Series NBA

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The end of the NBA came not from a scandal but from a windfall.

It was the great bull economy of 2018. Record profits and hot IPOs dominated pop culture. Unexpectedly at the center of it all? Golden State Warriors forward Andre Iguodala.

Shortly after being traded to the Warriors in 2013, Iguodala became an angel investor. Among his investments were five multibillion dollar IPOs: Casper, Mayven, Walker & Co, Micd, and fellow NBA star D’Angelo Russell’s NSA outsourcing firm D'Alantir.

By the end of the year Iggy was the 28th richest person in the world.

The effect on the NBA was immediate. Boat rentals in the Caribbean were canceled. Airbnbs near Silicon Valley and San Francisco were booked solid all summer. More than 80 NBA players interned for venture capital firms that offseason. 

The player-interns were great marketing for the VCs. Everyone wanted to meet them. The hottest unicorns took discounted funding for the chance to get a player on their board. They called it getting your “Series NBA.”

After that frothy offseason, the worlds of VC and the NBA were changed forever.

Venture capital was vastly improved. In all, more than 400 NBA players began actively investing, some full-time. Very different kinds of startups were getting funded: limited edition style, local businesses, more playful tech. Entrepreneurship rates around the world soared. 

Though it wouldn’t be obvious for another five years, the NBA as we knew it was over.

It started subtly. In the month of December more players missed games because of board meetings than injuries. Arena scoreboards began listing prices for Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Lonzocoin. During the playoffs Uber held a board meeting on the Warriors plane — four of the company’s directors were players.

The game on the court suffered. Players scanned prospectus’ during free throws. Andre Drummond got fined for beta testing the latest pre-launch Magic Leap prototype in a game. Marc Gasol Facetimed into a meeting with Softbank’s CEO while beating the Suns by 20.

The weekly partner meetings and one-on-ones were the last straw. Travel became impossible. During the 2022 lockout the players negotiated one “play from home” day a week.

The entire 2025 season was played remotely using NBA 2K and streamed on Twitch. Players used their own 2K avatars. It was by far the most watched Finals in NBA history.* 

By then the man who started the sea change was out of the league. Andre Iguodala was even out of investing. In 2022, he sold his stocks, resigned all 49 of his board seats, and left Silicon Valley for an unknown location in the LLC formerly known as New Zealand. No one has heard from him since.

*It was the Warriors’ thirteenth straight championship.

Playing not to win

It’s not that he wanted to lose. He just didn’t think the rewards of winning were worth it. You play your heart out for 82 games, running the same sets and the same routines over and over again. What’s your reward for doing that well? Do it again. And again. And again.

Jason Thompson didn’t buy it. He never had. Drafted by the Sacramento Kings in 2008 out of a small New Jersey college, Thompson had long shunned the spotlight. He was a man with many hungers. Glory wasn’t one of them.

As a man this didn’t make Jason unique, but as a professional athlete it made him rare. Who else, in the history of sports, played not to win? As far as he knew, Jason was the only one.

For a fan watching at home, Jason’s lack of desire wasn’t apparent. He played hard. He did the little things. He supported his teammates. He didn’t sulk. He didn’t show up late. He just simply did exactly enough to keep his job and not much else. In that way he was more like the fans at home than any of them knew.

Jason’s unique mentality came through in the offseason. When his contract was up his request to his agent was simple: get me as much money as possible with a team that is guaranteed not to make the playoffs. He had grown to love his late spring vacations. Trips to Japan in April, the Caribbean in May, exotic locales where he was the only NBA player. This, he came to see, was what it meant to live the life.

His agent would try to talk him out of it. “Let’s leave Sacramento. There’s more opportunity elsewhere.” But Jason knew that Sacramento fit his lifestyle. The listlessness and confusion of that franchise was the perfect camouflage for a man who didn’t want to win.

This isn’t how Jason thought about it, of course. He was simply maximizing his time and salary. Get paid more to do less than other players. It made sense to him. Maybe he just knew how to enjoy the finer things more than the other guys.

There was a very close call — a trade to the Warriors during their 73-win season. Sitting at the end of the bench and watching that unfold was special for Jason. But it wasn’t enough to change plans: he asked to be waived by the Warriors just before the playoffs began. He had a non-refundable trip to China he’d been planning for a year.

In his last NBA season — a one-year flier with the Raptors — Jason saw the postseason for the first time. Jason was thrilled for his teammates, but as the Raptors kept advancing his longing grew for the outside world. Here I am sitting in an ugly arena when I could be hiking in Tuscany, he thought.

It was his last game in the NBA.

The Bed-Stuy Nets

Q: What would happen if the New Jersey Nets had decided to play in a high school gym in Bed-Stuy instead of building the Barclays Center?

