By Amos Manary
These are depraved times for a recovering basketball junkie. As has been noted by each and every of the innumerable mouthpieces on behalf of endless outlets, this new era of ‘player empowerment’ has made the NBA an industry that never quits. Gone are the days when the basketball monogamist had to wait through baseball and football seasons for the sporting world to resume its attention to hoops.
Unfortunately, most of the coverage is commensurately oleaginous with the tawdry, vulgar times in which we unintentionally exist. While the NBA is perceived as infinitely more ‘progressive’ than its American professional sporting counterparts, I say nonsense. Smarter, slicker, Adam Silver’s public relations minions are indeed shrewder than the boneheads who run MLB, the NFL, NASCAR et al. But that’s it. Every talking hoop-head insists on referring to the human talents employed by individual NBA franchises as ‘assets,’ which of course they are, as are prospective draft picks, and enigmatic piles of hypothetical cash known as ‘cap space.’ I know, and if I didn’t, I couldn’t follow a shred of institutionalized basketball gibberish without learning that professional sports is ‘a business.’
Except that apparently, it is also isn’t – or the hoop universe isn’t immune to the bizarre overriding hypocrisy endemic and perhaps innate to the American experiment, the central premise of which at this point seems to be: how best to pedal corporate fascism? So while throughout showbiz, actions that might ordinarily, according to the intangible standards of basic decency, be deemed scurrilous at best, pirate-like cutthroat at worst, are excused, exonerated and elevated due solely to their [whatever action] profitability. Floyd Mayweather, LaVar Ball, say whatever you may, are good businessmen and the business of America is making excuses for good business. Extermination of the natives, enslavement of the African, it’s a wonder these too aren’t praised more openly, as both were extremely good for the miscalled free market.
Nevertheless, for inane reasons too tribally infantile to utter, to half the folks earning their dime blabbing about the goings on of the few hundred fellas who earn their dime playing sports, Kevin Durant will always be soft, a ‘traitor’ even – as if the OKC Thunder represent their own republic. Anything good for business is permissible, lest you’re a black small forward who prefers Oakland to Oklahoma City and chooses to play for one of the best coaches (instead of one of the worst) and to depend on the game’s top point guard, as opposed to the least reliable. It’s not hyperbole. Steph Curry is the most efficient, winningest point guard in the game, with the top ‘true’ shooting percentage in the league, while Russell Westbrook rates dead last in that same category. The talking heads can’t muster four phrases without spitting out something about how it’s the age of ‘analytics,’ yet none of them point out that according to analytics, Durant would have to be a bona fide moron to continue on with bonehead Billy Donovan and Westbrick, who definitely cares more about fashion than quarterbacking his hoop squad – that OKC was up 3-1 against the Warriors is irrelevant – his move was nothing akin the Michael Jordan joining the Pistons; and even if it was analogous, who the shit cares, lest you’re an Oklahoman middle schooler.
The NBA itself – meaning the players, coaches, teams, etc. – has never been better. The actual basketball nearly warrants nary a mention amid the mountainous coverage devoted to what someone Tweeted, which shirt Westbrick wore, what Snoop thinks of LeBron’s business acumen, what Kawai Leonard never said, along with quieter innuendos which wonder as to the validity of the so-called the Kardashian Curse and whether Reality TV alpha-sex-kitten witches will steal Ben Simmons’ soul and thereby derail the Sixers’ vaunted Process.
Process, assets, business, that’s what it all boils down to, apparently.
Like everything else in American life, the soul, spirit and science have been stripped from the discussion. Go outside the mainstream, it at least can get somewhat fun: the crowd convinced the NBA and all sports with money at staked are all rigged as pro wrestling, and that furthermore it’s just as obvious. My favorite among this subgroup are those few precious Youtubers dedicated to complexly convoluted theories that all NBA outcomes are predetermined by Kabalistic Gematria wizards salaried by Illuminati honchos to ensure every final score pays homage to Horus or some other god of Babylonian Mystery Religion lore. Now I’m as conspiracy-minded as they come and don’t for one second think the days of Tim Donaghy are dead and gone, but this business that they put in number 12 with 12 seconds on the clock so he could nail a 12-foot jumper from the short-corner to bring the losing team’s total to 112 so as to lionize Allister Crowley – I don’t think they’re right.
