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In the pilot episode of Larry Charles’ Dangerous World of Comedy, the director of Borat and former Seinfeld writer timidly asks a reformed Liberian warlord known as General Butt Naked, “What does human flesh taste like?” 

The General answers that it tastes like pork. This is the moment when a two-drink minimum seems like a great idea. 

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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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You have options. Before the start of every new sporting season, dedicated fans take a step back to join casual onlookers just catching up in assessing offseason developments, visualizing the year ahead, prognosticating to pass the time. There are bland press releases to read, rehearsed transcripts to read into, social media posts to pick apart. Media sources both official and otherwise get paid to distill this pile of corporate-backed bollocks into coherent season previews with scripted narratives to follow for your benefit so you can regurgitate it to uninterested parties as the smartest, least likable person in the room when the topic of conversation finally comes around. I know what these previews will say. So do you. This is the ritual.

But there are alternatives. That’s why you’re here.

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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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