Training camp was over and Zamaj was in the locker room tying his shoelaces for his first ever NBA game. He shook hands with Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter and smiled. RJ had his game face on. No way was he gonna let this rookie take over his team the year after Kidd retired. They were facing off against the Houston Rockets. It was a home game. Suddenly, Z was on the court looking around at the crowd, squinting into the bright lights. He was coming off the bench, their lineup was:
PG: Marcus Williams
SG: Vince Carter
SF: Richard Jefferson
PF: Chris Wilcox
C: Jason Collins
Zamaj had always heard the stories about Carter not trying and throwing up fadeaways like it's his last day on earth. He sat down next to new coach Rick Adelman who seemed very easy going and kind towards the rookie. Play started and Houston won the tip. Luther Head passed it off to Mcgrady who took Carter one on one, drove into the paint and delivered a sick behind the back pass to the reigning MVP Yao Ming, who slammed it home. 2-0. The game itself was a borefest until 3:22 left in the second quarter. The horn sounded and Zamaj stepped onto an NBA court for the first time in his life. He saw a small section of fans cheering for him only. He gasped. One of them was Alisha. Someone yelled and he turned and caught the pass from Carter on the ring. He got in triple threat and kept thinking, "Just like camp, just like camp." He faked out Head and drove in against Yao he turned in midair and hit it off glass. And 1. He smiled and practically skipped to the free throw line. He made the free throw and was in until 8:43 left in the 3rd. He was feeling so good about himself and shot a three. He hit a cameraman right in the lens. Face turning red, he walked toward the bench. So much for his first NBA three pointer. The Rockets ended up winning 97-88. After the game, Zamaj looked for Alisha but couldn't. The Nets PR man called him and requested his attendance in a press conference. He was led into a room with a table and a chair. And a bunch of New Jersey media. Cameras were flashing violently. One female reporter raised her hand and asked, "How is it like to finally meet greats like Vince Carter?" Zamaj coughed and mumbled. The reporter, now annoyed, "What?" It suddenly felt hot. Zamaj pulled at his collar. "S-Sorry, I can't do this." And he ran.
Once he got to the hotel, he turned on ESPN and fell back, yelling. Ice's smirking face was all over the TV. The reporter was talking about him. "...and the star rookie scored 27 points tonight to lead the Clippers over the Raptors, who had made the Finals last year. He also had 8 rebounds and 6 assists. I know who my rookie of the year vote is going toward!" Frustrated, Zamaj turned off the tv and went to sleep.
2 months had gone by and Ice was owning the rookie class. He was putting up 17 a game, not to mention 6 boards and 4 assists. Jeffrey Jordan of the Pistons is putting up 15 points and 9.3 assists per game. Lobs from him to Tayshaun Prince was a regular sight nowadays. And in the midst of it all Zamaj was putting 8 and 5 on the board albeit off the bench in limited minutes, these guys were starting. Zamaj was psyched as they headed toward L.A. on the team bus. Two very important games. First his meeting against Ice. Than meeting Kobe. He was sitting with Marcus Williams playing poker when the TV above them cut to a reporter from ESPN. The man adjusted his glasses, "A major NBA deal has just been finalized. Center Amare Stoudemire, 28 now is a Toronto Raptor. The Suns receive MIP T.J. Ford who is putting up 21 and 13 right now, 2 second round picks, Rasho Nestorovic and cash. We will further analyze the deal at 6 o clock. Zamaj turned around and looked at Marcus. "Did you see that?" pointing his thumb toward the TV. Marcus waved it off. "**** happens all the time. You just pack up your stuff and move on. This is a buisness kid. Sometimes that's all there is to these trades. You should be mad because we gotta see that f.ucka 4 times now."
The bus arrived in L.A. and in a couple of minutes they were in the locker room, getting ready. Vince Carter was already on the court, joking around with Corey Maggette. Coach Adelman came up to Zamaj and smiled. "Your starting." Startled, Zamaj asked, "Your benching Vince?" Coach nodded. "I'm benching Vince."
