Voting for days 1, 2, 3, and 4 is now closed. Vote for your favorite memes in the Final Four matchups here:
The NBA is a rich text, and that text has created a rich and indispensable intertext. If you live online—and you’re here, so you do—then you probably can’t imagine a world without Crying Jordan. Or Confused Nick Young. Or Alonzo Mourning Acceptance. The NBA has inspired more memes in common usage than any other sport, and perhaps more than any other entity besides the cat. Memes are integral to the way people communicate online, and NBA memes are woven into the rough fabric of internet discourse.
Using an image of Michael Jordan to comment on all manner of things seems ordinary now. It’s even passé. We live in an era of highly effective weaponized internet memes capable, apparently, of influencing elections. We should, though, try to appreciate how absurd and fascinating this state of affairs is. How did we get here?
There are several reasons—the wild cast of interesting characters; the roiling soap-opera-quality narratives; the fact that something is always happening; the fact that the on-court product is as good as it’s ever been. But the biggest reason behind the NBA meme boom is found in the NBA’s wise and forward-thinking decision to allow its fans to clip and share highlights. This stands in stark contrast to the way the MLB and NFL have historically treated the practice. Which is to say, like RoboCop rolling up on a meth deal.
“We promote the posting of our highlights,” commissioner Adam Silver said recently in an interview with strategy+business. “The highlights are identified through YouTube’s software, and when ads are sold against them, we share in the revenue. We analogize our strategy to snacks versus meals. If we provide those snacks to our fans on a free basis, they’re still going to want to eat meals—which are our games. There is no substitute for the live game experience. We believe that greater fan engagement through social media helps drive television ratings.”
The numbers support Silver’s belief. Baseball’s audience is getting older. Football’s ratings are in decline. The NBA’s ratings are up and that’s in large part due to its success with young audiences. The internet is, in effect, a public square where a conversation is always taking place. That dialogue is constantly morphing; memes and in-jokes rise and fall with startling rapidity. The NBA’s open-handed attitude means it can be part of that conversation in a way that other sports can’t. But NBA memes are more interesting than the effect they may have on ratings. They are truly a fascinating mode of expression. And fans take that content, chop it up, screenshot it, and recontextualize it, forging connections between the sport and pop culture ephemera and current events, with often hilarious results.
Richard Dawkins, the controversial evolutionary biologist, coined the term “meme” in 1976. He wanted to use evolutionary principles to describe how intangible cultural artifacts—ideas, gossip, fads, jingles, slang, catchphrases, and so on—replicate and spread. Before the internet, media content moved in one direction—from centralized sources (movies, television, and books)—to audiences. So, through the 1980s and ’90s, the concept of memes stayed mainly the purview of academia. The internet and later social media rerouted those traditional content pathways while throwing various olde tyme business models on the bone heap of history. Thus “meme” migrated from the cloistered world of media studies to the fertile and chaotic fields of the internet.
In scholarly circles, the definition of meme is still being argued. But in mainstream usage, we all know what it means, even if we can’t exactly express it. In Memes in Digital Culture, author Limor Shifman suggests the definition is: “(a) a group of digital items sharing common characteristics of content, form, and/or stance, which (b) were created with awareness of each other, and (c) were circulated, imitated, and/or transformed via the Internet by many users.”
NBA memes went mainstream in 2012, just as internet memes in general were becoming popular. The more people watching and commenting on an event, the more memes that event generates. Thus NBA memes naturally peak during the playoffs. The big event in 2012 was the Summer Olympics, held from July to August, which produced numerous notable memes, including the iconic “McKayla Is Not Impressed.” That one was so popular that President Obama had a go at it. The McKayla Maroney meme is instructive because it’s an example of what makes an image memetic—juxtaposition. Maroney’s expression in response to winning a silver medal—which, by any measure, is an incredible achievement—seemed hilariously out of place. Recontextualizing the images therefore feels natural.
2012’s NBA memes were quite basic compared to the inventiveness and technical craft of 2018’s iterations. They generally followed the classic image macro format—picture plus humorous caption. Then, in 2015, Crying Jordan burst onto the scene.
