Title: The Wire and the MVP Race
Date: April 15, 2008
Original Source: The On Deck Circle
Synopsis: This is one of my favorite articles I’ve written. Bill Simmons himself even more or less stole the concept for an article later on. Anyway, instead of looking at the NBA MVP race in the usual frame of reference, I made each contender a character from The Wire and broke things down from that perspective.
The Wire is the best television show I have ever watched. This NBA season has been the best season of any sport I have ever watched. That should be parallel enough to introduce this column – this NBA season has reflected The Wire, for its ups and downs, wild developments, depth and intensity. This is not more true for any aspect of the NBA season than it is for the MVP race.
In fact, the NBA’s MVP race basically is The Wire.
Sure, David Stern won’t be happy to hear that; someone comparing his league’s race for its most prestigious individual award to a television show about drugs, but the comparison is far deeper than the thug element and the drug game. Stern himself is a part of it.
Maurice Levy – David Stern
Because no matter who is on top, as long as the game is doing well, he is on top of the world. Throughout The Wire, Levy, a high powered and highly skilled lawyer, represents whoever is at the top of the dope game. First, it is Bell and Barksdale, and he makes his living off of Avon’s court cases and Bell’s business projects. When the mighty duo fall, though, Levy turns his attention to Prop Joe, and later, to Marlo Stanfield. Levy is always in the money and always, in some way, at the forefront of the game. Similarly, Stern does not really care who the face of the NBA is, so long as he is marketable and has high earning power. Stern’s business interests run deep with every player, but as long as the game of basketball flourishes, so does he, since he goes the way of the league. Marlo? Avon? Stringer? Joe? It’s all the same to Levy, and it’s the more the merrier at the top since competition means body counts, which means money. LeBron James? Kobe Bryant? Chris Paul? Kevin Garnett? It’s all the same to The Commissioner, and really, it’s the more the merrier at the top, since more stars means more money.
Bubbles – Chris Andersen
The parallels here are obvious. Andersen has rebounded from a drug problem to make it back to the Promised Land that is the NBA, just like Bubbles eventually recovered from his addiction to become a contributing citizen. Unfortunately, this means Keon Clark is Sherrod and Qyntel Woods is Jonny Weeks, characters who could not rebound from addictions and serious problems. And no, this has nothing to do with the MVP race.
The Supporting Cast
Obviously, there are a lot of good players who just can’t squeeze into the MVP discussion. Like Stinkum, Savino, Poot, Fruit, Bird, Lil’ Kevin, and countless others in The Wire, these are all solid characters with potential who just didn’t figure into the plans for 2007-08. Players in this category include Richard Jefferson, Corey Maggette, Antawn Jamison, Rip Hamilton, Andre Miller, Josh Smith, Joe Johnson, Carlos Boozer, Rudy Gay, and many more.
Those Who Don’t Fit
I really wanted to try and shoe-horn everyone into a Wire role but I couldn’t. There are just some players who there aren’t great comparisons for, or whose best comparison was better suited for someone else. It pained me to leave out, among others, Allen Iverson, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwight Howard, and especially Carmelo Anthony, whose Baltimore roots just didn’t relate here. I would love to hear where these players and others could fit with unused characters like Templeton, the Sabotkas, Sergei, Butchie, Dukie, Orlando, and most of the police force.
Carver and Herc – Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson
And you thought B-Diddy and Stack Jack would wind up with real hardcore gangster character comparisons! No, instead they are compared to a policing tag team that were every bit unorthodox as they were entertaining. In the end, they split up and went in different directions, much like Thug and Baron could be separated this offseason. Both could have been argued as MVP candidates if G-State pushed into the playoffs, but instead they are supporting characters in a greater landscape. On a related note, Monta Ellis is Brother Mauzone, a one-dimensional but deadly force that you definitely want on your side.
Namond Brice – Deron Williams
Deron turned a real corner in the offseason. Namond, the son of Wee-Bey, seemed destined for the drug game and an early exit from high school, later realizing his potential and turning his life around before it was too late. Deron realized amid criticism this past offseason that he was a little overweight and really needed to find the dedication to be the best. He did just that and turned into a premier point guard in the league, one who will no doubt be closer to the MVP trophy in the years to come as he and Chris Paul become the new Marlo-Avon.
