It’s trade deadline week in the NBA, and understandably, this can be an uncomfortable time. There can be huge surprises and front offices can get knotted and tied-up, but ultimately the payoff can be huge, far-reaching, with teams enjoying the kind of success they’d be able to wrap around themselves, several times. And while going to these great lengths to succeed, it is important for teams and their players to remember to stay soft, to remember that the greatest accoutrement to winning requires some foresight, that it is rare for teams to achieve triumph by simply throwing it over their shoulders carelessly with a roguish inclination, and that occasionally very big questions need to be asked, persistently.
It was Toronto Raptors forward OG Anunoby who asked one such question this week of his veteran teammate, Serge Ibaka. A question that, in its bracing urgency, rocked the internal dynamics of the Raptors and brought all other conversations around the trade deadline to a screeching halt:
What about scarfs?
Anunoby posed the question to Ibaka when he appeared as a guest on Avec Classe, just one of the shows in the the big man’s media empire, earlier this week. In the episode — extremely opposite in tone from the segment prior to it featuring Fred VanVleet — Anunoby, after some already relentless riffing of Ibaka, claims that it was he who put Ibaka “on how to dress.”
Ibaka is incredulous. If you are at all familiar with the pre-game looks of the frankly model material Congolese player, then you would be, too. But Anunoby is nothing if not unflappable, a mix of deadpan delivery and coy, perfectly-timed statements. It soon becomes clear that not only does he have Ibaka’s number when it comes to getting under his skin, but he has dialed it several dozen times in the rapid succession and reckless glee of a newly minted prank caller.
As Ibaka gets so steamed he begins to physically remove layers of his immaculate clothing, Anunoby decides to kick it up not just a notch, but several lengths, almost like several loops of fabric one would wrap around one’s neck. He asks Ibaka, “What about scarfs?”
(And he says scarfs not scarves, let’s handle this piece of art with the care and respect it deserves.)
He asks him six times.
By the end of this rapid-fire questioning, Ibaka won’t even look at him. He is holding onto a nearby table for support. Anunoby, maybe sensing he should give some specifics to back this whole thing up, walks Ibaka (and us) through the first time Ibaka laid eyes on him in a scarf. Is it believable to think that Ibaka and his eagle-eye for fashion saw and complimented a dear teammate’s accessory? Absolutely. Would he then go out and get the same thing for himself? Why not. Does it mean that Serge Ibaka had never heard of a scarf before?
“Wait OG,” Ibaka lifts his arm to pause Anunoby’s scarf summoning, “let me tell you something.” He rolls his sleeves up. “This is your second year in the league.” He says.
“Third,” Anunoby corrects.
“Third, okay.” He brings his hand to his heart, “I’ve been in the scarf game, ten years now.” Scarf game. Not basketball game.
“You haven’t though,” Anunoby persists.
“And two, OG, I don’t dress,” Ibaka leaves room for the kind of pause you could carve a new Grand Canyon out of.
“But you saw me in my scarf…” Anunoby interrupts.
“OG!” Ibaka isn’t having it, not now or ever again, “I don’t dress OG! I do art!”
The two make it through the rest of the episode but tempers were both flared and tender, and there was real concern over what the vibe would be like after the wildfire of that clip caught, the first time the two would be seen in public.
On Wednesday, the eve of their first of a double-header against the Indiana Pacers, the question on all of our minds was not, who is going to deal who to where? It was, who is going to deal WHAT to wear, specifically, scarves! Neither Anunoby or Ibaka disappointed, but also how could any of us have been prepared for what came next.
Anunoby emerged first, draped in a Burberry print, decently long like you could get about three revolutions of the length, but only wrapped once so one end hung very deliberately and the other was up around half of his face. Presumably because he was probably laughing. I think he thought he had this thing wrapped.
But then came Ibaka. In a scarf as long as the ten years he claimed to be in the scarf game, Ibaka made his way slowly, under the weight of that wool and his victory, down the tunnel. There was a fashionable twist as it reached up over his shoulder, otherwise he was letting this thing speak for itself. On what would have been a full King-size afghan on anyone else, would have indeed, worn anyone else, Ibaka prevailed, making it look, somehow, smaller than him? Do not let Lenny Kravitz see this thing.
… “I’ve been in the scarf game 10 years now.” pic.twitter.com/hboWNFfAbt
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) February 5, 2020
I can’t tell you how the scarf wars were fought before this, but I can tell you how they were won. Here, today, with a question now stamped into the very natural fibers of eternity and knotted around its shoulders — what about scarfs?