Thursday, July 7, 2016

The NBA's Pantomime Villainy and the Chicago Bulls

The best parts of Face/Off are when Nicolas Cage, playing a heroic FBI agent who had his face swapped with his sworn enemy using biotechnology and Windows 95, realizes that he has become, to the outside world, his own archnemesis and the only way to cope is to adopt his enemies' criminally insane behaviors, thus becoming what he hates-- and to show this internal emotional conflict by making extremely Nicolas Cage faces.  This also describes what the Chicago Bulls have done this offseason to their bewildered fans.

It was not enough for Gar Forman and John Paxson to send the faces of the team to New York and subject Bulls fans to maniacal Joakim Noah dunk screams in the hated uniform of John Starks and Patrick Ewing.  They also signed Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo, the Bulls' own archnemeses.  Every time Wade grabs at his eye imploring the refs to call a foul or Rondo sourly walks away from Hoiberg in the middle of a timeout and then gets in a tiny scooter and just drives home in the middle of a game, Chicago fans will instinctively start to boo them only to realize they are on the Bulls now and so they are forced to imitate Cage's simultaneous weeping and maniacal leering out of sheer confusion.  

Travolta is clearly doing an impression of a maniacal Cage for most of the movie while Cage 
has to pretend to be a reasonable man forced to impersonate a maniacal Cage so the effect is 
like Being John Malkovich where all the leads are just maniacal Nicolas Cages making this face 
and blowing up vehicles at each other for 138 minutes.

The qualified Per Synergy Sports basketbloggers can explain better than me how Wade and Rondo make no sense for the Bulls.  Neither fits with Hoiberg's pace and space philosophy that exists on a chalkboard somewhere in the bowels of the Advocate Center.  Wade shot less than 16% from three last season; Rondo does not seem willing to shoot under any circumstances and appears to be modeling his game on the time Ricky Davis futilely shot at his own basket to get a triple double.  It has been about two weeks since Gar Forman justified the Rose trade by claiming the Bulls would get younger and more athletic. Now, he has acquired two players in their thirties with a history of knee problems.  But that is immaterial.  The Wade and Rondo moves are disasters because they the are two of the Bulls fans' most hated NBA players and I hate their jerk faces.

Rondo's crimes against the Bulls date back to the epic 2009 Bulls/Celtics playoff series when he threw Kirk Hinrich into a table like a professional wrestler and bludgeoned Brad Miller about the face.  A wobbly, dazed Miller could not hit his free throws.  Compounding the humiliation, the primary video evidence of the hit has been uploaded by a person named "patsfan000026" with NOT FLAGRANT superimposed on the bottom of it in such an obnoxiously-implied Boston accent that my computer has become infected with a virus and screams about Tom Brady being railroaded at random intervals.  Rondo managed to quit on a playoff team in Dallas so egregiously that they pretended he was injured.  His time on the Sacramento Kings, less a basketball organization than a boiling cauldron of insanity, climaxed with an ejection for screaming homophobic slurs at a referee.

The most interesting subplot on the Bulls this season will be the ways that Rondo manages to psychologically break Fred Hoiberg, who coaches with the intensity of a substitute math teacher.  Perhaps Rondo will humiliate Hoiberg in Connect Four in front of the entire team.  Perhaps he will convince Ol' Fred that everyone on the team is growing mustaches in November and then when Hoiberg walks into the advocate center as the only person with a mustache he is greeted by pictures of Ned Flanders plastered to the walls with a legend that says "HOIBERG."  Maybe Rondo will re-edit Hoiberg's game film, switching out the coach's beloved inspirational '80s movie scenes for horrifying Cronenbergian body horror while Hoiberg yells C'MON YOU SAID YOU NEEDED FINAL CUT PRO FOR FILM STUDY at him.

Benny the Bull disdainfully showers Rondo with popcorn when Rondo 
was injured and therefore forced to hurl insults at the Bulls on a regional 
television broadcast

Wade has, as far as I can tell, never used a part of the arena to attack Kirk Hinrich.  Nevertheless, he earned the ire of Bulls fans as the ringleader of the hated Heat.  Wade feuded with the Bulls when they had Ben Gordon and Ben Wallace and he feuded with Derrick Rose before Rose's knees disintegrated like the guy who drank from the wrong Holy Grail.  Wade's sins are more prosaic than Rondo's.  He flops.  He moans at officials so operatically that opponents easily dunk on the next possession because the NBA doesn't allow players to assign ghost players to defend while they are berating Scott Foster.  More than anything, Wade has existed as a very good player on a team that consistently beat the Bulls for more than a decade, the grossest basketball evil that can be committed against a team.

At the very least, the Wade move has backfired on Pat Riley.  Riley, a basketball innovator who invented advanced strategies such as telling Anthony Mason to elbow people and telling Alonzo Mourning to elbow people, has been irritating Bulls fans since the 1980s.  Now Riley has seen his carefully-cultivated Miami family narrative upended by a power play gone awry, which should give him something to think about as he sinks into the hair gel sarcophagus he sleeps in every night.  Miami has cap room, but it will be useless if Riley's hard bargaining tactics scare off potential free agents.  It is at the very least gratifying to imagine Riley striking out with big name free agents and then angrily feeding some flunky to the shark he keeps in his mansion to use as a metaphor for winning.

A threatened Riley instinctively displays his Championship Ring the way a startled lizard 
deploys a skin-fringe or puffs itself up by inflating gaseous sacs

Sports fandom represents, at best, a crude pantomime of emotions for fans.  Players can be gone in an instant, teams removed at the stroke of a pen, and all of the billions of dollars for pyrotechnics and jumbotrons and irritatingly peppy people walking around asking a seven year-old to name their favorite player for a t-shirt and television networks and guys in suits who are paid unfathomable sums of money to scream KEVIN DURANT IN MY OPINION IS NOT MAKING A MAN'S MOVE, KEVIN I AM LOOKING AT YOU NOW AND YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED, CHAGRINED, I AM GOING TO THROW HARD-BOILED EGGS AT YOUR FAMILY KEVIN and absolutely all of it is completely and utterly devoid of meaning.

Stephen A's speech threatening Kevin Durant is the funniest thing that has ever been on television

We can accept that and yet we will turn on a Bulls game to see the sneering face of Dwyane Wade and disgruntled surl-mugging from Rajon Rondo and wonder how this all happened. And when the Bulls play the Knicks next season, against Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose, we'll all feel as if we've seen the faces swapped, the tenets of basketball villainy undermined, the United Center filled with doves.  In an entertainment product as insane and capricious as professional sports, perhaps the most reasonable way to cope is to make Nicolas Cage faces and embrace the chaos.

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