On a scale of one to basketball: Markelle Fultz scares me

Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images /

I think I watch Markelle Fultz with more fear than I watch anyone in the league right now.

Fear is fun when it’s sanitized, contained, and sold in clever packaging. Escape rooms, roller coasters, horror films, whatever it is that happens on Twitter between the hours of three and six AM, all of these things are safe. Cozy, in a way. Familiar. Like an apex predator behind a fence, a canal, and six inches of glass at some safari park enclosure. It’s so close that it’s almost real.

You get some of that in the NBA too. When LeBron gets a step and drives the lane, someone somewhere is saying “Oh god, he might kill someone.” There’s a little adrenaline rush. Not the kind that puts you in panic, but the kind that reassures you that who-or-whatever wired you up did so with the proper permits. It’s a fire drill. Double checking that the boat has life vests before leaving the dock.

LeBron dunks the ball and everyone yells like “oh my god did you see that,” and maybe you did, and if you didn’t you probably could, and everything carries on like normal. Fear exists in the play frame, and the scene just ended. Maybe if you imagine hard enough, you can see a little number in the bottom right corner of your mind tick from 5 Lives to 4 Lives or something. There were lives in NBA Jam, right?

That’s not the kind of fear you get with Markelle Fultz. Fultz is like watching the creepy little girl crawl out of Naomi Watts’ TV in The Ring and praying that your grip on reality is strong enough to keep her out of your living room.

She keeps getting closer. You don’t remember this scene being so long before. The shot was supposed to cut to Watts’ face again, but it doesn’t. You know it’s just a movie and Watts wasn’t there in the first place, but you’re distinctly aware at this exact moment that you are in fact alone. It’s just you and the girl.

Well, you and the girl and your mind, but unfortunately your mind is a hostage. That’s what fear does. It puts the rational portions of your brain into a brownout. Thoughts coalesce and direct to an end only to find the lights go out and the floor is moving.

At the other end of fear is the escape valve, the eject button. It’s right next to you, and you can make it stop whenever you want, but to make it stop almost assuredly means to proffer control. You put yourself at the mercy of the unknown just to make what you know and hate abate.

If you close your eyes, will the little girl come through the screen? Will that be it? What is it? Is it better or worse than this? Can you even endure the short-circuited hysteria to find out for certain what is or isn’t real, what is or isn’t possible, and what may or may not be?

Whatever compelled you to start the movie in the first place is compelling you not to stop it now. You’re not sure you could if you tried, and even just the passing notion that maybe, just in .000000000001% of all presupposed realities poltergeists are something real, and you do have regrets about the choices you’ve made in your life.

This isn’t fun anymore. No matter how brief the moment, the instant that thought creeps into your head, it’s un-undoable. You’ve let it in. The fear has bled into the rational part of your mind. When that part of your mind goes, you’ve nothing left to depend on. Doubt, delusions, and hallucinations seep into an otherwise ordinary reality.

You know the TV isn’t leaking in real life, so why did you check? You don’t know what you know anymore. To pull yourself out of this you need facts, grounding, reality, something outside of yourself to depend on. Something that will grip you and tell you to get a grip.

But it’s just you, and you decided to play with fear. Whether you’d win or lose was out of your control long ago. Now you’re just riding it out to see just how bad the bad end is. This was a mistake. I didn’t know any better. It isn’t fair.

Every time I see a zero in Markelle Fultz’s attempted 3-pointers, or read a tweet about his shoulder, or hear about that trade that sent both Jayson Tatum and a pick to Boston I feel this way. I’m not even a Philly fan. I never even watched Fultz in college.

Imagine being someone in Philadelphia right now. In particular, imagine being Markelle Fultz. You knew with a certainty afforded to the smallest fraction of teenagers what you were going to be when you grew up, what each individual step to the top of your personal mountain entailed. There’s a tiny collection of athletes in the United States who are all but preordained to go to the NBA before they can even drive a car.

Fultz was part of that group. He was given a choice of one reality before he could even comprehend what reality was.

Now he’s in it. I’m told he’s an adult. Legally he is. I don’t know what adult means. We’re defined by what we do, but who are we if we don’t know what’s supposed to be done? Before this point how much agency did he really have in his own life? Sure the decisions made for him could be glamorous, and yeah the likely outcomes were enviable, but that’s really not the point.

You’re told you’re one thing, and you’ve trained to be that one thing, and you’re molded into that one thing, and now it’s time for you to stand up and be that thing. The temporary bits of metal and energy propping you up aren’t there anymore.

Next. The Markelle Fultz trade that actually makes sense. dark

It’s time.


oh no

something’s wrong

It’s not right. For some reason, physical, mental, emotional, whatever, we’ve gone off script. You’re looking back at the people who were pushing you for direction, and they’re looking at you just as confused as you are. If anything, they think it’s your fault. You’re on your own now. Who else could have left it broken?

This is scary. I don’t like it. I want it to stop, but I don’t want to move. I want it to go away, but I don’t dare close my eyes.

Then I imagine how he feels.