Who IS DeMarcus Cousins, Really?


Full disclosure: I’m predisposed to liking DeMarcus Cousins. As a native of Mobile, Alabama, where the basketball ain't football and the hoops are hard to come by, I’ve got a soft spot for the Sacramento big man. He represents the most prominent active representative of my state in the world of professional basketball (sorry, Eric Bledsoe). That means something. I attended high school down the street from the guy, at the same time he did. I’d love to tell some illuminating story about our relationship before we made it big, but I never once met him. I never even saw him play. To be honest, I never heard of him until he played for Kentucky. Like I said, Alabama -- and particularly the high school I grew up at -- is the land of college, high-school, and professional football. In that order. The next Michael Jordan could’ve played for my own high school team and I probably wouldn’t have known it. But hindsight is 20/20, and knowing what I know about Cousins now, my affinity remains as strong.

Of course, it’s not just that Cousins is from my hometown that piques my interest. You could say I like the idea of Boogie Cousins. I’m the biggest Charles Barkley fan on planet Earth (self-appointed), and though I believe Chuck resents the comparisons (and let’s face it, Cousins is no Charles Barkley in game or in wit), there’s something intriguing and familiar about a volatile big man ascending from my neck of the woods and into the heights of basketball. His game an amalgam of oddly-fitting talents with a penchant for snarling at referees and snatching down offensive rebounds. I think that I see in Cousins some of the same qualities that led me to idolize Barkley the basketball player as a child. Maybe that’s why I so often find myself defending Cousins, and hear phrases coming out of my mouth like “That Sacramento franchise has been toxic, it would stunt anyone’s development,” or “He’s still really young, give him time.” Maybe it’s why I nod my head enthusiastically when I hear anyone from Shaquille O’Neal to an anonymous forum poster say that Cousins could be the best big man in basketball.

I see his athleticism, his diverse offensive skill-set, and his skill on the boards. I see what anyone else who’s watched the Kings fumble their way through an allegedly professional basketball game has seen: potential. And as often happens with hoops fans and analysts alike, I conflate potential with certainty. But those aren’t the same thing. The world is filled with walking monuments to unfulfilled potential. The NBA especially. Could DeMarcus Cousins ever really be the best big man in the NBA, or is it the pipe dream to end all pipe dreams? Anything’s possible, of course, given that a 37-year-old Tim Duncan just made a strong argument for the post. But is a beautiful Cousins redemption even remotely likely, at any point in his career? I’m not so sure.

• • •

Cousins isn’t just the NBA’s most prominent bipedal manifestation of unrealized potential. He’s also the quintessential rookie, even as we prepare for his fourth year in the league. He stands a generous 6’11, 270 lbs, with a near 7’6 wingspan. Looking at him in uniform and seeing him use his immense strength to bully his way to a post position, then catching the ball and powering it down over and through opposing centers, it’s easy to see the promise. If you happened to catch the rare game where Cousins consistently commits to this style of play, you’d be forgiven for thinking he was already one of the most unstoppable offensive centers in the league. But like many young players, he either doesn’t recognize his skillset or lacks the discipline to properly apply it.

The big man's shot selection isn't just bad -- it's abysmal. Last season a whole 53% of his attempted shots were jumpers, which he converted only 31% of (credit to 82games.com). That 31% is bad for any player, but it’s especially bad for a big man who presumably should only be taking those shots off either wide-open spot-up opportunities or to keep outmatched post defenses trying to pack the paint honest. Cousins converted 64% of his inside shots over the season, yet only 47% of his attempted shots were in the paint. I was going to say that those attempt rates should be reversed, but Cousins would be remiss for taking even that many jump shots. The man has excellent touch around the basket, but he simply isn’t a great jump shooter. His poor shot selection (plus the general chaos of Sacramento's so-called offense) only exacerbates his problem.

