The story of Kawhi and Mr. DeRozan



The mule and rider crept through the valley under the remnants of a folk ballad. The rain dripped in drops of almost snow, and the cedar branches sagged in the cold, damp breeze. After a steady incline to the gray-rocked ridge, the beast slowed and hoofed at the softening boundary between earth and sky. The rider looked back over his shoulder, through the grayed and evergreened mist shrouding the steeple’s ashen lumber. The failed structure of belief no longer held any meaning for him. The congregation was a tribe of disparate ghosts: fur traders who had lost the wild and families still seeking greener pastures. He lowered the brim of his forlorn hat. The unnamed beast echoed his solemnity in a snorting shiver. They would ride south for the water’s edge, seeking mangers still brimming with opportunity, following the only guidelines for life still available.

His name was DeMar DeRozan, and he was bleeding from his stomach. He had laid low for a little while in an abandoned mine shaft outside of the almost town after the gunfight had almost killed him, but he still didn’t know who had fired the nearly fatal shot. One day, when his courage was up, perhaps he would seek a trail leading toward vengeance and redemption, if the two really were one and the same. But, in the slippery haze of it all — the falling snow and rising smoke; the bleeding present — it was impossible to discern the actions of friend from foe. Who had done the deed was very much still an answer at large.

As the rest of the logging town had rushed to put out the fires climbing the church doors and steeple, DeRozan stumbled and crawled toward the cave’s esophagus. The snow swallowed his tracks and in the primeval chamber he slipped from consciousness for some time. Snow drifts hid the entryway for three days, and when he awoke, a man named Masai Ujiri knelt over him. He was replacing the bandages around DeRozan’s torso, even humming ever so softly as he did so.

As DeRozan lifted his head, blinking, the man read the question on DeRozan’s face: “LeBron and his men are gone. Someone saw them riding west. But you can’t stay here. I’ve packed you some victuals and found you a horse. If you can ride in the morning, I suggest you do.”

“What happened to Casey?”

“I would stop worrying about what can’t be helped.”

“Where am I supposed to go?”

“A man to be named later is waiting on the shoreline with a boat. Make it to him and you’re in New York. Once there, you will receive further instructions.”

When Masai Ujiri left the cave, DeRozan had been left alone with a dim oil lamp and a satchel full of food. The mule had waited for him in the grove outside the cave and away from the shabby huddle of clapboard dwellings.

He now leaned with the slope of the earth, his direction to and with the melting snow. He would soon be aboard a flatbed vessel, pushing out across the dark waters where American ships had once coalesced in laying siege to the lakefront town of York. His Ojibway guide described the battle as he pushed the till, steering the vessel over the dark waters. His Ojibway guide had seen history with his own eyes, at least that’s what the old man had claimed, and DeRozan listened with his forearm resting over his rust-colored bandages. He sighed heavily then and fell asleep.

In Rochester, DeRozan rested his body until it was healed. When the time came for riding toward Manhattan, he rode for the Ohio River instead, saying to himself: “Can’t trust ‘em.”

After many days and weeks and time on the trail and one mighty river spilling into another, he arrived in Nacogdoches, Texas, with his beard having grown thick and ripe with the sad premonitions of a new frontier and a scar marking him as the would be resurrected. Upon his arrival, he told the new world budding before him that his name was LeBron James, and the new world, for a time, would almost believe him. What better way to entrap the truth than with a lie.


After spending time in the greater west, Kawhi crossed the Double Mountain Fork of the Brazos River at a time that was neither winter nor spring. He wore a bearskin coat, but the cold air caused a pain in leg that permeated his flesh and sinew until it penetrated the very fabric of his bones. The wound had long healed, but the hurt remain. In earlier times, these lands would have been ripe with buffalo. They were not now.

That night he dreamed of faraway places. He dreamed waves full of white whales and icy shores. He envisioned a lone man, almost seven-feet tall, stretched long beside a fire, reading and feigning laughter. He watched this giant man walking on the edge of a turning gyre down into the ice, into a fortress of solitude. He awoke wide-eyed and panting beneath a starless sky, wondering if he were responsible for the bones scattered along the plains, the absence of light in the sky, and the disappearance of some ancient sect that could be found only in phantom visions.

