What we’re thankful for (basketball edition)

I’m thankful for basketball

By Ian Levy (@HickoryHigh)

For many of us, basketball is a passion. It’s also a distraction. No matter how ugly and hopeless the real world can feel at times, there is always the refuge of basketball. It’s a place of beautiful athleticism, a place of history and myth, a place of both moral victories and actual ones. Basketball can be a problem to solve, a rubik’s cube to set your mind spinning around multiple axes. It can also be the back drop for stories about humanity and struggle, good versus evil, parables and cautionary tales.

I will admit that it sometimes feels counterproductive to spend so much of my time worrying about something that means so little outside of my own head, and yours, and yours. But beauty — creative, narrative, scientific — is something integral to the human experience and I’m not ashamed to find so much beauty in a simple game with extravagant trappings.

I’m thankful that basketball has created a career for me, one that allows me to take care of my family and with tasks that I find endlessly enjoyable. I’m thankful for basketball, for the way it entertains me, captivates me, and confounds me. I’m thankful for basketball.

In the spirit of this holiday, I asked the staff of The Step Back to share a few of the (basketball related) things they are thankful for as well. Please share your own thoughts with us on Twitter, at our Facebook page, or in the comments for this post.

I’m thankful for Dirk Nowitzki

By Andrew Tobolowsky (@andytobo)

Because I was born in (mumble mumble), I got to root for one of the best, humblest, most unusual, and most effective players in the game for most of my adult life. His career’s tapering off now, like all candles in the wind, But, life is beautiful, great, and so are you, Dirk.

I’m thankful for Vince Carter’s old-man game

By Kellen Becoats (@KellenBecoats)

I know this has been said in like a million different places but seriously, has anyone gone from ‘Holy crap, did you just see Vince destroy that man’s soul and the rim?’ to ‘That clutch 3 by Vince was super neat.’ Dude is an untouchable and I hope he sticks around a couple more seasons to lock up young bloods like Andrew Wiggins in clutch time while occasionally rising up and bringing back those glorious memories of 2000. Also, he’s a hall of famer, don’t @ me.


I’m thankful for Drs. Martin O’Malley, Richard Ferkel, Dufetti Fufa, Jonathan Glashow and Christopher Dodson

By Bryan Toporek (@btoporek)

Unfamiliar with those five names? They’re the ones who conducted Joel Embiid’s bone-graft surgery last summer to repair the navicular bone in his right foot. Whatever they did seems to have worked (knock on wood), as Embiid avoided any setbacks in his recovery and made his NBA debut this fall, quickly taking Basketball Twitter and the Rookie of the Year race by storm. As a long-suffering member of the #TrustTheProcess fan club, there’s no greater gift this holiday season than seeing Embiid put up 26 points in 20 minutes, teasing at his future All-Star upside.

I’m thankful for Kristaps Porzingis not falling into the sophomore slump

By Rory Masterson (@rorymasterson)

There’s always the chance a stellar rookie regresses in his sophomore season. Granted, we’re only 14 games into this one at the time of this writing, so that chance remains, but it looks as slim as Three6Latvia did on draft night, just seventeen months ago. Porzingis instantly became the Knicks’ hope for the future and the next-best reason, after Carmelo Anthony, to even bother watching most nights; now, as Porzingis continues to grow into his frame and adapt to the pace of the NBA, he is The Guy to watch in the Garden. In his second year, he has upped his per-game scoring average by nearly seven points while increasing his 3-point efficiency to 39 percent. Perhaps most importantly, he’s played with considerably more confidence, showcasing flashes of the swagger that Allen Iverson used to inspire him into ill-advised follicle decisions all those years ago. For a 7-foot-3 eventual center, the ceiling remains impossibly high.

I’m thankful that the Pelicans at least have Anthony Davis

By Senthil Natarajan (@SENTH1S)

So here’s a little haiku:
Pelicans are bad.
Anthony Davis is good.
Thank god for AD.

Just call me Basketball Shakespeare, the Larry Bird of the Written Word.

