Culture of Hoops

Sonny Says … Binge Watch ‘This Is Us’ At Your Own Risk

Image Courtest of Ron Batzdorff/NBC

Image Courtest of Ron Batzdorff/NBC

In this edition of Sonny Says, I’ll break down the best possible movie Wolfpack, go over the binge-watching potetial of This Is Us, evaluate Jaylen Brown’s celing, and ponder what the mid-90s Orlando Magic could have been. Let’s go!

Joe – “If Shaquille O’Neal stays in Orlando do they become the dynasty the Lakers were?” 

The short answer: No.

First, here’s the long answer. If we’re going to assume that Shaquille O’Neal decided to stay in Orlando in the summer of 1996, then the only way that the Magic would have achieved success similar to that of the early 00s Lakers, we also have to assume that the following two things happened as well:

1: We would need to assume that if Shaq decides to stay in Orlando then this sets off some sort of Butterfly Effect chain of events. And that it all led to Penny Hardaway remaining healthy for the next decade and continuing on the career path most people around the NBA projected for him. Before Penny seriously injured his knee for the first time during the 1997-98 season, he was averaging 20 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists and 2 steals per game. Plus, he had already made 1st Team All-NBA twice.

2: We would need to assume that Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway could organically solve any ensuing alpha dog issues better than Shaq and Kobe Bryant did. This is a tough assumption to make. It has been implied that part of the reason why Shaq left Orlando in the first place is because Penny Hardaway felt like he should be the leader of the Orlando Magic. He didn’t want Shaq making more money than him. While we typically make Kobe out to be the bad guy, Shaq was equally guilty and responsible for his partnership with Kobe not working long-term. This seems like a troublesome dynamic. So, you and me would end up looking like asses if we were to assume it would work out.

However, let’s assume that these two things could happen. Then it’s at least in play that Orlando could have had success similar to Los Angeles. In the three years Shaq and Penny spent together, the Magic won 50, 57 and 60 games in three consecutive years. They made an NBA Finals together in year two and went 76-6 at home in their last two seasons together. And here’s the big one: they may have only had to deal with two more years of MJ. Could Orlando have knocked off MJ and the Bulls in 1998? Pippen wasn’t 100% healthy, Rodman was on the verge of going full-blown crazy and Jordan was running on fumes. Remember, the Pacers took Chicago to seven games in the East Finals. Wouldn’t a team with Shaq and Penny have been an even more formidable opponent for the Bulls in that spot?

After Jordan left after the 1998 NBA Finals the East was without a true championship contender. At least until the Pistons cobbled together a ragtag bunch that won in 2004, nearly won in 2005 and made the Conference Finals from 2006 through 2008. Let’s say the Magic were able to snag a championship caliber coach like the Lakers did with Phil Jackson. And they could have filled out their roster with the right kind of role players. They could have been in really good position to contend from basically 1995 (when Shaq and Penny made their only Finals appearance together) until, I don’t know, 2003 or 2004? Doesn’t an eight or nine year championship window seem more than fair? Isn’t that what Shaq and Kobe should have had?

Remember, the Lakers won three consecutive NBA Titles. They would have won more if Shaq and Kobe could have put their egos aside. Shit, they might have won a fourth title together if Karl Malone didn’t injure his knee during the 2004 NBA Finals. LA’s alternate reality scenario is just as interesting, if not more interesting, than Orlando’s. Because we did get a prolonged look at what their peak looked like. And there’s reason to believe we should have seen that partnership co-exist longer than they did. Isn’t it reasonable to think that if ego were removed from the equation, that Kobe and Shaq could have combined to do something that Russell’s Celtics did in the 60’s? Shouldn’t they have owned the whole decade?

So again, I say no. Too many up-in-the-air variables would have needed to break Orlando’s way. And even if they did, I still haven’t mentioned the biggest difference between the two situations yet. Penny Hardaway wasn’t Kobe Bryant. And ultimately, that’s why Orlando’s ceiling would never been as high as LA’s.

Rocky – “OK Sonny here is my question. Being that you are a fan of The Hangover movies, give me 5 movie characters you would choose for your ‘Wolfpack’ and by the way, the #2 power forward is Kevin McHale.”  

I had McHale sixth on my list. But I feel like it’s inappropriate to engage in a hostile disagreement with you. You’re an elder, my Uncle, and a former football coach who made me do a lot of sprints and runs up that hill in the field behind your house to your front yard. I’m kind of afraid if I go too far in discussing the holes in McHale’s resume that the next time we see each other that you’ll blow a whistle and I’ll instinctively start doing updowns. So I’ll leave it alone.