When he came across the scavengers he’d been riding for three more days. The warped earth crumbled before him. The stars had returned to the sky and were mirrored by the campfires on the ground below. He approached a fire with a quiet, sullen confidence that results from feeling a species apart from one’s own flesh and blood. They exchanged greetings. They talked. He mostly stared and listened. Some exchange of information, or agreement, was scratched out in the dirt. He crossed into the flatlands made smooth by the waters feeding the Gulf; land once deemed perfect for growing cotton and human bondage. He didn’t think too much on that. He was headed for Nacogdoches or a town near there. The map was more rumor than anything.

He could hear a fiddle as he rode into town. He paid a man to shelter his horse. Still wearing the grizzly fur he walked down the boardwalk, avoiding the slippery terrain of the muddy street. He arrived at a rectangle of light. His shadow fell across it, and he entered.

Candles lit the room. He approached the bar, with its copper coating.

“You kill that grizz?” asked the barman.

Kawhi said nothing. He pointed at the whiskey bottle over the man’s shoulder. The man set a glass in front of Kawhi and handed him the bottle. Kawhi placed a coin on the counter. The man bit it and moved on to other customers. Kawhi surveyed the room and that’s when he saw the old man, Gregg Popovich.


Pop removed his reading glasses and folded them before tucking them and the letter he’d been reading in his breast pocket like a deck of cherished house cards. He had lost another friend on a road stretched long from its beginning and only growing longer. Once the editor of a great and knowledgeable printing press, he was now a man moving from town to town with tattered copies of his once omnipotent station. Once stationary, he was now stationery. His nomadic monologue sent him from town to town proclaiming the News of the World via ever more outdated editions of The Admiral-Constitution. What had been forward seeing was now all hindsight and forward seeking.

Yet his belief in the boy — that they were still destined to chart and catalogue and categorize the territories — delivered him to southeastern Texas for this precise occasion. On his way from San Francisco’s booming economy and through the wild territories approaching the borderlands, he began operating via his old habits and stations. He transcribed in journal after journal the arc of the orange sun and every specimen under its watchful eye. If his knowledge of the future and its predictability had been lost, he would simply write it again. He believed in his power to dictate, and he now sat in the glow of dripping tallow candles across from a man with a crescent smile and beaming eyes.

“It’s a desert now, but I promise it will be fertile.” The man’s hands traced the arc of an invisible rainbow. “There’s magic in them hills, always has been.”

“Oh, I believe it’ll be fertile again, and that’s exactly why I’m in opposition to such a plot twist. It’s too predictable — why bother writing it?”

“Because the people will buy it, man. Let me tell you something. I have it on good authority — “



“Tell me something I don’t know.”

“Alright, let me offer you a quote.” The man flashed that smile again, and then started, “That there is no situation in life but has its advantages and pleasures, provided we will but take a joke as we find it. That, therefore, he that runs races with goblin troopers, is likely to have rough riding of it: Ergo, for a country schoolmaster to be refused the hand of a Dutch heiress, is a certain step to high preferment in the state.”

“Are you saying I’m the ‘country schoolmaster’ in this scenario?”

“Look, I’m just saying there are certain benefits to parting ways with—“

A third man approached the table, pulling up a chair. Pop frowned. The other man beamed. The third man changed the subject ever so slightly: “Did I hear you make mention of LeBron James? You think he’s still running the ferry on the Colorado?”

The man opposite Pop couldn’t help himself: “Man, is he running it? The man is the whole op-er-a-tion.”

Pop whispered, “So out in Yuma territory.”

“What you got against it?”

“Nothing. But it could be one bloody mess.”

“This isn’t your world anymore.”

“Let me offer you a quotation.” Pop poured wine from the bottle into his glass. He sniffed from it. He swirled it and began his lecture: “This is an orchestration for an event. For a dance in fact. The participants will be appraised of their roles at the proper time. For now it is enough that they have arrived. As the dance is the thing with which we are concerned and contains complete within itself its own arrangement and history and finale there is no necessity that the dancers contain these things within themselves as well. In any event the history of all is not the history of each nor indeed the sum of those histories and none here can finally comprehend the reason for his presence for he has no way of knowing even in what the event consists. In fact, were he to know he might well absent himself and you can see that that cannot be any part of the plan if plan there be.”

“Are you saying we’re all just witnesses?” asked the man opposite Pop. “Aren’t you the author?”

Pop sipped from his glass and said, “Maybe, once upon a time in the west, I was.” Then his eyes caught sight of the boy, only he was a boy no longer, but a man wearing the genuine coat of a grizzly. The spectacle was something out of a dream — no, a memory of conversations and times already lived. This had all happened before and could all happen again.

