Return to the city of angels
It felt great to be back in the city he considered to be his second home. Finally back to the sunshine and good weather in the middle of March after the never ending rain and freezing cold in Luxembourg. It has been a long day, a 12 hours flight with a 2,5 hours stopover in Switzerland…all in all, Hans had just arrived after an 18 hours journey, and adding to this came the time difference of a whopping 9 hours. The only thing he wanted to do now was order some Chinese food, take a shower, maybe watch a movie and go to sleep.
But first, he was inspecting the house, since he hasn't been here for about 6 months. Hans was a former NBA superstar, who had to end his career at the age of 32 due to a devastating knee injury. After 13 seasons, he was a 12x All Star, 6x All NBA First Team, 1x Regular Season MVP, and he was holding pretty much every record concerning Points, Assists, Steals and games played for his former franchise. Also in college, he was pretty successful, even if he only spent two years there. In his second year, he lead his team to the NCAA championship and was voted MOP (Most Outstanding player) of the Final Four, and also most valuable player of the regular season. He was considered being one of the top two European players of all time and a year ago, he was voted on position 24 on a list of the best players of all time. He was denied a higher rank because he stayed all his career, even though he had many offers from the big franchises, with the Orlando Magic. Since the Florida franchise was one of the smaller markets, he never got the same attention like Kobe Bryant, Lebron James or Shaquille O'Neal. And yet, he was more than happy and grateful for the career he had, even though he never managed to win an NBA championship.
After his career, he officially moved to LA, because he took over a production company. It firstly happened out of tax reasons, but meanwhile, his company made its way to being the most successful one when it came to movie production, so that nowadays, a lot of Hollywood's well known stars were part of his American circle of friends. Part of this circle where the likes of Will Smith, Brad Pitt, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert Downey Jr, Leonardo Di Caprio or Justin Timberlake. He also was one of the co-founders of one of the biggest internet companies in the world, and he made a lot of money when he sold his shares a couple of years ago.
Apart from the financial reasons, he just liked California better than Florida. The dry heat, the people, the cities, the beach, the Californian way of living…he still loved the city of Orlando and its people, he still owned a house there, but you have to say that he only spend 1-2 weeks a year in Disneytown. He spent the last 6 months in his homeland Luxembourg, working hard in rehab to strengthen his knee again. According to his doctors, he really managed to make a full recovery, and once this information got out, several title candidats started offering him contracts again to strengthen their roster for the upcoming playoffs. Hans knew though that he was mentally done with his career, and more importantly, he couldn't see himself ever wear a different jersey than the Orlando Magic one. The last offer he got came from the Golden State Warriors, the dominant team of the last 4 seasons, and had he signed that contract, it would have been almost certain that he would finally be able to get his ring. But deep inside, he knew that it just wouldn't feel right, and that's why, after a couple of days, he politely declined the offer.
After ordering his dinner for 7pm, he had about 90 minutes left before the delivery boy would knock at the door. He decided to take a bath instead of showering, and the plan was to finish the book he started to read during the flight, but in the end, he just enjoyed closing his eyes for a bit and thinking back at how lucky he was in younger years and how he became one of the richest people on this planet.
When he turned 16, he came to the States and joined a small high school in Orange County, California. On one side, to play basketball of course, on the other side, because his relationship with his parents wasn't the best. There was nobody to blame but himself, he was just a bit difficult as a young teenager. Being in a foreign country, thousands of miles away from home, something happened what couldn't be expected. He matured into a responsible young man and at the same time, his basketball talents seemed to explode. In the blink of an eye, he developed into a national phenomenon and he was considered to be one of the most talented young players worldwide. What changed his life forever though was the encounter of two young nerds in his junior year, the complete outsiders of his school.
Being a basketball player provided a lot of privileges. All of his teachers were eager to provide him the best grades without having to work too hard in the classroom. So, when it came down to a group project, he got placed together with the class geniuses. Being a 17 year old basketball star for his school, he was living in a nice house at the beach, provided by a former student who grew up to become a multi-millionaire. So he invited his 2 classmates for Thursday evening to work together on their project. When they rang at his door 3 days later, it appeared that the two of them had already finished all the work and only wanted to go over the couple of sentences he would have to say during the presentation next Monday…which he found very thoughtful of them.