Anyway, I love this question. No offense to every other question I’ve gotten so far for Sonny Says. But this one might be my favorite. Totally outside of the box and imaginative, and it allows me to think about how much fun it would be to hang out with Phil Wenneck.

That’s my first of five selections. Phil Wenneck from The Hangover has to be one of the choices. He has real life “Wolfpack” experience, is incredibly handsome (not that this is a qualifier to be in my Wolfpack, but it doesn’t hurt either), and is a natural born leader. Remember when Mr. Chow apparently died right in front of him, Alan and Stu in that shitty Bangkok hotel room The Hangover Part II. Phil still reasonably calm, cool and collected while his running mates broke down. And this wasn’t even 15 minutes after finding out Stu’s future brother-in-law was definitely fingerless and possibly dead. Phil is a given.

My next two choices would be John Beckwith and Jeremy Grey from Wedding Crashers. They’re a package deal. In my opinion, it’s the single best buddy-comedy duo ever portrayed film or television. They obviously know how to have a great time and navigate tricky situations. Plus they use aliases. Using aliases is one of my favorite things to do when I go out with friends.


In this picture, my cousin (Rocky’s son) Gianni and I are acting as non-English speaking bodyguards for our mutual friend Collin in Niagara Falls, Canada. John and Jeremy would probably love doing something like this.

My fourth pick would be Rick Gassko (played by Tom Hanks) from the mid-80’s comedy Bachelor Party. This film was probably the closest thing to The Hangover before The Hangover existed. I could go on defending this pick. But if you haven’t seen Bachelor Party, it won’t mean anything to you. The moral of the story is check out Bachelor Party. I’ll let you borrow my VHS copy.

My final pick is Axel Foley from the Beverly Hills Cop franchise. This probably comes as an unexpected choice. Axel doesn’t exist in the Buddy Comedy/Party Comedy universe my other choices come from. But Axel would thrive in a party situation. Not to mention, wouldn’t it be hugely beneficial have a cop in our group? Wouldn’t Axel have been able to get a much better grip on the situations in every Hangover movie? Wouldn’t he have been able to do a better job of disposing of Cole in Bachelor Party? Ah shit. I forgot most people haven’t watched that movie.

Jack (A Celtics Fan) – “Right now do you think the Celtics would trade Jaylen Brown for Brandon Ingram? And when you say no, what is Jaylen’s ceiling?” 

I don’t want to burst your bubble. But I don’t think the Celtics or the Lakers would pull the trigger on that trade. We’re only one year removed from the Draft. Both teams probably still feel that their guy is the one with the higher upside. The jury is still out on who is correct. I love the fact that Brown has gotten big game reps already in Boston. It’s a luxury that Ingram doesn’t have. (Unless you count every game the Lakers have been playing for the last two months as big games because it’s crucial that LA blows as many of them as possible in order to give themselves a better shot at keeping their 2017 1st Round Pick).

There’s no telling if Ingram would be thriving if he were in Boston instead of Los Angeles. As for Jaylen Brown’s ceiling, take a gander at these two sets of numbers:

Player A: 13.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.8 steals, 45-30-76 shooting splits

Player B: 13.7 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.0 steal, 46-33-67 shooting splits

The numbers that follow Player A belong to Paul George in his Rookie Season on a per 36 minute basis. Player B is Jaylen Brown. So, I think Jaylen Brown’s ceiling is just about as high as Paul George’s is. Ironically, I think there is a good chance that Brown is part of the package that the Celtics piece together over the Summer to trade for Paul George.

Here’s a question for you, Jack. Let’s say that you’re Danny Ainge. Or that you’ve violently overthrown Ainge and taken over his job as Boston Celtics President of Basketball Operations. Let’s imagine that the Nets (Celtics) win the Draft Lottery this year and you have the #1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. A week prior to Draft night the Pacers call you up. They say, “We’ll give you Paul George and the 16th pick in this years Draft for Jaylen Brown, Avery Bradley (expiring contract), Tyler Zeller (expiring contract) and the 1st overall pick in this years draft.”

What do you do?

Mark – “It is a rainy afternoon/evening, what TV/movie series would be the choice to binge watch? Many good choices for both.” 