Cousins is still young. His shot selection could well improve with the addition of a competent coaching staff and a roster more coherently assembled around him. Even without that, his passing and offensive rebounding is exceptional. Perhaps more than Shaquille O'Neal pipe-dreams of looping drop-steps and thunderous dunks, these elements comprise Cousins’ most tantalizing dimension on the offensive end. Unfortunately, his defense is straight-up appalling. Check out Zach Lowe’s excellent piece on the subject. He shows all the lack of discipline typical to a young player on the offensive end, paired with a foul rate that borders on tragicomedy. Only three players in the NBA fouled more than Cousins did last season. One was Dwight Howard (both a superior offensive and defensive threat), one was Roy Hibbert (an elite defender in the paint), and the other was Amir Johnson (who plays for the Toronto Raptors). For a team that doesn’t have much more going for it, Cousins has somehow been a statistical net negative on both ends of the floor for the Sacramento Kings, with the team a -1.7 points scored on offense and a +2.0 points allowed on defense (see 82games.com for this grim tableau). That’s pretty bad.

In spite of all this negativity, it's not rare to see Cousins featured in comparisons to Dwight Howard who (while insufferable) has been the popular choice for best center in the NBA for quite some time now. When the Kings defeated the doomed 2012-2013 Lakers in the preseason, in those halcyon days before that dread ship had even begun its cursed voyage, Kings fans and Laker-haters alike cheered Cousins name from the rooftops (despite him not having a particularly great game). If I wasn’t among them, my heart certainly was. The season that followed that game saw Howard’s team underperform spectacularly, his individual statistics dip, and his popularity stock hit rock bottom. Meanwhile, Cousins drew about as much attention as he always does, which is to say... well, not much aside from when his ejection makes a slow day on SportsCenter. [Editor's Note: And Sean Elliot noticed him, which counts for... OK, no, that doesn't count for anything.]

Let’s pretend for a moment that the Dwightmare never happened, that Dwight’s 2012-2013 campaign wasn’t marred with any extra-curricular stigma. Let’s pretend that Dwight’s status as the best center in basketball wasn’t really in contention, and do a comparison: Cousins, the so-called-best-big-man-in-basketball-to-be, versus Howard, the best-big-man-in-basketball-that-was-and-might-be-again [Editor's Note: Why-are-we-talking-like-this-can-I-join-this-gravy-train?].

• • •


A lot is made about Dwight Howard's lack of offensive game, and it's almost always the central point of conversation when comparing him with Cousins. But what's overlooked is that in spite of Howard's lack of finesse on the block and recent reluctance to play the pick and roll, he's a more than solid offensive option on the block with his back to the basket. More than 70% of Dwight's offensive possessions took place inside, and he scored on them at an exceptional clip, with an eFG% of .603. Compare this to Cousins, who as mentioned earlier only took less than half of his shots inside (47%) and converted at a 64% rate. That's pretty comparable, and you'd probably give the edge to Cousins. The way I figure it, there's two ways of looking at that. On the one hand, Dwight's efficiency is probably somewhat inflated by hack-a-Dwight, a strategy that couldn't be effectively employed on Cousins in the same scenario. So there you have it, Cousins is the better inside man.

But then there's the other way of looking at it. A lot of people present Cousins as the center of the future, and point to his footwork and finesse in explaining the bountiful reach of his potential. But for all that finesse, it hasn't actually manifested in any measurable offensive advantage for Boogie. For one, Cousins seems utterly incapable of dealing with double-teams, often turning the ball over or forcing the issue too late. For a big man whose passing is their most clearly evident skill on paper, that's not a good sign. For two, he just doesn't like to play down low consistently. Though he scores much more efficiently than Dwight inside, he scores less (8.4/ppg vs. Dwight's 9.1 ppg down there) because he doesn't even take half of his shots there. Dwight hasn't looked like he possessed a clear offensive move with his back to the basket for a couple of years now, yet he's still a much more reliable option on the block than Cousins for sheer virtue of that he believes he is. He goes there.

