Timothy McVeigh Snared by Kobe’s Musecage

Kobe folds his arms. He reclines in his ergonomic leather chair and smirks across the table to his potential creative protégé. Behind him, black and white portraits of Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, and J. K. Rowling hang in sleek, black frames. Peer over his shoulders. His office in Newport Beach has become his haven, his place of escape during sleepless nights post-retirement, most nights, in fact, when his knees ache from the tread of his cartilage worn to nothing, from the phantom pains of the missing ball in his palm, the missing purpose.

Kobe wants to tell stories. Will tell stories. Narratives that could never be conceived without his Musecage. He’ll unleash his genius, extend it to other geniuses he’s discovered, ones uncorrupted by the money of the corporate monoliths. Kobe’s NBA career has provided wealth and fame, but it’s also earned him access, and he’s only ever one phone call and helicopter ride away from meeting with the top minds of the Silicon Empire. This isn’t what he wants, though. Not anymore. He’s found that these platforms come with programmed modes of thought. What he wants are the sheer, unfettered brain waves of self, not stakeholders.

His current project is Salvatore Pane, an English Professor with a focus in the critical discourse of video games. Kobe’s been trained to immediately pinpoint weakness, even in teammates, and what he sees in the thirty-something, fashion-savvy academic are his areas of self-consciousness: the receding hairline, the glasses used for cosmetics, symmetry, and the quiet unease of one who has lived his entire life as prey, not predator.

Kobe discovered him through a perfect six-degrees-of-separation retweeting stream that led him to the link of the 16-bit video game the Professor created to relieve the anxiety caused by Knicks fandom. A mere side project, a creative burst that had to take shape for Sal, where gamers play as Kristaps Porzingis, the budding Latvian megastar for the Knicks who attempts to save Madison Square Garden from the tyranny of Phil Jackson, James Dolan, and, as a player finds out in the end, the creator himself, the fans. It’s almost perfect. Almost.

What’s missing is Musecage.

“Dark musings,” Kobe whispers, then watches Salvatore flinch, eyes darting to recalibrate his surroundings through some ancient instinct of survival. “Your inner beast, that’s what’s missing. But Musecage can bring it out.” Kobe explains that together they’ll create a video game, a complex monster of virtual art that explores the dark interconnections of the American experience and illustrates the untapped power of the NBA superhero. This is where Kobe intersects with Sal, he clarifies. Kobe was a superhero. Is.

Though the pulse of his ego drives for it, Kobe knows he can’t be the protagonist of his art. That form of self has passed. He asks Sal to consider Russell Westbrook and Timothy McVeigh. The connection might appear simple, superficial – the Oklahoma City Thunder superstar thriving in the city McVeigh terrorized – but Kobe asks him to look closer. Envision an old scoreboard hanging in a dusty Oklahoma gym. McVeigh has 168 points. Westbrook, 1.

You’ll see, Kobe assures him.

Picture Russ growing up in Long Beach: practicing for hours on a blacktop, alone. He lost his best friend recently, was there during the pickup game when he died right in front of his eyes. Undiagnosed heart condition. As he practices, the lingering emotion triggers the scene from Forrest Gump of Jenny taking Forrest by the hand, running through corn stalks to escape her abusive father. Dear God, make me a bird, so I can fly far, far-far away from here. The apartment buildings surround Russ like cornfields as he pounds the rock against pavement, rises for jumper after jumper, intoning the incantation: Dear God, make me Larry Bird, so I can fly far, far-far away from here.

But Russ doesn’t have an abusive father, just the memory of a fallen friend and a dream to play in the NBA. Besides, this is LA, this is post-Rodney King: Russ doesn’t want to be Larry Bird, he wants to beat Larry Bird. Dear God, bring me Larry Bird, so I can…And there, from the cornstalk-apartment buildings appears 1980s Larry Bird, nut-huggers, porn stache and all. The redneck-deadeye-trashtalker tells Russ he’ll take him with his right arm tied behind his back, that this city boy doesn’t know the first thing about country tough.

Russ shrugs, checks the ball: Why not?

This is a light musing, Kobe explains, the kind that led Sal to create his game about Kristaps and the Knicks, but for this project he’ll have to embrace the darkness. Kobe asks him to envision a constellation of humanity, the twisted interconnectedness of love and fear, aggression and frailty, knowledge and paranoia.

Go to northern Idaho, Ruby Ridge: the Weaver family who moved to a mountain top to extract themselves from society and prepare for the apocalypse. Isolationists. Biblicists. White Supremacists.

Picture sixteen-year-old Sara Weaver. Hear her voice. Daughter of a Green Beret and an Old Testament literalist, she’s spent her youth alone on a mountain, her younger brother Sam, Sammy, her only friend. To combat the loneliness the family climbs down from their aerie to attend Aryan Nation picnics and potlucks because even the anti-social yearn for human connection. Kobe understands this. Kobe feels this. Kobe can place himself in the cabin during the eleven-day standoff following Randy Weaver’s refusal to appear in court for selling sawed-off shotguns to an ATF informant. Kobe can hear Sara’s voice, become her diary entry. Daddy says it’s entrapment, Momma said it’s the end times. Did the Professor note the shift in tense? Does he know that Sara Weaver spent ten days in the cabin with the bloody remains of her mother after a sniper blew her head off while she held the front door open for her husband? Feel the fear of being hunted by your government.

