“Mama There Goes That Meme!” Ep. 9: There Can Be Only ONE!

Image by Anthony Bain

“Mama there goes that Meme!” is a weekly HoopSpeak feature in which Beckley Mason and Ethan Sherwood Strauss, like curious extraterrestrials, probe, abuse, and ultimately learn from a popular media meme.

Ethan: The grand Miami experiment stumbles around the arena, bleeding from the belly. The laughing masses poke it like a toreador mob.

(Jajajaja! Jajajaja! JAJAJAJAJA!)

Spoelstra speed deflates LeBron stats as James’s reputation sinks at a pace faster than time travel. The Heat live a bleak, unforeseen present. And the damning accusation: Bron undermines Spo like the coach is lower than under mines. The criticism is swelling, swallowing this guy, his teammates, even Miami’s upped fans. If LeBron’s The King, this is the French Revolution.

In theory, LeBron’s rivals should be kissing press clippings, riding torrents of praise to that number one spot. But…where’s Kobe Bryant? Where’s Kevin Durant? What about Dwy–oh yea. Somehow, with James caught in quicksand, every threat to his status is getting outplayed–by a teammate. Well, except for Chris Paul, but he’s never on TV. So Paul’s existence is a boxscore’s whispered rumor.

Beckley: I agree, this young season seems off kilter. The story lines we want are failing us, while subversive narratives gasp for airtime. The Lakers are clearly the best team in the West, except the Spurs have a better record. We can’t hype that team too much without adding “the Lakers are still going to the Finals!” and “Tony Parker is their best player?” caveats. The success of the  Spurs (and Hornets) has wrongfooted the entire NBA community, but it’s not nearly as awkward as what’s going on in Miami.

When people used to criticize LeBron, it was often on the absolutist rationale of “he hasn’t won anything.” Supporters and fans said “you’re dumb, he puts up 30-8-8, he’s historically great, shut up.” Well now LeBron’s points and rebounds have plummeted, his narrative is undefined and kind of depressing. He’s still the best (right?!), but now it’s harder to say exactly why. Similar situation for Kobe. With Pau Gasol outplaying Bryant, and maybe everyone else in the league, there’s only so many “Kobe really wants to win…no seriously you guys… you don’t even know!” odes we can stomach while observing Gasol and Odom routinely carry the Purple and Gold. Ditto Durant, who is being outplayed, or at least matched, by the increasingly terrifying Russ Westbrook. KD’s scoring Messiah story doesn’t have the same hook if one of the disciples also walks on water. And as you mention, my vote for best player in the league this season, Chris Paul, is on national TV only once this season, playing the ever-enthralling Cavs in March.
I’m at a loss Ethan, where do we go from here? How much time are people willing to spend thinking about tiny markets like San Antonio (with Duncan not playing a reduced role in their success) New Orleans and Oklahoma City? Miami is befuddling, the Lakers aren’t good in the right way… maybe this is a good thing.

Ethan: I like your media dissection: Wrongfooted when throngs looked at Heat—and a Lakers three peat. Per the Lakers and Kobe storyline, Bryant is off to an excellent season. But the Lakers are carried on the shoulders of giants, shoulders which bulge before a shadow that envelopes Kobe’s accomplishments. In a normal fan environment, this would not matter, because winning is all that matters.

Los Angeles is not a normal environment, for reasons divorced from movies and money. Kobe Bryant has a unique connection to a substantial contingent of Lakers fans, and to call it a “connection” undersells what is really a mass subsuming into Bryant’s legend. It’s to the point where hordes flood article comment sections, just to bash an existential KB rival. Troll any post’s depths, and you’re likely to see something like…

This Collective Bargaining Agreement article is very insightful. Great research.Thanks!

KOBE24BEST: LEQUIT SUCKS!! Admit he SUCKS. he’s a cry babie who cant no the game like KOBE! He’s not anywhere close to KOBE! Five rings! That’s enough for a HAND!

Dr.Stevo79: Wonder how the rookie payscale will be impacted?

KOBE24BEST: I wonder how KOBE will own Kevin Durant in the playoffs who will never be KOBE! Hahaha! Your a JOKE if you think Durant’s better than KOBE.

Billsville77: According to my addition, the MLB pays more in salaries than the NBA. What gives with that?

KOBE24BEST: Go play with your Hollinger computer! Maybe you can CRY ON IT when Wade and LeBrickness r loozing! Kobe! Ko-BE. Ko? BE! Kobective Bryanting Agreement!

