(This is a small bit of fiction I’ve written for the FBA, the Furry Basketball Association. My character is one Dan Quvianuq, a giant polar bear center who’s been having a rough month of it. This is the first part of two.)
It’s been about a month since I could eat before a game. I wake up on game day a little queasy, and it takes me fifteen minutes to settle my nerves before I can get up. But even then, I just know it’s going to get worse through the day. By the time we’re shutting out the distractions and getting ready to go out on the floor, it’s all I can do to keep from shaking and I’m sure I would be throwing up if I had anything in my stomach.
Slumps are a fact of life when you’re a basketball player. Your shot feels off, for a while you’re a half-step out of sync with the rest of the team, breaks just don’t go your way. That you can deal with. If you’ve got a good coach, you’ve been trained for that. Just block out the things you can’t control, focus on your training. They’re called “drills” for a reason; the movements have been drilled into you. It’s second nature, it’s instinctive. Just let your body take over while you get your brain in order.
This feels so much worse, though. The problem is my brain is working fine, but I just can’t seem to make my body do what it knows how to do. I see the shot in my head, know what I need to do to make it, but I can’t get my paws to work right. I see a path through the chaos in the key so I can be right there to grab a missed shot, but when I go for it I slam someone to the boards and draw a foul. If I see someone coming hard at me on the perimeter, I know that Buck or Red are in the paint waiting for me to take advantage of the heat I’ve drawn away from them. But I shoot instead. And you don’t need to know a thing about basketball to know that an eight-foot-tall polar bear is going to have a miserable three-point shot.
My name is Daniel Quvianuq, and I’m the starting center for the FBA World Champion Dakota Bikers. Right now, I’m playing the worst basketball of my life.
Every part of my game has been terrible. I’m not sticking to the high-percentage shots that are my bread and butter, instead shooting outside the key and making way too many three-point attempts. I’m as jumpy as a deer when someone brings hard D, and my body just dumps the ball at the basket before my brain can tell it that B-Hop’s open. I’m a big fat lump under the basket, to the point that teammates have to reach around me to pull rebounds. Redfield’s gotten really good at it. He’s a good enough friend not to rib me too much about it, but not good enough to call me on this shit. I’m not pulling down blocks like I know I can, I’m not drawing heat well enough to open up Malone or Hopper so my assists are abysmal, and my turnovers are embarrassing. I could chalk this up to the faster pace of the FBA, or a bit of court rust after coming back from my surgery, but those excuses feel hollow. With what I’m being paid, there’s no excuse for how I’m playing.
And when I think about that my stomach tightens enough that there’s not room for anything in it but nerves. I was the no. 2 draft pick in 2012. I signed an $8 mil. contract with the Bikers the same year Buck Hopper joined the team. Anything less than the FBA Championship trophy would be a disappointment. I was thinking to myself during the preseason that this was it, I was getting in on the ground floor of a dynasty. Then my knees blew out and I lost my entire rookie season.
The way I see it, I only have one year to justify that $8 million dollars, to make sure the Bikers want to keep me around, to prove to myself and the rest of the league that I belong here. If I were playing for some team in a “rebuilding year,” like Biloxi or Hawaii, the pressure wouldn’t be nearly as bad. But here in Sturgis, with the talent we’ve got, excellence is expected. And you really feel it when you’re not living up to it.
Tonight we’re up against the Kahunas. They’re a really fun to team to play, even if they aren’t that good yet. Alphonse Norwich IV is their guy, and he’s good. A scrappy little bastard who reminds me a lot of Wendy Brown — fearless, aggressive and fiercely loyal to his team. Dylan’s really not looking forward to covering him; they both play with a chip on their shoulder, and that aggression is probably going to flare up a couple of times tonight. Right now he’s sitting in front of his locker, staring at the floor and ignoring the rest of us with his headphones. Malone reminds him to keep his head in the game twice, and the second time they snap at each other. It’s amazing how much herbivores look like carnivores when they’re fighting. Same kind of quick vent of steam, same kind of charge in the air. Still, it doesn’t go any further than that — Dylan’s earned Skywalker’s respect through his play, and the ‘roo stood by him when the whole Rufus thing went down. They’ve got each other’s backs, and they both understand how intense the other one is about his game.
It’s that kind of camaraderie that I feel is missing with me. Malone comes up to me, and he gives me a long look. It makes me wonder if he’s thinking whether or not I’m worth the effort, if I’m a lost cause that’s just going to have to be carried through the rest of the season. I try to look focused, determined, anything other than scared. But I can’t meet his eyes. “You know what to do,” he says at last. “You’ve got this. Good luck out there.”
I nod, and then he’s gone. I look around to see if anyone else caught the exchange, but Dylan’s pacing now and Buck is stretching. Kenta Yamashita is covering for Jack tonight, since he’s injured. I wonder if he feels as lost as I do, but if he does he doesn’t show it. He’s totally chill, staring straight ahead, breathing deeply and evenly. I don’t know him that well, but I’m guessing he’s doing some sort of Eastern trance thing. Maybe I’ll ask him about it sometime. Maybe it’ll help with the nerves.
The coach comes in and that’s how I know it’s almost time to head out there. The nerves come back full-force, and I wonder if anybody can tell that I’m shaking. I can’t remember what he said, but it’s got people pumped; Buck is practically bouncing off the walls, and both Malone and Red are walking out like they’re going to eat the other team. The rustle of Kenta’s quills brings me back to myself and I stand up, and I walk quickly, and then I’m swallowed by the lights of Sofawolf Arena.