The NBA is back! With the ghost of Dr. James Naismith at peace once again, we welcome a new columnist to the Jock Strap family. We are pleased to unveil Dave Hartley's Death Dunk column. Hartley's qualifications include bassist in The War on Drugs, being the man behind the pocket-sized-harmony-orchestra Nightlands and a nerdy obsession with the NBA's statistics and weird history.
You may not have realized it, yet, but professional basketball is becoming cool again. An entire generation of kids who grew up watching Jordan and playing NBA Jam is realizing that their brains are filled with a jumble of useless facts that feel really good to dig up. Remember Joe Klein? He looked like a plumber! Didn't Anthony Mason have the strangest looking mouth of all time? Remember when Nick Van Exel seemed like he absolutely couldn't miss and was going to unseat Jerry West as Mr. Clutch for a year or two? Was Reggie Miller a Ferengi?
I am so stoked about this as-yet-unrecognized renaissance because I have been nothing short of absolutely obsessed with NBA minutia since I was a pimply kid. I honestly think I read every single box score from every game between the years 1991 and 1998, and a great many after that. I'm not sure what drew me to it, I'm not athletic and never even played much organized ball. I just think it was a source of comfort for me in the same way that other kids look to comics or video games to usher them through adolescence.
Lately reading wikipedia articles has become a passion for me, whether it be important articles like this, or trivialities like this. It's a never ending treasure trove! Here are some of my favorite basketball related wiki's:
My favorite basketball wikipedia entry ever. He signed a massive contract after a couple good seasons with the Nuggets and Bulls, changed his name from Brian Williams to Bison Dele and started exhibiting signs of eccentricity (including, upon further research, spending his free time snorkeling in his shark-filled saltwater fishtank). He then abruptly quit basketball, leaving tens of millions of dollars on the table and set sail around the world on his catamaran. A year later he was murdered at sea by his brother, who is still at large. Why aren't there books and movies about this guy? Or at least a 30 for 30?
Another example of a man for whom basketball is just one of many interests–and apparently pretty far down the list. Apart from being probably the best known openly-gay athlete, John is a financial consultant, psychologist and Senior Fellow at the University of Central Lancashire in the UK. Smart dude. And like Bison Dele, Amaechi once left over 16 million dollars on the table–although for very different reasons. I bet he is into Brian Eno.
Here we have the missing link between Wilt Chamberlain and Pet Sounds. Brother of Mike Love (Beach Boys) and father to Kevin Love (Timberwolves). After retiring from the Lakers in the mid-1970's, Stan served as Brian Wilson's personal bodyguard and handler during the depths of his drug abuse and dealings with the manipulative Eugene Landy. In 1982 he broke into Dennis Wilson's home and brutally beat him with a telephone and a bed headboard, among other things. He did this because Dennis had apparently influenced Brian to snort over $5000 worth of cocaine in an hour. Of course, Stan himself admitted to being on the marching powder during the home invasion, but that's neither here nor there.
A real tragedy. Gathers was a very promising lottery-pick-to-be for USC who died immediately after throwing down a thunderous tomahawk slam in the WCC tournament in 1990. He had a heart condition for which he was refusing treatment, because he feared it affected his play. Like with Len Bias, it hurts the soul to think of what he could have been, not to mention the sorrow that his family and teammates suffered. But there is something very interesting, in an existential way, about the absolute triumph of dunking being the last moment of one's life. Has a baseball player ever died while hitting a homerun?
Here was a guy who was in the right place at the right time. Or rather, was the right height at the right time. Seven feet tall on a title contender (the Nets) during Shaq's peak with the Lakers. If you wanted to have a chance against LA, you had to have at least two seven footers to throw at him at any given moment. He was rewarded for his bigness with a massive contract, which he celebrated by realizing he had a rare genetic neuromuscular disorder and retiring a couple seasons later. He used his wealth and free time to collect and master over 60 pinball machines (exactly what I would do). Last month he won the Pinball Expo in Chicago, beating two former world champions.
Former ABA star who liked exotic pets–he owned an ocelot and a lion, among other things–and once played for both teams in a single game.
I have to remind myself that Ainge wasn't always just the super annoying GM of the Celtics–once he was their super annoying point guard, too. But did you know he played for the Toronto Blue Jays? He also was an All-American quarterback and competitive at billiards, although he may be remembered (along with Joe Dumars) for building an unlikely world champion through a series of savvy deals and then slowly driving it right into the ground.
This may seem like a really obvious one, but just take a moment to scan over Wilt's bio and drink in its sheer excess. The man resides permanently in the realm of hyperbole. Endless statistical mind-blowers, personality quirks and lifetime achievements. My favorite: never fouled out of a game. Second favorite: once averaged more than 48 minutes a game for an entire season (doesn't seem possible, but he did it). I read his biography when I was a kid (probably because I wanted to read about his sexual exploits), and was left with the same conclusion as when I finished Motley Crue'sDirt: if even 20% of this is true, it's still absolutely mind-boggling.
A basketball semi-star who played bass! He was apparently pretty good, too, although his specialty was smooth jazz. Album titles include Power Forward, Hang Time and Rebound. What, no Box and One? Double Double? Pick and Pop? Mid-Level Exception? Unfortunately Tisdale died abruptly from leg cancer in 2009, leaving the NBA bass player-free.
The War On Drugs' tour begins Saturday in Harrisburg, PA. Stay current on tour dates here.