But maybe it's not all about the block. One of Cousins' claims to fame is his versatility on offense, and to see him play on the nights he's on is a surreal thing of beauty. Unfortunately, he's usually not on. His complete lack of conscience in regards to his shot selection belies his potential -- while Cousins may be less polished than Howard, he's at least a lot more versatile. And that may be the case, but it's difficult to analyze how much of Cousins' inefficiency is skill limitations, how much is the weakness of his team or organization, and how much is talent that is simply undeveloped. But if you're half of your shots are outside jumpers and you're only hitting 31% of them, it might be that you're just not a very good jump shooter. Dwight Howard isn't, and he didn't take very many jumpers last year either. He converted 52% of the ones he did take. We can lambast D12 for refusing to play to his strengths all we want (and rightfully so), but his shot selection last season was the mark of a developed player that understands their limitations and their offensive abilities, and is capable of executing on those abilities in spite of a down year. DeMarcus Cousins doesn't show any of that.

I alluded to Cousins' passing, and it really does deserve special attention, because it's (spoiler alert) the only area in which he seems to hold a clear measurable advantage over D12. But outside of that, there isn't much of a comparison. Dwight is both a more prodigious and a more efficient scorer, and in spite of his reluctance to RUN THE PICK AND ROLL WITH STEVE NASH he demonstrated an understanding of his strengths and weaknesses on offense that might as well be worlds away from anything we've seen from Cousins. On defense, I don't think anyone needs to go into it. If you're reading this, you know Dwight's pedigree, and if you're even remotely interested in Boogie Cousins you know that for him defense is a thing that you close to keep the dog in. The gap between Cousins and Dwight's crown, tarnished as it is, is as vast and seemingly insurmountable as that chasm at the end of Last Crusade.

• • •

al jefferson


Of course, plenty of people are fine for Cousins not to become Dwight, and aren't interested in even entertaining the comparison. Instead, they have more realistic expectations. The one I've seen recently is between Cousins and the lovable Big Al Jefferson of the soon-to-be Charlotte Hornets. Bobnets. Hornetcats.

Wow, Hornetcats sounds like a sweet name.

Anyway, this is the comparison for the learned fan. The fan who doesn't expect Cousins to ever learn defense. This fan keeps their expectations grounded, and is unshook by a world that is both uncertain and scary. This is your moment, this fan.

What's the book on Al Jefferson? Good offensive player, weird-looking hook shot, doesn't play defense, offensive black hole, nice guy, good sense of humor, just good enough to ruin the Bobcats chances at a legitimately good 2014 lottery pick? Sounds about right, yeah? So here's the thing. Al Jefferson is a one-dimensional offensive player, yes. Right now, he's a slightly more productive option than Cousins (17.8/50% vs. 17.1/47%) , but that's likely to change, especially if we're to presume Jefferson is who he is and Cousins is going to improve.

Honestly though, outside of the comparable scoring, I don't think this is a very fair comparison to Cousins. As stated, he's already right there in regards to scoring and efficiency, and he does it in a number of ways (even though he probably shouldn't) whereas Big Al is largely a one trick pony. On defense, there's simply no comparison. For all the hand-wringing over Cousins' disinterest in playing defense, it pales in comparison to what Jefferson accomplishes (or fails to accomplish) on that end of the floor. Opposing teams score 9.3 more points when Big Al's on the floor, whereas that figure with Cousins is only a +2. Part of that was Jefferson's excellent defensive backups in Favors and Kanter, but it wasn't ALL backups. Cousins blocks more shots than Al Jefferson does and fouls less. While Cousins has shown little interest in playing disciplined team defense to this point in his career, Jefferson has shown literally no capacity for playing defense whatsoever. I don't even feel like that's too mean of an assessment, Big Al would agree with me on this.

Comparing Cousins to Jefferson has a certain pleasing symmetry to it, but it isn't fair to either player. Though his growth is uncertain, there's no reason to think Cousins can't marginally improve on his defensive shortcomings. And even as bad as they are, they're already vastly superior to Jefferson's. His passing is beyond what Big Al has displayed, though whether it's that dramatic of a difference is open for debate. Cousins averages 1 more assist per game (though it's accompanied by more turnovers, yet another question mark in his future development) 82games.com gives Cousins a passing rating of 2.7, calculated from assist/turnover ratio. Jefferson has a 2.8.

Al Jefferson is a player who has maximized the use of the tools in his toolbox, and succeeded in spite of his limitations. He's also (probably) the player he's going to be for the rest of his career. Comparing what he's accomplished to the mountain of unmolded clay and unfulfilled potential that is DeMarcus Cousins is just as unfair to him as it is to Cousins.

