The Debut of Boogie Smooth

Sometimes, Christmas comes early. Sometimes, your favorite basketball player decides to be an R&B singer and your favorite up-and-coming rapper lends him a hand. Sometimes, all of your wildest dreams come true.

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Yesterday, in the biggest news in the history of mankind, Demarcus Cousins, under the name Boogie Smooth, announced that he will not only be releasing a single with Chance the Rapper called “Emotional,” but a whole album named Misunderstood. Look further, and we see that there will be a bonus track, “Big Fellas,” featuring Rick Ross. It’s as if Demarcus has been reading my dream journal and decided to make it reality. Unfortunately, the album was an early April Fool’s joke, and I feel like Jesus when he saw Judas coming up the hill with those Roman soldiers. Betrayed.

There is a long history of NBA players, flush with cash, deciding to create their own record labels. We have Shaq (“Strait Playin'” is mandatory viewing material), Ron Artest (“Champion” is lodged deep into the subconscious of anyone who has played 2k11), Chris Webber (performing an poor man’s Biggie impression on “Gangsta Gangsta”), and many many more. Every NBA player’s foray into music making usually goes about as well as when rappers play in the All-Star Celebrity Game. Some are better than others, but none are good enough to do so for a living, but regardless of skill, it’s damn good time for everyone watching.

I like to imagine that Boogie Smooth’s first effort would have been an opportunity to showcase his more sensitive side. On the cover, Demarcus leans on his luxury coupe in front of his palatial mansion, but strikes a face that hints at a complex, emotional core beneath his considerable frame. I imagine the seven footer crooning in a sweet southern style fostered by his Alabama roots as the haters struggle to deride Boogie as immature when he unravels the mysteries of love with his mastery of the sonic world. As the title of the album suggests, we could have finally understand the enigma that is Demarcus Cousins.

Back when the Kings drafted Demarcus, I boarded the Boogie Express and it has not been the most crowded train of late. But it is a train that I stayed on, and that has made all the difference. Sure, there were plenty of times to get off: his myriad of technical fouls, his punch of Patrick Beverly, his yelling at Sean Elliot, his insistence on bringing the ball up the floor even when there are guards open, his pouting sessions on defense, his complaints to the officials as his man runs down the floor for an easy two, and his feuds with a large portion of the professional basketball playing community.

But even with all the reasons to hate Demarcus, there are a million more to love him. He gives a damn. He’s an emotional, fascinating player in a league filled with corporate poster boys who repeat the same cliches ad nauseum to avoid controversy. He can dominate games. He takes pleasure in bullying players many consider to be his superiors, ask Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin. He can hit the midrange jumper. He can take the ball coast to coast and throw down nasty dunks. He can be funny. He is the heir to Rasheed Wallace “Talented but Insane Big Man that Everyone Loves” throne.

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But most of all, he’s the best player that Sacramento has seen since Chris Webber. In fact, he may be better. He’s Sacramento’s best chance to have a meaningful playoff run in the foreseeable future. The Kings will soar into relevancy or crumble into dysfunction dependent upon how Boogie’s broad shoulders carry them.

This year, the Kings will finish with one of the worst records in the West, and remain in a perpetual state of disappointment, but I’m not mad. I’m not mad because I’m riding the Boogie Express, and even though it has stopped in undesirable places, I see a brighter future ahead. I see a future where Demarcus has a decent supporting cast and leads the Kings deep in the playoffs with monster performance after monster performance. I see a future where Big Cuz is a regular at the All-Star game and enters the MVP conversation from time to time. I see a future where number 15 gets raised up to the rafters, and a paunchy, grizzled Demarcus fights tears as the Sacramento faithful rises to their feet to salute their savior from the cellar.

All aboard the Boogie Express, where the ride is rough, but the music is smooth.

A History of Style in the NBA

Since it’s inception, the NBA has had fashion icons like Walt Frazier whose style and grace transcended their game and into their wardrobe. 

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However, as time progressed, American society stopped dressing like Don Draper and started dressing like Badger. This devolution from conservative style was gradual, but reached a fever pitch towards the early 2000s, where baggy fits, bold clashing patterns, and excessiveness characterized our style. Whereas expression of self through clothing during Frazier’s era looked liked this,

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NBA players in the early 2000s, like Allen Iverson who were inseparable from hip-hop culture, expressed themselves like this. 

