The clock read “6:50” in the second quarter when the Earth shook – in both the Mobb Deep and Elvis Presley senses of that word. It was frightened, but also struggling to find a balance as its emotions felt like the contents of a shaken bottle of Pepsi (according to Wikipedia, the story goes that Shalimar Music owner Al Stanton shook a Pepsi bottle, then told writer Otis Blackwell to pen a song about stuff getting “all shook up”, and Otis obliged, and then Elvis sang it, and then like 4,000 years later here we are [Elvis actually had a different story about the origin of the song but the Pepsi bottle is a better image]). Will “The Thrill” Barton of Baltimore, Maryland, by way of the University of Memphis, likes to shake Pepsi bottles in frightening ways.
Barton stands in the right corner, nominally playing defense on some member of the Utah Jazz while Alec Burks stands with the ball out on the left wing. Barton was playing, in the second quarter, and he had to be excited. I mean, he’s Will Barton; he’s always excited. But even though the game was pretty terrible up until that point, which is probably related to why he found himself out there, the rare scenario of playing NBA basketball in a real game with the outcome very much in doubt must have made him extra excited. Maybe he was standing over in that corner thinking about how he could possibly spend this extra disposable excitement that had come to him. What’s the going rate on bouncy castles? Talking about real fucking bouncy CASTLES, not that weak bouncy “house” nonsense. Bouncy kings need bouncy castles in which to sit on their bouncy thrones from which to govern their bouncy kingdoms. Certainly, he wouldn’t be putting that excitement away in the excitement bank to save it. He’s Will Barton. He ain’t Warren Buffett.
Enes Kanter moves over towards Burks to set a screen. Kanter had 25 points and 10 rebounds so maybe he wanted a pick-and-roll opportunity. I don’t know; I don’t speak Turkish. But Burks refused the screen and drove left. Somehow, he was already past Mo Williams before even taking a step or a single dribble. Ponder that, Rust Cohles of the world. With Mo now playing trail-technique and Robin Lopez stationed back towards the rim, Burks tried a little shimmy to put Lopez off, like shining a laser pointer on the floor for a cat. Robin Lopez and cats probably have a lot in common, but an easily distracted nature does not appear to be one of them. Burks put up his “shot” AKA he saw that he had wandered into the den of a carnivorous monster while wearing Tabasco-scented cologne and immediately gave himself up. Burks sorta sat/lied down and threw the ball generally towards the object of basketball. Lopez’s tentacles – THE MAN HAS TENTACLES WATCH THE GAME IN SLOW MOTION AND SEE HIM HAVE TO TUCK THEM AWAY AT CERTAIN POINTS LEST PEOPLE REALIZE THAT HE IS A CEPHALOPOD CAPABLE OF REAL MALICE TOWARDS CRUSTACEANS AND RICHARD JEFFERSON – gobbled the ball up, as they often did in this game, to the tune of 18 rebounds and 4 blocks (I don’t know exactly how that tune goes but it’s probably something like a jam band cover of a police siren).
The ball gets knocked to C. J. McCollum, who immediately looks down the court like a young Randall Cunningham, hunting for a receiver. He has one. Because the entire Jazz roster, crashed towards the rim on the play because they’re the Jazz and they’re not very good at this basketball thing, Will Barton was at midcourt with no one in front, to the side, or really anywhere close behind him. He gathered the ball at about the three-point line, cutting a lonely figure as the only man in the television frame, and took one last peek over his shoulder before making his final ascent.
I could feel endorphins or adrenaline or whatever else Will Barton causes in people – I missed that day in health class – surging through my veins at the imminent sight and infinite possibility of a wide open Barton dunk.
Barton rose off two feet and spun around counterclockwise, almost as if he was going to turn in midair and fly back to his own hoop and dunk it there, just cuz. The rim gets a lot of attention, you know, so sometimes you gotta play hard to get. Barton knows what I’m talking about. But just before that fickle rim was ready to move on to the next player, Barton spun all the way back around and stuffed the ball home, right-handed. For a moment when he landed, he stood still and proud, gazing into the crowd. His bouncy castle was built, there was his bouncy kingdom, and here he was, sitting triumphant on his bouncy throne.
Terry Stotts, looking on from the bench in his Dr. Jack Ramsay plaid jacket and open, wing-collared shirt, had in that moment found what every man who puts on such extravagant club wear on a Friday night searches for. He had fallen in love.