What better way to look at the D-League offseason so far than through Dave Chappelle's Block Party?
Simmons did it, of course (as he has every year forever), and Shoals did it, and if they can write a basketball-movie quote column, then they can teach a class! I mean I can write a basketball-movie quote column! That's right, it's Ridiculous Upside's Movie Quote Offseason Roundup Spectacular, wherein we take a look at the D-League's offseason developments through the use of movie quotes. Is this premise clear enough? And what movie, I can hear you asking. My initial thought was "Ghostbusters," mostly because I'm always up to
bore people talk about "Ghostbusters." But then I thought, both Simmons and Shoals used movies centered around music, so why not go through one of my favorite music-related movies, "Dave Chappelle's Block Party."
Scott had apparently never heard of this movie, so in case there's anyone else out there in the same spot a brief backgrounder: in 2004, just after he signed his massive contract with Comedy Central, comedian Dave Chappelle decided that what he'd really like to do was throw a concert in New York. The musicians he invited were mostly his friends and others who had performed on Chappelle's Show, including the Roots, Kanye West, dead prez, Mos Def and Talib Kweli, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott and a reunited Fugees. Oh, and he got acclaimed director Michel Gondry ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," a lot of music videos) to film it along with the few days leading up to the concert itself. Adding to the excitement is the fact that the concert was more or less a surprise to people. It wasn't announced until a few days beforehand, and even then a lot of the people who attended didn't really know all of the details. It's a really fun movie that has some great music (assuming you like those groups - I know Kweli has his detractors, and I personally never really got all the fuss over the Fugees), and looking back on it now it provides some context for the careers of both Chappelle and Gondry. You get one performer at the very beginning of his career (Kanye West), another essentially at the end of theirs (the Fugees as a group), and a lot of great (hopefully) quotes and moments.
This won't go in chronological order, either for the film or for the last few months. Instead, I've broken it into two sections. And, because this is a BASKETBALL COLUMN and not JUST ME TALKING ABOUT A MOVIE I LIKE, all quotes or events in the movie (some of which I'm going to have to use quotes to lead into, but the quotes themselves aren't that notable) Part one, dealing with developments involving teams and the D-League itself, is below the jump.
"Hey man, what's happenin'. Car just broke down?"
We begin the way the movie did, with two men trying to get a car started. We're in Dayton, Ohio, right next to the practice field of the Central State University marching band. Chappelle lives in Dayton, in part because he's not hounded by media there or "treated like a celebrity." One of the best things about the block party (the actual concert) is that Chappelle invites people from Dayton, and provides for their transportation and hotel rooms. It's a nice touch on his part and everyone who goes seems to have fun. He invites the people who work at the convenience store he frequents, the guys who work at the barbershop, random college kids, even the town's probation officers. So anyway, These guys are trying to fix this car when Chappelle walks by. Two great things about this scene: first, the marching band starts playing right when the guy looking under the hood starts to ask the guy behind the wheel a question, which is something you usually just see in sitcoms. I still haven't completely figured out whether it actually happened that way or if it's a trick of editing (there are all kinds of great editing tricks and transitions in this movie), but either way it works, and Chappelle re-asks the question using his megaphone. Which brings me to the second-best thing about the scene - the guy sitting in the car. An older gentleman, he spends the vast majority of the scene staring directly into the camera, as if he has no idea why he's being filmed trying to start his car.
Oh right, this is about basketball. How about this: the guys with the broken-down car are the Bakersfield Jam, and Chappelle is Jeannie Buss? The Jam were about to fold after spending millions of dollars on a new practice facility when Lakers exec/owner's daughter/coach's girlfriend came along, helped the ownership out, and the Jam (who made the playoffs last year) got a second chance. And they're not even affiliated with the Lakers! Oh, and speaking of those probation officers:
"How often does a brother get a chance to chill out with the probation officer on some social stuff?"
Submitted without comment, this was on Utah Flash owner Brandt Anderson's Twitter. I'd realllly like to know what happened.
"Upon a discussion I had with our president and Mr. David Chappelle, the performances on Saturday have been cancelled. I'm serious. However, there has been a change in plans. We will be travelling to New York [the rest inaudible over everyone screaming]."
Probably the best moment in the film comes when the CSU marching band finds out they're going to perform at the block party. Everyone goes nuts, the color guard starts hugging Chappelle, and you can tell it means a lot to them, going to college in Dayton where no celebrities decide to throw an impromptu block party/superstar rap concert. Of course, they have to drive there on charter buses in the rain before arriving in New York in the middle of the night before the concert and end up getting about four hours of sleep. And what could be more exciting for a basketball team than winning the championship? Just like those college kids, the Colorado 14ers got to celebrate earlier this year before packing up their bags, taking a season off and moving to Frisco, Texas. Hopefully the Frisco players get four hours of sleep before the first game.
Drum Major 1: "Compensation is what?"
Chappelle: "Compensation? Uh, that comes with a sandwich?"
Drum Major 2: "Will there be snacks?"
