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NBA Lessons for My Younger Self

What would you tell yourself about today’s NBA, if you could go back in time

Getty Images/Ringer illustration
Getty Images/Ringer illustration

White letters on a black screen: The following is a true story.

FADE IN: CLOSE-UP of a tube television showing the final moments of the 2002 NBA Finals.

MARV ALBERT [VOICE-OVER]: And that’s the way it’s gone for the Lakers, who wrap it up in a four-game sweep over the New Jersey Nets. Phil Jackson has equaled Red Auerbach’s record of nine NBA titles. This is his 156th playoff victory as a head coach. He is now first on the all-time list, passing Pat Riley.

PULL BACK TO: INT. A BEDROOM

MY YOUNGER SELF sits on a mattress on the floor watching a television on top of a milk crate. The carpet is littered with clothing, magazines, and CD jewel boxes.

MY YOUNGER SELF: A three-peat. This sucks. The Lakes will do it again next year too. The Spurs don’t have anyone who teams have to guard except Duncan; David Robinson is pushing 40. The Kings are mentally fragile. The East is trash, from top to bottom. Kobe’s like not even old enough to rent a car. Shaq is in his prime. Every referee is terrified of being called out by Phil Jackson. It’s just the Lakers every year. It’s so boring. I guess I’ll take my mind off it by listening to Original Pirate Material by The Streets and playing Grand Theft Auto III. Now where did I put th —

The air begins to crackle. A sphere of energy the size of a beach ball appears and fills the room with a blinding light. A haggard figure in strange garb and welding goggles steps out of the light.

MY YOUNGER SELF: Whoa!

MY CURRENT SELF: Do not be alarmed! I am you from the future, my dude!

MY YOUNGER SELF: Why are you here? What year are you from? Did something terrible happen to us?

MY CURRENT SELF: 2016. And, no. Well, yes. Kind of. I mean, a lot of stuff has happened and a lot of it, generally speaking, was terrible. Some of it was also not that bad.

CURRENT SELF takes off his welding goggles. He has a black metal rectangle the size of a cigar box strapped to his left wrist. The device has various knobs and lights, and there’s a kitchen timer taped to the side. CURRENT SELF regards the strange apparatus as if reading his watch.

MY CURRENT SELF (CON’T): Mostly I wanted to see if this time machine I just bought works. And, man, does it. Do you have any D batteries?

MY YOUNGER SELF: Jesus, I look terrible.

MY CURRENT SELF: Come on, that’s uncalled for. You will eventually make peace with the steady degradation of your body. Just let it happen. Trust me. So, there’s your first bit of information from the future. May I sit down?

CD cases crunch under CURRENT SELF’s feet. He makes a show of sweeping off the mattress with the palm of his hand and sits down. They stare awkwardly at each other.

MY CURRENT SELF: About the future: I can’t say too much. There’s the integrity of the time stream to consider. If I tell you something, and you act on it, your future, my present, could change in unpredictable ways. It’s like that Stephen King book 11/22/63.

YOUNGER SELF shrugs. CURRENT SELF realizes that King’s novel about the JFK assassination came out in 2011.

MY CURRENT SELF: Forget I said that. It’s like Back to the Future.

CURRENT SELF winces at having to make such a basic movie reference.

CURRENT SELF (CON’T): Anyway, the Kobe-Shaq Lakers never win another title. All those stories about how they hate each other? Totally true. Mitch Kupchak breaks the team up in 2004. They win a couple more titles with Kobe. Then in 2014, Phil goes to New York.

YOUNGER SELF emphatically punches the air.

MY YOUNGER SELF: Yes! Phil with the Knicks! He would never agree to coach a team without at least two superstars! They must be awesome!

MY CURRENT SELF: Well … OK, Phil isn’t the coach. He doesn’t want to coach anymore. He’s the president of basketball operations.

MY YOUNGER SELF: Who’s the coach?

MY CURRENT SELF: Right now it’s Jeff Hornacek. Before that it was Derek Fisher. He got fired for … long story, actually. Then it was Kurt Rambis. The Knicks won only 17 games in Phil’s first full season in charge, but they were tanking and got the fourth pick in the draft, so it worked out, more or less. They picked this Latvian kid, Kristaps Porzingis. He’s awesome: blocks shots, shoots 3s, moves with a grace that belies his enormous size.

MY YOUNGER SELF: Do you want a 7-foot-3 guy shooting thr —

MY CURRENT SELF: Yes.

MY YOUNGER SELF: Really?

MY CURRENT SELF: Yes. 100 percent, yes, you want 7–3 dudes shooting 3s. In 2016, you want anyone who can shoot 3s shooting 3s. Last season the Warriors took over 2,500 threes. They won 73 games.

YOUNGER SELF stands up. His mind is reeling.

MY YOUNGER SELF: Hold up, it’s like you’re just saying random numbers now. 73 GAMES! THE WARRIORS BEAT THE BULLS’ RECORD!

MY CURRENT SELF: Then they lost in the Finals.

MY YOUNGER SELF: What?!

MY CURRENT SELF: To the Cleveland Cavaliers.

YOUNGER SELF’s mouth opens and closes several times, but no sound escapes.

MY CURRENT SELF: After being up three games to one in the series. LeBron James—

MY YOUNGER SELF: The high school kid? From the Sports Illustrated cover? He’s legit?

MY CURRENT SELF: Yeah. He plays for the Cavaliers.

MY YOUNGER SELF: He’s from Ohio and he gets drafted by the Cavs? Were, like, frozen envelopes involved?

MY CURRENT SELF: Nah. Well, you never know. Probably not. He was drafted by the Cavs. But then he left and went to the Heat, won two titles there, then came back to Cleveland. That’s too complicated for right now.

