The age-old battle between jocks and nerds is largely over. Athletes can now profess their love of knowledge without fear of reprisal, and the more obviously book-smart can discuss their appreciation of athletics without being given wedgies. Barriers still exist, clearly, but it's not crazy to see a basketball team give gifts to a riot-grrrl legend or to have one of the NBA's best centers lobby aggressively to hang out with a bunch of comedians. The world has changed.
Nevertheless, it's a little jarring to listen to an alt-rock idol sing about the rift between an enigmatic young point guard and his no-nonsense coach. Yet, thanks to ex-Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus, we now have exactly such a thing.
The song, "Chartjunk," appears on "Wig Out at Jagbags," the recently released album from Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks. While the title suggests another in the long line of the musician's songs about the music industry, it is indeed about the relationship between current Detroit Pistons point guard Brandon Jennings and his former coach Scott Skiles when both were employed by the Milwaukee Bucks.
This tune is inspired by the NBA and a specific player, Brandon Jennings. He’s a prima donna point guard. He went to Italy young, he didn’t go to college, he just went straight to European league and then he came back and he’s a real hot dog gunner. He had a relationship with a specific coach, his name is Scott Skiles, he’s a very bossy, my-way-or-the-highway-type coach. They butted horns. Skiles was also an ex-NBA player, and he was saying, ‘I’ve been there, I know what you’ve been doing, and I can tell you,’ and Jennings was like, ‘You’re not my mother, I’ve got a contract and I don’t need you to tell me what to do. I’m my own man.’ This all happens over a Chicago Transit Authority, ham and eggs, rock ’n’ roll song, complete with Chicago-style horns and sort of “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet”-song, which might be a Canadian band, Bachman-Turner Overdrive-style singing...You can make this metaphorical about anything. There must be some Freudian angle or early Greek — Odyssey, Icharus, something going on there. But on the second verse it gets specifically into things like dropping dimes and dipsy doos and the D-League in Wichita, which is a minor league basketball league, so that’s pretty specific. I can’t really get away with that.
You can listen to the song here. It really does sound like Chicago.
While Malkmus's description makes some sense, basketball fans should be able to identify some errors in his account. Jennings is indeed prone to taking bad shots, but he also looks to pass and has seen his assist numbers jump from 6.5 in 2012-13 with Milwaukee to 8.5 in 2013-14 with Detroit. It's arguable that Jennings earned his reputation as a gunner because the Bucks had so few decent scoring options. Plus, although Jennings felt some relief when Skiles left Milwaukee, he also spoke highly of his first NBA coach immediately after his firing. It's not as if these two were constantly at odds, and speaking of them as if they were points to some stereotyping on the part of Malkmus.
Once you get passed the bizarre idea that anyone would write a song about Brandon Jennings and Scott Skiles, it's not so crazy to imagine Malkmus using a sports story in his music. He has always been very upfront about his love of basketball (particularly fantasy), and the classic Pavement song "Stop Breathin'" focused on his experiences as a competitive tennis player. This was all within the realm of possibility.
It's enough to get you to wonder how many of his Malkmus's other songs are secretly about the NBA. Perhaps "Unfair" was really about the coming rivalry between the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings? Or maybe "Cut Your Hair" was about the trend of players shaving their heads around its release in 1994? And "Stereo" ... well, it's impossible to say what "Stereo" is about.
What I'm saying, I guess, is that I welcome all indie legends to write about intermediately famous NBA players. I'm sure Bob Pollard could figure out a way to write a whole album about the NBA's centers. "My Valuable Hunting Knife" is basically from the perspective of Chris Kaman already.
- - - - - - -