The original plan was for Jules Lopez and me to write dual profiles of the NBA rivals Basil Thomas and Tyrese Williams. Jules had naturally deep luck and scurried to Magnanimous Mr. Thomas in Seattle. We thought of Ty as a villainous thorn in the narrative. Somehow I would atomize the egotism and diva and brutishness that mediated Ty’s interface and reveal genuine realized human soul. Basic jerkish celebrity writeup. Open in scene. Allude to a strained interior life as cause for anguish, empathy, and, in spite of it, stellar sport. Close with astonishing reflections. Basil was the obvious hero. Jules would probably write some hard-knock streets-to-glory type of piece. Something with a load of air, littered with words like “despite,” “overcome,” and “courage.” Then Jules and I would meet up again at the Finals, when Basil and Ty would meet again, and trade our traumas.

“To be frank, your life is ruined for a while,” Jules said at the airport. “I heard he makes everybody bow and, like, hum angelically whenever he enters a room.”

Before, I began my half of the piece like this: “We should all pray that Tyrese Williams never sees the light. He harbors his habits in the dark. He lives and eats and trains in the dark. If some bright wave ever disrupted his meditative drills, well, he says, he ‘would just lose his fucking mind.’ And the sport of basketball is better for it. Tonight I saw a game that was so full of joy, so rich with suspense and beautiful horror, so eternally, memorably good, and for it I can only say, ‘thank you, Tyrese Williams.’ The Dragons may have lost tonight, but Tyrese was victorious.”

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See how I planted the seeds from which an interior life could sprout? I was so ready to cast Tyrese as a misunderstood figure welling up with gloom and intensity and inexplicable kindness. His shadowed life throwing the true light of his character in sharpest relief, his villainy making his heroism all the more effective. Signed, sealed, delivered. Then I would be free of the man who liberally cast elbows for every rebound. Free of the man who, when asked about how he and his wife met, just grunted. Free of the man who, when drafted to the Dragons, shouted out, “You will never see me fall!” Which, like, first of all, where do you think you are with that kind of hoodrat streetball? Second of all, boy, you ugly. Third of all, Ty, my man, the entire universe got up and cheered when you got tripped up in your third game.

I spoke with Ty only twice. I am on the way to the third interview now. The first time was scheduled to be in the private team room at the MiracleDome, one week ago. I expected to walk in and see an army of tall men, maybe a few of them tossing a ball against grainy linoleum. They would be wearing pieces of the green and off-white warm-up gear. Someone with dreads, DeOntay Baldwin or Amari Lincoln, with the sweat jacket off to denote coolish affect, would glance down from on high and say, “Who let you in here?” Then Ty would have a chance to say something that I could let burgeon into evidence of inner goodness.

So I was wandering through this labyrinthine-ass stadium for a good forty minutes after the guy at the gate, with a flawless code-switch, told me the team room was “just right up he-ah.” Emphasis on the grunt. It was late on an off-day, so no one was around. It was dark. From the echoes of my first footsteps in the lungs of the place, I could guess I had wandered to a path ruinous and dumb. I was about to breadcrumb my way by hotdog stands when I heard a rumbling. I couldn’t decipher the shape of it at first. Then, out of the blackness, out of the shadow, the muscle-bound eighth of a metric ton, the Most Valuable Player in the NBA, Tyrese “Prince Ty” freaking Williams zoomed into me, stiff-armed my sternum, and said, “Man, you better run,” as he knocked me on my ass.

For many years, Tyrese believed he was haunted by ghosts. He told me so while swallowing chunks of apple in the little infirmary next to the team room. Well, first he said, “Man, you think apple trees feel it when you take the fruit?” Then he said, “I hope so.”

“You’re Tyrese Williams,” I said.

“I’ve got better things to do than play smear the queer all day,” he said. “You just sit. I’ll talk.”

That’s not my way. “You’re on the cusp of winning another ring and that’s not a thing that happens alone. Could you talk a little about your team and how they—”

“See, it all began two years ago,” he said. “I was practicing in the dark and I was way more on than ever before. I make ten, I make twenty, I make one hundred, all in the absolute pitch-black, god-fearing dark. Then I get the sense that I’m not really alone. You know? But to actually confirm that, I’d have to go over to the lights or shout out or—anyway, I’d have to disturb the rhythm and I was so in rhythm and you don’t ever disturb the rhythm. You understand, Mikey?”

