Coach Andrew Grady's life has become rather trivial, mostly centered on leading high school gym classes and completing paperwork. He's in his forties, and though he still runs every morning, time has not been kind to him. He's slowly given up the idea of finding love, ever since his ex-husband dumped him in the school parking lot years before.
Everything changes when Jamal Knight, basketball star extraordinaire, returns to his high school to give an inspirational talk to a new cohort of students. Coach Grady still remembers Jamal as the awkward kid who sometimes tripped over his own feet, who was too nervous to speak, and who struggled to live with his alcoholic mother. Now that he's reached the Big Leagues, he's surprised that Jamal wants to grace this run-down school's hallways. But Jamal does, and he's become a stunning young man of almost thirty since the last time the two met.
Coach Grady gets another surprise when Jamal tells him he's gay, and he'd like to take the opportunity tonight to come out. When Jamal sets his gaze on Grady after the whole evening is over, Grady has yet another decision to make: to be out in the public eye with Jamal, or bury himself in paperwork once again.
Jamal didn't argue. He gestured with his long arms once again at the basket. Though Grady knew he was nowhere near ready to even pretend to face off with Jamal Knight, MVP, he got into position. When he shot, he was surprised to watch as the basketball went into the hoop. Once again, had there been a net, it would have swished.
"Ah, well done. I've learned from the master."
"I don't think you have." Grady grabbed the ball once again before it rolled away. "Or if you have learned anything from me, I'd like to help you unlearn all my bad habits."
Jamal took the ball from Grady. He shot and missed. They continued to go back and forth, shooting and winning, shooting and missing, until Grady despised the silence.
"Why didn't you say anything?" Grady held the ball in front of him, no longer willing to play. "I thought you were going to come out?"
"I wanted to. I really did."
"But my media deals. But the team. But the students." Jamal rolled his eyes. From the way in which he mimicked the last sentence, Mr. Damon had clearly said something.
"You told him?"
"I ... well, he heard me mention some things when I was practicing. And he gave me a good stern talking to."
"Ugh." Grady could hear the low tones of Mr. Damon, thinking he was being kind when he was really being patronizing, telling Jamal something about needing money for the school, far more than Jamal probably needed money. Or something else equally dumb. "I'm sorry."
"It's fine. I think he was right, though."
"Not about the sponsorships or even about discouraging other boys on the team, those who were straight, to feel inferior. No, that was just homophobic clap-trap." Jamal held his hands out for the ball, which Grady reluctantly gave him. "But he said something about keeping my private life private, and my public life public."
"Stay in the closet, in other words."
"Right. But I saw it differently for the first time. Probably because of you."
"And that's what I'm worried about. I shouldn't be --"
"Don't be sorry. You were right, in a way."
The woosh of the basketball sounded as it soared through the air. Grady said nothing in response, only thought of younger Jamal, playing out here like this, as he and Marty slunk to his car. They were not out, no. But they were not ashamed.
And that seemed to be what Jamal focused on. He wanted to be gay, but maybe he didn't have to announce it. "I keep making it seem like I'm different. That I'm special. But you told me a long time ago that no one on the team is special. It's why you never bothered with MVPs. It defied the logic of teamwork, or something like that."
Grady nodded slowly. He had said something like that, and he still said it now in his gym class when someone's head got too big. It was true, he still stood by that advice, but he was still plagued by all the unspoken parts of his past and present.
Jamal continued. "Well, I thought, what if I just pretend that I'm not? Not that I'm not gay, but that I'm just a regular guy, one who grew up wanting two things more than anything in life, and now he has them. Isn't that good? Can't I just accept that?"
"Are you happy?" Grady asked. "With both of them?"
"More or less." Jamal threw the ball again. It missed. Neither one of them went to pick it up. "I have the career. I know who I am. I should accept that being gay is normal instead of wanting it to make me different, you know? So that's what I'll do."
"And that will make you happy?"
Jamal caught Grady's gaze under the low lights. "I think so. But I miss the mark on other things, too."