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One For The Road

A ghost walks the halls of Fiserv Forum...

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NBA: Playoffs-Miami Heat at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports


JON HORST enters from outside wearing a wrinkled sport coat and a grim expression. He greets the security guard and receptionist. He wordlessly passes another figure sitting in a chair, face obscured by a newspaper. He removes a keycard from his pocket, opens a glass door, and walks down the hall.

Horst turns a corner and sees DR. ADRIAN GRIFFIN waiting at the door to the general manager’s office. Griffin looks up and waves.

GRIFFIN: Morning, Jon!

HORST: Oh, hey Coach. Good to see you. Doesn’t practice start soon?

GRIFFIN: It does, Joe’s prepping it now. I had a question for you, though.

Horst and Griffin enter the office.

HORST: Shoot.

GRIFFIN: As you know, it’s been a rough start, rougher than we hoped for. The guys are still getting used to each other and —

HORST: Yeah, I know. Again, I’m sorry about that, I don’t think anyone planned on having Damian Lillard here instead of Jrue Holiday so soon.

A door opens from up the hall. Footsteps are heard approaching the room.

GRIFFIN: Yes, that, plus trying to adapt to this new system, and on top of it Terry Stotts abruptly cut ties and left. I hoped we could make it work, you know.

HORST: Of course. So, your question?

GRIFFIN: Ah, yes. The vacancy on my staff, I wanted to know if —

A masked figure appears at the doorway and knocks against the wall. They are wearing a Dan Flashes-esque green-and-neon pink Hawaiian shirt, patterned with blue rectangles.

MASKED FIGURE: Excuse me, gentlemen. Mind if I have a word?

GRIFFIN: Actually, yes! We’re in the middle of…wait, who let you in here?

HORST: Who are you?

The figure lowers the face mask. It is MIKE BUDENHOLZER. Griffin and Horst gasp in surprise.

BUD: Well, well, well. Hello again, Jon. My keycard still works. You should probably update the access list.

HORST: Oh. Uh. Yeah, but —

GRIFFIN: Why are you here?!

BUD: Ah, yes. That. Why am I here? Such an existential inquiry. I guess I wanted to check in, see what you’ve done with the place. I’ve been enjoying my time off, got to disconnect for a little while. I have surfed, I have skied, I have raced for pink slips, I learned how to sew. I made this shirt!


BUD (continuing): Then I started to get bored. I took a cooking class just to meet people, but the instructor was a dolt. She put white wine in with the bourguignon. White! Have you heard of such a thing? Then I tried taking up video games but people online kept making marijuana jokes about my account name.

GRIFFIN: …What was your account name?

BUD: “The Kind Bud,” All one word. I thought it was nice! So, there goes that. Then I thought about taking up community theater — I think I’d make a great John Proctor, don’t you? — until it hit me: I’m not finished here.

GRIFFIN: Excuse me?

BUD: You heard me! I wasn’t done. We had five years — five good years — and I still had more I wanted to do with this group.


HORST: Mike…it was time. We did have five good years — great years! — but we had to make a change.

BUD (sarcastically): Oh, sure. I understand. After all, 271 wins, a plus-6.1 net rating over five seasons, and an NBA title can only take you so far.

GRIFFIN: Look, with all due respect, it’s my job now. Mine.

BUD: I’m well aware, Coach. But are you doing it right?

GRIFFIN: What do you mean? It’s a work in progress. We have played just eleven games, after we shook up the roster, our main guys are still rusty—

BUD: How’s Brook Lopez doing these days?

GRIFFIN: What? He’s…great.

BUD (wistfully): Ah, Brook. My masterpiece. My Sistene Chapel. My Birth of Venus! I’m glad you kept him around, Jon, he’s a fantastic center and rim protector… (Bud turns to Griffin) …when he is near the rim!

GRIFFIN: Listen, I have a system. We want to be more aggressive! And the guys told me they want Brook in more drop coverage, so we did

BUD: You listen! Brook Lopez is a mountain, a glorious geological marvel, and few can scale his peaks in the paint. How dare you take him outside like putting trash at the curb for bulk pickup?!

HORST: Mike, take it easy—

BUD: I will do no such thing! I keep a tight lid with the media, but you shall hear this, Jon. All of it! By the way, nice job landing Dame Lillard. Oh, my heart is aquiver at the mere thought of the ATOs I could draw up for him… but who are you pairing him with in the starting lineup?



BUD: Hmm?

HORST: Malik Beasley…

BUD (aghast): Malik Beasley! White wine in with the bourguignon! Jon, I know good backcourt defenders are hard to come by, but you do recall that you don’t have Jrue around to clean up everyone’s perimeter messes anymore! You cannot put Dame and Malik out there together! No defense can withstand that little resistance at the point of attack!

GRIFFIN: We’re working on it! And we’re generating more turnovers than in previous years, by the way.

BUD: Oh, and what a load of good that’s doing for you! I’m glad Beasley can leap out of position to pick off an extra pass or two. He can do that from the bench instead of flat-footedly funneling everything to Brook and Giannis. Plus then he’s only taking shots away from Pat and Cam Payne instead of Khris Middleton and Dame!

HORST: Look Mike, I’m sorry things didn’t work out, but this is the direction we chose.

GRIFFIN: That’s right. I’m the one they chose, the one they wanted. The coach Giannis wanted!

BUD: Yes, of course. What Giannis wanted. That’s what this is all about, isn’t it? And I hear he extended his deal, so I suppose it worked out for you! But how well is “giving Giannis what he wants” working out for you lately?


BUD (interrupting): Giannis wants a sign that the franchise is committed to building a winner? Bam, here’s Damian Lillard. Maybe that will even work out for you. But what about the rest? You have Dame, but Giannis still wants to bring the ball up the court…so he does. Giannis still wants to pull those ridiculous knockout three-pointers…so he does. Giannis wants to stop roving on the weak side and match up against other teams’ stars…so he does. He forgets that he needs to stick to his strengths, pace himself. It’s a marathon, not a sprint; you need to play the math just as much as the game. And you must play the man just as well, rather than capitulate!

HORST: There’s more than one way to win a title!

BUD: Not here! Not with this roster! You have an all-time, no, two all-time talents here, surrounded by a cadre of veterans and a group of not-ready-yet youngsters. Your men are getting old and slow; simply requisitioning more energy and effort on defense is practically gifting your opponent baskets!

GRIFFIN: We’re adjusting! Which is more than I can say for you! Remember 2019?

Bud clasps his hands behind his back and walks to the window.

BUD: (somberly) Oh, sure. I’ve made mistakes. I’m not perfect, I’m at peace with that. My system didn’t work every time, but those times were the exception! Not the rule!

GRIFFIN (aside): Four out of five years...

HORST: Maybe, Mike, but that’s all in the past now. We have to move forward, and that means you have to move on, too.

BUD: Fine, fine I’ll go. But before I do, just ask yourselves this: to win a title with this team, do you give them what they want, or do you give them what they need? I know what my answer is.

A bright beam of light reflects off Bud’s hand. It is his 2021 NBA Championship ring. Bud wordlessly exits the office. Horst and Griffin stay silent for a moment.

GRIFFIN: That was weird.


GRIFFIN: So, anyway, about the vacancy on my staff...

HORST: Actually, can it wait until later? I want to think over some things.