The Kennedy killing. Beatles on Sullivan. Neil and Buzz ride the spacerock. Challenger’s loss. An Iron Curtain’s collapse. Our first black President. A bullet to Bin Laden’s brain.
If you were 1) alive, and 2) not extruding food straight into your diapers during any of these, you remember where you were. Unless, of course, you’re me: someone who couldn’t tell you his own mother’s birthday, how many stripes are on the American flag, or whether he drank coffee or lighter fluid at breakfast this morning.
And yet: I know exactly where I was when ¡Pablocura! struck me.
October 25th, 2012. New York’s final preseason tune-up against the rechristened Nets. My couch. Two-buck Chuck. A terrifying storm cell named Sandy splayed like a throwing star tumor across every screen in America.
And this. (Scroll down to first video)
I cannot say all the secrets.
He remembered me that, now.
I tried to read every offense.
Instead of to shoot over one guy to block me for sure I find open guy.
The key is to try to find open man.
It was shit straight out of Twelfth Night, sung with a sunshine smile by some sinewy Spanish siren. It made no sense at all, and yet I wanted everything he said tattooed across my freshly-shaved scalp. I’d never heard anything like it.
Three month’s earlier, the signing of Pablo Prigioni had been met by the Knick fanbase with something resembling relieved indifference. That’s what happens when your second point guard drives gin-pickled into a Cablevision telephone pole. Sure, we could recall through a fog of failure the mechanical mastery with which he’d helped conduct Argentina’s 2004 gold U.S.-urpers. Then again, we were equally underwhelmed by his comparatively muted – and injury-plagued – bronze showing in London. Which averaged out to merely appreciating the pickup precisely how Prigs himself appeared to: as an extended vacation in roundball Valhalla; the Disney epilogue to an autobiography the Buenos Aires publishing house probably wouldn’t even bother translating into English.
So when he suited up during the Knicks’ preseason slate, and the court vision and understated virtuosity started unspooling in meaningless spurts, the collective reaction was that of a parent who realizes their twelve-year-old kid is pretty good at skipping stones across the ditch puddle: it’s cute and all, but you’re sure as shit not banking on rearing the next Eckersley. Once the real season started, logic went, basketball robotics would be all we’d need – or expect – from our barrel-aged import. That, and maybe the occasional wide open three, sent aloft with all the grace of a nursing home caber toss.
But a funny thing happened on the way to garbage time chants: Pablo Prigioni still knew how to ball. He played 16-plus in the season opener, tallied 11 points, six assists, and a pair of steals in an early thrashing of the hapless Sixers, and wouldn’t tally a sub five-minute outing until two days before Christmas, presumably because the Minnesota winter caused his calves to seize up like frozen engines. His flapless chops and calming influence belied a team dynamic dominated by misfits, cast-offs, and well-meaning knuckleheads; his impact, beyond box scores.
By midseason, Pablo’s play had become a mixtape within a #knickstape: slowly midwifing the ball past half-court in spite of defenders weirdly bent on raking and humping poor Prigs at every dribble-reversing pivot; making peeps pay after one too many desert-clear looks from deep; batting, tapping, and outright snatching the ball out of the narrowest of baseline passing lanes; stubbornly refusing to convert one-foot layups with nary a defender within two city blocks; but always, always making the extra pass – the Hadron exchange amongst mere metal gears.
As the slate wound on, Pablo’s unique brand of efficient, mostly mistake-free stewardship would eventually compel Mike Woodson – beyond exotic beard juices, seldom a trafficker of the creative – to turn what had been something of a goofy anachronism into a staple of the season’s stretch: two-point guard lineups. What the Knicks gave up in size, speed, and general athleticism, they harvested by the hectare beautiful basketball: 1.189 points per possession with the two on the floor, compared to 1.05 when both Prigs and Felton were bench-bound, and 1.1 as a team.
On July 25th, after a fortnight or so of coy back-and-forths, the Knicks inked Prigs to a fresh, three-year tender for just a Smart Car under $5 million. Had the same deal been struck one year ago, most would’ve taken it as a sure sign that the team’s brain trust was skull-deep in some kind of cocaine psychosis – the necro-pangs of an organization so desperate for stability that they’d gladly pay for their own execution.
Now? Let’s just say there was much rejoicing. And rightly so. At 36, Prigs is no studding bull fucking his way through Pampas heifers. But nor has he clocked the heavy mileage of many an NBA peer. Given his first-year success, a summer of solid rest, and relative roster stability, there’s no reason to believe Prigs can’t replicate, or even improve upon, last season’s showing. The signing of Beno Udrih — a steal in its own right — could muddy the rotational waters a bit, but it also signals that Woodson may well be committed to parlaying last year’s two-point guard success into a consistent long-term strategy. Which inevitably means beaucoup burn for Prigs and — if there is a God — that charming, incoherent post-game poetry as spare and lovely as what he reads on stage.
Grades (5 point scale):
Final Grade: B+