When Nick Young The Basketball Player Met Nick Young The Meme

Nick Young's WTF face is one of the NBA's greatest online memes. In a beautiful moment before a recent Lakers game, that meme crossed over into real life.

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Jan 26 2017, 2:30pm

It doesn't even need to be Nick Young, honestly. Or, anyway, you do not need to know that Lakers guard Nick Young is the man in the meme above these words for that meme to work. But that it is him in there—the image is a screengrab from a 2014 video that follows Young and his assistant, Big Meat, through a typical day—is a nice little easter egg for fans of the NBA's goofiest gunner, a man who has spent his entire career threatening to slip the surly bonds of his reality as a high-volume perimeter eccentric and become a being of pure representative meme-ness. But, again, the man making the face, bracketed on each side by question marks he seems to have willed into being through the sheer force of his incredulity, doesn't have to be Nick Young for the thing to work. The face is that good, and the meme is that good, and that is why the Baffled Nick Young Meme achieved sufficient escape velocity to break out of NBA Twitter and become reliable internet shorthand for confusion.

But to live forever on the internet is just that. All kinds of things live forever on the internet. The Space Jam website is still live, and so is Bob Dole's campaign website; there is almost certainly a 1600-word review of Outkast's Aquemini that I wrote in college still sucking around in the internet's outer dark, and the mere possibility that it might someday be found is enough to disrupt my sleep. The Baffled Nick Young Meme will hang around, deservedly, until someone turns out the lights on Twitter and saves all our minds. But it seemed reasonable to assume that the internet is where it would remain. That changed when Lamorne Morris and Erin Lim crossed the streams, and introduced Nick Young The Basketball Player to Nick Young The Meme. You may have seen this video, but I recommend you watch it again, as many times as you deem necessary.

What you are looking at here is something that was never supposed to be, a moment that is both beautiful and pure and somehow in violation of all manner of unspoken rules. It works perfectly because it is perfectly executed by all involved, and because Nick Young is once again the perfect protagonist for this sort of thing; try the same thing with Michael Jordan and you will almost certainly awaken on a private island in North Carolina to find that he and Charles Oakley are hunting you from a helicopter. Nick Young just laughs it off because it's funny, and because he's Nick Young.

People liked the video, but, friends: I really liked the video. In a moment in which the borders between the internet and the non-internet are increasingly and rather terrifyingly porous, in a country whose politics are now effectively Nightmare Comment Section But With Guns, this sort of exchange seemed...well, not significant, really. It's the guy who plays Winston on "The New Girl" showing Nick Young a funny photo of himself at a Lakers game. I am aware of that. But it seemed somehow heartening. In the spirit of taking this ephemeral bit of goofiness seriously, I reached out to Morris and Lim, a host on E! News who is also Morris' girlfriend and was sitting next to him that night, to learn more about how this inspiring moment of IRL Meme Diplomacy came to be.

It helped that Morris knows Young a little bit—"we know each other, but don't have each other's cell number or anything"—but again we have already established that none of this works without Nick Young. More to the point, none this would have been possible had Morris and Lim not been sitting in extremely good seats. To hear Morris tell it, that is no accident. "One of the reasons I got those seats was to heckle players," Morris writes. "Also to see the Cavs when they come to town. But mainly to heckle players. The good kind of heckle. Anyway."

Anyway, Morris credits Lim with the concept, and describes the actual production as more of a collaboration. "I said 'hey, is Nick Young the meme guy,'" Lim remembers. "So we waited for the perfect opportunity to get his attention. I whipped out Snapchat of course"—Lim hosts a Snapchat-based series for E! called "The Rundown"—"and L held up the pic and I said 'babe, go, he's right there!'"

"On take one, it worked," Morris said. He put it on Instagram and then the two went about watching the Lakers lose by five points to the Detroit Pistons. It wasn't until much later that Morris noticed how well it had worked; ten days after Morris put the video on Instagram it has more than 335,000 views. It's hard to say whether it will be as enduring as the Baffled Nick Young Meme, although only a few things on the internet are likely to clear that particular bar. But as a moment of first contact between a meme and its human counterpart, it stands as...well, again, not historical. But there's a clean and good-humored uncanniness to the moment whose effect hasn't worn off on me yet.

"I knew Nick Young as Nick Young and the meme as just the meme," Lim says. "It wasn't until that game I kind of put it together." This is always how it goes with art. The artists put it together and put it where we can see it, and the rest of us figure it all out. Or, anyway, rewatch it a bunch of times.

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