One of the ways I had been passing the time during the off-season when I wasn’t crying and binging on cookie dough was by re-watching “The Wire” with my roommate and a friend of ours who’d never seen it. This was a rewarding experience for any number of reasons, headlined by the fact that “The Wire” is the greatest TV series of all-time and I’ve still only watched it straight through about one-fifth of the times I’ve watched “Face/Off” in it’s entirety, but most notably for this column. It gave me a chance to make a mental checklist while I was watching of all the great basketball moments in the show’s five season run, in order to eventually write a column such as this.
Problem, though. As you might be able to tell from the article’s title, which promises only eight top basketball moments on the show, the basketball references didn’t flow quite as readily as I’d expected. You’d expect a show that was so focused around urban youth, not to mention one that is probably listed by more hardcore hoops fans as an all-time favorite than any other show in cable history, would be heavily indebted to the sport. But then again, the show does take place in Baltimore, without a pro hoops team to its name, and series creator David Simon always seemed like more of a baseball fan anyway.
So after I finish listing the top eight basketball moments on the show (and do remind me if I forgot anything, so I can commit ritualized seppuku at the end of the workday), I’ll also be including the top eight basketball moments that, to my knowledge, did not actually happen on “The Wire,” but very arguably should have. Not that I mean to suggest that I can improve on the most intricately plotted and scripted television program in the history of the medium, but hopefully Simon will take a look at some of these and realize the levity, depth and character development that a little added hoops influence could have lent the show. It’s all in the game, anyway.
The Top Eight That Did Happen:
8. “Know Your Place” – Michael Lee and younger brother Bug leaf through a basketball magazine while Michael awaits the assassination of his rapist father. “Now Elton Brand, what you know about him?” Michael jokingly asks his brother. “Nothin’.” It was at the height of Brand’s popularity, having just led the Clippers to their first postseason series victory of the century, but if Bug didn’t know him by then, he probably wouldn’t ever asBrand spent much of the next few years injured, and never made another All-Star team.
7. “Soft Eyes” — Afraid that his gangster mother has withheld new school clothes form him as a result of his poor performance, Namond Brice is overjoyed to find out that she has in fact procured a number of hot items for him, including a hot No. 52 Artis Gilmore Bulls throwback. Oddly, Michael Jordan is not prominently mentioned once over the course of the entire series, though actor Michael B. Jordan (who played Wallace) probably heard him referenced once or twice.
6. “Bad Dreams” — When Omar meets up with Stringer Bell for a parlay at Budgie’s bar, he brings assorted muscle with him for protection. Inexplicably, one of them is wearing a Duke Blue Devils jersey, which is probably just about the least intimidating sports jersey a bodyguard could wear, outside of a Swarthmore women’s volleyball throwback of some sort.
5. “Old Cases” — A shirtless Avon Barksdale shoots around with Bird, Wee-Bay and Stringer at the local gym while discussing what to do about Omar and his merry band of stash house thieves. Eventually, bounties are reached and assignments doled out, at which point Stringer wordlessly lobs up an alley-oop pass to Avon, who easily slams it down. This is how all meetings are concluded among Baltimore drug dealers, which likely causes the hefty Prop Joe Stewart some grief.
4. “Dead Soldiers” — Dennis “Cutty” Wise tracks down Grace, an old flame of his from before his time in prison, at the parking lot of her teaching job. She lets him know that much has changed since he left, and that now she has a son, Allen. “After Iverson?” asks Cutty. “After his daddy,” responds an incredulous Grace. Telling that even though Cutty had been locked up since long before AI was the No. 1 pick in the 1996 draft, his cultural influence is still pervasive enough that Dennis thought women just when around naming kids after him.
3. “Straight and True” — Cutty supervises low-level Barksdale organization soldiers Sapper and Gerard as they stalk a drug dealer that they suspect to be stealing from them. They note his Wes Unseld Washington Bullets throwback jersey and submit it as evidence of his thievery, but also express great admiration of the jersey and remark about how they need to get one as well. Sapper and Gerard (or whichever of the two lived to show’s end) were probably more excited than anyone by the news of the Wizards going back to the old Bullets colors. That or they just really appreciate a good outlet pass.
2. “Lessons” — At a Barksdale organization party, Avon’s nephew, D’Angelo, returns from an alcohol run to find the party all but over with a dead stripper lying in one of the rooms. An unconcerned Wee-Bey Brice is watching TV, and laments to D’Angelo, “The Knicks fucked up the draft again.” (In 2002, when this episode aired, New York traded Nene, the No. 7 pick and Marcus Camby for Antonio McDyess, who got hurt in the pre-season and played just 18 games for the Knicks ever. Bey may have had a point. Good thing he was incarcerated for the Isiah era.)