“Carmichael,” I said.

“Mikey, so I get this totally otherworldly sense and I don’t know, man. There was a cold, like, wind. Like a wind sound you could really, totally feel rattle your bones. Like a sound effect from the ‘Thriller’ music video,” he said. “Then I see it.”

“You see what?”

“The ghosts, Mikey, the ghosts.” He stopped chewing.

“And by ghosts, you mean, um, a spiritual sign from your past?”

“Nah. They didn’t mean anything,” he said. “There I was, going up for another jump shot, and I could feel this one was just precise, Mikey. Precise. And out of the corner of my eye, I see this blue blur.”

I looked to the other side at the neon-green, hyper-flexible knee bandages. The room is clean in that opulent way, like you know someone only got paid minimum wage to clean it. That kind of clean.

He told me he saw a bluish blur emerge from the floor and coalesce into a full corporeal thing. First came the fingertips. The cloudstuff bundled together into fluorescent blue fingernails. Forearms pinwheeled across the blurred body like slow-motion fireworks until funny bone and bicep and collarbone and eyeball also tumbled out of the ether and into Ty’s house.

He had certainly rehearsed the story. Maybe I was not the first journalist he told. Maybe none of them were interested in writing “Yo, This Star Player Believes in Ghosts,” when they could write set pieces about the literal tooth marks he left on Basil Thomas instead.

He said he had been living with the ghosts for years now. Whenever he felt cold breath from the crypt creep down his spine and build to a shiver, he tried to shake it off. He would waddle, stiff-legged, to the nearest court and shoot around with every lantern blazing. He followed the standard horror-movie survival guide. Tell everyone you know. Run away to the well-lit areas. Move away from the haunted mansion. Never split up. Don’t be the only black guy in the room. But they didn’t let up. The ghosts were haunting only him.

“There was one around before. That’s why I was running,” he said. I give him a quizzical look, like—you, Tyrese Williams? Running away? “Don’t write about that part,” he said.

After I left the stadium and sat for a few hours in the motel room shower, I kept coming back to one moment. “I was pretty afraid of the ghosts until I realized something,” he said, pausing. “They’re all black. I could tell by the way they were talking. Chanting.”

I returned the next day to watch the team practice and get a feel for the routine. I would pick up some descriptions I could throw into the interstitial places of the text while waiting around to get to the next revelatory moment in Ty’s character development, like, “The team orbits around Ty. A few of the drills are Ty-centric and seem to exist only to reinforce his gravity on the court,” and maybe play around with the metaphor and dawdle over to moral gravity. Say something like, “The moral center of the team is Coach Fitzpatrick,” and then indicate some steady, subterranean understanding between Ty and Fitzpatrick. Linger on glimpses of manufactured significance. Pivot to a list of Ty’s unbelievable statistics.

In the real world, Ty was yelling at Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick threw his clipboard on the ground. He was yelling back.

“I told you not to bring that up,” Fitzpatrick said. “Take a lap, Team Captain.”

“Look, Fitz. Look. They’re right fucking there,” Ty said, pointing. There was nothing. Ty went to take a lap and sucker-punched DeOntay Baldwin on the jaw. You could tell he hurt his hand from the way he held it when he was jogging. Fitzpatrick went over to the cursing DeOntay and was doing that loud whisper that was meant to be indiscreet and but just scared you away from whatever you were thinking of doing or saying. I was disobeying the telegraph.

After his lap was done, Tyrese walked over to where I was sitting on the floor level. “You heard them, at least, right?”

“There was nothing to hear,” I said.

“Okay, write this down. There were four of them, and all them were chanting off this… poem,” he said. He choked on the word. He refused to recite it, but wrote it down for me, in case I cared:

We must live between our breaths,

stir electricity into heartward motions,

and let a few wishes thunder over

all the loves we have yet to have to have.

Ty returned to practice and it all went as normally as such things could go. I didn’t talk to him again before Game 1 of the Finals.

At this point, my wealth of journalistic talent was running dry. I had no usable content on Tyrese, save a few lunatic ravings about the existence of forces beyond the grave. The thought of writing about his ghosts made me queasy. He would be ridiculed, not helped, if I did. No evidence of any deeper character beyond a need for a good therapy session. And, like, damn, Coach/Manager/Teammates, you all must really care about the mental and emotional wellbeing of your minstrel-show workhorse.