Boadie Broadus – Dwyane Wade
Both have names that are tricky to spell, seemed primed to be a major player in the game, and flamed out too early. Boadie couldn’t handle the senseless killing involved in the upper echelons of the dope game while Wade couldn’t handle the senselessness of playing hard for the Miami Heat.
The Feds – San Antonio Spurs
How could you even pick one Spur to make an MVP case for without talking about the other two? The Spurs parallel the feds in the sense that they really only showed up in a meaningful way when it mattered most, and you know when everything breaks down they’ll be involved somewhere.
Lester Freamon – Chauncey Billups
Lester Freamon bounced around the police department for years, eventually hiding in the evidence room before finding a home in Major Crimes. Chauncey Billups played the role of journeyman for several years before landing in blue collar D-Town. Both found a home late in their careers but remained unheralded; Freamon will never move to a position of authority, and Billups is unlikely to make an All-NBA First or Second Team. Both are also a little under the radar but are the backbone of something bigger than themselves, Freamon with important drug cases, Billups with the Pistons dynasty.
McNulty – Tracy McGrady
No, McNulty isn’t in the drug game, but this comparison is a good one. McNulty had a lot of likable qualities and an obvious desire to make Baltimore a better place, but he went about it in the wrong ways with a good number of flaws. T-Mac has a lot of likable qualities and has patches where his game is unreal, and we forget about his one major flaw. McNulty’s alcohol addiction, meet McGrady’s playoff history. Even though McNulty had the dry Season 4 and T-Mac had the 22-game winning streak, we all knew the booze would come back, and we all know T-Mac will be out of the playoffs in the first round yet again.
Wee-Bey – Amare Stoudemire
Two of the most likable in the entire discussion right here, with Stat having yet another breakout year for popularity and performance. Wee-Bey was one of the best hitmen Baltimore has seen and he was readily willing to fall on additional murders to protect his friends. While Stat may not be the thug humanitarian that ‘Bey was, he’s also one of the most prolific and dominant power forwards we’ve witnessed in some time. In a class all his own with his combination of agility, strength, and explosiveness, Amare’s season will be remembered as his coming out as a ruthless, stone cold killer.
Cheese – Vince Carter
Cheese, played by Method Man, was a likable character for his street-wise antics and his stereotypical hood attitude. He was mouthy and flashy and had the benefit of a powerful uncle (Prop Joe) to protect him to some degree. Likewise, Vince Carter is a fantastic dunker and scorer with a long history of highlights and memories for his name to rest on. Vince was one of the most exciting players in the league at one point, but he has serious flaws. Cheese was too hood for his own good, failing to recognize good business opportunities and trying to get ahead in the wrong ways, leading to his demise. Vince called it quits on the Raptors and has injury problems, making it difficult to appreciate his raw skill. He tows the line between slacker and superstar, like Cheese towed the line between hood star and idiot second banana. Both have come undone, and you can decide whose career is really more dead.
D’Angelo Barksdale – Chris Bosh
Bosh is as likable as they come, a player destined for studio time after his career and a player who will be a perennial All Star. D’Angelo was as likable as drug dealers come, showing a conscience and a concern for his crew, a real team player in an individual’s game. He wasn’t the ruthless killer or pusher other drug dealers were, much like Bosh is not a calculating killer on the floor. Bosh is a team player with a good heart and demeanor, though this may not be his undoing in the way D’Angelo’s kind heart was. Bosh may be destined to be the head of a perennial contender on a team-oriented franchise, but to seriously compete he will have to hone a killer instinct.
Cutty – Caron Butler
A former thug, Cutty made the jump to teacher and mentor for a good number of street kids as a boxing trainer in the hood. Caron Butler rebounded from a bad childhood and blossomed relatively late in his NBA career to turn into a team-first superstar. Both are wildly underrated and underappreciated.