• • •

If you really think on it, there aren't any current players that represent particularly compelling comparisons for Cousins. He's a big angry golem of talent and potential with possibilities that stretch on forever yet uncertainties that dominate the conversation. There's no other player in the NBA of his age or experience that is in a particularly similar situation to him that permits a fair comparison. Perhaps if we were to look way back into the annals of NBA history, we might unravel the mystery.

Perhaps there was a player in their third year in the league, for whom scoring in a variety of ways and without prejudice seemed easy. For whom defense was an afterthought. Who played for a troubled franchise in a time of turmoil. A player whose skill and potential was outweighed only by their outsized confidence in their own abilities and public assurances of their own dominance. A player with a similar PER and WS/48. A player who seemed destined to either be adopted as the face of their shaky franchise or shipped out, where they would likely find themselves occupying the roster of any team willing to take a chance on them.


Oh my god.

"What is it, bro?"

Weird Weekly Prompts #3: MackGuire vs Hogan, 1988

hulk hogan

This writing project is courtesy of everyone's good friend Angelo. I'll let him describe it:

A friend challenged me to a writing contest. The basic premise is that for two months, she will send me a writing prompt twice a week. 750 word response. I will do the same with her. The point is to get some experience/feedback writing a bunch of different, unusual things with odd prompts that you don't expect. Would you be interested in doing one a week for the rest of the offseason?

Fun times in Cleveland today. (Cleveland!) Now, that said, we started this exercise a month ago and only recently finished our first contributions. He's posting his on Goodspeed and Poe, everyone's favorite blog. I'm posting my contributions (apparently!) on Gothic Ginobili, everyone's favorite basketball. No, I didn't mean to type "basketball blog." Gothic Ginobili is not a blog. Gothic Ginobili is a basketball. If you disagree with this particular assessment, you just haven't experienced this place properly yet. Here are the previous prompts:

Here's this week's prompt. Angelo was really mean to me this week.

• • •

PROMPT #3: The year is 1988. It's the evening before the World Wrestling Federation's flagship event, Wrestlemania and you, Aaron McGuire, have a shot at the WWF Championship. Your opponent is none other than the legendary Hulk Hogan. You find yourself in front of a green screen with a camera pointed on you. It's time to film your pre-match promo in which you get to address your opponent one last time before you two face off in the squared circle.

What do you say?

You have the creative freedom to create your character as you see fit but with one limitation. As it is 1988, you are the product of the '80's pro wrestling circuit. As such, assume your brain is under the influence of the same amount of steroids, cocaine and concussions as all pro wrestlers of the era. Think like a wrestler, McGuire.

[The camera turns on. MCGUIRE stares into it blankly for what seems like an hour. He speaks.]

MCGUIRE: I brought a dictionary, Hulk Hogan.

[He reaches down and picks up a dictionary off the ground. He flips through it, seemingly completely unaware of the large bookmark roughly two thirds of the way through the tome. After some mindless flipping, he realizes the bookmark exists and turns to it, tossing the bookmark aside.]

MCGUIRE: I'm not big... on words. I'm big on results. I'm big on being big. I'm big on the Mack. I am "Mack Hammer" MackGuire, the greatest to ever flex. You? You're Hulk Hogan. And when I think of Hulk Hogan, I think of this thing.

[MCGUIRE MACKGUIRE waves the dictionary.]

MACKGUIRE: I think of WORDS, Hulk Hogan. Words I don't like. Words I hate. And one word for sure. It is the word called... traitor. It says here, in the Yoxford Real American Dictionary, that you only need two words to define a true traitor to his people. Do you know what those words are, Hulk Hogan?

[He begins to tear pages out of the dictionary indiscriminately. He takes special care to rip out the page that contains the word "traitor", shoving it into his mouth like a raspberry danish gone wrong. He flexes, chews, and yells.]


[He swallows.]

