On Friday night, Minnesota Timberwolves rookie guard Anthony Edwards unleashed the poster of all poster dunks on Yuta Watanabe of the Toronto Raptors. The play flooded the collective attention of the NBA’s greatest online community. NBA Twitter made ‘Edwards’ into a nationally trending topic.
Highlight dunks are one of the few collective rallying cries of NBA Twitter. When Edwards detonated on Watanabe, leading voices of the sport were posting the same emojis and hyperboles as the unknown NBA-centric accounts.
Then, all of a sudden, the superlatives and elation shifted to the bushwacking of Nate Duncan’s sobering take on the play. Evidently, the rookie was having a lousy game.
Anthony Edwards all over Twitter tonight with the dunk of the year. He also has 7 points on 3/14 shooting, 0/7 on 3s.— Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA) February 20, 2021
Duncan is a respected NBA analyst and host of the popular NBA podcast Dunc’d On. If you have never listened to the show, Duncan converses with co-host Danny Leroux about basketball from an advanced statistical and technical point of view. They are thorough and near-academic in their assessments. Honestly, my only complaint about Dunc’d On is that it is a little too dry.
On Friday night, that dryness was exposed to a national audience. Duncan landed alongside Edwards as a trending topic on United States Twitter. His post was met either mockingly or with exasperation. Some referred to Duncan as the ‘Fun Police.’ Others advised him to take his TI-83 calculator and hoist it up his you-know-what.
Who is a ‘Social Assassin’ of NBA Twitter
Curb Your Enthusiasm is a show about Larry David‘s war against cultural taboos. Many of the show’s characters find Larry’s unapologetic commentary socially repulsive. However, some characters quietly admire the honesty.
For example, in the classic “Palestinian Chicken” episode from Season Eight, Larry is actually paid to do a friend’s dirty work. Basically, a husband wants to inform his wife that her “LOL” signature on texts is an embarrassing habit. By accepting the offer, Larry is referred to, by his best friend Jeff, as a “social assassin”.
Part of the genius of Curb derives from its ability to weave episodes out of puzzlingly familiar situations. Indeed, the show’s relatability allows its audience to ponder his or her own common taboos in life. For instance, in a separate episode, why should Larry veil his disgust about the filtration of water from the host at a dinner party, if the other guests do it behind her back anyway?
Analytical fare ascended into the public domain at the turn of the previous decade. Its usefulness was doubted by certain sects. Too many of these voices believed advanced numbers would diminish the sanctity of the game. They believed, and still believe, the ‘eye-test’ should be King.
“One of those idiots who believes in analytics.”Charles Barkley, Inside the NBA Host, on then-Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey (2015 via ESPN)
According to Barkley, Morey’s numbers were not moronic so much as his prioritization of the numbers themself.
With Stats, the Proof is in the NBA Twitter Pudding
Someone like Barkley views someone like Morey as a targeted assassin aiming at his circle of beliefs. In the context of the Nate Duncan mob last Friday night, the analyst was spoiling an otherwise memorable night.
Since the numbers guys are never supposed to be wrong, it turns out that timing is central to statistical correctness on occasion. Likewise, those who disagree with the numbers are seen by analytical folks as equally wrong.
Regardless, both factions must admit that basketball debates are nuanced in nature. What we should learn from this event is the power of NBA discourse. It is no mystery that television ratings are down. There are many angles and explanations for why that is. Rest assured for the league office, the NBA appears to be the only American league where a leper of the moment is able to ascend to the summit of discussion on an entire social media platform. Marketing corporations stew over how to enter that territory on a weekly basis. Somehow NBA Twitter does that over disagreements on statistical timing. Or, a Danny Green cold streak in the Finals.
With that in mind, the fact that a dunk can trigger a food chain of discourse is peculiar and awesome at the same time. That is good for basketball. NBA Twitter is a complex, well-oiled machine, huh?
Now queue the Curb theme music.