YOUNGER SELF tries to take this in.

MY CURRENT SELF: Anyway, he was incredible. He basically averaged a triple-double against the Warriors. Had a chase-down block in Game 7 that pretty much won them the title; looked like he dropped out of the sky. The series turned when this dude Draymond Green hit James in the nuts and got suspended. It was pretty great. Green kicked this guy Steven Adams in the nuts like a million times during the Western Conference finals. It was like an episode of Jackass. That’s on TV now, right?

YOUNGER SELF nods.

MY CURRENT SELF (CON’T): Oh, and the Warriors have the league MVP—Steph Curry, Dell’s son. Saying that someone “blew a 3–1 lead” has become a popular internet meme.

YOUNGER SELF: A mean?

MY CURRENT SELF: Meme. It’s, like, a very repeatable joke. It’s like Star Wars Kid.

YOUNGER SELF nods, but it’s obvious he doesn’t get it.

Getty Images
Getty Images

MORGAN FREEMAN [VOICE-OVER]: The 15-year-old Quebecois high school student who would come to be known as the “Star Wars Kid” wouldn’t film himself using a golf-ball retriever as a lightsaber for another four months. The tape was uploaded to the internet in April 2003. Jason wouldn’t see it until sometime that summer, after downloading it on LimeWire.

MY YOUNGER SELF: Can I write this down?

YOUNGER SELF picks a slip of paper off the floor. He pushes over a pile of books and magazines in search of a pen.

MY CURRENT SELF: Absolutely not. The timeline. What’s with all the CDs? We had an iPod in 2002, didn’t we?

MY YOUNGER SELF: I’m ripping our music collection to MP3 then burning them onto blank discs. This way, the whole collection of CDs fits on, like, 20 discs.

MY CURRENT SELF: Oh, I remember that. Yeah, don’t, don’t even bother. Really. Waste of time, my dude.

Let’s see, what else. Oh, the guy who cost the Warriors the title? Draymond Green? He accidentally put a picture of his penis on the internet while he was at the Olympics.

MY YOUNGER SELF: Jesus. How?

MY CURRENT SELF: With his phone. Everyone has phones that connect to the internet now.

CURRENT SELF shows YOUNGER SELF his iPhone.

MY YOUNGER SELF: Can I see it?

MY CURRENT SELF: Better not. Believe me, you’ll be spending more time touching this thing than you could ever imagine. This isn’t even the latest one. This thing is why you’ll eventually have the sleep quality of peak coke Charlie Sheen.

CURRENT SELF tries to check his mentions before realizing that he doesn’t have service in the past.

CURRENT SELF (CON’T): Damn. Anyway, the interesting thing is no one actually cared about Green’s dick. In 2016, it’s so easy to see people naked that nude pictures have ceased to mean anything.

MY YOUNGER SELF: The future sounds like a rejected Twilight Zone episode.

MY CURRENT SELF: Black Mirror, my guy.

MY YOUNGER SELF: What? And why do you keep going “my dude, my guy, my dude …”

MY CURRENT SELF: Oh. It’s an affectation. You’ll pick it up along the way somewhere.

I almost forgot: Richard Jefferson is still playing! He’s on the Cavs.

MY YOUNGER SELF: HUH.

MORGAN FREEMAN [VOICE-OVER]: Jason doesn’t find this fact amazing because Richard Jefferson was a rookie in 2002. It wouldn’t be until 2013, when Jefferson played in Utah, that many people would literally forget that he existed. This is the context that makes RJ’s emergence, as if from a cocoon, during the 2016 Finals as occasionally the Cavs’ second-best player, truly incredible and wondrously strange.

MY CURRENT SELF: And Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, and Kevin Garnett all just retired. Vince Carter, Paul Pierce, Andre Miller, Jason Terry, and Manu Ginobili are the only players who were drafted in the ’90s who are still in the league. Duncan was photographed at an Old Navy right afterward.

MY YOUNGER SELF: I don’t know Manu.

MY CURRENT SELF: Watch the FIBA World Championship later this summer. You’ll see him. He’s cool; a very fun player. Later on, with the Spurs, he kills a bat during a game.

MY YOUNGER SELF: What?

MY CURRENT SELF: He had to get rabies shots after. Anyway, he plays for Argentina, one of the teams that smacks down Team USA at Worlds this August.

MY YOUNGER SELF: Wait, we lose?

MY CURRENT SELF: Oh yeah. Team USA won’t even medal. Get this: Kobe’s final game against the Jazz, he scored 60 points on 50 shots. It was the most on-brand thing I’ve ever seen. He was shooting while quintuple-teamed. It was perfect. It was Kobe’s entire career in a snow globe. It would be like if Jordan spent his last game smoking cigars, playing blackjack, and terrorizing Toni Kukoc. And you know what el —

CURRENT SELF sees that the kitchen timer taped to his time machine is about to run out.

MY CURRENT SELF: Actually, I have to go. You do have D batteries?

MY YOUNGER SELF: No. Before you go, the Warriors and the Cavs — those are really the two best teams in the NBA?

MY CURRENT SELF: Yeah. Don’t tell anyone that, though. Not that they’ll believe you. [Sighing.] I guess I’ll go to 7-Eleven. Do you have 10 bucks?

MY YOUNGER SELF: What, they don’t have money in the future?

MY CURRENT SELF: No, they do. But, it’s, like, all from future money. You don’t have 10 bucks?

MY YOUNGER SELF: I really don’t.

MY CURRENT SELF: Fine. I guess I’ll just have to hope this thing has enough charge. Later.

CURRENT SELF turns two knobs on his wrist unit and then presses a button and disappears in a flash of light.