The other night my dear friend Collin Stucko asked me a truly important and very intriguing question:
“Who is your NBA All Apocalypse Team? As in, if there was a doomsday scenario, what NBA players would you want to help you survive? You can have any player (current or former), but you get them in whatever shape they’re currently in. You (we’ll say your GM), need the 6 absolute best guys for the job (five starters, plus a sixth man), plus a current or former head coach. The cause of the apocalypse is unknown… it could be zombies, could be nuclear war, could be major natural disaster… so having a diverse skill set will likely be paramount to your survival.”
This question was originally intended to be included in an eventual Sonny Says mailbag column (and I’m still accepting your inquiries by the way), but just minutes after I fielded this question I read a Washington Post article claiming that the end of the world could be starting on Saturday September 23rd and I figured it would be foolish to wait on this one, because let’s be real guys: it might not be a drill this time. In just the last month we’ve seen a destructive and overactive Hurricane season, a total Solar Eclipse and mysterious flashing lights flying overhead during a magnitude 8.1 Earthquake in Mexico. And I shouldn’t forget to mention that the two maniacs who are calling the shots in the United States and North Korea are on the verge of entering a nuclear war OR the saddest and tiniest dick-swinging contest ever. Long story short … we aren’t in good shape.
With that being said, I didn’t want to pass on the opportunity to publish this before things took an even more dramatic turn for the worse. So without further ado, allow me to toss on my General Manager cap and start putting my doomsday squad together.
The Head Coach – The Toughest Cuts
I needed to build my post-apocalypse franchise from top to bottom, so before I drafted my five-player roster I wanted to select a head coach. I made it a priority to grab a coach who could effectively manage the stress of the situation we were in, handle the various egos and personalities on my team, and come up with some insightful strategy that might actually help us survive (and maybe eventually thrive) for as long as possible.
Phil Jackson – One of the most accomplished coaches in professional sports history and a well-documented successful manager of massive egos. I just worry that if we grouped up with some other survivors of the apocalypse and formed an Army to fight our enemy, Phil would abandon the Phalanx and have us run the Triangle in the field of battle.
Mike Brown – If we were facing a zombie apocalypse Mike may be able to fool the zombies into thinking he was a mannequin and not a real life human being.
Jeff Van Gundy – JVG is witty, clever and has displayed a good sense of humor on ESPN broadcasts for near a decade now. He was also fearless enough to go after Alonzo Mourning in a mid-game fight and also survived an accidental Marcus Camby headbutt. I’ll go to war for Jeff Van Gundy.
Stan Van Gundy – At least we know what Stan’s post-apocalyptic plan will be …
Pat Riley – Pre-2014 I may have been inclined to select Pat Riley as my head coach, but the “throw the championship rings on the table” shtick hasn’t been so successful the last few times Riles tried it. I mean, if he can’t negotiate a deal with LaMarcus Aldridge or Gordon Hayward, how the hell are we going to come to any agreement with zombies or aliens or North Korea or whoever the hell we might be fighting.
Red Auerbach – Because even Red Auerbach in his current state is likely more competent than some current NBA coaches.
Head Coach – Gregg Popovich
The single easiest choice I had to make throughout this exercise. For a moment, I ask that you focus on Pop’s life experiences before basketball … Pop attended the United States Air Force Academy and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Soviet Studies and training in Air Force intelligence gathering and processing. He served five years in the U.S. Air Force and considered joining the Central Intelligence Agency. Instead, Pop decided to become the greatest basketball coach ever and the overseer of the greatest dynasty in pro sports history.
The biggest reason why Pop has had so much success in the NBA is not Tim Duncan or his relentless preparation or his in-game strategic adjustments or sound-bytes: it’s because he’s created a culture (a “Pop Culture”) that provides a blueprint for how every successful team, business and country should operate. It emphasizes hard work, creativity, intense passion, some nasty, a well-defined common goal, love and respect for one another, and diversity in both backgrounds and ideologies. It’s pretty simple when you think about it, and it’s really easy to understand why Pop is so universally loved and respected by people in and out of the league. So loved in fact that some have suggested he’s actually qualified to not only run for President of the United States, but win. All I know are these three things:
1. Regardless of what party Gregg Popovich ran with, I’d vote for him to be President of the United States without even a little hesitation.
2. As long as Gregg Popovich is head coach of the San Antonio Spurs they will continue to win 50 plus games every season.
3. In an apocalypse scenario, I’m picking Gregg Popovich to join my team before I pick anybody else in the NBA.
The Roster – The Toughest Cuts
Sam Cassell – If we’re dealing with an alien invasion, then having Cassell on our squad could play to our advantage since he might be able to trick them into believing he’s one of them.
Yao Ming – The people of China make up one-sixth of the world population, so having the NBA’s ambassador to China might make sense.
Dennis Rodman – The NBA’s ambassador to North Korea. No wonder we’re about to go to war.
Paul George – PG’s leg snapped in half in an exhibition game in August and he was playing in NBA games the following April. This guy is gonna live til he’s 127 years old. He’s unbreakable.
