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NBA Meme Bracket, Day 3: The Great Kobe Bryant–Matt Barnes Controversy of 2018

This was supposed to be a simple tournament of basketball GIFs. It’s become a referendum on perception, reality, and whether or not Kobe Bryant flinched at Matt Barnes’s fake inbound pass in 2010.

Arturo Torres

Voting for days 3 and 4 is now closed. Vote for your favorite memes in the Final Four matchups here:

We’re far from the Musecage now. On October 2, the NBA Meme Bracket had its Skynet moment—the tournament became self-aware. This is no longer about determining the best NBA meme, though we’re still doing that. This is about truth and reality and perception. This is about whether or not Kobe flinched. Let’s get into it.

It all started on Tuesday morning, when a mythbusting claim about the Barnes-Kobe No Flinch meme, the 13th seed in our Eastern division, shook the internet and the NBA to its core. As Jason Concepcion, the Condi Rice of the MCAA, pointed out in Monday’s introduction to the bracket, great NBA memes take on a life of their own. The No Flinch meme is a great thing to break out whenever you’re commenting on fearlessness or on brazen courage. It also comes in handy when you tweet something like “When sweetgreen says it will be 10 more minutes before they have roast chicken for the kale caesar.”

But beyond its everyday uses, No Flinch is central to the Mamba Doctrine. It is an essential chapter in the Book of Temecula. It is evidence that Kobe Bryant was cut from a different cloth; that not even a notorious NBA hardman like Matt Barnes, pulling the most primal of playground basketball bully-ball moves, could flap the unflappable Kobe. I would go as far as to say that the Day 1 victory of No Flinch against the much higher-seeded (and internally beloved) Lakers Sunglasses guy was evidence of the power of Kobe Stans (I mean Fans) over Lakers Fans. The base was energized and the turnout was high. The masses were assembling.

And then the clock struck scoops. The Starters’ Trey Kerby started the ball rolling:

This was followed up by Rob “World Wide Wob” Perez, who brought receipts:

Wob then went on to write a meticulous blog for The Action Network, breaking down the No Flinch footage frame by frame. ESPN’s The Jump got involved with Rachel Nichols, Amin Elhassan, and Paul Pierce engaging in a passionate conversation on the topic.

Consider the debate embraced. On Twitter, partisans from both sides—Kobe Is Actually Shook vs. Kobe Is The Reincarnation of William Wallace—weighed in with reasonable takes. At the end of the day, here’s where we are: The overhead footage suggests that Kobe didn’t flinch, because the ball was in no danger of hitting him, and the two main actors in the scene insist that the No Flinch myth is gospel.

Footage of a Chris Broussard–Barnes interview from earlier this year was recirculated, with Barnes co-signing Bryant’s bravery.

Kobe himself weighed in, telling Chris Palmer “You gotta remember I was swaying. He did it and I didn’t balk.”

So, my Liberty Valances, is this a case where the legend has become fact, so we printed the legend? Is one of the most iconic Kobe moments built on a lie, and perpetuated by Barnes? Was Barnes’s subsequent signing with the Lakers a kind of payment for going along with the No Flinch farce? Who in the Lakers’ deep state benefits from this being uncovered now? Could it be the person sitting in Kobe’s old Staples Center locker?

We are all witnesses. But can we trust our own eyes anymore?

On to Day 3.

East Division

(1) Crying Jordan vs. (13) Barnes-Kobe No Flinch

1. Crying Jordan: The clear favorite. The Kentucky of this tournament. Crying Jordan is simply iconic. The universal shorthand for defeat in the social media age.

13. Barnes-Kobe No Flinch: I’m not sure why Matt Barnes didn’t retire after this happened.


Which Meme Should Advance?

This poll is closed

  • 74%
    (1) Crying Jordan
    (12614 votes)
  • 25%
    (13) Barnes-Kobe No Flinch
    (4411 votes)
17025 votes total Vote Now

(6) Durag LeBron vs. (2) Alonzo Mourning Acceptance

6. Durag LeBron: When some internet shitlord Photoshopped two cigarettes into a still of LeBron wearing a durag and a bemused, world-weary look on his face, the result was brilliance. The meme became viral when Bron screenshotted a version which had the caption “Could be the spark plug. Could be the alternator. But i can prolly fix it for $200” and posted it to his Instagram. (This, by the way, is a brazen swagger jack by LeBron. He took someone else’s content, cropped their handle out, and posted it himself.)

2. Alonzo Mourning Acceptance: Logging on to Twitter these days is like staring into a sandstorm. Bad news; horrifying news; vaguely troubling news that’s important, but that will become clear only when it’s too late to do anything about it. What to do? How, as thinking and feeling human beings, can we survive this maelstrom with our sanity and sense of self intact? One way is by accepting that there are things beyond our control. And if they negatively affect our sense of self-worth, then simply let them go. That’s what Miami Heat legend Alonzo Mourning is doing as he transitions from sullen, smoldering fury to head-shaking impotence and finally to acceptance.


Which Meme Should Advance?