Slightly more cogent thoughts: Lookout for the Lake Show
I don’t care what anyone says, the Lakers look good to me. All this nonsense about “colorful characters” who can’t shoot threes. The pervasive, patently false presumption the Warriors can only be beaten at their own game. As in 2015 (73 wins be damned), the same two dudes represent the only real threats to GSW supremacy: LeBron and Kyrie. Loads of people are picking the Celtics to make it to the Finals, some predicting they’ll prevail. Nobody’s giving the LeBron a shot to make his ninth straight Finals. Luke Walton won’t survive if the Lakers miss the playoffs. Miss the playoffs? Are people fucking nuts? They may wind up a sixth in the evermore talent-heave West, but come May, when LBJ’s had many moons to figure out how to utilize his new Cabinet…
The Warriors’ vulnerability resides on the glass and in the paint – and kooky as they’re perceived, the Lakers have assembled a roster of scrappers who’ll be tough to keep off the boards and out of the lane. But the pundits on TV seem to agree – the Lakers offseason non-LeBron acquisitions are curious, dubious or just plain dumb and doomed. Much has been made of the collection of ‘colorful personalities,’ media-speak for head cases, which Magic Johnson and Rob (Lowe?) Pelinka chose to compliment LeBron and the Lakers’ ‘youth core.’ Everyone’s lamenting the Lakers lack of long-range snipers. Even if it’s true, as most observers obviously estimate, that the Lakers are embarking on a one-year experiment and will tread water until they can ‘acquire’ a Name Brand To Be Named Later, I’m betting Steve Kerr feels like he’s in Back to the Future – it’s the dawn of the ‘80s all over again, the Lakers and Celtics ready to reclaim the league.
For some cruel, unusual reason, media ringleaders have chosen to forget or ignore the competency JaVale McGee displayed during his stint with Golden State. Somehow, McGee’s reputation has been illegitimately reverted to its previous status quo nadir: Chief Galoot. He’s no Kareem, but I’d take him over Tristan Thompson in a heartbeat. Like the NBA PR slogan says: JaVale cares. He gives a shit how his team does; does so without ego. He probably won’t play too much, but he’ll contribute something and won’t harm the Lakers a lick.
Everyone says the only way to beat the Warriors is to D’Antoni them to death: take and make more three’s than the Splash Brothers. I disagree. The reason the Rockets took the Warriors to Game Seven (besides the absence of Andre Iguodala), was the Warriors’ inability to slow the flow of uncontested Clint Capella dunks and Chris Paul midrange jumpers. The Warriors have trouble with muscle. Counterintuitively, guys like P.J. Tucker can be weirdly troublesome. By 21st century standards, the W’s two best players are extraordinarily skinny. Durant’s become a fantastic defender and Curry’s defense has been unfairly maligned, but their slighter frames can be shoved aside. Draymond can’t guard everyone. The legs of Iguodala and Livingston won’t get younger. The key to beating the Warriors is physicality – nobody’s gonna out-finesse them, you gotta pound them in the post, dribble penetration, second shots. Move the ball, take it to the hole; get as many of the Warriors’ all-stars in foul trouble as possible. Switch everything, shoot more free throws; get more dunks.
Last year the Cavs traded half their roster, essentially, for the players the Lakers no longer wanted. Now LeBron gets to play with the guys Magic Johnson thought were worth keeping. Consider the fact that until Tyronn Lue finally gave Rodney Hood some minutes (after the Finals had long been decided), LeBron played the entire playoffs without a single teammate who could create his own shot. LeBron needs a Kyrie Irving, a Dwayne Wade, far more than he needs Mike Miller or Kyle Korver. Josh Hart can play Kyle Korver much better than Kyle Korver. The combination of Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, Michael Beasley, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram add up to at least half a Kyrie /Wade. All those guys can make something good happen as the shot clock winds down. The Lakers as currently constructed are infinitely better than the 2017-18 Cavs.
Everyone assumes Luke Walton won’t survive the season – he was never Magic’s guy. Personally, I’d love to be Luke Walton heading into next season. All his guys have nothing to lose and a lot to prove. Whoever ends up coaching them, the Lakers are in much better shape than anyone’s envisioning. They’re a hard guard; a lot of guys who can get to the cup. Crazy motherfuckers, for sure, but LeBron thrives in chaos, and if the colorful characters exude as much chaos and contentiousness as everyone seems to think they will, Magic, LeBron and Luke will figure out how to channel that energy towards Warrior slaying. Lonzo will shoot better and his father will shut up or the son will be benched or traded.
