Akrotiri Thera Fresco, c. sixteenth century BCE
Likely dating back to the first interaction between civilizations of Homo sapiens from different geographic origins, the trade system is both as simple and complex as one wants it to be. An entity has something; another entity has another thing; each one wants what the other has, giving up as little as possible in order to gain it. With the exception of a few law-making scandals here and some ethical creativity there, that is all trade has ever been, whether it be Mycenaeans utilizing the Danube River, or your possibly drug-addled stockbroker gambling your retirement on the latest cryptocurrency.
Though the exchange of humans themselves largely, mercifully went out of fashion over the past two centuries, it remains a compelling means of business in the public arena of professional sports. We watch the games for a variety of reasons, but in the age of social media, reaction has become nearly as important as action. A team wins, and another loses. The former has to maintain its formula, while the latter has to figure out an antidote.
For the Oklahoma City Thunder, Russell Westbrook’s MVP campaign was the coldest consolation prize for the first season since moving from Seattle spent without Kevin Durant. To paraphrase ESPN staff writer Royce Young, as eye-poppingly ostentatious as it was, for the Thunder to succeed with him, Westbrook’s 2016-’17 season can never happen again. The Monolith needed help, and on Tuesday, that help officially arrived.
“Salieri pours poison into Mozart’s glass,” Mikhail Vrubel
The popular perception of Antonio Salieri, if the stage and film versions of Amadeus are to be believed, is that he was the unforgiving rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the man who championed the Austrian composer publicly while attempting to derail his career privately, like a southbound A train without a supportive governor for assistance. The film, of course, used poetic license to an extreme in the cases of both Salieri and Mozart, suggesting that, while there was some sense of rivalry, there was also a begrudging respect, manifested in the fact that Salieri conducted a handful of Mozart’s works both while the composer was alive and afterward.
A physical specimen of uncommon stature, even by 2017 standards, Russell Westbrook is not the prototypical NBA player. He stands at a modest 6’3” and weighs an everyman-esque 200 pounds, yet he in his 6’3”, 200-pound frame has done more in an athletic context, pound for pound, than perhaps anyone else (a) not playing upper echelon European soccer, (b) not an NFL quarter- or halfback, if that counts, or (c) named Allen Iverson. On Monday night, for his efforts this past season, one which was forgotten in June but will never, ever be forgotten, Westbrook was awarded this season’s Most Valuable Player.
All artwork by Brian Kraker/Tuesdays With Horry
Having literally birthed the Cool during sessions toward the turn of the decade, Miles Davis subsequently descended into hell, fighting depression with a legendary heroin addiction. After a lengthy battle to kick the addiction, the trumpeter took his quintet to the Newport Jazz Festival in July 1955, putting on a comeback performance capitalized by a performance of “Round About Midnight.” By that October, Davis was at a crossroads in his already esteemed career and had to act quickly to form what would become his first great quintet, one featuring the landscape-altering saxophone wizardry of John Coltrane. Together, Davis and Coltrane, along with Red Garland, Philly Joe Jones, Paul Chambers and, later, Gil Evans, created some of the decade’s, and jazz’s, most enduring music, culminating in the era-defining modal record Kind of Blue.
After nearly breaking the core apart before it achieved anything, the Utah Jazz matched the Charlotte Hornets’ offer sheet for Gordon Hayward in the summer of 2014. Prior to this season, the team re-signed rim-protecting center Rudy Gobert through 2021. Along with George Hill, Derrick Favors and a resurrected Joe Johnson, as well as the contributions of heady, heavy vet Boris Diaw and Australian swingman Joe Ingles, the Jazz have charged their way into a second round date with presumptive title favorites the Golden State Warriors, slaying a maligned dragon on the way to becoming fan-favorite underdogs.
Long held to be a tragically uncool locale – the Warriors are sad not to be able to take advantage of the Los Angeles nightlife, for example – Salt Lake City suddenly has the hippest game in the NBA. With critically acclaimed but crucially underrated art from Brian Kraker inspired by the classic records from labels such as Impulse!, Atlantic and Blue Note, let us walk back on Utah’s journey to the brink of excellence, two basslines conflicting and confiding in one another.
Triple Self-Portrait, Norman Rockwell (1960)
Today marks the beginning of the NBA playoffs, a most glorious time of the year when the basketball is noticeably better. In a season full of downright certainty underpinned by complete uncertainty, these playoffs are going to shock and surprise us in ways we can’t even imagine, because they almost universally do. Can’t hold anything back now, and all that.
For just a brief moment, however, it seems fitting to gaze back with awe on one of the more improbable regular seasons we are ever likely to see, one full of jaw-dropping individual performances. Specifically, and with the utmost respect, it is my duty to inform you that, unless you are one of the members of the media yet to reveal their MVP vote via a longform column explaining why you didn’t pick any of the other candidates instead, nobody cares about your choice for this year’s NBA MVP.
