For this edition of Ask An Indie Rock Dude About Sports, we shift our attention away from the sunny crests of Los Angeles and towards the frigid bay of Baltimore. Long before Panda Bear (née Noah Lennox) founded his era-defining band Animal Collective, cultivated a standout solo career, or shared a track with Daft Punk, he was just a kid from Roland Park falling hopelessly in love with the Orioles and the Bullets. Yep, the man who wrote Person Pitch grew up adoring Michael Jordan, just like you.
Panda Bear’s latest solo effort, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper, will be released on January 13th. I’ve heard it, and it’s really, really good. These days, Lennox lives in Lisbon with his wife and children, but he still makes time to keep up with sports back home. We caught up with him to talk about his cherished NBA, this John Wall-led Wizards renaissance, and his appreciation of one Bill Simmons.
Extra Mustard: How did you first get into sports?
Panda Bear: My brother was really athletically inclined his whole life. So seeing him do various things and doing them very well was certainly inspiring. My parents weren’t big sports people; it was mostly my brother. And having an older brother, you get into a lot of competitive sports for fun. I played tennis growing up, played basketball, but the first thing for me was gymnastics. Developing a sense of balance with that kinda guided me through the rest of this stuff.
EM: Were you following sports at that time or just playing them?
PB:Following sports came a bit later. The Orioles were very successful when I was growing up. Oriole fandom was a thing for me and my friends. Besides that, I would pick and choose. The Bullets didn’t start til high school, and we lost the Colts when I was real young and never totally connected with the Ravens. I always gravitated towards losing teams, maybe because I was always losing to my brother. I like teams that never got shine.
EM: Who was your first favorite player?
PB:Michael Jordan. I really liked his rookie season with Chicago. I love that Bulls team. That’s the first, it’s an easy one for my age.
EM: You’re a Wizards fan, and the Wizards have been really good this year, better than my expectations at least. It’s not hard picturing them in the finals. What’s been your thoughts watching this Wizards team this year?
PB:I remember watching John Wall playing in high school, when I figuring out what that college season was going to be like. I was a fan of his at Kentucky, and when the Wizards drafted him I was really excited. The takeaway from this season has been being amazed at how much he’s improved and how much he’s improved his game.
EM: Has it been fun rooting for Paul Pierce?
PB:Yeah he’s the kinda guy where when he’s on opposing teams you don’t like him, but you have to respect him. It feels really good to have him on the home team. I love this Wizards team, I’m overflowing with joy.
EM: There’s always been some division on the Wizards nickname, where do you stand? Do you miss the Bullets?
PB:I’m okay with the Wizards, but I miss the Bullets. I’d much prefer the Bullets. Besides it being the original name, I just think it’s cooler. I love that original logo. I’d be happy if they go back, but I’ve also made my peace with the Wizards. I assume they’re gonna go back though, because they’ve introduced that new color scheme.
EM: Let’s talk about who’s probably been the best team in the league, the Golden State Warriors. Have you had the chance to watch this Warriors team? Do you have any thoughts?
PB: Yeah they’re really good, but you gotta give it up to Memphis too. They’ve certainly made a statement for power in the west. Can’t sleep on the Grizzlies. It’ll be really interesting to see what happens in the playoffs, because things always change in the playoffs. But it’s hard to argue with Golden State.
EM: The Grizzlies have been solid-to-really good over the past five years or so, and obviously this year they’ve been excellent. Do you think this could be the year for them?
PB:It could be. I wouldn’t be shocked if they came out of the west. But I feel like I could say that about them, the Spurs, and the Warriors. Any of those teams I could see making it, but I think with one round of the playoffs it’ll make a lot more sense.
EM: The Lance Stephenson debacle in Charlotte is really tragic and hard to watch, did you ever imagine this working out so poorly?
PB:I never expected it to go this poorly, but I never thought it would go well. I don’t know what’s going on with Lance, I hope he figures it out. But I think they’re gonna have to ship him out of there for a low return. I still think the best is still to come for him.
EM: I think anyone who enjoys basketball is hoping things work out for Lance.
PB:Yeah he’s a really dynamic player. I’d be surprised if this was the end for him. I don’t think it’s all downhill from here.
EM: The Cavaliers have kind of faded into the background after dominating the conversation going into the season. Do you think that’s what LeBron was hoping for?
PB:I think LeBron is really smart and really self-aware; it wouldn’t shock me if he was happy about this. Whether it’s the plan? Who knows. I kinda doubt it, but who knows. It’s a fantastic situation for them. If there’s one thing we’ve seen this year, it’s that the teams who have kept the same roster are thriving. The Cavs need time to figure things out, and unfortunately for the other teams in the east, this is shaping up to be a perfect situation for the Cavaliers.
EM: Who is your MVP right now?
PB:Between three guys, maybe four if you include Anthony Davis. It’s Steph Curry, Marc Gasol, or James Harden. It’s hard to argue against Gasol, but if I had to say somebody I’d say Steph. The stepback three-pointer is unguardable when he releases that fast. You can’t get in front of it.
EM: Who’s your favorite guy to watch talk about sports on television?
PB:That’s a good question. I should say that Sportscenter was a huge part of me growing up. I have many late night summer memories of just oozing into the sofa watching Sportscenter highlights. Dan Rather and Keith Olbermann were big influences for me. I listen to the Bill Simmons podcast a lot on Grantland. I love Zach Lowe, who used to work for you guys once upon a time. I love Zach, he’s probably my favorite. I’m a big fan of The Starters. I love Doris Burke, I like Jalen Rose. I like it all. I don’t ever go to one place.
EM: I consider myself a Bill Simmons apologist, but obviously he’s a controversial guy in sports media. What’s your take on Bill?
PB:I went to high school close to Philadelphia, and I got into sports radio out there. So having characters and controversial figures with loud opinions on stuff is something I’m acclimated to. Bill just seems like a passionate sports guy, like a lot of my friends.
EM: Are there any sports franchises you hate?
PB:It’s an interesting prospect watching the teams that come in and out of favor for me. It’s not always the same. But I spend a lot of time thinking about what it is about these teams and players and fan bases that influence my opinion on them. It’s probably not a popular thing to say, and I love the kind of basketball they play, but I wasn’t happy to see the Spurs win. I was rooting for the Heat. I wouldn’t call myself a Heat fan, but I was happy when they won. You can’t help it, you just find yourself gravitating away from certain teams. It’s one of the reasons I love basketball: the personalities are always at the forefront.