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"The Process" by Jillian S. Benedict and Michael Cocchiarale

We talk a lot about process—not outcome—and trying to consistently take all the best information you can and consistently make good decisions. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don't . . ."

--Sam Hinkie, General Manager of the Philadelphia 76ers, 2013


Fighting his way from the concession stand, Josh saw her pass. He stopped, turned, unthinkingly called out: “Liza!”—the woman he still thought of as the future mother of his kids. Boys. Two of them. Sixers faithful all the way. She looked good, and he said so. Could he see her again? Next Saturday? There was this awesome new sports bar in Manayunk. Turned out she was quite busy—would be, in fact, for the foreseeable future. He did his best to insist.

“Josh.” She cocked a hip. “No offense, but you are the spitting image of a first-round exit.”

He winced as if struck. “It’s splitting.”


Splitting image.”

A lanky teen in an Embiid jersey preened by, saying, “Dude, you couldn’t be more wrong,” before bouncing with friends up the concourse ramp.

Liza smirked.

Josh looked down to see his Yuengling had already lost its head. “Fair enough,” he said, his words mostly trounced by the announcer’s rousing call for the crowd to stand for the anthem. “I’ll give you—”

She rejected his response with a hand. “Whatever you have you can keep.”

Someone bumped him from behind, and beer splashed upon his Nikes. Defeated, he tried to take solace in the sight of her walking away. Those crazy thin heels, that flimsy crimson blouse, the tight white leather pants. So hot. The colors, in fact, of the Heat. And still, despite this evening’s outcome, he held out hope that they might someday be a team.


Beads of sweat were leaving streaks in the white paint around his temples. Davey hadn’t anticipated the heat of the Wells Fargo Center lights. And the rage radiating off his wife certainly didn’t help.

“Of course I care, honey. I—excuse me,” he said, rising with his fellow die-hards. “What are you doing! Get after it or get gone!” he shouted as the Sixers played catch around the perimeter.

“Yeah, get after it!” A nearby dad of two mimicked, winking in Davey’s direction.

“See, he understands!” Davey threw arms in the direction of the man so hard that the faux red mullet almost slid off his head. The section cheered in agreement. “Hit me up at the half, man. We’ll get a pic for the gram.”

“Hell yeah!” The man gave his eldest an exuberant high-five.

Davey sat back down. In tears, his wife asked, “Are you serious?”

“I know it’s not easy being married to the Sixers Superfan, but we wouldn’t be able to pay for your hormones without it.” He rubbed her arm. “Let’s make a TikTok. It’ll cheer you up.”

She pulled her arm away. “Hardly feels worth it. Not like you’d be around.”

Davey watched her watch the clock run down to zero. Already down by sixteen points, catching up for the Sixers would be as difficult as this damn IVF. Or getting back into his wife’s good graces.


The sound of his father’s hand hitting his own was so loud that it drew the attention of the fans heading for the stairs for a stretch and snack.

“I can’t believe it!” his father shouted. From his seat, Knox could see the slot in his mouth where a missing premolar should be, ejected by an elbow in a pickup game of hoops during the old man’s “glory days.” It reminded Knox of Ricky Sheetz when he got his tooth knocked out during an after-recess scuffle.

He rolled his eyes. “It’s not that big a deal, Dad.”

“Not a—are you kidding? The OG superfan is a legend, and he wants to take a picture with us? It’s the epitome of cool. Can’t wait to tell the boys.” He stared into his phone, not noticing how his son winced at his embarrassing use of slang.

Knox pulled the plate of nachos off of his father’s lap to avoid spillage. Things had been different when his father first brought him and his brother Michael before the pandemic. It was a fun family outing, picturesque in its wholesomeness. After two years of watching reruns of games from afar, however, his father seemed to have forgotten how to behave.

“Suck my farts!” his father shouted as the second half began.

Knox snapped back to reality in time to see the Heat’s point guard bounce one off the side of the backboard. His father went berserk, fumbling his beer into the aisle after making a particularly rude gesture in mockery of the miss. At this rate, Knox thought, pulling down the brim of his cap, he’d have to drive them home.


