Written by Cherry and Shataivian
Thursday, February 7, 2020
Treasure State Arena - Billings, Montana
Las Vegas Wildcards @ Montana Howlers. Final score: Las Vegas Wildcards 114, Montana Howlers 122
Players quietly mumbled to themselves or to each other as Coach Gorski gave a speech. They were all bummed after a loss against the Montana Howlers: A game they could’ve won if they hadn’t given up 37 and 36 in the second and third quarters. Or maybe if they could’ve held the Howlers to 21 points in the fourth and win the game by one point. Maybe.
The coach had just finished giving his speech. The last of it was an attempt to cheer the players up. They responded with some ‘yeahs’ and pumped their fists unenthusiastically in the air, turned their heads towards their lockers and got undressed.
“I want you guys on the bus in an hour,” he said and made his way to the guest's office.
Across the room Tyler was at his locker, stuffing his arm sleeves inside of his NIKE duffel bag and his Wildcards uniform, too. The husky hunched over on his chair and stared blankly at the ground shaking his head and sighing. The upset of the loss got to him and he was feeling like he could’ve done a bit more. Have some crunch time in the fourth to give the team some needed stops so they can finish the game victors. Take the win for their eager fans.
Lisa had just finished stuffing her bag when she took notice of Tyler. Being in this spot many times before, she was used to the somber poses the team would take on. But Tyler was one of Las Vegas' newest members, and like Crosby only weeks ago, Lisa can spot the kind of hurt Tyler was feeling a mile away.
She took her time walking up to him, trying her best not to overblow the situation. "Hey, Tyler," she softly sighed out.
His ears flicked towards her direction and he lifted his head up to look over at Lisa standing beside him with her tail swaying slowly. If there was anyone he’d want to talk to at this moment it was her. The same mouse he met in the 2018-2019 FBA Draft Class. They had that in common.
“Hey, Lisa,” he said lightly with a smile. “What’s up?”
“Was just about to ask you that,” she chuckled back. “But seriously, how are you doing?”
He shrugged his shoulders and looked over to the side. A lot of the other Wildcards were dressed now and in their street attire, getting ready to leave the Howler’s guest locker room. The mood was still a bit quiet with only a few conversations going on.
“Alright. I just hate losing these games,” he groaned, sounding disappointed. “We’ll be so close, but then the other team pulls away.”
"Yeah," Lisa sighed. "I get ya."
She gave Tyler a good pat on the shoulders, offering him a chance to end the conversation there if he wanted, but lingered for a bit in case not. "Don't let it get to you. We'll get 'em next time."
He got up and tossed a T-Shirt and black hoodie over his head. He straightened it out and brushed himself off before picking up his duffel bag and hanging it on his right shoulder. He looked at her with a soft smile, wondering, ‘How does she deal with losses like these?’ Losing wasn’t an easy thing for him. Of course, losing sucks, so he knows that it bothered Lisa at least a bit, but not as much as it does him.
He kept his eyes on Lisa who was still standing beside him.
“Lisa, how do you deal with these games?” He asked.
"Well. Gee. I wish I had a good enough answer." She scratched the back of her head to search for something to say, but the truth was she never really ‘deals’ with all the losses. "You know what, why don't we head back to the hotel. I think it would be good to talk a little more privately."
He nodded at her in agreement. Since the team still had about fifty minutes before they left the Howler’s arena and got on the team bus, Tyler took the time to listen to a few voice mails on his cell phone and looked through text messages. Most of them were from days and weeks before, small sponsors and promotions for his All-Star Week Dunk Contest that he hadn’t bothered to answer. He would have his agent, Vincent, take care of them.
The locker room started to clear out. Players exited the room silently and walked through the private tunnel that led to the underground parking lot. There their bus was waiting, the engine whirring and it echoing in the large space. One by one the Wildcards entered the bus and took a seat. Once everyone was inside the bus the doors closed and it began the incline up the ramp that led outside where fans would be at the sidewalk waving at them with signs they had made.
