So, I’m down here in La Paz chillin. Scattered clouds, highs in the 70’s, blue skies. Phil’s got our little intra-mural team at 10-0, rolling the competition like the ’96 Bulls. I’ve got a major tan going behind my mirrored Ray-Bans, my back hasn’t felt this loose since high school, and for the first time in a long time I feel cool instead of a big, awkward white guy trying to play a black guy’s game.
Cell phone battery’s dead, haven’t read the papers in weeks. The hell with them and their damned Millionaire vs. Billionaire Lockout.
So, Phil comes up to me with a copy a La Paz paper. He raps it down on the cafe table, spilling a little of my espresso. He sits down.
“Lockout’s over,” he says.
I look up. “Really?”
“And you tried to trade Pau and Lamar for Chris Paul.” He stares at me.
I sit up. “What? That’s crazy! Two thirds of our front court for a temperamental point guard with one bad knee already?”
Phil went on, “Stern vetoed the trade as uncompetitive despite swearing he’d never meddle in Hornet business.”
“Wait a minute. …I traded them?”
Phil goes on: “So Lamar went into a major league pout and asked to be traded anyway….”
“How could I have traded them?”
“And rather than stroking him and letting him cool off, you dealt him right away to Dallas….”
“For a draft choice.”
I stand up. “This isn’t happening. I’ve been right here. You’ve seen me. We don’t have a phone. I don’t get any mail.”
Phil lays down the La Paz paper which has a picture of me looking out over the practice court. I look at the picture, then back at him.
“How could this be?”
Phil shrugs. “I’ll bet that weasel Jimmy Buss has a hand in it.”
I look at the photo. “Why would any one ever bother to find a “fake” Mitch Kupchak?”
Phil smiles. “You think they’d have come looking for you when the lockout ended. But, no, they let you sit here. After that billion dollar TV deal, the Buss’s have more money than they know what to do with. And, remember that Dr. Soon-Shiong, the new minority shareholder? They cloned you, dude.”
I’m in a sweat. My back in twisting up like used tin foil. “Cloned me?”
Phil nods. “Just like that Schwarzenegger movie.”
“Some mutant Mitch is sitting at my desk? Going home to my wife?”
“It’s the fucking Buss Family! They make the Corleone’s look like “Father Knows Best.” I got them to the finals seven times and won five rings for them, and for that they fired me, cut my salary and let me go again. They’re fucking ruthless and don’t know how stupid they are. They’ve only gotten as far as they have on the backs of excellent employees whom they’ve shat on as soon as they felt they didn’t need them, from Jerry West to Magic to Kareem to me and you.”
“So, what do we do?”
“First, you better drain your accounts before Mutant Mitch figures out where all the money is.”
“And then, you gotta figure out how bad you want your old life back.” He gestures around the cafe. “I mean it’s not so bad here.”
“Is it murder if you kill your own clone?’
Phil picks up the newspaper again. He smiles. “It says here, your doppelgänger is still looking to move Pau and ‘Drew for Dwight Howard.”
“What? Howard’s a grinning idiot! His shot has all the touch of a wounded duck. He’s got no post-up game and shoots worse than Shaq or Wilt from the line. And he still hasn’t figured out how to block the ball inbounds! Drew is at least trainable!”
I’m really in a turmoil. “I built this team. No help from Jerry West. I built it! I traded that dead albatross of a contract Shaq had for L.O. and trade bait. I signed Drew. I got Kobe to stay. I traded Kwame for Pau!”
“I still can’t believe that one.”
“You’re damn right. It was the biggest swindle since the Louisiana Purchase!”
Phil’s beside himself watching me act out. He loves to push buttons and then sit back and watch.
“I’m going back in, Phil. I’ve got to.”
Phil’s wearing his black leather jacker and biker boots, dusty and unshaven and gnarly, looking like Lee Van Cleef from a spaghetti Western. He smiles. “Let’s ride,” he says.