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This Is Basically a Prose Poem About Montrezl Harrell

Who can really say where inspiration comes from? Sometimes it’s a sunset, sometimes it’s true love. Other times, it’s Los Angeles Clippers power forwards with soft hands and never-stop motors. This is one of those times.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The man is standing on top of the mountain. He has been there before, in his dreams. He’s wet with sweat and above the clouds and his clothes are coated in diamonds. He turns to camera. I should say, we’re watching this on TV. The television has a plasma screen. So sick. We should watch DVDs later. Do you guys like DVDs? Everyone focuses in and stops being idiots and joking around. We see that it’s Montrezl Harrell. He is the man. He looks awesome and confident, proud and strong, brave and true. There’s a glow to him. He runs a hand through his hair, takes his mouthpiece out, smiles, then says, “Hi. My name is Montrezl Harrell, BUT YOU MAY CALL ME SIR BOUNCEALOT. I was born in Tarboro. I hooped, for a time, in Chatham. Immaculate style is what I possess. This shirt weighs 50 pounds and is hurting me. I have come to destroy all of you.”

There’s being active, and there’s being Harrell. He plays with an energy typically reserved for Flubber. He’s a Mario Kart rainbow star or pretty much any Danny Brown verse or the climactic race in the Disney Channel original movie Brink!. Soul-Skaters! Mount up! I stand proudly with Team Pup N’ Suds (Erik von Detten says the words “no problemo” at one point) though I’ll admit openly that Val was very cool. I’d have had a hard time saying no to Team X-Bladz (cool spelling), too. Sam Horrigan owned the ’90s villain in a kids’ sports movie corner. In addition to Val, the dude played the Spike in Little Giants. Spike was like 8 or something and had a six-pack. Insanity. Horrigan’s been constantly expanding his range since those early villainous days. In 2017 he played Jesus Christ in a film called In God’s Time. Feel like we can all agree that Jesus was a pretty nice guy. It’s good to be reminded that people can grow. Horrigan, like Harrell, contains multitudes.

Harrell’s a show, essentially, every piece of him seemingly wholly dedicated to filling up the senses. Over the summer he played in a Drew League game in a pair of what I think are Cartoon Network–themed LeBron X’s, Johnny Bravo and Hey Arnold! sharing space on the right shoe. More recently, he played a game in Good Burger–themed Jordan 13s. Kenan and Kel smiled on the upper. He’s a Soaring Instrument of Death with All That on his mind. This is a personal request for him to put Pierre Escargot on a pair. Also my queen, Lori Beth Denberg. I’d appreciate it if you’d include some of her vital information for everyday life. (Read: “Cheaters never prosper. That is, unless they bought my new book, Cheating the Denberg Way. Available wherever fine books are sold.”)

I watched a bunch of Clippers games on League Pass recently because I knew I was going to be writing this. As I watched, I’d type out notes every now and again. I have never hated myself more than I do right now, after typing those 11 words. Some examples of the notes: “Great screener,” “Montrezl Harrell hates the rim,” “Corey Maggette is good at his job. Looks great in a sweater, is not Bruce Bowen, handles Ralph well, smart, seems genuinely kind.” Sometimes I had enough time to work out the thought. Other times I just wrote down a word or two and kept it moving. The Clippers played the Mavericks on December 2. One of the notes I have written from that viewing is “TREATS SALAH MEJRI HILARIOUSLY.” The possessions Mejri was out there trying to deal with Harrell would get so bad it looked like Rick Carlisle lost a bet, like the Mavericks were doing the Clippers a favor. If you want it, here’s Mejri pointing at you while sitting on a rock wall in front of the pyramids.

Harrell does almost all his damage around the rim. He can face up and use his quickness to go by you, or he can get position and bury you under the goal, or he can catch a lob, or he can play bully ball, or he can catch a little dump-off and punish the rim again. His hands are unbelievable. The Clippers guards have faith that he’ll catch anything they throw to him, and they’ll take chances they might not otherwise take because of this. Lou Williams will come off a Harrell pick and drop the ball into tight pockets that are already disappearing. Same with SGA. Same with Milos, when Doc lets the genius work. They aren’t as brave when Marcin Gortat is on the floor. Lots of guys can be impressive athletically catching a lob when they’re still on the way up. Far fewer can when they’re on the way down. Harrell’s one of the few bigs I’ve seen completely comfortable with banking in a lob. The guard will let the ball go and it’ll seem like Harrell jumped too soon but he’ll hang in the air there and catch the lob and lay it in off the glass. It almost looks humble. It doesn’t look humble. It just almost does. It looks state-of-the-art. It looks lovely. It looks radical.

Gortat starts, but Harrell closes. At this point he has to at least be under consideration for Sixth Man of the Year. The raw numbers are there (in around 25 minutes he’s putting up 15 and 8, shooting 63 percent from the field on nine shots a game while playing on a surprising team in a big market that’s winning games), but you look at his per-36 averages and you start to get a little dizzy: 21.5 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.2 SPG, 2.1 BPG. He’s sprinkling seasoning on every inch of the box score.

Harrell plays loud. Even the finesse stuff has a great deal of volume behind it. He’s windows down with two 10s in the back seat, driving five miles an hour in the high school parking lot with the rearview trembling, throwing eggs at people. It’s hard not to pay attention to him. He’s an elite celebrator. Probably top 10 in the league in terms of the subtle flex where the guy’s made an and-1 and has his hands at his waist and lets the biceps and triceps sing songs to people. See pic below for details.