The first thing that Hans noticed about them was how shy they were in his presence. He later found out that this was due to the constant mobbing they had to endure almost every day in school.
But having a lot of free time to their disposal now, Hans spontaneously asked them if they would like to stay for a while and play some video games, more precisely Borderlands, a first person shooter that could be played by up to four players in a split screen mode. In the beginning, the nerds were hesitating a bit, but in the end they agreed, and what happened over the next 3 hours left Hans with mixed feelings. Happy to see how Larry and Sergej started to open up, relax and become more comfortable in his presence, but he was also sad to know that these two so-called nerds were just like every other regular teen, they just never had the opportunity to be themselves, only because they weren't into the usual things like alcohol, party, sports and cars.
The next day was one of the rare occasions where Hans found the time to eat in the school canteen, and as soon as he entered the room, he could see what was going on. Larry and Sergej were sitting on their usual table in the corner, close by was a group of other students, consisting of the typical Californian jerks. Fancy clothes, rich parents, pretty girls you had to impress…always looking for an easy victim they could torture.
Once Hans got his tray with the food (for which he thanked the lady working behind the counter with a big smile, which seemed to be pretty unusual giving her happy face), he made his way to the corner table, just in time as it seemed.
"Now tell me, since when are such retards allowed to eat here? Shouldn't you be sitting outside with the…"
"Hey, what's up guys? Do you mind if I join you?" Hans interrupted the leader of the group. "We still have to discuss a couple of things about our group project". This was a straight lie, as their work couldn't get any more perfect.
„Hey, asshole, in case you didn't notice, but I was talking to this stupid bobble heads." Wow, either this bully was completely ignorant or just straight out stupid…
"Oh sorry, I didn't notice. But just go on, keep talking. I won't interrupt you anymore. Unless you're trying to harass my two friends here, then we might have a problem" he added in a threatening tone.
„Come on Chad, just let us leave" one of the girls tried to bring him to reason.
„Why? You think I'm scared, just because these stupid retards have enough people together for their threesome now?" he replied with an evil grin.
That's when the girl whispered a few words into Chad's ear (what kind of stupid name is that anyway?), and in the blink of an eye, Chad's arrogance was replaced by complete panic. Unlike the bully, the girl knew exactly who Hans was, and even if Chad didn't seem to be the brightest student of the school, he was pretty well aware of the fact that it would be suicidal to start a feud with the captain of the basketball team.
Trying to avoid losing all his dignity, he spat a couple of words towards Hans before he turned around and left with the rest of his group.
"Well well, there he goes. And I already thought we could make a couple of new friends" Hans said with a big grin in his face.
"Thank you. I was sure our lunch would be over again before it even started…"
„Oh, this happened already before?"
„Only like 4 times a week"
„If it's a good week"
"Man, I had no clue. Guess we'll have to eat together more often then. But I don't think they gonna bother you again. Something else, it may be a bit spontaneous, but you already have plans for tonight?"
„Not really no, maybe watch a movie or something, why?"
„We still have to finish our Borderlands session. To be honest, I really loved playing with you guys, so I thought we might keep it going?"
"Are you serious about this? There's no party you have to go to? Or maybe organize one to mock the nerds in front of everyone else?"
"Whoa, guys, take it easy…you really must have been through a lot. But don't worry, we have practice tomorrow and a game on Sunday, so we're not even allowed to go out and drink. I mean, come on, I really like you boys and I thought it could be cool. Let's just say 7pm at my place? I'll organize food and snacks, and you'll bring the drinks. No alcohol though, at least not for me.
„Ok, why not…?" Larry still wasn't convinced, but Hans could see that he was willing to give it a go.
Over the next months, the 3 of them became close friends, and after a while, Larry and Sergej also got to know the rest of the team. They became more confident, made new friends and there was no more sign of bullying. The Playstation nights became something like a tradition, and during one of these sessions, when they were stuck at a difficult level, Hans said out of the blue how convenient it would be if there were would exist a program where you could simply enter a question about this game, and the program would search the entire internet and present you the results. And, as a bonus, add the closest pizza delivery services.
He said this just out of frustration with no deeper meaning to it, but his two friends just looked at each other and whispered :"That's genius…". A few weeks later they showed him a first basic version of an internet searching machine, where you could enter some keywords, and this program would search the whole World Wide Web for results.
