There is a room for freaks in basketball, but not too many: we cannot disturb the status quo—they must be sideshows, reasons to bring your family, to put popcorn in the hands of as many on-lookers as possible.
This was never a game for someone like me—flat-footed, slow-footed, every pivot a lumbering. The jerseys wouldn’t fit over my body: they should be big enough for someone my age, they would say, and it was true—I was an anomaly, a statue of clumsy. I would wear the shirt meant for the coaches—a man’s shirt, despite being nothing but: someone who couldn’t do anything except sit in front of televisions, one hand on the controller and the other one sticky from chocolate that had melted between the grooves of my fingerprints.
I hated Shaquille O’Neal—I hated how large he was, how everyone in suburban New Jersey loved him despite his size, how easily allegiances shifted. I hated how easy this game was for him: how someone that large can make the world bend to his will, how he had the luxury to operate via a different set of rules while I was being kicked in the stomach—that I couldn’t feel pain beyond the layers of fat.
Shaq would disappear in later iterations of the game; his likeness becoming too large for the game of basketball—his multitudes sprawling out in gushes. O’Neal negotiated a deal separate from the one made between the player’s union and the association, and thus the price tag was too expensive to pay to include him in the game. The audacity of this—to believe that basketball was simply one thing that he can do in this world: that there is still so much of him to be put towards filming movies, recording albums.
I read an article about him when I was younger; about how when he was a child he would slouch—about how all he wanted to be was normal. I shared this too: there is no virtue in being someone that everyone else is not.
A memory: a school field-trip to a museum of the body. At the center of the museum, a large scale version of the human heart that children can walk through—they can touch the insides of ventricles, they can spin around in an atrium. There are vessels too—small tubes that children can crawl through, that they can pretend to be something smaller than what they are, that they can be parts of an amazing hole. As I crouched to fit, a woman grabbed my arm, told me that I was too large to fit—that I could get stuck. I stood next to models of other hearts, of animals larger and smaller than I was—they spiraled towards the sky. There must be a way to take my heart out from underneath all of this virtue and muscle and see where it belongs—in a world where I am the largest bird, but the smallest ape, there is nothing but extremes to discuss. I have always been disappointed in the scale of things, of percentiles, of where I stands.
Another fieldtrip: one of medical oddities. It is where I will go when I die. They will put me in a glass case, they will have my skull on the ground where children can open up the bottom of my jaw. The children will make me talk—make me say things I never could when I was alive. There will be a body next to mine—it will be O’Neal’s. They will be amazed that he is here; that this museum could afford such a priceless artifact, that it should be elsewhere, draped in gold, in a vault somewhere, hooked up to a machine that makes the man animatronic—telling wide-eyed jokes with a flashing nose. Instead, children will stand inside of our bodies; they will imagine what it would’ve been like to live this large—to be this small inside. I will finally understand. I will finally contain multitudes. I will not move from this place.
Brian Oliu is originally from New Jersey and currently teaches at the University of Alabama. He is the author of So You Know It’s Me (Tiny Hardcore Press, 2011), a series of Craigslist Missed Connections; Leave Luck to Heaven (Uncanny Valley Press, 2014), an ode to 8-bit video games; and i/o (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2015), a memoir in the form of a computer virus. His works in progress deal with professional wrestling, long distance running, and NBA Jam (not all at once).