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Walt Frazier only added a bit of his own flair to the outfits of white America, but Iverson was emphatically outside of the mainstream. He wore the same clothes as the men being arrested on the news every night. He sported cornrows, bling, and tattoos. He was the embodiment of hip-hop, when hip-hop represented everything wrong with society. But, once Iverson’s popularity and skill introduced hip-hop culture to the league on a major scale, it spread like wildfire. Crushed velvet sweatsuits were in and khakis were out. The league embraced the hip-hop style. (see the sideline players during Jason Richardson’s insane dunk contest finale)

Although Iverson was the most exciting player the league had to offer, he scared the conservative basketball audience who preferred players with high top military haircuts named Dick and George. As a result, sponsorships and attendance began to go down among the wealthier and whiter sections of America. Many fans and owners were no longer comfortable with the idea of paying men millions of dollars to play a game if they looked like those who filled the prisons. 

This sentiment was simmering until the Malice in the Palace catalyzed an eruption of these fears. The league needed to get their image under control in order to have a future other than as a sideshow sport filled with potential convicts. Once millions of Americans witnessed a crazed Ron Artest charge into the stands, a scapegoat was needed. The NBA sided with the racist patrons who were uncomfortable with cornrows on millionaires by issuing a dress code that mandated acceptable attire for each game. Instead of seeking mental health treatment for Artest, improving fan security, or standing behind their players, the NBA blamed black culture. 

Predictably, players met this rule change with resistance. They made valid claims that the NBA was trying to suppress their expression of self in order to make a more presentable face of the league, but to no avail. The first attempts at the new attire were rocky. Most players were ignorant of higher fashion and looked as though they bought their suits from local thrift stores. They attempted to apply the baggy style of their preferred clothes to their mandated formal duds and the results were abysmal.

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However, as new players entered the league, they repurposed the style regulations imposed upon them into a new fashion. Cardigans, thick glasses, and bow ties became staples of many black NBA players’ style. In a tremendous turn of irony, the style of the preppy, white elite, who criticized the NBA’s hip-hop culture, is now the trademark look of many young players. Since the league’s popularity is at an all time high, these players have become titans of fashion. They have features in GQ. The clothes that they wear to games and during interviews are legitimate topics of conversation. They have an influence on the fashion tastes of the entire world.

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These men have taken the standards of formal attire and used them in innovative ways, kicking off new trends. This shift not only has changed black fashion, but also has distanced players from the connotations of violence, crime, and ignorance typically associated with the NBA’s pre-dress code style. Whereas Allen Iverson was like 50 cent, unapologetically street and proud of his difference from the mainstream culture, players today are more like Kanye West, embracing some aspects of the dominant culture while still retaining an authentic black identity. As a result, the NBA has shifted from an American sport filled with “thugs,” teetering on the edge of unwatchable, to one of the premier sporting leagues in the entire world. Now, we no longer know if black NBA players are dressing white, or if their younger white fans who imitate their style are dressing black. 

Instead of killing hip-hop culture, David Stern’s racist and misguided dress code made hip-hop culture a part of mainstream culture. Now hip-hop no longer wears the easily dismissible outfit of baggy jeans and tall Ts. It commands attention in its tailored suits.

Simply put, My mother would have been horrified if I dressed like Allen Iverson, but now she would love if I looked like Lebron. 

The Royal Family

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In the latest step in their plan for world domination, Kimye have graced the cover of Vogue. Like everything that they do, it is equal parts sincerity, narcissism, and surrealism. They are America’s Royal Family. 

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Here they gaze into the horizon, like a pair of lions surveying the Savannah. 

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Here they open a window into the incomparable happiness of their relationship.

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Here Kim whispers sweet nothings into Kanye’s ear, while ‘Ye ponders the deeper mysteries of our existence. 

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Here Kanye caresses the biracial angel that he brought into the world. 

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And here, they prepare for their close-up. Kanye placid, Kim radiant, and Baby North, the embodiment of innocence. 