A: Great question! Let’s time travel our way there and see what we find…

In a stunning move, the New Jersey Nets today announced that their new home arena will be a 1,000 seat high school gym in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. The goal, according to team owner Jay-Z, is to take the NBA back to its roots.

All-star point guard Derron Williams announced he was resigning with the team upon hearing the news. “Other teams do throwback jerseys,” he said. “Our whole franchise is a throwback. We’re Hoosiers.”

Fans agreed. Nets merchandise became the best selling in the NBA. The Nets — once a laughingstock in New Jersey — were the epitome of Brooklyn cool. 

Agents for Lebron James and Dwight Howard signaled their clients were interested in talking with the team. Around the league, interest in playing for the Nets grew. Some players said it made the NBA feel like being in high school again.

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From the beginning, the Nets said they wanted the people that lived in Bed-Stuy, predominantly lower income and African-American, to attend games. To support this, they announced that half the seats for every game would be reserved for Bed-Stuy residents, and that those tickets would always cost just $20.

Fans responded with wild enthusiasm. The crowd for the first home game in The Gym was the happiest, most energized collection of 1,000 people that the world had ever seen. 

Within a week The Gym was known as the most intimidating place to play in the NBA. It was louder than the runways at JFK. Opposing teams lost constantly there — and they looked forward to coming back. There was nothing like it. 

Alas, the good times did not last. The combination of cheap rents and $20 tickets were unlike anything the real estate industry had seen. Gentrification skyrocketed. New construction, chain stores, and high rises were everywhere. The people who made Bed-Stuy were being forced out.

The neighborhood’s change became visible during home broadcasts. The team’s fan base was getting richer and whiter. And quieter. The energy level began to drop. The team’s play matched it. The Gym’s silence during loss after loss became excruciating. 

Ten years after the first game at The Gym, the team announced that the upcoming season would be its last. Because of rising rents in Bed-Stuy, they could no longer afford to stay. The Nets announced a new state-of-the-art stadium in Hoboken, back in New Jersey.  The Gym, a basketball mecca for many years, would become a Duane Reade.

The Tiny Giant

*Clank!*

The shot rattles off the rim. The clock ticks 0.00. Instead of an iconic series winner, it’s a disappointing home loss and a looming Game Seven. 

At the post-game press conference a reporter asks Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas about his miss. 

“Would a taller point guard have made it?”

All five feet, six inches of Isaiah glares into the lights. “I should have made it,” he says.

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*Crack!*

Outside the plane window a bolt of lightning streaks across the sky. Isaiah and Marcus Smart exchange glances. WTF.

The plane lurches hard to the right. The players let out a yell. The plane lurches hard to the left. A louder yell. 

*Crack!*

Another bolt of lightning, this one just outside the window. A loud beep begins from the cockpit. The plane dives forward.

All around people pull out their phones. Texts, frantic calls. Isaiah stares straight forward. Under his breath he prays for his family. His words gain volume and speed to match the plane’s descent. 

*Crack! Crack!*

A third lighting strike hits the fuselage. The interior flashes light and dark just as Isaiah finishes his prayer: “And please God make me taller.”

The plane straightens. The storm outside stops. The pilot’s voice comes over the loudspeaker: “Thanks to your prayers we’re safe.”

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*Crash!* 

Isaiah knocks his phone off the nightstand as the alarm goes off. He slept deeply. Tonight is Game Seven.

Isaiah feels his toes stretch against the carpet. He stands and stretches his arms. He’s startled: his fingers bang into the ceiling.

Isaiah pulls his hands to his face and tilts his head. Something doesn’t look right. He rushes to the bathroom, ducking just in time to avoid hitting his head on the doorframe.

Isaiah can not believe what he sees in the mirror. Somehow and for some reason, the smallest All Star in NBA history is now eight feet tall.

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*Gasp!*

He could hear the Cleveland crowd’s shock as he ran out of the tunnel. The arena, raucous just seconds before, goes silent. The other players stop shooting and stare dumbfounded. 

Isaiah Thomas — yes that Isaiah Thomas — is eight feet tall.

When Isaiah walked into the locker room that afternoon with his new physique, his teammates had the same reaction. Only Marcus Smart, who heard Isaiah’s prayer, and Coach Brad Stevens, who had gameplanned for this possibility, were not surprised.

After Isaiah reminded them of their plane ride and told them about his prayer, Al Horford helpfully chimed in, “It’s like Big.” None of the players had seen the movie. Hearing Al retell the movie’s plot helped to distract the team from the startling sight before them.

The players slowly acclimated, looking at Isaiah with growing admiration. Coach adjusted the gameplan. The equipment crew got to work on figuring out what he would wear. 

Isaiah felt ready. His whole life he’d dreamt this would happen.

