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Defining Moments of the NBA Season: Trevor Ariza Is Not With the Funnies

Trae Young has nutmegged many a flat-footed defender in his short NBA career. Ariza wasn’t going to be one of them.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The NBA is on hold for the foreseeable future. To help fill the void, we’re looking back at the defining moments of the 65-ish games of the 2019-20 season so far.

Allow me to tell you the story of a veteran player on his last legs, and the brash youngster who decided to put the ball through them. Then we’ll get to Trevor Ariza and Trae Young.

The year is 2001. The latest AND 1 Mixtape has made its way to the suburbs, and we can not stop pounding the hell out of the ball on our oil-stained driveways and shouting “OH, BABY!” Our shorts are way too big, and the ball keeps getting caught on them. We—and I can not stress this enough—suck.

But when your dad’s rec league team needs a fifth to avoid a forfeit, and you look just old enough to convince the refs that you won’t get squished by a bunch of post-feeding, screen-setting, middle-aged men, the holy spirit of Hot Sauce takes the wheel. You’re in the middle of the floor in transition with the ball, and all of the dads are in your rearview except one —a Bill Laimbeer clone in cotton shorts wearing an Optimus Prime–ass knee brace the size of your torso. And so you do it. Between his legs. Oh, baby.

On the car ride home, the windshield still fogged from twice the usual amount of sweat, I asked my dad what he thought.

“Well,” he said, pausing. “Now he has to go tell his wife what happened.”

I’ve replayed that nutmeg in my head thousands of times, usually editing the end result. Sometimes that big knee brace clips me and I go into a tailspin. Other times, Laimbeer scoops me up and just throws me out of bounds like he’s eliminating me from the Royal Rumble.

I know my karmic retribution is coming. The Steph Curry generation is shimmying and smiling and shooting 35-foot 3s and roasting me about my sweatpants and they are all so fast and now Trae Young is nutmegging someone every other night and we are all doomed, doomed, doomed.

But then! A hero, a saint, the OG 3-and-D guy, the veteran who you might not think of as old but absolutely played with Allan Houston, Trevor Ariza, scores one for the washed masses:

Finally, catharsis. Finally, someone who was willing to stand up to Young’s tyranny of dribbling the ball through everyone’s legs all the time.

“I told him, ‘Don’t do that shit again; not to me at least,’” Ariza told The Athletic after Young’s attempt in late February. “I mean, I’ve never made an All-Defensive team or none of that shit, and he’s an All-Star, so he can be creative by ways to get around me. But all the, like, funnies? I’m not with the funnies. I don’t like the funnies.”

The unwritten rules of basketball are harder to decipher than those of baseball. Preen after a home run, get a fastball to your backside. Steal a base up big, get a fastball to your backside. There’s no subtlety—just throw the ball at the bad man. In basketball, there’s a series of microaggressions, with no real break to digest them, and they fly by and you sort of have to move on. But on this day, Ariza had time—something that is usually in short supply for journeymen on their ninth team. And he used it to throw his own kind of fastball.

As for Young? He will not stop. That’s the thing about his generation: They are relentlessly unphased by your boomer romanticism of midrange jumpers and playoff games with scores in the 70s where hip checks decide who wins. They have moved past that and are clearly better than that. Damn them.

Still, there will always be dudes that you shouldn’t try. Every generation will have those guys who are simply not here for the funnies. That won’t change. Who you empathize with might.