Five things I love about the start of the 2015-16 NBA season:
1. The immortal Al Jefferson. Smarter folks than I have written more cogently on the greatly exaggerated death of NBA post play, so I’ll just say this: Al Jefferson rocks. Perimeter shooting? A vertical jump that clears a MacBook? Screw ‘em. Big Al doesn’t need your newfangled “spacing” or “athleticism.” He jab-steps advanced metrics and pump fakes stupid old gravity. He worships at the altar of Olajuwon. Big Al is the mighty redwoods. He is the mountains, the ocean and the sky. He’ll be slaying fools a millennia from now when we’re playing hoops on Saturn’s rings. His name is Al Jefferson of the clan McHale, and he cannot die.
2. Andre Drummond’s shoulder hair. Look, I’m drawing a line in the sand right now: The Zac Efron-izing of the modern American male ideal is a farce and a travesty. Simply put, the fashionista-industrial complex will not rest until every man on earth resembles a goddamn hairless Chihuahua, and I, for one, say, “no more.”
Joining the clarion call is Andre Drummond, the Detroit Pistons’ burgeoning all-galaxy center and conscientious manscaping objector. With apologies to Chris Kaman – a dude whose glorious weirdness defies singular categorization – it’s been a minute since the league had a significant contributor with the kiwis to so publicly put the “hair suit” in hirsute. Drummond is the willing, wooly Wookiee we’ve waited for. God bless him.
3. Modern medicine. NBA witch doctors once assembled to work their black magic only in Phoenix. Now? They’re everywhere, healing the infirm and adding years to the basketball lives of players whose new uniforms and travel itineraries otherwise would be JCPenney and a clipboard, along with a bus ride from Fort Wayne to Grand Rapids. Paul George, Wes Matthews and Jabari Parker, against all logic, are already back on the floor. Kyrie Irving isn’t far off. Good Christ, only two years ago, Russell Westbrook returned early from knee surgeries twice in the same season, only to post triple-doubles shortly thereafter.
Looking back, it’s haunting to think on Jamal Mashburn, Penny Hardaway and Bill Walton and the physical decaying that might have been prevented. And what about Grant Hill, Yao Ming and Brandon Roy? If they had been born 20 years later, might their careers have unfolded differently? We sometimes take for granted how seamlessly NBA players are put back together by today’s docs. We shouldn’t.
4. An albatross named Kobe.
It is an ancient Laker,
And he shooteth four of twenty-three.
By thy balded head and blindered eyes,
Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?
This season is Mitch Kupchak’s high school English lit fever dream come to life, but he has only himself to blame for the dead weight currently dangling from his neck. The Lakers general manager badly miscalculated when, in 2013, he signed a then-35-year-old Kobe Bryant, coming off a torn Achilles, to a 2-year, $48.5 million contract extension. I’m sure the move was rationalized as a butts-in-seats investment and a legacy-cementing device to woo future free agents (See how we take care of our own?!). But that’s a lot of Buss bucks to shell out for an 0-4 record, 32.3% field-goal shooting from Bryant and, even more damning, a 0.0 VORP (translation: brutal basketball). Schadenfreude? More like hard-core fandom of karmic balance. Find me another NBA superstar as egocentric, manipulative and unlikable – one whose personal agenda cost his team as often and whose megalomanic playing style sucked as much joy from a beautiful game. This was no harmless albatross. Own this curse, Kobe.
5. The 2015-16 NBA champion Golden State Warriors. Change is good. Keeps us engaged, on our toes. NBA dynasties? They bore me to tears. Spurs or Heat, their method matters not. Just be sure to shake things up, brother.
And then there’s … the Warriors. Was Golden State fortunate not to face an NBA-caliber starting point guard through last season’s playoff run? Of course. Does that fact diminish the legitimacy of the Warriors’ claim on the O’Brien Trophy or temper the soul-strumming syncopation of their playing style? Please. The Dubs are a sonnet, a love poem written to James Naismith. They are the on-court actualization of fans’ delirious love of the game. They are the closed-looped hoops porn of analytics Poindexters and purists alike. They make basketball better.
For once, back-to-back doesn’t sound so bad. Let’s ride this out, shall we?