The Cleveland crowd was not ready. After a few moments of confused silence, they begin to boo. Jeers rain from every corner of the arena. “Cheater!” someone screams.

This builds into a steady chant, “Cheater! Cheater! Cheater!” Adam Silver scurries to the tunnel to consult with the officials. Is this illegal? What should they do? 

Television executives knew what to do: put this on television! Isaiah’s metamorphosis was drawing big-time ratings. The game would go on.

As the teams prepare for tip-off, Isaiah nudges Al Horford. Isaiah, for the first time in his basketball career, is going to take — and win — the opening tip.

The game begins awkwardly. Thomas’ size changes the court’s geometry. Both teams play tentatively.

The Celtics gameplan is the same as it had been all year: get Isaiah the ball and let him go to work. But aside from two electrifying Horford-to-Thomas alley-oops, Isaiah is ineffective.

The ball, normally glued to his hand, has farther to travel. Kyrie gets a quick steal. When Isaiah pushes off to separate from his defender, Lebron goes flying across the court. Isaiah gets a flagrant.

The fans boo lustily as he heads to the bench. He takes his seat next to Coach Stevens but is quickly told to move. His feet are so big they extend onto the court. Isaiah is moved to the end of the bench, displacing two photographers to make room. His head hangs low.

When the teams return for the second half, Isaiah has better control. He abandons his jumper and goes to the rim. He is borderline unstoppable. 

The game goes back and forth. With 8 seconds left, it’s a one-point Cavs lead. With the clock winding down, Isaiah drives to the rim and is fouled hard. With no time remaining he steps to the line.

“Cheater! Cheater! Cheater!” The chants are louder than ever. The building quakes.

Isaiah takes a deep breath. He hears the voices and what they are saying. In his heart, he agrees with them.

Suddenly Isaiah kneels at the foul line. The crowd hushes. He motions to the referee for the ball. It’s not exactly his old height, but it’s close. He fires up his first free throw from his knees.

*Swish!*

Tie game.

The crowd screams louder. The stands shake. It feels like the fateful flight. Isaiah releases the second free throw.

*Swish!*

Game over. Celtics win! Isaiah’s teammates rush to him, clinging to his arms like they're branches of a tree. The world’s tiniest giant wears an enormous smile.

At the post-game press conference a reporter asks Isaiah about the game.

“Was it worth losing what makes you special to win?”

Isaiah glares into the camera. “If we win a title it will be.”

Two days later, Isaiah and his Celtics go on to the Finals to face the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors sweep in four.

Going for 100

On his 47th attempt, he broke through: 82 points. He made all of his free throws and only missed the one three. Ten years, 47 attemps, and a one point improvement. This was going to take a while.

Kobe had no problem with this. The hard part was getting the team together. Ever since Luke took the coaching job for the Lakers, things had become tricky. How to get everyone to Marina del Ray on the same day? There had been that close call with Lamar a few years earlier. Kobe was the first one there for his former teammate — and to preserve the potential of ultimate destiny.

Wilt’s 100 point game is the one unbreakable record in the NBA. Even in the post-Russ, post-Steph world, that record looks impossible to fall. Who could possibly take that many shots? Whose teammates could deal with taking not even a backseat, but being left behind at the gas station three exits back with no inkling how to get home?

Only one man could break this record. Kobe. That night in Toronto a decade ago he got the closest anyone ever had. And he was determined to do more than get close to it. He wanted to own it.

After extensive negotiation between his agents and Commissioner Adam Silver, a secret agreement was made: Kobe’s exhibition games could count in the record books so long as all 20 men who played in that original game played in it again.

At first this seemed like a formality. Kobe is a wealthy man. Offering each player $200,000 to play one 48-minute game was very good money — especially for those without other income. Those that didn’t need the money felt obligated because of their ex-teammates who did.
  
But after 46 games watching Kobe hoist shot after shot — and the players getting richer and richer in the process — the whole thing became a farce. What were once quadruple teams in the original game became a single defender sagging off. “Can we go home,” their slumped shoulders asked. 

It’s the first quarter and he’s already 7 points behind where he should be. He snaps at Jalen Rose, the defender. “If you’re going to bring that bullshit D there’s no way I’m going to hit these shots. You’re putting me to sleep!” The players begin to hustle a bit more, all so one man can get the immortality he desires.

Early on there was a crowd. People in 8 and 24 jerseys, even one in original Charlotte pinstripes. But as the bricks continued and the quest for 100 kept falling short — 38, 47, an enticing 80, a crushing 25 — the exhaustion sets in. Even the bleachers sag.

The final whistle blows and everyone looks up at the scoreboard. 39 points on 57 shots. No one can meet Kobe in the eye.
 
“Run it back,” he snaps. The players trudge towards the circle for the 48th opening tip of the game.