Michelle and Barack may be America’s official first family, but Kimye are untroubled by such petty titles as the presidency, for they seek a conquest of the entire world. They are not the conquerers of old, who used muskets and cannons against unsuspecting and unprepared native peoples in search of unspoiled land and gold. No, Kimye seek our attention. Every time their actions drew our gaze, whether in the form of Kanye’s many public outbursts or Kim’s tabloid fodder marriage to Kris “I don’t know what to do with my hands” Humphries, they inched closer to the center of our culture. Then at the opportune moment, they combined into the constantly relevant Divine Monarchy of Kimye.

Now with Kanye as the biggest working artist in the world and Kim’s ability to take over the news cycle by posting a selfie, their conquest is complete. This Vogue photo shoot is the sinking of their Kimye flag deep into the soil of our culture. Secure at the top, they have allowed themselves the luxury of commissioning a portrait to preserve this moment of triumph. They are everything right with our culture and everything wrong. They are our greatest heroes, and our greatest foes. They are our brightest hope and our darkest fear. They are eternal. They are transcendent. They are love. 

They are…

Kimye.

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House of Cards: The First Great Modern Television Show

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House of Cards has taken the story of a power struggle, a story as old as humans started organizing themselves into tribes, and made it into the first thoroughly modern television show. 

Frank Underwood, the doe-eyed, ruthless, power-starved Southerner, is Bill Clinton with the ambition of Julius Caesar. He’s charming, and cunning, but above all infinitely entertaining. If Underwood were running around Washington, the country would be aghast at the atrocities that he has committed, but his actions seen through the lens of Kevin Spacey’s masterful performance are not as appalling as they are exhilarating. He’s as exciting a character as human history has created, but what sets Underwood apart from his fellow anti-heroes Walter White and Don Draper, is the complex layers that lie beneath his glossy Southern veneer. 

Underwood is a bi-sexual who not only engaged in a gay relationship while in college, but also entertained a second gentleman, the delightfully subtle Meechum, in a threesome with his wife, Claire. He embodies the rationality and toughness of manhood, while still engaging in sexual behavior that we have historically demonized as feminine and weak. He has redefined what it means to be an alpha-male. In our modern television, the bi-sexual man is no longer the best friend offering fashion advice, he is bending the plot to his will.

Frank has an open relationship with his wife, Claire, the sexually-liberated, decisive, and capable counterpart to Frank. But, Claire is flawed. She makes blunders, hurts other’s feelings, and crushes inferiors with the sheer force of her will. In this way, Claire is unlike the female protagonists of the past who were empowered and capable, but rarely shown in a negative light. They could kick ass and take names, but did not get dirty. Claire dives right into the mud. 

In addition to Claire, we have other strong female leads in Jacqueline Sharp, Zoe Barnes, and Linda Vazquez who engage in political backstabbing and opportunistic affairs. In House of Cards, women are not the helpless victims of the distant past, nor the spotless female heroes of the recent past, but the gritty bitches of the here and now, who know what they want and will crush those who stand in their way. If the Bechedal Test were administered in the form of a final, House of Cards would have strolled in fifteen minutes late, aced it, and mooned all the other shows trying to pass. 

In addition to redefining the way we think about our lead male and female characters, House of Cards has juicy complex roles all the way down the line that reject stereotypes. Doug Stamper is a recovering alcoholic that is not left helpless and dejected because of his past addiction, but motivated. Rachael Posner is a former prostitute without the intolerable “heart of gold.” President Walker is not only the best Obama impression on television, but also has marital problems and takes prescription drugs to deal with depression. Freddy is not the docile, doting, black servant of Underwood, but a proud man of action who makes his own way.

Furthermore, Frank’s breaking of the fourth wall is an innovative take on the mockumentary format most popular in The Officeesque comedies. In House of Cards, Frank uses the camera as his bully pulpit, swaying us over to his side and letting us partake in the joy he experiences from his manipulations. He shares lessons, observations, and inside jokes, just to let the viewer know how far ahead he is of everyone else in this game of chess.

But, perhaps the most complete rejection of stereotypical television comes in the sex of House of Cards. Sex takes every incarnation: extramarital, threesome, gay, lesbian, interracial, prostitution, and open-marriage, except for one, marital sex. Frank and Claire’s sex is never shown because husbands and wives having sex is boring, and House of Cards has no patience for things that are boring. 

