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Author Archives: Rory Masterson

Courtesy of The Draft Review

Nothing about him was easy. It can’t have been, even for a guy whose parents were a professional basketball player and a handball player. From being born in the shadow of the Soviet Bloc a decade before the Wall fell to a draft night trade between two NBA franchises of, at the time, ill repute, the odds weren’t exactly in Dirk Nowitzki’s favor. By 1998, enough European players had met their hype with a whisper that the grossly unfair stereotypes about continental players being soft were well-established[1].

But Dirk is no stereotype. Instead, he became an archetype, not just for the brand of player that succeeds at the highest level but for the exact kind of player every franchise seeks in 2019[2]. Dirk’s game is an aesthetic pleasure, an easygoing kind of joy for the viewer that is frustratingly difficult to replicate. His combination of size, skill and shooting turned a maligned team into a contender and, eventually, into a champion. Even with his retirement, we have already begun to see the descendants he begat.

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The Garden of Eden, Erastus Salisbury Field (1860)

At one point, it seems, humans were much better off. In our innocence and, eventually, naïveté, we inherited a large swath of flora, fit for our use and designed to provide eternal happiness. It was here where we were whole, and it was here where we decided to channel our desire to the one thing we could not have. We’ve been suffering ever since, to our great delight.

Edinnu was the Assyrian root, via Sumerian, that ended up giving the Garden of Eden its modern-day name, courtesy of the Aramaic root, meaning “to be fruitful, plentiful.” We could’ve had it all, indeed.

I realize this can be a lot to handle, and I’m not asking you to internalize it all at once. This is the same effect that defenders likely have when facing James Harden, and, similarly, that stupefied state renders fans senseless when they watch him.

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Image result for twisted metal ice cream truck

Courtesy Sony Computer Entertainment

The idea that Magic Johnson had, I’m guessing, was simply that adding the best player in basketball – whatever that means – to a 35-win team might just be able to push the door open on a Western Conference playoff picture that it has not entered since 2013.

In a vacuum, this makes sense, being that LeBron James had led his various, sometimes-oddball teams to the NBA Finals in each of the prior eight seasons. For what Zach Lowe refers to as “the junior varsity conference,” LeBron was the final boss, and the Finals boss, for longer than erstwhile running mates Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas have been in the league.

In hindsight, what has happened was, or could have been, plain to see. LeBron had interests beyond basketball; the Lakers had interests beyond developing (admittedly big name!) young talent; LaVar Ball had interests beyond Lonzo Ball. These things happen.

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Assyrian king and Marduk-zakir-Å¡umi I of Babylon shaking hands in a public display of Assyro-Babylonian friendship. Reproduced from M. E. L. Mallowan, Nimrud and its remains, London 1966, vol. 2, 447 fig. 371d.

From “Peace and Conflict Monitor,” depicting diplomacy in 2300 BC

I’m not so much scared as just, well, on notice. Who knows what could happen? At any time, somebody may think more of you than everybody else, and then you’re onto a new journey, full of promise, confidence and relative autonomy. Conversely, though, maybe somebody decides you’re worth less than that, and you end up an errand person, subsisting on coffee and nodding your way through days that are no more notable than others as you try to take stock of who you are, where you are and how you can change one or both of those things.

Has it ever occurred to you just why you look at your phone so much? Starting from the premise that nobody on Twitter is actually that funny, so – Let me backtrack. Maybe you don’t check it that much, and if not, more power to you. It might be a performative power play on your part, but even in that case, you’re doing better than Rob in accounting and the New Orleans Pelicans.

On that last bit: better check your phone right now, just in case Woj has traded you from your cushy, insurance-laden desk job to a gig economy substitute that will drain your bank account as quickly as your will to live. For which, by the way, you’re working. If you’re in the NBA, today is an especially sweat-inducing time, as the trade deadline is upon us, and it has already played out as one of the most unpredictable in years.

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Saeed Khan/AFP

On many more occasions than is worth counting throughout this Australian Open, announcers made mention of how hot it is, how hot it’s gotten, how hot it can be. All of us know this all the time, increasingly, even in the sullen cold of a North American East Coast early morning in January. When it’s cold, we pine for the heat; when it’s hot, oof, maybe the cold isn’t that bad, actually.

In leaving behind what I imagine is the world’s most-discussed small talk topic, we broach the actual tennis. Seven years ago, on this very court, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal battled over five sets and nearly six hours, culminating in a Djokovic win but what Rafa referred to in the interim as the greatest match he ever played.

Who knows how the Spaniard feels about that assessment now, but it would be hard to imagine him bestowing such an honorific on his showing in this year’s final. With Djokovic’s 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 victory, the Djoker claimed his seventh title in Melbourne and his third consecutive major. The heat never bothered him anyway.

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Resilience is a dual-edged sword. On the one hand, we admire and commend it, a necessary tool in every aspect of life at some time or other. We see it in others and say, “Wow, I’m not sure I could’ve recovered from that like that.” On the other, needing it at all reveals a prior shortcoming, if not an outright failure, or an unknowable psychological trauma, either of the self-imposed or externally-driven variety. In some cases, it’s both.

The 2019 Australian Open women’s final, between Naomi Osaka and Petra Kvitova, was one of mutual resilience. Each player carried something into the match, and with each point, it seemed to weigh ever more heavily. When Osaka finally prevailed over Kvitova, and everything else, to win 7-6, 5-7, 6-4, it seemed that the relief of not having lost was all that was keeping her upright on the podium.

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Once upon a time, before the masses were entertaining entertainers as their civic heroes and when a guy like Harrison Barnes could lead the Golden State Warriors in scoring twice over six games in a playoff series, there existed a group of NBA players, not so outstanding individually as collectively, who could disturb the LeBrons, Kobes, Duncans and Clippers of the world. This usually ended up boiling down to two things, more often the latter: either the great talents pulled something extraterrestrial from deep in their vast wading pools to claim a victory, or they would find themselves on the level of the aggressors, trying to shamelessly barrel their way to something more beautiful.

Though they have had their moments, the Memphis Grizzlies of this decade have never been especially beautiful. From Zach Randolph through Tony Allen, but especially through Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, the Grizz have persisted with an iron will so clad that it attracts mere nods of respect from every corner of the league. With Tuesday’s announcement that Gasol and Conley are, for the first time, available for trade, Grit ‘N’ Grind may finally see its true, irrevocable end.

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