MACKGUIRE: Dictionaries are for nerds and televisions and heads. You don't have any of those, so you probably never knew you were in the dictionary. But that's OK, Hulk Hogan. Because you won't ever have the chance to. I just wanted you to know before  Wrestlemania ends you. Because it will, Hulk Hogan. You don't understand these demons. You don't get it.

[He goes silent. The camera zooms in on his eyes. This zoom takes roughly 20 seconds of dead air.]

MACKGUIRE: I am the swamp giant, Hulk Hogan.

[The camera shakes, as if to emulate an earthquake. It instead emulates your father's Christmas home movies.]

MACKGUIRE: Long ago I rose from the swamp at the bottom of the ocean, hungry for sharks and blood. But I'm all out of sharks and blood only makes sense when it's from a traitor, because that's the rules of blood. Rules that people know. Except for traitors, because they don't GET to know that. They don't GET to understand. And you, Hulk Hogan, you're the biggest traitor of them all. You gave up Wrestlemania. You gave up your friends and family. All for what? All for WHAT, HOGAN?

[He stops. He might have lost track of what he was saying, much like everyone watching.]

MACKGUIRE: Hooooooooo... gaaaaaan...

[Oh, nevermind, he's back on track, guess he just wanted to be dramatic.]

MACKGUIRE: Traitors never prosper, except when they're Eggs Benedict. He prospered back when Lincoln was president and the world was different. But you, Hulk Hogan, you're no Eggs Benedict. You're not even the Pope. You're Hulk Hogan, which is a noun, which is a dictionary for traitor. The swamp giant was made to eat traitors for breakfast. And the Mack Hammer never surrenders. Not like you. You always surrender. I know you, even if you think I don't. So step up to that ring, Hulk Hogan, and fight me like a man. And I will destroy you, just like the traitor you are. Just like the traitor you knew you'd be. Kiss your world goodbye, Hulk Hogan. Because it's about to be over. Traitor.

[He mean-mugs the camera, flexing incoherently. Camera fades to black.]

Weird Weekly Prompts, #2: The Dangers of Thrift

maybe i should just do this with it

This writing project is courtesy of everyone's good friend Angelo. I'll let him describe it:

A friend challenged me to a writing contest. The basic premise is that for two months, she will send me a writing prompt twice a week. 750 word response. I will do the same with her. The point is to get some experience/feedback writing a bunch of different, unusual things with odd prompts that you don't expect. Would you be interested in doing one a week for the rest of the offseason?

Fun times in Cleveland today. (Cleveland!) Now, that said, we started this exercise a month ago and only recently finished our first contributions. He's posting his on Goodspeed and Poe, everyone's favorite blog. I'm posting my contributions (apparently!) on Gothic Ginobili, everyone's favorite basketball. No, I didn't mean to type "basketball blog." Gothic Ginobili is not a blog. Gothic Ginobili is a basketball. If you disagree with this particular assessment, you just haven't experienced this place properly yet. Here are the previous prompts:

Here's this week's prompt, alongside my confessional.

• • •

PROMPT #2: Your next prompt, if you choose to accept it, is to write about the stupidest thing you ever purchased. Why did you buy it? How has it affected your life? How would your life be different if you had that money back and could choose to invest it more wisely?

A little bit of background on me: I'm thrifty. Full-blown penny-pincher. Cheap, on any given Monday. I value my money and it values me. (It does not value me. Money is not a person. That sentence was untrue.) For me, retail therapy involves going to Costco and finding a great deal on snacks I'd buy anyway. Clipping a coupon and applying it at the exact perfect moment. Example: I cook a LOT of soup. Every few weeks, I make a ton of soup and I jar it into Ball jars and I eat the soup as a side for the next few weeks. It's neat. Thing is: I only got a ladle two weeks ago. That's right -- for two years of my life I made soup every 10-15 days, but I never thought to get a ladle to serve it. I'd just tip the pot and use measuring cups for soup disbursement. Seriously. My friends made fun of me for it, but I'm not in the business of changing my life just to accommodate the naysayers and people named Gerald. Gerald can find his own way.