Perhaps some aspects of the show have been glimpsed before, but never have all these aspects combined into one phenomenal product, and never has this product been available for consumption at any time. House of Cards, in addition to being cutting edge content-wise, is miles ahead of the pack delivery-wise. The future of television does not lie in weekly installments on ABC, CBS, and FOX, it is online.

Television is now a buyers market, and if viewers are forced to wait a week to see a new episode, they are going to find something else. The massive reservoir of entertainment at our fingertips has removed the responsibility of the viewer to carve out time for a show, and forced shows to grip us by the throat and convince us they are worth our time. House of Cards delivers fresh episodes better than anything on network television on our schedules. We want the option to binge watch or savor. We want to watch not just on our televisions, but on our laptops, tablets, and phones. We want to watch new episodes, morning, afternoon and night. We do not want to follow shows, we want our shows to follow us.

When we look back years from now, long after network television has been dethroned by a myriad of Netflix-esque companies, we will appreciate the show that was the first to give us what we wanted, when we wanted it.

If you like House of Cards, you’re going to love the future.

The 50 Cent Retrospective

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Gangsta Rap is as dead as disco.

It was killed by Kanye, the Barack Obama of hip-hop who over the past decade has made hip-hop the most prominent modern genre. It was killed by the Frank Oceans, the Drakes, and the Kid Cudis who sang about their emotions, instead of experiences in the streets. It was killed by Kendrick exposing the gang for what it really is, an exploitative organization that makes false promises of glory, but gives destitution. It was killed by Chance, Action Bronson, Odd Future, Childish Gambino, Mac Miller and others who are taking rap in different directions. It was killed when Jay-Z got old. 

If Gangsta Rap were to have an end date on it’s obituary, it would be September 11th, 2007 when Kanye released Graduation and 50 Cent released Curtis. 50 famously stated that he would end his solo career, if ‘Ye outsold him. The rest is history, Graduation dominated the sales and quickly became a classic hip-hop album, perhaps the first hip-hop album made for all of America. It had Coldplay contributing a hook, it had a Daft Punk Sample, it was hip-hop arena rock. It’s a timeless album that we will be listening to decades from now. 

Curtis on the other hand, came in second to mixed reviews, releasing 50’s stranglehold on the rap game. “Ayo Technology,” “Straight to the Bank,” and “I Get Money” had their radio time, but little lasting impact. 50 took back his promise to end his career, but it didn’t matter. His rap career, like an elderly Eskimo walking out onto the ice to die, simply faded away. Not in the triumphant blaze of glory like ‘Pac and Biggie before him, but in a slow death caused by our gradual abandoning of his fairly stagnant style for newer, shinier, and more relatable artists.

But I did not come to bury 50, I’ve come to exhume him and praise him for all that he’s done. 

50 was first and foremost a gangsta. He was raised on the streets, dealt drugs, and got shot. But he was a very talented gangsta, making hit after hit after hit after hit after hit after hit after hit after hit after hit after hit after hit after hit after hit, an impossible task for anyone but a musical luminary. His effortless flow, sneaky good singing voice, and funky yet hard-hitting production made him a star. 

50 could hit you with all sorts of angles. He could get ruthless like on “P.I.M.P.”, seductive like on “Just a Lil’ Bit”, sweet like on “Best Friend”, sad like on “When It Rains It Pours,” and triumphant like on “Hate it or Love it.” He was a multi-dimensional gangsta. His mega-watt smile, intelligence, and talent showed us he was more than just his tough guy persona. When the news told us that gangstas were irredeemably evil men, 50 showed us they were people.

In this way, 50 is emphatically anti-establishment. The media and politicians labeled black men as thugs to weaken the black community, but 50 embraced the image, used its strength and made us love him. He made many youth desire everything the prior generation despised.

For people of my micro-generation, 50 was the epitome of cool. He had the bitches, the whips, the chains, the style, the toughness, the body, the talent, and above all the attitude. He didn’t try to be cool, he set the standard for it. He was the first superstar that I desperately wanted to be. Partially because of him, middle-class white kids, like myself, stopped digging white rockstars and started putting black men up on our walls. If I played his music really loud, and closed my eyes, I could escape and pretend that I was him, and for that moment, I felt really fucking cool. I even convinced my mom to buy me a pair of G-Unit jean shorts that extended well past my knees, just so I be a part of his movement. He was a crucial link that took hip-hop from the fringe to the mainstream. 

