“Moses Abebe continues to dominate headlines as well as opponents after his performance in game four of the NBA championship, making him the only player ever to complete two full seasons with an unprecedented one hundred percent completion percentage. But some do not agree with the native Somalian’s spotless record, saying that he might be vamping — a method of genetic modification that enables users to increase brain efficiency. Commissioner Stern said if Abebe is found guilty of the accusations, he would be subject to disciplinary action…”
“The investigation on Moses Abebe was concluded today when doctors cleared the two-time NBA Champion of all charges related to vamping. However, the NBA is continuing to investigate, stating, ‘despite Abebe’s talent and work ethic, no player has ever maintained such a high completion percentage for so long.’ The young star declined to comment…”
Never Miss: Moses Abebe is a Machine
By: Richard Gregory
June 1, 2052
The practice building was just outside of D.C. — Washington’s new state-of-the-art facility where Abebe and I had arranged to meet. Fresh off a win in the Conference Finals and with less than a week until his third consecutive Championship appearance, it was a rare day off for the 23 year old superstar, and the only time that worked for us to get together.
I pulled in at the gate entrance and left my car to a parking attendant out front — a labeled copy unit, engineered to look like an attractive young female. It’s ironic, actually. Even the low level copies are programmed with emotions now. Hers were clearly getting the best of her; she barely even looked at me when I handed her the keys.
After double checking that my lens-phone was recording, I headed inside. I didn’t want to miss anything.
Moses was waiting in the lobby, dribbling lazy figure eights between his legs by rote. There was a glaring absence of the trappings I’d grown accustomed to in sports reporting: headphones, shooting sleeves, fancy branding. Not for Moses. Just shoes, shorts, and a shirt, all of which looked as if though he had dug them out of his closet and none of which were branded.
But the most surprising thing about him was his height. On the team’s official roster he’s listed as six four, but in reality he’s no more five foot ten, if that. Being able to look an NBA player in the eyes without craning your neck is a rare treat.
“Moses,” I said, extending my hand. “Good to meet you.”
He cradled the ball with one arm and smiled broadly — a white slice of moon against his midnight skin. “Richard Gregory,” he said. “It is nice to meet you as well.”
We shook hands. Most players enjoy the attention of a sports interview, but Abebe seemed almost awkward, nodding curtly.
“You got to sleep in today, huh?” I joked.
“Yes,” he said. I think he thought I was being serious.
I gave the lobby a quick scan and nodded approvingly. “I haven’t been out here yet,” I said. “This is nice.”
“Come,” Abebe said. “I will show you around.”
Three dimensional mock-ups can’t compare with the immersive experience that is Washington’s new practice facility. Not when you’re walking beneath cathedrallike ceilings, basketball courts on either side — empty, expansive. Everything is bigger, wider, built to accommodate the physically gifted.
Moses wasn’t an initiator when it came to conversation, though he was quick to respond to every question I asked. Still, the burden was on me to keep a dialogue going. I kept things light to start.
“What time did you show up this morning?” I asked.
“On the team we have a game,” he said. “Who can show up the earliest. If I tell you what time, the others will read about it and try to beat me.”
“Your secrets are safe with me,” I said. I couldn’t help it.
He gave a kind of snort. “Because you want to know if I have been vamping. You do not believe that I could make so many shots and never miss.”
I shrugged it off, a little taken aback by his directness. “I just want to get to know you, man.”
He must have read my expression though because he said, “And I will be happy to answer whatever questions you might have.”
I nodded, grinning a little. We kept walking.
Washington’s facility represents the future of athletic training. I saw mirrorscreens displaying exercises to target specific muscle groups, based on a given week’s game plan, holo courts programmed to mimic opposing players, and automatically restocking lockers — “stockers” Moses called them. He showed me the locker rooms, along with the swimming pool and saunas — for recovery training and aerobic exercises. We walked through the film rooms, big as movie theaters, footage from their early season losses playing on repeat. And finally we came to the gym, a three story tower with every type of machine you could imagine. Some sections — focused on team-specific strategy — were labeled off limits. Camo-blends had been installed, blurring the surroundings whenever I glanced in the direction of the restricted areas.
But no matter what we saw during our tour, it all seemed lost on Moses. He gestured vaguely to equipment I knew cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. And I wasn’t even sure if he knew what some of the things were. It almost seemed like he was bored.