I'm thrifty and generally prone to making best with quite little. And for this very reason, I had trouble thinking of any particular purchase that was too large and too stupid. This is hardly just me, of course -- most people remember their purchasing successes long before they recall their purchasing failures. Hindsight is usually 20/20 for your triumphs and cloudy for your failures. It's the way of things. I had to think back hard to remember the poor investments I'd made in my life. My college education was a bit of a poor investment -- I could've gone to a state school on a full ride, but I chose to go out of state for slight added benefit. My first (and current) car -- a used 2009 Toyota Camry -- is serviceable. But at the price I paid for it, I should've just bit the bullet and gotten a new car. Used cars lose most of their value the second you take them off the lot, despite the fact that you still have 6-7 years of paying for it. Come on, Aaron. Get it together. I could also talk about my enormous book collection, one of the few things I collect. Dropped many ducats on the craft, for sure. Do I need it? Perhaps not. Perhaps so. I do not know.

None of those things are the stupidest purchase I've ever made. The stupidest purchase I ever made defines me. It's a scarlet letter. It's a flashing neon symbol of cheapness and thrift-over-blood that I should've figured out from the start. I have been trapped in this hell for years, my friends -- I must confess and seek absolution for this sin. It's one thing to buy multi-use kitchen tools so that everything stays in your cooking rotation. It's one thing to buy bulk items from Costco and freeze extra things in the freezer to keep them longer. It's one thing to eat slightly-maybe-a-few-days-expired food as long as it doesn't look or smell disgusting. It's one thing to take your garbage to the dump by hand because you haven't gotten the motivation to purchase garbage service for your home yet.

It's quite another to ever buy the cheapest toilet paper. At Costco.

I don't want to give you the gory details. Nobody wants to hear that. Ever. What happens in the bathroom is humanity's grandest secret. There is nothing to be said, no words to be shared. I stare silently at you, you stare silently at me. You turn up your nose. I shake my head and stare at my feet, ashamed. This is the way of things, and this is how it must be. But you know exactly what I mean when I say that this -- this -- was the stupidest purchase I ever made.

Look, Costco sells things in grotesque bulk. You know this. In a moment of weakness, two years prior, I chose to go with the cheapest of all possible toilet papers. I am not a wastrel. If I waste a single pea on a plate of prepared food, I feel bad. So I knew going in that I was going to have to use all the damn paper if I intended to ever move up in the world. But what the doomed never realizes is just how long that takes. I also did not realize that the questionable luxury of good toilet paper is only truly possible to understand when you experience its absence for several years of your life. I also did not fully comprehend my impending shame. Imagine: friends come over. They need a restroom. You watch helplessly as your friends and family enter the valley of the shadow of death. You cringe. You shiver. You know the truth.

Might as well just dab it with cyanide and get it over with, huh? Death by toilet paper only seems impossible until you buy the worst toilet paper. Then you know. Then you are made aware of the possibilities. It is horrible, to buy the worst toilet paper. It is unnecessary. Why did you do it, Aaron? "Oh, I saved a quarter." Stop. Cease. You mortgaged years of your life away. You became the evil you sought to conquer. You sold out for twenty-five cents. Even Judas Iscarot got thirty. You are a fool, McGuire, consumed by thrift and reduced to dust. "You are a toilet seat that smokes a cigar."

... Now, uh, that said, I don't really know what I'd do with that money if I hadn't bought them. I mean, Christ, guys. It's like two dollars. I'm going to assume I would have put it towards toilet paper that didn't make me want to skydive without a parachute. My life would be improved, and I would be twenty-five cents poorer. I would be infinitely wiser, although without this prolonged suffering, I may never have properly learned this lesson. Perhaps it's all for the best.

(No. No it is not. Never do this.)

Weird Weekly Prompts, #1: Dispatches from 3030


Hey, all. Having a good summer? Yep. Me too. I've been enjoying my time away from basketball, truth be told. You have to realize this -- no matter how much a person enjoys writing about hoops, a 370,000 series crammed into one month combined with 3-4 posts a week for the preceding and following 7 months is completely exhausting. I've been taking the time to get into video games I never played (currently slogging through Mass Effect, just finished Half-Life 2, et cetera), sleep more than I'm used to, and affect mischief around the town. Fun times forever. That said, I love writing. No matter how slowly I'm getting back into the swing of my basketball writing, I'm still doing a few tertiary writing projects. On Twitter's recommendation, I decided to bring one of my projects to Gothic Ginobili. This one is courtesy of everyone's good friend Angelo, and I'll let him describe it:

A friend challenged me to a writing contest. The basic premise is that for two months, she will send me a writing prompt twice a week. 750 word response. I will do the same with her. The point is to get some experience/feedback writing a bunch of different, unusual things with odd prompts that you don't expect. Would you be interested in doing one a week for the rest of the offseason?

