NBA Dark Universe: The Jump’s Pursuit
Rachel put her monologue draft to the side and rested her chin in her hands, elbows propped on her desk. There was plenty to cover, ratings were up, but she was still bothered by her conversation with the Commish. He had accurately predicted an “event” on the date of KD’s injury. But he had mentioned another date, too, March 6, and that had been the day Andrew Bogut was injured. Two injuries “predicted,” if that was what Silver had been alluding to. He had been so cryptic. In any case, the two seemed linked. But it bothered Rachel that they were also incommensurable. Durant was a considerable force, a former MVP and in the running for the award for this season until his injury. Bogut was fine — he had a ring, after all — but his impact to the Cavs was unquestionably less than Durant’s to the Warriors.
Adam Silver had also mentioned the VoidVoice transmissions and the strange mash-ups on its broadcast. The VoidVoice was something that was easy to ignore — it was a curiosity from space — but the very fact that it was a curiosity from space seemed to indicate that NBA basketball had some cosmic significance. She had waffled on the VoidVoice in the past, excited by its existence and confused by the randomness of its transmissions. In the immediate period after the transmissions had been discovered and decoded, the broadcast consisted of video clips of games dating back to the ’60s and stretching into the present. It was as if some force catalogued all film of NBA games and spliced them together randomly.
But recently, as Silver had pointed out, it was manipulating the footage it streamed to Earth. It was no longer spliced clips. Now, it was sending out doctored footage from Planet Jam — a Kobe Bryant jump shot from a 2000 game over a young Magic Johnson, both wearing Lakers uniforms; a Shaq dunk over former commissioner David Stern. These seemed like statements to Rachel. But they were cryptic statements at the present time. She wished she could make heads or tails of them.
* * *
The Jump headquarters in New Lagos buzzed with activity. The major injury to Kevin Durant had sent ratings through the roof, a bittersweet thing for The Jump’s show, and of course for Rachel Nichols and her team. They didn’t want to see injuries — it diminished the culture of competition that drove the league forward — but they were happy for the increase in viewers. The more to drink up their message, the better.
As for actual action in the league, The Jump team had continued their engagement with the MVP debate — by now over-discussed but something the higher-ups insisted the team continue to discuss — as well as the race for playoff berths.
Injuries and MVPs were one thing, the VoidVoice was another. And the higher-ups strongly objected to bringing the VoidVoice into the discussions on The Jump show. Nichols had no choice but to acquiesce.
So, for now, she directed her people to focus on the injuries. She had only mentioned the conversation with Silver to two colleagues, Amin Elhassan and Scottie Pippen. Both had different perspectives on the matter.
“Lucky guess?” Scottie Pippen had offered.
“Not a lucky guess, come on. He knew! He told Rachel the exact dates.” Amin Elhassan replied.
“It is strange,” Pippen retorted. “I don’t know what to make of it. Not much, though. Players get injured. It’s just the way it is.”
“I can accept the Bogut injury as random. Who cares?!” Amin was easily worked up, but he channeled his passion to his pursuits, in this case diving into a potential conspiracy regarding Durant’s injury. As “Senior Front Office Insider,” Amin was actively investigating front office — and back alley — manipulations across the league.
Pippen, on the other hand, had focused on the alteration of play since the injury. The Warriors were in tougher spot than they had been before, and were now in a tight race with the Spurs for the number one seed in for the Playoffs standings in the Western Conference. As a former player and current Hall-of-Famer, Pippen stuck to the game itself, the thing he knew best.
“Right,” said Pippen, “Bogut’s injury is basically inconsequential. We never got to see the man play for the Cavs, so it’s moot. We care about the Durant injury. It’s terrible. I just don’t see how it was anything other than an accident. Random nobodies on the Basketball Internet are baiting us.” Pippen was right that sites like Twitter and Reddit had blown up with conspiracy theories regarding Durant’s injury. These sites were a mess of free speech at its worst, a swarm of hot takes and novel theories and jam memes that people around the league called the Basketball Internet.