“Gentlemen,” said the third man who had intruded into this world of manufactured quotations, “I have it on good authority LeBron is here tonight.”

The man across from Pop laughed loudly: “I already told y’all he’s out west!”

“I’m serious.”

“And why should we believe you?” asked the laughing man. “I mean, who are you?”

The third man’s face twisted in hesitation. He didn’t want to answer, but he also noticed the man named Pop rising from the table with an eye toward the bar.

“I’m Kawhi’s uncle,” the third man gasped.

“Wait, that Kawhi? The one who — ”

Pop paused in his movements, as if forgetting the next step in choreography. Then he continued to move across the room. Kawhi’s uncle was now standing behind him, yelling out a warning: “Don’t let him talk! You can’t let him speak!” But it was all unnecessary; Kawhi had already exited the room.

Kawhi walked down the walkboard toward the outhouse. The scene behind him, including his uncle’s shouts, gave way behind him in the pouring rain. The sound of the fiddle lost its way in the wider world. He opened the door. A bearded man lunged at him with a knife, but he sidestepped and the man skidded in the mud. Kawhi rushed to him and kicked the knife from his hand. He then hauled the man up by his shirt collar.

He spoke for the first time all evening: “I thought you were him, but you’re not him.”

The man answered back, “I thought you were him, and you’re not.”

Kawhi let go of the man’s shirt and stood their staring his counterpart in the eye. He recognized a sadness in the man’s forlorn look; something kindred. An idea struck him and he shrugged the bearskin from his shoulders. “Here, wear this.”

“It doesn’t fit me.”

“It’s real.”

“It doesn’t fit.”

“Trade it for a drink then.”

The rain stopped and the two stood under the dim and dying starlight. Then one man walked toward the tavern bar in a coat he didn’t own while the other entered the jake, where he shot the barlatch home.


For the second time on the night, another man grabbed him and told him he wasn’t somebody else; this time by the collar of a bearskin coat.

“Who are you?”


“No you’re not! I’m his uncle, and you’re not him.”

“LeBron then.”

The man gave this answer a second thought, eyeing the bearded jawline. “No, you’re not big enough.” The man inspected him one more time. “Have you told anyone else that tonight?”

“I’ve told everyone from the Ohio River to here that one.”

“And people believe it?”

“And people believe it.”

“Have they not seen the real thing?”

The man in the bearskin didn’t answer.

“Who are you?”

“DeMar DeRozan.” He didn’t know why he revealed this truth after so many nights keeping it hidden.

“Wait, didn’t LeBron shoot you once already?”

“We had our differences.”

“Don’t you think following in his footsteps might get you shot again?”

“It’s also the quickest way for me to get another shot at him.”

The man laughed wildly at DeRozan. “Well, son, there are two men inside arguing over narratives that can help you with all that. Say, though, you wouldn’t know where the man who gave you that coat went, do you?”

“I didn’t say he gave me the coat.”

“Let me give you a quotation, son: If a frog had wings, he wouldn’t bump his a** so much, follow me?”

Kawhi’s uncle continued down the walkboard, and DeRozan turned into the building where he stood on the edge of the dancefloor.

Standing like an inferno over the entire room was a whitehaired man with a pockmarked face. His feet stepped in doubletime. He passed under the lamps, passing and twirling and swinging. He grabbed a fiddle and tucked it under his chin. The whole room moved at the whim of his bow. He danced and danced and danced his way over to where DeRozan stood still wearing the skin of a dead grizzly bear.

“It’s DeMar, right? From Compton?”

“I wasn’t supposed to let you talk.”

The man with a face like a lunar surface looked down and noticed the knife in DeMar’s hand. He grinned, and the bow never missed its string as the old man’s fingers danced along the neck.

“That’s okay. I have someone I want you to meet.”

“I think I already know him.”

The old newspaperman winked. “That you do. That you do. He never sleeps. He never sleeps. And neither do I.” So he says as the violin disappears. He lifts a globe on the tips of his fingers. He spins it with his offhand. The ball spins. The ball spins. All seven continents a blur at the end of his index finger, and DeMar DeRozan looking up, hypnotized by the motion of all these atoms in their orbits.


Kawhi landed in the sludge of human waste. He should have gagged at the scent, but all he could smell was sunshine and ocean waves and a way back to the beginning.

A voice whispered from the shadows: “Did they fall for it?”

Kawhi didn’t answer. In all honesty, he didn’t know. All he could do was push here and pull there and hope the world as is might topple from its axis. So many pieces were in play it was difficult to say which player’s plan or plot had the advantage. Both individuals and institutions conspired against one another. Some conspiracies overlapped. Others did not.

