The NBA’s Starting 11
If Team USA was built around American NBA athletes.
Charles Oakley (Center Back): Alternately hero and villain, Oakley is perhaps the most polarizing figure to come through the international scene since Germany reunited. As the bruising captain of Nottingham Forest in the early 1990s, Oakley was on deck for a defining cultural change in the game, a change that ushered in an era of flopping and honor-less manipulation of the referee. His rage at these tactics simmered until 1996, at which point he began a one-man global crusade against what he called that ‘pussy shit.’ Disenchanted with the ineffectual paper-pushing of football’s governing bodies, Oak’s campaign of vigilantism recognized no national borders and took no prisoners. Anyone who flopped got a clobberin’. He actively sought out transfers each season so that he could enforce his form of justice on each of Europe’s top leagues. By 2000, he had been suspended for over 200 matches, broken 73 limbs, caused 19 concussions, prompted 11 early retirements, but produced tangible results. Indeed, flopping declined by a seasonal average of 32 percent in each of the leagues he competed in. Players knew even that even though they might not be playing Oak this week, if he caught a clip of them engaging in that cowardly nonsense which so wounded his heart, he would have his vengeance, in this life or the next.
Families, pubs, salons, and barbershops have split over the morality of Oakley. Some fear the precedent he sets and question what gives him the right to choose between right and wrong and punish accordingly. Others see a man stepping in to a lawless vacuum to protect the sanctity of the sport. He has received a great deal of public support from one-time rival Eric Cantona, whose Premiership tussles with Oakley have helped forge a lasting friendship of candor and mutual respect. Speaking to Le Monde in May of 1999, Cantona said, ‘Charles may just save the game. He is a good man. I wish I could still launch Bruce Lee dragon kicks alongside him. Also, I don’t think anyone’s really prepared to stand in his way.’ US Soccer is certainly in that camp as well, seeing Oak as guarantor against any trickery opponents might have otherwise considered. He doesn’t move quite as well as he did in his younger days, but his leadership, intimidation, and Batman-like presence more than make up for any deficiencies.
Essential Quote: When asked why he settled at Hamburg since the 2001 season (note the lack of flopping in the Bundesliga), Oak responded, ‘German women are fine.’
Ron Artest (Right Back): An ardent Irish nationalist, Artest has long been a favorite amongst the partisans at Celtic Park. Spiraling after a difficult spell with Red Star Belgrade, Artest spent the summer of 2005 touring Ireland and became engrossed in the history. In Bobby Sands Ron discovered a transformative idol who inspired him to expect more from himself and those around him. Hoping to distance himself from the incident at the Palace of Auburn Hills and a rather innocuous scuffle with Dinamo Zagrab fans, Artest has since stepped back from the politics and drama, refocusing on football and family with resounding results.
Relentlessly physical, Ron prides himself on being close enough to breathe the recycled air of his mark as he forever leans his 240-pound frame upon the poor fella. His tormenting constancy and commitment to craft have stifled many-a-man since 1999, the most striking example being Patrick Kluivert. The tale of former Dutch national team striker is a tragic one, but one that also reveals a great deal about Artest’s staggering influence. In 2002, Kluivert was admitted to a Basel psychiatric ward for three months of careful emotional rehabilitation following a match-up with Artest’s Red Star. In a recently made public interview from the Institute, Kluivert described specifics for the first time: ‘Two days prior to the match in Belgrade, I received a parade of phone calls to both my mobile and home numbers. When I picked up, all I heard on the other end was ‘QB don’t stand for no Quarterback’, incessantly repeated time after time in a deep and monotonous voice until I hook up. At the same time, my email was inundated with a mail-bombing of sorts, all of which bore the same message about this ‘QB.’ I arrived at the stadium exhausted and more than a little frightened. Then, when going through the pre-game handshakes, this Artest guy pulled me close and just whispered ‘Queensbridge, Queensbridge, Queensbridge’, refusing to release me from his embrace. For the ninety-four minutes of the match, he shadowed me, repeating this same message after each inhale: ‘Queensbridge, Queensbridge’. I thought my mind was gone, seized and swallowed by this bizarre Diablo. I was not sure if I could live in this world infested by eternal Queensbridge.’
