The NBA Playoffs: they should start. The regular season has its charms: dumb, awesome games by weird players, weirdo head-butting matches, half-sober play-by-play voices grinding through hours of work. But the premium cuts of basketball are all sliced in the playoffs, laid thick on the sandwich of the mind of the wanderin' in a late spring haze.
Just before you can enjoy that sandwich, however, you have to endure the end of the regular season. And you know when see it—you can almost even smell it sometimes—that that shit is, truly, the worst low-stakes professional basketball imaginable. Sure, every once in a while we stumble backwards into an Andre Ingram moment and, hey, maybe the Minnesota Timberwolves get axed again, but aside from that, all remaining games are just opportunities for minor switches in playoff seeding. The top teams have been decided for forever and a half, everyone else is playing a not-terribly-exciting game of musical chairs as the world sits and waits for the starting pistol.
But basketball games are a nutritious economic mush that feeds many hundreds of stray beasts, and the NBA has to have 82 of them per team to keep them living and devourin’.
And so, some point at the end of the year, the games find themselves tumbling aimlessly as if in Limbo, and Limbo were a laundromat. Playoff teams start preserving minutes to rest and refresh their starters, and lottery teams rest everyone to see if, maybe, possibly, their back of the rotation dudes are better in a game scenario then they are in one of the hundreds of practices they’ve played in over the last year.
These game are, in their way, the second round of preseason games, thoroughly mixed affairs, cheap tickets available at will, weird players clomping onto the court, all playing in front of half-full crowds fighting off sleep.
And this dunk is their totem.
It begins with Nets guard Allen Crabbe tossing a pass to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who is posting up somewhere well outside the key. Why RHJ wanted to post up, and why he wanted to post up that far from the basket (or from anything) is unknowable and unimportant. Nothing that happens in this game matters. It is Beckett Basketball itself, just guys floating around winning, or not, or whatever. The Last Basket at Marienbad, premiering this spring in Brooklyn.
Crabbe seems to internalize the sheer unlikeliness of Rondae’s gambit, and tosses him the worst post entry pass imaginable. There are lots of passes to no one out there, but this one is truly special in its utter no one-ness. It plops onto the hardwood, as far away from anyone as a ball dropping in the middle of the key in a ten-person basketball game could possibly be, a stray ball inhabiting, for what feels like an eternity, its own space on a court that is occupied by more than 70 feet worth of arms.
Jefferson’s arms raise in the air as if to intone a high pitched “What the hell?”
Who is this directed at, exactly? Crabbe? A ref? Himself? This game in particular? The very sport of basketball, for subjecting him to this insane level of pointlessness?
Cristiano Felício, a pretty bad player who has toiled for the worse-and-worse Bulls for three straight years, sniffs this turnover out and tosses it ahead to David Nwaba, who has leaked out. Nwaba is now in a foot race with Crabbe, who is streaking up the court like a dude who is, in this moment at least, truly embarrassed.
With all due respect to Nwaba, who is managing to play in the NBA, there is possibly no player who more manifests the spirit of the end days of the professional season. He is a 6'4" dude who played for Santa Monica Community college for two years before transferring to Cal Poly, after which he managed to get a spot on what was then called the Los Angeles D-Fenders in what was then called the NBA D-League. He got a cup of coffee with the Lakers, went BACK to the D-League, managed to make an All-Defense team down there, and got another call up to the insanely bad Bulls, for whom he now finds himself running on the break while a visibly irritated Allen Crabbe chases after him, rising up off the catch, throwing down a completely uninteresting two handed dunk, and placidly jogging back on defense.
Ian Eagle, a pro’s pro who would almost certainly be losing his mind if he wasn’t making a lot of money in the most fun city in the world, lets one out. “NWABA… CAN FLY.”
It isn’t flight, really. It’s not much of anything at all, just a two handed dunk in a particularly meaningless game in a fairly meaningless season playing a sport that, in a lot of philosophical interpretations, could very easily be found meaningless in and of itself.
But Eagle is, like the players, the ushers, the cameramen, the writers, almost everyone working who isn’t a player or a coach, a beast of this environment. He is a professional, and he will scavenge the best call he can out of this absolute basketball nadir we are all trapped in.
Here's the good news for the brave souls who came along on this journey, though: we'll all be free soon.