“The VoidVoice…” Amin muttered under his breath.
“What?” Pippen had heard Amin, but had always been skeptical of the VoidVoice. “We aren’t talking about it. We aren’t gonna mention it on air, and it’s a waste of time to follow up on it.” Pippen had been a league star before the emergence of the VoidVoice. It seemed inconsequential to him, a random meme-machine, associated with the culture of the internet more than the culture of the NBA. From Pippen’s perspective, the VoidVoice certainly had no effect on the league except as additional coverage and a vehicle for nostalgia.
Rachel had sat between Amin and Scottie as they debated the matter for the first time. Now, the matter had marinated for a couple of days. At the bar down the street from The Jump HQ on New Lagos, Nichols cradled her glass while Amin and Scottie hashed it out once more.
“I want to talk about the VoidVoice.” Amin stated plainly, downing his whiskey and turning toward Scottie, waiting for resistance.
“Amin…” Scottie began, but Rachel interjected.
“Wait, Scottie, let’s talk about it. Let’s hear Amin out.”
Scottie leaned back on his barstool and swirled his glass of liquor, but didn’t offer any further objection.
“Ok,” Amin began, “I have been thinking about the VoidVoice. Been going through the recent feeds, checking the references and historical footage from the mash-ups. It’s utter chaos. And tough to make sense of.”
Amin paused, and Scottie took a long sip from his drink, eyebrows raised.
“Yeah, yeah, and Scottie has been saying that all along,” Amin continued. “But then I had a crazy thought: what if the contents of the VoidVoice broadcast don’t matter. So, for example: yesterday, the mash-up was an older Michael Jordan dunking on younger Jordan — 1997 Jordan vs. 1989 Jordan. But… what if there isn’t any symbolism in that, nothing to read into it.”
Rachel took up his thread. “In that scenario, the transmission of Shaq dunking on the old Commish, David Stern — that has no meaning symbolically? Is that what you are saying?”
“Yes, exactly. You know me, I would love it if it did — Shaq protesting Stern’s policies, or tenure, or whatever. But I don’t think there’s any meaning there.” Amin reached for the whiskey refill the bartender had just delivered.
“Ok, so they why the mash-up? What if it is meaningless?” Pippen added.
“I’m not sure yet. I want to put a couple of guys on it,” Amin said as he turned to Rachel. “I want someone to check the numbers behind it. Get someone to play with clip duration, date of game, score at the time of the clip, the numbers players are wearing during the clips, and so on — there are so many numbers that can be extracted from the clips, and perhaps they could tell us something.”
“That sounds like a waste of resources.” Rachel thought for a minute. “But I’ve been bothered by the clips, and by what Silver said to me. He mentioned both the VoidVoice and the injury dates in the same conversation. He didn’t link them, but it’s implied.” She shot back her tequila, as if preparing for a bar fight. “Ok, get someone on that. Contact your person at SloanNet. But let’s keep the Silver conversation between us, for now. Let’s blow this thing open, but let’s do it our way.”
“I’m going to continue to lead the sane way forward,” Scottie said as he downed his drink and rose to leave. “I’ll ignore the VoidVoice and focus on the action within the league, instead of supernatural messages from space. I hope that’s ok with you.”
Rachel’s heart was beating fast with excitement, but she composed herself as she turned to Scottie. “Of course, Scottie. Keep doing your thing.” He deserved to stay out of it if he wanted to.
Scottie left. Amin ordered a sandwich and a beer. Rachel took another tequila.
“Maybe the VoidVoice transmissions have some numerical significance,” Rachel started again. “We’ll continue with that. Let’s also keep in mind other possible links. Let’s get someone to talk to the priests of the Sunken God and other to the other esoterics.”
They stared at the game on the screen above the bar, not watching with full attention, contemplating what could possibly be working to influence the league. The VoidVoice appeared a deep rabbit hole, and the two prepared to jump down it, head-first.