The Bard and Basketball


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I love playoff basketball. And I was part of the 18,119-person throng that filled FedExForum last Thursday for (yet another) overtime thriller between the Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder.

I also happen to love Shakespeare. This weekend, I’ll be part of a smaller crowd — though no less enthusiastic — at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens, where the Tennessee Shakespeare Company is presenting The Taming of the Shrew.

No connection between the NBA playoffs and the epic tale of Kate and Petruchio? Take a look at these lines and you’ll see the Bard and the Grindfather aren’t so distant cousins.

“I’ll not budge an inch.”

Sit in FedExForum for as many as 10 minutes and you’ll recognize that Tony Allen runs the place. He’s coming off the bench now, but it doesn’t matter. Allen embodies the soul of this city — not just the Grizzlies franchise — in a manner I’m not sure any other current NBA player can claim. (Does LeBron James make you feel Miami? Kobe Bryant’s no more L.A. than the Lakers’ most famous fan, Jack Nicholson.) Part of what makes Allen so distinctly Bluff City is the hot-and-cold nature of his playing style. In Game 3 against the Thunder, he outplayed the league’s presumptive MVP (Kevin Durant) in the first half, scoring 10 points in 11 minutes. But then Allen’s foul on Russell Westbrook as the Thunder guard attempted a three-pointer (and made it) allowed Oklahoma City to tie the game and force overtime. But only after Allen(!) ended a seven-minute Griz scoring drought. He’s a weapon of destruction, often for both teams. And he never budges.

“Asses are made to bear, and so are you.”

If you saw it, you won’t forget it. Late in the first half of Game 3, there was a loose-ball scrum near midcourt, one that resulted in Thunder center Kendrick Perkins sitting on Grizzly forward Mike Miller. For at least a three-count. Jerry Lawler witnessed the act (and didn’t rush in for the tag).

“There’s small choice in rotten apples.”

Reserve point guard Reggie Jackson was instrumental in the Thunder’s Game 4 win last Saturday. That performance aside, though, Oklahoma City’s supporting cast — those players not named Durant, Westbrook or Serge Ibaka — are just filling uniforms. It’s a tribute to Durant’s greatness (and the impressive talents of Westbrook and Ibaka) that this team won 59 games. In Game 3 last Thursday, the Thunder’s top trio scored 72 points. Everyone else: 23.

“Old fashions please me best.”

I really don’t like the look of leggings on NBA players. Kevin Durant is the best player in the world currently sporting these tights that extend to a player’s sock line. Do they serve a purpose? Improve circulation? Keep the legs warm? It’s as though NBA players are bashful when it comes to bare legs. First, shorts are extended to the knee. Now these leggings hide a player’s calves. Combined with the baggy shorts, we’re getting close to a pajama look. And pro basketball players are too cool for that.

“A little pot and soon hot.”

Playoff basketball. Shakespeare. I also happen to love KISS. So I genuinely embrace the pyrotechnics during Griz pregame introductions. It’s remarkable what volume, video (slow-motion dunks), and a couple of flaming backboards will do to a crowd of basketball fans. Especially in a building we’ve come to call the Grindhouse.

“He that is giddy thinks the world turns round.”

Isn’t this why we watch playoff basketball in the first place? The extraordinary athleticism draws us. Shooting skills like this can’t be found at your local Y. But ultimately, it’s that rush of a big win. Whether unexpected, predictable, or just plain lucky — last Thursday’s contest had each — a playoff victory provides a fan with a free and legal high, one that lasts at least until the next tip-off (or overtime loss). When we start over again. With pyro.

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