I could forge metal from the earth and shit of everyday life. But out of thin air?

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Jules was having a grand adventure with Basil Thomas, Jesus’s personal superhero. Mr. Thomas (“But please, call me Basil, I implore you”) invited Jules to his charity gala supporting a scholarship fund for kids from Basil’s old neighborhood. Then, the next day, after a professional, punch-free practice, Basil took Jules to the planning meeting for his Thousand Soul March, an outgrowth of Black Lives Matter that he spearheaded and formed into a genuine, structured platform. He was probably knighted and canonized and given honorary degrees from every preschool, high school, university, etc. in the Seattle area while they walked around drinking artisanal cold brew or whatever. Maybe they hijacked a parade, Bueller style, and lip-synced “ALLS MY LIFE I HAD TO FIGHT” instead of “WELL, SHAKE IT UP BABY, NOW.” I stopped listening.

When I met up with Jules again, at Game 1, he was just sneering. “How was Doctor Doom?”

“Well, after he punched me, he punched his teammate in the face. And he believes in ghosts,” I said.

“So you’re saying you had a nice time,” he said. I grunt. “Get a load of this,” Jules said. “Basil says that ‘His faith compels him to do right onto all,’ and that he ‘totally forgives Ty for the whole biting thing,’ like it was no big deal at all. He invited him to his march.”

“Maybe the ghosts will tell him to go,” I said. “I think Ty’s response to all that last year was literally, ‘Yeah, racism is bad. But I still wanna kick Basil’s ass.’ That’s a verbatim Ty-ism.”

We went to our seats to watch the game. Ty’s mode of play on the court was dance. A player for the Spurs compared guarding Ty Williams to catching the wind in your hands. If you think you have him pinned down, he will dash and leap and then, inevitably, score.

This was what Jules wrote about Basil’s gameplay: “Basil Thomas charges. ‘Two-Ton’ Basil, a forward, plows through even the tightest of defenses, stands comfortably in the paint, and delivers easy baskets. The seventh of eight sons from a poor family in Detroit, he took the typical storybook course to basketball greatness. Good basketball begins early. In the morning, when you’re a kid, you rise with the sun and drag your buddies or brothers or cousins out with you and find the nearest hoop. By afternoon you are seasoned and callused and maybe go to basketball camp with sweaty teenagers who own three pairs of Jordans (each), or you play in a recreational little league for charity cases. In the evening your high school game orbits around you, because by now you’re a steady, levelheaded star. You know to burn hot but casual to last until tomorrow. Tomorrow, when your name christens the backs of early-rising boys dragging their buddies and brothers and cousins to the hoop. And that’s Basil.”

During the first interview, I asked Ty how he first learned to love the game. And he said, “Nah, I didn’t do any of that rec league shit. I don’t love shit.”

Their passes streamed like electrical charges, near physical speed limits. Source and sink found unity after unity. And Tyrese Williams was again lord of the three-point zone. He scored a career-high 89 points. Basil Thomas worked in the down-to-earth place far removed from Ty’s angelic pirouettes. He scored 36 points, which was spectacular by mortal metrics, but a middling pace for him. They barely acknowledged each other until the end. Thomas’s Angels beat Williams’s Dragons, 112-98. Being a grandiosely diplomatic sort of asshole, Basil extended his hand to Tyrese at half court, where every camera could see whatever went down. Confetti was swirling around them. Tyrese walked over to him and raised his hand, preparing to bring down the hammer and slap Basil’s hand away. Then he froze, mid-swing. That peopled roar you could only hear in well-chambered places became a flat murmur. But here’s the thing. He wasn’t looking at Basil.

“I know you all fucking see that!” he said, pointing above Basil, seemingly at nothing. I tried to make myself see something. Maybe a spectral hand bloomed from the scoreboard. I tried to conjure the Ghosts of Blackness Past, some army of ghostly dead Prince and Martin and Tupac and Biggie, but I just saw a shimmer of air. I looked away.

