David Roth's Weak In Review: DeAndre Jordan Gets Lost In The Supermarket

NBA free agency is already a hilarious fun house version of capitalism. This week, in the weird saga of DeAndre Jordan, it went supernova, and it was hilarious.

by David Roth
Jul 10 2015, 8:45pm

Illustration by Henry Kaye

Approach it as an editor for a moment. A writer, bushy-tailed and maybe a little too determined, has brought you a manuscript. The story's protagonist is a conflicted behemoth manchild, which...honestly seems a little dated, a little on-the-nose with the Faulkner stuff, but nothing that can't be ironed out later on. Maybe he's a vampire, maybe he's a 16-year-old billionaire with a rare disease and he falls in love with a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who doesn't see how beautiful she is but he sees it and blah blah. He's a fucking Minion or something, whatever, it's fixable.

The further into the story you go, though, the more overcooked the whole thing becomes. There are two billionaires fighting for the big protagonist's services, one who only communicates through social media applications and another that only communicates through effusive bellows and sweat-soaked bear-hugs. There is an ambitious agent type, as of course there would be, and his ambitions do not necessarily seem to track with those of his client, our protagonist. There are famous people emoji-trolling each other, grown men of enormous size pulling some sort of strategic semi-sleepover in order to protect the protagonist from the counter-arguments of the other side, millionaires eating takeout chicken and playing spades on the kitchen table in the protagonist's parents' house. There are points-of-order concerning league rules and moratorium periods, just some real Imperial Senate Trade Debate From The Later Star Wars Movies shit, and that will obviously just have to be cut. There is much thundering about honor and trust. There is a hapless reporter who is wrong about everything, just so weirdly and unrelentingly wrong that even Tom Wolfe would probably see fit to dial it back some. A greek chorus of 250,000 souls describes the action on Twitter, mostly by shrieking puns at each other and photoshopping that weeping Michael Jordan face into the background of things.

Read More: Free Agency, Free Will, And Semi-Free Markets

The story is, in its component parts and taken together, all just too much, too unreal; it's somehow both too silly and too serious. What happened with DeAndre Jordan this week, the process through which he went from agreeing to sign an $80 million contract with one team to actually signing one with another and everything around it, was both objectively real and unforgivably unrealistic. It was overstated and overall too much, if broadly more on the enjoyable side of the overstatement continuum than not, provided you do not have too much of your emotional wellbeing pinned to the fortunes of the Dallas Mavericks. In which case, obviously, feel free to feel your feelings.

As we were reminded during the first week of NBA free agency—the week when deals like Jordan's with the Dallas Mavericks are struck (and almost always kept) before becoming official on the beginning of the signing period—there is nothing necessarily rational about the way the NBA's perverse and semi-free market works. Various (collectively bargained!) distortions depress salaries and warp the marketplace, everyone is either a little too sentimental or entirely too cynical, hidden agendas of the pettiest or most egregiously backscratching sort—this seems a good place to mention that Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Jordan's agent Dan Fegan are reported to be friends—are only barely hidden. The rules governing all of this are antique, unclear, and loophole-ridden enough to be gamed and gigged in a different way each year. The existence of the weeklong moratorium between the setting of the next year's salary cap and the official beginning of free agency, for instance, is unique to the NBA for reasons that the NBA should probably think about.

Perhaps most damningly, the people with the last word on every decision are young males whose decision-making abilities have evolved under the pressure of already being rich, famous, constantly scrutinized, and instantly recognizable—Shia LeBeeves with longer wingspans and better grooming, basically. There is no way that any of this could ever make sense, and it mostly never does.

Two rational actors who made decisions they believed were best for them, and will be hated for it forever. — Photo by Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

For the people tasked with making sense of it, this is probably maddening. This is not members of the media, who mostly clapped along in delight with everyone else as the Clippers' stars converged on DeAndre Jordan in Houston and one emoji-sortie after another swept into the skies. It's more the players, who aim to balance the same questions of ambition and comfort and work-versus-life and what-do-I-really-want that everyone else does in taking, keeping, and leaving jobs. The owners designed a system that they believed would lock in profit and influence, and pumped away at their considerable leverage until it was forced on the league's players in the last lockout, and the one before that; they will try it again the next chance they get.

It doesn't totally work because it could never totally work, for reasons that people like Cuban tend to celebrate a lot more ardently when acting in their own ostensibly enlightened self-interest than they do when being acted upon. Some people would rather work with their friends, or live in Los Angeles, or be a component part of a collective. There is no legislating around human nature or governing it; Cuban surely knew as much before Jordan's mid-week reversal turned his team's offseason into a smoldering pile of proof. Chandler Parsons, Dallas' chief negotiator, acknowledges this this in his (understandably) emotional interview with ESPN's Tim MacMahon. "He was probably nervous," Parsons said. "He was probably scared. I don't know because I haven't talked to him. He's a good dude. I don't think he's a bad person for this. I think he's just confused."

This is sort of a long way of saying that Jordan is human, and wrought the sort of well-intentioned ruin that humans tend to. The NBA would do well to eliminate the moratorium week and further formalize the free agency process, but there is no rule change in the offing, here or anywhere, that is going to keep 26-year-olds from fucking up. People have been searching for just such a thing for the entirety of human history, and the best answers we've got after a couple of millenia are psychotherapy and eating a healthy breakfast.

The fun of all this, beyond the silly surge of Wednesday's churn of rumor and meme, is how not just survivable but trivial this upheaval all is. It sucks for the Mavericks and their fans, but no one really came to anything like harm through all this, and Wes Matthews—who seems like a pretty nice dude, and signed to play alongside Jordan—even made a few extra million dollars in the deal after the team bumped his salary up. For all the zipless fantasy that NBA basketball offers us, the wild transference and dreams of flight and sustaining emotional overage, the offseason gives us something, too. We get capitalism without consequence, a sanitized, satirized version of the force that shapes our lives moment to moment, down to comic details like an aggrieved billionaire turning his expression of grievance into a native advertisement for a useless social media doodad in which he's invested some money.

We see this sort of thing—the pettiness and the patronage, the wild reversals based on whim and unreason, scientistic market positivity repeatedly laid low by human blundering, huge sums of money passing far overhead—every damn day. We live in a wreckage of broken handshake agreements. We seldom get to enjoy it so much, and so safely. Yes, it's all pretty unrealistic. That's what saves it, and that's why we can enjoy it.

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