Tyler was seated towards the front with his earbuds on as they made their trip to the hotel. He’d usually talk to the other players and crack a few jokes but it didn’t seem like anyone was in that kind of mood. They’re all tired and focused on the next game on Sunday at home. In the morning they’d travel back to Vegas and practice in the afternoon.
The bus comes to a stop in front of a nice hotel that had a fountain and a Greek carved statue. The name of the hotel was hard to read for Tyler because it was in Greek Miniscule. Something “I Gi” from what he heard earlier before they'd arrived. He got out after Coach Gorski did and waited for Lisa to get out, too.
Once off the bus, Lisa led Tyler into the hotel. Some of the other team members had made plans before heading to their rooms. For some it was dinner with one of the Howlers, others spent some time alone. Lisa knew she had her room to herself for a bit before she would have to share it with another teammate.
They got signed in and received their room keys, then headed up the elevator to their stay for the night. The room was spacious, even with it's two queen-size beds. But Lisa still found a way to plop her belongings on the floor, quickly starting to clutter up the room. She gestured for Tyler to do the same and to take some time to settle in.
‘How do you deal with these games?’ This question rang in Lisa's head the whole way there. Sitting on the edge of one of the mattresses, Lisa sighed and attempted to finally answer that question.
"So... Yeah... Do you remember last year around this time when I had short hair?” She said, grabbing one of the pillows to place on her lap.
”Yeah, I remember that,” he answered, his back facing hers. He placed his bag on top of the other bed and began taking out his phone charger looking for an outlet. He found it across the room where he goes to plug it in.
”I got so frustrated that I was looking for any excuse to blame something else for how I was performing. I told people that my long hair was getting in my eyes while I played, so I chopped it off." Lisa gave a weak chuckle. "I was just angry. It had nothing to do with my hair or anything else other than how I was feeling. Even…" She snorted. "Even recently with the stupid fight, I had with Lauren.”
Tyler coughs. “What even happened?”
“Well, I worked my ass off that game and was so frustrated with the loss that I started lashing out at everyone else. She just took it the hardest and lashed back."
She continued on explaining the different times she got overly frustrated with a loss: some from long ago, some more recently. But she hadn't quite answered his question the way she wanted to. "To be honest, I don't know if I ever do 'deal' with it. I wish I could say something inspirational like 'taking these losses hard just means you're passionate about the game,' or 'think of it this way! You're showing off your skill to the teams who'll want to sign you on to have a better chance at winning more often.' I wanted to say those things to you more genuinely when I thought of them on the bus, but, I don't know." She kept her head low and her hands clasped. This wasn't the same kind of comfort she had received from Crosby when she was having a hard time.
This needed a more personal understanding.
Lisa looked back up at Tyler to check in with him. "Where are you at? I mean, how do you deal with these games?"
“Well,” he began after clearing his throat. “Just like any other game, I guess. I’m a quiet person so I’m not very vocal and I don’t point fingers.” He raised a hand at her, “not talking about you.” He settled himself on a chair in the corner of the room by Lisa’s bed. He was seated on it, leaning forward and he brought his arms up to rest on his legs.
The room was silent for a moment before he broke it saying, “When a loss happens I get this anger and store it inside of me and keep it prisoner. At some point, it has to come out but I don’t let it. I think that’s how I deal with it.” He looked down at the cream-colored carpet. “It’s not healthy. I know.”
"And, technically, that's not dealing with it," Lisa said bluntly. "No! I mean… That came out wrong, sorry.”
“Eh… it’s okay.” He nodded to let her know that it’s okay. “I get ya.”
“Honestly, everyone has heard the jokes and Las Vegas kinda has it's history. 'What were we expecting?'" she asked, putting on a voice. "Still doesn't make it hurt any less."
She ran her fingers through her hair and let out an audible breath. "You'll go through cycles. First, it's super annoying, then it's just like 'whatever,' then you really go numb, and then you start to win a little, bringing your pride back up, and then lose, starting the whole cycle again. I hate it. But, I'm still playing.” She paused for a moment.
