A popular belief stemming from the Greco-Roman historian and statesman Cassius Dio is that the rise of Commodus, the son of Marcus Aurelius, to the emperorship of Rome in 180 AD coincided with the beginning of the end for the Western Roman Empire. Calamitous events would follow for the next three centuries, but as far as Cassius Dio was concerned, Commodus was the first guy stripping floorboard on the renovation.
Setting the tone for subsequent leaders of a similar ilk, Commodus got very into the idea of himself-as-the-kingdom, a personality cultist whose proto-fascism set the stage for his own assassination in 192. Any time you get the chance to be the marker of the end of a quasi-familial dynasty, well, I guess you have to take it.
On the non-hereditary side, reigns of power take all shapes and forms (though, if we’re being honest, if it isn’t in sports, it usually ends in assassination). Many franchises have experienced periods of stupendous success followed by tumultuous lows, but right now, the Golden State Warriors are undergoing the very worst downfall in recent memory.
Odysseus and Polyphemus – Arnold Böcklin (1896)
Canonically, Odysseus ends up becoming immortal. He was always destined to be, of course, but depending on where you go for your Greek epic epilogues, his fate was either a bit in doubt or entirely certain after dying at the hand of his own son, Telegonus. It is less an Oedipus situation and more a Meat-Becomes-Murder ordeal as far as familicide in Greek epics goes, but you can look into it yourself if you are so inclined.
Similarly close to a place called Ithaca, Carmelo Anthony is already a Hall of Famer. He is likely also the most divisive player of his generation, a member of the venerated 2003 draft class and the only player picked in the top five of that class without an NBA championship ring. His legacy has been in question for at least half a decade. Anthony had been out of the league for over a year until Tuesday night, when, carrying an exhaustingly-explained double-zero on his back, he made his debut with the Portland Trail Blazers.
Bradley Beal, magician – Noah K. Murray, USA TODAY Sports
Along with the New York Knicks, Charlotte Hornets, Sacramento Kings (who have apparently revealed themselves to be frauds) and, until very recently, the Phoenix Suns (who very well may still be frauds but are enjoying a good run right now), the Washington Wizards are, historically speaking, an NBA team only ostensibly and have a history of producing the sort of spectacular assclownery typically reserved for Stefon’s nightclubs, the bum-rush for Popeyes chicken sandwiches and Congress, all of which can be set to the Benny Hill theme music without much disruption.
On Wednesday night against the Houston Rockets, however, the Wizards reached a new low, one to which only one other team in NBA history can stake a claim: they managed to score 158 damn points in regulation in a one-point loss. Their forebears? The 1991 Denver Nuggets, who lost 162-158 to the Golden State Warriors on November 2, 1990. That team won 20 games. When you’re hanging with the post-ABA, pre-Melo Nuggets, you know you’re in great company!
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
Continuing their rapid execution of justice against the reign of terror that the Golden State Warriors have afflicted upon the NBA for the past half-decade, the basketball gods unfortunately chose two-time MVP and paradigm-shifting genius Steph Curry as their latest victim in the Warriors’ 121-110 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night.
Emilee Chinn, Getty Images
Wiry tree-man and would-be Defensive Player of the Year candidate Myles Turner of the Indiana Pacers left the game on Wednesday night against the Brooklyn Nets with what appeared to be a scary lower leg injury.
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports
To get this out of the way up front: the NBA shrinking in the face of one nation in which it has interests – one whose interests happen to conflict with those of what the American ideal is supposed to be, mind you, as it suppresses the protests of people in Hong Kong, facing potential extradition to the mainland, where prisoners’ cases can be ignored entirely – makes the league’s put-on image of empowerment look transparently weak.
That Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey sparked the current, ostensibly bipartisan discourse with a fairly innocuous tweet seems to say more about that nation, its insecurity as a world power and its desire for overwhelming power on a world stage, than it does about anyone who has anything to say about it, but the NBA is at some fault here, and commissioner Adam Silver is in an even more unique position than he was when the Donald Sterling circus unfolded five years ago.
With a deep breath – and I know it’s complicated to dig out of that tunnel, even if human rights shouldn’t be – I would like to move on to the Rockets themselves, and the fascinating approach(es) they may take this season in integrating the likes of, ehem, Russell Westbrook into their offense.
Courtesy of Everclear
A circus comes to town, and you expect a few things. Maybe it’s a flame-eating swordsman, or a karate hero, or someone whose tattoos outnumber your hangers, or a lady with the high-wire abilities of your last boyfriend, struggling to explain why you need to make his share of this month’s rent. It happens.
What you end up expecting, though, is something magical, something surreal. It becomes something that you yourself do not think you could ever accomplish, even provided the time and, perhaps, physical ability to do what you are seeing. The Oklahoma City Thunder have become the NBA’s traveling circus. I cannot tell you how much it pains for me to describe them as such.
Courtesy Associated Press
Not that you were especially curious about my opinion, but being that we’re all curious about everyone’s opinions – only to the extent that we can then espouse upon our own, I suspect – let me be clear about what has happened over the past week: no, I have no idea what’s going on in the NBA, other than that players are doing whatever the hell they want, which is good for fans from an objectivity standpoint and bad for fans from a “We want a title at all costs!” standpoint.
“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.