Six Seconds to Perfection: The Best NBA Vines of the Season

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Jason Concepcion: A great NBA Vine is not just a six-second clip of video. It’s a microcosm of the wants, desires, and goals of the people depicted therein. It’s a period of six seconds that transcends its constituent images to reach some deeper objective meaning. This is something French philosopher Roland Barthes might’ve referred to as the Third Meaning — based on his essay “The Third Meaning: Research Notes on Some Eisenstein Stills,” which I read once and didn’t understand, but which I nonetheless value as a reference for the way it makes me sound like I know what I’m talking about when describing a video clip of Steve Ballmer appearing to lose his mind to the music of Fergie.

Chris Ryan: [Picks up iPad to download Barthes, instead opens Chrome, remembers wanting to buy novelty Russell Westbrook T-shirt, thinks about reading New York Times, looks at Times app, switches to blackjack, loses all of his fake money by doubling down on 18 like Mark Wahlberg’s character from The Gambler, realizes 52 minutes have passed and the sun has set, opens Chrome, checks HoopsHype rumors, wonders why he got on his iPad in the first place.] Oh, right. Vine. Here are some things I like about NBA Vines: They are democratic (you just have to point and shoot; you don’t need to know how to make GIFs); they celebrate your subjective perspective (you become the director of a broadcast by emphasizing the moments you find interesting); with the audio, Vine has an extra layer of sensory perception beyond GIFs; and Vine is an invasive medium — intruding on practices, slipping into locker rooms, and lingering on fleeting moments of bench chemistry (or lack thereof).

Ben Cohen over at The Wall Street Journal did a good job explaining some of the reasons behind why Vine and the NBA have become perfect partners. Looking at Vines has become an essential part of basketball Twitter, which has become an essential part of watching basketball. These are our favorite NBA Vines of the first half of the season.

Kobe Bryant Curses Out the Universe

Ryan: This is the GOAT. Kobe Bryant, cursing out his teammates and his general manager, after — or during — Lakers practice. The lion in winter, storming off the practice floor, shouting, “WE SUPPOSED TO PRACTICE TO GET BETTER, MITCH … THESE MOTHERFUCKERS AIN’T DOING SHIT FOR ME!” So I guess he’s done practicing. For months, we wondered how miserable Kobe must be, riding shotgun in the clown car Mitch Kupchak had assembled. Then we found out, and it was more glorious and righteous than we could have possibly imagined.

The thing about this Vine, taken by our colleague over at ESPN, Arash Markazi, is that it at once feels illicit — like you’re getting a peek into a world you don’t have access to — AND IS EXACTLY WHAT YOU THINK EVERY 2014-15 LAKERS PRACTICE LOOKED LIKE. This is why they don’t open practice to the public. If they’d had Vine and iPhone video when Allen Iverson was on the Sixers, I might have never left Philadelphia.

The genius of latter-day Kobe is his ability to publicly maintain the mainstream, corn-dog, fortune-cookie wisdom, the I-spent-a-semester-abroad smugness, while still tending to the equally valuable, sociopathic, hypercompetitive, Ricky Roma–at-the-end-of–Glengarry Glen Ross fury that we all know is his power source. Kobe Bryant is always being one version of Kobe Bryant, even if he doesn’t know whether he’s being filmed or not.1

Concepcion: You will miss Kobe when he’s gone. Even if you hate Kobe, believe me, you will miss hating him. He is the last of the old-school NBA tyrants who ruled by fear and submission. LeBron wants everyone to hang out together and be a family. Kevin Durant — recent media heel turn excepted — is primarily known as such a nice guy that Nike felt it necessary to design an entire ad campaign around countering that image.

The Cavs’ midseason turnaround started when David Blatt invited the team out bowling. Kobe would never even let his teammates come to his house. Especially not these guys, whom I’m not sure Kobe even knows by name. Much has been made of Kobe’s inefficient style of play, his high usage, and his last-hero-on-the-bulwark shot selection. Ironically, Kobe’s life, vis-à-vis basketball, is a model of efficiency, and he pares away anything that gets in the way of playing basketball.

He takes a helicopter to games. He submits his body to experimental medical procedures. He eats soup made of animal bones.

And he doesn’t suffer sucky teammates.

Dion Waiters Thirst Compilation

Concepcion: Men lie, buckets don’t. So spake the modern prophet of FGA thirst, Dion Waiters. On the surface, Waiters’s tweet is simple braggadocio, the kind of chest-puffing exclamation of personal proficiency that’s inextricably woven into the very culture of the game. But when you look more closely, his choice of words is telling. By this formulation, a made basket is the truth. Dion’s constant, at times desperate, entreaties to his teammates to pass him the damn ball, are, therefore, really a search for some immutable and eternal meaning — something beyond the man-made illusions of society. Dion’s 38 percent field goal percentage and 44 percent true shooting percentage? Those are just numbers created by men. And we know what men do.

Before LeBron had even finalized his homecoming, he called Dion and told him, “Be ready.” Like he even needed to say anything. The above Vine is from the second game of the season. Cavs versus Bulls. I love the way Dion’s shooting hand convulses with anticipatory readiness, the way his shots-up fast-twitch nerves prefire his wrist muscles before he sets his hands to receive the pass that never comes. I especially love the way, as the shot goes up, that Dion stands with his arm still raised, like a man watching his lover’s train pull away from the station. The complete Waiters experience in six seconds.

By December, a distinct note of despair had creeped into Dion’s calls for the ball. Men lie, yes, and they also increasingly refuse to pass. At first, it seems as if Dion isn’t sure LeBron sees him. Then, when it’s clear James does see him, Dion points to the spot he’ll shoot from, as if to justify the soundness of the decision. Finally, when he realizes he won’t get the ball, Dion’s shoulders sag in defeat and resignation. The truth must wait.

