Spaceman's Pancakes

Subscribing to the Cosmic Snowball Theory: A few million years from now the sun will burn out and lose its gravitational pull. The earth will turn into a giant snowball and be hurled through space. When that happens it won't matter if I write this blog


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NBA Playoffs: The Boston Celtics and the Season of the Weird


Tonight the Boston Celtics continue their playoff run against the Philadelphia 76ers, playing the role of underdogs despite home court advantage and the superior regular season record. They are underdogs because their best player, point guard Kyrie Irving, will not play this spring following knee surgery. Their game-one win, like the rest of their improbable run to the second seed in the East, surprised just about everyone. Since five minutes into the season, when their star free-agent acquisition, Gordon Heyward, fell to a horrific leg injury, this Celtics team has been recalibrating people’s expectations almost night-to-night.

The plot points for the Celtics season have the feel of a sappy sports film. Their big star addition goes down in the opening, throwing a 19-year-old Jayson Tatum into the NBA fray. He steps up and proves he can hang throughout a 16-game winning streak in Act One, but the long grind of the season chips away at this plucky band of youngsters and at the close of Act Two, their other star, Irving goes down, leaving only the kids and “Average Al”- the much-maligned max-contract star to face down a seven-foot tall Greek Freak and then the ascendant 76ers before the climatic (and heroic-tragic) battle with the Big-Bad- The King, Lebron.

But though the broad-stroke outline of the 2017-2018 Celtics season reads like a Sean Astin-in-an-indie-hoops-film, from a fans perspective, it has felt like something else entirely.  Like something closer to The Big Lebowski or Friday. A season drenched in psychedelia and funk. The 2016-2017 Celtics season owns the claim to the dramatic archs, with the “King in the Fourth” run for Isaiah Thomas leading to heartbreak and betrayal. 2018 is the Season of the Weird, both for the Celtics and for the sporting world in general. The strange synergy between the raw, young talent in Boston’s TD Garden and the bizarre phenomenon of #weirdcelticstwitter has been one of the most fun experiences of my sports-watching life and, I believe, a foreshadowing of the bold, insane, new world of closer fan-player relations.

It is hard to define exactly what Weird Celtics Twitter is. It’s like porn, I suppose. You know it when you see it (and also, you spend way too much time staring at it after your wife and kids are asleep- A-YO! amirite!). It is definitely certain specific things though. It’s Tito-Three Sticks, Third of his Name.  It’s Combat Muscles. It’s Mad Brad and Dabuselethe third eye and Terrygarcia. It is Smarf* and, of course, is Janos. Weird Celtics Twitter is not unlike many other things I have found myself in close proximity to throughout my life. It’s a weird, nerdy niche group that is full of inside jokes and obscure references that only matter to “us,” whoever the “us” might be. I can’t claim to be part of it, but following the antics of WCT has been one of my favorite things in 2018.

*I will go to my grave believing there is a connection between Smarf and the 2013 Over the Monster nickname for Shane Victorino, Shanf. To. My. Grave. 

But the thing that has made the Celtics so fun this season and made Weird Celtics Twitter so fun, is that those two worlds, which should be so, so, separated, have been…can I say copasetic. At the very least, there has been interplay and that is the weirdest thing about Weird Celtics Twitter. This should be a thing that only matters to a small group of fans, but it has bled into the mainstream and infected it with its weirdness in the best possible ways.

Celtics GM Danny Ainge has responded to the strange Celtics-and-soup twitter poster Janos, WCT’s OG. The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor (a Celtics fan, originally) says he tried to reference Thick-Jacked (a variation of the Combat Muscles meme) in a Ringer article. Terry Rozier even ended up embracing the Scary Terry nickname to settle down the Tito*>T-Ro beef instigated by Sam “Jam” Packard, one of the Locked-On Celtics podcast hosts. Now, the nickname is everywhere. If this isn’t wonderful shit, you and I define “wonderful shit” very differently.

*#TeamTito- for life!

Weird Celtics Twitter is having its moment in part because it is the perfect storm of a team and fanbase. These things happen in sports and they are always great. What makes WCT feel different to me is the way it fits with the new media world that the NBA and its players are so eager to embrace. It is not the world of Michael Jordon in Spike-Lee-directed Nike spots and Warner Brother movies. It is the world where Isaiah Thomas releases the extremely personal “Book of Isaiah” on Youtube through The Player’s Tribune. It is the world where Kevin Durant has burner accounts to argue with twitter eggs about his free agency choice and where he coins the term “blog boys” on a podcast, The Ringer puts it on a T-shirt, and Steph Curry wears it to the next game.

Vertical integration in media is gone. Now everything goes everywhere. If you are a cult player and back-up point guard, you jump on the chance to get a few hundred weirdos who love you to embrace your brand, even if it means donning a scream mask and ditching the nickname T-Ro for Scary Terry. Now, the inside jokes have a path straight into the heart of the culture.

