Story:A Hero Comes Along

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A Hero Comes Along
Written by Qovapryi

There used to be a time in which Alessandro Serra was probably the biggest Lucas Dupre fan outside the States.

It sort of began at the end of 2001. Alessandro was just your average nine-year old weasel – a curious, extrovert pup who would take every opportunity to have fun with his school friends, either on the basketball court or outside it. He'd joined his city's little league team because of them, but soon basketball had become more of a passion to him than to his peers: as he returned home from school, he would not watch cartoons but the 15-minutes FBA highlights special they aired after lunch on the sports channel.

Since the first time he had seen that show, he'd felt raptured and fascinated by the sheer intensity of the game, the electrifying pace and the players' determination. It didn't matter to him that Italian tv didn't show full games but only highlights: he would drink in every single amazing play, diligently score in a little notebook every result, commit to memory every player and team and stats he'd been hearing from the TV host. The game of basketball was almost an obsession for young Lex, and after his uncle bought him for birthday one of the first FBA games for PC, his mother had to drag him away from the computer screen practically every night.

Alessandro didn't root for a team or another, but admired each and every player for his or her characteristics and personality. Dat Mongoste's passing skills, Nohea Holokai's stellar rebounding, Jackson “Go Fish” Price's phenomenal blocks, even young Shane Rufus' aggressive and reckless playing style – he loved how everyone of them had a peculiar, unique style, and spent hours upon hours in his backyard trying to imitate their best plays and most of the time failing miserably.

That, however, changed when Alessandro saw Lucas Dupre play for the first time.

It was an away game against the Mayors, not at the peak of their condition just after losing the 2001 Finals but still a fearsome opponent. The Mudpuppies had managed to keep the game tight until the very last moments of the fourth quarter, and with the clock ticking out the last second the Cajun rookie fox had managed to sink the game-deciding trey, in one of his earliest major career achievements. The shot was so beautiful in its simplicity – the ball leaving Barton's paws, describing a perfect arc over the other nine players' heads before descending to meet the net - that the show's editors had chosen it as the Play of the Day, an honor usually reserved to flashy dunks and alley-oops.

After seeing that shot, young Lex just KNEW. He knew he'd be the most diehard Biloxi Mudpuppies fan from there on out, and he knew that one fox who'd just been in the league for two months or so would be not only his favorite player, but his hero.

And so it began, the young weasel starting to cheer for the Mississippi guys, learning each player's name, species and position and sometimes even painting his face in blue, olive green and white before getting in front of the TV, as a way to show pride for his favorite team. His mood started to be subjected to the Mudpuppies' fortunes – he was happy when they won and upset when they lost, and if the team won but the highlights failed to show Barton he'd probably be upset anyway. He didn't have to worry about that for much longer, since the rookie fox from Louisiana soon began to put up very good numbers, coasting his way to the Rookie of the Year title and earning a starting spot in the Mudpuppies' line-up.

Little Lex couldn't be more happy about Barton winning the prize, especially when the Italian officially licensed FBA magazine decided to celebrate the league's rising star with a poster depicting Barton's rookie photoshoot. Against the wish of his parents, the kid hung it up on the ceiling above his bed, the first thing he saw waking up in the morning as well as the last thing his eyes rested upon before falling asleep. It wasn't long before he knew Barton's features almost better than his own.

A bit of a trouble happened, however, when the kid decided he wanted to receive a Lucas Dupre basketball uniform for his tenth birthday. Now, Italy had never been big on foreign sports merchandising: the only jerseys you could find in the average sports shop were current MVP William Handon's or already retired all-time superstar Healey Davis', and even then it wasn't guaranteed they would have a size fitting a ten year old pup. Finally, after raiding virtually every sporting goods store in the region, his mother managed to find a Mudpuppies replica jersey, but with no name on its back. It didn't matter to young Lex, who started sporting it at every training session and would have slept wearing it as pajamas, if her mother had let him.