Crying Jordan’s source image comes from Michael Jordan’s somewhat venomous Basketball Hall of Fame induction speech from 2009. Jordan, the greatest basketball player of all time and the ultimate alpha male, was uncharacteristically forlorn, tears streaming from his puffy, bloodshot eyes. The shot is at an angle so that the right side of Jordan’s face is more prominent. He’s wearing a gray suit with boxy shoulders and he’s posed against a red background. He looks utterly fucking washed. Defeated.
Memes are essentially jokes. They use contrast to create humor, which promotes sharing and adaptation. Crying Jordan was a revolutionary meme because it did not need text or additional imagery to create the juxtaposition. Crying Jordan clashes with our cultural memory of MJ—tongue out, barking out trash talk, hanging in the air, fist held up after hitting yet another game-winner. The red background amplifies the incongruity by quietly evoking the signature color of the Chicago Bulls. The meme is, in form and spirit, the antithesis of everything that Jordan had come to represent.
Two of the most recent NBA memes—LeBron James’s reaction to J.R. Smith in the NBA Finals and C.J. McCollum’s “Im trying Jennifer” tweet—show how intricate and intertextual the form has become.
With less than five seconds left in Game 1 of the 2018 Finals (James’s eighth in a row), with the score knotted at 107, J.R. Smith, the clown prince of the pipe, rebounded George Hill’s missed free throw, then dribbled out the clock because he clearly had no idea what the score was. LeBron James has an especially expressive face. He is also the best basketball player in the world and always in the Finals. This makes him a constant source of memes. His reaction to Smith’s gaffe—arms outstretched, shock and disappointment and frustration plain upon his face—is the most memorable moment of a forgettable Finals.
The above, from CBS Sports, is a reference to Confused Mr. Krabs, a meme which became popular in early 2016. Even old media behemoths recognize the importance of being able to speak fluent internet.
“Im trying Jennifer” was Portland guard C.J. McCollum’s response to a Twitter critic who implored him to “Win a playoff game then talk.” The statement hilariously captured the hopelessness of non-superteams in the superteam era by presenting Golden State’s ongoing dominance as a banal but ultimately insurmountable reality. The Warriors are like the IRS or parking tickets. C.J. and the Blazers became our Jim Halpert. There are now several designs of “Im trying Jennifer” T-shirts available for purchase from various outlets.
Both of these examples highlight the importance of failure and embarrassment—of any honest display of emotion which runs counter to traditional mores of masculine athletic performance—to a meme’s success. Victory, courage, grittiness—that stuff isn’t memeable.
OK, so which NBA meme is THE BEST? Great question. Let’s find out. Welcome to the 2018 NBA MEME MADNESS TOURNAMENT.
Some ground rules:
- Memes can be GIFs. But not all GIFs are memes. To be considered a meme, the content must have a core set of characteristics that can be recontextualized into other content, while retaining the same identifiers. For example: The GIF of Dwight Howard eating a cookie communicates no larger concept and its constituent characteristics can’t be reappropriated to reference other pop-culture content. It’s just Dwight acting clownish and annoying.
- Similarly—not everything that goes viral is a meme and many memes don’t go viral. When something goes viral, we’re talking about a single piece of content which becomes incredibly popular. Virals, like memes, are often participatory (Harlem Shake, planking, icing) but the form and context remains the same. Memes are intertextual. A viral only ever references itself. Don’t let an NBA meme’s popularity, or lack thereof, affect your voting.
Because memes can be endlessly recontextualized, flexibility counts. Can an NBA meme retain its meaning in non-NBA contexts? How many different contexts? The more flexible the better.
OK? Let the madness begin.
(1) Crying Jordan vs. (16) Swole Bibby
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.
16. Swole Bibby: I guess we know what Mike Bibby has been up to: pumping iron in hopes of meeting all those Twitter snipers who roasted the cadaver-like final years of his playing career.
(8) Pierce Two Phones vs. (9) Lance Stephenson Pop-up
8. Pierce Two Phones: The Joe Dumars Phone meme for the smartphone era.
9. Lance Stephenson Pop-up: What if the Coen brothers directed an NBA meme? This is basically the basketball version of Burn After Reading. Derek Fisher is in a moment of deep contemplation (stop laughing), and then, seemingly through the magic of CGI, Lance emerges in the frame to shatter the moment of calm.
