and cozied up to the wall. There were four or five people in front of us. Lebron’s smile beamed as he turned to the girls ahead of us. He asked them where they went to school and immediately which dorms they lived in, favorite teachers, intramural basketball, then volleyball, tennis. He seemed to know so much about college life. The girls asked him how. He confessed how much he’d missed. How the millions of dollars couldn’t buy him one or two or four years of campus life, of skipping classes and hitting up house parties and bonfires with the gang. He never had the gang, had missed out on the opportunity to miss them and work to stay in touch after graduation.
The line shuffled down a little, and then again when the two girls grabbed spots at the counter. Lebron and I were next when a booth opened up. Again, he swaggered his way down the aisle behind the counter. The line behind us had grown as we waited and Lebron could have been a presidential candidate shaking hands as he walked down it, except that his smile was genuine and every so often a handshake turned into a bro hug, with Lebron and the unnamed man patting each other on the back as they came in for the real thing.
When we finally got to our booth and sat down I could see concern in Lebron’s face when he asked me if I felt like I’d been pushed aside in the hustle and bustle of all those handshakes and hugs. I hadn’t. I told him as much and was surprised to see a wave of relief wash over him. I hadn’t thought of Lebron as the type to care. I’d watched him lose to my Celtics ungracefully and later win with even less poise. I’d carried a torch of hatred for all that Lebron represented, all his selfishness and ambivalence. In his move to South Beach when he abandoned his hometown for glitz and glamour he’d also abandoned the rest of us ever giving a shit about him. The player I could appreciate. The person was dead to me. But here he was, Lebron James, King James, worrying about my place in this diner next to him. No entourage. We were equals.
We both ordered the breakfast combo and got to talking. Lebron wanted to know what I was up to, what I was writing about, who I was seeing. He showed me pictures of his sons and talked about his work with the Boys and Girls clubs. We got into a long debate about Larry Bird and Magic Johnson that neither of us won. When Lebron’s food came out first I told him to start without me, but he wouldn’t have that. When my plate finally appeared, Lebron rubbed his hands together in anticipation and nodded toward the waitress. As she dropped off my order Lebron waited for me to pick up my fork. Lebron James waited for me. Then we ate.
(photos: GQ.com, fanshare.com, africatopsport.com, GoogleImages)