Derelicte 44, 16 Minute Men 42
Third in 3-Part Series: 16 Minutes of Fame
Eddie pushes up on John Ryu.
June 2 To tell you the truth, I’m a little nervous as I am dialing Wong’s number. It’s 3:45 in the afternoon. I figured I’d let him cool off in the morning and hopefully by the afternoon he’d have forgotten about last night’s dismal performance and be willing to talk to me and let me back into his life.
I’m like a little schoolboy trying to dial my schoolboy crush.
Once, twice, I dial his number and hang up before it goes through.
Finally, on the third attempt, I let it ring knowing full well that even if I hang up now, Wong’s got me on caller ID and would know it was me.
“What’s up, man?” Wong answers.
Woa, he sounds so…normal.
I ask him how he’s feeling and he tells me fine. Great, in fact. His horse hit today. It’s Friday, his regular OTB visit.
After making small talk for about 5 minutes, I realize that to Wong, last night was not something he was going to sit on. We didn’t bring it up once. It was like it was ancient history and Wong wraps up our short conversation by inviting me to a BBQ the next day in New Jersey. He says he’ll pick me up and, when he said free meat, that’s when he had me at hello.
I wanted to get together with the guys today, but since I figure I’ll be with them all day tomorrow, one day is not going to kill this story. The Commish would never know (until now).
I spend the rest of the day finishing my Sudoku book.
June 3 Wong arrives at my place at 11:30am and within an hour, we have made our way to the midway point of the Lincoln Tunnel.
Sometimes, I hate New York City.
We’ve gone exactly 1 mile from my apartment and an hour has passed. There is no accident, it’s just NYC traffic.
Finally, we’re outside of the tunnel on our way to never-never land. Jersey is just one big waste of real estate to me. It’s the armpit of America and I’ll never understand why people live there. The turnpike, expressways, and whatever else you want to call the road cars drive 65 mph on are ridiculously confusing. When you leave Manhattan, you run into about 45 signs that tell you all different things to get to where you want to go. How is anyone supposed to read them and make sense of them in 2 second’s time?
Then there are the townships. When you get off your exit, it gets worse. What are those things called? Panhandles? Jughandles? I can't handle it. I don’t know. All I know is you cannot make a left hand turn in Jersey. In order to make a left, you must make a right. It’s totally illogical. Whoever designed Jersey’s roads ought to be shot if he isn’t already dead.
Once we hit the turnpike, 25 minutes later, we’re pulling off of exit 11 and after some right turns to go left, we pull into the driveway of someone’s home that I don’t know the owner of. I realize that I never asked Wong where we were going. In our near 2 hour ride, I was so entrenched in conversation with Wong, I didn’t really bother to ask where we were headed.
Ray posts up Nellie.
Wong gave me the entire history of how he and 16MM came to be and why they were in the NL this season. It was a quite a story.
It seems that three years ago, Wong hired an associate named George Lai just out of college to start working for him at JP Morgan Chase. At first, Wong had him fetching stuff like coffee, the paper, and his lunch, but gradually, Lai blossomed into a fine worker for him and earned himself more responsibilities.
It turned out that Lai had a deep love for the game of basketball. At the time, the Knicks actually had a shot at making the playoffs and while at the water cooler one day, as Wong made mention to a couple of MDs he was farting around with how he was going to get tickets for playoff games in case the Knicks actually made it, Lai blurted out, “You like basketball?!?”
“Yeah. Who doesn’t?” Wong recalled saying.
“I just never took you as the kind of guy who liked sports. Especially basketball,” Lai said.
“Why not?” Wong asked back, offended.
“Well…,” Lai nervously searched for the right words.
“Cause I’m short?”
For the next two weeks, George went back to fetching coffee, the Wall Street Journal, and lunch every day.
Over the course of the next two years, Wong and Lai would get out to play hoops as often as they could – going with each other to random pick-up play at West 4th, Central Park, Battery Park, and then eventually forming a team together to play in the Urban League.
The two became inseparably basketball buddies. Work became a mere meeting point for them to talk shop. Where were they going to play next. The dunk from last night’s game. How they could score some tickets to the Big East Tournament at the Garden.
Their relationship grew and grew until eventually Lai grew into his own and was soon Wong’s equal from a professional standpoint.
While Wong enjoyed his work, and loved the basketball atmosphere he and Lai created, professionally speaking, George had grown his wings and needed to spread them and fly. It was time for Wong to leave and let the kid be.
