It’s a simple video. Around thirty seconds, like all the “Harlem Shake” variants, divided into the standard pre-and-post-break sections of about fifteen seconds each. Except instead of the video breaking from a single-person freakout (in this case, a gentleman wearing a helmet and a motorcycle helmet and a LeBron James Heat jersey) to a room full of Baauer spazzers, as traditionally happens in the meme, the operation is interrupted by Minnesota Timberwolves mascot Crunch the Wolf, who beats the initial Harlem Shaker with a plastic baseball bat. It’s an easy, relatively cheap joke, and one it’s a little surprising nobody has made up until now.
It’s also one of the best things to happen to the NBA in 2013.
When the Wolves released the video, first during their game against the Heat two nights ago at the Target Center, then to the internet the next morning (with a following tweet that read “You’re Welcome, Internet. #EndTheShake”), the NBA blog community (including TBJ, natch), was quick to name the video the best of the “Harlem Shake” iterations we’d seen, at least from NBA circles, thus far. They may have no idea just how right they all were. As basic a joke as the video was, it contains myriad details and implications that belie the video’s short run-time and single-line gimmick.
Let’s break down the reasons why:
1. Even before Crunch’s entrance, it’s an excellent parody of a “Harlem Shake” video.
Watching it for the first time, the Wolves’ “Harlem Shake” creates the same kind of anxiety that one of those Sears commercials with the fake movies and TV shows does before somebody invariably runs into a refrigerator. Which is to say, that something about it feels off, fake, fabricated, but it’s just plausible enough that you’re not entirely sure if you’re watching a parody or not until the twist occurs. The listless guy dancing in an empty assembly room, it seems very much like the setup to any number of legit “Harlem Shake” vids, but there’s a barely perceptible lag in energy to it — the guy’s just a little too limp in his movements, a little too behind the beat rhythmically. Something’s not right.
When Crunch enters with the baseball bat at the song’s break to lay the video to waste, it’s at once a shock and a relief. Like any decent twist ending, you don’t see it coming, but it still somehow explains everything.
2. It prominently features Mascot Violence.
There is no greater thing in professional sports — with the arguable exception of the sports themselves — than mascot violence. Generally, I prefer when violence is enacted upon mascots by players and fans, rather than the other way around — which is why up until this point, Russell Westbrook’s bizarre mental torture of Rocky, the Denver Nuggets mascot was probably my choice for the greatest non-game-action moment of the season — but as long as there’s some kind of mascot-human altercation going on, I’m 100 percent in, regardless of participants and direction. (Of course, mascot-on-mascot violence still trumps all, especially when gigantic trees are involved, but we’ll take what we can get in this field.)
3. It appears to be a legitimate attempt to start a feud with the Miami Heat.
The Wolves probably couldn’t have known while filming this video that their game against the Heat on Wednesday would feature a headline-earning dust-up between their pint-sized guard J.J. Barea and the Heat’s future Hall of Famer Ray Allen, one which spoke to a real tension and animosity between the teams. But if that altercation was insufficient to start a rivalry with the defending champs, this video — in response to the Heat’s own enthusiastic, but overhyped and unnecessary version of the meme — should do the trick just fine.
There’s an impressive edge to the thing. Most mascot-based attacks are played gently for laughs, but this one sounds and feels legitimately violent, with the thud of Crunch’s bat landing on fake-LeBron in a visceral, borderline-sickening manner, over and over again. It’s almost shocking that the video hasn’t gotten more criticism, given the unchecked aggression of its content. It’s probably a testament to how good the video is (and how much distaste people still generally have for the Heat) that it hasn’t.
Of course, there’s a problem here: The Heat and Timberwolves, aside from both having laid claim to Antoine Walker and Christian Laettner at points in the athletes’ respective careers, have absolutely no shared franchise history and no reason at all to be rivals of any degree. But if hip-hop history has taught us one thing, it’s that you always beef up, and for a lowly team like this year’s Wolves, as long as you’re throwing rocks — and what else do you have to keep you busy at this time of year, really? — you may as well aim them at the team sitting on the throne. It’ll be a good callback to have in reserve in case the two teams ever end up on anywhere near the same level, basketball-wise.
4. It also appears to be a legitimate attempt to end the “Harlem Shake” meme.
“Harlem Shake” isn’t exactly a trend so pervasive and long-lasting that it really needs a “Death of Autotune” to try to knock it down a peg — it’s only been around for about three, maybe four weeks, and by three or four weeks from now, you’ll probably only be seeing new ones via intentionally-outdated references on “Key & Peele” or whatever. Still, that’s been plenty of time for the meme to have long outlived its usefulness, and though the videos made by the Heat and the Toronto Raptors were mostly clever and fun, they risked spawning a legion of lifeless imitators. Nobody wants to see a Charlie Villanueva-led Detroit Pistons team “Harlem Shake,” and for a minute there, we were very much at risk of that happening.
Not anymore. The Wolves’ “Harlem Shake” may or may not put a permanent stop to the “Harlem Shake” trend at large, but with the image of the Wolves’ mascot beating up not-Lebron, combined with the video’s postscript placard (“SOME THINGS GET OLD FAST,” with the Final “T” tipped with a flame, as in the Heat’s logo), it all but salts the earth from it ever happening again in the Association. Do the “Harlem Shake” on NBA turf again, and Clutch and his plastic blue bat will find you. And he connects with that f—ing thing. It’s a noble pursuit, and we should all be grateful to the Minnesota Timberwolves and their lupine enforcer for setting this important precedent.
5. It ends with a still of a smiling Nikola Pekovic.
As all half-decent viral videos should.