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I remember a story I read in a mid to late 1990s anthology (perhaps some "Year's Best" anthology, because I used to buy those from time to time) where all the players in the NBA had the abilities of past superstars imprinted upon them. Each player had the abilities of a different superstar; that is to say, one player could play as well as Michael Jordan, one like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, one like Larry Bird, etc.

The viewpoint character had one of the less-super superstars' abilities and was always having trouble keeping up with his teammates (or, he contributed but couldn't wow the crowds the way the others could) and was always afraid of being cut from the team.

The story progressed as this character interacted with his teammates and opponents during and between games. At the end, there was a press conference. One of his teammates, who possessed the greatest imprinted skills, lectured a reporter about how the viewpoint character was actually the hardest-working, most talented, and skilled player, because he was able to contribute using his own natural abilities.

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Sounds like Vanilla Dunk by Jonathan Lethem, originally published in the September 1992 issue of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine.

The other place you might've read it in the mid-'90s would be Lethem's The Wall of the Sky, the Wall of the Eye anthology, published in 1996.

The Wikipedia page for the anthology includes a summary of this individual story:

"Vanilla Dunk" posits a future in which professional basketball players no longer rely on their own skills but instead wear exo-suits which duplicate the skills of historical greats. The assignment of these skills is based on a draft lottery and much of the story centers around the resentment of some players when an obnoxious and ungrateful white player receives by assignment the "Jordan skills". The player finishes only one season before retiring for endorsements and forcing the "Jordan skills" into dis-use for another 15 years.

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  • 1
    Wow, that was fast; I'll have to try and think of something more difficult.
    – Spencer
    Jul 27 at 21:41
  • 2
    I usually give it 24 hours.
    – Spencer
    Jul 28 at 10:28
  • I have the Lethem anthology in a box somewhere. And I'm pretty sure that Wikipedia is emphasizing a peripheral part of the story.
    – Spencer
    Jul 28 at 21:18
  • @user14111 I guess I'm just old-fashioned enough that box diving is more appealing.
    – Spencer
    Jul 29 at 11:55

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