Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
ONE: What exactly did you think the Dunk of the Week was going to be? I could post just this video with no words and you would be completely and utterly convinced. It’s the dunk of the year by any objective or emotional measure.
TWO: We have a masked man streaking up the court rising up on a dude who just has absolutely no chance—but isn't smart enough to get out of the fucking way—slamming that poor, dumb man dead. In the immediate aftermath, Embiid and Baynes both splayed out on the court, exhausted and broken by a single dunk. Joel rises, rips the mask off, pumps his fist and soaks up the adoration of the crowd. It’s everything you want from basketball. It is the 1945 Mouton Rothschild of sports. Stick it in your face and huff deep of its tremendous vapors.
THREE: There comes a point in the life of every mediocre white NBA Big Man when you will get absolutely rattled on by a superior player, your pathetic body and face plunged into sap, time speeding up and capturing the most shameful moment of your career—of your life, even—in amber, to be shuttled off to some midwestern museum, where it will beckon people to drag you forever.
Shaq turning Dudley into history’s most trolled human; Vince Carter ending Frederic Weis’s NBA Career before it even began; Blake Griffin clutching the back of Mozgov’s head and destroying him without even touching the rim; Jordan eyeballing Laimbeer, the greatest Mediocre White Bag man of all time; Bill Russell banging on Darrall Imhoff so hard that Darrall sloops over, soul leaking out of body: it is a tradition that transcends time. And so, it’s tempting to rag on Aron Baynes for joining this cadre of pathetic shitheads, but what was he supposed to do? The second his tall father's sperm hit his tall mother's egg, his fate was sealed. Someday, he would become a middling white NBA player, and someday he would get yoked on in a playoff game, sent tumbling to the floor. Joel Embiid has willed into existence what fate foretold.
FOUR: That being said, he should have been prepared in other ways. Aron had to, somewhere in his bones, know that this was going to happen. Shit, it happened two weeks ago. The only way to preserve ANY of your dignity in the face of the inevitable is to not lean into it too much, to let yourself hide a little bit. Aron Baynes has done none of this. He is sporting a truly insane haircut—a revolting top knot with the sides shaved off—and a gross, fuzzy red beard. Baynes was once a dude who could get banged on in silence and hide in the madness of the NBA world, but he made a series of terrible aesthetic decisions that made him a dunked-on person of note instead of an anonymous body getting tossed to the ground.
FIVE: I’ve become distracted. The true greatness of this does not come in the small notes Baynes plays. It comes in the overwhelming blast that Joel lays down. There is no part of this that isn’t soaked with the pure triumph of the human spirit, vibrating with the celebration of life itself. Joel, by a lot of measurements, maybe shouldn’t even be here right now, running up and down a court. His feet were legit fucked up, his big body fragile in ways that threatened the continuation of his career the second he stepped into the league. Every moment in this dude’s NBA life feels borrowed and he seems totally intent on devouring all of it, playing hard, playing skilled, being a fucking guy you will remember forever. He throttles up the court as fast as possible, catches that pass, rises in the air and twists around, his momentum throwing Baynes and himself to the ground in one colossal, looping motion.
SIX: Then, on his way to foul shots, he gets up, takes off his mask and pumps his fist, whipping the crows into a frenzy. Joel’s total lack of giving a shit about the fake manners of sports is downright inspiring. In baseball, he would have been beaned almost immediately; Football would have spent a week wringing their hands over the implications of this celebration. That shit sucks, and pro basketball fucking knows it. Sure, there’s the occasional Westbrook or whoever who gins themselves up with these imagined slights, but they’re full of shit and everyone knows it. Joel’s career, Joel’s LIFE for that matter, only has so much time in it, and no one in the universe can tell him not to extract as much joy as possible out of this moment, Aron Baynes’s feelings be damned.
SEVEN: Anyone who denigrates this dunk because the Sixers lost is a police officer, excommunicate them from your life. The Celtics might win this series but they will always be Brad’s sexless machine, attractive only to nerds and sentimentalists. Joel also dunked on Al Horford, the official player of dull hoop, sometime later in the game, pushing him aside in the air. It truly does not matter if the Sixers lost this game or this series. If it happens, it represents a cosmic injustice built into basketball itself, a moral weakness in the game that denies the glorious, powerful Sixers the victory and hands it instead to the sad, bureaucratic Celtics instead.