Thursday, January 21, 2016

Happy 10th Anniversary, TBJ/Starters. Or: Thanks For Teaching Me How To Internet.

The impact of improbabilities can be slight.  You pull the last ace in the deck to somehow get that twenty bucks back from your buddy on the final hand of Friday night poker.  You wander into the right bar on the right evening and wind up with a memorable story or two.  That same impact can also be life-altering.  Some kids in England discover a deep affinity for music from half a world away, befriend each other at art school, and wind up becoming the Rolling Stones.  A real life meet-cute turns into a truly wonderful love story. 

A passel of Canadians, a Chicago native, and an Australian all somehow collide in Toronto and create one of the most beloved entities in the NBA internet universe.

The Starters, nee The Basketball Jones, celebrate their 10-year anniversary this week.  AAAAYYOOOO!!!

If you listened to Monday's epic aural history podcast, then you know precisely how crazy and specific the circumstances were that brought this cast of characters together.  In short: there were all the hallmarks of the artistic triumph and/or Joseph Campbell narrative.  They faltered, they doubted themselves and their enterprise; they fought and laughed and questioned and quested and discovered their collective identity.  They flung their best, zaniest vision out into the wind and caught an updraft.  They risked their relationships and literal livelihoods over and over again.  Most importantly, they kept fucking going no matter what.  That they're still out here a decade later giving us their unique brand of passionate and humorous NBA meta-commentary is a minor miracle for which basketball heads everywhere should be deeply grateful.

SOMETIME IN LATE 2006 OR EARLY 2007: I am a life-long NBA junkie a few years out of college and living in Minneapolis.  I am also a semi-luddite woefully behind on major technological developments of the past 10 years or so.  (Computer camp one summer as a kid: failed miserably at everything; sorta didn't mess with tech much after that beyond the minimum academic necessities of projects and paper writing.)  I didn't get an email account or a cell phone until after I graduated, didn't really understand the internet, and didn't particularly care to.  One day I'm hanging out at a coffee shop having an inane conversation about who-knows-what? and I analogize something in the discussion to a random NBA player.  I don't remember the specifics, but I do know a buddy of mine said "Oh, you copped that from The Basketball Jones."

Pause.  "The what?"

"The Basketball Jones.  You don't know about these guys?  You'd love 'em!"

So back inside I went, fired up my laptop, and Googled that noise.  What hit me was unlike anything I'd ever heard.  I used the internet to keep up with sports, and specifically the NBA, but it was all run-of-the-mill, Sports Illustrated, etc.  You know, typically serious sports writing stuff.  I didn't know you were allowed to have a sense of humor about it all.  I didn't know you could be wry and smart and ridiculous and deeply in love with a game in a public forum.  Not like that.  They were incredibly entertaining and wonderfully eccentric and ultimately they probably directly contributed as much as anything else I've absorbed to me writing this here blog.

I listened and then watched every day once they went to video.  I discovered Ball Don't Lie, Hardwood Paroxysm, and a billion other hoops websites because they let me know these things were out there.  For lack of a better phraseology, The Jones taught me how to internet. 

By the time they got to Grantland, they were an integral part of my day-to-day basketball life, maybe THE integral part outside of the league itself.  The recurring segments and runners came and went, evolving over time, but always, the soul of the show remained the brilliant, off-kilter jubilee it always has been. 

I remember standing in a Sports Authority store off Northpoint Parkway in Alpharetta, looking for a replacement for a worn-through Braves T-shirt and listening to the last Jones podcast, when they promised a new iteration was coming but couldn't reveal exactly what or where.  I had no idea what it all meant, I just knew I didn't want them to be done.  When the popped up on NBATV some months later, I was so very happy.  Not just because it meant they were still around, but because all those years and all that work and all the joy they'd put out into the world had brought them to the source, and no one deserved that success and gratification more.

Throughout that retrospective podcast on Monday, they were reading and paraphrasing emails and tweets from fans.  One  such missive talked about walking into bars, seeing The Starters on one of the TVs, and feeling a tremendous sense of pride.  This could not possibly be more true.  Those dudes have been grinding it out for years, and now they're on in every freaking sports bar in America.  That's pretty spectacular.  

A very personal final note: My girlfriend and I live together in Chapel Hill, and we're both longtime devotees of the Jones/Starters.  We've been with them for a long time now, and we know two things.

One: they are the very best at what they do and we will keep watching and listening and deeply enjoying everything about this glorious, ragtag contingent of genius NBA lovers and satirists until they decide to call it quits.

And two: We're pretty sure we could flat-out smoke them in a round of Pun Gun.  Us verses you, gentlemen, whenever you want to throw down. 

Thanks for being you, you random amalgamation of glorious inanity.  You perfect improbability.  Happy 10th Anniversary, and here's to many more years.  Good morning, sweet world. 

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