NBA Dunk of the Week: Mason Plumlee and the Treachery of Ambition
The Denver Nuggets big man has spent a lifetime learning that not everyone is touched by God or meant for divinity.
Screen capture via YouTube
At what point in his life did Mason Plumlee look in the mirror and realize he was doomed to be at the shit end of bomb dunks for the rest of his life?
It’s not even his fault, really. We don’t all get to be Hakeem, flying around, swatting the shit out of stuff, twisting in the post, maintaining a dignified presence off the court and living a second life as a big-man guru. We’re not all touched by God, or out here living to bring tears to the eyes of the public. Beauty and glory are not in the tea leaves for everyone. Some of us are Boogies. Some of us are Plumlees.
I know the feeling myself, when I churn away on a word processor, spitting out words I never quite feel are good enough, beautiful enough, slick enough. I work to exceed my limits, to create the most beautiful and unique thing I can, but sometimes my fingers, clicking away on a keyboard, are nothing but ten Plumlees all in a line.
The Thumb is Marshall, bulking and smiling. The middle finger, a cursed Bowlie Mason haircut-looking thing, sits next to the index finger, the rebel sporting Miles’ goofy-ass Bucks era Neo-Hipster joint. My other fingers spread out: Maximilian Plumlee, Mike Plumlee, Mungo Plumlee, Millar Plumlee, Michael Plumlee, Madison Plumlee, Mitch Plumlee.
And so, here we have the basketball manifestation of that inadequacy, the rusted gears of my mind getting lapped by my opponents every day. Larry Nance Jr., Daddy’s own boy, drives down the lane and rises up. Mason Plumlee moves to meet him at the rim, to do his job, to do the only thing he's good for on this court—providing marginal rim protection—but he stops rising and Larry keeps going. And going. And going. And going. And I see in him, in that moment, every sportswriter in the country throwing down on me, doing every idea I’ve ever had better than I could, scooping up profiles I couldn’t even imagine, getting expense accounts I can’t even fathom. And I see myself vanquished.
Sometimes I hope and dream that, in the night, the fairy of true inspiration will find me, touch me with her wand, and I will wake up, now a voice of my generation. But watching Mason getting yammed on here for the God knows how many-th time, I know this is a lie. I have been built, bred, and created to live in the grind, using my feeble brain to churn out dunk columns, much in the same way that Mason, on the day his large father’s sperm met his large mother’s ovum, was crafted by nature, by God, by whomever, to be this, a guy who made an excellent salary playing as a big in the NBA, sometimes off the bench, sometimes starting in a pinch.
I can see him, FEEL HIM, 19 years old, staring in a full-length mirror after getting throughly outplayed by some 18-year-old NBA prospect, wondering where he could improve, what he could possibly shape up to make himself better than the thing he was clearly meant to be.
For an instant, he locks in on his own eyes and has a thought, somewhere in the back of his head: It will never be enough.
Lashing out, he sticks a pillow over the thought’s face, trying to suffocate it. He is young, he is ambitious, he is convinced—CONVINCED—that his dreams will come so wildly true that everyone who ever doubted him will be destroyed by his accomplishments.
But the thought lives, and it breathes, and it grows.
And so, too, does Mason. He gets drafted, works his way into rotations, earns a starting job in Brooklyn and later Portland. He believes, for a second, that he might be an All-Star, or an All-NBAer, or that one day he will break through the prison of self, the wall of a changing NBA. He allows himself to imagine a world where he finds the thing that frees him, a world where "Mason Plumlee, NBA MVP" or "Mason Plumlee, NBA Champion" exists.
But as age sets in, he is disabused of these notions. He grinds into a role, which he may or may not always be amazing at—Plumlee’s defense, the profile his position demands, isn’t elite by any stretch of the imagination; the Blazers fashioned significantly better units with Robin Lopez before him and Jusuf Nurkic after. He plays and plays, at all times aware that the end, the day when the big-ass NBA checks stop, grows ever closer.
The slow slide is punctuated only by occasional good shifts off the Nuggets bench and by the singular horror of getting banged on in public, becoming, again and again, over and over, the gristly chuck in the semi-frequently recurring “Watch This Guy Get Fucking Banged On” content stew. His very existence rendered Bradley-esque, he becomes more notable for people smashing his teeth in and pointing—MOCKING, IMAGINARY-FINGER-GUNS POINTING—than for the sky-high glory he imagined in his youth.
I pray he, and I, for that matter, can learn to accept it with equanimity.
But then again, I feel that familiar buzz sometimes, the yank of ambition, and the letdown isn’t SO bad.