Not much time passed before Alessandro started to get some attention outside his small town. He wasn't the most domineering kid on the court (being quite lanky but at the same time very wiry and thin in constitution); however, he struck attention because contrarily to most kids of his age he wasn't a complete ballhog, but he often looked for any open team-mates instead of thinking only about the ball and the hoop when he found himself to be in possession and defenders harassed him. Plus, everyone admired his smooth jumpshot, which he'd developed after endless days of training in his backyard, pretending he was Barton playing at Crawdad Park (although as much as he wanted to imitate his hero, little league rules still prevented him from shooting from outside the arc).

Lex was totally focused on becoming a FBA-worthy points guard, just like his idol – no matter what challenges and sacrifices he'd have to endure to realize his biggest dream.

Eleven years later, the young weasel grown in the small town of Castel di Sangro had become one of the most hyped young talents in European basketball. Just as his idol Lucas Dupre had been showing during his All-Star career, winning two MVPs and leading Biloxi to various appearances in the post-season, as well as being the main reason of the team re-branding into the new Voodoo, Alessandro Serra had developed into a deadly sharpshooter and a respected floor general, despite his young age and relative inexperience. The small part of the sports press who didn't deal with soccer was raving about how he'd be the country's next hope to make it in the States since the success of Daius Aurelias.

Alessandro felt that the 2013 FBA Draft was going to be his big chance. Not soon after declaring his eligibility, he was called to Las Vegas, to partake in a pre-season match with the other 23 highest-rated prospects. He was rated mid-table in the post-game rating, and his heart almost exploded with excitement as one of the biggest and competent sport websites published his mock draft predictions in which he was expected to be heading to the Voodoo at #22, as “a solid back-up to All-Star Lucas Dupre in his final seasons”.

Only the Biloxi GM had other plans, swapping his pick for two lower spots at #28 and #31 shortly before the draft. If they could hope to find him still available at the end of the first round, there was no way they'd manage to get him way into the second. The weasel's worst fears materialized on draft night, with his stock progressively sinking and him actually failing to get picked in the top 24, only to get immediately snatched by the very team he was hoping to avoid. If he already hated the chilly winters of Milan, with temperature rarely getting under the 20s, how could he make it through the Alaskan cold? That alone, combined with the intrinsic challenges of living in another country and being five thousand miles from home, made the experience he'd dreamt for his whole life look like a nightmare come true.

However, the true nightmare was yet to come. After being tipped by everyone to resign with the Voodoo, Lucas Dupre chose to refuse Biloxi's own fat contract offer and accept a seven-year, 175 million dollar deal with the Bangor Tides. Sports press was all over the fox's decision, pinning it as “the ultimate attempt to cash in the dividends after a successful but declining career” and “an utter betrayal to the city who'd made him an All-Star”. As negative feedback grew, putting in doubt the fox's selfless persona (even though most of it was probably directed more to the Tides' GM), Alessandro felt more and more his worship of Barton being put into discussion. Now that he'd made it to the ultimate level, he didn't feel like he needed to idolize someone anymore, especially if Barton wasn't the generous, loyal individual he had grown to know during his career.

All of a sudden, Lex wanted nothing to do with Lucas Dupre or even the Voodoo. The only thing he cared about, he told the press, was to repay the Arctics for the trust they'd put in him by choosing him in the draft. When he was asked about the jersey number he'd like to adopt, he decided to abandon the 4 he'd worn to honor his favorite player during his whole career in favor of #23, as 2 March was his recently dead grandmother's birth date.

After a short period of adaptation, Alessandro quickly made his way to the Arctics' starting line-up, putting in solid numbers to support former MVP Carl Esteban, the Baylor brothers and young rookie centers Fu'afu'a and Tate. He adjusted to the Alaskan climate way better than he initially thought, his major challenges coming more from the different language than from adaptation to the new team-mates and the playbook. Team was off to a rocky start, but quickly caught a good streak and rose to the top of the Pacific Rim Division.

Everything was going for one little particular. The first game against the Tides was getting closer.

Alessandro stood in the dimly lit tunnel of the Shawshank Stadium, listening to the sound of almost fifteen thousand furries already buzzing with excitement. It was the first game after the break, and most furry basketball fans around Maine had jumped at the idea to see their local team squaring against the unexpected division leader from Alaska, hoping that the Tides could maybe exploit the home advantage to score a win.