Chappelle: "Oh, there'll be snacks. We got, don't we got snacks in the budget?"
This exchange comes when Chappelle asks the band's director and its three drum majors if they'll perform at his concert. The guy asking if there will be snacks always cracks me up. Also great is how serious the first drum major is when asking how they'll be compensated. You were asked to march in a free concert and be filmed for a documentary, guy. This isn't a Disney Channel joint (and even then, I would bet that the Disney performers don't earn a fraction of what the corporation makes off of them. But now I'm off-topic. Remember, this is a BASKETBALL COLUMN). Let's go back to the Bakersfield Jam and take time to recognize they're, frankly, pretty crazy bold idea to get season ticket holders to
drive five hours to watch a Giants game have a new place to bring work clients and ignore the game charge people thousands of dollars to watch a D-League team play in a practice facility.
"You know we're having a concert in front of your house Saturday. You excited?"
"Yes, and you're welcome to come and rest your loins at any point."
When Dave Chappelle's Block Party came out in theaters, most of the reviews I read said something along the lines of, "this movie's good and a lot of fun, except Gondry spends too much time with the eccentric couple." By way of background, the concert Chappelle put on was on a street corner in Brooklyn, though it was more like an elbow of a street (meaning it was where two streets dead-ended in the same place). So there was privacy, and they didn't have to disrupt a ton of traffic. On that corner is a pre-school, a chair factory, a Salvation Army storage facility and...this house, called the Broken Angel house (for reasons I'll explain later). The people who live there are this couple of indeterminate-but-older age who are pretty clearly former hippies (that's them in the picture at the very top), or perhaps even whatever the equivalent of hippies was in the 40s. The house they live in looks like it's a former warehouse, and they've been living there for 40+ years and have been renovating it the entire time - and it's still only a third of the way complete! It's enormous, as you would expect a former warehouse to be, and it's absolutely full of old junk. Some of the rooms really look pretty sad for how much stuff is strewn about. There also aren't really stairs in this place as much as there are ladders that you have to climb to get to all the rooms. As Chappelle says, "because they bought it it kinda has some sort of meaning, but if I was a location scout, and we needed a crackhouse, I might refer that place." Gondry is clearly fascinated with these people (or at least the wife, who does 95 percent of the talking), and there's a stretch of eight and a half straight minutes of either talking to this couple, or of Chappelle telling other people about this couple, which is a fair amount of time in a movie that's less than two hours long. So, for a decision that baffled critics, I give you the most baffling decision of this offseason: splitting the D-League into two conferences, and sticking Dakota and Sioux Falls in the East.
Last season, of course, there were three divisions, and while both the Wizards and the Skyforce had to travel to Pennsylvania a few times a season (and vice versa), the addition of teams in Maine and Massachusetts should've fixed that. If I were in charge of these things (and despite what some commenters may think, I'm pretty clearly not), I would've made four divisions of four teams each. Check this out:
|Los Angeles||Rio Grande Valley||Sioux Falls||Maine|
Makes sense, right? The reason why this is important is because flying from Sioux Falls to Iowa to Massacusetts to Maine to Pennsylvania to Indiana and back to South Dakota (which is a real stretch in the Skyforce's schedule) is expensive. Especially when teams are struggling to stay afloat, I'd think the league would want to make it easier on teams by giving them more games that are actually, geographically closer to where they are. It also seems a bit foolhardy to try to play up something line Maine-Dakota as a "regional rivalry," which is what those marketing departments will have to do. I also remember reading something about how baseball's unbalanced schedule (in which teams play against their division rivals more often) has had a (minimal, but still there) positive environmental impact, because teams are using less jet fuel to fly across the country. I can't find that article now, though, but it's an interesting idea and one that the D-League, as an incubator of ideas remember, could've jumped on. And since we're on the subject of those new franchises...
"She jumped off into the crowd's arms. That was exciting."
Hey, here's something I never really expected to see - Erykah Badu crowd-surfing. That's right, I said Erykah Badu. Of all the people who performed at this concert, she would've been at the bottom of my list of likely crowd-surfers. Of course, it was windy that day, and she had to take her enormous afro wig off lest it blow away. And, since she was in her short hair anyway, she decided to take her jacket off revealing a sleeveless ripped "Coroner" t-shirt. And, since she had gone that far, Badu jumped into the crowd at the end of her set. It's a neat, fun moment, and the crowd got about as excited as the older Ohio lady quoted above, if not more. And who could be more excited about the upcoming D-League season than fans in Springfield, Massachusetts and Portland, Maine, who each have shiny new teams to root for (well, the Springfeld team used to be the Anaheim Arsenal). The teams are excited to be there, too! So excited, in fact, they're promoting themselves in the goofiest ways possible. Which leads me to...
"We were recording a song and Wyclef shows up. And that was like, you know, much uh, earlier times, you know. So he had on this big velvet crown, you know. This is around the time when we had Batman, everything was Batman, a big Batman buttons. Y'all didn't do that down south? Well, a few people up here, but okay. But, he had on these patent leather boots, with these um, big police badge things on the boots and his pants tucked in."
