Will Mount played professional basketball after heroically leading the local university to a first round defeat in the NCAA Tournament. For four years, he started at small forward for the ABA’s New Jersey Americans, and stuck with the team as they changed names to the New York Nets, scoring just under fifteen points, pulling down six rebounds, dishing an assist or two per game—until a phenom with a globular afro out of the University of Massachusetts signed after an impressive rookie year down in Virginia, and claimed the starting role before the ink on his contract dried.

Subbing-in to give the charismatic sophomore superstar breathers, Mount noticed that his entrance into the game, whether home or away, always resulted in popular annoyance, boredom, wholesale migrations to the lavatories and concession stands. Attendance was up for one reason when the Nets were in town, and #33 Will Mount had nothing to do with it. At twenty-eight, Mount had already fallen, a former headliner riding the pines in favor of the younger, the faster, the more acrobatic, the more entertaining future wave of the game, the pure athletes capable of blending sport and entertainment.

Mount could not entertain. Although he could play the game—pass, shoot, set picks, lay the ball off the backboard and into the rim—at 6’4’’ he could neither dunk, palm the ball, nor effectively dribble through his legs. What he lacked in natural ability he made up for with hustle. The local media called him a workhorse. He began to see himself as such. On roadtrips he’d stay away from his teammates, keep to himself, locked in his hotel room with a few bottles of this and that, a horse in his stall with its malt, barley, and hops. Mount was already becoming an overmatched veteran, only in his sixth year, not yet a master of the subtle tricks that extend a career and expose opponents without patience, restless players with skills and speed who were rarely forced to pay up for their gifts. Will chugged from baseline to baseline as hard as he could, rarely getting any touches or shots that weren’t pure garbage, collecting fouls, sometimes flagrantly, sweating beyond decency, putting on a show that many in the crowd could appreciate.

There were celebrations of Mount’s noticeably last ditch efforts. His attempts to fend off obsolescence were recognized in pithy acrostics spray-painted on old sheets advertising the television networks in exchange for a moment of national exposure. The applause trickled in, the media ran features on him again about the contrasts between this kid who played effortlessly, gracefully, perfectly—and the clunky, sweaty, physically more brutal game of the aging Will Mount.

He had just turned twenty-eight. In a world in which apprentices are often masters, Mount suddenly aged. Almost in an psychosomatic effort to expose his jugular to the media’s fangs, he began to feel older. The valleys around his always distinctive widow’s peak visually receded, the V of hair became volcanic over his scalp, providing lost clumps in the shower instead of lava. He shaved it down to nothing, and with his grave features, strong jawline, and deepset small dark eyes, inherited from a generations-ago hushed misceganous affair with a Lenne Lenape indian, he looked twice his age. There were new rolls of flab. His minutes decreased. He’d enter the game and take out his aggression on defense, hacking who’d ever try to glide through the lane, occasionally impeding shots so maliciously that fights broke out, the last of which developed into a benchclearing brawl that spilled into the stands.

An isolation play. The new taking it to the old. A young forward from Indiana challenged Mount—another one of these soaring afros, who like the majority of the crowd, preferred the precarious finger-roll or tomahawk slam on the fastbreak to the more fundamentally sound lay-up. The forward stared Mount down, whose eyes widened and darkened, the sweat flooding over his bald head. The rest of the opposing team wandered off towards the opposite sideline. The forward, with his white socks taped steady just below the knees, reedlike and elastic, Afro-domed, like a deep chocolate and exceedingly agile sunflower in flat-bottomed canvas hightops, stared Mount down while working the ball back and forth through his legs, not as the preliminary efforts of his move to the hoop, but to prove his mastery, to show that the ball’s an extension of his hand, a distraction that’s only diversionary in it’s mesmerizing beauty, repetitious movements that hypnotize the victim: the swaying eyes on a cobra’s hood. The move didn’t need to be quick; but it was.

The forward slowly dribbled the ball a few times directly in front of Mount’s tense defense, tempting him to lunge for the steal, to commit his balance, and when Mount bit, when he threw out a red-white-and-blue wristbanded arm towards the similarly patterned ball, the forward reeled it in yoyo-like, spun past him without losing his dribble. As the forward’s ascent for the slam coincided with the crowd rising to their feet, Mount recovered in time to attempt a block. Instead of going for the ball, Mount instinctually decided—an indication of his psyche’s corneredness—to block the shot by impeding the forward’s total progress to the hoop.

