This year Halloween fell on a Thursday. That morning brings the first real roster controversy of the Ryan Kuhlman era. I bench Denarius Moore from the Raiders to start Marvin Jones from the Bengals. When I tell Ryan I've done this over email, he advises me against "chasing Marvin's points from last week." Which stings, although it's exactly what I'm doing. Jones caught a career-high four touchdowns in the game against the Jets, the one I didn't watch that everyone keeps talking about like it was Andy Dalton's "Kendrick drops 'Control'" moment. On some level, by starting Jones against the Dolphins on Halloween night I'm trying to re-create whatever magic led to that 49-9 score, which is the act of a truly delusional Bengals stan. My desire to make the Marvin Jones era into a thing that happens is preventing me from fully embracing the Mission: Impossible–like team-management philosophy of the Ryan Kuhlman era, which involves handpicking a team for every job. No sentimentality. We're not a fantasy team, we're a fantasy strike force.
The words seemed to dissolve into the smoky gloom, swallowed up by a weird buzzing that sounded like cicadas but lower, deeper. The Assistant stood at the threshold of Phil Jackson’s buckskin tepee, which sat perched on an outcropping on the edge of Flathead Lake.
When Kendrick Lamar dropped Good Kid, m.A.A.d City on October 22, 2012, one song immediately jumped out at basketball fans, bloggers, and NBA players: the bonus track, "Black Boy Fly," and its verse dedicated to Lamar's fellow Compton native Arron Afflalo.
In typically detailed and autobiographical Kendrick Lamar fashion, "Black Boy Fly" takes us back to his days at Centennial High School, where he observed classmate Afflalo succeeding on the basketball court and in the classroom, poised to be the one to make it out of Compton.
Fast-forward eight years later.
Lamar is basking in the glow of that brilliantly bold debut album and being spotted courtside at Staples Center, while Afflalo is playing for an Orlando Magic team that lost Dwight Howard to the Lakers. At the halfway mark of the NBA season Afflalo has shown his worth, emerging as Orlando's leading scorer. In two separate trips home to California this season, Afflalo led the Magic to victories over both the Lakers and Clippers. Making Lamar's lyrics in "Black Boy Fly" come to life like he was back at Centennial High, he scored 30 both times his team schooled the squad from Los Angeles.
I recently caught up with Afflalo to discuss his shout out in Lamar’s song, but the conversation quickly turned into something deeper as topics like success and motivation came up. After listening to Afflalo detail how he's trying to make the most out of each day, it's easy to see why Lamar admired his former classmate.
Kendrick Lamar is on a roll. After being anointed the new king of the West Coast by the AARP Cali rapper collective of Dr. Dre disciples, he went on to appear on Drake's Take Care, release perhaps the rap album of the year in good kid, m.A.A.d city (the rare "actually met unfairly high expectations" example), show out in the BET Cyphers, and most recently, hop on the "Who's Who of 2012" posse track "Fucken Problem" with Drake, A$AP Rocky, and Archbishop 2 Chainz.
We'll come back to these accolades in a moment, but for just a second let's talk about basketball. There's an expression in the sport: "heat check." It's used to describe a player taking a questionable shot, just to see how hot he really is. Proven players who tend to already have the "green light" aren't really the ones to worry about with regard to the heat check. It's more the ones who are surprising even themselves and are new to feeling so untouchable.
I bring all this up because this weekend was a perfect example of a rapper heat check, disguised by something seemingly very cool.