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N(ot) B(ad) A(dvice): How To Overhaul ‘Inside The NBA’ And Grappling With Pandemic All-Star Game Plans

Woo, it’s been a doozy of a week in life as in basketball, but at least in basketball I’m here with another round of N(ot) B(ad) A(dvice) to try and help out.

This week, letters from fans torn between their love of the All-Star Game and the trappings of the entire weekend that hosts it and the absurd notion that it will be going ahead this year, marking almost a year of the same pandemic at-large, plus, which NBA player would I want as an older brother. Then, what turned into a very soul-searching look at a show immune to that kind of thing, Inside The NBA. Enjoy!

If you have NBA questions you want answered in the future, email them to annlandryfields@gmail.com.

Dear Ann Landry,

There was an ESPN report Monday that the NBA is considering holding some form of All-Star Game in Atlanta this year, and the leak offered up the hook of being done to support HBCUs as part of the weekend. I love All-Star, and especially the dunk and 3-point contest. But come the heck on. It feels like the league is now using supporting a cause as labor leverage, which continues a slippery trend of transactional service of late. I guess I don’t really have a question other than are we seriously doing this?

Signed,

Adam Silver And Cold

I got the press release your namesake sent, Adam Silver And Cold, so my best guess is that yes, they are seriously doing this. The press release in question hangs out in the middle of a tightrope strung precariously between Barrelling Ahead and We’re Following The Science, which is also the same fantasy land the NBA has been hanging out in since the bubble ended.

The release begins, triumphantly, letting the world know All-Star voting will start January 28th! If, reading this, you were like me, reading that, and found your brow all the way bunched up before you even got to the end of the first sentence because wait a second, All-Star Game? Since when? This next bit was there to sombrely greet you, “Discussions surrounding a potential NBA All-Star Game are ongoing.”

Existing in that middle space frees the league up to push at the bounds of what is acceptable given the optics at that given moment. Even as Covid-19 cases ramp up within the league, as Karl-Anthony Towns, one of their most promising young stars who has felt an unimaginable weight of tragedy and loss firsthand from the virus, tested positive himself, the NBA is able to shift its attention politely away from a state of outright emergency and continue “as normal” because it exists in a country doing the same.

The framing around normality has been warping every single day for going on a year now, there is exhaustion in keeping up and an understandable turning away by the population at large. Nobody is built for this much prolonged alarm. But like something reptilian slipping into murky waters, the NBA, like many other big corporations and every pro-sports league that already tried this, is using emotional fatigue as cover, trauma as obscurification.

Folding support of HBCUs into what is essentially an act of testing the waters for an All-Star Game does feel an awful lot like a cover as much as it does a preemptive distraction. That any criticism of the game going ahead, if it does, can be stifled with what a potential financial loss it would be to the colleges in Atlanta currently being considered as far as hosting, or the donation the NBA might go on to make. Support like that shouldn’t come with caveats, let alone reckless and dangerous ones, it should come on its own and in earnest.

Hi Katie – long time listener first time caller, which NBA player would you want to be your older brother?

Thanks. I’ll hang up and listen,

100% THAT Bitch

I had a couple options in my head for this, 100%TB, based on the kind of older brothers out there. There are shrewd older brothers who are more stern, responsible, give good financial advice. There are older brothers who can tell you what’s wrong with your car, older brothers who can fix your computer, older brothers who have done the hard stuff in life before you so you don’t have to, or so you can but get less parental flack for it.

But I think the best older brother is one who doesn’t fit in one specific type so much as wants to be there to help you out but has the understanding that to succeed there has to be some necessary distance for you to fall flat on your face. Also someone who is fun, preferably with friends who aren’t going to make you feel like a loser or a tagalong, who is sorta tough but not mean or unkind, will pet sit, and also worry about your parents getting older with you.

So for all those reasons I’d pick Klay Thompson.