Sasha’s stomach dropped through her seat as the ball clunked off the rim. “It’s okay,” she said, clapping politely. “We still have time.”

Anton looked at her. “You’re more optimistic than me, baby girl.”

“I just think we should give them the benefit of the clock. Miracles do happen.”

And she believed that. At least, she wanted to. It felt so good to be back watching sports in real time again. She was already dreading the long, lonely summer. What was she going to do? Watch baseball while eating overstuffed, juice-leaking brats? No way. Basketball season couldn’t be coming to a close already! The Sixers could still turn it around and win it all. They had before, although not in many years. There was Wilt in ’67. Dr. J. and Moses in ’83, over the Showtime Lakers no less. And in 2001, with Iverson—The Answer—well, second place was still a tremendous achievement.

“It’s not all about miracles, you know. It’s about hard work…”

Sasha didn’t know if Anton was being sarcastic as usual or sincere, so she ignored him. Besides, it’s not like she wasn’t trying. Intimacy was a process. It took time, not unlike confidence in the home team’s ability to get the job done. It could be frustrating, downright discouraging, but that’s what made it all worthwhile in the end. Anton of all people should get that. It’s not like he was sinking emotional baskets left and right.

“I know you think I’m crazy,” she said, patting his knee, “but we’re due for a championship. It’s the law of large numbers or statistics or whatever. We’ve been losing for so long, something’s got to give. Right?”

“I suppose.”

She locked eyes with him. “It’s called believing,” she said, leaning over to kiss him on the temple.


He stepped back to the charity stripe, received the bounce pass from the referee. The first attempt had been an air ball. Behind the stanchion, fans turned rabid. Merciless. Online, they’d been going on about his game. His free throw troubles. His three-point percentage. His inept passing. His Swiss cheese D. Someone said something nasty about the Insta babe he’d dated for a week. He dribbled three times, bent his knees, saw a cut out of his face bouncing directly in his line of vision. After all, the stakes were mighty high. If he missed this second shot, the fans would win some shitty fast food. His release was flawed, and the ball grazed the front of the rim. The fans went mad. It was as if they’d won it all. Laughing, he backpedaled down the court. Let them have their victory feast. All that mattered was taking the home team down.


Even before the Beard jab stepped and shot a brick, it slipped out—effortlessly, as if it had come from his father’s mouth. Cameron winced, knowing what came next.

What did you just say?” His mother towered over him, eyes brighter than the white trim of her Sixers jersey.

His father turned, soft pretzel crumbs still in his beard.

“Did you hear what your son just said?”

Cameron pulled the neck of his sweatshirt over his nose as his mom cupped her hands around her mouth.

His father tried to hide his smile. “Oh no,” he said, “whatever shall we do?”

“He’s only fourteen.”

“He’s becoming a man!”

Relief flooded Cameron. Dependable Dad.

His mother spat, “That’s it? He just gets a pass? What about next time? What about shit or damn or twat!”

“Calm down.”

“You did not just tell me to calm down!” she shouted, before letting out a streak of profanity so startling, nearby parents kept their children’s ears covered long after the security guard ushered Cameron and his parents out of the arena.


Their power forward went down. Blow to the head. Time was called, and referees gathered at the monitor. Miami’s coach approached, foaming at the mouth. He seemed completely unhinged. Flagrant one? Two? Was one of the game’s brightest stars going to get tossed?

Slouched in a seat a friend couldn’t use, Octavius thought of all the blows he’d received in recent months. Elsewhere, striding, head and shoulders bobbing in the distance, was the MVP Octavius, the one who always won when it mattered. The one who would have not only been able to get that Boeing job, but also would have been able to keep it. To rise in the ranks.

Players milled around the court, waiting for the verdict. The sad fact was he did not ask to be an Octavius. Normal people made lists, tried to find common ground. They considered current trends. His parents must have been seriously impaired. Drink, drugs, a fetish for ancient Rome. What the hell was with them?

