Yao’s Chick by Max Apple, 2003
The magic trick:
Nudging the story toward cheesy, romantic-comedy-like plot shifts only to pull back toward reality again at the last second
Just about my favorite thing in the world is back. What’s that? you ask. The McRib?
No, no, it’s the NBA. Every Halloween like a dear friend who’s been on vacation all summer. Back in town, ready to party. So today we celebrate with a special, basketball-themed Sunday magic trick.
Max Apple specializes in stories set in Houston, so it’s not terribly surprising to see him taking a turn at chronicling the early 21st century phenomenon that was Houston Rockets center Yao Ming. Maybe more surprising is his ability to embody a 26-year-old Chinese immigrant woman as his protagonist.
That’s not the magic trick, though. I really like the way this story on at least four occasions nibbles around the edges of a predictable, romantic-comedy-like plot twists only to jump back into more realistic, static territory. There is hope that romance will find Li En, but not at the expense of the story’s believability. And that’s quite a trick on Apple’s part.
Li En waited until all the players and their friends had left the hallway. Then she continued to wait. There was no noise along the corridor, not from the Rockets’ dressing room or from the visitors’ room, at the opposite end of the hallway. She heard no sounds in the 17,000 seats in the arena above her. Finally the Rockets’ door opened, and a janitor wearing a Rockets cap backwards emerged. He pulled a large canvas cart loaded with uniforms and towels.
“Excuse me,” Li En said. “I am waiting for Yao Ming. He has not come out.”
“He leaves from the back, goes straight to the garage,” the man said. “He gets into his limo, and the driver …” He made a sign with his hand to signify speeding away. “It’s a circus every time Yao comes out, so he does all his interviews in the afternoon, just before pre-game snack.”
“Then he won’t come out here like the other players?”
“Never does,” the man said. He pushed his canvas cart down the corridor. “You better hustle. They must have locked most of the exits by now.”