(5) LeBraaaaawn Jamessss vs. (12) KD Burner
5. LeBraaaaawn Jamessss: One of the strangest and purest NBA memes. It’s just a little kid, Terrance Jackson, then 6 years old, saying “LeBron James” in a weird sing-song drawl over and over and over again. It was uploaded to Vine in 2014 and by the time of the platform’s demise in 2017, the loop had been viewed millions of times.
12. KD Burner: Kevin Durant is unquestionably the greatest player to ever use burner social media accounts to address his critics. He is also, clearly, the most dominant player ever to argue on Twitter about whether or not he has a fart fetish. To everyone who spends too much time on social media—this one’s for you.
(4) Lakers Sunglasses Guy vs. (13) Barnes-Kobe No Flinch
4. Lakers Sunglasses Guy: You can almost hear this dude saying “duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuude.” There are many amazing things about this meme, the least of which, strangely, being that my dude was wearing shades indoors. That’s because the stars were shining bright inside of Staples that season. This, you’ll recall, was the “This Is Going to Be Fun” Lakers team of Kobe, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, and Metta World Peace for LOLs. Narrator: “It was not.” The hype, as that infamous SI cover shows, was off the charts and the Lakers were widely considered Finals contenders. Head coach Mike Brown was fired after a 1-4 start. The team staggered to a 45-37 finish under the stewardship of Mike D’Antoni and was bounced in the first round by the Spurs. I just hope Sunglasses Guy recreates this meme for the 2018-19 iteration of the team.
13. Barnes-Kobe No Flinch: I’m not sure why Matt Barnes didn’t retire after this happened.
(6) Durag LeBron vs. (11) Crybaby LeBron
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.)
11. Crybaby LeBron: James has an especially expressive face. This is often used against him. His raw emotionality plays into the narrative that James, unlike dominant players before him, lacks a certain cold-blooded ruthlessness. I mean, when Jordan cried, he didn’t look like an actual baby.
(3) Pop Running vs. (14) “Im Trying Jennifer”
3. Pop Running: A usually ebullient Gregg Popovich runs toward a backpedaling cameraman in an attempt to mess up his shot. The moment is delightful in and of itself. However, in GIF form, it takes on another context, becoming part of the great tradition of “When bae texts ‘come through’” memes.
14. “Im Trying Jennifer”: The most recent addition to the canon. Nothing better exemplifies the existential pointlessness of non-superteams in the superteam-era like C.J. McCollum’s plaintive response to a Twitter critic named Jennifer.
(7) Monta Ellis Twitter Fingers vs. (10) DeAndre Stink Face
7. Monta Ellis Twitter Fingers: None more meta. One of the early basketball internet’s favorite cult players, getting ready to fire up some content on … a desktop computer. One of the most underrated memes in the bracket.
10. DeAndre Stink Face: It’s a testament to the withering communicative power of this image that it’s managed to disentangle itself from its original context as the reaction to arguably the greatest dunk of the past five years—Jordan’s soul-evaporating on-court destruction of Brandon Knight.
(2) Alonzo Mourning Acceptance vs. (15) Draymond-Fergie
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 only become clear 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.
15. Draymond-Fergie: The only correct reaction to Fergie’s wailing, ambulance-siren version of the “Star-Spangled Banner” is the face Green makes here.
(1) Squinting J.R. Smith vs. (16) Beasley Knee Grab
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.
16. Beasley Knee Grab: In addition to his brain research, Beasley has also conducted experiments into object permanence and phantom limbs.
(8) Russ “Whose Man?” vs. (9) David Robinson-TX Lady
8. Russ “Whose Man?”: The league’s most divisive figure is at his fearsome best when he’s dismissive. Dismissive of criticism, common sense, opposing players, sound coaching, shot selection, and tasks that seem impossible. This GIF is of Russ dismissing a Sixers fan with two middle fingers who heckled him.