Now, 50 is far removed from his humble beginnings. He is a savvy business man who made an estimated 100 million when Coca-Cola bought Vitamin Water. He stars in movies, makes cameos on the Simpsons, and writes books. He sits court side at Knicks games next to Meryl Streep. He hangs out with Money Maywhether. He has a couple charities and even may partner with NASCAR. He is now just another obscenely wealthy, boring celebrity with a ridiculous case for their iPhone. 

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But this boringness of 50 shows us just how far we have come. There was a time when a man who embodied the culture of the street like 50 does, would never be allowed within shouting distance of mainstream culture. Now? Our culture eats, breathes, and lives hip-hop. The music that used to represent everything wrong with us, is now our identity. 50 was a part of a cultural revolution that left the old white guys on the outside looking in and him taking their spots as boring. 

Hell, in another few years he may be so successful that everyone will call him Curtis Jackson.

But to me, he’ll always be 50.

Failure and Electronic Music

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Failure created electronic music. I’ll explain, but first a history lesson.

Back when computers were a novel technological advancement that were just beginning to change the way we lived, nobody listened to them. After all, these machines could compute formulas in a second, grant control over a character in a fictional world, and edit a paper without using scissors and white out. Computers turned impossible tasks into routine parts of daily life. Users of computers did not give a damn what they sounded like, because these machines granted them powers they could only imagine having in their younger years. 

But then those users had children, and the children who had access to computers their entire lives began bitchin’. They complained about the clicking and popping noises. They despised the whirring fans activated by the computer straining to obey their commands. They detested the electronic crunch of a program crashing.  A machine that was one generation’s miracle, was the next generation’s headache. In short, they hated when the machines their parents had held up as perfection, did not meet that standard. 

But in their rage, they missed something. They did not understand that the noises that they detested because they represented failure, were noises that no one in human history had ever heard before. These were noises that, removed from their context, had the potential to delight and amaze listeners. 

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Luckily, not all of us are rendered deaf by failure. The pioneers of electronic music (like Max Mathews pictured above standing inside of an IBM computer) listened, instead of cursing the infernal machines. They tinkered with frequencies and discovered they could be manipulated. They tampered with disks and, knowing they would fail, inserted them into the massive computers, just to hear what noise they made. They played tapes too fast, too slow, and backwards, and discovered hidden nuances of sound. When they heard what failure sounded like, they realized that when you listen just right, failure is beautiful.

It’s perfection that’s boring. It needs no improvement and receives no recognition after everyone gets used to it. Outside of people tripping on acid, how many appreciate how wonderful plane travel is? People used to die making trips that we make in an afternoon. Because of planes, I can be gobbling down biscuits and gravy in Georgia in the morning and be dining on Sicilian pizza in the evening. Planes have made every corner of our planet accessible, and yet instead of marveling at our fortune when we are inside an airport, we whine about the delays on the tarmac, the food they’re serving, and the price of the wi-fi. Humans, throughout history, have gotten bored with perfection rather quickly.

Failure, on the other hand, allows us to turn our imagination into reality. It shows us the voids in our abilities and invites us to fill them. When machines failed, we discovered new possibilities for sound. We never thought about a computer’s capacity for creating music, until its server crashed, its program failed, and its frequencies went haywire. From the failure of machines, humans have created entire new genres of music that have changed the way that we express ourselves. Failure is the coal that powers the train of human progress. So not only is failure always an option, sometimes, its the better option.

A Great Time For Basketball

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We are living in a great time for basketball.

When Jordan left the league, the NBA lacked a transcendent star, a player who made you wonder each time that you watched him, if you were witnessing the greatest ever.

We did have a host of electrifying and otherworldly players that teased us.

We had Shaq, whose superior size and strength bullied opposing defenders into submission, but the big fella was often out of shape and never developed aspects of his game that extended farther than five feet from the hoop. We had a lot of fun with Shaq, and he with us, but in a league filled with weak centers, a 7’1″ 325 lb behemoth should have won more than one regular season MVP.