The young weasel went over the game plan, mentally checking the biggest threats on the opposing team. Even with superstar L.V. McDyess out for injury, Bangor had an interesting roster and some very good shooters, between whom he'd need to care about a particular one...

“Excusez-moi..” A black-furred paw suddenly touched his shoulder. Lex turned abruptly, only to find the one and only Lucas Dupre smiling at him. He stood agape in front of his teenage idol, who looked almost the same as he did in his old poster, his trademark crucifix dangling from his neck and faintly glimmering in the darkish light, the white Tides jersey he wore being the only thing conflicting with Lex's teen memory.

“...ah be speakin' wid mistah Alexandre Serra?” the red fox asked, in his peculiar Cajun accent.

A thousand different thoughts passed through Lex's head, tears pooling in the corner of his eyes and his mouth going dry at the same time. “Oh-oh. Y-yes, I am” he managed to say, stuttering for the shock.

Barton stepped closer, his pearly white teeth briefly flashing. “Jus' wanted to have a bit of a vay-yay wid your goodself,” he said, a wide grin on his face. “All dat dings I been readin' it about you, how'd ya say ya'd toujour been lookin' upon myself and dat ah was yer greatest inspiration an' such...ah jus' wanted to meet ya an' judge for myself if ye'd looked anyding proche to de real deal.”

The Italian weasel felt pretty much at a loss for words, partly because he'd been waiting more than ten years for that conversation to happen and partly because he could understand only maybe half of what the Louisianan native said. Him talking to the press about how the fox was his biggest inspiration? Lex didn't remember about saying anything vaguely similar since he'd gotten to America, except maybe for his pre-draft Furballer interview...had he really caught Barton's eye since then?

“Uh, sure, sir!” the weasel replied, shaking with nervous excitement. “I have been the greatest fan of you for eleven years!” he blurted in his broken English. “You were amazing when you played with Biloxi!”

“Well, so now dat ah don't be playin' wid de Voodoo, ah don't be amazing anymore?” Barton asked, half-mocking the mustelid.

“No, sir! I don't meant that! I mean, I didn't mean...I'm only sad you're not anymore with them!” Lex managed to say before starting to sob uncontrollably. “I loved the team, and when you decided to leave, I felt like the worst!

Barton smiled knowingly, then put a paw over the shoulder of the younger boy. “Well, tite, let me tell ya one ding. Basketball don't be jus' for money. Ah mean, dere's all a whole lotta people out dere not havin' anyding to eat or even a single roof over dem heads. An' frankly, ah don't be gettin' any better anytime soon. Ah felt bad for de guys in Biloxi when ah moved up the bayou? Damn right ah did. But it not be like ah be getting anudder similar offer anytime soon. Ah'd give anyding to be out dere in mah swamp once again, but ah can't help but dink how many people out dere make more to deserve dis money more than me.”

Alessandro stood there, unable to say anything. Could leaving the Voodoo really be Barton's most selfless act? Could he really have misjudged his idol's intentions?

“Ya hear the papers out dere. They be sayin' ah sold myself, ah jus' want to win a ring 'fore retirin' in mah den wid mah Caddy and mah baby grand and de good Lord knows what. But mah clock's tickin' out, an' soon it be up to ya to fill mah pattes, kid. Ah be seein' ya playin' wid dem Arctics, puttin' up all dat nice jump shots an' keepin' de team goin'. Jus' keep pushin' like dat an' soon everyone dey'll be lookin' up to ya. It don't matter about the language, kid – it jus' do matter 'bout yer heart.”

The mustelid felt his cheeks blushing and his heart swelling up with pride. “Thank y-you for the advice,” he stammered, a single tear rolling down his cheek. “But when you talk about my you really believe I can be like you? Are you sure, sir?”

“Ah be really sure, kid.” The handsome vulpine grinned, pulling his awestruck fan in a hug. “Ah guarantee.”

Featured Characters

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