I went to see “The Hip-Hop Nutcracker” on Thursday night at the Eccles Theater. Ardent purists of the original would no doubt be aghast at the substitution of B-boy breakdancing for ballet, at the periodic inclusion of a scratching DJ, at the ever-so-lamentable disdain for tradition.
Meanwhile, everyone in attendance absolutely seemed to love it.
As the patrons left the venue, they headed up the aisles, attempting their best dance shimmies. As they exited the doors, they were still singing along to MC Kurtis Blow’s show-ending performance of “The Breaks.”
There was smiling. There was laughing. There was nary a soul shaking a fist at the disrespectful kids these days. And you know what else? There was similarly nobody suggesting the traditional “Nutcracker” was now somehow besmirched or rendered obsolete as a result.
Certain segments of NBA fans would do well to listen and learn.
So many of them are seemingly so stuck in their ways, so set in their rose-colored glasses adoration of the past, so intent upon expending effort critiquing rather than embracing (or at least accepting) change that they prevent themselves from enjoying the modern game.
And for what? Because “load management” is a thing now, whereas players always played if they were healthy, back in the day? Because we’ve eschewed the glory days of big men banging down low and it’s all just little guys jacking up 3-pointers now? Because changing the defensive rules to disallow the on-court muggings we routinely witnessed between the Knicks and Heat back in the early ’90s means players nowadays are soft? Because the Dallas Mavericks just unveiled a new jersey that features a cartoony, graffiti-inspired font and colorway?
If you’re skipping the NBA for any or all of those aforementioned reasons, you’re doing yourself a disservice. There’s sooooooo much good basketball happening right now.
A small sampling of the wondrous delights, culled from a recent “Inside the NBA” discussion on the four leading MVP candidates of the moment …
Have you watched Luka Doncic play this season? He’s fourth in the league in scoring, at 29.9 points per game. He’s second in assists at 9.4. He’s 12th in rebounding, with 10.6. And the Mavericks are looking increasingly like a playoff team thanks to him.
Russell Westbrook won the MVP a couple years ago for becoming the first player in forever to average a triple-double over the course of a season. After managing the feat again, Westbrook’s almost made it passé, at this point. It’s not passé, people. Especially when you consider that Doncic, at 20 years old — T-W-E-N-T-Y — is one-tenth of a point and six-tenths of an assist away from averaging a triple-double. It’s mind-boggling.
Doncic not your thing? A little too flashy what with his 9.1 attempts per game from 3-point range? OK then, may I present the reigning Most Valuable Player, Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Last year, in his MVP season, he produced one of the most ludicrously well-rounded seasons in the history of basketball, averaging 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.5 blocks per game, all while shooting 57.8%.
And this year? He’s scoring more (30.1), rebounding more (14.1), assisting more (6.6), stealing more (1.5). A-ha, though — the blocks (1.4) and FG% (56.6%) are slightly down! He definitely needs to step it up. Seriously, though, literally the only two big things he is not elite at are shooting 3s (29.0%) and free throws (oddly, way down to 60.6% this season).
OK, maybe you prefer a guy who can shoot the rock a bit. How ’bout the guy that Giannis bested for the Maurice Podoloff Trophy — James Harden?
Last season, he was hailed for registering one of the league’s all-time-great scoring campaigns, as his prolific scoring binge resuscitated the moribund Rockets, and he went on to average a mere 36.1 points — which was only the best in the league by 8.1 per game. And this year? This year, Houston gave him Westbrook — you know, that aforementioned triple-double machine, and himself one of the NBA’s top scorers — and Harden has increased his scoring to 38.4.
I get he is not everyone’s cup of tea. In a vacuum, it’s no big deal to find out he’s averaging roughly the same number of attempts from the 3-point line as he is from the free-throw line; in context, finding both of those figures are around 14 per game is, admittedly head-spinningly jarring. I know, I know, I can hear the finger-wagging critiques now — “Larry Bird is one of the greatest shooters in NBA history, and he never attempted more than 237 3-pointers in a season!” Whereas Harden has tried 208 treys in only 15 games this year. And he racked up 1,028 last season. Like I said — off-putting to many.
Then again, Larry Legend, for all his prodigious talent, never hit 30 a game for a season, let alone 38. Harden, without doubt, is one of the best scorers the game has ever seen.
As for candidate No. 4? I’ll assume you’ve heard of LeBron James and spare you the recitation of his full résumé. Suffice it to say, that at 34 years old, he’s averaging 25.0 points, a league-leading and career-high 11.1 assists, 7.9 rebounds, 1.3 steals, and shooting 48.9% overall and 34.6% (better than Harden, FWIW) from deep. And he just became the first player in NBA history to log a triple-double against every team in the league.
Beyond that, there are plenty of other cool storylines throughout every corner of the league. Trae Young approaching Baby Curry status as a shooter and making the Hawks — yes, the ones in Atlanta — fun to watch … the electric productivity of rookie guard Ja Morant down in Memphis … the surprising competitiveness of the Phoenix Suns … the quiet resurrection of Anthony-Davis-trade-bait Brandon Ingram (25.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 45.0 3P%) down in New Orleans … Most Improved Player Pascal Siakam taking yet another mega-leap and keeping the depleted Raptors relevant.
If you insist on insisting basketball was better back in the ’70s or ’80s or ’90s or whatever, fine, no problem. That doesn’t mean this modern iteration isn’t worth your time.
I’m going to see Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” next month, and I expect I’ll appreciate it. That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the hell out of a guy sliding 10 feet on his head to “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.”