The days are getting longer. They look short but continue for ages. At once, a new day will be upon you and gone almost before it happened. They pile up, the days, and the blurring of colors at dusk can just as easily be the memories of events that slip between the cracks, regardless of importance.
When we think about the things that are familiar, we can have a sense of present-nostalgia: yes, I know that deli; of course, I’ve seen that player many times; indeed, I fell out without ever actually falling in with a group of people during that game. We think we know who we are, and we assert that to the world, only for the world to remind us of a different reality.
For a time almost destined to be locked inside of itself, quarantined or otherwise, the Philadelphia 76ers are a perfect emblem. The sense of what the Sixers are, or were, or will be(?) has shifted in the various allegedly-conscious organs of fans and onlookers nearly by the minute ever since Ben Simmons essentially ruled himself AWOL. Joel Embiid is currently enjoying an MVP-caliber campaign, this time as earnest as ever, but – thanks to old pal Daryl Morey – here comes James Harden, and the bevy of his flavor in seeming full force.
In November, at the invitation of a good friend of this site, I attended the Knicks-Cavaliers game at Madison Square Garden, my first NBA game in 22 months. Naturally, the Knicks lost in blowout fashion, with Ricky Rubio, of all people, setting a career-high in points with 37.
What we’ve more or less known for several years spanning multiple presidential administrations is that a person, currently in his thirties and born in Ohio, is the most important and influential men’s basketball player of the past twenty years, at least. While it’s contentious to suggest that the state is the birthplace of aviation, as the state itself does, instead of aviators, which is what it is, its place as a basketball haven is beyond question.
The antecedent, however, lies in the heart of the beholder: LeBron James is, by most credible accounts, at least the second- or third-greatest basketball player ever to walk the earth. His performance in the 2015 NBA Finals, nevermind the following year, won many people over following his period of Heat villainy.
Then again, well, the guy who spearheaded the Finals win over him, as well as two more later on, put on a 37-point performance Tuesday night against a former teammate’s would-be superteam when the Golden State Warriors beat the Brooklyn Nets 117-99. That guy, Steph Curry, was (and, the hope goes, always will be) cooking.
And just like that, we’re back. Let Thugger up there keep you company on our misguided tour of the NBA going into the new season.
It had to be Daniil, didn’t it? The long, brash Russian seemingly spent the past two years gearing up for just this moment, playing to the whims of various audiences and knocking on the door of his first Slam title without ever kicking it entirely in. He had very openly been thinking about it, and since Dominic Thiem finally broke through the Big Three née Four’s hegemony with his first Slam title at Flushing Meadows a year ago, it seemed that Daniil Medvedev would soon enter the chat himself.
Djokovic v. Medvedev, the top two seeds facing each other, was the logical end, and the one that most wanted: even after Novak’s dressing down of Daniil in straight sets in Melbourne in January, there was a feeling that the latter was gearing up all along for another match with the current best player on the planet. He got it, and with nothing less than a calendar Slam on the line.
It is the latter half of the 2021-’22 NBA regular season, and the Los Angeles Lakers sit in eighth place in the Western Conference with a 28-29 record. Big man Anthony Davis, acknowledged to be a big without allowing himself to be referred to as a center, has missed twenty games, while LeBron James, the fulcrum upon which all Lakers-based activity must depend, has incurred an apparent return of the high ankle sprain which had once befallen him.
James has taken to imploring his teammates to work harder in his absence, which seemingly grows longer at his whims. On Instagram, his beseeching increasingly includes the term “brodie,” seemingly in the pejorative. Teammate Russell Westbrook notices.
The thousand injuries of Lebrunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge. You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that gave utterance to a threat. At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitely, settled – but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish but punish with impunity.
Two teams, born out of necessity in the same year and in service to the same league starting to feel the pressure of a burgeoning challenger not beholden to its own, increasingly antiquated norms, met for the first time in the NBA Finals in this, of all years. While one experienced immediate success, winning a coin toss over the other which led to literally Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and, subsequently, a championship in 1971, the other endured the weird fluctuations that come with acting like a small market team while not being a small market team.
