By Jake Appleman

2/22/2022 –

My fortieth birthday is creeping up and I feel like I’m headed for an inevitable midlife crisis. Fortunately, a guy in my position, consumed day and night by his job, doesn’t have the time to go screw up his personal life by buying a Bentley (yikes, remember when those were popular?) or by cheating on his wife with one of those revamped do-it-all sex robots that combine vigorous, unrelenting physical pleasure with new-age virtual technology to incapacitate the user for a week after kind-of-coitus, or KOC.

The flip side to this is that, as much as I’d rather screw up at work rather than harm my family or myself, if I bungle this trade-deadline situation, I’m done. Finished. I’m the only one that can axe myself, but if an entire capital city wants your throat, what’s the point? See, when I bought the NBA’s Madrid Majestad five years ago during the great Euro expansion of 2017 using a fortune I made investing in an Ipod charger that fueled electric cars, the team struggled so much initially that the franchise almost moved to Munich.

Commissioner Silver hadn’t come up with any finances for the team’s necessary improvements: cheerleaders that could roll r’s and get lispy at team functions, extra lawyers to draft the stringent “no mullets courtside” litigation that would keep us culturally relevant and, of course, complimentary Serrano ham in every refurbished luxury box. We needed to compete with Paris, Barcelona, Rome, Athens and Berlin. Only the London Shot-Clockers lagged behind with us, but that was due in part to their insistence on hiring Luol Deng as a player-coach when they started, then following that move by signing players susceptible to getting caught by British tabloids. I’ll never forget the picture that ran of a smiling transvestite licking Shepherd’s Pie off of a shirtless Big Baby Davis.

(For the record, Big Baby said he didn’t even know her/him, but she/he begged him to pose for the pic at a party. Regardless, the fact that it ended up on her Myspace page—so 2006!—rendered his attempt at an explanation pointless. Basketball hasn’t really caught on in England, anyway; you can see the large swaths of empty seats that season ticket holders vacate during weeks when perennial Premier League powerhouses Fulham and Tottenham play at home.)

Eventually, a few shrewd moves gave us a veteran team that was one big move away for competing for the coveted Larry O’Brien trophy. I rolled the dice on borderline Hall-of-Famer OJ Mayo, convincing him to waive his no trade clause from San Antonio because mayonnaise is so popular in Spain the advertising dollars would single-handedly leave him with enough money to retire comfortably with. I’ll never forget that conversation.

“You mean they eat it on salad?” he said.

“If you consider salad ‘iceberg lettuce with egg yolks on top’, then yes.”

“I thought the food was supposed to be sprank.”

(“Sprank” is a slang term meaning “awesome” that came about during MTV’s wildly popular hit show, Oak-ey doke, that chronicled seven teenagers in Oakland for their high school years from 2014-2018. For those that missed it, I feel compelled to note that one of the kids claimed to be Tupac Shakur’s bastard son, only to be destroyed in a rap battle by the doctor that did the DNA test. And they said hip hop died when Weezy took over!)

“The two biggest misconceptions about Spain,” I told OJ, “are that the food is incredible and most of the women are beautiful.”
“Wifey will love to hear the second part.”
“Yeah, she will. I still can’t believe you pulled Rihanna.”

He winked at me.

After acquiring OJ, we lured Ricky Rubio away from Barcelona and beat the tampering charges, narrowly avoiding a full-scale civil war. We teamed them with seven time all-star Mason Plumlee, the dude that fully killed the “Duke players don’t succeed at the next level” myth, LaQuinton Ross, and BJ Mullens. Sensational rookie Mister Allen Iverson leads a bench mob that includes Lance Stephenson (returning to form after an incident involving a bottle rocket a few years ago messed up some metatarsals), William Buford, the ageless Rudy Gay and Kyle Singler.

(Sidenote: Having Mister’s pops at all of the games has been great. That dude has gotten even more awesome with age. There’s nothing quite like hearing Allen Iverson ask a courtside server for a caña–beer in a wine glass for those who don’t know. By the way, it was great to go visit Freud’s house with AI in the offseason; during the lecture about Siggy’s teachings, he’d compulsively blurt out things Larry Brown had said to him back in the day.)

Anyway, we need one more piece and the press, accustomed to Real Madrid getting whatever they want, won’t stop running pictures of me with a chicken’s head on the top of my body. They’re so used to teams that are always contending for trophies, they uniformly forget that this is, in theory at least, an egalitarian league that doesn’t favor specific franchises. I’ve tried to explain to them how a salary cap works, but they seem to reject the mere notion of it. The press conference from a few years ago when Kevin Durant had to explain to the Rome press that he wasn’t “sold” to the Gladiators still haunts me–and that’s not even my team.

Throw in our hectic travel schedules and we’re actually at a slight disadvantage, though I must give Commissioner Silver credit for shortening the regular season to 60 games while consolidating all transatlantic road trips by sending each Euro team to play one division per trip and scheduling games (always sold out) in neutral sites that no longer have NBA teams like Memphis, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Sacramento and Oklahoma City. The real masterstroke, however, was forcing division rivals play regular season games against each other during their bi-annual trips across the pond.

Not only did these moves help promote the game globally—25,000 packed an Amsterdam venue to watch Brooklyn and New York fight it out for the division crown on the last day of the regular season last year, fitting because the Dutch “discovered” New York—they also gave the league the time and space needed to run the “Globe Cup”: a tournament that rewards 2.5 million Euros to every player on the winning team and awards the top pick in the upcoming draft to the winning team. These recent changes have upped the ante to the point that the mid-season loafing that was so prevalent during the 90’s and the turn of the century has all but vanished.

We’ve reaped the cross-cultural benefits as well. The Paris Towers’ fans came up with a great chant when Bavetta blew a call in a playoff game against Philly a few years back: Dick de mer, a combination of his first name and the French way of saying “f*ck your mom”. Bavetta had no idea. All he cared about were his 80 year old legs beating Nicolas Sarkozy in a foot race during the following year’s all-star game.

As I sit here, mulling the offer from the Wizards for the Kemp kid that will either make me or break me, I think back to his father. The kid is two years shy of thirty, he’s as explosive as they come (surprise!) and he’s one of the top rebounders in the league. His mid-range game is rock solid, too. He’s everything we need. Yet, I’m wondering if Washington’s GM, Eric Snow, knows something I don’t. Yeah, the news of a few out of wedlock children–you couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried–and the subsequent protests from conservative fans has pushed DC to put him on the block, but there’s gotta be more to it. 2 number 1’s, my mid-level exception and the artist formerly known as Monta Ellis seems real cheap for such a prodigious talent in his prime.

[fax comes through via new high tech device that’s too complicated to explain]

What’s this?

“Dear owners, we’ve decided to expand to include our 33rd and 34th teams. We’re sold on Munich as the definitive home of the 33rd team. Some high rollers from Mercedes have stepped in and made an incredibly impressive offer. Given the success of our Euro expansion, we’ve narrowed the choices for the other site to Amsterdam, Tel Aviv and Lisbon. Thoughts, comments? Yours, in money, Commissioner Silver.”

I thought about it for awhile, but no good arguments sprung out at me. I glanced at the trade offer from E-Snow again.

Then, as a fantastic rapper–and writer–once said close to thirty years ago, “it came to me like a song I wrote.”

“Commissioner,” I began my reply. “What about Seattle?”