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.
Expectation can be a funny thing. In the abstract, we – in some cases, admittedly, the royal we – all expect things, whether it be the acceptance letter to a prestigious college, the big-time promotion that will finally make you feel a certain kind of comfortable or, in a more macro sense, the giant orb of light rising each morning despite all of the darkness, everywhere, all the time.
A funny thing about expectation, though – often, it doesn’t belong solely to the person on whom it is placed. That is to say, nurture makes itself apparent against nature, and whether you like it or not, you’re going to military school so that you can be a doctor. The other side of it, though, is that expectation, when set against the vast unknown, can be as powerful and as stupefying as fear. Like expectation itself, it isn’t always up to one person to decide whether to shoulder it on their own.
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Graphic by Brian Kraker
Another year down. Another year older, but perhaps none the wiser? Maybe that decision doesn’t belong to you alone. It felt like nothing did, most of the time. From Tide Pods to the Philly Special to countless acts of cruelty and many more of plain senselessness to the continued existence of the Golden State Warriors to having 12 years left to stop the sun to inexplicable blue lights over Astoria, everything that happened felt like it was going to happen anyway, sooner or later, and we were all left to bear it as best we could. Same as it ever was, but different.
Still: we would be equally bereft of sense to assume that darkness would drive out darkness. You may have heard that only light can do that. For all the bad and rot everywhere, urban, suburban and rural, at home and abroad, there were the moments in between that made everything we experience every day that kept us together, however briefly. If we experienced them together? All the better.
As Bootsy Collins said in 1972, “Balance is my thing/The snow, wind and rain must come.” With that, we delve into the year that was, with an eye toward the twelvemonth ahead.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the Spanish Armada, that enduring example of royalist hubris in which King Philip II of Spain attempted to brandish the world’s greatest navy in 1588 before his ex-sister-in-law, England’s Queen Elizabeth I, in an invasion of her country but wound up embarrassing himself when that navy failed to defeat its opponents as it wound a curious route around the British Isles. England readily disposed of Spain, and a family feud had turned into an international conflict. Habsburgs, amirite?
Except, well, that’s not quite how that went. More central to the collapse of the Spanish navy seems to have been the weather, especially in the Bay of Biscay. It had essentially dilly-dallied its way into misfortune, the Grande y Felicísima Armada, and England had been prepared enough to take advantage of a weakened fleet at that time.
What you don’t often hear about is the English counter-Armada of 1589, a more catastrophic defeat for the aggressors. The original Armada, while a shocking defeat and failure for Spain, did not noticeably loosen Philip’s grasp on the Spanish crown, nor did the counter-Armada force Elizabeth into ceding control of the English Channel or her advantageous trade relations with the Netherlands. Eventually, there was a peace treaty, and that was that.
Did you have a good week? I realize it’s only Thursday, but also – come on. The weekend is all but here, and anyway, we can assess the past seven days. In other words: the week, in real, whole numbers. Maybe you got that primo holiday bonus for hitting all of your performance measures. Maybe you finally found the perfect Christmas tree, with no room to spare either space- or timewise. Could it be that you popped the question, given nearly one-in-five engagements happen in the month of December?
Then again, with everything the way it is, maybe you’re just satisfied with getting through a week relatively unscathed, and that’s enough to call it “good.” That’s fine and completely understandable. That standard is still pretty high, all things considered, and certainly higher than those of Chicago Bulls President of Basketball Operations John Paxson, who, it seems safe to say, did not have a good week.
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Last Sunday in Brooklyn, after having been down by as much as 20 points, the Philadelphia 76ers found themselves with the ball, down a single point, with less than ten seconds remaining. On the floor were, predictably, four Sixers regulars – Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, JJ Redick and Wilson Chandler – as well as the recently-acquired Jimmy Butler. In an eerily similar sequence to one that had played out the weekend before in Charlotte, Butler shook free on the right wing and hit a step back three-pointer to give his team the lead, leaving under a second on the clock for his opponents. The Sixers won, 127-125.
Notably absent from the proceedings, yet again, was Philadelphia’s first #1 overall draft pick to actually play in his first year since Allen Iverson, a 20-year-old who has amassed a total of 680 minutes in 33 games over his two seasons in the NBA and who has not played since November 19th, in which he logged seven minutes against the lowly Phoenix Suns (more on them momentarily). Butler’s arrival, insertion into the starting lineup ahead of Fultz and evident, immediate impact has all but rendered Markelle Fultz a redundancy, so to speak, if not yet a flat-out bust. The undrafted T.J. McConnell is now soaking up minutes left behind by a former #1 overall pick, with the latter left in limbo.
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Devoid of context, if I asked you how things were going in Washington, D.C., you, as a reader of this website on whom I’m about to project a few beliefs you should probably objectively hold anyway, would likely rattle off something like the following: “The leader is inept; the major people involved hate working with each other; everybody is working against the greater interests of the people they’re supposed to be working on behalf of, to the degree that they only tolerate each other for the sake of image; any good thing that happens is purely incidental and doesn’t change my view of anyone involved.”
To a degree, I’d agree, without clarification. Specifically, though, the Washington Wizards have been the greatest thing that has ever happened to the late period Jimmy Butler Minnesota Timberwolves. John Wall began proceedings by showing up to Team USA practice in the summer looking like someone who had just spent an inordinate amount of time at Reagan National Airport. Despite a win against the feisty Clippers on Tuesday night, it hasn’t gotten much better.