And the memes feed themselves. As Celtics players embraced their own weirdness, WeirD Celtics Twitter embraced them more. Kyrie Irving was respected as an elite talent, but his role as IT replacement and his ridiculous flat-earth comments made fans weary of him as a celebrity. Rather than glad-hand Neil Degrasse Tyson and say, “my bad,” Kyrie steered toward the weird and clarified his flat-earth statements with even more obscura and brought fans through the looking glass until it became a kind of charming psuedo-intellectual-goofball mysticism. 

The history of sports has mostly been the history of players distancing themselves from the fans. Back in early days of baseball, fans could talk to the players on the bench, move the home run fences forward and back and even see their guys at the bar or the local hotel. The need for security for the athletes and the sports have pushed the two sides apart, but if Weird Celtics Twitter and the 2018 Celtics are any indication, that separation may be waning in a world where intellectual connection does not require physical connection and the two sides are constantly engaged in a strange kind of dialogue that encompasses what happens on the court, in the media, in marketing rooms and ad agencies and on social media.

It is possible that this is simply a chance occurrence; the story of the right team and the right fanbase coming together, but the Celtics Season of the Weird seems like more than that to me. It seems like the first step in fans and players moving closer together in a way that is unique to the world that social media has created.


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Celtics lose the Isaiah Thomas/ Kyrie Irving Trade By Every Measure


last night, the Boston Celtics traded Isaiah Thomas to the Cleveland Cavaliers along with Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the 2018 Brooklyn Nets pick for Kyrie Irving and in doing so they not only broke my heart, they also got further from their dream of another championship. It is a strange result to come out of an obvious go-big trade but there is no way to really come to any other conclusion.

In discussing the utter nihilism of this terrible deal in my more personal reaction, I wrote this after enumerating the  joys of Isaiah Thomas’ 2016-17 season-

“You don’t trade that easily. You certainly don’t trade that for a minor upgrade with an extra year of control.”

And that is certainly true. It is hard to imagine Red Auerbach looking at Larry Bird’s 1985-86 season and thinking, “hey that was a great season Bird just had, maybe we can deal him for Wilkens.” But what you really, really, never do is trade the kind of player who brings that one-of-a-kind-history-in-the-making-season to the table along with another chip-on-his-shoulder grinder, an international prospect and a projected top-5 pick for a guy who isn’t happy on a team that contends for the title every season, the very team that you can’t get passed in your conference and who now has that insanely-driven King-in-the-Fourth guy your fans love so much playing next to the best player in the game. When you do that, you lose in every possible way there is to lose.

The fan thing I wrote about in my first piece on this deal is fickle. I get that. Sure, Isaiah Thomas, IT4, King in the Fourth, titles, titles, titles… was a fan favorite, but fans don’t stick with guys who don’t perform and he was beaten to a pulp in the playoffs and too close to thirty to be worth the max deal it would take to keep him a year from now. We are all adults here. But while most of the basketball world* believes that Kyrie is superior, the cold hard numbers are not so sure. Win Shares prefers IT’s best seasons over Kyrie’s. By Box Plus-Minus, Thomas has been slightly better than Kyrie over the past three seasons. Irving hits three’s at a slightly higher percentage and has a serious advantage in assists, but Thomas is actually better per-100 possessions and has played a bigger role on worse teams without the advantage of Lebron James as a possible assist target. I’ll buy that Irving is slightly better and that being younger, he is a better bet long term, but the deal is just two years for one. With that reality in mind, it is impossible to see how Thomas-plus-Crowder doesn’t far out value Irving alone. Add in Zizic and the 2018 Nets pick and the math becomes unwinnable for Boston.

*Including Danny Ainge, apparently

The losing math on the trade might matter less if the deal wasn’t being made with the team that stands directly between the Celtics and any chance at the right to lose to the Warriors in the Finals. Adding IT to Cleveland is just about the worst thing Boston could do right now. As things stood, Boston was entering the season with a new star, a top draft pick and all the trade-deadline-buying power on earth. The Cavs were dealing with a team that wasn’t on speaking terms, had a star demanding a trade, no cap space and no tradable assets. Now they have replaced a malcontent with an equivalent player who runs on disrespect and just got his BALCO-grade B12 shot of the stuff, added a tough three-and-D guy, a rookie big and an asset they can trade at the deadline for just about anything available. I’m really going to enjoy watching Isaiah go for 40 on the Celtics for four games in the Eastern Conference finals while Crowder shuts down Hayward and LeBron just laughs at Kyrie and “his own team as they get swept.” Good stuff. Well worth it.

There is a theory I have that I call the Pujols-Pedroia Principle. It is basically this: when you are a star player and you can choose between leaving for a huge payday or staying with the team that you became a star with for a slightly smaller payday, it is usually correct to stay where you are. Doing this has two major advantages. First, you keep all the good will you have earned over the years on your way up and second, your deal is recognized as a sacrifice, making you seem more noble in your decline and earning you the kind of slack that money just can’t buy. This Celtics deal necessitates the inverse of this theory. Let’s call it the IT-Irving Imperative. This rule says that if you are choosing between a player that you have, that you know and that your fans love and revere, and a similar player worth slightly more (be that value in contract, age, etc), you must pick the player you have because failing with him is righteous while only extreme success can justify going against your own guy.