I flew back home to Maryland the next day. I didn’t care about the rest of the Finals and couldn’t conscience profiteering on Ty’s mental deterioration. I scrapped my half of the piece and thought I would maybe just poke around Jules’s, offer some edits. I didn’t pay attention to the television when Ty called a timeout and just stood in the middle of half-court, extravagantly shushing everybody. I didn’t pay attention when the Dragons ended up winning the championship anyway. I decided to ignore that shallow, damaged diva and just hope the world managed to arrange itself in his favor. Maybe I should have called someone. But it seemed that everyone proximate was already aware.

Then Ty sent me an email. “I heard the rest of the poem” was the subject line:

We must live between our breaths,

stir electricity into heartward motions,

and let a few wishes thunder over

all the loves we have yet to have to have

and since we should not hollow ourselves

to a pair of icebound, lovesick zombies

the thought to let rattle is this:

And that was all. First of all, obviously, that was not the end of the poem. Ty even added the colon as if to wink and say, “Wait, there’s more,” which made me wonder. Was this a lure? Was this ghost story a ruse to propel his poetry into the world? I wondered if that shimmer of air could have cohered into a good blue blur. I wondered if I saw a ghost of undeniable blackness who bid me hither to listen to a poem, would I go and listen? More or less likely than a white ghost? What would I care about when my external world was dissolving into fear? Would knowing that fear change who I was? Would it make me kinder? Crueler? Was it a lie or a fantasy? What lightning would a mystical noise fork in my brain?

After the first Finals win a few years ago, Ty wanted to alter local topography. Carve grand steps into mountainsides. Nestle a house into rock. Spell out a name in granite. He settled for a rope swing. His house was more cottage than castle. He built it in the heart of the Appalachians, at the base of what were called the Kissing Peaks. Twin hills roared up together by some tectonic fluke to near-contact. By a geologic measure of time, just yesterday the mountains were bridges between heaven and earth. Now they are diversions in the locally flat. I knock on his door.

“Come on, we’re going hunting,” he says. I don’t protest and follow him into the valley. He has an oversized backpack on.

“You lied to me,” I say as we walk.

He’s walking ahead and doesn’t turn around. “Nah,” he says. He shifts the weight of the backpack against his shoulders.

“Why did you write the poem?” I ask. “Did you write it?” I’m afraid of pushing any narrative on him, but I definitely have a few ready-made in my head. Star Basketball Player Invents Delusion as Excuse to Chase After True Love: Poetry. Star Basketball Player Masks Poetic Insecurity in Spectacle. Immoral Diva Actually Sweetheart.

“You want me to break right here, don’t you?” he says. He stops walking and throws the backpack on the ground.

“I just want to know why you lied about seeing the ghosts,” I say. “Why you keep lying about them.”

“You just want me to break down and show you how weak I am. How tough I’m not,” he says. There’s a screech of cicadas. I don’t respond. That’s a way to get people to confess something. Ask a question and let it hang in the air until they have no choice but to breathe it in. Just look at them. “There’s nothing for it, then,” he says.

Ty leans over and scoops something out of his bag. It’s almost dark, but the thing comes out gleaming. The base of it is shaped like an egg, but there’s a hose connected to it. It was all gold. A golden vacuum cleaner. He looks like the world’s flyest Ghostbuster. “I just wanted to hear the end of that poem,” he says. I don’t hear it, but Ty tells me anyway. I don’t think he can resist. “It is kind of beautiful,” he says, smiling.

We must live between our breaths,

stir electricity into heartward motions,

and let a few wishes thunder over

all the loves we have yet to have to have

and since we should not hollow ourselves

to a pair of icebound, lovesick zombies

the thought to let rattle is this:

Oranges populate the trees,

wonder-blooms of stars in the grove;

here is a gospel of diamonds, a kernel of wealth,

here I am meant to say something heartfelt

to put you in a state of ocean-gazing—

you know, something dimensional, steady—

but there is that gesture of your mouth

making a confession out of air.

Jules and I do write the dual profiles in the end. We weave them together and end like this: “Both Tyrese Williams and Basil Thomas are something like American fairies. They float on the outer edges of our consciousness so constantly, so freely, that they seem like mere bundles of thought-up, dreamed-up ambitions. But when you see them up close, when the fairy dust on the television no longer conjures up their glimmer, when they finally confess something non-public and intimate, when they seem like people with politics and pretenses and jagged edges, you think: maybe none of it’s really true.”