A couple of months later, after they all graduated high school, Hans moved on to the UCLA University working on his basketball career, whereas his friends made it to Stanford University, one of the best universities worldwide when it came to IT technologies. During prom night, they surprised Hans with a contract, making him the owner of 33% of the shares of a newly founded company. First, he wanted to decline their offer, because they became really close and he was just happy he was able to help them. But they wouldn't let go, so he finally signed the contract. 7 years later, Hans should finally find out why this meant so much to his friends. Since their company had an unbelievable success from the start, Larry and Sergej never finished university, but they were celebrated as the youngest honor graduates in the history of their high school. Of course, Hans was invited to the ceremony, and what Larry revealed during his speech left the NBA Superstar, for the first time in years, completely speechless.
„For a lot of you, high school will give you the best time and best memories you'll ever have in your life. But my speech is directed to all of you for who this time represents the complete opposite. For Sergej and me, high school wasn't about party, making new friends and endless summers. Hostilities, mobbing, physical abuse, there wasn't anything we didn't experience. More or less one and a half years before graduation, Sergej and me were assigned in a group project with one of the schools biggest sport stars…probably because, please don't take this in a bad way my old friend, he was supposed to get a good grade without having to work too much for it. So we prepared the presentation in a way he would just have to say a couple of easy sentences in order to get him his A grade. In the evening, we went to his home to show him our work and teach him his task. This would have taken about 2 minutes. What happened afterwards should change the rest of both our lives. We were sure that he, the star of our school, would just want to get rid of us as fast as possible, without thanking us for saving his ass. What he really did was inviting us to stay at his place and play video games since all the work was already done.
On the next day, we had to endure the usual mockery and teasing. Up to that moment that our new friend walked into the room and put himself between us and a group of 8 people. Next thing, he invited us, again, to his house, on a Friday evening. Can you imagine that this was the first time ever in our entire life, that someone invited us on a Friday night? After realizing that he was really serious about this, we were still hesitating to accept. Not because we didn't trust him, we knew right away what a great guy he was and that we could trust him. To this day, only our parents know the real reason why. On this said Friday evening, Sergej and I had planned to kill ourselves. First, we decided to postpone our suicide for a day. Why not just enjoy a last fun evening? One evening became two, a whole week, a month…and all of a sudden, high school was over. We had almost two wonderful years, found many new friends, mainly from the basketball team. We formed friendships that will last a lifetime. On the one hand, I'm telling you this to give courage to all of you who feel different, locked out, who have to go through hell every single day and think they can't bear it any longer. Let me tell you one thing. It will get better. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not this month, maybe even not in this school. But in the end it will pay out to stay strong, to keep going, because one day there will be this moment that changes everything, that makes your life worth living again.
On the other hand, we finally wanted to show our friend, who's in the audience tonight, how much he influenced and changed our lives. Without any prejudices he was ready to give us a chance and to get to know us as the persons that we really were. He didn't only become our friend, but our protector and the big brother neither of us ever had. Without you, Hans, we would be lying somewhere in a cold grave, only missed by our parents. Moreover it was him who gave us the initial idea for the development of our search engine and foundation of our company. And after everything I just told you, there are only two things left for me to say. To those of you who think this school is an endless hellhole, let me beg you, stay strong, it's worth staying alive and to fight. And to our friend Hans, thank you for being there when we were in desperate need of a real friend. Thank you for saving our lives."
Hans sat in his chair, like he was frozen. He couldn't talk or move. Of the corners of his eyes, he could see how Larry's parents were looking over to him, with tears in their eyes. They knew this story now for several years, and finally they would be able to show their gratitude. Hans was very well aware that his two friends didn't really have an easy time in high school before he took them under his wings. But since they blossomed into confident young men and became more and more popular, he had no idea how bad it really was when he first met them.
After Larry was done with his speech and they met in a quiet corner, Hans gave a hug to his friends, and all he was able to say was :"Jesus, I had no idea."
"And you never should, but we thought this would be the perfect opportunity to show kids like us that it is worth to fight, to never give up. And we actually meant to tell you about this already a long time ago, but we never really knew how."
A few moments later, Larry's parents came around the corner, and while his father was still searching for words, his mother just wrapped her arms around Hans and after a couple of seconds, he was afraid that she would never let him go again.
Before it was time to say goodbye again, his friends wanted to have a word in privat with Hans.
