The NBA’s Bog Men

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports /

If you’re in the market for an NBA small forward or even a point guard, a peat bog isn’t a bad place to start.

Maybe you’re a general manager or a head coach. Maybe you’re just a guy with a couch and a League Pass subscription. Maybe you’re just into playing Fantasy Basketball to kill time at the office. Whatever brings you to today’s modern game — you’re probably concerned about 10-day contracts and player shortages.

You probably won’t have much luck finding a big man, though. The average height for a human being two thousand years or so ago was about 5-feet-5 inches tall, which is actually really short, and means you can give up on finding a unicorn here. There will be no Anthony Davises or Karl-Anthony Townses harvested from the anaerobic depths.

Of course, all this is happening over the holidays, which is stock full of the NBA’s prime-time matchups. Think Los Angeles versus some Midwest bus depot, or Miami versus some distant train stop. New York and Boston are very big cities. Dallas too. Anyway, Christmas Day more than any other day is for unwrapping the best the league has to offer. You can expect King James and Giannis. Biblical allusions and Greek translations never fall too far from the tree. But what better time to resurrect what scholars classify as a ritual sacrifice than to sign a bog-man to a 10-day.

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No one knows what to call the Tollund Man. Scientists just call him Tollund Man as he travels from museum to museum and country to country. Summoned here and sent there, he is always on the trading block. The experts sample his femur for DNA samples. They give up and turn toward the density of his skull. Sometimes the most difficult task when it comes to bog men is placing them within a particular context. Over the years, the NBA has become less and less reliant on labels and positions. It’s all about skill. What can a bog man do for you? That’s a question worth asking if your team is short a half dozen players due to Omicron or whatever variant is out there changing and adapting to find a new pathway into a human host.

Of course, you can probably expect some rust or general fogginess if a bog man suits up for your team. The league has changed. Players can’t just be dropped from one era into another without some sort of regression to the time period’s meanness. These men are from the peat, which doesn’t necessarily mean they come with Pete Maravich’s skill and vision. Do they understand the modern game? Does the modern game understand them? Radiocarbon dating suggests many of these players predate the 3-point line. I mean, a lot has changed.

How would a lineup of Tollund Man, Windeby Girl, and Lindow Man fair against the best from any other era? Not well probably. James Naismith didn’t nail peach baskets to a post until 1891. That makes the game of basketball about as fresh as a stick of Wrigley’s Spearmint gum. Then again, you don’t need a whole lineup of bog men — you only need a replacement or two. You only need a body for garbage time, and what prepares an individual more for garbage time than spending a couple of centuries in a vat of mud not decomposing in the borderlands between the earth and the hereafter?

When they pulled the first body from the peat, someone asked, what should we call him? Some said, John Doe, while others joked, Anthony Randolph. But those who were serious settled on Joe Johnson. Finding names for these old bodies is a bit like playing the lottery — you never know what you’re going to get and if it will come this way again. The moment is very fragile, and one person’s preferences are another person’s nemeses. The past invades the present and whatnot. You can measure its wingspan, but that doesn’t mean it’s getting off the ground. Adam Silver is overseeing the entire operation, but sometimes it feels like the Iron Age — it feels like guesswork.

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