The Last Domino?

The car came out of nowhere, and the crushing impact collapsed our right leg. One of the bones snapped cleanly, the other two were bloody broken ladders of compound fractures. We call it “the bike accident”, but we weren’t riding a bicycle at the time; we were walking it through a crosswalk, in accordance with city laws. Despite the “No Right On Red” sign, the driver wheeled through the intersection anyway. We stared blankly into the driver’s face in the split-second beforehand, but never made eye contact. She had one hand on the steering wheel, the other on her 1998 cellphone.

The bike might have saved our life. If we were left-handed, or if cars drove on the opposite side of the road in America, we’d probably be writing this newsletter from a wheelchair. Or maybe from hell. The bones healed correctly, our lower right leg is weirdly unsexy and hairless because of the skin graft, and we recovered well enough to run seven marathons since it happened.

We’ve never really referred to “the bike accident” online before. Once you allow yourself to be a Hey Man I Almost Died guy, you allow yourself to be externally defined by a single worst moment, and only assholes exploit their own misfortune for money. Whenever we do end up mentioning it, it’s the marathon part that people always focus on, because of our natural truffle-pig tendency to sniff out triumphs over adversity.

In this case, adversity was losing our job, lying in bed for months, wanting desperately to itch under the cast, relying on the kindness of people we got mutually tired of, and gaining lots of weight. (A sedentary human body shouldn’t need any food at all, but it does for some weird reason.) Dreaming about future possibility would have meant getting lost in the Mind Palace; we had enough depression and anxiety as it was. We just wanted to go back to regular normal everyday routines that we had new spiritual appreciation for: going to work in the morning, eating at restaurants in the afternoon, and going to basketball games at night. We wished for the removal, the nullification, of adversity.

People who have gone through an extended recovery, a long stint on the DL, might have a better mental toolset with which to deal with this new reality than others do. Over the first three weeks of the pandemic’s U.S. chapter, we have observed perfectly normal American brains transform into extremely online pudding. Some surrender like elderlies into the embrace of a comfortable past: old movies and sports games they’ve already seen. Others escape into the cooing baby talk of a post-natal womb. Still others speak in the language of delay, as if COVID-19 is fleeting enough to create a series of rain-outs you can reschedule later as doubleheaders.

If you fit any of these descriptions, you are in some real kind of denial about how profoundly the world has changed since 2020 began. At the very least, kindly take a moment and contemplate how many months and years it’s going to take before you’re comfortable sitting next to a stranger. Any stranger. Much less for two-plus hours in the stands at a basketball arena. We’re friends in real life with a few of you, and we’re not even sure if we’d be comfortable watching a game in the seat next to yours right now. Especially if you’re in New York City.

We’ve been dealing with the coronavirus and its fallout since January, since we live in Asia now. And as TMM always does regardless of circumstances, basketball is our societal barometer, political benchmark, and symbol of systemic normalcy. On January 27, with only ten days’ notice, FIBA quietly moved a four-team qualifying pod for the Olympic women’s tournament from Foshan, China—500 miles from the first epicenter—to Belgrade, Serbia. Four days later, the Chinese Basketball Association suspended its season indefinitely.

The day the CBA stopped the games, February 1, seemed like such a quiet and innocent and precious day. COVID-19 was a Wuhan Virus and a local problem. Nobody had heard the phrase “social distancing” or made a terrible meme about it. A New Orleans Pelican was telling the NBA to “suck my dick.” Two months later, that would be end up being an impossibly reckless public health hazard.

In February, the basketball world’s sanguine approach to the coronavirus was to simply wait it out. Three FIBA Asia Cup qualification games scheduled during the International Window™ of February 20-24 were postponed until November, and those were supposed to be played in Japan and the Philippines, not China. On February 25, the Korean Basketball League suspended operations until March 29. The next day, the Japanese B.League announced it was stopping play until March 11.

