Inhale through your nose—one, two, three, four—and then down, down, down and out. As you continue to breathe, think about an astronaut being jettisoned from his spacecraft and tumbling endlessly through space, and missing his family and being sad. Or think about an old dog crawling under the porch and dying of butt worms. Or picture the scene in Platoon where Willem Dafoe’s character gets gunned down by the Viet Cong while Charlie Sheen tries to look like he is crying. So sad. Now you are crying. Good. Now we may talk about the time when Aaron Gordon did not win a dunk contest.
Do me a favor. They have not yet enabled the feature that would let me set my blogs to music, so I will need you to press play on the track “Requiem for Dying Mothers, Pt. 1” by American ambient music duo Stars of the Lid before reading further. Since that is apparently the appropriate atmosphere for looking back on Aaron Gordon’s participation in two slam dunk contests—all-consuming grief following an untimely loss—it would be wrong for us to proceed in a “happy” or “healthy” or “not deeply insane” emotional headspace.
Allow your eyelids to droop to a close. Breathe in for a count of four, and then exhale down, down, down, to a count of eight, feeling relaxation spread from your eyes through your neck and into your shoulders, and then down to your bowels. Possibly you will experience a bowel movement from the relaxation. Sorry about that, I should’ve asked you to sit on a towel or something. Ignore the fullness in your shorts and instead focus on the emptiness within.
The world learned over the weekend that Gordon would be wearing the number 50 on his jersey as a new member of the Denver Nuggets. Gordon chose the number in order to commemorate the times when he scored very well at doing dunks in a dunk contest but did not come in first place. Do not let sudden befuddlement wrench you out of your meditative condition. Please continue to weep quietly, tears rolling down your face, as you contemplate these words, spoken by Gordon at the three-minute mark of the somber, dead-serious 19-minute “documentary” he made about the time when he dunked the ball very well but slightly less well than some other men:
“I see art in life. Basketball is poetry in motion. The slam dunk is not only a beautiful personification of grace and athleticism, but it’s a tenacious action. Although the art of the dunk is amazing, it isn’t the only flair that catches my eye. Tattoos are an illustration of life itself.”
Gordon’s documentary, titled Mr. 50, has been viewed surprisingly few times on YouTube—fewer than 250,000, or less than a third the number of times people have clicked on a video of a person farting into the intercom system at Costco. That is the other reason for Gordon’s new jersey number: to drum up attention for this passion project. Do not let the misuse of the word “personification” or the dubious use of the word “tenacious” in that quote up there stop the flow of tears as you reckon with what it means for a man who likes to dunk a basketball to not win a trophy for dunking. Please instead incorporate the following lyrics, rapped in a grief-stricken monotone by Gordon over what I am almost certain is an actual funeral dirge, into your empathetic experience of suffering and pain:
It’s cold in the Chi so I’mma set the gym ablaze
Tomorrow I take center stage
I’ll take that stage and make front page
Chano said let’s just stay prayed
All these eyes but I’m not fazed
Don’t worry about the hate or praise
Out here I’m free and great like birds uncaged
I’ll take the bar and make sure it’s raised
Since Mike took flight in vintage J’s
Since Vince had the whole world amazed
This been my dream since younger days.
Think about what it means for this man who just friggin’ [clenches fists] loves dunking this much to come in second place in some dunk contests. Wait, I can see that thinking about this is causing you to break out of your grief. Please instead think of that old turtle who was 102 years old and the last of his species. Picture him laying his creaking old body down, never to rise again, blinking around at his handlers, and wondering, for the last time, why it’d been so long since he’d seen another like him. Wow. Now picture Aaron Gordon dunking a basketball in the background, but someone else dunking a basketball slightly better. Wow.
Please hit “restart” on the song called “Requiem for Dying Mothers, Pt. 1” before reading this next quote from Gordon, who for maximum emotional wreckage I must remind you would go on to not win the dunk contest.
“Win or lose, I hope I inspire the next generation of ball-players and dunkers. Either way, I know my family’s proud of me, I know my friends are proud of me, and I’m proud of me. I hope I show people that what seems impossible is actually tangible if you expand your imagination. Win or lose, I can sleep easy tonight knowing I conquered my fear and I gave it everything I had. The NBA Dunk Contest was stagnant for a couple of years, so, win or lose, I just hope to show people the game of basketball is always progressing.”
My wife was in the room when I watched this documentary for the first time. Six different times she glanced around with an irritated look on her face and said some variation of “What the hell are you watching right now?” My face was hidden behind my laptop, and so she could not see the tracks of my tears. That is the power of art, to make a person question every decision they made in their life that led to this moment. That’s 19 whole minutes, gone forever.