9. David Robinson-TX Lady: This is from a genre of GIF I call “Cosmic Choreography.” This refers to any random event in which two or more persons move in a way which seems pre-planned, such as #twinning. Another example is the event depicted in this GIF, which I call a “pop-up.”
(5) Prayer Melo vs. (12) Kobe Five Rings
5. Prayer Melo: By now, you’ve noticed Carmelo Anthony is a surprisingly rich source of memes! There are various reasons for this—his propensity for making goofy faces; his affinity for (often bizarre) hats; his largely ineffectual tenure as a Knick. Mostly he’s memeable because he’s innately symbolic. His ball-clutching, jab-step-heavy, defense-lite style of play represents selfishness. As ball movement and 3-pointers became increasingly important, Melo’s game seemed like a vestige of a bygone era. And everyone seemed to realize it but him.
Instead of adapting, Carmelo largely doubled down. Come off the bench? Spot up on the perimeter? Pshhh. This kind of rejection of reality, combined with an overinflated perception of self, reads as putting on airs, which has always been mockable, no matter the context. In short, Carmelo Anthony is, himself, a meme.
12. Kobe Five Rings: Count ‘em!
(4) Melo “Risk It All” vs. (13) T-Mac Big Suit
4. Melo “Risk It All”: Shouts to Twitter user @mariannoo, whose 2014 screenshot of an IG post by stylist June Ambrose showed a bespectacled Carmelo Anthony with his torso caught in a thirst trap. Accompanied by the caption “Melo off the Henny & a few pulls of sour, ready to jeopardize it all,” the image features music superstar and sports fan Rihanna in the foreground and Melo in the background looking absolutely desert-parched, and never fails to make me laugh.
13. T-Mac Big Suit: Legitimately in the running for the worst fit in the history of textiles. There were Neanderthals spearing mammoths in Eurasia 50,000 years ago whose rough-hewn bearskin capes complemented their bodies better than this monstrosity of menswear. McGrady’s explanation for the vastness of the trousers was that Shaq’s tailor sent him the wrong pants. McGrady should not rest until he has fought that person to the death.
(6) MJ Laugh vs. (11) Raps Mascot Fall
6. MJ Laugh: Naturally, this GIF takes a back seat to its more notable cousin, Crying Jordan. It may not have the pathos of the no. 1 overall seed, but the emotional gear-shifting present in Jordan’s explosion of guffaws is a nice alternative to Crying Jordan’s heartbreak and bile.
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.
(3) Melo “Oh Really?” vs. (14) Windhorst Slide
3. Melo “Oh Really?”: The “Carmelo’s Ene-Be-A Rhythm” commercial, a promo for the league’s annual Latin Nights celebration, has long ago faded from collective memory. But this GIF of Melo with a look of “Did mom just make pizza rolls?!” will live forever.
14. Windhorst Slide: This looks like when you almost hit a jackpot on a slot machine, only the cherries are Brian Windhorst infinitely exiting the screen like he’s trapped in an Atari 2600 game.
(7) Doc Rivers Disbelief vs. (10) Dead Face D-Rose
7. Doc Rivers Disbelief: I will miss Doc Rivers in his general manager–head coach incarnation. What a moment in time that was. Doc left Boston as a rare commodity—he was a coach with a ring. With that leverage, Doc became one of the most powerful figures in the NBA. And what we will remember most, besides the playoff disappointments, is how Doc seemed to acquire only players who played for him in Boston or who played well against his Celtics teams or were literally his son. It turns out those jobs—GM and coach—are really hard to do. The idea that one person could do both of them at the same time is, as we speak, being proved false. The Clips, after years of dead-end drafts and lateral deals resulting in flawed, rickety rotations and numerous brutal postseason defeats, stripped Doc of his front-office responsibilities. Last season, the Pistons told Stan Van Gundy to hit the bricks and Atlanta parted ways with Mike Budenholzer. That leaves Tom Thibodeau as the league’s last coach/president. Thibs, like Rivers, seems comically unable to imagine a roster made up of anyone outside of those who played for him previously. When he is eventually let go, and it could happen at any time, this wholly entertaining method of fucking up teams will probably go extinct.
