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Eat Culture, With Rohan Nadkarni

3:16 PM EDT on June 1, 2023

Gabe Vincent, Bam Adebayo, and Caleb Martin stand together as the team is introduced before Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
esse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

At this point in the season, everyone is tired and everyone is vulnerable. Weak match-ups get hunted relentlessly, less out of intentional cruelty and more as the result of the natural mercilessness with which water seeks and finds its level. A player who can only do one thing is now only as valuable as the sum of what remains after all the things they cannot do are factored into the equation; a player who cannot do enough will not play. The margin just isn't there for it, for anyone. There just isn't very much extra remaining, and the work of the playoffs as they wear on is finally all winnowing. The best players are also the last ones still upright, and the last team left is, above all other things, precisely that. That all of this is called The Finals feels redundant.

Anyway, that is what I assume. The NBA Finals are much, much easier for those of us whose engagement with them tops out at watching or posting or occasionally blogging about them; those of us who just have to hold forth into podcast mics about some stuff we saw and how we felt when we saw it probably have it easiest of all. No one would or indeed could even know if I was wearing pants while I was doing any of that. I certainly am not telling. But, with the NBA Finals beginning tonight, Drew and I were able to bring one of those brutal postseason lessons to bear on our much easier job. We sought out a guest with no weaknesses, who can contribute in every area—basketball analysis, sandwich discourse, remembering select members of the Marlins during the George W. Bush Administration—and plugged him into the rotation. And Sports Illustrated NBA reporter and inner-circle Distraction guest Rohan Nadkarni, once again, did not let us down.

Rohan is a delightful conversationalist and also quite possibly more serious about The Sandwich Lifestyle than either Drew or I, but he is also uniquely qualified to talk about this particular NBA Finals matchup. He wrote one of the very best features on Nikola Jokic last year, and much more impressively was perhaps the only NBA writer alive to foresee Caleb Martin's series-swinging impact for the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. He is a Heat fan in his civilian life, and like many other basketball sickos has become something like a Nuggets fan simply through watching them a lot, and we discussed how these two teams wound up in the Finals, what makes them interesting, and (invariably) the different ways they fit into the exhausting and twitchy broader NBA discourse. We also talked about the Boston Celtics, whom the Heat vanquished in a Game 7 walkover after a strangely thrilling series full of highly oafish basketball—you can read Rohan's thoughts on that, too—but given that this is about the Celtics, and also that Drew and I used this portion of the episode as an excuse for hooting, gloating, and mostly unprompted Bill Simmons imitations, I can't completely recommend it.

In any Rohan episode, though, the fun part is the dumb stuff. In this episode, which is moderately super-sized by Distraction standards, the dumb stuff is something like half the run-time. That portion of the show was given over to an omnibus Guy Remembering session that allowed me an opportunity to speak my bitterness about Mike Hampton and recommend the video of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf's 51-point game, as well as a quick tag-team curmudgeon throwdown on how They Make Everything So Complicated These Days. The Funbag delivered us questions on a longstanding issue in the Guy/Dude debate, as well as best practices in accent accuracy. The former helped us remember Albert Belle; the latter permitted us to examine the finer points of learning and respecting other cultures, and let me tell a story about my dad putting some preposterous accents egout on the word "camembert."

This was all plenty, but a special request from Rohan helped us end the episode with something like eight minutes of sandwich chat. I will not give that away, although Rohan came with some news-you-can-use on favorite Indian sandwiches and revealed the open-faced delicacy he has tattooed on his body, we discussed what a Ron Villone sandwich would have on it, and I broke my controversial silence on a bizarre local sandwich—as in, served by a place in my neighborhood and quite possibly no other business on earth—that brings together the flavors of all-dressed bodega sandwiches and the humble samosa. It is a strange way, or a strange place, to end an episode that is mostly about the NBA, but it is the only way that a Rohan episode could end. It's why he's a championship player. At this time of year, he's the type of guy you need.

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