So I prompted him, asking if he wanted to shoot. He nodded, and I motioned for him to lead the way.
We headed for the courts.
Moses took one hundred and twenty three shots on the practice court — I counted.
He never missed. Not once.
Watching him up close was like watching a berserker, exacting his revenge on every person who ever told him he wasn’t good enough to play. He breathed in and out in short bursts through his nose, slipping inside, then cutting out for the fade away, splashing the net with a ladylike whisper. Hunting down the ball after the bounce and sticking to the outside this time, nailing the three. Dribbling to the top of the arc, he jerked a head fake and then lofted it over the shoulder for a skyhook, dead on. More than once I caught myself breathing hard, my heart beating fast just watching him, almost nervous.
But no matter how graceful his performance, there was only one thing I could think: there’s no way the guy isn’t vamping. He’s dodged a few investigations, maybe paid the doctors off to come out and say he’s clean, but no human makes one hundred and twenty three shots in a row. At that point you’re either vamping something or straight up inhuman.
When he finally finished, I was shaking my head, smiling. In some ways, it was impressive, but only in the same way Barry Bonds was during his prime, or Lance Armstrong. Only until you find out the rest of the story.
“Moses,” I said, walking over. “I’ve never seen anything like that.”
He nodded, hardly acknowledging me. “All right,” he said. “You are here for an interview.”
I followed him off the court and down the hallway.
The players’ lounge was a sprawling expanse of wealth and entertainment — an adult’s play room.
Easy chairs, TV’s, a fully stocked arcade, with the latest RPG motion capture pods. The walls were all mirrorscreens, which came to life when we walked past. After a glance, I realized it projected my reflection to be about a foot taller than reality, and my frustratingly crooked nose was somehow straight again — a psychological confidence booster, I imagine.
There was a full-length bar at one end, shrouded in the shadows. The menu kicked on as we walked towards a booth at the far end of the room. I hunkered in, Moses opposite me, staring out the window, which must have recognized his face because it switched to show a heavy thunderstorm in the distance, rain spattering the window.
“You like the rain?” I asked, looking over the virtual menu floating in front of me.
“Yes,” he said. “Very much.”
I ordered a salad — something light so I could talk. Moses had a protein shake and fish, though he hardly touched either throughout our interview.
The remainder of our interview went as follows, as best as I can remember.
Richard Gregory (RG)
“So you grew up in Somalia,” I asked. “What was it like as a child in one of the most dangerous places in the world?”
Moses Abebe (MA)
“Every day was a fight for survival. I saw terrible things. My heart breaks for those still there.”
“Did you ever have dreams of one day playing in the NBA?”
“No. I never imagined this. I only hoped that I might be able to help those around me.”
“Expand on that. How did Moses Abebe get so good at basketball?”
“There are things you cannot control. I will never be the tallest or the fastest, but what I can control, I work at. So I become the quickest, the most accurate.”
“Tell me about how you were discovered.”
“My friends and I would travel to Mogadishu, to play on the street courts against the bots. One day, a white man came to watch us. When the game was over, he asked me to continue taking shots. I showed him that I could shoot very well, that I could shoot even more accurately than the bots. At first he stood to the side and watched, smiling, but very soon he was watching me closely with his arms crossed. Then he said he was a recruiter, and asked if I would consider flying with him to America. I agreed, and here I am.”
“Do you like it in D.C.? Playing for the Wizards?”
“It is a great city, and the team has been good to me. Everything is nicer in America, but the people do not understand.”
“What do you mean?”
“In America, you have everything. Whatever you want, within an arm’s reach. In Somalia, you have to fight. Every day, you must fight. Many die, all the time. No one seems to understand.”
“Do you have family back home?”
“I brought my mother and sister here with me. There were many issues with visas and passports. The reporters and those with microphones, they shove them in my face and ask me about the records and the championships. No one has ever asked me about my family.”
“You would rather reporters ask you about your family?”
“I only think it is wrong that so many are so concerned about money when people are dying. Basketball is not about the records. Basketball is not about wins. Basketball is not about championships. Not for me. For me, basketball is about protection, survival, you see? Everything I do, I do for my mother and sister, and those still in Somalia.”
“Then why are you here on your day off? You already have two championships. I’m sure you have enough money to buy Mogadishu. Moses, if you keep playing this way, you could become the highest scoring player of all time. You have a very real shot at winning more championships than anyone else in the history of the game. You can’t tell me that doesn’t appeal to you.”
