On beautiful days like these - 65 and clear skies - Rip did not mind walking a mile to his tailor. Walking allowed for him to rid his mind of the injury concerns that plagued his first season in Chicago and the pressure of being the final piece to a championship puzzle. Bulls fan who noticed Rip walking alone down the street would react differently. Some would ignore him all together as if to say, 'you aren't shit if you aren't playing.' Others would slyly pull out their iPhones and snap pictures. Some would be bold enough to ask for an autograph or to pose for a photo. Rip accommodated all requests, always with a smile. He enjoyed the banter and good-natured inquiries about his mask but withdrew when the conversation took its predictable turn.
"When are you coming back?" someone would inevitably ask.
"I don't know. I just don't know. Hopefully soon."
Truth be told, no one was more disappointed than Rip himself. He'd recommitted himself to basketball after spearheading a team-wide insurrection of then-Pistons coach John Kuester. Were his injuries the result of his past transgressions? Perhaps karma rearing its ugly head? He sure hoped not.
Rip escaped the mob as quick as he came and continued on to his favorite tailor's shop [name retracted]. He trusted Christopher for more than just fashion advice. Christopher to him was an honorable man with his best interests in mind. He valued Rip's friendship as much as his wallet and would occasionally delve into more personal matters such as Rip's marriage or his mental health. These conversations, albeit brief, were revealing and only strengthened the bond between the two. Christopher was Rip's only acquaintance allowed to call him Richard.
Rip swung open the door only to find Christopher, arms already perched on the counter. He had a sixth sense when it came to Rip's arrival.
"Richard! So great to see you."
"Good to see you too, my man."
"I read in the papers that you're finally able to lift you arm above you shoulder."
"Yeah, well I've been able to do that. We just have to make it look like I'm making progress. As of now, I'm still a game-time-decision."
Christopher knew what game-time decision meant.
"I have just the thing," he said as he went scampering to the back.
Christopher came out with a grey suit, already tailored to Rip's exact measurements.
"This suit exudes confidence and class. It speaks to your ability, even at an advanced age, to remain fit and sexy. People will see you in this suit and think, 'That's a man who isn't letting his injury get him down. He'll be back in no time, better than ever! Ready to score all the baskets!'"
"Ok. I'll try it on."
"Stunning. Absolutely stunning."
"I'm not sure," Rip said with some hesitation. He felt very uncomfortable challenging Christopher's opinion. "It's not exactly what I'm looking for, ya know?"
"Sure. What are you trying to convey?"
"I'm trying to be on some High School Reunion shit. Like, 'Look at me Now'-type shit. We're playing Detroit on Friday. That's a big one for me. I spent seven years there and won a championship. I want to show them how good I'm doing now. Like I don't need them. I'm good, ya feel me?"
"I have just the thing."
Christopher rushed into the back for a second time and came out with another suit, this time in black.
"This suit says, 'You can't tell me nothin'.' This is a suit typically reserved for red-carpet events. With this, you'll be the sharpest-dressed man in the room! Make sure to keep that wedding ring on! You will be the envy of Detroit and might even be offered the mayoral position on the spot. Bow ties are all the rage right now!"
"Hell yeah. Alright. I'ma get into this."
"Yep. This is it right here."
Rip pulled out his American Express black card and handed it to Christopher. He continued to look at himself in the mirror, admiring the fit. He had never looked this good in his life, he thought. Tayshaun Prince would surely be jealous of his situation. And the bow tie! Christopher really was a genius. Never in a million years would Rip have thought to wear a bow tie on the sideline and it absolutely worked. He was thankful for this suit. He was thankful for Christopher and his good fortune. He couldn't wait to bring it home and show his wife.
Christopher approached Rip cautiously. " Umm, Richard. There's a problem."
"What is it?"
"Your credit card. It's...it's been declined."
"That can't be right."
"I thought the same thing. I tried multiple times and they all came back declined."
"Shit. Let me call these people up."
Rip spoke for an hour with a representative of American Express. She assured him they would resolve his problem, but there had been problems with many accounts nationwide. They were working on it, she promised in broken English. She gave him no guarantee as to when he would be able to use his card.
Rip knew what this meant. No suit, at least not today. "I don't know what to do, Christopher. I have no means of purchasing a suit for the game."
Christopher thought for a second and smiled. "Don't you see, Richard? This is a sign."
Rip looked at him bewildered.
"It's a sign. You must return to play against your former team on Friday."
"But it's been so long. I can't do this."
"You can, Richard. You can. Believe in yourself and you will make all the baskets!"
He knew Christopher was right. This was something he had to do. He had to prove he could play to the city of Chicago, his teammates, and most of all, himself. At that moment, the pain in his shoulder temporarily subsided. He thought of the pigeons and the current Bulls defense. And it dawned on him, he was home. Different city, but home nonetheless.
"I'll be here Sunday," Christopher reminded him. "Just in case."