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NBA Conventional Wisdom As Explained by Food Trends

Karl-Anthony Towns is a cronut

Getty Images/Ringer illustration
Getty Images/Ringer illustration

It doesn’t take much for a popular notion to take hold, especially within the endlessly churning NBA fansphere. It’s no different in the food realm, where identifying trends has essentially become an ideological exercise. Recent examples of NBA popular thought haven’t been much different from the food trends we’ve seen come and go in the last five years. The two worlds aren’t too dissimilar. In fact, they may be more alike than you might think.

Davis was an unheralded 6-foot-2 point guard in Chicago before nature transformed him into a gangly 6-foot-10 beast with an absurd wingspan and broad shoulders that protruded like pauldrons. His first three seasons were marked by exponential growth — Davis’s 2014–15 season was one of the most impressive statistical seasons from an individual player in NBA history. We’d found our new Kevin Garnett, a new multidimensional wonder who could do damn near everything on the court. But like Garnett, Davis has been stuck on rosters unfit and unworthy of his league-shifting talent; unlike Garnett, he hasn’t had good health on his side.

As Davis’s universal acclaim began to dim, another young and unimpeachable star took his place. We all had an idea of how good Towns was heading into the draft. But I don’t think anyone expected him to put up numbers that immediately placed him among the Shaqs and the Duncans of history. As a rookie, Towns was one of the best midrange shooters in the game, making 50.6 percent of his 322 shots from the statistical dead zone between 16 feet and the 3-point arc, better than any other player in the league with even half his sample size; he was one of the most prolific and efficient finishers in the restricted area; he has 3-point range, and even though it didn’t figure strongly in his offensive game, he still approached a league-average percentage. His lateral agility as a 7-footer with more than 240 pounds of bulk on him is almost unreal. And then you remember he hasn’t even turned 21 yet.

The boutique cupcake was exactly what America needed at the turn of the decade. It was a little parcel of self-care in the aftermath of a great recession; everyone had a favorite flavor among the myriad options, and everyone had their own. But the market overestimated the human capacity for cake. Cupcakes aren’t overrated; they’re fine. But how many cupcakes does anyone really need to eat per week? Once the bubble burst, there was, as there always is, a product to take its place. Hype breeds disillusionment as a natural byproduct. The cronut was not quite populist, but its many layers was a reflection of what we’d begun to value in food during the Instagram age. It was a social experience, a visual worth capturing. It was a truly millennial dessert, one that had many imitators, but only one true version. It was a unicorn.

But we’ve moved on. It happens to everyone and everything eventually.

We may have lost Sam Hinkie, but asset accumulation will never die (nor should it; what an incredible way to build an infrastructure for your franchise’s future if you can swing it!). The Celtics were able to complete a piece of their puzzle this summer by bringing Al Horford into the fold — their first high-profile free-agent signing in decades. Still, it was hard to shake the feeling that Boston’s offseason has been underwhelming. The team has so many assets and the rights to so many players who can’t possibly find meaningful playing time; it seemed inevitable that another move was going to be made. But, just like Hinkie before him, Ainge is maintaining full optionality, waiting for a move that can catapult the team into the next decade’s top tier. But when you have so many options, can a franchise-shifting offer ever truly register?

We’re putting stuff in bowls now. I mean, we’ve been doing that for millennia, but now it’s all over Instagram, so it’s finally an established and respectable method of serving food. Grain bowls, burrito bowls, Hawaiian poke bowls; every ingredient carefully placed and mindfully curated, all assembled in a central basin. They can be mixed, or kept separate. Each bite is unique, and there are an unfathomable number of combinations. Our lives may be mundane, but our bowls don’t have to be.

The Ringer’s own Sam Schube said it well for GQ last year in his “Case Against Ordering Bowls”: “It’s the idea that food, too, has become a commoditized signifier, a choice we must make that says something about who we are. Trick is, we’re living in a moment where food choices are so boundless as to be nearly paralyzing. The secret behind the success of the bowl, then, is that it obviates the need for any choice at all.”

The bowl as a trend will probably phase out by next year; the Celtics won’t stop bringing in an absurd haul of draft picks until 2019.

AP Images/Ringer illustration
AP Images/Ringer illustration

Evan Turner’s self-perpetuated cult of personality is one of the modern NBA’s greatest things, a fact that runs counter to (or maybe is reinforced by?) Turner’s unbelievably antiquated methods of scoring. His offensive game, which largely revolves around hunchbacked forays to the rim for soft, short-distance fadeaways, is decidedly not modern, but time is one big, stupid circle, so Turner will be right again. Eventually. Most players who extoll the virtues of the midrange aren’t actually all that great at shooting from that distance; Turner shot just 39.5 percent from midrange with Boston last season.

But what the Villain is perpetuating, more than anything, is a state of mind. A lifestyle, if you will — much like Soylent and its attempts at “food system innovation” with trendy, minimalistic branding and packaging — all in an effort to mask something that’s been done before with essentially the same results. Soylent (which I have tried) is a methodically calibrated nutritional elixir; it looks like liquefied putty, or pubescent beluga whale pigment extract after a few aerating pulses in the blender with some coffee flavored ice cream. How does it taste? Like any other meal replacement shake, without as much sugar. It’s not right, but it’s OK. And like the midrange, it’s also not the future.

But I recommend giving Soylent a try anyway; it’s a reminder that most things are disappointing, but nothing is ever as good or bad as it seems.

Covington was the subject of a lamenting paragraph in Hinkie’s Sixers resignation letter sent to the team back in April:

“Robert is a mistake I rubbed my own nose in for over a year,” Hinkie wrote. “The 2013 Draft was a flurry of activity for us — a handful of trades and selections in both the first and second rounds. …When I returned upstairs, the undrafted Robert Covington was gone, having agreed to play for another club’s summer league team, eventually making their regular season roster. He torched the D-League that year, haunting me all the while. When he became available 17 months later, we pounced. But I shudder, even now, at that (nearly) missed opportunity.”

I love Covington’s game — he’s a player who has shown the ability to play three different positions (2 through 4), shoot from distance at an above-average clip, and defend admirably, especially against bigger players. He is, perhaps, the most valuable player in the league per dollar, and is on the last year of his three-year deal worth just a tick over $3 million. His poor shooting numbers (39 percent from the field in his two seasons as a Sixer) are more likely an indictment of the talent in Philadelphia than his merits as a player. He’s been hailed as one of Hinkie’s few successes, and for the past two seasons, has held a reputation among some analysts as a “Just Imagine What He’d Be on a Good Team” all-star.

I get it. Covington is a legitimate NBA contributor. But sometimes a best-kept secret waiting to bubble up to the surface bubbles for too long and goes flat. Peruvian food has been hailed as the “next great ethnic cuisine” for five years running. There’s a lot to love: Peruvians arguably make the best ceviche in the world; their Chinese immigrant influence has produced lomo saltado, a beef stir-fry with french fries that deserves to be placed in the Stoner Foods Hall of Fame; and their use of native aji peppers makes for an incredible hot sauce. But quality isn’t always what makes a trend pop. It’s timing. Covington will be fighting for minutes in what has suddenly become a huge backlog of Sixers talent up front. We’ve judged Covington on two years of what amounted to a failed social basketball experiment. What’s he going to look like playing for something resembling an actual team?

The Knicks are a team. Bone broth is just stock. Just because two words sound right when you put them together doesn’t mean it has to be a thing.