I’m thankful that for all of New Orleans’ struggles to start the season, they still have a basketball pterodactyl who is playing like he heard every single news snippet about Karl-Anthony Towns’ coronation in the offseason and isn’t ready to give up his crown just yet, a player who is making the Pelicans far more watchable than just a run-of-the-mill bad team. Whatever the future holds for New Orleans, I’m still glad I get to watch Davis clown the league in a Pelicans jersey.

I’m thankful for Jrue Holiday

By Brendon Kleen (@BrendonKleen14)

I guess my thoughts are in much the same place as Senthil’s on Turkey Day 2016.

I’m thankful for Zaza Pachulia being the Big Sean of the Warriors

By Wes Goldberg (@wcgoldberg)

I will never understand how Big Sean manages to maintain his spot at the cool kid table despite being a not good rapper. I will never understand why Kanye West [insert literally anything Kanye West has ever done here] and keeps putting Big Sean on his tracks. I could name a few of Kanye’s GOOD Music, full-squad joints (see: Mercy, Clique) but let’s go with the recent cut “Champions.” WHY IS BIG SEAN ON CHAMPIONS? His verse is very bad. I mean, he mentions buying a girl a Honda CRX because it almost but doesn’t really rhyme with “underdressed.” WHY BIG SEAN?

But here’s the thing with Big Sean. He makes everyone look really good. Like, I don’t think I would appreciate 2 Chainz’s verse on “Champions” as much if not for Big Sean setting the bar really, really low. I didn’t come up with this idea and I can’t remember who did: but Big Sean may be Kanye’s version of Wabi-sabi, which Wikipedia defines as “Japanese aesthetics and a Japanese world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection.”

Zaza Pachulia somehow is sitting at the table with the rest of the Warriors starters. Here, let me list them off for you: Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. HOW. WHY. (I know, cap space, etc.) Zaza is the Wabi-sabi of the Warriors. He helps us appreciate the greatness and seemingly effortlessness of the other dudes around him. He also did this, which is a dance I would do to a Big Sean song.

I’m thankful that the Raptors keep getting screwed by the NBA

By Ashley Docking (@SMRTASH)

For years Toronto Raptor fans have been buying into the conspiracy theory that the league doesn’t want the Raptors to win. They don’t want a NBA finals that has anything to do with #WeTheNorth. As a result, a host of calls haven’t gone Toronto’s way. See here, here, and here (shout out Andrea Bargnani).

Then again, versus the Kings on Nov. 21, the Raptors’ last second 3-point shot by Terrence Ross to send the game to overtime was negated due to scorekeepers error. Dwane Casey’s clipboard took a tumble. Kyle Lowry had no comment a la Marshawn Lynch. Toronto left Sacramento with a big ‘L’.

However, what they also left with was the massive chip on their shoulder. Events like this continue to give the Raptors cause to remain one of the feistiest, unapologetic, and fun to watch franchises in the league. For that I remain thankful.

I’m thankful for DeMar DeRozan staying in his lane and dominating said lane

By Dan Israeli (@danisraeli)

In the modern NBA era of “3 is better than 2,” I think it’s pretty amazing that a wing player is averaging over 30 per while not amassing even HALF of a 3-pointer per contest. Fans love when a player or team gets hot from deep. We have become heat check nation, and while barrages from teams like the Warriors and Rockets are constant, they are never boring. Still, it’s important that the pendulum never swings too far in one direction. (Is that how pendulums work?) DeRozan, with his own barrage of mid-range jumpers and drives to the basket, is a throwback we can all get behind. Sometimes we need to set aside the advanced stats and regression arguments and just watch a dude work. DeRozan is going to work each and every game. He is the hard-working, blue collar American of the NBA – playing in Canada.

