On Spider-Man memes (and the Nets)
I didn't know it at the time, but seeing Spider-Man vs. Spider-Man in the late 1970s would stick with me for decades and eventually influence my thinking about a certain basketball team in Brooklyn
From the Now It Can Be Told Department: The original animated Spider-Man and one of his most unforgettable adventures contributed heavily to my skepticism that the Kevin Durant/James Harden/Kyrie Irving trio could establish a working coexistence in Brooklyn.
If you want to get technical, yes, I'm referring to what they used to call a cartoon in my youth.
Yet it’s the truth. In what shall forever rank on this scorecard as the greatest half-hour in the history of animation, two frames from two separate stories that originally aired on Jan. 13, 1968, endure in this twisted brain to this day.
There is the Spider-Man Pointing At Spider-Man meme that is stunningly commonplace in 2022, as every NBA fan on social media knows, from an episode called "Double Trouble" that featured a Spider-Man impersonator named Charles Cameo. And then there is the lesser-known episode that preceded it — "To Catch a Spider" — which is my absolute favorite and, as I recently realized, helped shape my views on Big Threes forever.
It was watching that installment in syndication in the late 1970s, since I wasn’t born yet when it debuted, that steered me to question the Durant/Harden/Irving Nets from the jump, since it was the first time I saw with my own eyes that it’s really hard to make a superstar trio work ... no matter what superpowers or how much superskill is possessed by the trio.
For those who aren't old (or warped) enough to remember "To Catch a Spider," allow me to reset the scene for you: Dr. Noah Boddy, one of Spider-Man's arch enemies, hatched a plan to help Electro, The Green Goblin and The Vulture escape from prison and ultimately destroy Spider-Man using new weapons Boddy developed for them. Weakened and dazed but realizing that his best shot to dismantle the triumvirate was trying to turn them against each other, Spider-Man employed ventriloquism to spark the infighting among the villains that enabled him to ultimately capture all three as well as Boddy.
Yup. Watching Electro, Vulture and Goblin implode like that — largely because of ego when they seemingly couldn't lose — clearly left an unshakable impression on me.
For your reference, YouTube has the scene clipped that gave us the image we constantly see on #NBATwitter and many, many other Twitters:
And here is a snippet of the previous episode that I invariably start replaying in my mind as soon as see that image:
I share all this now for two reasons:
1. I'm still a child inside who has endless love and appreciation (for the first season especially) for Stan Lee's original Spider-Man TV series. (The variety of villains! The amazing array of voices! The trash talk! Ray Ellis’ peerless soundtrack!)
2. This was a lighter pathway than usual to get to talking about the Nets, who remain endlessly complicated to analyze even now, nearly two months removed from the trade that sent Harden to Philadelphia and ended Brooklyn's own answer to the Electro, Vulture and Gobby experiment after just 13 months and a miserly 16 games shared on the court together.
Irving played his first home game of the season Sunday after New York Mayor Eric Adams made athletes and entertainers exempt from the city's COVID-19 vaccine mandate. The Nets lost to Charlotte to remain mired at No. 8 in the East and fall to 9-13 in the mere 22 games that Irving has played this season.
Yet you could still argue that last week was the best week of Brooklyn's circus-like season. The lifting of the mandate means Irving can play everywhere except Toronto now. The Nets went into Miami before the Charlotte comedown and pounded the top-seeded Heat. Irving also spoke of his desire to stay in Brooklyn beyond this season, sharing that — while it remains unclear if he intends to simply exercise next season's $36.6 million player option or actually pursue a long-term extension more in line with Durant’s recent four-year, $198 million deal — "there's no way I can leave my man 7."
No. 7, of course, is Durant. These, though, are the Nets, so you are advised to stay tuned. On one hand, Brooklyn appears to have restored a good bit of its previous Fear Factor among their rivals thanks to recent throttlings of the Sixers and Heat, leading to numerous suggestions that the East's top seeds will be terrified to see the Nets in the first round of the playoffs. At the same time, Brooklyn still hasn't had Ben Simmons on the court for one second since the trade and would be fortunate, at this point, if Simmons is physically and mentally ready to give them any minutes in the playoffs.
Who knows what an early playoff exit or some other form of playoff disappointment does to this group’s future?
Even with all that momentum Sunday night, in the wake of Irving's clearance to play home games and his public proclamation of Durant devotion, this team couldn't beat the No. 9 Hornets. Irving missed 16 of 22 shots from the field, settling for 16 points in what will be recorded, no matter how hot Charlotte has been lately, as a dispiriting defeat.
The Nets still have to make the playoffs through the play-in tournament just to ensure that they get to be that ultra-frightening No. 7 or 8 seed everyone's talking about. As my pal Howard Beck put it in his wise piece for Sports Illustrated after Sunday's stumble: "If chemistry and cohesion and continuity mean anything, the Nets are in serious trouble." Beck also wrote:
The top of the East has gotten only stronger. The Celtics are rolling. The Bucks are whole again. The Sixers have found their stride with Harden and Joel Embiid. And the Nets? The Nets are just hoping a few weeks of Kyrie and KD is enough to generate some magic while pretending all their problems were just an unfortunate twist of fate.