10. Dead Face D-Rose: Post-injuries Derrick Rose was a joyless player, weighed down by expectations, and held back by his own inflexibility. This GIF communicates that in the funniest possible way.
(2) Nick Young Missed 3 vs. (15) China Klay Dance
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.
15. China Klay Dance: Shout-out to whoever designed the clearly extensive offseason detox program which Thompson uses to evade drug tests.
(1) Confused Nick Young vs. (16) Jeff Van Gundy Eyes
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.
16. Jeff Van Gundy Eyes: As a coach, Jeff Van Gundy’s defining characteristic was the puffy, ashen bags hanging pendulously beneath his eyes. Knicks and Rockets fans were intimately familiar with those milky skin sacks and Jeff’s rumpled, hangdog energy. This GIF, from the introduction to Game 4 of the 2010 Eastern Conference final between the Celtics and the Magic, allows Jeff’s vacant, haunted eyes to step into the spotlight to spine-tingling effect.
(8) LeBron James–J.R. Smith WYD? vs. (9) Kobe White Clothes
8. LeBron–J.R. WYD: This meme is better than last year’s Finals.
9. Kobe White Clothes: “NBA players taking awkward photos” is now an established genre of social media and one that is particularly suitable for great roasting. But before we boiled the glamour shots of the Pacers’ 2013-14 starting lineup, before we clowned the Warriors’ 2017 All-Star Game photos because they looked like an advertising campaign for an online university, we barbecued Kobe Bryant’s pioneering “White Hot” spread in the Los Angeles Times magazine.
(5) John Wall “Bruh” vs. (12) Steph Curry 2s
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.
12. Steph Curry 2s: The internet razed Curry’s extremely “I drive a Dodge Stratus” shoes, burned its crops, and salted its fields so completely that it’s low-key incredible that Under Armour didn’t go out of business. Unfortunately the roast that burns twice as bright burns half as long. The need to release new models of Curry’s signature footwear meant that UA could make good on its design calamity. This meme’s lack of staying power is why it’s relegated to the 12-seed.
(4) Joe Dumars Two Phones vs. (13) James Harden–Wes Johnson
4. Joe Dumars Two Phones: As a general manager, Joe Dumars steered the Detroit Pistons to two Finals appearances and a title in 2004. The previous summer he selected super-bust Darko Milicic with the second pick over future Hall of Famers Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade. After the Pistons’ championship, Dumars fell off: baffling draft picks, bad contracts, bad trades, bad decisions, and a coaching carousel which revolved with the force of a turbine. In 2014, a panel of more than 200 voted Dumars the worst GM in the NBA. He stepped down 12 days later. But the image of him as the multi-armed god of bad deals lives on.
13. James Harden–Wes Johnson: Arguably the greatest ankle-breaking in NBA history. Harden crossed Wes so hard that the forward’s spine dissolved.
(6) Lance Blowing in LeBron’s Ear vs. (11) Mike Woodson Twist
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.
11. Mike Woodson Twist: This GIF and its remix are delightful. That said, the best Mike Woodson content ever was when he inexplicably glued two pieces of black felt to his face after inexplicably shaving off his eyebrows. Unfortunately, Mike was the coach of the Hawks at the time so the image never had the chance to go viral.
(3) J.R. Smith “The Pipe” vs. (14) Kupchak Sad Face
3. J.R. Smith “The Pipe”: Speaks for itself.
14. Kupchak Sad Face: One of the all-time best “Hello darkness, my old friend” GIFs.
(7) Mike Beasley Percentage vs. (10) Iverson Step Over
7. Mike Beasley Brain Percentage: Words cannot accurately describe the genesis of this meme. I urge you to watch the interview, in which Michael Beasley, galactic weirdo, lays out his theory that the person who realized that humans use 10 percent of their brains was using 11 percent of their brain. I need every conversation Beasley has with LeBron James this season to be recorded and preserved for future generations to study and learn from.