Essential Quote: ‘I prefer Lycos to Google. Sometimes I even use Askjeeves.’
Tayshaun Prince (Left Back): Distant relative of Ghana’s Prince Boateng, Tayshaun’s rise has been somewhat interrupted by injury, yet he remains America’s best option in the Back. The length and ingenuity of the Porto man have made him a long-time favorite of Jose Mourinho, who once again hopes to recruit Prince to play for him at Real Madrid, confident he has plenty more left in the tank. Indeed, after recovering from a hamstring injury this past February, Prince returned to the pitch with a devious new device: face guarding. He holds his hand just below the opponent’s eyes, inhibiting their ability to see the ball at their feet and disorienting all their movements.
Prince is an avid player of Risk, the game of global conquest, and attributes his divine positional awareness to the many hours of strategic planning he has devoted to this pursuit. There have been worries over whether Prince and Artest would be able to share the field because of that fateful brawl in Detroit. But all concerns were dispelled when at a Champion’s League match in 2007 Artest came in to the Porto training room with the olive branch of a Pastrami Sandwich sent out all the way from his favorite deli in Queensbridge. All those present said Prince was genuinely touched, though he puked for three days after due to the sandwich’s long transit from New York to Portugal.
Essential Quote: ‘Reggie should have dunked the ball.’
Dwight Howard (Goalkeeper): The affable Howard is a legend amongst the Merseyside faithful and heir-apparent to Steven Gerrard as captain of Liverpool FC. Known to sing the entire catalogue of Bobby Womack from match start to finish, Howard is a self-confident young man and consistent anchor for the Reds. Unique in style, Howard refuses to punch or deflect, bump or push, kick-save or careen any shot. Instead, he has resolutely committed himself to catching all attempts at his goal in an ultimate demonstration of swag. The sight of this 7-foot behemoth ensnaring shot after shot, extending for Kenny Lofton-esque one-handed homerun saving catches, and even bringing down mis-hit shanks sent upwards of fifteen yards over the goal, can be utterly demoralizing for opponents.
His trademark cape was banned after the 2009 season by the FA, explaining ‘it’s just a dick move.’ There have also been some complaints, most recently a charge from Ashley Young of Aston Villa, that because of his sheer massiveness, Howard should not be able to use his hands. His goal against average since 2007 is 0.03, and there are worries in some quarters that such oppression of scoring is not good for the game. Haters want to hate. Look for the young man from ATL to command the American backline for the next 10-15 years.
Essential Quote: ‘Call me the Truman Doctrine.’
LeBron James (Supersub): Feats over the past six months continue to suggest James is of a different species. Because of his absurdist combination of strength and speed, however, James has had a distinctly difficult time not crushing opponents on the soccer field in body and soul. A routine run to the nearpost is a minefield for James who will likely launch anyone he brushes against like a Katayusha rocket in to the outer realm of the parking lot in the event of even the slightest contact. As is such, he has an unintentional propensity for collecting yellow and red cards through no fault beyond being evolutionarily superior to other footballers. So not to leave his team short-handed with an early sending-off, James is most effectively used as a second half agent of the apocalypse.
Kevin Garnett (Back-up Goalkeeper): Garnett is nearing the end of his illustrious career that began with CSKA Moscow and spanned two decades. Though still more than capable in nets, today his most prominent role is as a Bundini Brown-type hypeman/sage and in his notorious warm-up practices. As far back as anyone can remember, pre-match time has been a stage for classic Garnett intimidation. He wanders on to the opposing team’s side, pushes their goalie out of the net, and proceeds to block each and every attempt from the field players to score, shouting explicits throughout.