For as influential a year as 1968 was supposed to have been in the minds of those who lived it, two products of that vintage specifically, each of whom have long disappointed their faithful, turned in playoff runs and an NBA Finals for the ages. While the Phoenix Suns’ third run to the championship round ended in something approaching triumphant uncertainty, the Milwaukee Bucks wheezed hot fumes in the face of adversity. Fifty years after their first, the Bucks are the NBA champions.
When the Phoenix Suns traded for Chris Paul, it seemed to be an opportunity, albeit a misguided one: the aged Point God would arrive and, just as he had in OKC before, impart some majestic secret knowledge on the youths, a Gnostic arriving to guide things just enough, to the point that they would be able to grow beyond his available measure upon his departure. He would never be at peace, but if this was his role at 35, Paul would be charitably useful. Only then would he again elevate everyone around him, and so far, he has exceeded that.
Did I think this year’s edition of the Phoenix Suns was that team? Not necessarily, but they had a lot more juice than many previous editions of Chris Paul Teams, with or without the State Farm sponsorship. Despite their youth and various fears, here they are: the orbs whose mascot and logo cause so much consternation, and yet a team whose continued excellence brings a familiar chill to anyone daring themselves to watch following his time with the other Hornets, Clippers, Rockets and Thunder. Finally, now, Chris Paul is in an NBA Finals.
It would be negligence to suggest that Paul’s presence alone turned a team that went undefeated in last year’s abridged bubble – and still missed the playoffs! – into the Western Conference representative this year. Paul is and remains the Point God, perhaps now more than ever, but we’ve already talked that over, so it seems fair and fitting to bestow some glory on the rest, the co. in CP3 and Co.
On Thursday night, Conan O’Brien hosted what he has said would be his final late-night television episode, on his last late-night television program. He began on TV as a largely unknown 30-year-old in 1993 with exactly the kind of pedigree you would’ve expected then: Harvard-taught, an alumnus of both The Simpsons and Saturday Night Live, an advocate for the weird and disruptive trends emerging in comedy to which, despite him being an Irish-Catholic Massachusetts native, he had a singular pulse.
My introduction to Conan’s work was via Late Night With Conan O’Brien, the show he hosted as the wedge between his beloved Johnny Carson and Jay Leno and which was repurposed as a day-after lead-in to The Daily Show on Comedy Central for a while. When it came time for Conan to assume his seat at the top of NBC’s hierarchy, it suffered from poor ratings and a shift back to late-night along with the Tonight Show name, which Conan would fundamentally not accept. A back-and-forth ensued, and Conan eventually ceded the seat, leaving us bereft of him for a time while he popped up on tour and at music festivals – more on that later.
I understand that his is mainly a slightly-older generation of an audience, the tweeners that both lived to experience Nevermind in real time, cognizant of it or not, and also know how to navigate social media without sparking fights at a dinner table, but my friends and I – white and well-off-ish enough as we were – liked Conan better than any of the others mostly because we never knew what to expect.
Below is a list, mostly off the top of my head, of my personal favorite Conan segments, recurring and otherwise. I know this isn’t the end, but HBOMax’s app is horrendous, and anyway, it isn’t as widely accessible as he has been for thirty years otherwise. Conan, we only wish you well, as you ever wished us.
It’s one thing to win a Grand Slam in the first place – to be physically gifted enough from the start, to train hard enough to be the best tennis player in your town, and then your region, and then your country, and eventually the world, at least for a moment. To do that once is a monumental feat, a testament to all the things we’re told we should aspire to cultivate.
On Sunday, Novak Djokovic won his nineteenth singles title and second French Open championship. Nevermind that he is now only one behind Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the men’s record for career Slams – he had to beat Nadal, the clay king and thirteen-time champion at Roland Garros to do it, and then overcome a two-set deficit, something he’d never done in a Slam final, to Stefanos Tsitsipas. All the while, he never looked in doubt.