As the forward’s lean arms cocked for the two-handed slam—the authoritative kind that’s jettisoned with all the kinetic torque of winding the ball up behind a diligently picked globe of kinky hair—Mount hooked himself around the shoulders and under the arms of the leaping forward, wrestling him to the court in an aerial full-nelson. The other eight players, slanting toward the hoop for a possible rebound, dove on the two players. These ten scuttlers were joined by the remaining bench players, including the Nets’ resting sophomore sensation, who momentarily jeopardized his career for a few cheap shots with his disproportionately large fist (even for someone 6’6’’). All of these were joined by assistant and head coaches whose trousers split at the seat as they held players in abeyance, trainers throwing jabs while screeching consequences, waterboys bludgeoning with liter-long plastic bottles, photographers and cameramen diving to the floor beneath the scrum for compelling angles. Cheerleaders even exploited the effect of gravity on their full weight to pry death-grips off their favorite players. This ever-expanding mass of people-on-people merged with an all-too-rabid crowd, which, out of admiration and awe, redirected blows about to land on the Nets’ superstar toward more expendable targets. Mount sustained a number of broken ribs, a fractured collarbone, a partially gauged eye that escaped with only a scratched cornea, and a pair of broken hands and wrists. The hands and wrists broke on the offensive, against opponents’ jaws and cheekbones, and when he connected these already damaged phalanges against the skull of an opposing team’s fan who had just caught him across the cheek. As security forcibly encouraged the Nets’ marquee player to a neutral corner and peaceniks pulled player from player and coach from coach, Mount crumbled an already fractured left hand. He issued his retirement press release from a hospital bed where he watched the replay on all three stations.

That forward burned him. He burned Mount in the game and the replay clearly showed that the forward would have won even the most biased pugilistic decision. Any self-respecting player would have done what he did to save face, even if it meant having to end his career, which was just about over anyway, not because of the entrance into the league of someone as dynamic as the Doc, but because he faced the challenge of innovation with an alcoholic retreat rather than the disciplined perseverance of development.

Afterwards, Mount sold Chevrolets, even with an Ivy League education, and an outstanding thesis comparing feudal, confederate, and contemporary land-ownership, which he had lost sometime after graduation both in terms of the actual paper and the understanding of its tenets. At first, he quickly moved those herribone-upholstered, long bench-seated sedans on the lot. He was a minor celebrity who would sell you a car, toss you the keys without even trying to mention his basketball glory days. He’d discuss the exhaust system, the dual cams, the power windows. Mount’s transactions paralleled his game on the court—workmanlike, lacking in flash.

For the first year, customers intent on buying a car were visibly disappointed when Mount was busy. If they needed to buy a car, they’d figure they might as well buy a story as well. He was aware of the effect he was having on people. Mount’s bathetic presence there in front of them was something for the customers to record, his movements, his words, any incidental body contact, every instant was something he was confident would be repeated a few times, embellished, an improvement on the reality he acknowledged and tried to forget. They had seen Mount on the television, rebounding, torso contorted in exertion, his name in print now in their hands on a Chevrolet business card.

His hair had grown back thickly everywhere it wasn’t intent on showing scalp. He looked healthy for the first year. The second year he began to slide. It was a slow descent that wasn’t entirely apparent until the fourth year. After four years away from basketball he was not recognized as a former player as often. That was it. The secret to his earlier success. He had been a player, an active participant on the national level, discussed, and still known, as someone people knew, someone who was almost untouchable, almost an inhabitant of the upper atmosphere where the air is too thin to support the masses, who affably landed on the level and would honestly try to get you the best possible deal on a Chevy Cavalier.

Four years out and Mount recognized that fewer and fewer people seemed to either know or care who he was, or had been. It wasn’t the ego that suffered as much as the empathy. He enjoyed sharing the spark his customers emitted from accepting his card, shaking his hand to close a deal. He enjoyed thinking that they were driving away with something to say. Four years into it and no one was excited anymore. Destined to go through cycles of fading out of that which he had just begun to enjoy. At least to Mount, it didn’t seem to be his fault. People would ask him if he was  . . . it wasn’t immediately apparent. He had gained weight. His sideburns flowed into the hair that advanced from his temples which met a thick beard he’d grown to connect it all.