Jameer Nelson’s Failed Crossover is a Reminder that There is No Such Thing as Bad Press
SportCenter posting a video of Nelson crossing Paul Pierce is a reminder that a well-timed tweet can give anyone a “W” in the NBA-verse.
NBA fans are starved for basketball. Though every Sunday viewers are treated to ESPN’s The Last Dance (which, sadly, is ended last night), they’ve taken to sopping up every morsel of hoops content they can, in any way they can.
Twitter has long been a prime destination for all things basketball. Video embeds that play alongside tweeters (often scathing) commentary mean every fan, whether they are at the game or on the couch, can get in on the conversation.
That conversation turned to Jameer Nelson on Saturday, as Twitter remembered the time Nelson crossed everybody’s favorite Celtic-slash-ESPN commentator, Paul Pierce. The video speaks for itself:
Nelson’s jab-step to step-back is memorable for all the wrong reasons. Unearthed by SportsCenter, the clip shows a version of the Orlando Magic, up a point against the reigning Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics, that was three months removed from the Dwight Howard trade.
Like the trade, Nelson’s sequence is remembered as a highlight despite delivering an empty ending. Though Howard’s removal was lauded, the Magic faltered without him that season, and continue to do so nearly a decade later. Likewise, Nelson’s shot earns airtime despite it bounding off the front of the rim, the moment immortalized online despite the Magic ending the year with the second-worst record in history.
Despite the NBA’s fascination with the next big thing — growing the game in Africa, opening the G-League to High School graduates, Zion Williamson — clips like Nelson’s assault on Pierce’s knees are telling of the league’s all-encompassing success.
On one side of the play there is 2008 NBA Champion Pierce. A 10-time all star, Pierce’s career began at the nascence of NBA virality. When he was drafted in 1998, NBA.com was a mere shell of it’s current self. There certainly was no YouTube. And while he’s constantly named in conversations about potential Hall of Famers, Pierce is known not for elevating a floundering Boston organization back to relevance in the mid-2000s, but for his tweet friendly antiques. “I called game!”, a picture of a rocket ship and shitty shorts all come to mind before Paul Pierce the basketball player. These moments keep him in at the forefront of fans’ minds, young and old, prompting searches for his highlight reels and sparking debates over who the alpha dog in the Pierce-Ray Allen beef.
In that same Nelson clip, we have a sequence that gives rise to the nostalgic circumstances that continue to propel fandoms in the face of year after year of title non-contention. Until Saturday, the Magic had largely been out of the sports news cycle. Current Magic all star Nikola Vucevic did get some play for taking over the NBA’s Twitter account, but most press stemmed from the NBA’s proposal to inhabit the team’s city as a “bubble” site to finish out the 2019–20 season.
Moments like Nelson’s, which coincidentally came a week after The Last Dance aired Jordan’s playoff loss to the ’95 Magic, are what keep fanbases alive. Basketball dominance has been relegated to a handful of teams for the better part of the NBA’s history, and the Magic are rarely on the positive side of the ledger. More often, Orlando is seen as the cog that kept the world from witnessing a Kobe Bryant-LeBron James NBA Finals.
Twitter gives NBA related things — players, teams, long lost video clips — a chance to get a win. Who knew that the Philadelphia 76ers tweeting a picture of their early-2000s gold and black logo and asking which player comes to mind would prompt a fan to dig up a photo of Matt Geiger? There is no bad press in the NBA. Broken ankles might sting in the moment, but virality lasts a lifetime.