Andrew Bogut – Ditto for Bogut. If I suffered the same kind of arm injuries Bogut did in 2010 I would have requested that the Doctor’s put me down. Just go ahead and euthanize me, I don’t need to be around anymore.
Gilbert Arenas – I mean, at least we know that Gil is strapped and ready to jump into a shootout.
The Sixth Man – Shane Battier
I put together my starting five before deciding on who my sixth man would be, and I realized that I went heavy on star players mainly because I put a great deal of stock in the qualities that star players typically have: more often than not, the best players in basketball are the hard-working alpha dogs who are phenomenal leaders and possess unbridled confidence in themselves. However, star players could be moody and may need “star treatment” and they might butt heads from time to time because of ego issues, and so I needed someone who could help diffuse hostile situations, and someone who would be fine blending in, doing the dirty work, playing a complimentary role.
I landed on Shane Battier, a do-everything role player who proved to be durable, reliable and steady throughout a 13-year career. He was respected all throughout the league, played alongside various types of alpha dogs (and he always gelled with them), and his teams were always better when he was on the floor. Why? Because Battier did whatever was asked of him, and he excelled at it. Hey Shane, go defend Kevin Durant down the stretch! Hey Shane, bang bodies with David West in the post! Hey Shane, go grab some fire wood. Hey Shane, quick, bolt that door shut … they’re trying to get in!
Shane Battier would do it all, and he’d do it incredibly efficiently.
The Captain – Karl Malone
Nobody in the history of the NBA is better equipped to withstand an apocalyptic event than Karl Malone. There is also nobody in the NBA world who would be better equipped to handle a snow storm, a flat tire, abandonment in the Amazon, a hunting trip, an arm-wrestling contest, a mudslide, a grizzly bear attack, or a skeet shooting contest than Karl Malone. The man is the personification of an army tank, only if that tank talked with a southern accent and referred to itself in the third person.
Karl Malone is the great grandson of Paul Bunyan (this hasn’t been confirmed, but I can only assume it’s factual), and he was almost as qualified to lead the Utah Jazz to back-to-back NBA Finals appearances in the late 90’s as he is to Captain my NBA All-Apocalypse Team. I trust Karl Malone wholeheartedly with my life in a situation like this, and even if he might not be a perfect fit with the rest of my roster from a chemistry standpoint, there was no way I was going to leave the Mailman off my team. I would take the 1997 Utah Jazz starting five before I picked any roster that didn’t include Karl Malone.
The Killer – Kobe Bryant
I don’t care how tough you think you are (or how tough you actually are), if you’re two feet away from someone and they feign throwing a ball directly into your face, you’re going to flinch or instinctively move your body so you’re in a defensive position and protect yourself. If you don’t, you’re just wired differently than other human beings.
Kobe Bryant is wired differently from other human beings, and even though his presence could upset the chemistry of our team (Karl Malone challenged Kobe to a fight as recently as 2015), I want the guy who shoots free throws after rupturing his achilles, suckles sweat from his jersey to remain hydrated, refuses to flinch when an opponent tries to ‘son’ you, and is altogether fearless in any situations life presents.
The Advanced Species – Giannis Antetokounmpo
We’re bringing Giannis along for a variety of reasons (he’s young, he’s got a fiery passion on the basketball floor, he speaks three languages fluently, etc.) but mostly because more than any other NBA player, there is a chance that Giannis will eventually evolve into a species that is capable of doing things that human beings can’t do. That gives us a major leg up in a post-apocalyptic scenario.
Giannis is just a marvelous specimen; he’s as graceful as you could possibly imagine someone with limbs a mile long could and his hands are so big we could use them as a roof. And here’s what I like best: Giannis has such an edge and such a swagger that I feel like it would personally offend Giannis if aliens invaded and tried to overtake the human race. He’d be like “Αυτοί οι γαμημένοι αλλοδαποί δεν είναι ανώτεροι από μένα.”
That’s Greek for “These fucking aliens aren’t superior to me.”
The Admiral – David Robinson
David Robinson will help smooth over the chemistry issues between Mailman and Mamba, and like Coach Pop, Robinson has a military background that may end up being vital after the world as we know it ends. The Admiral attended the Naval Academy and served two years in the Navy after being drafted by the San Antonio Spurs 1st overall in the 1987 NBA Draft. Robinson spent two years as a Civil Engineering Officer, and although I don’t know exactly what that job entails, I’m sure that because of his experience doing that work, Robinson would bring a much different set of skills to the table than the other five men on my roster.
David Robinson is known for being passive, brilliant and genuinely kind, and although I don’t want to suggest that the rest of my choices lack these attributes, it’s indisputable that Robinson is altogether unique in comparison to the rest of the team.
The GOAT – LeBron James
Oh, were you expecting someone else? Sorry, Mike.
So that’s my squad; we’ve got an outdoorsman, two military men, a jack of all trades glue guy and three prodigies with tireless work ethic. We speak English, Greek, Nigerian, Spanish, Italian and a little bit of Russian. We’re insanely accomplished (on and off the court), athletic and intelligent, and we even have a devout Christian on the squad (Robinson) in case the apocalypse is biblical in nature. There is literally nothing we couldn’t handle, so bring on the end of the world … It’s just the beginning for us.