Ray’s mind returned from memories of battles past and focused on the task at hand. A new Dunk Force team. How would it compare to the original? Players today had extraordinary natural talent, but how many young men with such talent would be willing to forgo the fame and fortune of an NBA career to risk life and limb playing in second-rate stadiums in hostile nations? There are always a few patriots, thought Ray. He pictured the old Dunk Force training court, dull and bare, just the timber, the lines, and dark red paint in the key—no polish, no logos. Above the court there were no jumbotrons or sponsor’s signs, just metal rafters and harsh lights. The concrete walls were cold and empty, except for the corners near the ceiling, where loudspeakers used to blast a constant screech of hollering and horns. Industrial heaters and air conditioners would have the place either sweltering at a hundred and five degrees if they were preparing for a game in the Middle East, or damn near freezing if they were headed for the Soviet Bloc. The one friendly image in that inhospitable arena was on the wall behind the bench, where a ten-feet-wide American flag was painted. It was a harsh training ground, but an effective one. Over the years, Ray had grown to love that court. As he imagined a new group of elite athletes going through their paces on that hallowed timber, he permitted himself a little excitement. But then a dark sting of dread snuffed it out. What if the whole thing looked to be a repeat of the first Dunk Force? Larry had said they were doing this one clean, but Ray was not entirely convinced. And there would be other factors at play. What if these new recruits…? He couldn’t bring himself to think of it. If he saw a disaster in the making, he would just have to convince Larry of the danger. With these thoughts Ray busied himself, until eventually the helicopter reached its destination.
The aircraft touched down, and Ray climbed out, keeping his head down until he was well beyond the reach of the blades. He stood and took in the familiar sight before him. The huge cubic building, the most advanced athletic facility of its day. But its day had been and gone. The gardens and trees on the north side had been bulldozed to make a bus terminal. The south side, where the heavily secured entrance once stood, had become a dumping ground for old washing machines and burned cars. At least the building was intact. Ray crossed the overgrown grassy area where he used to come to relax after training, and paused at the old fountain. There was no water in the fountain now; it was a decaying shell, but that was not what shocked him. In the centre of that fountain had once towered a stone statue of George Washington spinning a basketball on his finger. The statue was gone. Only George’s crumbling left foot remained—somebody had torn the rest of him down and taken it away. Ray climbed down into the empty fountain and stepped across to the wide round base upon which the statue formerly stood. Fresh graffiti marked the top of the base: NO MORE WHITE PRIVLIGE! Ray frowned and grunted. He turned his attention to the small bronze plaque in front of the statue, wiping the dust from it with his hand. He read its words (he knew them by heart): The harder the conflict, the greater the triumph. A tear welled in his eye.
“Ray! There you are,” called Larry, rushing over from the building to meet him. “I saw the chopper land.” He reached a hand down to Ray and helped him out of the fountain.
Ray brushed his hands against his pants. “Can you believe it?” he said, staring at the statue’s empty place. “Someone stole George.”
“Oh, uh, yeah,” said Larry, putting his arm around Ray to usher him inside.
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