This poll is closed

  • 28%
    (6) Durag LeBron
    (4900 votes)
  • 71%
    (2) Alonzo Mourning Acceptance
    (12035 votes)
16935 votes total Vote Now

Central Division

(1) J.R. Smith Squinting vs. (12) Kobe Five Rings

1. Squinting J.R. Smith: This meme captures the dazed essence of J.R. Smith. Over the course of his 14-year (!!!!) career, which spans four teams, four Finals appearances, and one title, Smith has crafted a bacchanalian aura. The origins of his conceptual link with the cognac brand Hennessy, which he says he does not drink, are obscure but the reasons are plain. Smith is just a wild dude whose play oftentimes seemed influenced by high-level nightlife. He is a career 42 percent shooter who shot 39 percent on Sundays. Which, as I once wrote, “I’m guessing has something to do with Sunday coming after Friday and Saturday and those games taking place relatively early in the day.” In 2013, when J.R. was a member of the New York Knicks, Rihanna blew him up on Instagram, claiming the guard’s poor postseason play was because “his ass be hungover from clubbing every night during playoffs!!” Two games later, Smith shot 27 percent, and the Knicks fell to the Indiana Pacers in six games. The next season, he was fined $50,000 for untying players’ shoelaces. He untied Shawn Marion’s shoe, was warned by the NBA not to do that, then turned around and untied Greg Monroe’s shoe a few days later. Following the Cavaliers’ 2016 Finals win against the Warriors, Smith went several days without wearing a shirt. In the closing moments of regulation of Game 1 of the 2018 Finals, again versus the Warriors, he famously tried to dribble out the clock thinking the Cavs were up. The game was tied. J.R. Smith did not know the score of the NBA Finals game that he was playing in. Simply remarkable stuff.

12. Kobe Five Rings: Count ’em!


Which Meme Should Advance?

This poll is closed

  • 70%
    (1) J.R. Smith Squinting
    (11812 votes)
  • 29%
    (12) Kobe Five Rings
    (4933 votes)
16745 votes total Vote Now

(11) Raps Mascot Fall vs. (2) Nick Young Missed 3

11. Raps Mascot Fall: Everything about this is wonderful. But it’s really the slowly deflating tail sinking into a defeated curl right at the end that takes this to the next level.

2. Nick Young Missed 3: It ain’t over till it’s over; don’t count your chickens before they hatch, and definitely don’t turn around and raise your arms to celebrate a 3-pointer before confirming that the ball did indeed go in the basket.


Which Meme Should Advance?

This poll is closed

  • 23%
    (11) Raps Mascot Fall
    (3964 votes)
  • 76%
    (2) Nick Young Missed 3
    (12995 votes)
16959 votes total Vote Now

Midwest Division

(1) Confused Nick Young vs. (5) John Wall “Bruh”

1. Confused Nick Young: Nick Young has been called a clown by many people. Perhaps thousands of people. Perhaps hundreds of thousands of people. Among them: his mother. In the fourth episode of Cassy Athena’s web series Thru the Lens, which focused on a day in the life of Nick Young, his mom, Mae, recounted how, as a youngster, her son used to ball with older players including a former member of the Lakers. These more experienced players, she said, would tell her that if Nick ever got serious, he could “be great.” “But,” she continues, “he was a clown then.” Cue Confused Nick Young face.

5. John Wall “Bruh”: I laugh every single time I see this image of Wall in street clothes (he was out with a stress fracture at the time), slouched into his seat like melted cheese, his face slack, eyes glazed over. This one has some real dark-horse potential.


Which Meme Should Advance?

This poll is closed

  • 70%
    (1) Confused Nick Young
    (11774 votes)
  • 29%
    (5) John Wall "Bruh"
    (4892 votes)
16666 votes total Vote Now

(6) Lance Blowing in LeBron’s Ear vs. (10) Iverson Step Over

6. Lance Blowing in LeBron’s Ear: Lance’s most notable and relevant contribution is trying and failing to get into LeBron’s head. In this instance, by blowing air into his ear canal. I have yet to process that they are actually teammates.

10. Iverson Step Over: An image so iconic we barely talk about how the Sixers lost that series in five games.


Which Meme Should Advance?

This poll is closed

  • 55%
    (6) Lance Blowing in LeBron’s Ear
    (7051 votes)
  • 44%
    (10) Iverson Step Over
    (5627 votes)
12678 votes total Vote Now

West Division

(1) Harden Side-eye vs. (4) Shaq-vs.-Cat Shimmy

1. Harden Side-eye: Nothing speaks to the power of NBA memes like the rise of the postgame, on-court interview. This is fluff, a literal afterthought. But in the hands of our basketball content generators, even the most benign question is coal for the furnace. Behold, the Beard, and the side-eye.

4. Shaq-vs.-Cat Shimmy: This GIF is a compound meme, combining content from a Shaquille O’Neal commercial for Gold Bond Men’s Essentials Body Powder and a GIF of unknown provenance titled “Dat Cat Butt Wiggle.” It—and Shaq’s willingness to endorse literally any product—speaks for itself. That said, Shaq—a man the size of an airport shuttle who must have, shall we say, a lot of fire down below—is the perfect pitchman for a product that cools and soothes.


Which Meme Should Advance?

This poll is closed

  • 59%
    (1) Harden Side-eye
    (9915 votes)
  • 40%
    (4) Shaq-vs.-Cat Shimmy
    (6770 votes)
16685 votes total Vote Now

(6) Pop Thumbs-Up vs. (10) Jimmy Butler Dunk Face

6. Pop Thumbs-Up: Gregg Popovich is an underrated troll. In Game 5 of the Spurs’ 2008 first-round series win against the Suns, Pop mercilessly deployed the Hack-a-Shaq on its titular target. O’Neal shot 9-for-20 from the line. Shaq decried the strategy as cowardly. A mere five seconds into the first game of the following season, Pop had ex-Sun Michael Finley wrap up O’Neal. When Shaq, muttering curses, gazed over at the Spurs bench, he saw this GIF.

10. Jimmy Butler Dunk Face: Fun fact—Jimmy is reacting to a poster dunk thrown down by Doug “Dougie McBuckets” McDermott.


Which Meme Should Advance?

This poll is closed

  • 53%
    (6) Pop Thumbs-Up
    (8769 votes)
  • 46%
    (10) Jimmy Butler Dunk Face
    (7723 votes)
16492 votes total Vote Now
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