Zamaj took the court and saw Ice. The two locked eyes once more and looked away. NJ won the tip and Williams handed it off to Zamaj. Ice rushed up to play D. Zamaj heard Ice talking in his ear. He wasn't paying attention. He passed to Collins and ran Ice off a screen. Went to get the ball and laid it up. Next possesion Ice caught the ball on the wing and hit a three pointer. The game went on with NJ winning easily. Zamaj sat down and re-entered late in the fourth with the game on the line. As he headed to the scorer's table, he stumbled. Vince Carter just tried to trip him. Shaking his head, he entered the game. Williams brought it up and drove; blocked by Brand. Zamaj caught the ball and without thinking, drove inside and rose up. High. He gripped the ball and slammed it over Elton Brand. The arena fell quiet. Clippers called timeout. Zamaj, suddenly feeling breathless, looked at the crowd furiously. He saw a sign held up by 4 teenage girls that said, "We Love Z!" He cracked a smile and ran back to the huddle. Carter was glaring at him. 2 minutes left, Nets were up 1. He drew up a play where Rj would get the ball on the left wing, toss it to Zamaj, who should be right next to him, than run off a pick on the elbow and rise up for a alley. It all depended on Zamaj's precision. Coach yelled, "3,2,1, NETS!" They broke the huddle and as he left, Zamaj thought he heard Vince Carter say his name.
Ice brought it up for L.A. He drove inside and hit a tough fall away jumper. L.A. up one. 1:40 left. Same exact play as in the timeout. RJ ran Maggette off the screen and Z threw it up. RJ caught it with one hand and had to lean back but slammed it home. They went back and forth until 10 seconds were left. NJ up three. L.A. with the ball. They inbounded it into Ice and called an isolation. Z and Ice. One on one. Just like old times. Ice whispered amid the roaring crowd, "Watch this move I'm about to pull on your lame ass." And he went right and pulled up. Zamaj jumped. Whistle. And, of course, Ice made the three. Zamaj stood there with his hands up looking like a fool. Ice walked to the free throw line with .7 seconds on the clock. Gathered himself. Swish. Game over. The Nets limped to the locker room. Zamaj could picture it now...'Rookie blows Nets game'. Z shook his head, got dressed and headed to his hotel. Once he got there, he jumped on the bed and refused to turn the TV on in fear of his blunder being aired. He moaned, "Ahh, now I have to face Kobe after this!" His face in the pillow, he fell asleep.
Ice rose at 9 in the morning and yawned. He ruffled his hair and looked around. Marcus was fast asleep. Ice looked towards the TV which had ESPN on it recapping a marquee matchup that occured last night between the Chicago Bulls with star player Dwyane Wade and the LA Lakers who beat the Houston Rockets in a grueling 7 game WCF that ended in OT with the final score 127-123. The Lakers went on to the Finals and beat the Knicks, 4-2. Zamaj yawned once more and dressed out and went downstairs for breakfast and to board the team bus. Before he went out the door, he yelled out, "Marcus!" The left handed point guard fell off the bed and held a hand up. "I'm alright." Zamaj shook his head and headed out the door.
He approached the cafe with caution. He wanted to avoid Carter at all costs. The shooting guard responsible for posterizing some great centers, including Alonzo Mourning, called, "Zamaj!" Z halted to a stop. Not good. He turned and Carter beckoned him over to sit with RJ. He saw Jason Kidd dressed in street clothes. He just happened to be at the hotel. He sat down with the once supposed trio that was to bring New Jersey a championship. Vince Carter rocked back on his chair, cupping a glass of orange juice. RJ smiled at him. Zamaj scooted away from the small forward. He had heard the stories about Jefferson as well. Vince began, "Being a rookie is hard, ain't it?"
Zamaj gulped. He was hungry and just wanted to get his food. "Y-Yeah." Carter narrowed his eyebrows. "Yeah? You don't think it's hard, man? It's ridiculous being an NBA rookie." Zamaj nodded and drank his water. They sat in silence until Marcus came running down the stairs, tripped and fell. The room burst out laughing and Coach rounded up the team and boarded the bus to Staples. Zamaj took his usual window seat and thought about what was about to happen. He was about to meet Kobe Bryant.