“My Father’s last words to me were, ‘Moses: Lead us into the Promised Land.’ I care only to fulfill his dying wish.”
“Seems like your father had a profound impact on your life. Do you mind me asking how he died?”
“He was killed. Our village was attacked and he died defending us. I was able to escape with my mother and sister, but he was killed.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. He didn’t teach you basketball?”
“You’ve gone through multiple investigations now to determine whether or not you’ve ever vamped. Both investigations concluded that you’re clean, but obviously we’re still asking questions, so I’ve got to ask you face to face: have you ever vamped?”
“And you’ve never gone through any sort of genetic modification?”
“How can you expect people to believe that when you’ve somehow made every shot you’ve ever taken? I just watched you take one hundred and twenty three shots and you never missed a single one. And that was practice. How do you justify that?”
“Every shot I take is legitimate, every sho—”
“But you can understand how someone might think it’s not, right? You can understand that people see you as a kid who needed to get out, who would do anything to get away, and instead of just telling me that you’ve never cheated, you feed me a story about how basketball is about survival.”
“You think I am a cheater.”
“How else do you explain it?”
“People assume my accomplishments are a result of dominance. But the truth is that when I make a three point shot, the only voice I hear is that of my father. The only faces I see are those of my mother and sister.”
“You’re really sticking to that, huh?”
“I can only tell you the truth.”
“Well, I guess I don’t have anything else. Moses, thank you for your time.”
“Thank you, Richard.”
He walked me out, down huge hallways and back into the lobby where he thanked me for my time.
I stood there motionless, my eyes slipping over the creases of his smile. “Come on, man,” I said, leaning in. “I know you’re running something. Just admit it.”
“Running something?” he said, as if he didn’t know what it meant.
“Vamping,” I said. “No one makes—”
But I didn’t have time to finish. He lashed out at me. Piston powerful. Python fast. I felt his fist connect with my eye and a shock of pain ripped through my cheek. I stumbled backwards, falling to the ground. At the same instant, I felt my lens-phone shatter, tiny glass shards sprinkling across the floor.
When I opened my eyes, something warm was trickling down my cheek. I patted my face, and my fingertips came away bloody. Moses was standing over me, the skin on his hand torn. And underneath, metal.
“What are you?” I breathed.
“I suppose there is no turning back now,” he said, stepping forward, crushing the shards of my lens-phone underfoot. “I am a copy unit.”
I stared at him, stunned, half scared he was going to strike again. My cheek was throbbing.
“Many years ago,” he said, kneeling beside me. “A man — my ‘father’ — stole me from a reseller on the streets of Mogadishu. As my programming is set to include a capacity for emotion, I found it only natural to protect his wife and daughter — my mother and sister — even after he died.”
“But you were cleared in a medical investigation,” I said.
“The doctors are, of course, aware of my situation,” he said.
“Then why haven’t they said anything?”
“Because I pay them well,” Moses said. “And they would rather that no harm come to them.”
“You’re not even human!” I hissed. “You shouldn’t even be in the league!”
He nodded. “Which is why I need you, Richard.”
“What do you mean?”
“The only reason my mother and sister are here now is because of the fame of Moses Abebe. If I was exposed, their visas would come under scrutiny, and they would almost certainly be deported. Could you live with that, Richard?”
My mouth hung open. I struggled for words, but none came.
“But fortune favors the famous. If I continue never to miss, I remain in my current position, and I can continue to ensure they are kept safe. Here. In America.”
“So what happens if I don’t write anything?” I asked, my mind racing.
“I think you will,” he said, nodding to my cheek. I swallowed. How many others had suffered the same thing? How many doctors, threatened and paid to keep quiet? And no one said a word. I was guessing he hadn’t yet threatened anyone who actually cared.
“I am sorry about your lens-phone,” he said, hauling upright. “My emotional programming sometimes overcomes me. Though, for obvious reasons I could not have you recording this conversation. I will ensure you receive a new one. Otherwise, can I trust you?”
He held out his hand.
I stared at it, then looked him in the eye, two thoughts running through my head simultaneously: the biggest scandal in the history of the NBA revealed, or two human lives kept safe, and a boatload of cash to keep quiet. It was the hardest decision I had ever had to make.
So lying about it came naturally.
“Yes,” I said. “You can trust me.”