I’d just like to note that, in the wake of the tragic helicopter crash that resulted in the deaths of Kobe Bryant, Gianna Bryant and seven others last Sunday morning, going back to writing about basketball (or whatever the hell this is) feels silly and somewhat wrong. To me, it just feels like any piece not dedicated to Kobe or GiGi or any of the other passengers who lost their lives is remarkably insignificant and miniature in comparison. It is. When measured against the enormity of the devastation felt on and after Sunday, January 26, this all feels so frivolous. It should. The following article is not a helpful, emotional coda on the life and career of Kobe Bryant — for that, I direct you to Bill Plaschke. We’re tasked now with finding a way to move forward. As you do so, if some frivolity is what you need, I hope you’ll read on and I hope you’ll enjoy.
This is a dumb article comparing current Sixers to this year’s Academy Award nominees. Yes, I know that this week is the trade deadline. Many of my
smarter more analytical colleagues have thought-out, in-depth pieces in the hopper for your reading pleasure. Let’s have some fun.
Al Horford is Laura Dern
I’m starting with the easiest one. This is a layup. Horford and Dern have had very similar careers. They’ve both long been respected by their peers and by fans, but often would go unnoticed and underappreciated by the powers that be. Of late, they’ve been getting their due. While much of what they excel at won’t pop off the stat sheet (or silver screen, as it were), Horford and Dern have long provided their respective fields with stability, consistency and competence. In 2020, Al Horford is an integral member of a championship contender, and Laura Dern is the Vegas favorite to win her first Academy Award, as she’s nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Noah Baumbach’s MARRIAGE STORY. I have no doubt that Big Al would be willing and able to counsel Scarlett Johansson’s character through a messy divorce, and am bullish on the potential of a Ben Simmons-Laura Dern pick-and-pop this spring.
Ben Simmons is Joaquin Phoenix
Think about it. Simmons is a remarkably dedicated and skilled basketball player who is far more polarizing than he ought to be. Joaquin Phoenix is an endlessly talented actor who has had some of his own notable misses (and mishaps) over the years. Ben’s jump shot is Joaquin’s I’M STILL HERE. But you can count on them both to deliver when the lights come on. Need someone to lock up Jimmy Butler in the fourth quarter? Call Ben. Need someone to erratically dance on some steps in the Bronx? Joaquin’s your guy. There’s also something mysterious and reclusive about both of them. They’re hard to peg down, but that’s not uncommon in geniuses in pursuit of lofty goals. As Simmons vies for Defensive Player of the Year, Joaquin Phoenix could very well be awarded the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of the titular character in Todd Phillips’ JOKER this Sunday.
Jonah Bolden is Jonathan Pryce
Because neither deserves their current standing and their places would be better off in the hands of Adam Sandler. You can’t tell me the Sandman wouldn’t give the Sixers more meaningful minutes than Bolden. Pryce, FYI, is nominated for Best Actor for his role in THE TWO POPES, which apparently is a film.
Josh Richardson is Florence Pugh
Both Richardson and Pugh are precocious and versatile. Richardson displays the steadiness and maturity of a player 10 years older, Pugh the acting chops to position her as a peer to the legends she grew up watching. Richardson was a second-round pick who worked tirelessly to become a dogged perimeter defender, creator and ball-handler on a contender. He’s the glue-guy on a team with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons in only his fifth season. Florence Pugh, meanwhile, turns in exemplary performance after exemplary performance. Only this year, she portrayed true grief and horror in Ari Aster’s MIDSOMMAR, before handling a complete tonal shift as Amy March in Greta Gerwig’s LITTLE WOMEN, for which she is now nominated for Best Supporting Actress.
Matisse Thybulle is Cynthia Erivo
Both of these people are tactical, graceful, scene-stealing badasses. Thybulle possesses a basketball intellect far beyond his years, while Cynthia Erivo, at 33, is merely scratching the surface of her immense potential. On face value, one might be quick to overlook Matisse or Ms. Erivo. In interviews, they come off as beguiling dilettantes. But if you sleep on them, they will outperform your wildest expectations. Thybulle will waste no time in stripping LeBron James in his first seconds guarding him, just as Erivo has a grand total of 12 credits to her name — a list that already includes towering performances in WIDOWS, BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE, and her Oscar-nominated turn as Harriet Tubman in HARRIET.
Joel Embiid is Brad Pitt
There is a palpable aura that follows both Joel Embiid and Brad Pitt. They both burst onto the scene — Embiid’s long-awaited rookie campaign of 31 games was Pitt’s THELMA AND LOUISE. They’re both very handsome, which ought to be noted. They’re both leaders, and quite possibly the kinds of leaders with the capacity to define a generation. They smile easily, but it’s not just any old smile. There’s something mischievous about it, something unwieldy and not easily tamed. This year, both men hope to be hoisting a trophy. Jo, the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy. For Pitt, it’s the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his work in ONCE UPON A TIME... IN HOLLYWOOD. Both have already displayed their iconic capacities this year. Joel’s Christmas Day display was equivalent to Brad Pitt standing shirtless on the roof, smoking a cigarette.
Brett Brown is Quentin Tarantino
Bare with me on this one. I will firstly concede that Brett Brown and Quentin Tarantino do not have similar personalities or appearances. You’ve never listened to Brett’s buttery timbre discussing a game’s rotations and thought, “You know who he reminds me of? Tarantino.” But, Brett is the director of the Sixers. And it is upon Brett to wrangle the egos and desires of a number of high-caliber athletes, all of whom have their own personal agendas and goals in mind. In directing ONCE UPON A TIME... IN HOLLYWOOD, Tarantino had to do the same with Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Al Pacino, and a host of other high-powered stars. Both men are bound and determined to lead a disparate group toward one common goal. Both men have their own detractors and past misfires. Time will tell whether or not Brett Brown and Quentin Tarantino will ultimately succeed, and reap the ultimate reward for their stewardship.