Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Bulls Fans Have Been Waiting Nearly 25 Years For A Guy To Do Turnaround Jumpers Again

Every time DeMar DeRozan goes to the line in the United Center, he is  serenaded with MVP chants.  Certain NBA numbers-mongers would say that he has virtually no chance of winning, towered over by several big men who are all having better seasons.  But DeRozan, who has been brilliantly carrying a Bulls team hobbled not only by the franchises's traditional suite of knee injuries but also missing two players who broke their wrists after getting clotheslined at the rim, has cemented himself as a Chicago sports legend by getting as close to replicating Michael Jordan's offensive game as humanly possible at the exact moment that the city has been thrown into a Jordan-crazed reverie by a ten hour documentary where ESPN let him swill tequila and say fuck at his myriad basketball enemies when they are shown to him on an iPad.

The threes-and-layups architecture has taken over the NBA and I can't complain too much; the style of play and the rules changes that make it illegal to bludgeon players with their own ripped-off arms has generally made for a more entertaining product than the hideous trench basketball of the Jordan heyday.  But it is still nice to a player absolutely punish an opposing team with the fadeaway jumpshot, a technique that DeRozan has been stubbornly clinging to as the master of a forgotten art.

For me, the midrange turnaround jumper was The Shot.  It was how Jordan amassed his points, by posting up an opponent sixteen feet from the basket and shooting over him over and over and then barraging him with a variety of unhinged insults.  Every once in awhile, a player would emerge as a Jordan Stopper or, even worse, a Self-Proclaimed Jordan Stopper, and more often than not, he would find himself on the losing end and then have to listen to Jordan derisively laugh at him while wearing the largest suit ever created for a 6' 6" person. 

It was not Gerald Wilkins's fault that the media labeled him the "Jordan Stopper" but I can't imagine a worse fate for an otherwise anodyne 1990s NBA player than becoming a Named Jordan Adversary

The Shot became the calling card for so many star NBA scorers as a proving ground.  I used to gauge whether a college wing could get off The Shot as a good barometer of whether they could get off enough space to be able to score in the NBA, even though I have no idea what I'm talking about but it seemed like a good sports opinion to lay on someone unfortunate enough to be drinking beer near me during an NCAA tournament game before they were forced to detonate a smoke bomb and vanish to a stool next to a less annoying person. 

I believe that there are two reasons that the midrange turnaround jumper became less prominent.  One was the rise of basketball analysis on the internet which included actual spreadsheet perverts demonstrating how inefficient the shot is and then a bunch of people who half-understood it but wanted to sound smart also parroting this line by admonishing midrange shooting without nuance and also constantly shoehorning in inescapable references to Game of Thrones, a television show I have never seen but could probably credibly explain the entire plot of because I wanted to read about whether Jimmy Butler was getting All Star Momentum in 2013.  The other reason is that, let's face it, the turnaround jump shot in the hands of anyone short of an actual master can be a hideous abomination, and there were years in the early 2000s of Headband Guys fruitlessly bricking isolation eighteen-footers at each other for minutes at a time while getting sourly scolded by Hubie Brown.

The Bulls have had several very good players since Jordan, but DeRozan is their first star player who has managed to ascend to the aesthetic of his game.  He is doing this with a hail of fadeaway jumpers, and in the fourth quarter he is throwing them in like the basket is magnetized.  At the end of a game, teams are sending two or three guys directly at him and he is still cruising to his spot just off the free throw line where everyone in the building knows he is going to, throwing up three or four pump fakes (this is a unique DeRozan signature), and baiting an opponent into bumping into him while he hits another shot.  It does not matter.  He doesn't miss.  He is on a scoring streak matched in a Bulls uniform only by Michael Jordan.

The Bulls didn't need a reasonable Jordan facsimile to be fun again.  They needed good players and for the front office to be made up of normal people and not weird head guys constantly accused of doing John Le Carré-style espionage.  Bulls fans would be delighted with DeRozan having his marvelous season with a more modern array of moves.  But for middle-aged Bulls fans, seeing a player dragging the Bulls back to relevance whose game is a Proustian sense memory of the team's annual humiliation of Patrick Riley is an added delight.


It's been clear for the past few years that there was not going to be a full Major League season in 2022 as the owners became increasingly brazen in their anti-baseball agenda and the players signaled their growing disgust with barren free agency periods and multiple franchises refusing to field competitive teams.  But the way it ended, with a smirking Manfred making the Animal House oh boy is this great face at reporters while gleefully wiping out the first week of the season, made for a grim coda to the week of parody negotiations by owners who came down to Florida specifically for the purpose of canceling games.

Rob Manfred's job is to go out in front of reporters and tell them how the players' recalcitrance is preventing games from being played even though the lockout is a unilateral imposition from league ownership that they could lift at any time.  Manfred is not even a fun villain.  He exudes the tedious menace of a middle manager.  Somehow he is boring and humorless enough to submarine whatever point he is making without ever ascending to the stiff dignity of a person it would be funny to see Rodney Dangerfield shove in a pool.  And yet, Manfred needs to be out there because the alternative is for baseball to put one of the owners, a conglomerate of blotchy oligarchs who consist exclusively of financial criminals and sons, out there to weep about how paying the Collective Bargaining Tax would leave them destitute or by gnawing on something.  The only owner who seems to have any sort of public personality is a slimy hedge fund guy implicated in insider trading who openly feuds with his team's players on twitter for Doing Thumbs.  