It wouldn’t take long for a new Italian epicenter to disrupt the interconnected latticework of European hoops. A EuroLeague men’s game on March 3 between Olimpia Milano and Real Madrid was played behind closed doors. In light of local government bans on sporting events, EuroLeague Women contests in late February scheduled for locations in northern Italy were moved to Slovenia, then cancelled when two teams—TTT Riga and Sopron—refused to travel. The basketball rulebook is not equipped to handle a team too afraid of dying to go out on the road to play, so FIBA did what it felt was appropriate: hand down 20-0 forfeits. But once the ELW playoffs began on March 10, the quarterfinal bracket was shot through with such a series of extraordinary restrictions that the center could no longer hold.

We recently bingewatched all the G League games from March 11, 2020—a future Pixelvision Network marathon, to be sure—just to hear all the stunned announcers break the news. The NBA had suspended the 2019-20 season, and the players on the court didn’t know it yet but this was going to be their final game of the season. And part of our main purpose for doing this historical tick-tock is to properly amplify what is destined to become a footnote in the grand sweep of time: the NBA’s initial unified response, one day prior, was to protect their players from sportswriters. #neverforget

The dominos kept falling. FIBA announced the suspension of all international competitions hours after Rudy Gobert’s positive test result. The leagues in Bosnia, Belgium, Cyprus, Ireland, Lithuania, Sweden, Switzerland and Slovakia cancelled their seasons outright and awarded their titles to whichever team was in first place. In-progress NCAA conference tournaments were cancelled one by one, culminating in the St. John’s 38-35 20-minute endtimes victory over Creighton that proved once and for all which splinter group is right about Catholicism. Then March Madness was cancelled, and people got sad and weird online about it.

Some lights stayed on, at least for long enough for us to play Pickball together for just a sweet moment longer. Brazil and Argentina lasted a week longer than most of the others, playing without fans until the concerns were too great. The Australian NBL played three games out of its final series before calling the remainder off. And Turkey held out until Çanakkale Victory Day on March 17, which was very symbolic in the way only Turkish people can do it.

In the basketball wreckage, there was basketball hope. Just as the world revolves around the sun and slowly turns in tune with the universe’s gentle rhythms, Asia was the first out and was poised to be the first back in.

The Japanese B.League returned on March 14. The Korean Basketball League never deviated from its original plan to come back on March 29. The Chinese CBA called all its American players back to the mainland to go through a mandated 15-day quarantine ASAP, so its ambitious 322 games in 40 days plan could be activated by early April. The VTB United League—a group of teams from Asian continental countries that all compete in Eurovision—was on track to come back by April 15.

As they say though, hope floats and the world sucks. The B.League restart lasted two days before the league was suspended, and the games were ultimately cancelled on March 27; the VTB abandoned its comeback plans the same day. The KBL, under pressure from the Korean government, killed its 2019-20 season for good on March 24. And China, always hoping to impress the sports world with efficiency and scale, this week downgraded itself to probable.

There are too many potential complications, too many concerns from players and coaches and government agencies. So there will be no live basketball, professional or collegiate, for the foreseeable future. And certainly no fans in the stands.

We love basketball. Unless you’re experiencing a hyperextended period of contextual dissonance and/or subscribe to this newsletter only to hate-read it, you love basketball the same way we love basketball.

We need basketball all the time. Basketball is air and water and food to us, and it doesn’t matter where or what level the game is, who or which gender the players are. So these past long weeks have felt a lot like those long months when we were laid up in a leg cast, contemplating the mysterious miracle of humdrum normalcy.

These days, we watch old games on The Pixelvision Network and think, Wow. Look at all those people in the stands sitting next to each other. It’s really amazing what we take for granted. We should use this time to prepare ourselves to be better and more adaptable for this new world to come, because it’s coming eventually and it will demand a lot from us. We’re not supposed to be wasting this time playing Neopets 2.0.

But what if we told you... there is a place in this world where basketball is still going on. A magical island where the games never stopped. Where former mid-major heroes battle, where gentle giants roam.

