God those Pelican and Grizzlies losses earlier this year sucked.
To be a fan in 2019 is to consider yourself an expert. The experience of following either a team or a sport will inevitably force the viewer to not only believe, but to loudly proclaim to friends and complete strangers over the Internet alike, all of the truths of the game as you understand them to exist. Every fan of a professional sports team has a version of the truth, and a vision of the ideal way that a franchise should be operated. They see market inefficiencies, previously referred to as being underrated, or market overcorrections, previously referred to as being overrated. Factions will declare certain performers to be “clutch,” while others will insist that there is no such thing as clutch, and that what you believe is nothing more than a narrative that’s been crafted by talking heads and sports writers with bad hairpieces.
I’m no different. I have hot takes. I believe things. And I will not be convinced otherwise. And in following a team like the Nets, I have found myself gleeful that they have refused to tank for a draft pick. Where others have questioned the mentality of effort with a team that simply cannot win the NBA championship without significant upgrades to the roster, I see myself at the start of a 5K race 15 years ago, knowing full well that I’ll never finish first overall, or first in my highly competitive age group, but seeking smaller victories. Eventually there will come a footrace where the strategies of survival are tossed out the window, and several also rans will see the finish line just ahead, and abandon any ideas of saving themselves for some longer grind. They will sprint like maniacs who might still take the trophy or the paycheck set aside from the winner, and simply understand that the game is beating that guy 20 feet in front. The battle for 432nd place is quite possibly more bloodthirsty than the one for 1st, where some genetic freak will have played out the string on their insurmountable lead, their victory little more than a formality. The lesser athletes will handicap themselves by making personal best times, and seeing if they can take down that guy in the front, or hold off that hard charge coming from behind, until they develop some tunnel vision, where all they can hear is their own breath, and all they can see is that point when they are allowed to stop trying without looking like they gave up on themselves. And where the Cavaliers and the Knicks have perverted the goals of a season by sabotoging themselves at the outset of the game, the Nets have opened their gait and barreled toward the playoffs. It’s the 8 seed or bust, but if they pick it up they could grab that 7th or even the 6th seed. And if the stars align, perhaps they can make that second round. And if they continue to catch breaks they might make the Eastern Conference Finals. And if they pay off the refs, maybe they take the Conference. And if an engine fails and their challengers from the Western Conference crash in a cornfield, maybe, just maybe, they could hoist that Larry O’Brien trophy. There is something beautiful in deluding yourself into thinking that you have a chance, even when the statistics have declared that you don’t, and that you can’t cheat death forever. The house always wins over the long run, but every now and then that one snake in the grass scores upset victory after upset victory and defies logic, and buries deeper and deeper into your memory, until they become immortal and you as a sports fan feel that much richer.
Where the hell was I going with that? Oh, right. The philosophy against tanking. On the flipside there are those who accept losses up front for the prospect of that great messiah that will turn their franchise around. The accepted truth is that in order to rattle off a dynasty you need to acquire a LeBron James or a Shaquille O’Neal, and the easiest way to achieve that is to be terrible enough to draft the no doubt game changer #1 overall. Let’s ignore that LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal won their first teams with some team other than the one that drafted them, or that the best player in a draft often comes from well outside of the first three picks. The easiest vision to conceive is that winning comes from losing.
But New Orleans serves to remind us all that sometimes it isn’t enough. New Orleans has received their messiah in the draft, and what have they to show for it? What great runs for the championship have been birthed from this singular talent? I don’t mean actual championships, but how many years have they even been a contender? They drafted a player who will be considered one of the greatest, and most complete to ever play his position. A no doubt Hall of Famer, in a sport where one impact player can not only define, but single handedly alter the trajectory of a franchise. That player was Chris Paul.