“I always liked DeMar,” said the voice belonging to the minion in the shadows. “I hope he makes it. You know, me and him were like brothers. I hope he can go through with it. Anyway, the tunnel’s ready.”

The man started to light a match, but Kawhi smacked it from his hand. They would have to move in total darkness. They could not risk even a spark given their surroundings.

From the opposite side of the dark tomb underneath the privy rose the sound of metal scraping dirt and stone. Then the sound of footsteps splashing into the depths of human waste on Kawhi’s side of the wall arose in place of the digging. In the light sifting through the hole above them emerged the familiar face of Danny Green.

“You ready to go back, Kawhi?”

Kawhi stared; eyes sullen.

“You know, to the Alamo.”

Kawhi continued staring. Why would anyone want to return to the Alamo?

“Pop said the plan was to meet here. He gave very specific instructions about when to start digging, what coordinates to dig for, and what pace to dig at. He wrote it all down for me in this notebook.”

What Danny Green didn’t know was how long Kawhi had studied Pop’s thought patterns and writing, even the old man’s handwriting. The instructions were his, not Pop’s, unless he was acting according to one of Pop’s scripts. He needed to always remind himself of that possibility. Even now as he seized control of his own future, he needed to remember his actions might not be his own.

“So you ready to head back?”

Kawhi handed Danny a new notebook. Danny opened it. On the first page Danny read the following words: The plan’s changed . . . Follow Kawhi.

“So, Kawhi, can we trust him?”

Kawhi didn’t know the answer to the man’s question. He looked at Danny and thought about how he no longer trusted anyone, but he remembered Massai’s words to him when he first agreed to the job: For you, Kawhi, anyone is expendable. Kawhi needed to remember that, too. Anyone was expendable. Trust, but trust only as needs demand.

“So where are we going?” asked Danny as they stood in the gray light of the privy’s s**t-filled sarcophagus.

Kawhi didn’t answer, but led his partners in uncovering the submerged supplies they would need for the remainder of the journey. From the cesspool they withdrew grain sacks whose insides they had earlier been coated in wax as a means for waterproofing. They placed these sacks inside the barrel-sized tunnel not dug by Danny Green. As they worked, the light in the privy vanished. Kawhi’s uncle, who had undone the barlatch on the jakes, sat down on the wooden throne above them and farted. Then he called down to them, “Y’all almost ready? They’re gonna start piecing together this puzzle soon. We aren’t the only ones digging for buried treasure.”

Kawhi and his crew didn’t say a word. They moved into the tunnel. “That’s good, let the work speak for itself,” sounded the voice from above, followed by another rancid smelling fart one hundred times worse than any other man’s expulsions.


The three men spelunked their way from the antechamber underneath Kawhi’s uncle as he sat on the wooden jakes, meaning they crawled through the earth’s hidden matrices like worms. Each man hauled a filth-covered grain sack behind him on a rope. They accomplished all this in the dark. They were infants in the underground, but one by one, each man’s head breached the surface of a larger tunnel. Lowry, which was the name of the third man, led the way, having dug the link between the larger tunnel and the pool of human waste. He then helped Kawhi onto his feet, and then the two of them helped Danny to his.

“Now can I light a match, boss?” And, taking Kawhi’s silence for a yes, Lowry lit a match. He then lit an oil lamp hanging on a hook anchored to a beam of stock lumber. The tunnel in which they now stood was a well-constructed mineshaft. Old, but well-built. Support beams stood every few paces. Joists crisscrossed he ceiling. The floor was smooth and worn. Symmetrical ruts divided the surface.

“It’s this way,” said Lowry, and they began walking at a brisk pace on a beaten surface sloping more and more inward, toward the molten core of a globe spinning on its axis round and round the sun.

“Where are we going?” asked Danny, but the other two men only started to jog. They covered many miles and did not stop until they arrived at a steel wall blocking the path forward. The metal embedded in a wall of stone deep within the earth was a safe door, complete with a knob for entering a combination.

On the safe door, stamped in large block letters: A.I.N.G.E. #16.

Kawhi began unpacking his grain bag, as did the other men. Each held different contents. Danny reached into his bag and pulled out what he believed to be a candle, but exposed in light of Lowry’s lamp looked much more like a stick of dynamite. His face blanched at the sight of his hand wrapped around an explosive.