We are talking, of course, about the Super Basketball League in Taiwan. Five teams have been battling for supremacy since 2003: Bank of Taiwan, Taiwan Beer, Kaohsiung Jeoutai, Taoyuan Pure Youth Construction, and the Yulon Luxgen Dinos. It’s a semi-professional league, so it’s out of FIBA’s jurisdiction. We can’t get comprehensive stats for the SBL, unfortunately, or include it in Pickball.

The SBL played games on March 27—as in yesterday—and that slate included yet another page in the epic history of the Beer-Bank clasico derby in Taipei. What was that, you don’t believe us? Here’s proof: somebody on YouTube illegally streamed the game to 300 people, and for some reason put anime cosplay bullshit all over it.

There are a few American ballers in Taiwan right now, and most came from the ACC. Central Michigan’s Marcus Keene is the SBL’s leading scorer. Kentrell Barkley, who was at East Carolina until 2018, plays for Taiwan Beer. It should be noted that TMM legend Sim Bhullar (pictured above), a/k/a INCREDIBLY LARGE MAN, plays in Taiwan… but his team, the Taipei Fubon Braves, competes in the ASEAN League (suspended) instead of the SBL (not suspended). And he’s teammates with O.J. Mayo! Now there’s a name you haven’t heard for a while.

Why Taiwan? And how could a place that close to China, a proud independent nation that goes by “Republic of China” or “Chinese Taipei” (depending on who you ask), have as many coronavirus cases as miles separating it from the mainland (eighty)? By taking quick action and using big data. They sent a fact-finding team to Wuhan in mid-January to try to figure out what they were dealing with. They screened everyone coming in from the epicenter right away, until becoming the first country to ban incoming flights from Wuhan on January 26, in the middle of the Lunar New Year holiday. The government required every television station to air clip rolls about symptoms and prevention, every hour on the hour. They ordered everybody with even the mildest respiratory symptoms to be tested immediately, for free. They banned the export of face masks and limited the price to 17 American cents each, to prevent profiteering and price-gouging.

If you are learning any or all of this from a newsletter about basketball, that is deeply embarrassing for whatever media outlet you ingest. Taiwan is the coronavirus story you have not heard, but it was hiding in plain sight all along. Taiwan is the only nation in the entire world that still has basketball. And that’s why TMM chooses to view the COVID-19 pandemic in basketball terms, because basketball is the only leading indicator you can be confident in, here in this post-postmodern world.

And the lesson should be abundantly clear. The better and quicker and more informed your response to this crisis is, the less stupid you are, the more likely you will have basketball. Don’t screw this up, America… or, at the very least, screw it up less than you have already. 🇺🇸

We are happy to announce that The Pixelvision Network is broadcasting around the clock live on Twitch, and a Mixer stream will be active soon. It’s a new basketball game every two hours, with classic TMM content in between. Since it’s hyperniche content on platforms full of people who are still playing Fortnite for some reason, the chances of TPN getting suspended and deactivated are pretty low.

But whatever happens, you can always access The Pixelvision Network at our website. We’ll be streaming there until live professional basketball comes back or the world ends, whichever comes first.

A quick note and rant about this newsletter’s title: Genesis was one of our favorite bands and a big influence growing up. It’s extremely deflating that after a 13-year hiatus, their reunion tour is named after a song on one of their worst albums. The Last Domino was part of the kind of Roman-numeraled prog rock suite that made 1970s Genesis so great, a template that they self-plagiarized in the 1980s once Phil Collins had completely taken the band over and made all the songs about his divorce.

And people were tipped off to this after they all showed up at a New York Knicks game. Is there anything in the world that isn’t about basketball anymore? The tour is in December; this is now our litmus test for Western coronavirus response. If the Genesis tour gets cancelled, your society has failed and should be destroyed.

Finally, a quick thanks to Tim Burke, who provided a great deal of technical assistance to The Pixelvision Network, and who tipped us off to this seminal college basketball moment. It’s the end of a semifinal game between Shih Hsin U. (blue) and Fo Guang U. (white) in Taiwan’s March Madness for women.

NEXT: Outside shots.

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This newsletter is sponsored by J.J. Jumpera/k/a a smartass who didn’t want to use his real nameand would not have been possible without him.

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