Fun times in Cleveland today. (Cleveland!) Now, that said, we started this exercise a month ago and only recently finished our first contributions. He's posting his on Goodspeed and Poe, everyone's favorite blog. I'm posting my contributions (apparently!) on Gothic Ginobili, everyone's favorite basketball. No, I didn't mean to type "basketball blog." Gothic Ginobili is not a blog. Gothic Ginobili is a basketball. If you disagree with this particular assessment, you just haven't experienced this place properly yet.

Here's this week's prompt, alongside my diary-style response.

• • •

PROMPT #1: You've somehow found yourself somehow transplanted to the year 3030. Aaron McGuire (circa 2013) is trapped in the world of 3030. What do you see? Try to describe it in terms that would make sense to someone of the year 2013. What frightens you the most? What makes you the most hopeful?


In the year 1030, Olaf II of Norway was slaughtered on the field of battle. (Gross.) Henry I revolted against his father, King Robert, and Romanus III invaded Syria to a crushing defeat at the Battle of Azaz. To my knowledge, these are the three most impactful things that occurred in the year 1030. Which makes it sort of strange that none of these three things had any traceable impact on our modern, 2013-style world. The most immediately evident is Olaf's fate, as he was canonized to become the patron saint of Norway. "Rex perpetuum Norvegiae" -- 'the eternal king of Norway', if you aren't one of those crazy people who speak Latin. The second most immediately evident is Azaz Ansari, who got his name fr--... wait, no, he's Aziz. Wow. This is tough.

Anyways. Point is: in 2013, we didn't know JACK about what happened a thousand years prior. I don't know anything about how King Olaf lived. I don't understand why Romanus III invaded Syria. I don't know why Henry I revolted. We had historical record, and we had scores of brilliant historians who put their life and soul into sifting through the past and pre-digesting historical truths like a beneficent mother bird. As I come to build a comfort level in the year 3030, I realize slowly that our inability to relate to or understand the bygone times isn't some struggle of information flow. Our lack of understanding around the figures who came before us is a persistent bug in the system. It's not an idiosyncrasy of data quality, in short -- it's a fundamental problem with time and the human condition.

The world's different, but the people aren't. We have some absolutely incredible technology here in 3030. World hunger has been eradicated -- humans are fed through these giant floating sky-barns. They're these giant floating globules over every city. They're weird. Every day, rockets with seeds in them get shot into their cores. The seeds disperse, creating a dandelion of genetically perfected vegetables and fruits. They have all of our daily values covered. They rain down from the heavens -- perfectly ripened -- at a specified time each day, and everyone wanders outside to catch them. Overpopulation was solved in a way that terrifies me, a bit -- the human race holds steady at roughly 125% the population of 2013, sterilizing children at random to ensure the population stays in a specified range. Random children! "It's fair if everyone has the same shot, right?" The nuclear family is gone, a bygone product of a lost age. You have a partner, and you have a neighborhood. These are your family. Your children are not yours -- they belong to the world at large, to be redistributed to a community that's lacking. Wealth and monetary achievement are still differential across states and nations, but the fortunes of the world's citizens are more dispersed among individual neighborhoods than the individual actors. People are a bit shorter than in our time, due to stricter height requirements on buildings. At 6'4", I'm something of a monster to my fellow man.