Don’t underestimate Magic Johnson and his Non-Brons. They might end up with Kawai or Anthony Davis or Jimmy Butler before the trade deadline, and even if they remain more or less as is, should the Lakers and Warriors square off in the playoffs, I promise you LBJ won’t get swept again.
That being said, Boogie Cousins or not, the Warriors will win it all again next year and nobody less invested will be more pleased than yours truly. If they stay healthy, all other prognostications will be quickly rendered obsolete.
Other underpublicized musings
See what Iguodala said about KD – Andre’s right, he has got to be the most efficient scorer in the sport’s history. He never goes backwards, even on fade-away/step-back jumpers. Even when he ‘reverts’ to the iso-habits hones under Scotty Brooks and Bonebrain Donovan, he never dribbles for ten seconds without going anywhere. John Wooden would like him. Positive step.
New negative norms: I know why but still must groan why when I see the new preferred format for televised sports talk. Show’s like ESPN’s First Take and Fox’s the Undisputed have decided the best way to maximize ratings is to have some former sorority queen in mammary-accentuating dress seated between two blabbering sports-debating dingbat-dudes and meekly, maternally referee their monkey-mind vomit. HereI must insert mild praise for ESPN’s The Jump and its hostess Rachel Nichols, who is a relative Georgina Plimpton when juxtaposed against the useless floozies, worst of which is always the potential Playmate who sidekicks for Colin Cowherd like a lobotomized, Caucasian Robin Quivers – and boy is Cowherd no Howard Stern.
Kareem was also right when he recently dismissed the who’s-the-greatest-of-all-time question out of hand, calmly as only Kareem can, explaining that since basketball is a team game, athletes who play with different teammates, for different coaches, in different eras, is absolutely useless. As stupid as comparing Bob Marley and Beethoven.
The dumbest topics I’ve heard explored, in no particular order:
“Michael Jordan’s legacy dinged by LeBron’s philanthropy.” Yes, in terms of social consciousness, Nike (evil sweatshop corporation) Shill LBJ does trump Nike Shill MJ. And Putin ain’t no Stalin. So fucking what. It’s great LeBron builds schools and calls Trump a bum – but to act like he’s Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell or Kareem, to infer there’s one iota of risk to his miscalled outspokenness is like making Anderson Cooper out to be Harvey Milk, or to say Cari Champion is rather similar to Ida B. Wells.
Best Offseason Footage Findable on Youtube
Coach Pop playing spirited dummy-defense against the Team USA in drills. Looking spry at nearly 70, it’s no wonder widower has been so successful – he loves what he does. It’s the most underplayed aspect to the Lone Superpower, villainous for no reason Warriors, Kerr’s revolutionary emphasis on playing with joy. Popovich ain’t known for his funniness, lest it’s the deadpan sarcasm he employs to belittle the imbecilic questions the league forces him to field. I predict DeMar DeRozan will have a career-year for the Spurs – and more fun than he’s had in years, in spite of the Spurs’ legendary no-nonsense approach.
James Harden performs no differently in the Drew League than he does with the Rockets. What a strange goofy-footed genius he is – and what a horrific defender. In the NBA stats are like profits and nobody can resist lauding the giant margins guys like Westbrick and Hardshot post each quarter. My vote for last season’s MVP would have been: 1) LeBron 2) Durant 3) Curry. All awards suck. Pointless, useless back-slapping. I pray the NBA drops its new Oscarsesque nonsense.
Bringing it all Back Home
Last pot shot at those who laud the NBA as more enlightened than the NFL – it’s like saying Trump is better than Pence because the President’s fascistic tendencies are more secularized, or those who prefer Pence because he’s never once uttered pussy with vaginal connotations. NBA players kneeling for the anthem? Out of the fucking question – standing for the anthem has always been absolutely obligatory. The last NBA guy who tried to sit for the anthem got run out of the league faster than you can think assalamu alaikum. Do yourself a favor and learn what happened to Chicago Bulls sharpshooter Craig Hodges after he wore a dashiki to the White House and dared to present a letter to President Bush the First a detailing his civic concerns in the wake of Rodney King.
But basketball remains the most democratic of sports – and in the Association, the best team always wins. The team that plays most together, the most similarly to a great improvisational jazz ensemble, always wins. Players, like those of music, can possess egomaniacal traits, but in order to succeed, those tendencies must be sublimated for the greater good. So if one has the childlike nerve to include fun into the equation, the Warriors are even farther ahead of the pack than their insane assemblage of talent would indicate. Selah.