The NBA’s Starting 11
If Team USA was built around American NBA athletes.
Kobe Bryant (Attacking Center Mid): The captain of America and lifelong AC Milan player, Bryant is the most complete player in the world in both metric and imperial standards. Physical and fierce, Bryant has evolved in the past few seasons to the extent that he voluntarily chooses only the highest margins of difficulty for all scoring attempts, which he nevertheless converts at a staggering clip. 2010 also witnessed his pioneering of a Bernard King-styled post game, where he ruthlessly backs down smaller defenders until arriving at his ideal shooting range (24-15 yards). Locked in at this point, he plays with his food through a series of perfectly calibrated shoulder fakes, opening up space for a turn and shot. Gattuso’s ACL is the latest casualty of Bryant’s chicanery.
Where Bryant truly separates from both contemporaries and the shadows of legends that so haunt his dreams is in his defensive pursuits. Famously prideful and tough on himself, watching Bryant track down an opponent brash and naïve enough to dispossess him of the ball is one sport’s most thrilling moments. His eyes narrow in controlled fever, his rage curdling yet channeled in to refined action. His unknowing prey advances the ball up the field, quietly joyous at his achievement and hoping to use it as a springboard to even greater heights. The boogie-man incarnate, Bryant instantaneously calculates perfect angles, trajectories, and formulas of mass X acceleration, timing his interception with pathological precision. The crowd, the audience on TV, and teammates across the pitch all see the imminent destruction unfolding as if on cue, yet his adversary has no idea, his eyes and mind elsewhere. With primal lust that we ordinarily bury away from the surface, we enjoy the exhilarating moment of attack, a bone crunching tackle that floods the our brains with imagery of blood and teeth sinking in to a poor and defenseless zebra. He inflicts maximum bodily and emotional punishment yet does so with such transcendent timing and technique that no penalty can be called. His opponent lies crumpled on the field, his body in shock and his mind soon to suffer from PTSD. Bryant wins the ball, delivers it to a waiting teammate, and turns back to the carcass at his feet. ‘If you ever do that again, I will take the right-handed thumb of your first born.’
Essential quote: ‘I’ve got bigger fish to fry than Fabio Cannavaro.’
Brandon Jennings (Left Wing): Jennings is the beloved younger brother of the team and a man no opposing player has been foolish enough to foul in the past two years of national team play for fear of the aggressively disproportionate retaliation that will come. Described by some as ‘Arjen Robben with hair and a quicker first-step’, Jennings’ dexterity in changing speeds and direction are unparalleled. He loves to knife his way in to the interior from his flank on the left, freezing defenders to the point that the crowd feels an Urkel-like embarrassment at what is unfolding. His beautifully bending-in to-the-upper-90 left footed shot has inspired stigmata in parts of Bolivia, but it is his surgical no-look passes that most frequently bring a smile to his face. Master of altruism with both feet, he floats some over the defense with Woodsian backspin and occasionally dabbles with Federian topspin if seeking complete bamboozlement of the opposition. It is in these sequences that questions of existentialism dissolve and Brandon can just be. All hit his teammates in stride at their preferred foot, their connection appearing almost as if they are one, symbiotic body.
At 12 years old, Jennings moved to Rio de Janeiro with his mother and younger brother, his footballing style thus becoming a captivating fusion of the City of Angels and the City of God. Their primary ambition for moving out was developing schools and job-training centers in the surrounding slums of the city. They have seen tremendous improvements and a jump of 75 percent in secondary school science aptitude scores. Since joining Fluminese, Jennings has donated 70 percent of his annual salary to the foundation which he humbly refuses to name after himself. Arsene Wenger has long tried to poach him, but Jennings’ attachment to the city is umbilical.
Essential Quote: ‘When I left my home and my family
I was no more than a boy
In the company of strangers
In the quiet of the railway station running scared
Laying low, seeking out the poorer quarters
Where the ragged people go
Looking for the places only they would know.’