I’m thankful for the Utah Jazz-edition of George Hill

By Bryan Harvey (@LawnChairBoys)

After three seasons in San Antonio and another five in Indiana, George Hill may have finally found the best place for being his best self. Like Lester Freamon surfacing from the Pawnshop unit, Hill’s early showings with the Jazz have him, at age 30, flirting with career numbers in points and assists per game. The reason for this workman’s renaissance is simple: Utah’s flexible lineups provide Hill with ample opportunity to flex his own versatile skillset. Maybe he’s not “natural police,” but he is a natural basketball player. A playoff series, maybe even a franchise’s fate, can hinge on something as unassuming as that. When he’s older, I expect he’ll take up a hobby such as crafting dollhouse furniture.

I’m Thankful For Joel Embiid

By Matthew Miranda (@MMiranda613)


The Philadelphia 76ers

I’m thankful for Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker

By Matt Cianfrone (@Matt_Cianfrone)

As a Bucks fan, I have suffered through some trying times. I mean, at one point I had convinced myself Brandon Jennings was a franchise player. It was bad. But it isn’t now.

Now we have Giannis Antetokounmpo dominating on a nightly basis, even when he isn’t playing that well. And we have Jabari Parker shooting 3s and dunking his way to nice scoring nights. Even better is that those two are both super likeable guys off the basketball court. It took a while, and plenty of suffering (we had multiple John Salmons eras), but it has been worth it. The Bucks are awesome again.

I’m thankful to the Injury Gods

By Jeff Siegel (@jgsiegel)

I’m thankful that this year has been remarkably injury-free for the league’s superstars. The fifteen guys who made All-NBA teams last year have combined to miss eight games: LeBron James rested once, LaMarcus Aldridge rested once and earlier missed the second game of a back-to-back with knee soreness, Andre Drummond missed one but tests came back negative and he was out there the next game, and Paul George has missed four games with an ankle problem. From Kevin Durant’s foot to George’s leg to Derrick Rose’s knee to many more, the past few years have been calamitous on the injury front, but this year, knock on wood, has been great. The league is in a better place than it’s ever been and tuning every night to watch these superstars go at it has me thankful to the Injury Gods.

I’m thankful for the generational talent that is Chris Paul, because someone should be

By Cole Zwicker (@colezwicker)

The most underrated and underappreciated star player of his era, the point guard maestro doesn’t get his fair share of all-time great discussion due to a lack of riiinnnnggggzzzzz. He then has to endure things like SLAM ranking a one-way Damian Lillard on a current .500 team ahead of him in a preseason top 100 list. Paul has countered with a league-best Real Plus-Minus mark, leading the Clippers to a league best 13-2 record, which will likely be forgotten in the grand scheme of things because the Clippers don’t have any two-way wings to compete with the Warriors. But it is not lost on this day. Bend the knee to CP3.

I’m thankful for Luke Walton

By Jaylyn Cook (@yasiin_jay42)

There was a time when I severely disliked Luke Walton. Mostly for his association with the Smush Parker/Kwame Brown-era of Lakers basketball, but also because he and Kwame found a way to score on the Lakers’ own basket during a game against the Rockets a while back. I have never been more flummoxed by an on-court happening in my life. (I probably have, but for the sake of the anecdote, we’ll say I haven’t).

Anyway, I was beyond happy when Walton was shipped out of L.A. during the 2011-2012 season. Euphoric, even. If the Lakers were really interested in making a push for the gold, they couldn’t afford to have a dude who scored on his own team hanging around on the bench. It’s bad for culture. It’s bad for the team’s chances on the whole. However, as fate would have it, the trade didn’t really make that big of a difference. The Lakers’ progressively got worse in the seasons that followed.

Flash-forward to today: The rebuilt Lakers’ roster has exceeded a lot of people’s expectations so far. They’re above .500, they’re fun to watch, and they haven’t made Jack Nicholson leave the Staples Center early since the season began. (That’s the true test of any Lakers’ squad, as we all know.) Who’s the maestro behind this surprising burst of success? Luke Walton. I almost baked a cake to celebrate him being booted off of the Lakers, but now I’m tempted to bake one because he came back to be their coach. Because if it weren’t for him, we’d either have to sit through another Byron Scott-led season of purple and gold basketball, or much worse. Thanks for coming back, Coach.