Luc Longley of the Chicago Bulls showed up for work Monday night with a shoulder sling and a story.
It was a shark, he said. He had dislocated his shoulder fighting a shark off Hermosa Beach.
"About the time I was breaking his neck, I heard my shoulder pop," he said.
"He was bigger than me--and better looking," Longley said.
At which point he should have stopped and walked away.
Instead of sighing and admitting the truth.
He had separated his shoulder while bodysurfing Sunday afternoon, and would be sidelined for at least eight weeks.
The middle of the defense of the best team in basketball, gone for at least 25 games.
The Bulls took a first tiny step toward what some feel will be eventual self-destruction.
Because their center got the rag-doll treatment on a shore-break dumper.
Because their center went over the falls and into a spin cycle.
Because of an incident at a bar. A sandbar.
The shark, we would have believed.
In their official press release issued before their 88-84 victory over the Clippers, the Bulls called it a "swimming accident."
When you are in the middle of the ocean and play footsies with an octopus, that's a swimming accident.
When you backstroke into an outboard, that's a swimming accident.
Crashing on the beach in your bathing suit in the middle of your basketball season, this is a dumb-guy-from-Chicago accident.
"He got hurt doing what?" said Clipper Darrick Martin, California native and former UCLA star. "Going out there during the season, that's just something you don't do."
Michael Jordan, holding his prominent tongue, said, "It was a mistake on Luc's part, and something I'm quite sure he would not do again."
Granted, Longley is an Australian, and has been in much rougher surf, "thousands of times."
But having spent the last six years playing in Minnesota and Chicago, he admitted he may have a little ocean on the brain.
"I like salt water, and I haven't been in for a while, so . . . " he said.
After a practice here Sunday, he and teammate Jud Buechler visited the beach near Buechler's in-laws. They jumped in the water, swam out far enough so it covered most of the 7-foot-2 Longley, splashed around awhile.
"Then Luc told me he was going in, then he caught a wave, and it pulled him down," Buechler said.
Longley said the ride felt great.
"It's easy to catch waves when you're long," he said. "I'm almost like a longboard."
Then came that darn sandbar.
"I jumped on the wave, and suddenly it was gone," he said. "I got sucked up and spat on the sand. It drilled me."
When Longley straggled out of the water, Buechler knew.
"There was a figure-eight lump on his shoulder," he said. "A sure sign of a separation. I thought, oh, this is awful."
As any bodysurfer knows, it could have been worse.
"I'm lucky I didn't break my neck," Longley said.
Or, it could have been avoided.
"That area around Hermosa and Manhattan Beach has a tendency to break close to shore," said Danny Maniaci, veteran Southern California surfer giving his first-ever quote in a column about the NBA. "Before you go in there, sometimes you need to talk to a lifeguard. Or maybe another surfer."
Maniaci, by the way, has surfed 25 years, as many as five days a week, and suffered nothing worse than cuts.
"It's a relatively safe activity," he said. "It must have really been something freak."
Phil Jackson, Bull coach, had another description of it.
"When I told him what happened, his first 5-6 words to me were pretty ugly," Longley said. "None of it was printable."
Jerry Krause, Bull vice president, is also expected to have interesting description of it when he examines Longley's contract, which certainly has some stipulation banning him from bodysurfing during the season.
"It probably does," Longley said. "I'm sure I'll find out."
In the meantime, the Bulls are already learning more about their depth than they planned.
While Longley was only the team's sixth-leading scorer and third-leading rebounder, he was the reason the Bulls could remain one of basketball's few teams to play consistent man-to-man defense.
"He's our anchor out there," guard Steve Kerr said. "With him, we could always play straight-up defense. Now we may have to junk it up a bit."
That was the case during Monday's comeback victory.
Stanley Roberts and Kevin Duckworth, the Clippers' two tons of center that averaged a combined 15 points a game, scored 21 with six rebounds.
Bill Wennington, Dickey Simpkins and Jason Caffey, Longley's replacements until Robert Parish returns next week from a strained back, combined for nine points and nine rebounds.
Granted, on most nights, in a car loaded with Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman and Scottie Pippen, a center is as important as that little light above the visor.
Yet with Jordan, Rodman and Jackson in the last year of their contracts--and with Rodman admitting boredom as recently as last weekend--any distraction could be the one that starts them on the road to "It's not worth it."
Luc Longley looked out over an annoyed locker room Monday and had an idea.
He would try the shark story again.
"You don't buy it?" he said. "Here, I've got the scars to show it. They're just under my sling here."