MY DINNER WITH ANDRAY
in a film presented by
THE BROOKLYN GAME
[Mark Ginocchio is walking along Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, NY. On the right is the Atlantic Terminal mall and across the street is the Barclays Arena. We hear his voice commenting the action, as a narrator would. This narrating voice will be labeled MARK’S NARRATION to distinguish it from Mark’s actual words within the story]
MARK’S NARRATION: Being a basketball blogger is tough. You work hard developing snarky, witty commentary on the daily grind of an NBA season, and unless your posts are linked to by the mainstream media, they often go unnoticed. You often contend with readers calling you an idiot because maybe you liked something a player did on the court that they thought was a mistake. Or maybe you thought something was a mistake that they thought changed the outcome of the game for the positive. And then of course, all the work you do for free, or next to nothing. I have valuable things to say about basketball and nobody will hire me! I have to work a real 9-to-5 job in an office where I wear tie just to feed my blogging habit. I’m 31 years-old and all I can think about is money! [Change of scene. Mark is riding the subway.] My wife works hard all day too and with a young child in the house, she often goes to bed before the end of Nets games so I’m often on my own with my thoughts. But the worst thing of all was when I was trapped by an odd series of circumstances into agreeing to have dinner with a man I’ve been literally avoiding for years. His name was Andray Blatche. The first time I truly noticed Andray on the basketball court was during the 2009-10 NBA season, when the Nets were on course to finish 12-70 and Andray would play like Washington, D.C.’s, version of Dirk Nowitzki whenever the Wizards were on the schedule. He just stunned Nets fans (all 20 of them) throughout the world. [Change of scene. Mark is again walking] But then something happened to Andray. He’d always been troubled. First arousing suspicion about the company he kept when he was shot during a carjacking on the morning he was drafted into the NBA. Then he got busted by police for soliciting a prostitute. It affected his performance on the court too. He was suspended by the Wizards for being in poor shape. He made gun signs with teammate Gilbert Arenas in the wake of Arenas facing severe charges from the NBA for having a fun in the locker room. [Mark is now approaching the entrance of a restaurant in Brooklyn] He was eventually amnestied by the Wizards, until the Nets gave him a life line and offered him a contract. His play at the beginning of the season was inspired, but in recent weeks, it has dropped off, and some fans are even speculating that he’s put on weight again. The whole idea of meeting him made me very nervous. Was I supposed to help Andray redeem himself again? I’m just a blogger. I’d probably just write a snarky blog post spoofing an abstract movie that came out in 1981.
[Mark nods checks his coat and then nods at the host of the Buffalo Wild Wings. Music: Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On a Prayer”]
MARK: Yes, I’m meeting a Mr. Andray Blatche for dinner tonight. You’ll recognize him. He’s nearly 7-feet tall and likes to wear a headband for the first half of dinner before talking it off in time for dessert.
HOST: That table will be ready in a moment. In the meantime, you’re welcome to having a drink at the bar. It’s a Monday night so there’s a special on Miller Light.
[Mark sits at the bar]
MARK: Do you have any Belgium beers?
BARTENDER: I’m sorry, this is Buffalo Wild Wings. How about a Miller Light.
MARK: But it’s Brooklyn? OK, that’s fine. I’ll take it in the 36 ounce size.
MARK’S NARRATION: When Andray called and recommended this restaurant, I was a little surprised that an NBA player wanted to meet at a chain across the street from the arena. I remembered reading somewhere that basketball players loved the Cheesecake Factory. But then again, he probably figured I was a poor blogger and the boneless wings with habanero peach flavoring was the only thing I could afford.
[Andray enter and places his hand on Mark’s shoulder from behind]
ANDRAY: Mark! [Andray embraces Mark and mouth’s “wow” to him as he pats his stomach]
MARK’S NARRATION: I was a little surprised Andray knew who I was since he never met me before and the image I use on my Twitter handle is a “Mad Men-ized” version of myself from about four years ago. And why was he touching my stomach?
MARK: Andray. You look … good.
ANDRAY: You bet I do. I’m in the best shape of my life. Any correlation between my play of late and the firing of Avery Johnson is completely coincidental.
[The hostess enters the frame and grabs two menus, leading the duo to a table over in the back of the restaurant. Mark and Andray start talking, but we can only hear parts of the conversation underneath Mark’s narration.]
MARK’S NARRATION: Andray kept fidgeting with his headband and was asking me if I was aware of certain prostitution laws around the United States. I told him that I never really looked that far into these things. He told me what it was like playing with Gilbert Arenas and how he was a true inspiration for him. I started to realize that this conversation would meander unless I started asking him questions, which I was hopeful I can then spin into a blog post on The Brooklyn Game.
MARK: Is he still trying to get back into the NBA?
ANDRAY: [to waiter] I think we can do without this [he hands him his headband] Who?
MARK: Gilbert? Do you still talk to him? Is he still trying to get into the NBA?
ANDRAY: [nose in the menu] Yeah, I don’t really know.
MARK’S NARRATION: Andray certainly knew a lot about the menu. Maybe he picked Buffalo Wild Wings because he actually likes the food here, and not out of some kind of pity for me.
ANDRAY: I’ll have a dozen of Caribbean Jerk.
WAITER: Very good.
ANDRAY: [for Mark’s benefit] They’re hot wings with Caribbean spices.
