He was sick. You could see it in his eyes, in the way he moved. There was no life in his step as he warmed up, and after a time he walked over to the bench and sat down while his teammates continued to shoot. A ball boy came over and draped a Chicago Bulls jacket over his shoulders, gently, as if protecting an old man from a chill.
He was sick, and you were tired. Tired of chronicling trade demands and missed practices and playoff brawls, tired of hotel rooms and airline food, tired of listening to the inane ramblings of the Bull with the Technicolor hair. Maybe fatigue had made you a skeptic. You had heard that number 23 had been in bed all day with a virus of some sort, but you had dismissed it as an exaggeration. He has a cold. So what?
But now, as you watched him play in Game 5 of the NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz, you could tell how bad he felt, which made his performance all the more remarkable. He dropped in fadeaway jump shots over outstretched hands, he knifed between defenders on drives to the basket, he fought his way through picks, battling exhaustion every step of the way. During one timeout late in the game he rested his head on a teammate's shoulder, drained. He got up again, of course, and in the end he drilled the three-pointer that gave him 38 points and sealed a 90-88 victory for the Bulls, who would wrap up the championship two nights later.
When the game was over, you learned the full story—that he had spent the hour before the game lying in a dark room with a bucket nearby to handle his nausea, that he had been dehydrated and sapped of strength, that his coach and teammates had not expected him to play. You appreciated the immensity of his accomplishment and how privileged you were to have witnessed it up close. It had been a long season, but after watching him, you somehow felt rejuvenated.
Later that night a man asked you what you did for a living, and you told him.
"Do you know how lucky you are?" he said.
"Yes, I do."