A Verbal Receptacle for One Bloated Spectacle
USA Today Sports
For now let’s save that conversation as to whether or not the Houston Rockets are “for real” in the Western Gauntlet. That’s not what this is about. Houston is real enough, the combined presence of Howard and Harden is sufficient to keep the Rockets in maddeningly heavy rotation on the national broadcast schedule clear to the next CBA. Factor in human meme Jeremy Lin and we have the sort of team that even the most morally upstanding of commissioners would be tempted to usher deep into the playoffs via favorable whistles, so sure are the Rockets to maximize their Nielsens at each advancing stage. A top-ten pace and 107 PPG will satiate the casual fan, and the trendsetting, statistically sound wheelings and dealings of Daryl Morey intrigue and amaze the most dedicated of followers. In theory this is as good a team as there ever was to manifest the destiny of the League Pass Alert. In theory.
Blame my sensitive palette, but there are 29 other teams–actually let’s say 28, with Chicago crumbling to cinders as they are–that I would rather watch play basketball than the Houston Rockets. It’s fun to fantasize about which specific collisions amongst the West’s titans that April and May will bring to us. My fantasy includes a first-round Rockets elimination that I don’t watch, and I’m pretty flexible outside of that.
No, my reasons for avoiding Houston have nothing to do with the Hack-a-Howard, that piece of sarcastic gamesmanship that sinks so many fourth quarters into lakes of molasses. Truth be told, this is an element of Rockets games that I, however, cynically, enjoy: I am endlessly compelled to see a man with so much confidence and muscles get reduced to a rubble of sweaty anxieties by the exact same basketball skill that has been so thoroughly masted by thousands upon thousands of non-recruited high-schoolers the whole world ’round. (“Beat me. You, yes you. You and you alone, beat me,” each night’s opposing coach says, putting the outcome of the game in Dwight’s hands in the most literal of ways.)
Don’t get me wrong: Howard is an actively frustrating player to watch when you’re watching basketball without really any rooting interest and just frantically trying to lap up whatever drops of aesthetic beauty drop in between SUBWAY SUB A DA GAME and KFTHREE BUCKET CHART. Howard will always leave you desperately sucking on a pebble in his lonely Sahara. His sulking at the slightest deviation from a victorious course is real and well-documented, but boy oh boy nothing from an NBA game has frustrated me more (since Sasha Vujicic’s never-ceasing headband adjustments) than Dwight’s full-arm sleeves. Yeah, sleeves sure do sound like a harmless molehill to make a mountain out of, but beware of the next paragraph, dear reader; reading it ensures that you too will never again be able to watch Howard in Houston without feeling as if you are held prisoner in a Chinese water torture chamber, but with pet peeves instead of water.
It is instructional to first observe proper utilization of the arm sleeve, which can be seen on many NBA arms, including one right here. Please note how the sleeve stops almost immediately above the elbow and below the bicep, and also note the padding protecting LaMarcus’ elbow, function meeting form. With this proper sleeve-usage in mind, now take a gander at Dwight’s garish, horrid sleeves. There is no elbow-padding, the sleeve extends to well above the entire bicep, the are deployed on both arms and–really this part is worse than everything else combined–instead of going with LaMarcus’ subtle, classy all-black, Howard’s sleeves have a practically neon silver piping, which, since silver appears nowhere else on the Rockets uniforms, mightily trumpets its presence all the way from the second-level broadcast-angle. These are sleeves that desire to be seen and heard. They are glad that somebody has finally noticed them. But, as even the most ornate of picture frames only intends to lay a foundation for the picture set inside, the sleeves–covering such a vast majority of Howard’s arms as they do–seem to serve the exclusive purpose of framing Dwight’s own armpits. Just as a small hole in the armpit of an otherwise intact shirt serves in effect as a spotlight beaming upon said armpit, Dwight’s expansively long sleeves give the impression not so much that he his wearing a tank-top in the traditional style of basketball uniforms, but more so that Dwight is wearing a long-sleeved shirt with two honkin’ holes/spotlights boldly highlighting both of his armpits. (It should also be noted that Howard wore sleeves that deployed the exact same look in both Los Angeles and Orlando.) Why why why why why. Well, vanity is why.
I focus so extensively on Dwight’s anatomy here because these sleeves are, in many ways, an apt metaphor for the Rockets’ style of play: tasteless, yet focus-group-approved; colorful, but only for the purposes of seeking attention. A not insignificant shortcoming this this Rocket-as-sleeve illustration: instead of drawing the eye towards a sweaty human armpit, the Rockets’ chintziness frames one of the most devastating basketball machines o’er all the lands, equally adept at divining competitive edges out of a mess of spreadsheets or divining the most efficient role player previously nail-chewing at the end of your team’s bench.
Let there be no denying James Harden‘s ascendancy amongst the game’s modern legend, a spokesperson for the hippest of brands for years stretching out over the horizon. But let us also acknowledge that his loafing on defense approaches the sassy, and let us also acknowledge that his game, predicated so heavily on getting to the charity stripe, may be statistically and logistically sound in theory but in practice is far more frustrating to witness than Hack-a-Howard ever could be. Harden is something of a wizard at transforming the tackiest of touches into two free throws, a method that, when repeated half a dozen times a game, cannot help but stir within the viewer anxious thoughts as to how star-focused this league’s officiating system is, really. What other thoughts could possibly go through your mind as you watch the poor seventh man on the opposing team stare at the ref, eyeballs agog, as if halfway descended into madness–I reflexively view these poor seventh men as having all the nobility and earthly hardship as Robin Hood getting pickpocketed by the local tax collector whilst Harden cockily struts to the line.
Let there also be no denying of Chandler Parsons‘ inevitable long and successful career in this league, plucked from the unsolvable miasma of the second round. His drives to the hoop and his 41.2% accuracy from deep are no doubt the handsomest across all of League Pass, that artfully mussed swoop of hair causing patrons of all ages and preferences to swoon as one. But, much like a boy band member that he so charmingly resembles, each new basket is followed by a reaction shot of Parsons wherein he unfailingly sneers at his surroundings as if something is amiss, not up to his exacting standards. Parsons’ influence can almost be visibly seen besetting Omri Casspi, that all-purpose switchblade, his facial expressions inching ever towards the preening. Francisco Garcia is. Terrence Jones wants you to remember, most of all, that curl. The bizarre impasse that has landed Omer Asik on the bench and on the trading block surely has less to do with X’s and O’s and a lot more to do with the fact that his flop-sweat, stress-attack approach to the game of basketball is just bringing down everybody’s look on that jumbotron.
The NBA has had true villains in the past, gaggles of bullies who savagely wander the halls and administer swirlies to whatever hapless geeks stroll closest by. But the popular kids can be villains too, emotionally zapping an underling with a well-timed verbal barb aimed from atop the social heap. Howard and Harden, at one time or another, were the two coolest kids on the entire campus, and now they’ve joined forces. It’s an alliance convenient for the both of them, but it will only be an alliance as long as it stops being so for either one.
There is only one readily available solution that could restore a proper dose of balance, humanity, groundedness, weirdness to the Rockets.
Free Donatas Motiejunas.