MARK: Yeah, I know. I’ll have the same.
WAITER: So, two orders of Jerk? Right away.
MARK’S NARRATION: We talked about my writing and my day job and Andray talked about his propensity to drive towards the hoop, dribble between his legs and then voluntarily force himself into a lower percentage fade away shot, a sort of flagship move he’s been attempting to perfect his entire career.
ANDRAY: … So I figured, a guy can’t guard me if I’m fading backwards. And who ever heard of a almost 7-footer dribbling between his legs. Sometimes, I even like to leave my feet with the ball before making a decision with what I want to do with it. They call what I do playing point-center. I know Deron isn’t always a big fan of that, but he must like me somewhat, since he’s hooking me up with the weight loss plan he started right around the time he signed his new contract with the Nets. It’s great. You can eat as much as you want and if you gain any weight, you can just blame other people, or get people in the front office cover for you and call people biased liars if they call you out on anything in public.
MARK: What do you mean exactly?
ANDRAY: Mark, we’re only as accountable as the people to either side of us on the basketball court. The way I see, Avery’s firing reflected that. Was it his fault when we started playing poorly in December? Was it his fault when we were winning basketball games in November? Was it his fault when I was fined by the Wizards for being overweight?
MARK: That doesn’t make any sense and doesn’t even remotely answer my question.
ANDRAY: And that’s the beautiful thing about you. You’re just some guy who probably types in his mother’s basement …
MARK: … I live with my wife and son and I don’t even have a basement …
ANDRAY: … and it’s easy for you to just sit there and criticize how we play a game designed to utilize leftover peach baskets. But we can’t go around taking things to heart. All that matters for me is that PJ and Mr. King say I’m doing a good job, and that I’m probably paying well enough to get paid next year.
MARK: But what about when a respected beat writer like a Dave D’Alessandro or Ric Bucher writes something about you guys being divas? Are you held accountable then?
[The waiter puts a steaming plate of chicken wings on the table and a pile of moist wipes]
ANDRAY: [to waiter] Thanks. Another Bud Light when you get a chance? [to Mark] Nah, man. You see Dave D? Dude needs a haircut. Maybe hit a treadmill. Why would would a professional athlete give a crap about what he has to say? And what does Ric Bucher know about basketball? Here’s something you need to understand about professional athletes, Mark. [waiter returns with a beer. Andray nods his head and takes a swig] The writers do their thing, and we do ours. And once you start caring too much about what those guys do, you just become a pawn in their game. Unless it’s Stackhouse on Twitter. You don’t want to see what that old man does when someone talks trash about him on Twitter.
MARK: Uh, right. So, then you are aware about what people say about you? You’re not completely oblivious?
ANDRAY: Nah, man. Oblivious is asking someone how much it costs for a night and them pulling their badge on you, and you still asking how much it’s going to cost you.
MARK: [Pause] Andray! How can you say something like that?
ANDRAY: Well, you know, I was in an emotional state of the time, but sine I’ve come to Brooklyn, I’ve been seeing the world differently. Suddenly, my jump shot starting falling more, which inspired me to take more jump shots. Sure, that’s when they started falling less, but “hello, Brooklyn,” and all that. You have to understand, that final year or so in Washington, I was at absolute rock bottom. It’s so bad, they’re paying me millions of dollars to stay away. People thought I’d be done with basketball, and my only chance of hanging on was either signing a minimum contract with the defending NBA champions, or joining a hip new franchise in one of the largest markets in the world in a low-risk, high-reward scenario. But, let me tell you, it’s hard when my check from the Nets come in and it’s league minimum. And then when that check from the Wizards comes in, and I think about all that money they’re paying me after amnesty.
MARK: That doesn’t sound too bad.
ANDRAY: Not too bad? You need to understand, justifiable or not, I’ve been portrayed as some kind of cold-hearted villain deserving of scorn before I got to Brooklyn. How would you like to hear that for every day of your life that you couldn’t do, whatever it is you do, for a living? If I was such a bad guy, why would guys like John Lucas and Billy King be willing to give me a chance? Do you think I would have drawn interest from Miami if a leader like LeBron didn’t want to play with me? The people who make me out to be this bad guy are all stuck in that cesspool in D.C. The same guys who started the season 0 for whatever and they can barely keep their all-star player healthy and on the court. But I’m the guy who should be out of basketball?
MARK: Right, they just didn’t see anything, somehow. They just see what they wanted to see?
ANDRAY: Hey, man. That’s pretty insightful. You sound like that Wallace.
MARK: Wallace Shawn?
ANDRAY: Nah, Gerald.
WAITER: Hey, do you guys want to see our dessert menu?
ANDRAY: Oh, come on man. What do I look like, Eddy Curry? Let me just take a cup of coffee in a to-go cup.
MARK’S NARRATION: [Piano music: Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing. The restaurant is empty. The waiter comes over with a bill.] All the other customers seemed to have left hours ago. We got the bill and Andray paid for our dinner! [Change of scene. We are looking out of a car window; it is raining, or has recently rained. Shops go by] I treated myself to a taxi. Those guys at Arecibo are the best. I rode home through the city streets! There wasn’t a street – there wasn’t a building – that wasn’t connected to some memory in my mind. There I was buying a suit with my father. There I was having an ice-cream soda after school. When I finally came in, my wife was home from work. And I told her everything about my dinner with Andray.