How good, relative to other NBA players, is Nikola Jokic, really? It’s a question that no normal person should devote even one moment of their life to answering, and yet this and other deeply insane questions of the sort together form the primary rhetorical battle ground of basically all sports fans, all the time. We simply love to throw our hats aside, roll up our sleeves, and fight each other to the death over the matter of whether Devin Booker could “give buckets” to Zach LaVine, despite living in a large and bountiful world full of many other things to do. It’s really amazing.
Since we are all already wasting so many minutes and hours of our lives forming and then defending opinions about which of several basketball strangers is the best at basketball, let’s take a moment to acknowledge that there are right and wrong ways of engaging in this outrageously wrong behavior. Having and expressing an opinion is fine, so long as it is done with equanimity and good humor, and a willingness to immediately sprint away from this topic as you would a bomb the very moment anyone opens a sentence with the words “look” or “listen” or “seriously.” Try to avoid boasting about the accuracy of your own prior takes on this matter, as that will mark you for all time as a huge loser. Do not for any reason recite up-to-date and decimal-accurate Basketball Reference metrics from memory. Strive to remind yourself with each breath that every moment you spend presenting your take to your peer group will cost you so much more, socially, than you could ever stand to gain.
Sadly, guidelines for regular schmos for responsible sports-takery do not apply to those who earn their living by sharing with a television audience their deeply held opinions about insanely trivial sports bullcrap. When it’s your job to argue on TV about who is better than who at sports, communicating too clearly with your face and tone of voice and body language the absolute unseriousness of the topic is considered counterproductive, let alone parachuting out of the conversation when it becomes apparent that one of its participants is getting worked up over it. But even for the extremely well-compensated freaks who practice sports bickering at the highest professional levels, there are good and bad practices, nuances that make this sort of over-the-top opinion-having palatable for whole minutes at a time. The goal is to be entertaining without ever making your audience feel that what they are witnessing is the absolute low-point in all human culture. It’s a real trick: The entertainment value comes from the intensity of the argument, but the intensity is also what can make a viewer start daydreaming about the destructive potential of a large asteroid colliding with a planet.
What follows is a clip of a professional arguer getting this delicate dance totally, 100 percent wrong. The take-haver is Nick Wright of Fox Sports 1, and the discussion is about what exactly a basketball fan should make of Nikola Jokic not playing in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game. Don’t concern yourself too much with the topic at hand, which is patently insane but certainly not much more insane than topics being debated around the clock across our accursed sports media landscape. Simply watch the face and listen to the voice and let the performance wash over you, like warm flood waters from the world’s largest stopped-up toilet:
I defy anyone to watch this clip from beginning to end and then say with a straight face that they do not regret becoming a sports fan. Far from convincing me of his point, or indeed of stirring in me the slightest interest whatsoever in whatever the hell he is yelling about, what Wright accomplished this morning was something totally unexpected: He managed, over the course of just two minutes, to force me to appreciate the talents of Stephen A. Smith. I now understand more than ever before how incredibly difficult the job is of shouting about sports on television. Smith is always absurd, always wildly out of proportion, and often breathtakingly wrong, but in his entire life he has never been this appallingly unentertaining. Wright holds one of the tiny handful of lucrative jobs in the field of yelling obnoxiously about dumb sports bullcrap, which pretty much by definition means he is one of the best performers working in the English language. And yet Stephen A. Smith is to Nick Wright what Stephen Curry is to Nick Briz.
I don’t think I can describe or articulate what it is that makes a good sports shouter or a bad sports shouter, but I can say with absolute certainty that I know the latter when I see it, as watching this clip this morning caused me to age by 100 years. I think if I had to share a physical space for more than a handful of seconds with a person making the noises and faces and gestures that Nick Wright makes in this clip, I would smash myself over the head with something heavy until my soul entered the afterlife. The moment when Wright shouts “allegedly smart basketball people” and does the little hand thing for emphasis is a strong contender for the worst thing ever put on film. I am trying to think of topics and scenarios where I would not be violently repelled by someone talking and gesticulating in this manner, and coming up blank. If Wright were arguing for world peace before the full assembly of the United Nations, I think I would boo loudly, or scream.