My God, if his parents were so keen on having an emperor, why not Julius? As Philly fans, wasn’t that the most obvious choice in the world? How different school would have been. Kids would have taken to calling him The Doctor. Dr. J. He would have cultivated this mystique, this air of grace and cool when the heat was on. He saw himself soaring now, pedaling his feet, extending his arm for a highlight reel dunk. Cameras flashing. The crowd going wild.

Quickly—too quickly—he came back down to earth, reality as painful as a high ankle sprain. The truth was, whatever his name, school would still have been a disaster. Because there were winners and losers and although the NBA probably was not fixed, life almost surely was. When alone—when free from all the bullies—he could be man enough to accept this unfortunate truth.

Perhaps later, if it was not too late, he’d call his parents and confront them about the name at last. Perhaps it would free him from the him he was right now. Through some miracle or another, he could be if not that MVP self then at least a key player with some useful, specialized skill. He nodded, conjuring an image of himself, feet planted just outside the restricted circle, smiling, stone still, waiting for the blow that would come with the charge.


Danny, Matt’s on-again off-again friend since first grade, said, “Grief is a process.”

“I’m going to ask you kindly to fuck your motherfucking process.”

Danny shrugged. “Hey, it’s not mine. It’s that one psychologist. Keebler something?”

“What? The elf?”


“You know—the stupid cookie guy.”

“No, no, it’s Kubler. That’s right. Kubler…Ross!”

At the light, Matt asked, “What the hell were we talking about?”

“Sara. Your daughter’s not dead, but losing custody has got to be the next worse thing. There are steps you need to go through in order to heal.”

“I’ll buy your beers if you’ll shut the hell up.”

“See. That’s one of them—the steps. Bargaining.”


“And there’s Anger.”

“Does it count if it’s aimed entirely at you?”

They pulled into Tom & Jerry’s for their traditional post-game nightcap. Inside, it was loud, Blaze of Glory just starting their second set. Matt drank in silence, brooding over the sad

state of affairs. He was embarrassed by how many Bon Jovi lyrics came so readily to his lips.

“Don’t worry, bro,” Danny screamed in his ear. “We’ll get ’em next year.”

“Yes—of course.” Matt downed his beer, unable to keep from thinking about The Process—the bloated contracts, the piss-poor fits, the top picks who couldn’t shoot to save their lives. “Christ,” he shouted, “they could have done better by drafting out of a hat!”

“Now you’re back at anger. Think that means you lose your turn.”

On stage, the singer was living on a major off-key prayer. Still, Tommy and Gina were going to make it.

“Let’s do shots,” Danny screamed.

Shots. Matt had taken a few and missed them all quite badly. Now, all he had to look forward to was a weekend with his daughter twice a month.


At the kitchen table, Josh poured another. Why did his steak look so suddenly sickly in its roll? He took a bite—cheesy, greasy glue. Checked his messages. No Liza. No surprise. Clicked game highlights on the phone: a pretty floater here, a poster dunk there. A role player sealing the win with a parking lot trey, adding insult to injury by making goggles with fingers and thumbs all the way down the court.

Josh swiped greasy lips with a sleeve. Life was sad—the loss of Liza was ample proof of that. But, ever the optimist, he was determined to find solace once again. He sat back, breathed in and out, in and out. Closed his eyes, conjured up a celebration: shower of confetti, tears of joy, the foamy spray of champagne. In the end, someone was going to have what it took to win the whole damn thing. To be number one. And that, he allowed, would have to be more than enough.

Jillian S. Benedict is a creative writer living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In her free time she enjoys yoga, reading, and listening to music while people watching from her stoop. Her work can be found in Feels Blind Literary, Schuylkill Valley Journal, and on instagram @writerwithoutacause.

Michael Cocchiarale's work has appeared in online journals such as Fictive Dream, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, South Florida Poetry Journal, The Disappointed Housewife, and Roi Fainéant.

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