I know that picture is blurry. I also know it’s high art. It’s from a November home game against the Suns. Deandre Ayton’s just out of frame. Have you seen anyone out in the wild with a pair of Puma hooping shoes on? That is a serious question. I’m not being sarcastic. If you have, could you take a picture and tweet it at me or something? I just haven’t seen them and am not even sure they’re real, actual shoes, to be honest. The entire campaign could be a lie.

I sincerely have no idea why, but Harrell reminds me of the smash Nickelodeon hit, a true classic and one of the five best animated television series of all time, Rugrats. Rugrats paid me $475,000 to write that. [Rips shirt off, throws it into the fire, shrieks.] I am a god. Y’all are nothing to me. Sometimes Harrell reminds me of an octopus. There are moments it does legitimately feel like he has eight arms, and he’s floating, and he’s getting his hands on everything. Some people believe octopuses are aliens. I don’t believe that, but I’m a reporter. I give you nothing but the truth so help me, a god. Harrell loves to embarrass people. You can tell he takes a great deal of joy in it. It’s cool when he dunks on someone and screams in their face. I often rewind it and watch it again.

They don’t run plays for him, really. They don’t have to. He’s opportunistic on his post-ups when a guard gets switched onto him and they’ll throw it down there and let him go to work every so often, but he’s mainly making his hay with bunnies off drop-offs, put-backs where he just outworked everybody, and finishes out of a roll. He’s downright economical with his offense. If they do throw it down there to him with a big on him it’s almost always a face-up and hard drive right, blow by the guy, try to put him in the rim. This is his preference and may well be the thing I appreciate about him the most. If he can’t turn the corner, he’ll just deploy the running hook. His second and third jumps are almost as good as his first. At the risk of using tired clichés, it’s like he’s on a pogo stick sometimes. Only the pogo stick is, I don’t know, on Mars? That’s not right. That’s a stupid analogy. He’d just fly away probably. And Mars can’t yet sustain human life. I do believe aliens exist. I just don’t believe octopuses are aliens.

Harrell’s also somehow both smooth and able to set great screens. Those two things don’t often go together. You could even say they’re generally very much at odds with one another. I mean, Ostertag couldn’t pull off the Supreme–The North Face yellow-and-purple fanny pack. I do want to make sure I say, though, that I wouldn’t discourage him from trying.

Harrell’s excellent at hanging on the rim. I have no idea how to go into detail on that. It just always looks super cool when he does it. He’s the type of man who will blow kisses at the opposing fans sitting courtside after an especially difficult bucket. He thinks you’re absolutely beautiful. He thinks you’re worth it. He thinks you’re hilarious. Keep doing what you’re doing. It probably won’t work out, but that’s fine. You’re alive for now.

He’s a Ford Lightning and a prima ballerina and a Bowie knife and a performance artist and a wiry, bouncy tractor and one of those four-color retractable ballpoint pens that can write in either red, black, blue, or green. Sometimes, when I watch him, I just start involuntarily screaming out random words like veneration, respect, and holiness. If he ever starts his own religion I look forward to joining it.

This legitimately has nothing to do with Harrell. I just thought it was funny. My editor will probably wisely remove it. If not, though, on November 20, with 3:45 left in the third quarter of a road game against the Clippers, John Wall went to the free throw line. As he walked, the Clippers broadcasting trio of Ralph Lawler, his beautiful mustache, and Corey Maggette continued what had been up to that point a game-long rumination on how weird it is that the Wizards suck right now. THE MOST PEAK TV. LANDGRAF, SIR. GIVE MARTHA FROM BASKETS HER OWN SHOW WHERE SHE PLAYS A MEDICAL SCHOOL TEACHER WHO SPECIALIZES IN BEDSIDE MANNER.

Below is the exchange.

Lawler: Wall was fined for a verbal assault on Coach Brooks in practice the other day. There’s all sorts of crazy stuff going on with this club. Talks about trades of Bradley Beal. Wall virtually untradable because of the contract that pays him, I think, $40 million a year for like three more years after this I think.

Maggette: Wow. [Three seconds of silence.]

Lawler: Maybe four. It’s forever.

Lawler’s Beautiful Mustache: I look great.

The Rambling Man! Young Mr. Skittles! Cardinal Richdude! I submit these nicknames for Harrell recognizing that probably all of them ultimately make no sense and at least two of them are objectively horrible!

With a little over 20 seconds left in the third quarter of a November 29 tilt against the (still surprising) Sacramento Kings, Harrell slipped a screen, caught the ball just outside the restricted area, and took off for the rim. He never got there. De’Aaron Fox smacked him across the face and Harrell fell to the floor. Reggie Miller and Kevin Harlan were calling the game. Harlan loves Harrell. He was very impressed with him the entire night. With Harrell on the ground and the foul having been called, Harlan summoned up every bit of energy he had to say, “Wow. Punishing player.” It cannot be overstated how intensely Harlan enunciated the P’s. He for sure spit when he said both of them. He was also right. Harrell just doesn’t stop. He’s wave on wave of activity and if you don’t meet him with the same energy he’s bringing, you are going to fail miserably.

There’s a scene in the 1963 Stanley Kramer–directed comedy It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World where Jonathan Winters lets loose on a gas station. He Hulks out, tears it apart, uses Arnold Stang and Marvin Kaplan as tackling dummies and lawn darts.

Winters fights like Harrell plays: with no regard for his body, leaving behind him a wake of rubble, entertainment, and destruction.