Photo courtesy SLAM Online/IG: @atibaphoto

“I am Toronto.”

With these three words, and a reported $139 million, Compton native and All-Star shooting guard DeMar DeRozan took his seat at the table of the NBA’s leader in latitude, the modern king of the midrange having found comfort in an uneasy Eastern Conference all the more unsettled by the various fluctuations that the summer of 2016 carried with it. DeRozan’s empathy for the frozen North made for great newspaper fodder, but it did not alleviate the worry that fans of his team, the Toronto Raptors, had at the time concerning their franchise’s future.

As has become the standard, that relief would arrive the following summer, when All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry inked his own $100 million deal to stay in Canada. Along with DeRozan, Lowry represents Toronto’s best chance at viability in an Eastern Conference long dominated by LeBron James’ regular season malaise giving way to humdrum playoff dominance. By seizing control of the #1 seed in the East, along with several high-profile wins, including those against Houston, Cleveland and a back-to-back drubbing of dark horse Process favorites the Philadelphia 76ers, Toronto has edged its way into something like favorability, edged on by a modernistic offense and an ability to rise to the occasion.

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Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing by Austin Manchester, 2004

The list of shared experiences by Americans[1] in the year of our LORD 2018 reads more or less as follows: death; taxes[2]; unseasonable weather no matter the season; thoughts on race, whether intentional or not; thoughts on gender equality, whether intentional or not; thoughts on the New York Times’ editorial strategy, definitely intentional; all prior thoughts brought on by pieces courtesy of social media and/or texts linking to it; and a vague understanding of nuclear proliferation.

Narrow the scope, and that list becomes broader, but then you’re dealing in sample sizes of varying confidence. The South is hot, but man, these taxes, amirite?; the Northeast is cold, and keep your business out of my business; the West is a beautiful landscape and has bad traffic, tech geniuses and an insatiable hunger to continue being a final frontier long since conquered; Texas is the South, but it isn’t, you know what I’m saying?

On the Midwest: I’m not from there[3], nor have I ever lived there[4], though my oldest, not older, brother has for over a decade, and Blog Surf James Vasiliou is well-equipped to speak on generally Midwestern things himself. Something exciting, however, is unquestionably brewing in two cities, Minneapolis and Indianapolis, involving characters both familiar to both and foreign, in nationality and suitability for the stereotypically reserved region.

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Via Twitter user @elevenzsz

Here is something that I do not imagine will come as any great shock to you, dearest reader: I am not at all knowledgeable in an overwhelming majority of the facets of figure skating. I know the equipment – a sheet of ice, a pair of skates and a warm-blooded person of distinct nationality in a skintight representation of an eighteenth century romance novel – I know a handful of names – Kristi Yamaguchi, Michelle Kwan, Johnny Weir, Tara Lipinski, Nancy Kerrigan, Nancy Kerrigan’s problematic attacker who now has her own movie, for some reason – and far fewer but non-zero number of jump names, like the triple axel and the Salchow, and that’s where it ends.

But on Thursday night, as happens every four years, I took in the sport in all its glory, as the men’s short program from Pyeongchang hit primetime. Expecting to see the crowning of two-time American champion and team bronze medalist Nathan Chen, or the pyrotechnic flair and on-camera joyous irreverence to which we’ve grown accustomed over the past two weeks from fellow American Adam Rippon, I was instead treated to the comeback performance of quadrennial and a Winnie the Pooh hailstorm.

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You could almost sense it. A distant, long-forgotten feeling, far off on the horizon, was turning a black sky a deep shade of purple that, no matter how profoundly dark it remained, was nevertheless definitively lighter than before. At some point, it would shed its opacity and reveal itself, hope, in all its shining, youth-invoking glory. Its vessel? A 7’3” Latvian who could do things that no basketball court had ever seen.

Then, of course, came the reckoning, which every Knicks fan, and every basketball fan familiar with the Knicks franchise, should have expected. The purple faded back to black in cannonading fashion on Tuesday night against the Milwaukee Bucks, when, prior to his commandeering of Tim Hardaway Jr.’s soul, Giannis Antetokounmpo presented enough of himself in just the wrong area for Kristaps Porzingis to land awkwardly after finishing a dunk, something he has made routine, and tear his left ACL. The devil is always in the details, the wicked lying in the weeds.

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Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated

I am a Detroit Pistons fan. It should be said that I am an incredibly casual Detroit Pistons fan, and while I followed the team closely during its glory years in the ’00s, these days I rarely go more in-depth than watching their (exceedingly rare) national broadcasts, checking scores and reading Andre Drummond features that occasionally cross my Twitter feed.

This is only to say that I am explicitly not someone to offer any sort of depth or nuance in my opinion of the modern NBA. I watch the later playoff rounds, and generally know which players are exceedingly good or outright trash, but any sort of in-depth knowledge I have on the league predates Steph Curry’s time in the league. When it comes to watching pro basketball, I am all feeling and no head these days.

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After I saw the 2018 Album of the Year Grammy nominees, I told myself that I wouldn’t be mad if any of the artists nominated won the highly coveted award. There were no glaring insults to the culture-at-large, à la Beck or Mumford & Sons. There was Bruno Mars, Lorde, Jay-Z, Childish Gambino and, of course, Kendrick Lamar. All of these artists released albums that seeped through popular culture (though you could argue that the extent of Lorde’s and Childish Gambino’s impacts was less pronounced than the other three nominees).

Despite having a lineup of albums that had their valid arguments and did not seem personally imported into the category by John Lennon impersonator and Recording Academy president Neil Portnow, the final win for Bruno Mars’ resounding coronation changed my earlier assertion that I would not fault the Grammys for awarding something like 24K Magic for Album of the Year. The more I began to reflect on Bruno’s win and what it meant, the more I began to question why we should even pay attention.

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