And then they were given Anthony Davis. And even then they continued to be irrelevant. Now in terms of talent acquired in the draft you could hardly improve on being gifted players such as Chris Paul and Anthony Davis. Would a LeBron or Shaq be better? Sure, marginally. But are CP3 and The Brow capable of being the best player on a championship team? Absolutely. Again, it isn’t enough. Drafting one of the greatest players in the league isn’t enough. In today’s NBA you’ll somehow need to attract elite free agents to come to your team, and in today’s NBA the stars have become more savvy than the ones of yesteryear, who would have been happy to make foolhardy decisions on what it takes to contend. They want an organizational philosophy. They want a team versed in advanced analytics. They want a coach and GM that exist on the same frequency, and veterans who understand how the game will change in the final five minutes, and what comes in the later rounds of the playoffs. They understand that they can get their money anywhere, but somehow the greater glories go to the winners. And that more sophisticated vision can’t come from the tanking stage where they heartlessly try to acquire talent and trust that it’ll all come together eventually, because sometimes it won’t.
Deep down, I always think that beating the Pelicans is an accomplishment. It isn’t. Not really. The Pelicans as a team are terrible. But they also have Anthony Davis, who carries the fragrance of the elite. On his own, Anthony Davis seems to be the perpetual contender, and yet the New Orleans Pelicans entered the game 17-21, the same as Brooklyn, and left it 17-22. Anthony Davis carried a stat line of 35 points and 21 rebounds, and he wasn’t enough. Because outside of Jrue Holliday and sometimes Julius Randal or Elfrid Payton, the other Pelicans are absolutely terrible. And sooner or later these Pelicans are either going to trade Anthony Davis for pennies on the dollar, or engage in some futile plan to resign a player who most likely wants nothing less than to waste the entire prime of his career as an also ran, and will lose him for nothing, having won nothing.
And so, much as I do when the Nets beat the 76ers (twice this year so far, for what it’s worth) I am reminded about the folly of hitting the jackpot in the draft. New Orleans is about to squander its 2nd generational talent in the past decade without having even brief flashes of glory. Their fanbase remains nonexistent, composed of mostly bored Saints and LSU fans. And it proves my point, at least as far as I am concerned. I’m not radical in my theory about the futility of tanking. I am logical, and the people who advocate tanking as a first step are the fools. In looking at New Orleans I am assured that I’ll always root for winning today and figuring it out tomorrow. I won’t delude myself into thinking that they are better for losing. And I will relish the tasty blocks that Jarrett Allen, the former 22nd pick overall, had on Anthony Davis, the former and deserving number one overall.
Yeah, Anthony. You scored 34 points. But they weren’t an efficient 34, and Jarrett Allen owns your soul. Those are the rules.
What did Spencer Dinwiddie draw on his shoes?
It’s a tribute to Madame CJ Walker. Wikipedia tells me that MCJW was one of the first women to be a self made millionaire, which is pretty damn impressive for a black woman in America. Very educational, Spencer. That’s why I keep studying your shoes.
Look at that court, and that arena. It’s so blindingly bright. I don’t mean in that way where the lights seem to burn brighter in MSG or the Staples Center, but in that suburban YMCA lighting way. Everything is so bright. I hate it. Give me my blackened hole in Brooklyn, where I can watch my team in an environment more reminiscent of an unhip dive bar. Yeah, I know. It’s all manufactured. They’re all different aesthetics, most likely focus tested by corporations who couldn’t care less about authenticity that gets in the way of a dollar. They Nets have leaned into darkness as a brand. The Memphis Grizzlies have installed a thick walnut slab of wood by the scorer’s table, as if they were playing the game in a goddamn log cabin. I can’t find pictures of this available on the internet, but you’ll just have to trust me. It’s there, and it’s forced as hell.
I watched the game with the painful reminder about how the Grizzlies stole a win during the nadir of the Nets season to this point, pulling out a W when the Nets had what seemed like an insurmountable 7 point lead with a little over half a minute to go. The subsequent two minute report by the league did confirm that the win was bullshit, the product of the referees continually blowing calls, but the game still counted in the standings, and I find myself possibly irrationally thirsty for not only a win, but also a reckoning. Also, Marc Gasol is a cheapshot artist who needs to get his ass wrecked by some enforcer. He gets called for a common foul after trying to rip Rodi Kurucs’ head off on a rebound, and kicks his hip out so that Spencer Dinwiddie is bounced off and into the ballcarrier, forcing him into a bullshit foul. In some ways he really is an artist, in that he manages to hide his transgressions from the eyes of the referees, but I wouldn’t have minded it if he’d caught an elbow in the teeth one time.