10. Iverson Step Over: An image so iconic we barely talk about how the Sixers lost that series in five games.
(2) David Stern Choking vs. (15) Pierce Wheelchair
2. David Stern Choking: The former commissioner casts a titanic shadow over the league. Stern was whip-smart and efficient and dedicated to growing the sport. But he was also dictatorial and vengeful. He once asked Jim Rome, live on air, “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?” after becoming annoyed at questions regarding whether the NBA draft is or has ever been rigged. Which, I get it, irritating question, but that’s still a fucking wild thing to say.
Under Stern’s stewardship, the league exploded in popularity. He also presided over four lockouts and the racially targeted dress code reforms of the mid-’00s, which stipulated that baggie pants and jerseys had to be replaced by “casual business attire.” During the destructive 2011 work stoppage which cost the players 7 percent of their share of basketball related income (BRI), Stern, at a meeting with players and their union, cryptically remarked that he knew “where the bodies are buried.” The players’ reactions, reportedly, could’ve been summed up by this GIF.
15. Pierce Wheelchair: Whether this incident was poop-related or not, it remains one of the strangest moments in NBA Finals history.
(1) Harden Side-eye vs. (16) Harden Renaissance Painting
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.
16. Harden Renaissance Painting: Amazing happens here.
(8) KD “Next Chapter” vs. (9) Rondo Stats
8. KD “Next Chapter”: When Julie Phayer left her position at the Golden State Warriors to join The Ringer, a great website, I very roughly pasted her head onto this meme and DM’d it to her.
9. Rondo Stats: This is me reading the news every morning.
(5) Russ “Ahhhh” vs. (12) DeAndre Jordan Chair
5. Russ “Ahhhh”: The full quote is “Ahhh, that’s pretty interesting.” Russell had 18 points (6-for-6 from the field, 6-for-6 from the line), 11 rebounds, and 14 assists that game and had just been informed that he was the first player ever to notch a triple-double without missing a shot.
12. DeAndre Jordan Chair: The iconic image of the greatest day in NBA Twitter history, the so-called “DeAndre Jordan Hostage Situation.”
(4) Shaq-vs.-Cat Shimmy vs. (13) CP3 Fake Laugh
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.
13. CP3 Fake Laugh: There is nothing more chilling than having someone politely laugh at your stupid pleasantries, only to realize you might be the Steve Kerr in the situation.
(6) Pop Thumbs-Up vs. (11) Jimmy Butler “Crumples Paper”
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.
11. Jimmy Butler “Crumples Paper”: Part of the surprisingly rich “Players Reacting to the Stat Sheet” subgenre.
(3) Kevin Durant “You the Real MVP” vs. (14) Big Baby Licks Lips
3. Kevin Durant “You the Real MVP”: Durant tearfully thanking his mother Wanda as he accepted the 2014 NBA Most Valuable Player award was one of the purest moments in recent sports history. Which makes the image’s decontextualization and transformation into a vehicle for emotionally thanking someone for doing something banal all the more hilarious. In a purely postmodern sense, that is. Anyway—to the person who left detailed Amazon reviews for five different brands of in-shoe deodorant: See the above image.
14. Big Baby Licks Lips: This is a cool sequel to Alien.
(7) Lakers Chain Guy vs. (10) Jimmy Butler Dunk Face
7. Lakers Chain Guy: There is no better encapsulation of Lakers exceptionalism in this timeline. This GIF smells like Drakkar Noir.
10. Jimmy Butler Dunk Face: Fun fact—Jimmy is reacting to a poster dunk thrown down by Doug “Dougie McBuckets” McDermott.
(2) 3-1 Lead vs. (15) Draymond-KD
2. 3-1 Lead: Here’s the thing: If you want to be the Lakers, we’re going to make fun of you like you’re the Lakers. Most dynastic teams—Yankees, Cowboys, Patriots, take your pick—become the villains of their sports. Golden State, despite the owners’ proclamations about how they are light-years ahead of the game, and their essentially unsolvable proposition (two of the best shooters in history, plus Kevin Durant, plus a defensive octopus with Charles Barkley’s in-game attitude), has gotten off pretty easy. If “the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead”—which has become shorthand for needling people with too much confidence and synopsizing the chaotic and unpredictable world we live in—is the worst blowback they ever feel, then they should count themselves as lucky.
15. Draymond-KD: Me, talking to myself, before I negotiate a car lease.