If you told me, “Hey Corbin, there’s a brief documentary on YouTube where Boris Diaw says ‘This is Stromboli,’” I would presume you were referring to the first episode of a web series where the NBA great went to the world’s best pizzerias and availed himself of their finest delights.
BUT, as it happens, the NBA player most associated with exotic pleasures, both on and off the court, is not yet doing a show about the eateries of the world. Don’t get me wrong: I would also be writing a blog post about that as well and I hope to get the chance someday. No, Boris is in fact referring to Stromboli, a fat-ass volcano off the coast of Sicily, which he explores in the first (very short) episode of Sea the World for Bros. Stories, which is, as best I can tell, a French athlete-themed lifestyle channel on YouTube.
Strings kick in. Bum bum. BUM BUM BUM BUM BUM. Boris speaks: “Three thousand feet of volcanic rock.” He appears, dressed in fashion-y camo, sunglasses, and cargo pants. He gives the camera a hearty thumbs up:
Stromboli was created, Boris tells us, by eruptions in the ocean. “Stromboli has been in continuous eruption for the last two thousand years.”
“This is a tough hike.” Boris, in this narration, sounds more like an athlete than you can possibly imagine, more than he ever did while he was an actual professional athlete for nearly 20 years. “But the idea of climbing dried up lava is just… motivating.”
A drone captures Boris climbing the hill, his hair flecked with grey, sitting and looking out at water that goes on forever. He describes the view as breathtaking, which, I mean, I suppose I have not come face to face with the nigh infinite nature of the middle of the ocean from a mountaintop and so can’t say for sure, but it really does feel like kind of an exaggeration, considering the ocean is just, like, water. I will concede that you would also probably see cloud formations, and that would be cool.
Boris, having reached the mountaintop of NBA success, must find new mountains to climb. At least, I think that’s what the metaphor is? It is just as likely that he has become an existential warrior in retirement, I suppose. Did Boris dominate the league and find nothing but empty fulfillments there? Has he decided that the only real victories are those we have over nature? And which nature does he seek to dominate? Is it our own? The vanity of mankind is such that it turns us into little more than pleasure-seeking neurosis monkeys, so maybe anything we do to outstrip this hideous code programmed into our souls is a victory in and of itself? Or is it victory over the natural world—a malevolent force, screaming with overwhelming and collective murder, just begging to be brought to heel by mankind—that Boris craves?
“I want to be close to these explosions.”
Once again, we see the athlete mindset, the kind we don’t associate with the NBA’s great hedonist, but revealed in the harsh light of nature’s power over man. “I want to see lava, erupting and bursting every minute.” Darkness. Lava is bursting from Stromboli, like red sauce from a stromboli.
Crumbs pound. Sparks. Fire. Smoke. The sunset on the horizon. You hear the volcano. It sounds like a rocket. Boris’s face, lit dimly by the light of the moon, looks on.
“This is Stromboli.”
And then, the video is over. You are more than a little alienated by the proceedings. Boris, certainly, is famous enough to do travel videos and I will watch any of these they release, of course, just because I like spending time with him.
But the nature of his journey to Stromboli, and how he tells it, is just so… impressionistic? He doesn’t make much of an effort to nail down on any specifics—we do not see him get off a boat, or overcome any specific struggles. He is totally alone, except for the camera and the drone that are filming him. It’s just a video with him, the never ending silence of the ocean oppressing him as he looks off into the horizon, and a volcano going off. This is a nature video, a travel video, with any recognizable elements of storytelling just absolutely gutted from it.
But, who am I to judge in these terms? Boris played a whole career aiming for something slightly different from winning. He was seeking a kind of aesthetic perfection, playing in a way that bent people’s perceptions of his own skill set and of what is possible with a dribble or a pass. He was, in a weird way, a proto-LeBron, a big, versatile, athletic dude, who simply wasn’t driven in the same way the people who would claim ultimate victory after picking up his mantle would.
Maybe this… sense of incompletion is just what Boris is after. Climb the hill, look at the ocean, pound a few strings. Whatever man, it’s cool. Someone else will come in behind me and drag it home. That’s not me. And honestly? That’s really beautiful. God bless the French King of Stromboli.