Watch this man: Bam Adebayo is basketball poetry


Basketball is poetry. Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo embodies that.

Do you read poetry? You don’t have to; all you have to do is watch Bam Adebayo play basketball.

He plays with maximum force at all times, far exceeding what’s necessary, simply to show that he can. His fellow AAU prospects named him the most likely player to tear a rim from its moorings. He runs too hard, dunks too hard, throws passes so hard they should fly 50 feet out of bounds but don’t.

Bam is like Atlas but stronger. He wouldn’t simply lift the earth but snatch it from the heavens and dribble it twice before dunking it into the cosmos. Forced to hold the earth in stasis, he would squeeze the world so hard that it would bruise. Has anyone ever popped a basketball by squeezing it in the triple threat position? Bam grounds that question in reality instead of hyperbole.

Theoretically, if you threw a bounce pass with enough bam, which would break first, the court or the ball? More importantly, why does Bam play like he’s trying to find out?

There is magic in names. Adebayo wasn’t born Bam but given it by his mother, an homage to the Flintstones character for lifting a coffee table at age one. The nickname, it turned out, was providential. Bam embodies his name more than any other basketball player in the league. He is human onomatopoeia. His game constitutes the ordinary stuff that makes up basketball plays, but instead of just happening, Bam’s actions are shouted or exclaimed, like dropping a kitchen set down an elevator shaft. Set a ball screen for a point guard? Bam! Rumble towards the rim? Bam! Chase a missed shot? Bam! Dunk it back into the rim so hard that Shaquille O’Neal would gasp? Bam! BAM!

What makes Bam so unique, so poetic, is not simply his force. Bam’s brilliance derives from his dialectical presence. He is primal and futuristic, a vision both of the original, brute form of basketball and its switchable future. He is gentle and strong, guard and big, beauty and beast. Like a pitcher with a fastball and change-up, he’ll dunk the rim into splinters of misery on one play and then pump-fake his defender into a different time zone on the next. He has deft touch and balletic footwork, and sometimes he’ll even take himself by surprise with how smooth he can make the game appear.

There are geniuses in the NBA who bend the physics of the court with their passing, and Bam is one of them. But instead of using doughy softness like Nikola Jokic or Luka Doncic to caress passes to teammates, Bam is all muscle. He’s the Dodge Charger of basketball.

Have you ever seen chess boxing? Bam would put those nerds to shame. His ability to crunch bones and then drip a bounce pass into a cutter’s hands is like combining Mike Tyson with Capablanca. But instead of punching, he dunks and hangs on the rim, spreading his legs 10 feet apart, almost as wide as his shoulders. Instead of sacrificing bishops for stylish checkmates, he sacrifices his opponents’ fated layup attempts like a pagan ritual offering to the gods. Bam is both priest and deity, and his blocked shots are worship and worshipped.

There should be poetry written about Bam. His art is shocking and futuristic, like Arthur Rimbaud, but instead of writing about steel, Bam himself is steel.

Bam Adebayo calls into stark question the reasons why we watch basketball. That Bam is a talented, promising young player is almost secondary to his value on the court. Do we watch basketball to see one team win, and one team lose, and then analyze why that happened? Or do we watch basketball because it’s so f*****g beautiful?

Adebayo may be an up-and-coming center who averages, give or take, 14 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, one steal and one block a game. All that is secondary. When Adebayo powers the ball through the rim or an opponents’ shot into the stands, the game isn’t, in those instances, about winning. The game is about artistry as reflected through force, ballet through the prism of strength. The game of basketball is about watching something that doesn’t exist in any other form, at least not as self-evidently.

That Bam is good is superfluous. That he is superfluous is good. He puts more emphasis on blocks and dunks not because they are therefore worth more points to his team, but because it looks better and is cooler. Basketball is cooler with Bam playing it. He lifts the game beyond its numerical bonds, the substance beyond the form. And that is the purpose of poetry.

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