A sign displays the round-robin brackets.

Because Goiko and Lopez are the highest-ranked, they enter play last—which leaves them little margin for error. In the round-robin format, it's possible for the lowest-seeded team to rack up six points before Goiko and Lopez even get in the game. "And if you lose your first point from the eighth post, you might not even get back in," Goiko had explained earlier. "You might be instantly dead." Two teams reach four points and another scores five. Then Goiko and Lopez start their run. They rack up five points before Hoey finds a way to knock them out. Goiko would never curse on the court, though his eyes yell fuck. But the round-robin cycles all the way through, and Goiko and Lopez get another chance.

By now, Goiko's serve has become truly mesmerizing. He coils like a discus thrower, putting all his weight into it, and achieves a combination of speed, spin, and ball control that's as incredible to behold as any LeBron dunk or Messi goal. Tactically, Goiko's like Federer, preventing his opponents from finding a rhythm on the baseline. He whips the pelota so fast and tight the other players can barely track it. At match point, Goiko wins the tournament for his team with a knockout ace.

Back in the locker room, Hoey's limping out the door shirtless, in ripped jeans and flip-flops. He yells for everybody to come over to his place. "I'll get beer," he calls back. "I'll cook some shit on the grill." It's 2 a.m. Goiko clutches his sore right shoulder, finally showing his fatigue. He vanishes into the dimly lit, dungeonlike shower, then emerges in a towel, stretching. "I'm just waiting for Santi to bring me my money," he says. "Then we're going to Denny's for cheese sticks and Sprite." Now that he's won, he admits he was more nervous than usual. "Before the match," he says, "I was thinking I had to do something special here or jai alai would look like shit and never get another story. But as the game got going, I stopped thinking about you. I stopped thinking about Slash. I found the monster."

Once Goiko has changed into his street clothes—black jeans, black canvas high-tops, and a T-shirt with a print of laundry irons—the defeated start shuffling up to pay their respects. Some are old and grizzled, while others look like altar boys and gaze at their idol with awe. They hold out the night's program for him to sign. They ask him to pose for pictures. "Goiko," they exclaim, "stand here with me!" Goiko drapes a ropy arm around two of them, smiles modestly, and waits for the flash.

Watch the athletes of Miami Jai-Alai in action.

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