PLAY OF THE NIGHT: Nikola the Silent Movie Cat

Movies have abandoned the body. Once, you could sit down in a theater on any given weekend and watch unbelievable dancers moving across a large frame, your mouth agape, in awe of full command of their movements. But as years went by, technologies improved and tastes trended away from the spectacular and towards the evocative: close ups, big faces, illusionary intimacy as opposed to the sense of a stage, the body just plain had less to do on a screen. That’s not to say that we’ve totally lost our appreciation for watching the human body pushed to its limits anymore. The space where we luxuriate in that sense has just moved away from, for instance, high concept musicals about a man who stumbles onto a magical Scottish village that only appears in our reality once every hundred years, to an even most absurd narrative, competitive sports.

Young Michael Jordan evokes Astaire. They’re both clever, impossibly wiry, they glide along the court like they’ve got hovercrafts in their shoes and they seem spontaneous while, in actuality, drawing from a deeply obsessive choreographed work ethic. They also both have pretty large heads.

Most of the NBA Greats have some of this quality in some degree or another. Extraordinary physical genius mixed with some impossible refined set of skill and a dash of spatial genius that makes them preternaturally one step ahead of their opponents’ and their audience’s expectations. 

And then, there’s this guy.

Nba Players Association Idk GIF by NBPA - Find & Share on GIPHY

Jokic has the spatial genius, of course and the way he controls the ball with his hands is refined in a way that suggests some degree of mental discipline at work in his game, but, most of the time, as a viewer, you feel like you’re watching a lumbering weirdo who became one of the ten or so best basketball players on the planet through whim of some witch.

In yesterday’s game between the Nuggets and the Thunder, Jokic caught Chris Paul in the right corner after some sloppy transition defense by the Nuggets. You might recall, two years ago or so, Paul fucking roasting Nikolai on one of these in the exact same spot, one of the NBA’s premiere ball handlers just absolutely turning around this big goofy fella around and sending his arms all flying everywhere. 

This time, though, Jokic is… I mean, I don’t think I’d say prepared, but he’s certainly proactive. Instead of trying to track Paul with his feet, he gives him some room to shoot. Paul fakes. Jokic’s hands go up along with him. He jerks forward, Jokic spasms, ready to challenge a drive. 

Paul takes a dribble or two, and then something magical happens. Instead of trying to keep up with CP3, Jokic just starts swiping at the ball like a giant cat. One big lunge at the ball, all torso, feet still, which Paul easily dribbles away from. A second, more ineffectual swipe that looks a little like he’s trying to obscure Paul’s frame of vision, fifth grader on a playground style. Paul dribbles. Jokic makes the same swipe again, but this time, his hand is miles away from Paul’s face. Paul steps back, fades away, and hits backiron. 

The motion picture physical movement supergenius that Jokic resembles is not a dancer. He is, instead, a silent comedian, the Charlie Chaplin of the hardwood, an everyman operating in a strange, complicated world, alternating between apparent goofy gracelessness and extraordinary moments of physical acuity with very little in between. Who else in the history of the league can you even say this about? While everyone else is gliding he’s bending and manipulating the rubber band of his lumpen self and getting equally entertaining and effective results. God Bless this guy, one of a kind, the great graceful comic genius of the NBA’s silent screen.

blessings and thanks to to dave dufour for extracting the clip

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