Actually, you know what? Scrap all that, I want an older sister and I want Diana Taurasi. Sorry for the curveball, but the heart wants the no bullshit, loyal, tough as nails but probably would hug you if you needed one, Argentinian-Italian-American powerhouse that it wants.

Chuck, Ernie, Shaq, and Kenny are routinely dragged online for their, shall we say, lackadaisical approach to learning who players are, which team they play for, what a basketball is, where they are in the known universe, etc. I personally think it’s a weird move to have your prime time NBA halftime show staffed with a crew of guys that all seem to absolutely despise the modern game of basketball, but I guess that’s why I’m not running a major network broadcast.

My question is this: If you were given the reins this stagecoach, how would you rebrand it and who would you choose to host the segment?

Thanks,
Stan Van 3000

My favorite part of Inside the NBA is when Kenny Smith runs across the studio to get ready to go “into” a replay. Did the show do this as a bit with a literal play on its name? I’m not sure, but I don’t think so, because the show lacks the kind of self-awareness needed to offer up a joke of itself, let alone let that joke live inside of it.

Even though the blurb that pops up when you Google the show purports it to be “a mix of highlights, interviews and hijinks” it is not, really, any one of those things. What it is is a strange fishbowl of criticism, self-aggrandizing, self-loathing, and endlessly cyclical conversation that never begins, ends, or even really arrives, but just keeps chuggin’ along. Sort of like its hosts.

Shaq’s recent half-asleep live criticism of Donovan Mitchell felt a little like drinking too much cough syrup when you’re sick and just want to sleep through the night, but then you wake up halfway through it wide awake and half-hallucinating, but unable to really move your body in tandem with the speed of your brain. An out-of-body delirium you are forced to bear witness to. There was no conviction in his meanness, no real point to his villainy. He just sort of said, “I don’t really like you, what do you think?” It made me wonder if maybe a producer didn’t tell him that he had to say it to whoever they secured for their next live post-game and it just ended up being Mitchell, smiling, still a bit breathless, standing there to take the directionless hit.

There is an out of touch quality to the show that weirdly is what keeps it going. A sense of as soon as the words leave the respective mouths of the hosts, they’ve already forgotten what it was they said. Which doesn’t excuse their being rude, out of touch, ill-prepared and obviously biased, but does make them perfectly unbeholden.

Which is ideal for a show that thrives in the just as cyclical world of online basketball, where the incredulity at pull-quotes, like when Barkley said rich people should get inoculations first because they pay more in taxes (which, buddy, who told you rich people pay taxes?) circulate wildly for about 24 hours and then vanish, replaced by the next thing. But that is kind of a chicken-egg situation, Inside the NBA didn’t invent that echo chamber.

The last time there was a real moment of conflict and reaction on the show was when Smith walked off set when players began striking in the Orlando bubble. The palpable awkwardness of his co-hosts, the clattering live audio of Smith removing his mic, unplugging himself, setting it on the desk, continuing to speak in the then pin-drop silent studio, and Barkley — in some phantom comfort movement of routine — raising his mug up for a drink as Smith walked away. It was such an unscripted shattering of a wall beyond the 4th, a crack in the show’s regular fishbowl, that it was genuinely disorienting to Smith’s cohosts, and a relief for anyone watching who was so desperate in that moment to see their shock, grief, rage, all of it feeling like a useless mess, reflected back to them.

Anyway, Stan Van 3k, to actually answer your question I’m not sure who I’d replace them with. If only because when it gets to that point, the show will be over. It can’t exist in the same way, shape or format with a stage-left yoinking of one or all of them. The whole thing collapses, the center of Shaq’s ego cannot hold.

But for a completely NEW show, I would love to, when she’s done her on-court broadcast career in the full-capacity she desires, see Doris Burke with that platform. Sue Bird? Yes please. Draymond Green, when he did his guest stint, was the kind of villain Shaq wants to be because he cares, deeply, about basketball. And Rasheed Wallace, why the hell not.