What did Spencer Dinwiddie draw on his shoes?
MLK Jr. Some might call this a tribute, but that is some serious shade on Memphis, in my opinion. “What’s this? Oh nothing. Just the face of one of the most influential civil rights leaders who was murdered in your city. No big deal.” If I wore a pair of JFK shoes in Dallas, I am not giving a warm shout out to the locals. I’m telling them “LOOK AT WHAT YOU DID. LOOK AT IT.” The Grizzlies have in fact produced MLK Jr themed jerseys, I suppose as an attempt to “take back” the narrative, but you can’t unring that bell. He died on your turf. I’m not saying you’re all hateful bigots, but he didn’t die in my city.
Don’t worry. Plenty of fucked up murders have happened in New York City. I’m being tongue-in-cheek in a way I’m not sure reads over the Internet.
The Nets wrapped the week with a win over the Bulls. The real test comes tomorrow when then come home to face the Celtics. Which illustrates just how much of a trap game this could have been. I’m already looking ahead. To be fair, I’m writing this after the game ended, but I was already overlooking a Bulls game. They’re the Bulls. It’s best not to dwell too long on the Bulls in 2018.
Of course that game was also annoyingly tight for far too long. They got it together and did what you’re supposed to do to teams with .250 winning percentages, but personally, I’m not in favor of letting bad teams hang around. You never know who’s going to catch fire late. And the problem with not being a lock down defense is that somebody like Bobby Portis can come off the bench and inexplicably look like Michael Jordan scoring 17 in 20 minutes.
And here I am complaining about a win when the team hasn’t lost all week, just like I do when I follow the Yankees. I told myself that I wasn’t going to get worked up, but I guess I have expectations. Look, the Nets are this close to becoming the team du jour for casual hoop heads who like to root for the plucky squad. It’s slowly happening. People are realizing that they’re more fun than their recent reputation suggests. And that they’ve done it without any high draft picks (I am not anti draft pick. I think you should keep your draft picks. I’m just not a big proponent of nuking your entire season to polish up your next draft pick). Look, the basketball that they play is fun. It’s all the shit that traditionalists claim to love. Lots of passing, smart shots, pick and rolls. There isn’t a lot of isolation jab stepping. Very little hero ball. A player scoring 35 points is rare, but having six drop 10 is extremely common. If you know nothing about basketball, and nothing about who is good and who is bad, and you sit in front of the TV, you will enjoy the Nets just based on the sheer movement and flow of the game. And I like Jarrett Allen’s hair. I’ve had two people tell me that he should cut it.
And what? Look like any number of boring big men? To hell with that. Plus it probably makes it harder to dunk on the bastard. You can’t see the damn rim. Grow it out another six feet, my man. Jarrett Allen is cool. You know what? So is damn near everybody else on this team. They’re all cool.
Even Jared Dudley?
Especially Jared Dudley.
Also, this has nothing to do with the game, but I was taking a walk around my neighborhood and saw this new building being completed.
That’s not wood. That’s rust. Intentional rust. It appears that it’s taken a few years, but the Barclay Center’s stupidest feature is spreading to the general community. Some asshole spent a phenomenally stupid amount of money on that building (If you put a gun to my head, based on the neighborhood? $10MM for the building? $5MM is a rock bottom price. I know that much), and then intentionally coated it in rust, one of the ugliest byproducts known to man.
It’s called weathering steel and it’s stupid. The rust forms a protective coating. Wonderful. You can’t destroy this building, God. We’ve already taken care of that.
What did Spencer Dinwiddie draw on his shoes?
Space Jam. Oh good. A reminder that I was basically an adult when this children’s movie came out, and that all those children are now fully grown men and women, which must mean that I am…older than that. Not great.
By the way, I also love this because I know that there is a part of Spencer’s brain that genuinely believes that one day he will be up for a role in the reboot. Yes, he was in the developmental league not so long ago, and sure, he’s still coming off the bench, but he’ll get there. He doesn’t know how, but he knows he’ll do it. I’m genuinely rooting for him.
The Brooklyn Nets are 20-21 and currently 7th in the Eastern Conference standings.