Man, now you have me jonesing for a rainy day. I’m going to focus on making a TV selection since The Godfather is an all-too-obvious pick for movies. With all due respect to The Hangover trilogy, the Saw franchise, and all of the Rocky movies except for Rocky V, you can’t go wrong with The Godfather.

I wasn’t going to just hastily pick a TV show and move on to the next question. I took my time and decided to set a scene:

After a long week of work, you woke up on a Saturday morning in late August. Depending on where you live, there is some sort of weather situation that disallows or discourages you from being outside. If you live in the South, maybe it’s thundershowers all day long. If you’re up North, there’s an outside shot that you’re already seeing some snow, because as I know from 18 years of living in Western NY, once you get into late August the weather in the Northeast is about as stable as James McAvoy’s character was in Split.

It’s 9 am, and you’re home all by yourself and you won’t be bothered at all throughout the day. You have leftover pizza in the fridge for lunch and there’s a Chinese place five minutes away that delivers. They have the best General Tao’s Chicken. You don’t need to wake up early the next day. The next obligation you have with other human beings is at 4 pm on Sunday. You’re doing a Fantasy Football Draft with some of your friends. So if tonight needs to be a late night, you can catch up on your sleep without an issue. 

We’re still a week away from the beginning of College Football season. That means baseball is the only sport on TV and who in their right mind wants to spend an entire watching a sport that peaked when Dwight Eisenhower was President of the United States. Instead of subjecting yourself to that bore of a “sport,” or re-runs of Everybody Loves Raymond (because there are always re-runs of Everybody Loves Raymond going on TV Land), you have some sort of streaming device (whether it’s legal or illegal is irrelevant to me) and are able to dial up any TV program from any point in time that you want. 

You decide that you’re going to watch something entirely new instead of just watching The Office for the seventh time through. That means you aren’t going to start watching anything mid-season or mid-series because you need to be fully in the loop. Operating under realistic time parameters, you also can’t binge-watch multiple seasons of any show in one day because unfortunately there are only 24 hours in a day. Except if you live right near a time zone, in which case you could start a day in Eastern Time Zone, move over to Central Time Zone and gain an hour. But you aren’t going to do that because, again, you don’t want to leave your house. 

So now the question is, what show do you watch? 

The answer: The first season of This Is Us.  

This wasn’t easy. The Sopranos and Dexter are two of my favorite series ever and each have fantastic debut seasons. The eight episode first season of True Detective is brilliant and gritty. It’s wholly different than most other shows of its kind. Plus, you could watch all of the first season in under eight hours.

The toughest choice I had to make was deciding between Lost and This Is Us. The first season of Lost is more compelling than any other first season of any other show I’ve ever watched. If you’ve never seen it, you’d be in for a treat. You will eat that shit up just like I did. And while I didn’t binge it all in one day, I did take down season 1 of Lost in a long weekend. 72 hours was all I needed.

Maybe it’s recency bias talking. But This Is Us just wrapped up one of the most beautiful and emotional seasons of TV I’ve ever watched. Even if it’s a bit concerning that you might end up spending such a large portion of that Saturday sobbing.  It’s worth it. I shit you not, after one of the later episodes of the season I cried borderline hysterically for about two hours.

This is Us season 1 was truly powerful. It was expertly written and acted. And it reduced me, a full-grown adult male, into a blubbering mess drowning in a pond of my own tears. I’m not sure you would ideally want that to be a part of your relaxing day of binging, but again, This is Us is simply too good to miss out on. And remember, this is a much better alternative than Baseball.

If you haven’t been watching This Is Us, go ahead and amend that mistake before it returns this Fall for Season 2 (it has already been renewed for second and third seasons). No television show will make you feel more than This Is Us does. It makes you feel for every single character you get to meet (and when I say every single one, I mean every single one), and much more impressively, This is Us makes you feel differently about the way you should live your own life. I’m of the belief that if television or any pop culture medium can make you feel that way about yourself and the way you live, then there is nothing else we can realistically expect it to achieve.

Maybe This Is Us has already reached its peak. Maybe season 1 will be as good as it ever gets. Or maybe This is Us will defy the odds and continue to get sadder, happier, funnier, and more dramatic all at the same time, and continue to improve as time goes on. Maybe it will continue to make me say “This show is fricking remarkable,” like I did after every single episode of season 1. Maybe unlike Jaylen Brown and the Shaq/Penny Orlando Magic, there is no ceiling for This Is Us. 


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