That's Lauryn Hill of the Fugees talking about the first time she met Wyclef Jean. Hilarious. Almost as hilarious as the Springfield Armor mascot:
"Your mother's so short you can see her feet on her driver's license picture. Hit me!"
The best thing about this movie is, of course, Dave Chappelle himself. He comes across as an incredibly engaging guy, whether he's talking to people in Dayton or on stage in front of a crowd. Without getting too melodramatic about it, because this concert took place in between seasons 2 and 3 of Chappelle's TV show - in other words, right after he signed a huge contract but before he let it get to him and went to Africa to clear his head - it's almost a reminder of better times for Chappelle, back when he could joke around and be goofy and tell jokes without worrying about whether people were, sorry for the cliché, laughing with him or at him. There are several scenes of Chappelle joking around with the musicians and the band the day before the concert, and he cracks everyone up (including himself) telling dumb jokes like the one above. (The "hit me" part comes as part of a routine he does with the band involving James Brown-style band hits). In all, the Chappelle you see in the movie is someone who enjoys hanging out with his friends and being goofy as hell.
To bring this to basketball, of all the goofy stuff that happens with the D-League and basketball in general, I can't think of anything goofier that's happened this offseason than the Maine Red Claws "chowdah for the crowdah" ad. Now, I've never been to Maine, so perhaps I'm wrong about this. But the people who live there can't be that into lobster and chowder, can they? I mean, they're into lobster as an economic driver, and they probably do find it delicious, but they eat things other than chowder up there, right? Or is it nothing but dairy-based soups and chitinous animals for dinner? Having local hooks to advertising is fine and all, particularly for minor league sports, but I guess I can't see the Austin Toros running a promotion saying "watching a game is like eating the most delicious barbecue you've ever had."
"My name is Dante. Some people call me Mos Def, some people call me other things."
Mos Def is all over this film, both in performing and backstage. Part of that is because he's good friends with Chappelle, and so is hanging out listening to the descriptions of the Broken Angel house, playing drums while Chappelle tells his goofy jokes, etc., but Mos Def also has great stage presence, and you can tell that Michel Gondry was instantly smitten with him. "Block Party" was an inspiration of sorts for Gondry's next film, "Be Kind Rewind" that starred the Mighty Mos and centered on a neighborhood that had seen better days, not unlike the Bed-Stuy neighborhood where the concert took play, and the sense of community that was fostered around a creative endeavor. I haven't seen "Rewind" since it was in theaters so I don't remember much of it, but Mos is definitely (sorry) one of the best things about the film. Just as you're not surprised watching "Block Party" that Gondry and Mos Def would work together in the future, I can't say I was surprised to hear that the Rockets were taking control over the Rio Grande Valley Vipers' basketball operations. You could just tell their partnership would deepen, especially when last year's "affiliate night" in RGV turned into "our players wear Rockets jerseys night," months before any announcement was made. Hopefully the affiliation of Houston and the Vipers turns out a little better than the solid-in-places-but-definitely-not-great "Be Kind Rewind."
"The Roots used to hold, um, jam sessions at this club called Wetlands in New York City every Sunday night, so a lot of times, the Roots were the house band."
The Roots are the studio band for Jimmy Fallon now (which I'm not going to get into here, but ugh), but before that they were one of the best touring bands in the country of any genre, if not the best. They have a solid collection of songs that the Brooklyn crowd would've loved, but instead at the block party they basically showcased other people's talents. They performed "Boom!" for instance, but instead of having Black Thought imitate Big Daddy Kane and Kool G Rap the way he did on the record, they brought out the two rap legends to spit verses themselves. Or take their performance of "You Got Me," which was written with Jill Scott but sung on record by Erykah Badu. Jill Scott was at the concert, so the Roots had her perform the song, but as Badu also was there, ?uestlove brings her up to join in. What results is a pretty fantastic dynamic of Badu and Scott singing their tails off both as friends and in trying to outdo each other. (Cody Chesnutt is also hanging around the concert but isn't shown performing, and if I had to guess I'd say he was there to perform with the Roots as well.)
As way of transition to part 2, and again, because this has been a BASKETBALL COLUMN, these dynamics also could be found at Summer League, where you had NBA teams bringing in players from the D-League and Europe to compete with their own recent draft picks and young players and guys who went unselected in the 2009 Draft, all trying to support each other and outdo each other. The NBA teams themselves also, in certain circumstances, served as showcases for outside talent just like the Roots were - the Denver Nuggets and Orlando Magic should be of particular note. Kasib Powell, Russell Robinson and Richard Hendrix all got a chance to show what they could do for the Magic team, while Hendrix joined Coby Karl, Derrick Byars, Ronald Dupree, CJ Giles and part-Nugget, part-14er Sonny Weems for a Denver squad that was really like a second D-League Select team.
And with that, we'll come back tomorrow for part 2 of our look at the D-League offseason through the lens of "Dave Chappelle's Block Party," focusing on players and coaches.