Of course, your average Lakers fan has better things to do than to sewer-strew anonymous banter. I would assume so, but another assumption suspects this online activity meaningful, illustrative. When LA faltered in the post Shaq era, Bryant’s trial made him a national pariah. In the absence of the usual team success, Lakers fans rallied around an embattled star–until his redemption became their voice.

A few years later, I’m at Staples, sitting amid oddities who openly counted Bryant’s point total, openly prayed for 50, and openly booed anyone else who deign shoot. It was like attending a symphony wherein the conductor’s baton was a trombone, and that was all the audience sought to hear in the first place.

Odom’s thoughts: “It’s time for my flute solo!”


Much has changed since the Pau Gasol trade, but vicarious Bryanting still lives. Some Lakers fans wear shirts that boast Kobe’s “Five Rings,” as though those championships don’t matter as much as the fact Bryant got them. And when the Lakers succeed with Kobe in the backseat, many don’t even know how to cheer it. Thank God the Mamba’s picked up his game during a Gasol lull: Beta Bryant is a threat to LA identity.

Now, I dare you to expand on Westbrook, Durant, Chris Paul, and why the hell you think this narrative confusion is a “good thing.” I’m also bumping into your shoulder on the way to the bench.

Beckley: Classic LeBrethan. Dazzles with faux Kobe comments, then tosses me a hand grenade. I’m not annoyed by the bump, I’m upset that you got sweat on my suit. Six weeks into the season It appears all the hemming and hawing that went on in the way of prediction was really just the sound of the NBA gods laughing. I’ve already mentioned a few, but here’s a fuller list of unexpected returns from the young season:

  • Russell Westbrook is a legitimate MVP candidate, and Kevin Durant can’t shoot.
  • Dwyane Wade looks like the most trade-worthy of the Big Three, wasn’t this his team?
  • New Orleans, picked by only one of the ten surveyed TrueHoop Network writers to finish with a playoff worthy record (Hornets 24/7’s Joe Gerrity), is now 12-5.
  • This was going to be the year time finally eroded the Alamo. Instead, for the first time in Duncan’s storied career, San Antonio isn’t one of the 10 slowest paced teams in the league. So far this year, only seven teams are out racing the Parker propeled Spurs (14-2).
  • Despite Kobe leading the league in usage (35.3%), Pau Gasol is still tops in Offensive Win Shares and just barely trails Chris Paul in total Win Shares. The once soft Spaniard is the best Laker (21.5 PTS, 11.5 REB, 2 BLK, 55% FG), but he makes it look too easy along side Kobe’s hero complex to get serious MVP buzz.
  • LeBron James has turned the ball over more than anyone else in the league (4.2/gm), despite handling the ball less than in previous years. Also, no one likes him.
  • Darko Milicic is leading the NBA in blocks per game. Read that again.

Even though the Dark One has risen from the depths of NBA laugh lines, I don’t see his ascension as a sign that the unholy union of Kurt Rambis and David Kahn has produced an NBA apocalypse-heralding Rosemary’s Baby. Instead, consider that we are blessed in this holiday season with a cornucopia of unexpectedly awesome basketball. I thought Russell Westbrook was two more years from consistently dominating, and who guessed that Michael Beasley would be silkily justifying his #2 pick in Minnesota or that the Pacers would be kind of good? Did you predict DeMarcus Cousins would be a headcase or that the Clippers would drown Blake Griffin in a tar pit of apathy and discord? OK, so not everything has been a revelation. But the disappointment of not seeing one solitary Wade-James pick and roll is, at least in part, assuaged by the bounty of entertaining peripheral plot lines.

Iconoclast NBA genius David Kahn is smirking right now, because only he understands the counter-intuitive wonders of a Carlos Arroyo-Joel Anthony pick and roll. Kurt Rambis squints happily, knowing the triangle should run through Big Z, James Jones and Eddie House. Sorry Miami, the modern Manhattan project thrives in Minny.



Related posts:

  1. “Mama There Goes That Meme!” Ep. 6: Durant is MVP Already
  2. “Mama There Goes That Meme!” Ep. 5: The Kobe-Jordan Conversation
  3. “Mama There Goes That Meme!” Ep. 2: Beat those Heat!
  4. “Mama There Goes That Meme!” Ep. 3: B-A-N-A-N-A-S!
  5. “Mama There Goes That Meme!” Ep. 7: Contraction Traction, What’s Your Action?
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