The World Container

They called him Mr. Everything. Explosively energetic with a mohawk hairdo that would alternate colors—gold, red, black or green—he absorbed the entirety of the arena’s attention every time he was on the court. He earned this nickname because of his ability to effortlessly collect every single type of statistic available: points, rebounds, assists, blocks, steals... and because of his slightly ostentatious no-fucks-given attitude, fouls as well.

Mr. Everything was a threat to stuff the stat sheet with a triple-double on any given night, and occasionally even went quadruple. All this despite standing just 6-foot-5 and weighing 230 pounds. Mr. Everything was a certifiable real-life superhero, and they were infatuated with him.

The “they” we are referring to: followers of the San Mig Super Coffee Mixers of the Philippine Basketball Association. Mr. Everything was so dearly beloved by the team’s fans that he had multiple nicknames. They called him The Black Sakuragi, a reference to a player in an old Japanese basketball manga series from the 1990s called Slam Dunk that’s still wildly popular all across East Asia; Hanamichi Sakuragi also had loud hair, dunked a lot, and grabbed a ton of rebounds despite not being the tallest player on his team. Some just called him Best Import, a reference to the PBA’s rules that only allow one foreign player per team.

The myth of Mr. Everything grew and grew. He’d come tantalizingly close to playing in the NBA once—he was in uniform for one single game and was a DNP/CD—but that just added to the local legend. Fans traded clips of his massive dunks on social media, and some even copied his single-strip hairdo as a tribute. He led San Mig to PBA championship glory in 2013, becoming officially awarded Best Import by the league along the way, but his crowning PBA hall of fame achievement came in 2014.

The Philippine basketball season lasts almost year-round and is divided into three championship cycles: the Philippine Cup in winter, the Commissioner’s Cup in spring, and the Governors’ Cup in summer. The Mixers had won the first two Cups, but struggled in the Governors’ Cup round-robin and was a hair’s breadth from missing the playoffs cut. Out of a No. 4 seed, Mr. Everything swooped in and averaged a double-double through a pair of tough five-game best-of-five series, punctuated by timely highlight-reel slams. The Mixers eliminated the top two seeds and stole the third Cup. Only four PBA teams had ever accomplished this treble. None have since.

The last time we saw Mr. Everything in person, it was some years later. He was older, thicker in the body, his face and semi-bald head mottled and creased by time. He seemed slump-shouldered and tired. He had been cut from San Mig, and was playing out a lost season for a mediocre team in the Korean Basketball League, the Busan KT Sonicboom. This was All-Star weekend in early 2016, and he’d been invited to participate in the dunk contest.

In front of a bated-breath, sold-out crowd of 11,000 at Jamsil Gymnasium in Seoul, Mr. Everything struggled to find the hard-dunking form that had once made him a beloved legend. His initial attempt in the first round was an arcing self-pass from the three-point line, but he mistimed the catch and ended with a windmill... blown layup. He tried a running cut to the basket, but his second attempt clanged hard off the rim. He tried a pair of high passes from an assistant from the endline and failed to catch either. Despite not completing a single dunk, the judges gave him a set of sevens and eights, a benevolent act of mercy that allowed Mr. Everything to save face and reach the finals.

Recognizing that he didn’t have much in the way of competition there, Mr. Everything tried playing it safe in the final round. But after a weak low-energy 360, the Korean crowd began to get visibly and audibly restless. And that’s when he made the decision to access his deep dunk database.

Mr. Everything summoned the KT Sonicboom mascot—a friendly-looking wide eyed fox who wears aviator goggles for some reason—and positioned him at the front edge of the charge circle. He took a moment to measure the angles, juggled the ball a bit, then charged down the lane. He began his ascent from halfway into the paint. He lifted off, kicked his legs back slightly, spread his legs wide, with his right arm stiffly holding the basketball aloft. His crotch gently grazed the furry fox’s nose and eyes, snapping the mascot’s neck back. Tipping his upper body forward, he flushed home the dunk with one hand. In an instant, Mr. Everything had secured the 2016 KBL dunk contest championship.

The crowd exploded and leapt to its feet in a standing ovation. For us, standing at the edge of the photographers’ pit, it was a moment when all the clocks stopped, when young or old ceased to be meaningful constructs, when time resoundingly collapsed into itself. Every dunk bears a player’s unique signature, but this was an autograph. Even if we were suddenly struck with Momento syndrome, we would recognize that dunk anywhere.

