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Bringing up Bebe Week 12: Lucas Nogueira Had a Cold

It’s not an excuse though, and Bebe is still doing what he can.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Chicago Bulls David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Lucas Nogueira, holding a used towel in one hand and a jersey in the other, stood in a bright corner of the locker room between two attentive but fading sportswriters who stood waiting for him to say something. But he said nothing; he had been silent during much of the evening, except now in this locker room in Toronto he seemed even more distant, staring out through the noise and sharp lighting into a medium-sized room beyond his seat where dozens of journalists stood huddled around television cameras or shuffled across the centre of the floor to the clamorous clang of cross-talk blaring from everywhere. The two writers knew, as did others who stood nearby, that it was usually a fun idea to hold a conversation with Bebe even when he was in this mood of sullen silence, a mood that had mostly been uncommon during this third month of the season, six months before his 25th birthday.

Nogueira had been working in a role that he had disliked, could not wait to finish; he was tired of all the sitting around attached to his playing with the Raptors 905, who had also been in action tonight; he was angry that the Brazilian media, the people who knew him as Bebe, was reportedly prying into his privacy, even speculating on his possible friendship with the Toronto nightclub scene; he was worried about his starring role in a full-length Raptors season which would require that he average more than eighteen minutes with a body that at this particular moment, just a few months into the season, was thought to be weak and sore and uncertain. Bebe was ill. He was the victim of an ailment so common that most people would consider it trivial. But when it gets to Bebe it can plunge him into a state of anguish, deep depression, panic, even rage. Lucas Nogueira had a cold.

Nogueira with a cold is Picasso without paint, Ferrari without fuelonly worse. For the common cold robs Bebe of that uninsurable jewel, his energy, cutting into the core of his confidence, and it affects not only his own psyche but also seems to cause a kind of psychosomatic nasal drip within dozens of people who play with him, pass to him, love him, depend on him for their own welfare and stability. A Bebe with a cold can, in a small way, send vibrations through the local basketball industry and beyond as surely as a President of the Toronto Raptors, suddenly sick, can shake the national fanbase.

Happy

For Lucas Nogueira was now involved with many things involving many peoplehis own lineup spot, his defensive numbers, his future contract, his player connections, his real-estate holdings across nations, his personal staff of unknown numberwhich is only a portion of the power he is and has come to represent. He seemed now to be also the embodiment of the fully emancipated male, perhaps the only one in Canada, the man who can do anything he wants, anything, can do it because he has money, the energy, and no apparent guilt. In an age when the very young seem to be taking over, protesting and picketing and demanding change, Lucas Nogueira survives as a national phenomenon, one of the few post-war products to withstand the test of time. He is the prospect who made the big comeback, the man who had everything on draft night, lost it, then got it back, letting nothing stand in his way, doing what few men can do: he uprooted his life, left his family, broke with everything that was familiar, learning in the process that one way to hold a position is not to hold it. Now he has the affection of Masai and Dwane and Kyle, the fine basketball produce of three generations, and still has the adoration of his teammates, the freedom of a professional athlete, he does not feel old, he makes young men feel old, makes them think that if Lucas Nogueira can do it, it can be done; not that they could do it, but it is still nice for other men to know, at twenty-five, that it can be done.

Not Happy

But now, standing in this locker room in Toronto, Bebe had a cold, and he continued to sit quietly and he seemed miles away in his private world, not even reacting when suddenly the microphones elsewhere in the room switched on to record other Raptors players.

The two sportswriters, who seemed to be in their early thirties, were ruffled and casual, their matured bodies softly molded within jeans and sweaters. They stood, legs apart, perched just within earshot. They listened to the words. Then one of them pulled out a recorder and Bebe quickly placed one hand to his chin to think and they caught sight of his hand, looked at his fingers: they were long and raw, and the knuckles protruded, being stiff from having just played. He was, as usual, interestingly dressed. He wore a T-shirt with a strange logo and a hoodie, clothes liberally cut on the outside and trimmed with flamboyant touches within; his shoes, American, seemed to be styled even on the bottom of the soles. He also wore, as everybody obviously knows, a remarkably big hair-do, one of the finest in the league, most of it under the care of a local barber; it follows him around whenever he performs. The most distinguishing thing about Nogueira's face though is his smile, bright white and wide, a smile that within seconds can go cold with anger, or glow with affection, or, as now, reflect a vague detachment that keeps sportswriters silent and distant.

Level of High Level

Lucas Nogueira stopped talking. The light on the recorder was red. Journalists passed quickly across his locker but, as usual, these two did not. It was the two in their thirties. They remained a few feet away staring at him. Through the corner of his left eye he could see him, and he knew, because it happens almost every day, that they were thinking, will he talk a lot today, or not?

High Level Result: 6 out of 10 — Just before the light turned off, Nogueira turned toward them, looked directly into their eyes waiting for the reaction he knew would come. It came and he smiled. They smiled and he was gone.

(With apologies to Gay Talese.)