We had Iverson, one of my favorite players of all time, whose reckless abandon for his body, blinding quickness, and balletic agility are the stuff of legend. But, Iverson lacked the right mentality and talked his way out of the league. The former MVP spent the twilight years of his career overseas, when he should have been a valuable cog on a contender.

We had Duncan, who is the greatest power forward of all time and has led the Spurs to a ludicrous above .700 winning percentage for his entire career. But as great as Duncan is, he never captured our hearts.

We had Dirk and Garnett, both game-changing power forwards, who shined on above average teams for years until seizing their shot at the title. But these two, for whatever reason, never took over the league for more than a year or so.

We had Kobe, who gave 95 cents on the dollar of Jordan at points in his career. But, Kobe figured out the team dynamic too late and by the time he had a decent supporting cast and the right mentality, he was thirty, racking up titles in the later parts of his prime.

We even had Steve Nash give us some of the most exciting basketball ever seen, but Nash never made the Finals, and as impressive as this average sized Canadian was, he lacked the size and athleticism to truly dominate the game.

But that was then, and this is now. And now, we have two bonafide superstars in our wake.

Lebron James and Kevin Durant.

Lebron has won MVP four of the last five years (remember when we gave the MVP to D-Rose because Lebron was mean to Cleveland?) and has the ability to dominate games like few before him. He has the athleticism of Wolverine, can play any position, and excels at every facet of the game. He invented the bring-the-ball-as-far-back-as-fucking-possible-and-then-rip-the-rim-off dunk. He’s building an impressive resume of classic moments; his game winner against Golden State and his 61 point performance against Charlotte have come in the past few weeks alone.

Furthermore, he’s silenced the haters by becoming one of the most clutch players in basketball. Remember in Game Six of the Finals when Lebron air-balled a three, got it back, and drained one from the same spot? Without that play, Ray Allen never sinks that miraculous game-winner and cements himself as the greatest shooter ever. Lebron failed as miserably as possible on the biggest stage, but then demanded the ball back, and delivered. THAT is a superstar. He’s got the perfect mindset, the perfect body, and the perfect skills. He is a laboratory experiment to build the greatest basketball player gone terribly, terribly right.

And for a while it looked as though no one would approach the throne of King James. It was him, about twenty feet, Durant, about fifty more feet and then everyone else. But this year, KD has made the leap and is now breathing down Lebron’s neck. The MVP award that was Lebron’s at the beginning of the season, has been gravitating towards Durant with each 30+ point performance that he delivers.

This season, Durant has nearly joined the 50/40/90 club while averaging over 30 points a game, 7 boards, and 5 dimes. Durant handles the ball like a guard, has the height of a center, and the jumper of a Serbian. He loves to sink the big shot, and stare deep into the cavity where the other team’s soul used to be, before he sucked it out. He also has the FUCKIN’ SWAG to show up to Rucker Park and score 66 points, including four three pointers in a row to seal the game for his team. Kevin Durant is a bad man.

These two are what the Monstars would have looked like if they had taken the talents of Magic and Bird.

Optimistically, we could have another decade of these two titans battling one another in epic Finals match-ups, where each of them is pushed by the other to the fullest extent of their abilities.  Over that decade, it will be a joy to watch these players age.

Lebron has polished his game to a glistening shine, but at 29, has nearly maxed out his massive potential. However, Lebron will age like a fine wine due to his cyborg body and will adopt a more cerebral game, much like Kobe, after he has lost his current explosiveness.

Durant on the other hand, is only 24, and his basketball stock is skyrocketing like Halliburton during the Iraq and Afghanistan war. As he reaches the summit of his prime, Durant will be a better passer, defender, and rebounder than he already is, and will be terrorizing teams without mercy.

Aaaaand maybe, juuuuuust maybe, after their next contracts have expired, they could join forces. Imagine a grizzled Lebron, with a couple of flecks of gray in his luscious beard, facilitating a refined Durant-centric offense as the two of them smack down any uppity youngsters who attempt to join them on Mount Olympus.

Watch these two as much as you can, you’ll want to have a lot of stories to tell your grandchildren about the good ol’ days when James and Durant ruled the league.