Forget about the Summer of [Kevin] Love and the poetic nature of LeBron returning home for a second. The way the Cleveland Cavaliers assembled the New Big Three was right out of a movie. Or rather, it was right out of the casting of a movie.
You have your young star who, say, may have nabbed an Oscar nomination at the tender age of twenty-two (Kyrie Irving, winning the All-Star Game MVP in perhaps the most loaded game—and league—in two decades. Just go along with it). But you need some more punch. You toy with bringing in a perennial lead in bad movies (Kevin Love, Head Honcho in cellar-dweller Minny for six years), hoping he’ll complement the young star and that he wasn’t great just because his supporting cast and director were lousy in comparison (Ricky Rubio, Jonny Flynn, et all; Kevin McHale, Flip Saunders, David Kahn, et all). You don’t land the mid-career lead right away, but you DO bring in the MegaStar of MegaStars (Mr. James) to realign with the first production crew he knew as a professional (Dan Gilbert and Co.). With the MegaStar onboard, the Bad Movie Lead signs on.
You now have three, huge pieces. One was the lead on this very set four years ago (LeBron). One has been the lead on this very set for the last three years (Kyrie). And one was the lead on a different set so putrid and toxic that his specific worth hasn’t been properly rated in the context of established stars (Love). Regardless of where they’ve been, they’re now together for at least one movie, with the responsibility of making a blockbuster. Should the blockbuster become a hit, rake it in at the box office, get nominated for a Best Actor, maybe a Best Supporting, and maybe even a best Directorial Debut (Coach David Blatt), the trio might return for a sequel. Or even a threequel.
But before David Blatt can say Lights! Camera! Action!, before the trio can mingle in their trailers on set, before we—the viewer—can watch anything resembling a trailer or even a sneak peak, the young star bolts for a hastily-produced, side project (FIBA World Cup), a low-budget flick that countless stars—including the young star’s new star teammates—turn down.
The young star finds himself on a cast (Team USA) that’s likely temporary, a slew of like-minded, fresh-faced, wide-eyed, Hollywood babies who are grateful for the exposure, the breakout role, and the mutual support but aware that, once it’s time to shoot the sequel (Rio, 2016), many of them will be replaced. For nearly everyone, it’s an audition. Most will get callbacks in two years. A handful might even make the cast, but few will be the leads like they are now.
In the spirit of extended Hollywood metaphors, Kyrie and his eleven, short-term teammates constitute basketball’s Ocean’s 11. Collectively, they’re stealing our attention, enacting an endearing heist of basketball viewership away from the conventional leads of LeBron, Durant, and Blake. Just as Messrs. Clooney, Pitt, and Damon helped orchestrate a swift, Las Vegas robbery, Messrs. Irving, Curry, Davis and Co. are quietly stealing fans away from the old guard, feasting on basketball’s biggest—and only—stage this time of year.
So, if you’re still reading, here’s a character-by-character breakdown of the Ocean’s 11’s parallels. And who knows? Maybe come Rio, the young guys will star in the sequel.
THE AMAZING YEN: DERRICK ROSE
Known as the Grease Man, Yen is a nimble acrobat. What he lacks in height, he makes up for in his ability to close (RE: Nailing the somersault vault flip). His presence is quiet but spastic. He doesn’t speak the common language, nor does he talk much in own language. When he does speak, though, it’s only a pained yelp from getting his hand slammed in the door courtesy of Linus Caldwell or a pissed, “Where the fuck you been?” when he’s alone for too long.
Rose is a notorious introvert whose play is notoriously shifty. Every sharp pivot he makes, after yet another ACL injury, makes us cringe. We hold our breath and wonder if it’s worth it. We wonder if he’s as springy as he used to be, if he’ll land awkwardly on a hard take to the rim. We wonder how he’ll respond to a lesser role, when he comes off the bench and isn’t the 2011 MVP from the Chicago Bulls (or the main attraction of the San Diego Circus). We wonder how he’ll fit in. And, like with Yen’s support system, we wonder “Where the fuck you been,” Derek, and where you’re going in your career.
LIVINGSTON DELL: MASON PLUMLEE
Like Livingston, the nerdy, easily frazzled, sweaty, surveillance specialist, Mason Plumlee—on paper—doesn’t seem to be an obvious choice for the squad. He’s the last guy off the bench and the fourth center on the roster. But Livingston and Plumlee both fill a surprisingly integral role: they both know the ins and outs of the system. For Plumlee, as a former Dukie, that means the Coach K system; for Livingston, it means the security system of the Bellagio Hotel. Livingston infamously sweats off the instructions on his hand to get access to the Bellgaio security cameras but ultimately gets his shit together. I imagine Coach K gives Plumlee similar directions. I’m letting you do this ‘cause I coached you in college. Here’s where the Gasol brothers are staying. That’s all you need to know. Now don’t fuck this up.
They’re forgettable on their own. They both have about five minutes of face time. But, within the comfort of their specific system, they work.
