In this edition of Ask An Indie Rock Dude About Sports, we move from the rainy northwest to the frigid northeast, and chat with David Hartley, bassist for Philadelphia’s finest, The War on Drugs. If you’re not in the know, The War on Drugs fuse oily, denim-jeans rock ‘n roll traditionalism with the more fractured frequencies of a My Bloody Valentine or a Brian Eno. Their latest album, Lost in the Dream, is mood music in its finest form, the best proof we have that rock music can be great sans nostalgia.
Hartley is also a lifelong basketball fan. You may have read his interview with the people’s champion Matt Bonner over at Paste a few years ago. So naturally that made him a natural target for our ongoing advocacy. Read below as we grill Hartley on the bizarre state of the 76ers, the twilight of Steve Nash’s career and why he finds Amar’e Stoudemire so fascinating.
So when did you first start watching basketball? Was there a specific year or a specific player that captured your interest?
Well I started loving basketball during the "80s Renaissance" like so many other hoops fans who are my age -- I can remember watching the Lakers/Celtics in 1985 with my Dad and being fascinated by Kareem's goggles and Kevin McHale's bone structure.
And of course, the Jordan years really did miraculous things to my brain -- has there been an athlete since (or before, for that matter) about whom there was never any real doubt? I don't ever remember wondering if the Bulls would win, and I watched every game of every playoff series in the '90s. Everything felt pre-ordained back then. It was a foregone conclusion that Jordan would figure out a way to will the Bulls to victory. It became an obsession pretty quickly for me.
Honestly, middle school was a pretty unpleasant experience for me -- I won't get into details but suffice it to say I was quite unhappy -- and I found incredible comfort in watching and analyzing basketball. My favorite way to process basketball will always be reading the boxscores in the Washington Post with a bowl of cereal. It wasn't until high school that music filled that void, and by that point the seeds of obsession had been sown.
The 76ers are continuing to wage war on the sport of basketball. They're going to be really bad this year, and that might be a brilliant tactic by ownership. Do you think it's a smart play? How do you feel about it as a fan?
I'm so conflicted. I went to a preseason Sixers game in Brooklyn at the Barclays Center the other day, and they barely resembled a professional basketball team. It's the most flagrant exploitation of a rule set in modern history, I'd say. On one hand, in a few years they have the potential to have an unprecedented harvest, of sorts. On the other hand, it makes me feel really sort of sick to my stomach, on an emotional level, to watch them trot out a deliberately non-competitive team. Everyone from the top down knows they are deliberately tanking two straight seasons in order to horde "assets". I don't like it at all, emotionally, but I applaud the audacity of it.
Are you worried about Embiid's back?
Well, we drafted a seven-footer who has so far broken his foot and his back before his 20th birthday. YES. He smells like Greg Oden 2.0. But through the Hinkie-scope, he has the potential to be a franchise-changing center and because we have so many draft picks – this is a low-risk, high-reward move. Worst case scenario, we pay him his rookie scale and then cut him loose in a few years if his body proves to be made of balsa wood.
I'd much rather have grabbed a Julius Randle or an Aaron Gordon, but I suppose we know fairly well what those kids are going to be. Embiid is more of an unknown. If there's a 1% Olajuwon chance, then that's better than a 0% Olajuwon chance. I am entertained by Embiid's personality, though. He has made an incredible journey from Africa and is enjoying the ride, as he should. I just hope he's saving some of his money.
We've heard some rumors that Michael Carter-Williams will find himself on the trading block this year, would you be OK with that? Or do you think he can turn into a real building block?
You know, I'm not totally sure what to think of MCW yet, mainly because he hasn't really had a chance to play with real talent. I will say that he is hyper-talented and really big for a point guard, which is good. I like a tall point guard. His jump shot looks a little wonky to me, but there was a lot of "dribble dribble pass to some scrub who immediately passes back dribble dribble shot clock is running out chuck up a contested shot" stuff going on.
I am worried that he's going to develop lots of bad habits by playing on a team that is uncompetitive and has basically no veteran mentors. Maybe we should trade for Steve Nash and his destroyed back just so he can take him under his wing. This is a great idea, actually. Let's make it happen.
Hinkie's willingness to entertain trade offers for MCW is incredible. It’s audacious and calculating. He knows that the point guard position is the most easily replaced (there are at least a dozen top-tier point guards in the league and another dozen serviceable ones) and loves the idea of "selling high" when it comes to his stock. He traded Jrue Holiday, our lone All-Star, and it looks like that was a great move. Crazy.
