Greetings, England, from your American cousins! As part of our ongoing efforts to tell the world what’s best for them, we’ve sent two of our top 30 basketball teams to your gray and foggy land that the seed of hoop might take root upon your island and diversify your sporting palette. We understand that this game, what with its use of hands, its incredibly tall players, and its stop/start game clock may seem strange to the uninitiated. But don’t fret; we’ve created a guide containing some helpful basketball terminology to help you find your way.
The Brooklyn Nets
Formerly the New Jersey Nets, the team spent much of its history toiling away in desolate mediocrity from the middle of a swamp. Grantland’s own British expats, the Men in Blazers, compared the Nets to West Ham back in 2011, a comparison that is tad unfair now, as the Hammers look to be a possible relegation victim, and the Nets are … not the worst. The 2013-14 Nets are like Fulham. Both teams are old — Fulham have the oldest roster in the Premier League, and the Nets have the second-oldest roster in the NBA — and both teams play in their respective country’s largest city, in the shadows of more popular teams.
The Atlanta Hawks
One of only four teams in the NBA’s Eastern Conference to have a winning record, the Hawks have been a staunchly midtable team for much of the past six years — never quite good enough to make a significant impact as a title contender or abject enough to garner an impact draft pick (more on this later). The 2013-14 Hawks are basically Aston Villa, good enough to take a scalp or two, but several steps down from the fringes of contention.
Mikhail Prokhorov, Owner, Brooklyn Nets
Prokhorov is a Russian mining magnate with a reported net worth in the $13 billion to $18 billion range. His hobbies include Jet Skiing, martial arts, running for president of Russia, and, at least tangentially, owning the Brooklyn Nets. The best way to explain Prokhorov would be to try to imagine an equally profligate, but much more easygoing Roman Abramovich. Prokhorov lays out the cash in towering stacks, but doesn’t involve himself in the minutiae of running a team day to day. He prefers to stay in Europe, where he can manage his mining interests, advance his political ambitions, and chill in the French Alps with multiple prostitutes. As one does.
Tanking is the act of prioritizing losing in order to increase a team’s chances of winning the NBA draft lottery. Since relegation doesn’t exist in the NBA (or any other major American sport), the only real penalty to being awful is shame. Conversely, the worse your team is, the better your chance of landing a choice draft pick. It’s one of the great paradoxes of world sport: Why is it that Europe — with a longer history of, and comfort level with, socialism — loves a sport where the business is built on near-pure laissez-faire ideals, while America — with its long antipathy toward socialism — wants its sports economies to be bastions of income redistribution? Basically, tanking is like the dole, but with a 16 percent chance of becoming a millionaire.
A do-anything-to-win veteran who you absolutely hate unless he’s on your team, and even then you might hate him just a little. Kevin Garnett is Roy Keane.
The departing commissioner of the NBA, Stern has presided over an extraordinary rise in the league’s finances, cultural influence, and international prestige. David Stern is James Watt, whose steam engine designs helped spur the economic upheavals of the Industrial Revolution.
A Slam Dunk
A slam dunk is when a player propels himself into the air in order to throw the ball down through the rim of the hoop with great force. It is better than literally anything Great Britain has ever accomplished in its history, with the exception of the Beatles and cracking the Nazi Enigma code.
Al Horford’s Injury
One of the best big men in the NBA, Horford is player with an excellent mix of mobility, strength, and skill, but a torn pectoral muscle prematurely ended his season. If Horford played in a larger market — Los Angeles, Chicago, New York — he’d have a national profile to match his consistently excellent game. Horford’s injury robbed us of what was shaping up to be another stellar season from the big man. Horford’s injury is the monotonous drone of mortality that leaves you staring at the ground and asking “Why?” Horford’s injury is shoegaze.
Frank was the Nets’ lead assistant, brought on to provide experience to the staff of first-year coach Jason Kidd. Frank was Kidd’s handpicked head coach during Kidd’s playing days for the New Jersey iteration of the Nets. This season, the pressure of losing exacerbated existing differences in coaching philosophies between the two, and Frank’s experience — and willingness to leverage it — quickly became a threat to Kidd’s authority. So, Kidd had Frank reassigned to filing daily reports, whatever that means. Frank has not been heard from since early December. Lawrence Frank is a combination of the Princes in the Tower, the two sons of King Edward IV who were put under the care of their uncle Richard after the death of the king. Richard was supposed to act as their protector until young Edward was old enough to rule on his own. Only the boys disappeared, and Richard became Richard III.
For a franchise like the Hawks, with a history of limited periods of contention interspersed with long periods of boring mediocrity, sometimes what’s needed is someone to kick a little ass. Someone who has seen, up close, what it takes to succeed at the highest levels, and isn’t shy about imparting that knowledge. Budenholzer spent 18 years, mostly as an assistant coach, with the San Antonio Spurs, playing a hand in molding what has become the model NBA franchise. In his first year with Atlanta, he’s weathered the loss of his star, stabilized a team dealing with personnel changes, and guided the players who remain through a completely new system. Mike Budenholzer is chef Gordon Ramsay, right down to the high-profile DUI.