That's the world, though. That's not the people. I started that paragraph with the idea that people "aren't very different." And although I just listed a score of differences and dispersions from our 2013 norm, I stand by that -- society has changed, and the context in which we live is different. But what of people? Citizens of the world? The human soul? We're about the same, believe it or not. We still love and lose and live and lie. We cry and beam, we strive and die. Even in a world where food and survival is no longer a primary concern, we drop bombs over territorial disputes and the most wealthy nations of the world still go crazy to flex our national powers. Even for nothing. World War I started when a Bosnian national assassinated the wrong rich heir. The Great War of 3025 started when a Eurasian spy was shot in an American supermart -- a completely unrelated stickup, with no global consequences anticipated. If I'd been there when it started, I'd have yelled and pounded my fists and tried to make people realize the sad truth: it had happened before! World War I was the same exact thing! Same reasons, same illogic. But the alliances and treaties forced the world into an all-out war. Kids aren't getting sterilized as much, these days -- the population is STILL recovering.

I would've yelled. I would've pointed at the past and pleaded with the powers that be. "Listen to me! It's happened before!" The more I consider it, though, the less faith I have that it would've done anything at all. You know, some historians -- a few fringe 1900s scholars -- yelled their freaking heads off. It never did anything. Nothing whatsoever. That's what's so incredibly frightening about this world of the future. Hindsight is supposed to be 20/20, but as time goes by, the mistakes are forgotten and the triumphs idealized. World War I's lesson is lost, as generations melt into generations and the future has fewer and fewer direct connections. And then nations allied once more, and the droning march of history trudges onwards into a self-repeating abyss. What use is life, if the hard-fought lessons of your generation have no bearing on anything other than the immediate future? What's the real footprint of a humanity that goes in circles?

But then, hey. Step back a bit. Why worry yourself with the machinations of history when you have the machinations of those around you to distract? Look at yourself in the mirror, Aaron. There's this cute girl. Adrienne. We smile when we pass each other. She slipped me her number the other day. Real hush-hush, you know? We're meeting up for coffee on Thursday. And there's this bubbly anticipation for nothing but the potential of an unknown love. And when you stop rehashing the existential longing of a society that never learns? The concerns seem to fade away. I have her number. She's cute. She seems to like me. What's the distraction, anyway? Is it the fun personal meandering, or the concerns of humanity as a whole? Maybe the meandering is why we're here in the first place. Maybe the broader world is the distraction.

I'll ask her on Thursday. Maybe she'll know.

• • •

If you want to fill out the prompt with your take, the comments are open. I'll be sure to leave my thoughts on any attempts.

Imaginary Basketball Season (Or: The Quest For A Theoretical Title)

July 12, 2013 - Source: Bob Levey/Getty Images North America

As time ran out in the NBA Finals, an intense feeling of despair washed over me. Partly because a Heat victory looked more and more inevitable, but primarily because this would be it: the last NBA game until late October. That sport I've cared way too much about would be floating away for four months. As a recent college graduate still looking for work, I had -- and still have -- absolutely no idea where my life will be the next time I watched a meaningful basketball game. A few days later, I perked up. The season was replaced by something almost as good: the offseason.

Or, as I like to call it, "Imaginary Basketball Season."

Every day for a solid month (the first two weeks being the most intense), we hear about an endless string of signings and deals in the basketball world. Then, until October, we get to fantasize endlessly about how it will actually work! Until we're burdened by the reality of whatever actually happens, we can speculate endlessly about each move. And that's fun. Is the mere presence of Andrea Bargnani going to submarine the Knicks, or does he revive his career as a valuable sixth man? What if the Jose Calderon-Monta Ellis back court in Dallas works really well? (Aren't they a perfectly complimentary pairing?)

All notions seem entirely possible. Plausible, even. And that's the thing -- Imaginary Basketball is not about realities or truths. It's about plausibility and ideas. And the quest for plausibility leads us to the greatest goal of Imaginary Basketball Season: winning an imaginary title. Basketball is easily the most hierarchical of the four major U.S. sports. Teams can win Super Bowls and Stanley Cups simply by getting hot at the right time, and any team who reaches the playoffs could potentially win the title. But there are only a select few of teams who have a real shot winning a championship in basketball. And usually, we have a pretty good idea of who those teams are, even when the season begins. Naturally, the ultimate goal of any general manager is to win a title -- but another, perhaps equally important goal? Get that team to the point where they could theoretically win a title. Continue reading