As is often the case in the great game of basketball, one look at the box score told the story of the night for Aaron Bud and the Los Angeles Lakers.
And while some stories are jovial in nature, light in tone and intended for young audiences, others are not. Some are darker, and should only be told to very brave, very mature adults. The story that the box score told on this evening falls into the latter of the two categories; a story of an aging former superstar and a team whose fanbase had been thinning out and disappearing faster than the hair on the head of an old, old man.
On this evening, the tale unfurled by the box score was particularly disheartening. The Lakers had played to a 125-64 loss on their home court in front of 428 fans. Even that number was inflated, though, as the 87 members of paid staff on hand at the arena were included in the count, due to management forcing each to purchase tickets to come to work.
And while just coming across the lopsided score of a 61-point loss may be sad enough to bring some readers to tears of vicarious embarrassment, diving deeper into the box score would only make things worse.
Starting point guard Mark Pressley was just 4 of 18 shooting and missed 7 free throws. Forwards Eddie Frederick and Murray Greene shot even worse, missing all 9 of their three-pointers. Almost impressively, towering 7’4″ center Reynaldo Diaz fouled out in the second quarter before recording a single rebound. And despite drawing only 8 minutes off the bench, Aaron Bud managed to have the worst game of the bunch. He turned the ball over an impressive 11 times, missed all 5 of his shots, and bit three opposing players.
The life of an aging superstar in today’s NBA was rough. If I had less journalistic integrity, perhaps I’d have said it was “ruff.”
Ever since Aaron Bud had changed his name, something of him seemed to be lost. And although he regretted some of the decisions he had made to this point in his life, the name had to be changed, as he’d simply outgrown the silliness of it. Although he had read stories of professional athletes like Glen “Big Baby” Davis and Doug “Muscle Hamster” Martin failing to shed their nicknames despite their best efforts, he found the same didn’t go for him. When he communicated to those around him that he wanted to go by “Aaron,” everyone stopped using “Air.”
Truth be told, Aaron sort of missed the nickname. It was, after all, his identity for years. For his peak years, at that. But in growing up, growing old, and growing gray, he decided to drop it. He was, after all, 40 in human years.
When Bud first entered the league, he was a phenomenon. He was more than a phenomenon. Michael Jordan was a basketball phenomenon, Air Bud was a legend.
But opposing defenses adjusted. They grew weary of the fact that Bud stood just under two feet tall and therefore posed little threat in the low post. They began to realize that Bud, like most dogs, could not speak or read, nor could he really comprehend much of what was going on around him. He could knock basketballs into a hoop at a surprising clip for an animal, but even so, he was far below average league-wide.
Aaron Bud’s time in the league was running short, and, despite being a dog, he knew it. What had started as a novelty to get fans into seats supporting an otherwise uninspiring team had run its course. Fans enjoyed seeing a basketball playing dog when it was scoring in the final minutes of the cross-town high school rivalry game in a movie, not when it was going 0 for 16 from the floor and averaging 14 turnovers a game.
Back at the Kraft Singles Now With Real Imitation Cheese Food Arena, the Lakers slowly sauntered back to the locker room, heads drawn. The loss was another tally mark in a loss column that was quickly becoming overcrowded. The feeling extended beyond just the win percent of a team that had fallen from dynasty status just a few years prior and into its clubhouse where teammates grew sick of seeing a dog make twice their salary despite shitting on the floor at about six times the league average.
The silence of the room was broken when the doors opened with a creak, revealing the suave, suit-wearing Ted Gary, the team’s owner.
“Bud,” he said somewhat quietly, “my office please.”
Aaron looked up at man but didn’t budge.
“My office,” he reiterated, the somber tone somewhat wearing off as his eyebrows raised in weariness.
The blank stare from the k9 point guard continued.
“Jesus Christ,” Gary said, eyes rolling and voice completely void of empathy. “Bud, come!” he commanded, pointing towards his feet.
Aaron obliged with a wag of his tail.
“It just doesn’t make sense for us to roll you out there every day at this point” Gary explained, sitting across the desk from a dog.
“We’re cutting you,” he said, breaking eye contact.
A puddle of drool began to collect under Aaron’s chair. Gary sighed, and stood from his desk, towering over the 1’11” point guard. He took a deep breath and pointed a finger at the muzzle of the man who had once been responsible for a league-high attendance rate.
“Bad boy!” he said, sternly. “You’ve been a bad, bad boy.”
This, Aaron understood.
His joints ached. The hips passed down to him by years and years of inbreeding were beginning to fail, placing him under the same umbrella as a broken-legged racehorse – an umbrella that, in this case, was rife with holes and adorned with a flashing neon sign that read “Useless.”
He laid down on his bed, staring down the bar of rich, dark baker’s chocolate face to face. And for a moment, all seemed right again. With a low growl and deep sigh, Aaron – no, Air – Bud took a big, big bite of the chocolate and closed his eyes. It would all, mercifully, be over soon.