Towards the end of Lai’s tenure under Wong, he had fallen upon the Dream League through word of mouth from friends and was asked to join team Moe’s Tavern for a season. Not feeling it his place to ask if Wong could join the team as well, he made mention of the League to his boss and suggested the following season he look into putting a team in.
The two ultimately parted ways, but promised to keep in touch.
Gin's got Nooh-Joon covered.
Lai suffered an unfortunate injury to his foot and could only play two games with Moe’s that season while Wong got adjusted to his life at his current firm. While at work, the two would IM and call each other all day, checking on one another and egging each other on to put a new team into the next DL season so that they could play each other.
Finally, before this current season started, Lai was able to piece together a team that would become Derelicte. Wong, meanwhile, asked his buddies that he regularly socializes with if they wanted to play.
Kenny, Eddie, and the rest of the gang were in before they asked Ray, whom they knew had access to Gin and Mun – two guys who have played lots of competitive basketball before – something most of the guys hadn’t.
Wong submitted an application to become an expansion franchise in the League and simply asked that he be put in the same division as George Lai’s team.
Thus, the 16 Minute Men were born and entered into the NL.
Thus, a huge mistake was made.
Ten losses by an average margin of 28.6 points per game later, it was painfully obvious that 16MM entered themselves in the wrong division.
Actually, it was really apparent after the first game, but after hanging around with Oh Holla and then only losing to A Ball by 6 in their second and third games, there was a little hope.
But that went away quickly after 20, 30, and 40 point losses mounted.
Wong got his wish to face George in the fourth game of the season when 16MM squared off against Derelicte. However, it was not meant to be as, in that game, Lai didn’t suit up since he was away on a European vacation. George’s team took care of business that day as they won 61-47 behind 22 points from Fred Lee. Wong led his team with 16 points and 5 steals. With George there or not, he was clearly amped for the game.
But this second match-up against Derelicte, that was coming up on Sunday, promised to have George and Wong both there – and so this one was going to be special. Super special.
The emails, IMs, and phone calls in the past week between the two had been faster and more furious than ever before as massive trash talking ensued. All in good fun of course. But soon a bet was laid – loser takes the other out to a week’s worth of steak dinner at New York’s Big 5: Luger’s, Sparks, Morton’s, BLT Prime, and Bobby Van’s. They were going to do one each night for five nights straight.
1:23pm As Wong is telling me about the clams that Sparks carries, this is when we pulled into the mysterious driveway.
I'm down on bended knee.
It turns out to be Wong’s godmother who was having a graduation barbeque for her son who had just finished high school.
I ask Wong if any of the other guys were going to be here, and he says, “Why would they come? This is my godmother’s son. They don’t know him.”
Guess I won't be seeing the guys today.
After hearing about how Wong stuck his team in the wrong division just so he could play George, and then this random senseless decision to invite me to his random godmother’s son’s graduation celebration, I’m starting to think Wong is just a tad bit scattered.
But hey, the Commish made me do it.
7:30pm It actually wasn’t that bad. The food was good and we played some fun games like “Mafia” and our own version of Jeopardy to pass the time. I also got the email of this cute girl who was Wong’s godmother’s next door neighbor’s family friend visiting from Michigan. Sucks that she lives far away from me, but it’s been a dry spell lately after Misty, and so I’m open to anything. I’m open to an internet relationship.
Wong drops me off. I’ll be seeing him tomorrow.
It’s game day. Derelicte. George. 16MM is 0-10, but when it comes to George, throw the records out the door. It’s personal now.
9:15am Wong is already out, taking a light morning jog, grabbing his usual bacon and eggs on a roll for Sunday morning breakfast and going over how George likes to play in his head.
Only goes right…likes that 14 footer…give him the 3…gotta box him out…
When you play with a man for two years on a weekly basis, you know his game well.
12:30 It’s game time.
16MM comes with a full six guys. You know it’s serious when 16MM actually has a spare guy for a bench.
George admires Wong.
Three guys stand around playing rock, paper, scissor for Derelicte. One of them is not George.
In a clear sign of disrespect, several members of Derelicte chose not to come to the game, figuring it’d be a cakewalk. Fred Lee, Young Yu, and Dave Wang to name a few.
