The playoffs: who Cares? They are happening, certainly, and you can watch them, but there is practically no way they won't disappoint you in some way. It doesn’t matter what happens. A franchise everyone loathes slicing through competition with efficient excellence. A star you’ve grown bored of inflicts his personal will on a squad of miscreants. A generational unit lazily sleepwalks their way to another title, impressing the history books while boring the shit out of the present. A team built on and playing with a series of arcane mathematical equations switches and isolates their way to 1.5 PPP. Unless YOUR squad is there duking it out, the present means nothing.
No… the future… the future is where the REAL game is happening, where the real excitement lives. The present sits on top of you like a weighted blanket, slowly sailing you into a comfortable, relaxing sleep, as the same teams succeed for mostly the same reasons, year after year, and wait for something to destroy them. But the future explodes with possibilities you can’t even imagine.
And there is no place where the future of the NBA is happening more than at the Combine in Chicago, Illinois:
Here is a clip of UCLA forward Kris Wilkes windmill dunking at the combine this week. Wilkes is draft-declared this year, although he has opted not to hire an agent and jeopardize his NCAA eligibility, on account of the nature of institutions to never completely change, to always haul around whatever shattered pieces of the dying systems they implemented in the past for as long as they possibly can.
It is a good dunk, full of the possibility of youth. Compare it to this stinker from Old Man Horford over in the Celtics/Cavs series.
Barely grabbing rim, lightly tapping in—dull, rote, stressed out. It is a dunk with all of the trappings of the present. The overwhelming weight of the playoffs, the dull, sleek visage of Horford chalking up another goddamn point in another goddamn series against goddamn LeBron James, which he will probably lose. This dunk goes to TGI Friday’s, drinks a single beer in front of the TV, watches a midseason Celtics game and slowly falls asleep. It pays taxes. It’s excited for Solo even though Harrison Ford is clearly not in the movie. You see it on the street, and you could not care less if it lives or dies. There is no intrigue.
But a fringe draft prospect throwing down a windmill in front of scouts and some media dudes? Hatchi Matchi, baby! You have NO IDEA what’s gonna happen with this guy! Maybe he will get drafted, maybe not. Maybe he’ll go play in the D-League, maybe he’ll stick around UCLA and try again later. Maybe he will play in the NBA and be a decent role player or an excellent talent just waiting to be uncorked from the bottle of college, or maybe he will fail quietly and sadly. Or maybe he will fail spectacularly, in the sort of way that ruins some team or imprints him with “bust” or “madman” labels forever.
We could be watching the next Anthony Randolph dunking over and over. He isn’t in the playoffs right now—he’s not even in the NBA (yet)—but Anthony Randolph is the fever dream you seek when you flip on the NBA game. And yet, here you are, loafing around and accepting Al Horford’s nonsense.
Sit and watch for a while. The clip repeats, over and over, taking the mind to places it has not yet been. Hear the dull roar of the gathered media and scouts, drifting indifferently around a gym, leaving you, sitting in the lens of the camera, and No. 83 the only audience for this stupendous athletic feat.
The other noises repeat, in rhythm, unchanging but revealing and hiding themselves one after another. The Loud CHU-CHUNK of the rim. A sneaker squeaking somewhere off in the middle distance, perhaps transmuting into a bird, watching from a nearby tree. Another dunk proceeding that sneaker scratching, another young man vibrant with The Power of Life showing everyone what he is made of, you suppose. The thrum of the crowd taking a kind of form in your mind, an “OhhhhEaaahhh” or an “O-O-A-EH,” perhaps. The silence of the video reloading.
Now, open the video in another tab. Hear the dunk fade in and out of itself. See yourself taken by the future. Then, open a THIRD tab. OwwwOOOOOOooooooOweeeeeehhhhh, screams the dunk, it never ends, it goes deep and deeper into the future. Keep opening tabs. Close your eyes. Let the sound of the dunk occupy as much of your brain as possible. These two seconds MAY CONTAIN the future—the future you crave as the present grinds along. Let it burrow deeper and deeper into your fucking mind, flooding out the remnants of the present. Let it take you away from this terrible place, and into the future Kris Wilkes wants to give you.