With 8:14 left in the first half of the 2007 America East championship game, Marqus Blakely of Vermont unleashed a lethal flying Statue of Liberty slam on Albany’s Brent Wilson. Nine years later, an ocean away, he performed an echo encore with a corporate mascot.

Marqus Blakely was one of the players for whom the #OMGDUNX hashtag was specifically invented, back in the day. When TMM asked his college coach about The Dunk midway through his senior season in 2010, the first thing Mike Lonergan brought up was that he’d failed to get another rebound for the rest of the game and that Vermont lost the championship.

Albany shook off the humiliation of being posterized—and by “posterized,” we mean “gave Brent Wilson a 24x36 framed view of his balls”—and proceeded to the NCAA Tournament. Marqus Blakely and the Vermont Catamounts ended up losing a first-round NIT game at Kansas State. “He was a YouTube legend,” Coach Lonergan said. “But not really a great player yet. I brought him in after the season, and challenged him to put a lot more time into basketball.”

That work ethic, built in Burlington, is what turned him into Mr. Everything.

But Mr. Everything is 31 years old now. In his decade of professional service, he’s played for three different G League teams, four different PBA sides, the aforementioned Korean team and a club in the German Basketball Bundesliga. He’s also now played for three squads in Japan, literally fulfilling his destiny as The Black Sakuragi. In fact, just yesterday we received a statline alert that he’d stuffed another sheet with 35 points on 11-for-15 shooting with eight rebounds, seven assists, and three dunks... for the Kumamoto Volters in the second division of the Japanese B.League.

Marqus Blakely was cut by the PBA’s Blackwater Elite late last year, and Kumamoto signed him two weeks ago to fill one of its three available gaijin slots. Now, as we speak, he’s desperately trying to put up as many stats as he can in order to try to get back to a top foreign league.

This is a moment we see over and over again: basketball taps a player on the shoulder and tells them it’s time, and they don’t listen. They refuse to give up and recite the damn poem. But in the end, whether the body gives way or not, there will always be younger and fresher bodies hungry to play. No matter what you’ve done for Our Game in all your years, the youth will take your spot in the end. The game. Will. Hurt you.

We’ve been thinking lately about whether or not this fear, this refusal to ever accept the view from halfway down, is baked into our fandom of the sport itself. It’s in the nature of every basketball fan to center their focus on one team, one league, one level. From this perspective, players float through the frame and dutifully perform their service, and then they leave. Applying a boxed focus to the NBA, or Division I men’s college basketball, or even the Philippine PBA, is like watching the game with horse blinders.

But there’s a great amount of liberation in dismantling and disassembling these confining borders to your approach to basketball, following these threads where they lead. Eventually—especially if you’re a fan of mid-major college hoops—they will take you beyond the walls of your arena, past your campus, outside your conference, away from tournaments and brackets and projections and any attempt to explain the game by way of words or data. Closely following players’ story arcs and tracking down obscure Pixelvision broadcasts from overseas will take you far from home, give you a window into foreign cultures, inspire you to decode different languages. The baseline comforts of Our Game—ten feet and ten players and 40 minutes—will ground and support you on your journey. There’s nothing to be afraid of.

And a border-free approach brings dignity to the people who make Our Game happen. After spending hours upon late night hours in college head coaches’ offices after games, we know that a great deal of what they do in there is text their former players in Sweden or China or wherever, congratulating them on putting up big statlines. Basketball is a team sport, but it’s more of a human sport. The story of this game is a 129 year-long deeply frayed rope, strong and sturdy, unraveled and unsightly from a certain distance. Each thin strand is a life devoted to Our Game that begins at one point and ends in another.

Perhaps that’s too overwhelming to contemplate, especially because this is supposed to be a frivolous shared escape from everyday reality. The idea that there’s a start and a finish to every single players’ story is depressing to consider—but now, two weeks after Kobe and Gigi, maybe we’re all more ready to be more open to it.

Besides, the cost of the traditional box-framed approach is that once they leave the tiny box of your viewfinder, players like Marqus Blakely end up disappearing altogether. That’s unfair to them, to erase them like that, to fail to remember and recall. In the words of that late great Canadian poet, which are the same words as the final words of The Mid-Majority’s third season: all songs are one song, and that song is “Don’t Forget.”

NEXT: Escape.

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