The building entrance was dusty and rusty compared to the last time Ray set foot through its bullet-proof glass sliding doors. The red, white and blue paint in the foyer had dulled over the years, and cobwebs now draped the long, bare reception counter. All the furniture was gone, along with the framed photographs and jerseys, the trophy case, and the plaque with Ronald Reagan’s signature. The only remaining relic, half-buried in dust on the floor, was the life-size cut-out of the original team’s backup centre, Jemal Ayele. Visitors used to love standing next to his authentic, seven feet, six inches tall likeness to have their picture taken. Ray picked it up, blew the dust from its face and leaned it against the wall. He looked up at Jemal’s wide smile. Larry’s footsteps tapped and echoed up the hall. “Come on, Ray. The team is on the training court.”
Ray took one more look around the cold, forsaken room. It reminded him of a tombstone.
Larry, with an expectant grin, waited at the end of the hall and held the door open for Ray. Ray took a deep breath and stepped through into the huge arena, home of the Dunk Force training court. As his eyes swept the grand, familiar space, he stopped, his mouth hanging open. The entire wall opposite him had been painted as an enormous rainbow flag. The wall to his side, where the American flag used to be, was now a graffiti-style mural of about thirty historical figures and famous people; among them, Ray recognised Barack Obama, Muhammad Ali, Oprah Winfrey, Malcolm X, Dwayne Johnson, Lady Gaga and Lenin. The harsh lights at the ceiling had been replaced with large dome lights of soft blues and greens. Gentle rainforest noises drifted down from the loudspeakers. At the far end of the court, two players in uniform were chatting and shooting occasional relaxed jump shots, while courtside, two people in sweatpants and t-shirts appeared to be practicing yoga. Near them, a man in his thirties in a neat black suit paced back and forth, talking loudly on his phone. At the near end of the court, engaged in a basic passing drill, was an eclectic group: there was a young black man in a wheelchair; a seven-feet-tall, overweight Native American wearing two braids, a tiny white woman with a short, spiked hairstyle and a hammer and sickle neck tattoo; and then one of the scariest looking men Ray had ever seen. The man was basically a six-feet-nine version of Mike Tyson, except with long straight hair flowing to the middle of his back. Finally, in the corner of the arena, kneeling on a beach towel and facing the wall, was a young, bearded man wearing a black brimless hat.
Larry put a hand on Ray’s shoulder. “Yeah, it looks a little different these days,” he said. “A new generation.”
“What is that?” said Ray, pointing to the middle of the court, where was painted a huge black fist with its middle finger raised.
“Oh, that?” said Larry. “That’s the logo for MEPOC.”
“That’s right—More Equality for People Of Colour. It’s a new charity started by out team captain, Kylie Halligan.” Larry pointed out the tiny white woman in the passing drill.
“She’s in the team?”
“Yes,” said Larry. “That’s something I need to talk to you about. You see, since Dunk Force is a government operation, it is required to meet current guidelines… including diversity quotas.”
“Diversity?” said Ray. “Are you serious?”
“Larry, this a basketball team. They’re going to be playing against the world’s best.”
“Ray, it’s out of my hands. Either the team meets diversity standards, or it doesn’t play.”
Ray shook his head. “Well… you said this was the president’s idea, so talk to him and—”
“The diversity was his idea too. This is how it is.”
“This is a damn joke,” grunted Ray.
“Give it a chance,” said Larry. “Here, let me introduce you to Carl. Hey Carl!”
The man in the suit turned around. When he saw Larry, he waved and nodded then ended his phone call.
“Who’s Carl?” said Ray.
“He’s overseeing the basketball side of the mission. The guys upstairs love him. He thinks he’s going to be Director by the time he’s forty.”
“He might just do it, too,” said Larry.
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