Your love of Matt Bonner and fundamentally sound basketball players is well noted, but did you ever expect San Antonio to eviscerate Miami the way it did last year?
I was, of course, rooting for Matt and the Bonners, but I didn't really think it'd be such a sound victory. I did know Miami was banged up, though. They rode LeBron hard all year and had giant flaws in their roster.
Anyone who says the league is in bad shape didn't watch the playoffs last year -- the Spurs ran basically the most free-flowing and improvisationally complex offense ever -- and they won the freaking championship. It was so entertaining to watch. The team that should have won, did.
Can you see the Spurs repeating?
Surely. Who would count them out at this point? They're deep, they have the best coach in the NBA (maybe ever – speaking of which, it's a life goal of mine to share a bottle of wine with Pop at some point), and if they can manage minutes properly, Kawhi Leonard's development should offset their obviously aging core. Having said that, though, at some point Manu, Tim and Tony are going to fall off a cliff, production-wise (Tony is young but has played tons and tons of minutes between their deep playoff runs and all the international competition). It'll be sad to watch; it's not a gradual decline with aging players. One day, they just can't keep up. Here's hoping we can get another run out of them.
We got the news about a week ago that Steve Nash is going to miss the season, perhaps ending his career. What's your favorite Nash memory?
God. There are lots. Post-Jordan/Pre-LeBron is sort of a bad era for the NBA, but Nash's Suns were a big bright spot in that time. Unfortunately, the most vivid memory I have is him getting robbed of what should have been a championship by getting thrown into the scorers table by Robert Horry, and Amar’e Stoudemire being disqualified by an overly-pedantic rule interpretation by David Stern. Anyone who thinks the league is fixed needs to realize that the Suns in the Finals would have been much, much, much more entertaining and Stern went by the book and basically eliminated them.
I'll also remember Nash for his shooting, and how basically every player who ever had the luxury of playing with him had their best season ever because he'd make it so, so easy.
I love Nash, and hope to meet him some day. I hear he's a music fan, so who knows.
Outside of LeBron and Love, what do you think was the most important offseason acquisition this year?
I'm going out on a limb here and saying Spencer Hawes to the Clippers, not because Hawes is a great player, but because I think the Clippers are really close to winning a title and some depth in the front court should do it. They have a lot of great pieces. I also want to see the moronically-conservative Hawes have to meet Barack Obama.
Are you excited about the Kobe Bryant swansong? It feels like everyone has started to love the Mamba lately.
Yeah it's interesting -- I've really changed my tune about Kobe. I am pro-Mamba now, after basically hating his guts for two decades. I think I started liking him when he started being disarmingly honest in interviews. He doesn't seem to be selling his brand to anyone, and it's pretty clear that he's perhaps the most competitive basketball player since Jordan. I admire him and want to see him put up 35 points a game for a dismal Lakers squad. I can't wait for his Hall of Fame speech.
If you were a GM, would you have rolled the dice on Lance Stephenson?
Of course! That was a huge signing, they got him at a bargain. He's obviously mental, but he seems maniacally competitive too, so maybe Jordan can fit that into the puzzle. When you have a team based in Charlotte you can't really choose your free agents the way a New York or Chicago can -- so if you can get a top tier player, you get him. By the way, Lance has a brother named Lantz. LANCE AND LANTZ. I am not making this up. I love this game.
Who's your favorite player in the league right now?
Amar’e Stoudemire. I like tragedy. I also like iconoclasts -- and he is one. He takes baths in pino noir, claims he grew two inches by learning to stand up straight, writes children's books and just up and decided he was Jewish one day. He just read something on Ancestry.com and was like "I'm Jewish now -- I will do all the Jewish things." I love all this stuff. Also, if you're bored, go watch YouTube clips of him at his peak. He was like Blake Griffin with Kevin Garnett's length. It's sad what happened to his knees.
What's your favorite basketball memory?
I'll have to go with the 1992 Duke-Kentucky NCAA semifinal game, which I watched beginning to end, with my dad. It was so intense that he had to leave a few times because it was just too much for him, emotionally. Our voices were hoarse from screaming. When Laettner hit that shot… wow, miracles do happen. I ran outside immediately and did the whole *countdown*..."Laettner catches it, turns left, turns right, launches the jumper" reenactment thing in my driveway for months. We taped it on VHS and rewound it so many times I think we stripped the oxide off the tape. You are never a fan of something the way you are when you are 12 years old. I'll never forget that game.