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.
Suffering from a deafness which plagued him over the final three decades of his life, Ludwig van Beethoven explored new and innovative areas of musical theory which sometimes left him in controversial straits with critics. Having already composed countless quartets and sonatas as well as several symphonies, Beethoven continued to push the bounds of sound through his late period, often incorporating the influences of Bach, Handel and his immediate predecessor as foremost composer in the world, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Until his death in 1827, Beethoven strove to perfect the sounds and styles of the time which produced him.
On Sunday, two NBA title contenders, each by an MVP candidate, met in Houston for the second and final time in the regular season. The team that prevailed, the Houston Rockets, did so in much the same fashion as they have done all year: by adhering to their particular brand of the NBA’s prevailing style, launching as many threes as possible and, when that wasn’t available, getting to the rim for high percentage shots and foul opportunities. At the eye of the Rockets’ storm is James Harden, high-volume wing-turned-obscenely efficient point guard, a scoring machine in either case.
“Morte di Cesare,” Vincenzo Camucci
As common as love, perhaps more so, betrayal is a delicate theme which, if the Book of Genesis is to be trusted, has permeated history since the inception of existence. We know how this one goes: a serpent tempts Eve into an apple from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which is strike one; soon thereafter, their sons elicit contrasting reviews for ostensibly the same work, causing the first instance of jealousy and, subsequently, the first instance of murder in the form of fratricide, which is strike two; many centuries later, Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon into Roman Italy and earned himself a perpetual dictatorship, until a group of his friends decided that perhaps that wasn’t such a good idea. Several centuries after that, we learned to sum up betrayal in three words, none of them English: “Et tu, Brute?”
On Saturday night, Kevin Durant returned to Oklahoma City, the arena and area which raised him from a lanky post-Supersonic to an NBA MVP, to face the Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena for the first time. Despite two massive victories over the Thunder already under their belts, there was no reason to expect this would be easy, particularly with many fans and, as it turned out, teammates still twisting the knives out of their backs.
Since October 25th, when the NBA season began, a few things have changed. Some are minute; perhaps you switched from white wine to red, took up yoga or bought a new pair of dress shoes that you’ll save for just the proper occasion. Others, less so, but you can read about that in the oblique, unchecked vacuum that convinced you the world was one way when, in fact, it’s the other, at least to a large enough plurality for that to matter.
Much of what we presumed to be true is shaken, even stirred, while the rest is magnified to such an extent as to be distorted beyond reasonable comprehension. What we face now, in basketball as in life, is adjustment to the new normal.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid/20th Century Fox
“Boy, I got vision, and the rest of the world wears bifocals.” – Butch Cassidy
When the final whistle sounded on Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals in May, a certain feeling of deflation accompanied the confetti which fell from the rafters of Oracle Arena in Oakland. After having been up three games to one in the series, the Oklahoma City Thunder squandered their lead to the defending champion Golden State Warriors, the 96-88 final score of Game 7 being the most painful exclamation mark of any during the Durant-Westbrook Thunder era. Even with Kevin Durant lined up to be a free agent in the offseason, it still stood to reason that he had more to lose by leaving Oklahoma City than by giving it at least one more go with his explosive comrade in arms.
Already, the rest is history, albeit of the continually developing nature that calls for perpetual scrolling lines of text alerting the viewer to the absolute latest hard truths, highlighted in red and bolded beyond reason. Durant left to sign with the Warriors, the very team that had beaten his own before going on to put together an even more spectacular collapse in the NBA Finals. Westbrook re-signed with the Thunder, finally and definitively taking the wheel after years as Durant’s foil. Tonight, back in Oracle Arena, the erstwhile brothers meet as opponents for the first time.
“Custer’s Last Stand,” Edgar Samuel Paxson
Finally – finally – it is that time of year again. As the leaves turn, and the breeze becomes a chill, the NBA is at our doorstep, knocking incessantly, asking if we have heard the good news and finally accepted Adam Silver into our lives. As is tradition around this time, profile after ostensibly revealing profile has exploded through the Internet’s dams and into our timelines – of teams, of conferences and divisions and, of course, of players. Each one delivers us infinitesimally closer to the players we hold in high regard, whom we can never really know.
Fitting, then, that in the week before the start of the season, two captivating and personal cover stories on Russell Westbrook have preceded the NBA season, one from GQ’s Daniel Riley, and another from Sports Illustrated’s masterful Lee Jenkins. Each is uniquely great in its own right, and both brim with an undercurrent of the rage everyone anticipates and hopes to see manifested in Westbrook’s game on a potentially scorched earth-like MVP campaign. This is the Year of Westbrook.