Built for the Front Seat?
The Commish hands out Playoff seating assignments.
Back in late January, somebody hipped me to the Big Ghost Chronicles, a blog, written by some clandestine prankster in the bizarre, slang-doctored, genius-gibberish voice of Wu Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah. Ghostface is one of music’s most unique, artistic minds of all time and that’s no hyperbole. This is a man who began a song (“Underwater”) by stating that he sees a “pink dog with a crystal handle.” And that’s not even in the Ghost Imagery top 50. But what also made Ghost unique was the ornery relationship he had with competition.
A few weeks ago, I talked to Ghost’s right hand man, fellow Wu-member Raekwon the Chef. Rae explained that, when Wu first hit the scene in the ‘90s, part of he and Ghost’s natural bond came through their mutual fixation with, not only respect, but their rightful place at the helm of hip hop. They were not opposed to calling out other rappers, even if it was, say, overtly subliminal shots, like the one they took at Biggie for “biting off of Nas’ [album] cover.”
Keying in on this ethos, the Big Ghost Chronicles (BGC) is full of fake shots fired at all kinds of rappers and celebrities, done in a language and disposition that so closely resembles Ghost, you think it’s actually him penning these hysterical rants. My favorite of them all was the first post I ever read on the blog (“Drake talkin greasy about n!##@$”).
The post has some audio of Drake (tongue-in-cheek, serious, who knows?) half-claiming that “Watch The Throne” — an upcoming, tag team album from Jay-Z and Kanye West — was an idea stolen/bitten/whatever from a tag team joint Drake and Lil Wayne had been planning. Of course, BGC’s Fake Ghost took offense to newbie Drake “splashing his cologne” on boss rappers and dug in. Drake is the foremost object of BGC’s scorn (poor Aubrey held the top three spots in BGC’s top-10 list of the “softest n!##@$ in the game”) and, in Fake Ghost’s estimation, he’s a dude that belongs in the backseat. Since I can’t explain the analogy any better than Fake Ghost, here’s an excerpt (I apologize, in advance, to those offended by the extra-adult language):
“He like that n**** in the backseat of the car pokin his head between the front seats tryna stay in the conversation wit front seat n****s nahmeans. Ayo the n****s Jay n Kanye be front seat n****s. ****s got seat warmers n s**t. N****s can change the station on the car stereo n s**t namsayin. The n**** Drake be tryna play wit the knobs on the stereo nahmeans. The n**** can’t adjust the heat controls n shit cos he a backseat n**** namsayin. N**** you look out the side windows nahmeans. You aint built for windshield views n s**t. N****s like Drake aint built for the front seat. N**** in the back with the child locks n s**t. You aint no airbag havin n**** Drake. You need n****s permissions n s**t to crack ya windows nahmeans. N****s need to open ya doors n****. M*********s in the front seats open they own doors nahmean. Front seat n****s got legroom nahmean. N****s push back they seats n take ya legroom nahmean.”
That is not only the funniest thing I’ve read all year, it’s also the keenest insight and coldest analogy. When I initially read it, the post made me think of one person — Kevin Love.
I happened upon this blog right around the time that the 2011 All-Star reserves were selected and Kevin Love was “snubbed” — as if he deserved a spot over the other more meritous forwards selected ahead of him. I was supposed to be outraged with everyone else. “Kevin Love, the double-double machine is not an All Star?! Damn all the coaches for this epic snub!”
Love — basically since his senior year in high school when he held down SLAM with his diary — has done a spectacular job with marketing himself as the genuine, affable, gregarious, thoughtful cat that he is. Over the past several years, he’s always on the radio, always popping up on “PTI” and “Rome Is Burning” and “First Take,” breaking news on Twitter. He’s like a media tornado. The fact that radio and television and fans stayed enthralled with him was interesting, because his team always stunk, which made him a pretty inconsequential on the league landscape. At any rate, once coach Kurt Rambis increased Love’s minutes, his production skyrocketed and, as we all know, he went on a statistical tear. By the time David Stern had to decide who was to replace the injured Yao Ming, I’m sure he was deafened by the chorus of outrage over the Love Snub. So he caved.
I say the Commish caved because, as he was making that replacement pick, Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge and Memphis’ Zach Randolph were averaging similar numbers for teams a few games over .500 and in the Playoff hunt. They were, are and will always be better, more impactful players than Love. If anyone should have gotten Yao’s spot, it was one of those two. But, they don’t make cologne commercials, like the K-man.
Love isn’t in the Playoffs because he plays for an abominable team. Love’s team is abominable despite his numbers. Love’s numbers, no matter how gaudy, are misleading — they overstate his impact on games. Love, viewed in the context of the game’s best players, is a Backseat Dude (BSD). Randolph and Aldridge are Frontseat Dudes (FSD). You saw that this weekend. Love might have seen it from his couch or a bar stool, too.
FSDs dictate things. Ya know — they adjust the car temperature and radio station. Portland and Memphis offenses go through Aldridge and Randolph. Coaches gameplan for them. Opponents are forever mindful of them, sometimes downright concerned about the harm they can inflict. They are the chief reasons their teams win.
Shane Battier was the hero of Memphis’ Game 1 victory-snatch in San Antonio, but Zach, as usual, was the FSD. His 25-14 dictated more of the game than any other performance on either team. Aldridge’s 27-6 had Portland in winning territory against the Mavs, except, Dirk Nowitzki — one of the premier FSDs of his generation — called shotgun, told Aldridge to get in the back and then put on the child locks with his 18-point fourth quarter.
Just look around you in these Playoffs. Not to diminish the unsung heroes and role players who have a collectively immeasurable impact on games and series, but we know it’s about the FSDs. We saw what Derrick Rose did down the stretch of a tight Game 1 win over the Pacers and we know that Danny Granger — an All Star “caliber” player with the temperament and game of a BSD — can’t match that virtuosity. While Rose was navigating his team to a victory, Granger was in the backseat playing Nintendo DS. Kobe and Chris Paul had an FSD duel. In the end, CP was too much for the L.A. point guards, pushing his seat back and taking their legroom.
Kobe, LeBron, Wade, CP, Dwight Howard, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Rose, Aldridge, Zach, Dirk, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Manu Ginobili, Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony — that’s 16 bona fide, “full-time” FSDs (Pau Gasol, Ray Allen, Chris Bosh, Tim Duncan, Andre Iguodala, Granger and Joe Johnson hop in the front seat here and there). You know what that means for teams like Indiana, Philly and Atlanta? It means they’re screwed. Denver, too. As much as the Nuggs excite and compel us as fans, they have a no-FSD ceiling. Squads with only one FSD — like Orlando, New Orleans, Memphis, Portland, Dallas and Chicago — have very little margin for error. You see how the Lakers squandered Game 1 because Gasol was staring out the “side window” all game, instead of up front, co-navigating or taking over the wheel to give Kobe a rest. It evened things up for the Hornets.
The NBA postseason is a roadtrip and, at its core, it’s a collection games influenced most from the front seat. You and I know that’s what it’s about and that’s what it’s always been about. Who’s driving? Who’s shotgun working the iPod playlist? The dude’s in the back cracking jokes and handing out snacks are useful, but not essential. Think about that this week when you see or hear Kevin Love on the radio and television, while Zach and Aldridge are trying to sneak their squads into the semifinals.
Vincent Thomas is a columnist and feature writer for SLAM, a contributing columnist and commentator for ESPN. You can email him your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @vincecathomas.