Tyler looked up at her and stayed quiet. She was looking past him prompting him to turn his head to see what she was looking at. A wall. She continued. “Sometimes I get a little frustrated on the floor, but a lot of the time I'm not thinking about how losing will make me feel. I'm thinking of the game and how best to play it. That's what drew me to basketball in the first place. The thousands of eyes on you can sometimes make you forget."
Tyler scratched underneath his chin with a finger and chuckled softly. She was right about the cycle part, how you get this numbness and again some pride after a few wins and then watching it all topple over to where you have to build that structure again. From the beginning of his rookie year and to the end of it he was building up a crumbled building in Tallahassee. But it was more toppling than actually building something. The pieces would keep coming apart and he was placing the same pieces in each place.
Maybe that’s what made it so different here on the Wildcards. He was finally getting used to the building part and was so annoyed by the toppling pieces. He didn’t want this to go to the ground back when he was playing on the Typhoons. That was the whole point of his trade request: to build something and finally be in a place where he can compete in the league. Show his hard work and effort on the floor.
“You make a good point,” he said, finally.
"I did?" With her tendency to ramble, this came as a surprise to her.
“Yeah. Really, you did.” He sighed a relieved sigh and brought his legs out further because they’re starting to ache a bit. He watched the mouse play with her hair, twisting it and undoing it by dragging a finger through. “So…” he said with some excitement. “All-Star Weekend is coming around the corner. Excited?”
Lisa laughed. "I'm kinda shocked I got in, really. Not that I'm not grateful or excited. It's just after last year's event, I guess I was planning to stay quiet and not promote myself so loudly. But, holy crap!" She started to laugh that soon turned into crackling. "And what about you?! Ya gotta tell me what you've got planned for the dunk contest." Her silly grin had finally found its way back onto her face after the long night.
“I can’t tell you specifically what dunks I’ll be doing — don’t look at me like that!” She glared at him with an attempt to keep a serious face but couldn't help to keep a smile on her. “I want the dunks to be a surprise until the event. I’ll say this much, they’re pretty flashy.”
Still, she pouted, but Lisa eventually gave him a nod of approval. She thought back to her dunks last year. She got the opportunity to do two out of her three she had planned, but the more she tried to think of it, she couldn't remember what her second dunk even was. It was her first dunk that stuck in her mind. Flashy, but probably not in the way Tyler meant. "I remembered watching ASW as a kid. It's so much more of a rush actually being on the floor. You're gonna love it...!"
His voice boomed in the room and it echoes through the vents. “I’ll enjoy it for sure! I mean… last year when I played against you in the Rookie All-Star game I already got a taste of that rush so I sort of know what to expect.”
Thinking about it, he realized that he and Lisa were back in the All-Star Weekend together. Again. Not playing against each other this time but still in the event that millions of viewers will be watching on their TV screens at home. Rooting for their favorite sniper behind the arc, rim slammers, the rookies, and finally the well deserved All-Stars.
"I'm going to be playing for a completely different team then. Maybe I'll have an actual decent chance at winning." She paused, her face completely serious until she cracked and started laughing again. "It's gonna be fun. At the very least, it'll be a nice change of pace."
Tyler smiled at Lisa and gave her a thumbs up. “I’ll be rooting for ya.”
He yawned and covered his mouth. It had gotten pretty late, but that didn’t stop Tyler from talking to Lisa a bit longer about nonsense and their favorite moment when they first joined the league. Once he could tell Lisa was getting tired he got up and walked over to the second bed. ”Don’t mind if I change in the restroom before I go?” He asked her.
”Go ahead, ” she said to him.
He grabbed his night clothing, toothpaste, and brush and brought them into the restroom. He changed and scrubbed his teeth. He waited in there for a moment before opening the door and entering the room again.
Tyler grabbed his bag off of the bed and made his way over to the chair at the corner of the room. He unplugged his charger and phone, and looked over back at Lisa and smiled at her. Nodding at her before exiting the room.
“Thanks for the talk,” he said, the door halfway closed.
"Of course," she cooed. "I'm always here if you need to vent, or whatever." She gave a final smile and waved him goodnight, hoping that he'd at least be leaving the room better than when he entered it.