REUBEN TISHKOFF: BOOGIE COUSINS
Ruben is played by a loud, hairy, and bathrobe-clad Elliot Gould and good for one of the best lines of the movie:
Reuben: You’re Bobby Caldwell’s kid. From Chicago. It’s nice there. Do you like it?
Reuben: That’s wonderful. Get in the goddamn house.
Reuben is the only Vegas local and is just as much a scout as a player. He’s loud. He knows the game. He provides the lay of the land, the who’s who, the gossipy, inside scoop of the Vegas strip and all its hotels. He’s the scout in Moneyball more concerned with how attractive a player’s girlfriend is than his on-base percentage. This has to be Boogie. The Bellagio of the FIBA World Cup isn’t Spain. It’s the Gasol brothers. And no one knows Pau and Marc better than their fellow Western Conference bruiser down low who goes by the name, DeMarcus.
‘Cause can’t you picture Boogie saying this?
“He’ll kill you. Then he’ll get to work on you.”
BASHER TARR: ANDRE DRUMMOND
This is flattering for Drummond. The dude barely plays. When he does play, though, he’s the most likely guy to shatter the glass. All he does in dunk—with a vengeance—which is analogous to being the resident bomb technician. You don’t need him much, but he’ll provide the perfect, short-lived explosives when the time is right.
TURK MALLOY and VIRGIL MALLOY: DEMAR DEROZAN and RUDY GAY
Because nothing says Hooligan Morman Twins From Utah quite like a couple of former teammates in Toronto..?
SAUL BLOOM: JAMES HARDEN
When Saul disguises himself as his gambling alter ego, Lyman Zerga, a fellow Floridian spots him in the Ballagio. Saul—rather, Zerga—pretends not to know the man to maintain secrecy and carry out the heist. Andy Benedict, then, is overwhelmingly suspicious of this Zerga fella.
The same narrative can be applied to James Harden: he’s a prodigious flopper, an actor not fooling anyone.
LINUS CALDWELL: KENNETH FARIED
If any player’s stock has risen this tournament, it’s been Faried’s. He was one of the last guys on the roster and has solidified himself as not only a starter but also a swarming, offensive-rebounding hulk that runs the floor like a guard. He’s even led the team in scoring once.
Like Matt Damon, his role grows through the process. At first, Damon’s a pickpocketing, Chicago subway-riding, awkward businessman, and Faried’s almost an afterthought on the team. Eventually, Damon becomes Ocean’s most coveted, PHYSICAL sidekick. Faried, also known as The MANIMAL, is just that. They both would struggle as the lead but thrive as energy assistants. Few are better in that role. It’s unlikely, though, Linus could carry his own crew or if Faried could be the best guy on a championship team.
FRANK CATTON: ANTHONY DAVIS
There’s one clear distinction about the late, great Bernie Mac’s character that sets him apart: he was deliberately the first piece Danny Ocean and Rusty Ryan brought in. Without Frank Catton, there’s no heist. You have to have someone deal the cards to pull off a casino raid.
After LeBron, Durant, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Dwight Howard, Kevin Love, and Paul George snapped and decided not to play (Snapped? Too soon??), Davis became the hottest commodity available for Team USA. And isn’t Catton, like Davis, a defensive juggernaut turned two-way monster? He went from being a blackjack dealer, having gamblers play ON him, to being on the attack with a car salesman, having the price of the car dictated BY him. We only see small glimpses into what makes Frank Catton Frank Catton. He doesn’t strain if he doesn’t need to. Either does The Brow against the Dominican Republics of the world.
RUSTY RYAN: KYRIE IRVING
The ever-suave Brad Pitt disguises himself as a doctor to tend to the also-acting Zerga, whose fake heart attack distracts the Bellagio camera crew. Kyrie, suave in his own right, disguises himself as an old man in the infamous Uncle Drew Pepsi commercials. Cause why not?
It makes sense in their respective contexts that they’re both second in command, but it’s only a matter of time that Rusty overtakes Danny, and Kyrie is the go-to guy on a title contender.
DANNY OCEAN: STEPH CURRY
Other than Harden, Curry’s the only All-NBA team representative (second team). Say what you want, but it’s Steph’s team. He was the spokesman in Team USA’s all-important, ALS Ice Bucket Challenge video. He’s been the quiet, poignant veteran in team huddles. He leads by example. He splashes threes in bunches. He’s a composed ambassador of USA basketball—with his own history of leading “heists” in his days at Davidson and last year in the playoffs. And speaking of soft-spoken, long range assassins…
JULIA ROBERTS: KLAY THOMPSON
…Klay Thompson fills out our Ocean’s 11 roster as none other than Ocean’s former and current wife. Despite all the Kevin Love-to-Golden State rumors, Klay and Steph remain together. It’s open to speculation whether Curry would be better with Love or not, but it’s clear Ocean is better with it. Boom.