There is a park near my house in Houston. At that park, there are several basketball courts, one of which is generally used for full-court games. And at that park is a man I’m going to call Ronnie (his real name is not Ronnie, but I’m not all the way sure he’s interested in me writing about him on the internet, so there you go).
Ronnie is, to be sure, a remarkable basketball talent. He can defend very well, he can shoot even better, and he can dribble best of all. On days when he’s feeling especially inspired (which are easy to identify because he starts calling everyone “bruh”), he is virtually unstoppable, which is why I’m telling you about him right now.
During a game several weeks ago, I found myself on the bad end of a Ronnie assault. My team had the ball and we were on offense and someone threw a different someone a bad pass and Ronnie picked it off. It happened near the rim and I was out by the 3-point line and I watched it all as it was unfolding so I got a fairly decent head start on him up the court, which was good for about half a second before I realized I’d just signed my own death certificate.
I was back on defense somewhere around their free-throw line and Ronnie was fast-breaking straight at me and he got to about half court when panic set in. Because in that moment, I had no idea what Ronnie was going to do. I knew if I stayed at the free-throw line then he’d just pull up from 3 because, hand to god, he shoots like 80 fucking percent from 3. I knew if I stepped up to meet him at the 3-point line, he’d just turbo around me for an easy layup because, hand to god, his top speed is somewhere near 65 miles per hour. And I knew if I tried to hedge and meet him somewhere in between, then he’d just do some kind of incredibly embarrassing dribble deception that would have ended my life because, hand to god, one time I watched him cross up a defender so badly that the defender’s father drove all the way to the park, found his son, and smacked him in front of everyone.
So I had no idea what to do, because I had no idea what to expect, because Ronnie is a master in exactly that scenario. He has an endless supply of moves, of options, of shots, and he almost always chooses the exact right one for the exact right result. He is, in that situation, with the ball what Samuel L. Jackson is with the word motherfucker.
There’s of course nobody better at literally saying it (Walton Goggins on Vice Principals is a respectable second place). That is obvious. But there’s also nobody better at twisting it and spinning it and flipping it into so many different meanings. Whereas most people use motherfucker to express one or possibly two things, Samuel L. Jackson uses it to express all things, possibly an infinite amount of things. To wit:
- There’s the motherfucker he uses when he’s celebrating holidays, like in Shaft when he snuck up on that guy, punched him, picked him up, and said, “April Fool, motherfucker.”
- There’s the motherfucker he uses when he’s talking to a white person, like in Shaft when he tells the guy, “You’re still a motherfucking cracker—you know that, right?”
- There’s the motherfucker he uses when he’s being very enthusiastic about alchemy, like in Formula 51 when he demands, “Where’s my motherfucking chemist?”
- There’s the motherfucker he uses when he’s super into Skittles, like in Formula 51 when he yells, “Taste the motherfucking rainbow!”
- There’s the motherfucker he uses when he wants to be inclusive, like the time in True Romance when he said, “I eat pussy. I eat the butt. I eat every motherfucking thing.”
- There’s the motherfucker he uses when he wants a crowd to disperse, like in Shaft when he pointed a gun at a group of guys and said, “Disperse, motherfuckers!”
- There’s the modified motherfucker he uses when he wants to turn a phrase on its head, like in Freedomland when the guy tells him, “I think you better leave, brother,” and he responds, “Kiss my ass, brotherfucker.”
- There’s the motherfucker he uses when he’s happily surprised, like in Pulp Fiction when he says, “You’re a smart motherfucker, that’s right” at that one guy.
- There’s the motherfucker he uses when he wants to forewarn a threat, like the time he calls the guy a motherfucker in Menace II Society a few moments before he shoots him (and then again immediately as he shoots him).
- There’s the motherfucker he uses when he wants to express unquestionable confidence, like in Fresh when he says of playing speed chess against Bobby Fischer, “Put the clock on that, motherfucker. I’ll chew his ass up just like the rest of ’em.”
- There’s the motherfucker he uses when he wants to be ethnocentric, like in Pulp Fiction when he tells that same guy, “English, motherfucker, do you speak it?!”
- There’s the motherfucker he uses when he wants to deliver a condescending insult, like in Pulp Fiction when the one guy is making fun of the clothes he is wearing and he responds, “Ha ... ha ... ha. They’re your clothes, motherfucker.”
- There’s the motherfucker he uses as an expression of pain, like in Die Hard With a Vengeance when Bruce Willis explodes those handcuffs off him with that bomb liquid and he shouts, “Motherfucker!”
- There’s the motherfucker he uses when he wants to be a good Jedi mentor, like when he tells Luke Skywalker, “Ewokese, motherfucker, do you speak it?!” (This one didn’t actually happen.) (I wish it did, though.)
- There’s the motherfucker he uses when he’s being accidentally ironic, like when he’s standing watch in The Long Kiss Goodnight and he’s singing to himself, “Cuz I’m a bad motherfucker,” and then a guy sneaks up behind him and puts a gun to his head.
- There’s the motherfucker he uses when he believes he’s talking to a racist, like in Die Hard With a Vengeance when Bruce Willis is surprised that he doesn’t know how to shoot a gun and he says, “Look, all brothers don’t know how to shoot a gun, you racist motherfucker.”
- There’s the motherfucker he uses when he is exasperated, like in Jackie Brown when someone hangs up on him and he says, “Motherfucker hung up on me.”
- There’s the motherfucker he uses when you can’t kill him, like in The Long Kiss Goodnight when he shouts, “You can’t kill me, motherfucker!”
- There’s the motherfucker he uses when he’s still alive, like in The Negotiator when he shouts, “I’m still alive, motherfucker!” (That this one is a different version of motherfucker than the instance directly above it is the perfect example of how nuanced Samuel L. Jackson can make a “motherfucker.”)
- There’s the motherfuckers he uses when he is fed up, like on Snakes on a Plane when he says, “I have had it with these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane!” (These two here are the probably tied for first place in the Samuel L. Jackson Saying “Motherfucker” contest.)
- There’s the motherfucker he uses when he wants to just sleep without someone touching him, like in Soul Men when he says, “You can’t be spooning with a motherfucker.”
- There’s the motherfucker he uses when he’s not an X-Men, like in Soul Men when he says, “I don’t have X-ray vision, motherfucker.”
- And there’s the motherfucker he uses when other motherfuckers don’t do shit, like in Old Boy when he says, “These motherfuckers don’t do shit.”
There are others, definitely. And there will be more, absolutely. (He says it multiple times in the unrated version of the trailer for The Hitman’s Bodyguard, which releases wide Friday.) That day on the court with Ronnie, I stepped up and then, when I did, he blew past me. I grabbed at him to foul him, but he was too strong. I didn’t even know Too Strong was an option for him there. But it was. He’s always got something, and it’s always exactly what he needs. Same as Sam.