All sports commissioners share the important job of having fans call them a piece of shit while the team owners berate the staff of their yachts but the disconcerting thing about Manfred is that he seems to enjoy it.  Unlike Roger Goodell, who carries himself like an embattled governor and loves to do Investigations and talk about Resiliency In These Uncertain Times or Adam Silver whose role seems to be to try to keep team owners from publicly clashing with the NBA's celebrity superstars egregiously enough to affect the league's profits, Manfred seems to exist completely outside the sport.  He seems like he'd be delighted to lock out workers in any industry.  While Goodell imbues the NFL with a ridiculous air of importance as an American institution on par with a government department and Silver sees the NBA as a lucrative television product to sell around the world, Manfred's relationship to baseball seems completely abstract.  He is a dour henchman.

Every time you see this Manfred guy on television it is because he spends 90 percent of his time sourly shitting on baseball or introducing some asinine new rule to fix the game by shaving fifteen seconds off a mound visit.  He says this while his bosses put their games exclusively on regional cable networks that are involved in intricate carriage rights disputes that mean that no one can even watch the games and while they call for increasing the number of playoff teams to an amount that is beyond the number of teams actually trying to field a competitive team.  Maybe baseball is so slow and long that it has always been destined to become a relic of a sport like horse racing, boxing, or even bowling but it sure would be interesting to find out what would happen if it was not controlled by group of people who treat the players, fans, and the sport itself with such contempt.


The Olympics may be a cesspool of scandal from grasping middlemen but there is one outrage that no one else has the courage to expose and that is that the so-called "Winter Games" disproportionately take place on mountains.  I have done the rigorous research of looking up the 2022 Winter Olympics on Wikipedia ("Bing Dwen Dwen's astronaut-like clothes imply that the Winter Olympics embraces new technologies and create possibilities") and more than half of the events required athletes to fling themselves down mountains or on ramps located on mountains.  This is a preposterous situation.  The Winter Olympics should add more flat events.

As a Midwesterner, I resent the association of winter with bluff people in neoprene suits and goggles jauntily flying down mountains.  Many of us experience winter as an endlessly bleak grayness  where the beauty of fallen snow is almost instantaneously rendered into beige sludge accented by dog piss and where the only thing we can rakishly throw ourselves down is maybe a pile of garbage that someone made into a small hill in a park.  Imagine if more than half of the Summer Olympic events involved athletes barreling down a hill in a soapbox derby car or hurling themselves off of a cliff in one of those extreme sports squirrel suits.  These are not the Mountain Olympics.  I am absolutely not a crank to demand that the IOC think about people who live thousands of miles from the nearest elevated surface and spend months standing on train platforms where slush hits them in the face horizontally while they huddle under one of those ineffectual heaters when they are determining which games to label as "winter."

Sure, the flat regions have ice skating, hockey, curling, cross-country skiing, and cross-country skiing while shooting a gun.  That's enough for you, is what the IOC says while handing the rest of the events off to a bunch of Alpine maniacs who recreate by trying to smash their heads into an ice wall while finishing a course three tenths of a second faster than their opponent with whom they have an inscrutable feud over who gets to be the Bad Boy of Bobsledding.  But I refuse to accept these scraps.  It's time for people form lowlands, flatlands, and basins to come together and demand Competitive Snow Shoveling.

Anyone who has ever lived in any sort snow-prone area has spent a depressingly large part of their life shoveling snow off driveways, sidewalks, and around cars that, when moved, people invariably throw a bunch of old chairs, buckets, tomato cages, religious figurines, etc. in to save their spot in a ritual that every cold city in this country claims is some sort of charming regional practice even though it is an inventible consequence of snow and street parking.  Who would not tune into the Olympics to see which country produces the persons who can claim they are the greatest at shoveling?

Competitive shoveling would work by giving athletes a uniform volume of identical snow to clear in a timed event.  People can compete by themselves, in pairs, and in semi-pairs where only one athlete is shoveling and the other person is yelling at them.  For the first several years, we would be witness the beginnings of the sport where shoveling athletes had not yet figured out the optimal techniques, equipment, and body shape for competitors so the first few years would be the shoveling equivalent of those Van Damme fighting tournaments where a karate guy is fighting either a sumo wrestler or a boxer or a guy who is channeling the fighting spirit of a lemur and rolling around in disconcerting ways.  Sports fans the world over deserve to hear an announcer grimly noting that a shoveler caught up on some ice caused by a tire tread is not going to want to lose valuable tenths of a second there or finding out that the greatest snow shoveler on the planet is a grumpy 54 year-old Estonian or a prodigy from a tropical climate.

It's time to end the domination of the Winter Olympics by dashing snowboarders and lunatic ski jumpers and give people who spend their time trudging through giant piles of snow while saying "dammit" under their breath more space in the Olympic Games by timing how well they can shovel several cubic feet of snow for my entertainment.   

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