This is a guest post written by friend Dan Leifer. “Big Purple,” as he is known in some circles, is a humble mind who understands hoops and humor like a good man should. With my freakishly long arms, I welcome Purp to the AGR community.
For those of us who happen to be gentiles, the Hannukah story concerns itself with the concept of seemingly impossible length. The Jannukah story concerns itself with the same thing, really. Hannukah, of course, is about candles burning for a miraculous length of time, while Jannukah, on the other hand, is about the length of a man’s arms.
The story begins Sunday, January 8th, 2011, when a man by the name of Jan Vesely made his NBA debut. I (your friendly prophet) happened to be playing a videogame on my laptop while struggling through the Wizards-Wolves game, and suddenly, a 6′ 11″ white beanstalk appeared on my screen. The consensus was that he would be a bust, and as I watched him play a few minutes, I couldn’t agree more. I looked at his body language, and he seemed like the least interested basketball player I’d ever seen (and yes, I’ve seen late-career Baron Davis play basketball). His shoulders sagged constantly, his eyes were dull, and his arms seemed to just constantly dangle at his sides. I closed the laptop, threw The Wire on DVD, shook my head, and moved on.
The following game, however, everything changed. Wizards-Raptors, lower center seats for 15 bucks on StubHub–I’m at the game. I mention to Sam Shin, fellow cynical Wizards fan, that Jan Vesely made his debut in the previous game and might get serious minutes tonight. He looked interested, but I told him that if watched his body language, Jan “Eeyore” Vesely single-handedly would make him hate basketball.
A little ways into the game, as we personally watched Vesely take the court, we had an epiphany. Suddenly, everything came together into clear focus; it was all about his arms. Vesely’s arms start, like most arms do, at his shoulders; then, they extend down, down, down his body and never seem to end, just as the oil never went out in the Hannukah tale.
The arms explained everything–Vesely’s shoulders constantly droop because he spends his whole life being weighed down by his interminable limbs. They flop and dangle as he moves because, with arms like that, what else would they do? Sam and I, already staring at his arms, became equally mesmerized by how he used those arms. When the Raptors had the ball, Vesely used those arms to clog the passing lanes, and suddenly, for the first time all season, the Wizards were repeatedly gaining possession of the basketball.
Sam and I were on the edge of our seats; we could feel the rest of the crowd getting into it as well. We were Wizards fans. We didn’t know what real defense was, our closest approximation of it being the way Larry Hughes used to take himself out of plays in his annual quest to lead the league in steals.
Vesely, though, hustled on D, got around the pick-and-rolls the Raptors ran for their point guard on every play, and when they passed out of it, his arms took care of the rest. With each Vesely-induced turnover, the crowd cheered louder and louder. The Raptors had sprung out to an early first-quarter lead before Vesely entered the game, and they never led after he left.
Checking the stats after the game, Vesely was credited with five steals in his 16 minutes of playing time, but we counted that he slapped the ball to teammates (giving them the steal) at least two or three times more. For reference, even in Larry Hughes’ league-leading days of stealing prowess, Hughes had half as many steals in twice as many minutes on a per-game basis. In addition, the primary distributor for the Raptors was Jose Calderon, whose calling card is his sparkling assist-to-turnover ratios, where he habitually ranks among the league leaders.
When Vesely finally left for good in the fourth quarter, I witnessed a crowd give a standing ovation for a man that had scored a grand total of four points over the entire game, and I participated in that ovation harder than anyone. The fans weren’t the only ones who were excited; Wizards coach Flip Saunders gave Vesely a very affectionate pat on his way to the bench and John Wall even reached up and tousled his hair, a hilarious sight given that Vesely is a good seven inches taller than Wall.
Watching Jan Vesely (or “Rondo Arms” as we now called him), though, is a bipolar experience. When Vesely is engaged in a basketball activity, such as setting a pick, defending against a pick, or dunking, it’s a wonderful experience. His feet move incredibly quickly for a 6’11’’ man, his long arms do their job, and everything seems right with the world. When he’s just doing nothing, though, he goes straight into Eeyore mode, the apex of apathy. Vesely’s game, too, is either masterful or mud. He can run the break well, and indeed finished two different alley-oops in his 16 minutes on the floor, but that’s all he can contribute offensively at this point.
Since Sam and I were so taken by his appearance and performance, we watched every shot he took in the shoot-around between halves. Vesely took two layups, missing one of them, and missed literally every single shot he took otherwise. In fact, though we missed pregame warmups, sources tell me he was actually air-balling free throws. On offense, you could see Vesely turn down shot oppoturnities, electing only to look for dunks, set picks, and position himself for rebounds. The one time he found himself with the ball and space to shoot, he passed (something he appears to do very well, actually).
For Wizards fans mired in depression after an 0-8 start to the season, Jan Vesely, in good Tebow fashion, unexpectedly brought us out of our funk into the winner’s circle. Last night, January 10th, the first annual Jannukah, Wizards fans got to believe in believing again. Given that Vesely can’t shoot even in the slightest, his ridiculous +14 night (almost +1 per minute) will probably prove to be an aberration. When I relive Vesely’s infamous draft video, I usually wish I were him; for those 16 minutes against the Raptors, though, I almost wished I were the blonde.
UPDATE: According to Michael Lee, Nick Young called Jan Vesely the new fan favorite after the game, saying he had brought “overseas swag.” Great, now I have to decide whether to call him Rondo Arms or Overseas Swag.
Thanks for the hilarious (and strangely insightful) post, Leifer! Did y’all like Purple’s debut as much as he liked Vesely’s game? Comment on the article or email is at AGRBasketball (at) gmail.com. Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @AGRbasketball and Like us on Facebook!