“Come for the basketball. Stay for the randomness.” That’s my proposal for the NBA’s new official slogan. So much of what’s fun about the league today has little to do with what happens on the court — it’s the quirks and idiosyncrasies that enamor us the most, the stuff that makes us human, the odd behaviors we exhibit when left to our own devices. That’s the stuff we find most compelling.
In the past, athletes and celebrities were more immune to that type of thing. Most of it just fell through the cracks. Now, we’re all amateur behavioral anthropologists. We catch everything, we document it tirelessly, and we put it on display.
Looking back on all the marvelously weird things that happened in 2018, we felt that same urge to bottle it up and stack our virtual shelves with it. With that, here is our collection of all the strange and wonderful artifacts and curiosities the NBA had to offer last year.
Athletes can’t win when it comes to stuff like this. If they clap back at critics and online trolls, they come across as defensive, insecure, short-fused. Hence the burner account phenomenon, which so far has had nothing but calamitous results.
Getting caught using a fake social media handle to engage in petty arguments with random fans only compounds the humiliation by a factor of 10. For Kevin Durant, it reaffirmed the already growing perception that he’s far too sensitive. For Bryan Colangelo, it cost him his job. It may have also irreparably tarnished his family legacy.
Few things are more emblematic of our time. Our collective paranoia has come true. We already live in an Orwellian dystopia where privacy has been irreversibly compromised and personal information is for sale to the highest bidder. Yet when it comes to playing ourselves out, we’re almost always our own worst enemy.
Kawhi So Serious
If you were already suspicious that Kawhi Leonard might be some sort of alien life-form or futuristic android created in a basketball laboratory, then this didn’t help. It was like watching a malfunctioning robot. You half expected sparks and smoke and nuts and bolts to start flying everywhere.
So naturally, we made jokes at his expense for like a week straight. Fortunately, Kawhi claims he was totally oblivious to the fact that it became a meme. For someone as shy as him, it’s probably for the best. Besides, who cares what your laugh is like when you’re leading the team with the best record in the league and you’re about to get paid a whole lot of money in the next few months?
If you were ever wondering whatever happened to legendary NBA coach Don Nelson, you’re in for a rare treat. It turns out he’s literally been living on a pot farm in Hawaii and hanging out with Willie Nelson and Woody Harrelson. Island life has been good him, and it showed when he arrived in Springfield last fall for the Hall of Fame induction ceremony looking like a mid-level mob boss.
The memes came fast and heavy as Nellie was nearly unrecognizable in a black-on-black suit, a goatee and slicked-back mullet, and what appeared to be a hemp necklace. Basically, he looked awesome. Anyone who says otherwise is just jealous. It’s like that old saying: You might think you’re cool, but you’ll never be Hawaiian pot farmer Don Nelson cool.
The Curse of the Vice
The Nike City Edition uniforms have given rise to some pretty incredible cross-promotional campaigns. The Timberwolves, for example, honored Prince one night at a home game earlier this season with purple and back jerseys, while their social media account nearly broke Twitter by posting Prince lyrics and video clips from the timeless Chappelle’s Show sketch.
The Heat have done something similar with “Vice Nights” — an homage to the 80s cop show Miami Vice — featuring pink neon uniforms and a specially designed court with matching colorways that they’re scheduled to use during 13 home games this season. There’s only one catch: The Heat went 0-6 on Vice Nights through the first two months of the season, and with NBA players being the notoriously superstitious lot that they are, they decided to ditch the jerseys for a couple of games in a desperate attempt to get back on track.
It worked, however briefly, but because they’ve presumably invested a lot of money in this endeavor, they decided to try their luck again and bring them back for a Boxing Day showdown against the Raptors, which they lost, 106-104.
The Fultz Conundrum
It’s hard to know what to make of the Markelle Fultz dilemma in Philadelphia.The crux of the matter is whatever is going on here:
In just a year and half, he’s gone from being the No. 1 overall pick to a nearly untradeable albatross. In many ways, the whole thing hinges on how much of this is mental and how much is physical. Fultz and his camp insist it’s physical, and now they seem to have the diagnosis to support that.
The perception that he’s just got a bad case of the yips – and the stigma surrounding that – would be almost too much to recover from that this point, which is a shame. It’s been a demoralizing experience, but fortunately, he’s still young, and there’s plenty of time for him to transform into the player everyone thought he’d be when Philly took him with the top pick.
A Tale of Two Brookses
At one point as I was texting with a fellow Memphian as this whole fiasco was unfolding, he says to me, “I bet Chris Wallace got cold feet.” My initial reaction was, nah, that’s absurd. But as the night wore on, I thought to myself, what seems likelier, that widespread incompetence on the part of multiple front offices toppled a three-team mega-trade, or that one side simply had second thoughts?
We may never know exactly what happened, but we do know that a similar name mix-up apparently happened with the Boston Celtics in recent years, according to owner Wyc Grousbeck, which sparked a little amateur sleuthing of our own to try and figure out who it might’ve been. Regardless, Trevor Ariza still ended up in Washington, while both Dillon and MarShon Brooks remain in Memphis.
Fergie’s Star-Mangled Remix
When you think of the most transcendent national anthem performances in history, you think of Marvin Gaye at the 1983 All-Star game, Whitney Houston at the 1991 Super Bowl, Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock. Then, there’s a whole other segment of hapless celebrities who have absolutely butchered it and made a mockery of themselves in the process.
Last February, Fergie entered into the Valhalla of that latter category with one of the worst renditions in recent memory, a shrill auditory assault. It was so cringe-inducing that just about everyone caught on camera could barely keep it together.
Then, several months later, after the whole thing had mostly faded from memory, Fergie’s ex-husband, Josh Duhamel, singled out Draymond Green for some reason and said that he owed her an apology. That apology, however, would not be forthcoming. Instead, the Warriors posted this incredible video of them dancing to a remix version. It was a good reminder that if you go against the champs, you’re gonna lose.
Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo genuinely hate one another. There’s real antipathy there, which is refreshing. To be clear, we don’t condone or encourage violence of any kind, and few could’ve predicted that this confrontation would’ve escalated the way it did, especially so early in the season.
But after studying the footage like it was the Zapruder film, we gained a clearer picture of what incited the whole melee, i.e. Rondo spitting directly in Paul’s face. Which is, you know, gross. It’s hard to judge someone for how they reacted in that situation, but regardless, the result was the same, i.e. suspensions, fines, more bickering, and one of the strangest moments of any NBA season.
Jimmy Goes To Practice
Say what you will about Jimmy Butler, but he knows how to create a spectacle, regardless of whether it even achieved its intended effect. To recap, Butler demanded a trade, refused to report to camp, then crashed practice, cursed everyone out, and went on TV to brag about it.
Yet, despite all that, coach and GM Tom Thibodeau still held out for weeks until he got what he wanted in a trade package with Philadelphia. You could argue all Butler did was confirm all the negative rumors about him being a nightmare to deal with. That and, of course, nearly destroying the Timberwolves organization from the inside out.