Sports, no matter how awesome and inspiring they are, are also kind of stupid. In the run-up to the Super Bowl—which is, truly, the stupidest possible sporting event, a bacchanalian celebration of a dying sport that has only ever been seriously played in, like, two countries for little more than 100 years of human history—the extraordinary dumbness of sport has been on full display. The very act of inviting a shit-ton of people to a city that is straddling negative temperatures, jamming the shit out of their downtown, guarding everything with armored vehicles, pasting goofy signs all over their public transit, and displaying fine ice sculpturing as a way of celebrating their weird, dumb, giant thing is the height of stupidity.
While the Super Bowl is exposing us to the extraordinary, massive dumbness of sports, I would like to take a minute to explore the small ways in which sports can be dumb: the subtle textures of dumbness in the games we play that make our eyes roll through sheer force of their circumstances; the way a series of random events can coalesce into two points on the scoreboard through nothing that sincerely resembles rational good play.
The play begins with a little fuck-up, the smallest one imaginable. The Charlotte Hornets' Jeremy Lamb—who dunks, eventually—clearly overcommits in transition, and when the play converts into a half-court possession, he spends entirely too much time in the key, drifting around and slowly deciding where, exactly, he should head next.
He realizes it, in an amount of time that seems just a li-i-i-i-i-i-ttle too long by any objective measure but, through the dumb providence of fate, will end up being the perfect amount. He runs out to cover Joe Hill, a guard who apparently once came home from a win in Memphis, went to the Pacers’ facility, set up a bunch of towels on the court, slept there, and woke up twice to shoot around, making 500 shots each time.
While Lamb runs out to his man on the three-point line, Myles Turner, a dynamic power forward who is probably the Pacers’ best player, sees an open Hill with his arms stuck out (perhaps looking to make his 501st shot so he can get good, uninterrupted, comfortable sleep that night), and tosses him a pass. Now, in most circumstances, this pass would be fine. Turner makes it because Hill is open. Even if Lamb covers Hill normally, it would be a totally acceptable ball rotation.
But because Lamb is out of step and running to cover an open shooter—a shooter who is so devoted to the craft that sometimes he finds himself sleeping on hardwood—he gets a perfect opportunity to intercept the pass. Turner, for his part, is shocked, literally all of his limbs splaying out in a grand expression of surprise, looking like Wile E. Coyote when the rocket he aims at the Roadrunner quickly spins around and is poised to turn him into a pile of ash.
Lamb, ball fully in his possession and with no one making an honest effort to stop him, glides to the other end of the court, and throws it down. Then, as he lands, he cups his ear for just a second, demanding fealty from the fans… until he very quickly realizes that, uh, this is not Charlotte, this is Indiana, and no one here is going to go too far out of their way to cheer for his weird bullshit transition dunk. He quickly retracts his hand to his side and runs back on defense.
The announcing crew compliments Lamb’s wingspan, which is fair. It certainly helped here. But the next image on screen, that of Dwight Howard standing and cheering for his teammate, goes much further to explain the true source of this dunk. Because Howard’s career is built on a series of such insanely and equally stupid coincidences.
Howard was born with that physique, got paired early on with Stan Van Gundy—one of the first coaches to understand the power of three-point shooting as a spacing method—and developed such a thirst for approval that he committed himself to defense. And yet, he was also so weird that he alienated everyone in Orlando, Los Angeles, Houston, AND Atlanta. It's a resume so out of left field that we have no other choice but to acknowledge it was simply born from the undergrowth of the coin flip that underlies every sports play like, say, Jeremy Lamb being in perfect position for this steal and dunk.
It’s stupid, I guess, but it’s also sports, which are a frame for life, which is itself often quite stupid in ways small and large. You have to admire the honesty in the dumbness.