“Push up, Dion. Spacing, D.”

OKC. A new lease on life. He’s averaging about one more attempt per game with the Thunder than he was in Cleveland. Doesn’t seem like much, but remember: This is a quest for the kind of universal experience attainable only via buckets. And yet, Anthony Morrow wants Dion to move over, to clear space for him in the corner. Anthony Morrow may be a 37 percent 3-point shooter compared to Dion’s 27 percent, and Morrow may think that a sub–30 percent 3-point shooter crowding him gums up the team’s spacing. But Anthony Morrow is a man, and men lie.

The Dion Waiters Welcoming Committee

Concepcion: I’m not saying that Scott Brooks didn’t know who Waiters was before Dion’s acquisition, via trade, was announced. I’m just saying, “I follow him, like I follow all the players in the league,” kindaaaa feels like the type of thing I might’ve said as a preamble to an oral book report on a book I didn’t read because I didn’t know about the assignment.2 This feeling is bolstered by Brooks then saying that Dion brings “a toughness,” followed by roughly half a dozen “uhs,” followed by something about Dion’s offensive game, which, OK, fair enough.

Form a Fuckin’ Wall

Ryan: The St. Crispin’s Day speech of San Antonio. You know what I noticed the 400th time I watched this? Greg Monroe nodding. Stan Van Gundy is speaking his language.

Oracle Gets Turnt

Concepcion: So many great things about this Vine. Let’s start with this: At the time this dance occurred, the Warriors were leading the Bulls by only five and would go on to lose the game, one of only two they’ve lost at home all season. Had this been a win, there’s a nonzero chance the next Vine would show full-on coitus behind the Warriors bench. Much has been made of Golden State’s incredible chemistry this season — they all go out to dinner together, they’re in love with the CoCo, etc. — and, clearly, the vibes are nothing short of intoxicating.

Chris Paul Disagrees

Ryan: This is pretty anecdotal, but it feels like we are riding a Chris Paul backlash, no? The Cliff Paul thing has hit a saturation point. If anything, Paul’s argyle-rocking alter ego just serves as a harsh contrast to all the pissing and moaning and scratching and clawing he does on the court. Boogie hates him (this may be a vote for or against Paul, depending on whom you talk to). There are rumors that his teammates are tired of him telling them what to do all the time. And then we had that Lauren Holtkamp situation, which — even if he didn’t mean it that way — was a bad look for him. Statistically, Paul is still a top-10 player in this league, but more and more we are seeing him as the kind of guy who would hit reset on a game of Madden in the last seconds if it looked like the computer was going to beat him. With Vine, moments like the one above don’t turn into mere beat reporter lore, they become part of the permanent record.

All that being said, this Vine makes me like Paul. This is a dude who has the game wrapped around his finger — just watch the way he barks at teammates, or the way he probes the paint with a drive only to pull back the string and go into a half-court set. He’s a control freak. The refereeing is one of the few things on the court he can’t control. When things don’t go his way, he is going to act like someone who just missed the Powerball number by one digit. I think it’s pretty funny.

Born Cramping

Concepcion: It’s been a rocky year for Lance Stephenson. To be fair, that feels like a thing you could say about every season of Lance’s career. His move to the Hornets was supposed to add much-needed perimeter creativity and scoring punch to a team desperate to surround low-post maestro Al Jefferson with a cutting edge. Instead, Lance is shooting 37 percent from the floor, and his formerly passable 3-point shot has fallen to a moribund 15 percent. His recent groin injury problems were presaged in this Vine from the closing minutes of the Hornets’ opening night win against the Bucks, showing Born Ready staggering around like a drunk with a charley horse and then collapsing in a heap.


Ryan: This is the image that should accompany “GTFO” in the dictionary. So many great details in this one. How long ago do you think Kemba Walker visualized this moment? Freshman year at UConn? It certainly looks like it. It looks like he’s been running for four years to make this block. Also, does any one image better encapsulate the current state of the Knicks than the hopelessness with which Jose Calderon pulls up for this jumper? On the second angle, it looks like he sees Kemba coming, but he still goes into his shooting motion — like this is the final scene in the third act of some Shakespearean tragedy, and there’s nothing he can do to avoid what’s about to happen. Screw seeing Walker; didn’t he HEAR him? This is Charlotte, not a Turkish soccer stadium. How could you not hear the Husky coming to snuff out your shit?

The Thinker

Concepcion: Recently, speculation about the nature of the relationship, or lack thereof, between LeBron James and Kevin Love has threatened to overshadow what has been a wonderful stretch of play for the Cavs. Should Love fit-in? Or should he fit-out? And what does fitting out even mean? These are tough, existential questions, complicated further by Love’s looming decision regarding the player option in his contract. I like to think that this Vine shows Love thinking all of that over.

Ballmer Man

Concepcion: Recent studies have shown a correlation between increased wealth and a decrease in caring about societal norms. Case in point: Clippers owner and multibillionaire Steve Ballmer, shown here reacting to a performance by Fergie by dancing as if he were one of those wacky waving arm-flailing inflatable tube men.

$21 billion. That’s how much money you need to give zero fucks about looking completely goofy to the entire world.

Filed Under: Chris Ryan, Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors, Kevin Love, Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers, NBA, Oklahoma City Thunder, Detroit Pistons, Lance Stephenson, Kemba Walker, greg monroe, Dion Waiters, vine, Stan Van Gundy, Charlotte Hornets, Jason Concepcion