George calls the scorer’s table and informs them that he is stuck in the park in traffic in a cab. Some sort of parade has messed everything up. He must get out and get to Julia Richman Coliseum by foot.
Imagine if Allen Iverson was caught in a jam, got out of his car, and walked a mile to the First Union Center to make his game.
Eventually George makes it, as does Jason Yeh to give Derelicte a thin 5 for the game. The game starts 30 minutes late, but to Wong, he hasn’t lost an ounce of focus.
No, sir! Wong starts the game on fire. He scores all 7 of 16MM’s opening period points on two jumpers and a three. George is struggling as he opens 0-3 and Derelicte only gets one field goal from Nooh Joon Choo and 4 free – 2 by Choo and 2 from Nelson Wong as 16MM takes their first lead of the season after one quarter – 7-6.
The 2nd quarter is as scrappy as the 1st. Choo is making a killing inside against the undersized 16MM (especially when Ray is out with foul trouble – he has 4 in the 1st half and the look on his face over some of the calls is priceless), but 16MM fights.
Wong hits another jumper and free throw, Mun bags a three, and Gin converts as the game is tied at 15 at the half – the first time 16MM has not trailed at the half on the season.
Wong has 10 points already and George goes 0-3 again in the 2nd to remain scoreless. Cleary, master is teaching servant a thing or two.
As players for the next game enter and a crowd forms, people see that it’s a close game involving 16MM and a vested interest in seeing 16MM win becomes vocalized from fans around the stadium.
As a result, the play on the floor picks up and both teams score double figures in the 3rd for the first time in a quarter – Derelicte with 14 and 16MM with 12. Choo is still having his way and finally George is able to get a shot to go but is 1-10 as the 3rd wraps. Wong finds another trey and Mun’s 5 points keep it tight as Derelicte grabs a 29-27 lead into the 4th – the first time this season 16MM is still in the game heading into the money quarter.
Nelson scores 6 points in the 4th, including 4 towards the end that move Derelicte ahead 43-36 with less than 2 minutes remaining. Wong scores another 4, but 16MM’s dream seems like its going to end before Gin and Ray show that they know no quit and add onto their 8 combined quarter points with scores from close to narrow the margin to 43-40.
Mun don't quit.
When Kenny gets a lay-up to fall with 26 seconds left, it’s 43-42, and again the crowd is in heat, hi-fiving each other, cat-calling, and preparing to bum rush the court should 16MM actually pull this out.
George is fouled in the bonus situation and he steps to the line. I can see Wong thinking aloud, asking himself whether he should pull a LeBron to Gilbert Arenas and walk by Lai whispering a little sweet nothing to get into his head, but that’s not Wong’s game.
George misses the first and the crowd erupts. There are no thundersticks around, but I swear I hear them.
He drops the second to give Derelicte a 44-42 lead and 16MM has one more shot.
16MM burns their final timeout and a play is called for Wong.
Mun has grown cold in the 4th (0-5) and so, Wong who had a team high 17 points, was gonna get the ball.
And it wasn’t just cause I was sitting near the huddle to listen in to what they were going to do. I called it. I had grown somewhat close to this team in the past month and I felt it my place to step in at this moment to give them my best basketball advice.
This was Wong’s game to win. He had something to prove. He was going to get the last shot.
Why is it then that the ball is rotated into the hands of Gin on the baseline and he puts up a 16 footer that hits the rim but nothing else?
A loose ball scramble ensues, the buzzer sounds, and the ballgame is over. My coaching days are quickly over.
There is a numb feeling throughout the gym.
16MM players stand around in silence looking off into space. Someone has taken the remote and pressed the mute button on the fans. Derelicte is not so much happy as they are relieved for obvious reasons.
The first team to lose to 16MM? Imagine the shame, the guilt, the endless ribbing they’d take. It should, could, would, and did not happen.
George, while expected to rejoice in getting the best of his former boss, seemed apologetic in winning. In wrapping around his arm around Wong, he says, “You don’t have to take me to five nights of steak. We didn’t deserve this one. You guys really should have won. I’m sorry.”
“I’ve suffered through this whole season at this shot at you. I had my season best game, and George, you just shot 2/15 from the floor, 0/6 from 3. You need to work on your game,” Wong good spiritedly replies.
The truth is, without Choon (17 points, 6 boards, 4 steals) – who rarely ever plays, Derelicte would have been dead in the water. Nelson had a nice 11 point, 11 board effort, but Derelicte didn’t so much win this game as they tried not to lose it.