1. “Game Day” — At the annual East Side vs. West Side basketball game — which unfortunately, we only ever actually see take place in season one — everyone gathers round the court to witness rival squads led by Avon and Prop Joe square off for geographical drug-slinging supremacy. At one point, Avon mocks Joe’s insistence on wearing a suit while coaching the game in the blistering heat. “For real, it’s 85 fuckin’ degrees out here and you trying to be like Pat Riley!” yells Avon. “Man, look the part, be the part, motherfucker,” replies Joe. He wins both the battle and the war, as the East Siders surge to victory and the NBA eventually forces all coaches to wear suits to games.
The Top Eight That Should Have Happened:
8. Bodie and Poot debate about who should be the top pick in the 2003 draft, LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony. “You seen him play, Bodie?” Poot asks, referring to LeBron. “Dude is a fucking monster, for real.” Bodie is unmoved. “He got no heart,” he declares, spitting through his teeth. “Melo got heart. You’ll see.”
7. Attempting to teach his class of corner kids about the values of teamwork and following instructions on a level they will understand, Bunny Colvin shows them footage from the San Antonio Spurs’ most recent championship season. “Why do you think they succeeded?” he poses. The class shouts out various erroneous answers: “Cuz Duncan averaged a 25-15!” “Cuz that Bowen dude kept cheating!” “Cuz Tony Parker got that good head from Eva Longoria the night before!” Only Namond seems to understand: “They just got shit done. They listened to Pop and they all played they part. They knew who they was, and what they was supposed to be.” The class goes quiet in recognition as Bunny smiles his approval.
6. Thomas “Herc” Hauk and Ellis Carver debate whether or not Baltimore ever had a professional NBA team. Carver insists that the Wizards used to play in Baltimore. “You’re just confusing them with the Washington Bullets,” explains Herc. “See, the Wizards used to be called the Bullets. But they still played in Washington.” Carver looks back at him, dumbfounded. “Of all the retarded fucking arguments I’ve gotten into with you over the years, this has got to be the stupidest,” he states. Herc shrugs and walks away, confident in his historical accuracy.
5. Chris Partlow is incredulous at the sight of Felicia “Snoop” Pearson wearing a Kobe Bryant No. 8 jersey on the way to one of their hits, shortly after his trial in Colorado. “He’s a rapist,” Chris says. “That shit don’t bother you?” Snoop gives him the stink face. “Kobe ain’t no mufuckin’ rapist,” she drawls. “Bitch just got it up the ass ain’t want it up the ass, is all.” Chris shakes his head, reminding himself that getting into such conversations with Snoop is never a good idea.
4. Lester Freamon wears a Celtics hat to work one day, much to the surprise of Jimmy McNulty and Bunk Moreland. Lester explains that he became a Boston fan in the ’60s back when Bill Russell was the team anchor. “The way he played was so fluid, so selfless, it was like poetry.” Lester suggested. “I loved watching him always get the better of that punk Chamberlain.” Jimmy and The Bunk look at each other and chuckle. “Yeah, but Wilt got all the pussy,” sneers Bunk. Lester considers this for a second, then goes back to working on his model furniture.
3. Avon and Stringer sit down to watch Game 1 of the 2004 Finals. As the Pistons pull away in OT, Avon gets frustrated and turns off the TV, insisting that the Lakers will win the next four games easily, that the Pistons “ain’t got no fuckin’ firepower.” Stringer, however, is clearly impressed, admiring the Pistons’ workmanlike approach to the game, the way they take care of business without anyone playing the hero or causing drama. Still, he eventually agrees with his first-in-command: “True, true. Lakers in 5, you right, B.” Avon is evidently disturbed by Stringer’s hesitance, but doesn’t want to make a big deal of it (yet) and plays it off. “Yeah, yeah, no doubt.”
2. Omar, lounging in his Puerto Rico paradise home and eating his Honey Nut Cheerios for breakfast, reads through the sports section of an American newspaper, where he comes across an article about Tim Hardaway and John Amaechi. “Hey yo Renaldo,” he calls out to his lover. “You see this?” Renaldo reads it and shakes his head. “Loco, papi.” Renaldo and Omar embrace, confident that they made the right decision in bolting the States with their stolen millions.
1. Kenard shows up for work on the corner one day wearing a Nate Robinson jersey. Upon the sight of him in the jersey, DuQuan “Dukie” Weems starts laughing hysterically. “Yo, what’s so motherfuckin’ funny?” Kenard squeaks at him. Dukie starts to say something, but can’t stop cracking up for long enough to get the words out. An enraged Kenard rushes at Dukie, and Michael and a couple of the other corner boys have to restrain Kenard from attempting to strangle him. “Yo, Duk, think maybe you should take rest of the afternoon off,” Michael offers to his friend. Dukie nods quickly and scampers off. “THAT’S RIGHT, BITCH! YOU BETTER FUCKING RUN!” Kenard pipes after him. Michael gives him a glare that says “Get back to work,” which he does. As Kenard walks away, though, Michael takes a glance at him in the jersey, and is barely able to restrain a chuckle or two himself.