“This is the situation we’re in,” Durant said. “It’s a challenge, and everybody is going through challenges this season.”
I’m actually not sure if the enclosed Spidey clips can lighten the mood some for stressed-out Nets fans, especially if they make them think about how swiftly the addition of Harden to 7 and 11 imploded, but I couldn’t resist including them and telling old stories about them. If they were way before your time, give them a look now and let me know what you think. At the very least they’ll give you a better appreciation for how Animated Spidey pointing at Animated Spidey became so ubiquitous in the Social Media Age.
Rest assured that they were rewatched (repeatedly) during the assembly of this latest Tuesday Newsletter Extravaganza by the publisher who, more than he should probably admit, refuses to grow up.
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Mailbag Last Call
I wanted to do a mailbag for Monday. But I still need more good questions, so it will most likely be pushed back one week.
Please let me know what’s on your mind in question form, on any NBA or life topic, via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
On a Monday very soon, we will devote an entire piece to providing some As to standout Qs.
Perhaps I should leave this invite here every Tuesday.
Consider this section our virtual suggestion box to discuss content ideas … NBA and otherwise.
What would you like to read more of in 2022? Or less of? What do you really think of my (largely pretend) idea to launch a complementary coffee Substack? Or a Substack about BlackBerrys?
I've got a lot of things planned already in terms of stories I hope to tackle in coming months, but I would love to hear your ideas either in the comments below or via email@example.com.
The Suns have a sparkling road record of 30-6. As underlined recently by the legendary longtime columnist Mark Whicker, who wrote brilliant stuff for decades in Philadelphia and Southern California, that computes to a higher winning percentage than every other team in the league has at home. Golden State (29-9) is the only team in the league besides Phoenix (31-8) with fewer than 10 home defeats.
Those same Suns went 11-4 while Chris Paul was recovering from a thumb injury to cement themselves as this season's lone 60-win team.
Thirty years ago Sunday, White Men Can't Jump opened in theaters. It is the best basketball movie of all-time, no other nominations will be considered here and we will absolutely never, ever bless the idea of a modern-day remake. The original nailed pretty much every single character. You do not mess with perfection.
Unexpected stat turned up by (not his real name) Zaza Teletovic, one of my most loyal Spotify Greenroom listeners, who has been following my coverage of American players in Russia and pointed out to me that there are no active Russian players in this NBA season. After such long careers for Andrei Kirilenko (who played 13 seasons in the NBA and debuted in 2001-02) and Timofey Mozgov (who played eight seasons and debuted in 2010-11), this one definitely caught me off guard.
The West is on course to post a better record against the East for the 22nd time in the past 23 seasons … essentially since Michael Jordan’s second retirement in Chicago in 1998. As research expert @jkubatko also tells us in addition to what he tweeted, West teams not surprisingly had more All-NBA players than their East counterparts in each of the last 22 seasons: 211 of the 330 All-NBA selections total (63.9%).
It was announced Monday that eight players, from five teams, would miss the rest of the season because of various injuries: Cleveland's Dean Wade, Detroit's Jerami Grant, Indiana's Myles Turner, Oklahoma City's Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Darius Bazley and the Portland trio of Eric Bledsoe, Jusuf Nurkić and Anfernee Simons. Props to @NickPyle15 for his suggestion via Twitter that we refer to it as Maybe Next Year Monday.
We would have gone with Tank-O Tuesday had the flurry of announcements come one day later. In related news, nine of the league's 30 teams have dropped out of playoff or playoff play-in contention and, whether they have been officially eliminated from those races, are clearly playing with draft position in mind: New York, Washington, Indiana, Detroit and Orlando in the East; Portland, Sacramento, Oklahoma City and Houston in the West. Let's hold off on those proclamations that the advent of the play-in tournament has curbed the practice of tanking — some of those teams have been prioritizing their draft interests for weeks.
Our good pal @MicahAdams13 from The Sporting News explains why a Lakers loss in Dallas on Tuesday night would drop them to No. 11 in the West behind a new No. 10 from San Antonio:
This is not a basketball stat, but I couldn't resist printing it after writing two pieces in recent weeks about my beloved Cal State Fullerton Titans' first-round date with Duke in the NCAA Tournament. What makes every trip to the tourney so special for our school is that we are indeed a baseball school first and foremost, as evidenced by four national championships and the 71 players — SEVENTY-ONE — we've sent to the big leagues compared to those four Big Dance berths in Fullerton history. Those 71 players include three Golden Spikes winners: Tim Wallach (1979), current Los Angeles Angels third base coach Phil Nevin (1992) and new Oakland A's manager Mark Kotsay (1995).