Ray Allen (Right Wing): The elders statesman of the team, Allen has been a fixture of FourFourTwo’s World’s best since the mid-90’s. He has defended his perch through indefatigable devotion to his craft and frequent re-readings of St. Augustine. ‘Like Beckham if David weren’t such a twat’, Allen relentlessly patrols the right side as a stalwart of defensive discipline. Going forward, Shuttlesworth serves crosses so accurate they don’t even disturb the hair of his flamboyant European club teammates, game after game like clockwork. His quiet makeup and playing style lures the opposition in to a false sense of security, at which point he erupts in moments of Phil Collinsian In the air tonight crescendo. ‘A Forty-yard wonder strike from the legend of Big State!’; his goals are of such magnitude that even the English commentators rise an octave or two.
Beginning his career with Bordeaux, Allen has since plied his trade with Ajax, Liverpool, and Zenit St. Petersburg (he was also on Fulbright scholarship during the stint in Russia). Currently, he plays for the Kaiser Chiefs in Johannesburg, a decision made so he could more actively pursue his HIV education work with the non-profit Grassroots Soccer.
Essential Quote: ‘It’s the will in a man. It ain’t the skill in a man.’
Rajon Rondo (Traditional Center Midfield): The man from Shakhtar Donetsk defies taxonomy with a rhythm and style of play that has no precedent or distinguishable genealogical heritage. Some claim to see Zidanne behind his dark, mesmerizing, dancing eyes; others Toussaint L’Ouverture.
Rondo patrols the middle of the pitch with prescience, calmly cutting out passes and preempting any danger in a manner that would make even Irving Kristol and Donnie Rumsfeld gush. There is an inescapable calm permeating through the team with Rajon out there; his probing and seeking with the ball always keeps the initiative at his own feet and away from any pressure the defense might seek to apply. The tempo is his and his alone. It is a thrill to watch as Rondo orients all the action and directs the patterns of movement while still finding the time to apply his beloved chap-stick every forty-five seconds and rarely having to bend his knees passed 30 degrees. On the attack, his ‘Dream Shake’ is so logic defying that to date, no cameraman has kept the nerve and successfully filmed it, falling for his mystifying fake just as the defenders do. Many have subsequently questioned whether such a move truly exists, but I can tell you that I personally saw it on an expedition to the Safed Koh Mountains, and it was astounding.
You may be wondering why Rondo was in that dangerous bandit country along the Afghan/Pakistan border: while on a USS tour to bring up the spirits of the troops, Rajon wandered off from base camp in the dead of night in search of ‘the cool’ (his words). Nothing was heard from Rondo for three days as Ranger teams daringly searched the region for him. When I bumped in to him, he was playing in a pickup game within shouting distance of the Khyber Pass, carrying nothing but cargo pants, a t-shirt, a scarf, chap-stick, and Jordan XIs.
Essential Quote: ‘Sometimes I feel like the alien from Cool Boarders II. ’
Deron Williams (Holding Center Midfield): Described by Eamon Dumphy of RTE as a ‘bigger, faster, less fanatically angry Roy Keane’, Williams is the keystone to Barcelona’s success. Signed last season by the Catalan power in the ever widening arms race with Real Madrid, Deron has become the trump card in Manager Pep Guardiola’s hand. His imposing size, deceptive quickness, remarkable vision and poise, and hard-man man-beard is the real trigger for the team’s wonderful vitality.
There are no wasted movements in Williams’ game, a style premised on his youthful attachment to Realpolitik. He is more than capable of striking one from upwards of forty yards, and his goal-scoring average in the last ten minutes of tied matches is an awe-inspiring 1.2. After slashing home a match-winner against Villareal last December, goal.com reported that Williams turned to Giuseppe Rossi and said, ‘Ask Lute Olsen ‘bout that.’
Essential Quote: After being reprimanded for weight issues at the junior level, Williams explained his change in commitment by saying ‘from that day on, if I was ever going somewhere, I…was…RUNNINGGG.’