We are familiar with the consequences of violating the Pedroia-Pujols Principle. It is easy to imagine what Alex Rodriguez’s narrative might have been if he stayed in Seattle for less money or how much more grace would have been given to Pablo Sandoval in the Bay Area instead of the Back Bay. Teams don’t do what Danny Ainge has done that often. For one thing, there aren’t that many chances to do so. But really, it is because the calculus of front offices includes the IT-Irving Imperative. The best GMs know they are better betting on the devil they know. Danny Ainge has forsaken that convention and gone to an extreme with this deal. Only winning big will justify it. He doesn’t have the numbers on his side here, which makes this deal particularly hard to swallow in light of how much IT4 meant to Boston these past three seasons.

It is possible that the Celtics will win this deal, but it isn’t likely. For a GM who has been so patient and calculating, this move is a shock. For a fan, it is mostly just a slap in the face.


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Celtics trade Isaiah Thomas to Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving and Nihilism wins the day


Danny, you broke my heart. You broke my heart!

If you are looking for a case against being a sports fan in 2017, Celtics GM Danny Ainge has served it up for you with his latest mega-deal, the trade that will send Isaiah Thomas to the Cleveland Cavaliers along with Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the 2018 Brooklyn Nets pick for Kyrie Irving. It is a bad deal for the Celtics in several ways, but it is a horrible deal for Celtic fans to an almost absurd degree. It is not just “sports are a business,” and this is business as usual. It is championship-chasing nihilism- the belief that there is nothing about the sports-fan experience that means anything except getting a fucking piece of jewelry. Maybe most fans really do just root for laundry and would trade their soul for a few duck boats on parade, but I’m not there yet. I still care a little who wears the jerseys I’m watching, who rides in those boats.

Being a fan is not a rational thing. There is no earthly reason why anyone should sacrifice their time, their emotional energy and their joy and heartache to a group of strangers playing a game. The modern sports world has been forced to confront rationality on all fronts. The gut-feelings of old men that once ruled these games have been banished in favor of precision calculations, data sets and probability tables. And that is a good thing. Reason should win out over superstition and the end of superstitions has improved performance, pushed boundaries and created an era that has seen some of the greatest performances for both teams and individuals. If you are the GM of a major sports franchise, it is vital that you divorce yourself from sentimentality and build a winner at any cost. But if fandom is an inherently irrational thing, maybe the cold rationality of the modern front office can go too far?

That is what happened today.

Nevermid all the rational, calculated reasons this was a bad deal. I’ll get to those. Isaiah Thomas’ 2016-2017 season was special. It was historic in several ways, but it was not the record-setting numbers that made it such a joy to watch. Everyone loves David-and-Goliath stories and, at 5’9, Thomas will forever be cast as David, but his 2016-17 season wasn’t that either. David might beat Goliath but he usually doesn’t burn three Goliath’s in the paint at will with the Kingdom on the line. The season that spawned the King in the Forth meme was the kind of magical occurrence that makes it worth watching sports. Here was this guy- too small for his sport of choice- who bounced around the court with the kind of ease that only comes with a tortuous commitment to making difficult things look easy. He scored at will. He beat double-teams and triple-teams. He buried wild step-backs and crazy-deep threes. He did it without the obvious athleticism of Westbrook, the length of Kawhi, or the flashy moves of Harden. He did it all with a smile that fell just short of hiding the Everest-sized chip on his shoulder*. He did it when it mattered most and when everyone was trying to stop him.

*A chip that just got bigger, BTWs.

That King-in-the-Fourth thing would have been enough to make 2016-17 a season Celtics fans held dear, but when tragedy struck on April 15, 2017, Isaiah Thomas’ season became something else entirely. After losing his sister in a car accident, Isaiah Thomas didn’t step away from the court- a choice that would have been completely understood by anyone with a functioning soul. Instead, he returned to the game he had given up so much for and gave it something that will ring out as long as there are fans who can remember watching it. On the day his sister would have turned 23, Thomas played the greatest game of basketball I have ever seen. It might be irrational to care about sports, but when you watch a game like that, it makes sense in some deep way that we can’t get at with words and numbers.

You don’t trade that easily. You certainly don’t trade that for a minor upgrade with an extra year of control.

But that is what Danny Ainge has done. Because this is what GMs do when they forget that irrational thing at the heart of the game. Without that, ther are too eager to make the headline-grabbing deals, even when they are wrong. They chase rings and only rings and think of nothing else. They forsake all the reasons we watch the games to make sure they can win those games, under the theory that winning will bring the fans.  But what if it doesn’t work? What if they are wrong? What if I don’t what to watch the Kyrie-Celtics for some irrational reason. It was irrational to watch in the first place, right? The NBA might be selling games, but they are really selling stories. How disposable can characters be before we are out on the story itself?

Even Game of Thrones, a show built on brutally punishing our expectations of loyalty to its characters has not been able to do what Danny Ainge just did. There is a part of me that keeps expecting Isaiah to crawl out on to the ice and catch a horse back to Boston. But it isn’t going to happen. And that only leaves the question, why am I watching this anyway?