Ray clears the way for Wong.
If there is a moral victory here, Wong has gotten it in getting the better of his protégé. They’ve lost the war, but after a few minutes, seem to get over it quickly.
They only lost by two, and on this season, that feels like a win.
2:17pm The guys are all packed up and ready to leave the stadium. I’m outside saying my final goodbyes to them. One by one, I give man hugs to Ray, Gin, Mun, Kenny, and Eddie. Each one says something smart and tells me to stay in touch. I only have Ray’s email, so that will be a challenge since they’ve never made an effort to get in touch with me.
I save my last goodbye for Wong.
Having grown the closest to the captain in my month’s time with them, I feel like I have a special bond with him.
I tell him it’s been a good time and I’ve had fun trailing 16MM around for the last four weeks. He tells me it’s been fun being tailed around.
I say my goodbye and turn to walk away. I start to think about what I’ve learned about this team and after today’s game, I think I have it.
I’ve thought this all along. 16MM are just a team full of regular guys. They like to get together to recreate and get a little exercise in with basketball. They’re not really competitive, nor do they really care to win. Basketball is not the end all, be all. For them, it’s all about living life and taking things as they come. Never too high, never too down. They’ve shown a remarkably amount of persistence in coming back time and again from poundings to take more poundings, but never giving up.
It’s really commendable I must say. I’ve known a lot of basketball players in my life, but these are guys who just happen to play basketball and I can’t help but think that their approach might not be a better one – they don’t get caught up with winning or losing, they don’t particularly love the game, they just play it for fun. Simple, clean, easy.
If you’ve seen the way hyper-competitive ballers can get, it doesn’t seem a bad thing at all. Particularly since playing basketball isn’t any of our careers.
I feel like I’ve totally separated from 16MM when Wong shouts back at me, “Hey! I almost forgot. You still have that paper I gave you awhile back with my number on it? It was a bet ticket.”
I tell him it’s somewhere at home I think.
“Good. My horse hit that day. I still have to collect.”
For Wong, appropriately, it’s worked out in the end.
Score by Quarters
|16 Minute Men
|Derelicte - 44|
|Player||FG||3PT||FT||REB||AST||STL||BLK||TO|| F ||PTS|
|Choo, Noh-Joon||6 / 12 [0.500]||0 / 0 [0.000]||5 / 6 [0.833]||6||0||4||0||1||1||17
|Lai, George ||2 / 15 [0.133]||0 / 6 [0.000]||1 / 2 [0.500]||7||0||3||1||2||2||5
|Lee, Fred ||DNP|
|Ryu, John||2 / 9 [0.222]||0 / 2 [0.000]||0 / 2 [0.000]||6||2||3||1||5||2||4
|Wong, Nelson||3 / 12 [0.250]||0 / 1 [0.000]||5 / 6 [0.833]||11||3||1||1||3||1||11
|Yeh, Jason||3 / 8 [0.375]||0 / 2 [0.000]||1 / 2 [0.500]||3||1||0||0||3||2||7
|Yu, Young ||DNP|
| ||16 / 56 [0.286]||0 / 11 [0.000]||12 / 18 [0.667]||33||6||11||3||14||8||44|
|16 Minute Men - 42|
|Player||FG||3PT||FT||REB||AST||STL||BLK||TO|| F ||PTS|
|Chao, Gin||4 / 9 [0.444]||0 / 2 [0.000]||0 / 0 [0.000]||4||0||0||4||2||0||8
|Lieu, Ray||3 / 4 [0.750]||0 / 0 [0.000]||1 / 4 [0.250]||3||3||0||0||2||5||7
|Ng, Kenny||1 / 7 [0.143]||0 / 0 [0.000]||0 / 0 [0.000]||6||0||3||0||4||3||2
|Ng, Mun||3 / 11 [0.273]||2 / 7 [0.286]||0 / 0 [0.000]||3||1||1||0||1||3||8
|Sun, Eddie||0 / 7 [0.000]||0 / 2 [0.000]||0 / 0 [0.000]||4||0||1||0||0||3||0
|Wong, John||6 / 12 [0.500]||2 / 4 [0.500]||3 / 4 [0.750]||3||3||2||0||6||1||17
| ||17 / 50 [0.340]||4 / 15 [0.267]||4 / 8 [0.500]||23||7||7||4||15||15||42|