"Listen, it's been a while now that you're almost begging us to take back your part of the shares, and we think we found the perfect solution. We won't just take your shares back like that, but we insist on paying you their actual market value. Furthermore, we want to keep you as a member of the board which would consist of the three of us. You would probably only be a pro forma member, but we absolutely want to keep you as our partner."
„Look guys, I know you mean well. And I will gladly accept to become a member of the board, but you know that you don't have to pay me anything. I was helping you because you're my friends, and I would do the same thing over and over again."
"And that's exactly why we want you to accept our offer. You earned it. Anyway, we already signed the check and deposited at your bank, you can't refuse anymore. By the way, here's a copy of it."
„If it really means that much to you, then I'll take your handful of dollars I guess" Hans replied with a grin, took the check, and his face turned pale and his heart nearly jumped out of his chest.
"You're kidding?" he shouted out in disbelief.
„One third of the shares according to the market price. In all seriousness."
In his hands, Hans was holding a check over 18 billion US dollars. His two friends were Larry Page and Sergej Brin, founder of Google and its parent company Alphabet, furthermore they were two of the richest people on the planet.
And this is the story how Hans too, became one of the richest men on Earth. Taking in account the revenue of his NBA career (salary and personal sponsors) and the money from his Google shares, his fortune was estimated at 18.4 billion US dollars, which put him on 31st position in the worldwide Forbes ranking. Add his good looks and his well-mannered character, you had to admit that this young man was…now that prince Harry finally got married…the most popular bachelor in the United States, if not in the entire world.
After finishing his dinner (the delivery boy was more than surprised that Hans ordered his food at such a cheap restaurant, but hey, better cheap and good than expensive and not tasty), he was thinking about the plan for the next days. Actually, he was supposed to be back in LA in about two months, but he was contacted by the Animal Protection Organization PETA, if he could imagine taking part in a campaign to support animal rights. Lots of other former or active sport stars like David Beckham, Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Wayne Gretzky, Maria Sharapova or Lionel Messi already accepted to take part in it. The only thing that surprised Hans a bit was that he was supposed to be put on a poster together with Miley Cyrus. Miley was one of the most well-known and notorious young popstars in the world, but over the last 5 or 6 years, she was having a lot of reputation issues (mildly expressed). She started her career by playing the main part in the Disney sitcom Hannah Montana. This was so successful that they were producing movies and music albums with the main character that was played by Miley, who, as a consequence, became Americas Sweetheart. After reaching a certain age, she tried to get rid of this image, but in Hans opinion, she completely exaggerated. Glorification of drug abuse, fake friends, passing out at parties, provocations in public, affairs and nude pics etc, etc…Hans couldn't really say that he was looking forward to this shooting. But since he loved animals, it was out of question for him to cancel his participation. The shooting would be the day after tomorrow, so that he had one day left to get a good rest and settle in again.
Since Hans was a very social human being and he hadn't seen his American friends for more than 6 months, he invited some of them, Will Smith, David Beckham and Kobe Bryant to a barbecue evening. It actually seemed like a little wonder that they were all available, and it turned out to be a really nice and relax evening among friends, and if you wouldn't have known, you never guessed that these guys were famous superstars and (at least) multi-millionaires. But when it came to barbecue, all men were the same…it was all about meat and alcohol, sometimes their intelligence dropped to a frightening low level, and they didn't talk about anything but girls, sports and cars. Pretty boring, but you could make every male human being on this planet happy with it.
As the evening came to an end, Will was the only one staying (which wasn't surprising, due to the fact that he was Hans neighbor) and the inevitably talk about Hans future came up again, especially girlfriend and marriage. Somehow, Will seemed to be very determined to put him on the leash.
"So, tell me. No more liabilities, no more appointments, no more pressure…wouldn't that be the perfect time to settle down and start a family?"
"Oh come on Will. You know that I wanna enjoy life for a couple of years before I start looking for a partner. Definitely not before I'm 35. I mean, you did the same after you were done shooting The Prince of Bel Air."
"And that was the worst decision I ever made in my entire life. Trust me, if you would meet the right woman for you tomorrow, your plans of enjoying your single life would be gone in the blink of an eye" Will was teasing his friend.
"Haha, I'm just happy for now that this definitely won't happen" Hans replied with a laugh, having no idea how much the following day would turn his life around.