The constellation grows. Kobe tracks it with a finger on an imaginary map. From Long Beach to Ruby Ridge and back to LA, where in a Pomona courthouse, Vernon Wayne Howell of Houston, Texas files a petition to legally change his name for publicity and businesses purposes. He’s chosen David Koresh. Kobe details the etymology of the name, how it’s meant to symbolize both the Persian King Cyrus the Great and Vernon’s alleged lineage to King David, and he asks Sal if he can envision what it’s like to feel like a king, a prophet.

Kobe can.

And it grows. A compound outside Waco, Texas where end-times philosophy is made real by an ATF raid that results in a spring-long standoff between prophet and government. Hear the crackled voice of Nancy Sinatra blaring through the speakers, playing on a loop through all hours of the night to drive Koresh and the Branch Davidians mad. Are you ready boots?

To Pendleton, New York. North of Buffalo. A shambling, lanky teen with a mop of rust-colored hair and an endearing, naïve smile. Raised in a hockey town without an ounce of athleticism, he’s called Noodle instead of Tim, cross-checked into lockers as varsity players simulate a game during passing period. The smile fades. Shears to the mop. His grandfather introduces him to guns and he finds solace in the one set of skills he discovers: steady a rifle, align the crosshairs, pull the trigger.

Kobe has often been called a paradox, described by writers as an enigma. Of course Sal is aware. But can he wrap his mind around the enigma of Kobe humanizing Timothy McVeigh? Noodle is reprimanded at military school for wearing a White Power t-shirt and awarded the Bronze Star for service in the Persian Gulf War, the best marksmen in his division; there’s more: he also earned the National Defense Service Medal, Southwest Asia Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, and the Kuwaiti Liberation Medal to go with the deep-rooted hatred for his own government in its ever expanding role as domestic and international bully.

And it grows. Following his honorable discharge, McVeigh maps his own constellation of post-military ennui. From Decker, Michigan to Kingman, Arizona, the media eventually drawing him to Waco where he sees evidence of all his fear and hate on full display, the arrogant grandeur so uniquely American. Are you ready boots? The compound engulfed in flames.

To Little Rock and Junction City. Learning to make bombs with former servicemen, the map finally leads to Oklahoma City. Kobe doesn’t need to describe the carnage. The crater of the Murrah Building. Sal has seen the images, surely knows about the Murrah Daycare Center, but has he heard McVeigh’s response when asked about the children and his impending execution? In the crudest terms, McVeigh leered, 168 to 1.

A scoreboard.

Paths align in Oklahoma City.

It’s been years since Russ arrived following two years at UCLA, but he still likes to visit the Memorial in the quiet of the morning, just after it opens, before he heads to the gym. Kobe describes The Gates of Time. Those twin bronze frames that bookend the moment of destruction and how Russ enters from the east – 9:01, the last moment of peace – and lingers between 9:03, recovery. See him among the Field of Empty Chairs, his mind running through the list of names etched in their glass base: 168-1.

Kobe unfolds his arms. He leans forward and levels a stare at Sal the way he would a teammate who hasn’t lived up to expectations. He takes a moment to revel in the discernible effect it has on Sal, his obvious discomfiture. Kobe reaches for the small remote to his right, presses a button. The conference doors slide closed. Kobe smirks and presses another. The lights go out.

Kobe’s never known how to play the role of encouraging teammate, the clap-happy, ass-slapping sort who thinks just the right amount of Let’s go!s will magically do the trick. No. Kobe motivates through fear.

You’ve got potential, he says into the black void, but you’re not there yet. Embrace the darkness. Enter Musecage. Map the constellation of basketball, gaming, McVeigh. Absorb the heinous scoreboard. Imagine it hanging in your own high school gymnasium, clock stuck at 9:03.

Visitors: 168. Home: 1.

You’re any kid in America, any kid in the world.

Controller in your hand.

This is Art.

This is History.

This is Self.

This is All.

168-1. But no longer standing for McVeigh, One becomes Russ. One becomes You. No longer representing Death, One becomes Quest. A product of America: the urban protests, the rural standoffs, the hate and fear and confusion born through identity and the longing for connection. There’s a basketball in your palm as you crisscross the country, a kaleidoscopic journey through time, and with every cross-up of propagandist, every spin move around an officer who reconsiders pulling their gun against the defenseless, and every two-fisted jam over a white nationalist hiding behind the veil of MAGA, the points begin to tilt like sand through a wide-waisted hourglass until McVeigh is reduced to the ghost of himself. The points under Home suddenly surpassing the scoreboard’s meager capabilities, and the red bulbs burst in a cascade of neon embers, painting the game with the pixelated glow of the ineffable.