Michael Lee – Kevin Durant
Michael had loads of potential as a big kid with natural talents and heartlessness. He was to be the next Slim Charles or Chris Partlow, a cold hearted soldier who could kill with the best of them. But Michael couldn’t deal with the politics and back-watching of the drug game, and at the end of the series he became a calculating killer on his own, looking out for number one and planting the seeds for a career as the next Omar. Kevin Durant had loads of potential coming out of college, with a natural scoring ability and ruthlessness about his game. He has been by far the best rookie this year, but is falling victim to franchise turmoil and a bored media corps who don’t want to crown such an obvious winner the Rookie of the Year. I am not suggesting Durant will be a loner, a one-person team, for his entire career. No, instead, this potential snub will turn Durant into the cold, calculating killer that he needs to be to develop into the Kobe and MJ mold of finisher. Durant is the future of terrifyingly cold blooded basketball, as Michael is the future of the ghost gangster. Obviously, this means Jeff Green is Bug.
The Connect – Steve Nash
He’ll always be in the discussion because, as far as the Suns are concerned, there is no game without him. He is a supplier, not a pusher. He helps others realize their potential, brought the game to a new level, and is nearly untouchable as far as criticism goes. When Avon went down, someone new picked up the connect, and then Marlo took it alone, and the co-op seemed poised to take it back. Nash dealt to Dirk, then Marion, then Stat, and he acclimated Shaq in just weeks. The drug game is where it is because of a consistent connect, and there is no bigger or better supplier in the NBA than Steve Nash.
Proposition Joe – Kevin Garnett
As LeBron and Kobe battled it out on individual merits, Garnett created a team and the biggest turn around in NBA history, reviving a franchise with an entirely new ideal – team basketball with superstars. Proposition Joe created ‘The Co-Op,’ a collection of drug dealers brought together for economies of scale and the elimination of the drug-related body count. It was a new ideal in the drug game where egocentric drug lords worked together to create the best possible product and remove the hardships from the drug game. The problem with both is that they are both too weak as individuals in the end. Garnett is hurt by having too strong of a supporting cast and less impressive numbers than usual while Joe was hurt by the egotism present in most drug dealers. Prop Joe eventually fell as another wanted the crown more, and Garnett fell victim (in the MVP race only, of course) to buying into the team ideal while others strived as individuals. This comparison means that Paul Pierce and Ray Allen share the role of Slim Charles, since both have the skills and the know-how to be a #1 but seem to thrive with a stronger leader around them to take some of the pressure off.
Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell – Kobe Bryant and LeBron James
The two biggest players for the longest time, James and Bryant have dominated MVP discussions all season, almost as if the two were inseparable in their MVP credentials. Bryant was out for his legacy, to secure his name among the all-time greats, to rule the league and end the season on top. He is Avon Barksdale, the street-wise drug lord with all the street credibility and the right cut-throat intuition. James, on the other hand, is building an empire. He is simply setting the foundation for what will inevitably be a conglomerate much more important than one NBA season. LeBron is Stringer Bell, the other half of the Barksdale-Bell empire, the business savvy, career-oriented ex-gangster. Together, both dominated the drug game for years and likewise, dominated the MVP discussion for most of the season. It was only later that the constant discussion and comparison of both highlighted too many flaws in each of their candidacies for either to win, and they were eventually each other’s downfall.
Marlo ‘Black’ Stanfield – Chris Paul
While the big dogs battled it out for street and court supremacy, Marlo and CP3 were slowly building underground empires for an eventual push to the crown. Marlo took corners one at a time, built up an artillery and an army of down-to-ride soldiers, all while slowly building his name to ring out in the streets. He waited patiently for his shot at the crown and was quick and violent in his strike for it when the time was right. Chris Paul has played at an inhuman level all season, leading the league in assists and leading the West’s second best team and biggest surprise. He built the team and his numbers slowly, without much notice, until roughly the All-Star break and only then snuck into MVP discussions with any seriousness. As people wondered who would kill the other first, Marlo chipped away at Avon and Stringer’s empire, taking corners and men along the way. As the world debated LeBron against Kobe and it became evident that they both had flaws, Paul kept doing his thing quietly and gained the respect of the entire basketball world. As Marlo ended the series as the drug kingpin whose name rings out everywhere, so will Chris Paul end the season as the MVP. This, of course, makes David West Chris Partlow, a quiet solider who knows his role and defers to the boss.
Omar Little – Undetermined
This one goes to the NBA Finals MVP, no doubt about it.
“But, the game’s out there, and it’s play or get played. That simple.” – Omar Little