“Rover, Red Rover” – Arthur Leipzig
Free agency in professional sports, in its ideal form, is the best and most prominent example of the free market at work that exists in this country. A worker earns their keep; their employer either decides that they are or are not worth the trouble, and then there are suitors everywhere lining up to give that person their just deserts. It’s deceptively simple.
Yet – and that word does a percentage of the salary cap’s worth of lifting here – it is much more deceptive than simple. The salary cap itself is one measure of inequality-via-equality; were LeBron James ever paid as much as he deserved in his career, he would likely be rivaling Gaius Appuleius Diocles at this point. Alas, at least in salary-capped leagues, the reality is thus: make what you can of what you have, and be judicious with your forecasts. A tornado doesn’t have to spring up to be destructive; if it gets you to move, it’s done enough of its job.
At a time reported to be 7:30 pm Eastern but which will probably be sometime shortly thereafter, the 2019 NBA Draft will begin tonight. That means that, for the devoted, a tweet, or text of a tweet, from Adrian Wojnarowski will pop across their phone screens, sometime between 7:28 and 7:30, informing the masses what we’ve all known since before the Anthony Davis trade, before the All-Star Game, before Christmas: that Zion Williamson of Duke will be the #1 overall pick.
That he is presumably going to New Orleans is the karmic injustice befitting a team that wasted Davis’ first seven years in the league but which new general manager David Griffin is already turning toward the future. If Zion happens to be the key to open that particular sarcophagus, alongside the newly-acquired Lakers tweens, then the Pelicans will be raising hurricanes, toasting the next decade of success.
If he’s caught in the right place at the wrong time, however, then the draft gods will have proven infallible once again. That’s the beauty and sorrow of any professional sports draft, but this year, and this one, feels especially momentous.
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.
The switch exists. I’m telling you right now because, for the second time in my life, I was lucky enough to see the man at the helm in person, and at 33 years young, he was as commanding of attention as he was in command of the game, and when he needed to, LeBron James turned the volume all the way up and told your parents to mind their Ps and Qs. Last Sunday, in Brooklyn, I saw the switch in action.
It isn’t that he isn’t great all the time – he is, and he has been for the overwhelming majority of his breathlessly Hall of Fame career – but to watch him have to be, with his still-gelling team nervously jetting and firing around him in an effort to show that yes, we’re good enough, please stay, adds another layer to an almost unquantifiable NBA experience.
Courtesy of NBA.com
Since their move from New Jersey in the summer of 2012, the current Brooklyn Nets franchise has had a grand total of two (2) NBA All-Stars. The most recent is the ageless, egoless, nearly-anonymous Joe Johnson, fresh off eviscerating unsuspecting foes with his iso-heavy wizardry and shooting among the best percentages of his career in both the regular season and playoffs with the Utah Jazz.
The other is a twin with a noted fondness for everything Disney and cats. He toiled for several years with a team that squeaked into the playoffs in 2015 before descending into what is essentially indentured servitude to the Boston Celtics, a lottery-bound squad without recourse that has racked up a grand total of 41 wins over the past two seasons. Following a pre-draft trade with the Los Angeles Lakers, perhaps, finally, Brook Lopez will be able to find peace.
With Andre Roberson closing quickly, Brook Lopez launches a three, early in the shot clock but with enough space to give it a chance. The ball clanks off the front of the rim, kisses the backboard and falls into the left hand of professional basketball’s most perplexing genius, to rapturous applause from what should be a hostile crowd. It is the latter’s tenth rebound of the night, and after adding two more, combined with his 25 points and 19 assists, the intensely focused scientist sits, his team all but guaranteed a victory they would soon officially claim, his 33rd triple-double of the season secure.
Thunder doesn’t only happen when it’s raining. It was in the middle of March, in the midst of an overhyped blizzard, that the Brodie came to Brooklyn.