“Thank you for carrying the keys,” chimed Lowry. And Danny realized then how his entire grain sack was filled with a more than healthy quantity of nitroglycerine.

Kawhi unfurled a thin ribbon of paper; the last reel of tickertape from Pop’s omnipotent stock ticker. The golden machine used to be housed in the newsroom of The Admiral-Constitution, and it had once hummed nonstop as it reeled off the news and symbols of the world and all their narrative glories. All Pop’s reporters need be were keen readers who could discern archetypal hieroglyphics from stone cold facts and whether the machine had cherry-picked its detailed rumors from the past, present, or future.

The machine currently lay in pieces, down to the last golden gear, within Kawhi’s grain sack, waiting to be reassembled when the time was right. Its disassembly had occurred the night Kawhi lit fire to the old newsroom, and his last story for old Pop was an article depicting the arson as an act of French terrorism, as a vengeful act of a saboteur paying the territories back for either the French-Indian War or the Louisiana Purchase. Of course, the story hadn’t run because Pop no longer had a printing press or his stock ticker and had been transformed back into a wandering minstrel of the Enlightenment, eliciting news from the world by less magnificent means than electricity.

On the white ribbon stretched before him, Kawhi read five numbers. He read them, even though he had them set to memory. Part of him knew that reading the numbers made him appear more human, but for nights now he had practiced turning the dial on the steel door as others slept.

According to the tickertape, the A.I.N.G.E. Institute knew the whereabouts of approximately seventeen underground safes. However, Kawhi knew there were at least fifty or so of these locations unaccounted for in present day.

The combination didn’t work. Kawhi tried again. The combination still didn’t work. He reached out with an open palm.

“Oh, Danny boy, the pipes . . . the pipes are calling,” chimed Lowry.

Danny looked at Lowry in confusion.

“He wants the nitro, bruh.”

Danny handed a stick of nitroglycerine to Kawhi. It looked like a match stick in the other man’s hand. Then with putty Kawhi sealed a stick where he knew the hinges to be. On a safe like this one, the hinges were all contained within the metal casing and hidden from view. When he was done, the steel wall was beset by five sticks of nitroglycerine. He then braided the fuses together and bit down on a cigar with his teeth.

“Is that an Auerbach?” asked Danny.

“Fitting, isn’t it?” said Lowry as he lit Kawhi’s cigar with a match.

Kawhi puffed on the cigar. He held it up and tapped its side so ashes fell like snowflakes in Canada from its smoldering tip.

“We should probably seek cover,” said Lowry.

Kawhi leaned in with his hands just above his knees. The cigar, clinched in his bright teeth lay suspended in air and parallel to the tunnel’s floor. When he exhaled and the cigar flared its brightest, he held the fuse to its glow. Smoke rose from the braid as it began to sizzle with heat. Then a spark—and the fibers became undone.

The three men headed up the tunnel; Lowry and Danny rushing; Kawhi taking his sullen time. A cloud of smoke exploded up the tunnel and swallowed them all.

Covered in gray dust and debris, the three men crept through the hole blasted in metal and stone. Danny and Lowry coughed and shooed in the particle cloud of what was and is no longer. Kawhi just looked like Kawhi.

They stood on the edge of a terribly dark chasm. The silence roared over them. Kawhi held up another Auerbach. This time he lit it himself and dropped it into the dark. The light descended like a burning dove.

“Did you see it?” he asked, but Lowry and Danny had not. “At the bottom, did you see it?”

Kawhi walked back form the edge and fetched the lamp. He tied a rope to it and lowered it. He then tied another rope and another rope and another rope and another rope and another rope in order to keep lowering the lamp.

“Do you see it now?” he asked.

But they could not. Whatever he wanted them to see was miles away from where they stood and darker still.

“It’s a reservoir,” he said. “Fed by the Mikan’s old headwaters.”

He did not, however, tell them how if they were to stand in those magical waters — in that blood of the jaguar as some would call it — the amount would barely cover the soles of their sneakers. A river can only be engineered so far.

De'Aaron Fox needs to show improvement this season. dark. Next

But he also knew there were at least fifty other untapped reservoirs give or take, unfound and unmapped. He also knew was as likely as anyone to locate them. After all, he had been raised on Mikan’s diverted waters as a kid in the deserts of California. He also knew so had DeRozan and how DeRozan was now with Pop. They and he were in a race for home, only one of them, though, knew in which direction the future might run. They also weren’t the only ones chasing it. Kawhi unfurled the tickertape one last time, gave it one last look over, and then let go.