On JR Smith and the Armaments and the Ornaments of War

During the late 90’s/early aught’s, when the Hummer was at the absolute apex of its status-declaring, gas-guzzling obscene popularity and watching a gonzo Limo-Hummer hybrid try to make a right turn in a particularly tight corner in Midtown Manhattan in a manner akin to witnessing a Woolly Mammoth try to squeeze into a pair of Spanx was a weird form of late-night drunken entertainment,  I used to joke that it’s only a matter of time before the well-to-do took it up a notch and began cruisin’ down the block in an Abrams tank. I mean, the price of petrol was noodling at around a dollar a gallon and it seemed as if we were careening towards a bloated future where these monstrous behemoths were the norm,  while somewhere in a dank, fluorescent, windowless corner, tweedy, wheezing. bespectacled academics/environmentalists fretted about the death of the Electric Car.

Screen Shot 2013-08-20 at 6.35.52 PM
Ceci N’est Pas L’Auto Du JR Smith

That didn’t happen. Hummer’s since gone out of business and the general automotive trend seems to be bending towards The Howard. But earlier this week, we were treated to the news that JR Smith had purchased..

a Gurkha F5, which is made by Toronto-based Terradyne Armored Vehicles and used by police and the military.

It’s no nuke-powered Abrams, but it’s certainly a step-up, horsepower-wise, from his late-night bicycling jaunts. We all had a good larf about it, because of course JR Smith dropped 450k to tool around in a military vehicle. Will there be some lovely butts painted on the side? And c.

It didn’t take long for the story to fall apart. I know! A Page Six blurb proving untrue! Shocka! What in the name of Edward R. Murrow is going on in the harried cubicles of the 4th Estate these days anyway! This article seems to indicate that it is in fact the truck belonging to some chums of JR. The logo on the side being a determining piece of evidence. Naturally, when JR awoke at the crack of 2pm, he began addressing these rumors on the Twitter.


And then this Algonquin Round Table-esue Twiitersation devolved into guffaws with Kenneth Faried about some woman who was trying to “Catfish” JR, because of course it did. So, JR Smith may be plotting a remake of the seminal 80’sJames Garner/Shirley Jones flick, Tank,  or may be messing with people’s heads after receiving some grief online. These missives would seem to indicate it’s the latter:

And yesterday we heard that he…

And finally he declared that it’s…

So there you have it. JR does not himself drive a tank but merely hangs with bros who drive a tank. Journalism!


In any case, if you were aware of this story, it’s probably in a, “Oh well, it’s August. Not much actual NBA-doings. Let’s chat about Ray Felton’s dietary habits and Amar’e’s ongoing Semitic strivings or any of the other deleteria,” kind of way; a brief shot of hardwood methadone whilst we jones  for the return of our precious games and grind our teeth down to the nub trying to wrap our heads around what Woody’s going to do with the rotation, the pounding of many a one-dimensional square peg into so many multi-dimensional well-rounded holes, the health of the bigs…you know, IMPORTANT stuff.

A couple of things.

First of all, not matter whose name actually appears on the pink slip of this “car,” it’s ridiculous. There is absolutely no need for military armaments to be used by civilians. And if one does see this rolling down West End Avenue, it shouldn’t be met with cries of “YOLO!” but rather a sense of outright panic that there’s been a massive populist/radical/ultra-right/left uprising the likes of which this country hasn’t seen since the 70’s. The 1770’s. No, the protests/riots of the 1960’s don’t count. I mean an actual revolution, where the government has send in actual jackbooted hessians/thugs. You know, scenes like these (Seriously disturbing imagery. NSFW, and depending on your stomach for graphic, frightening stuff, not suitable for the comfort and safety of your own home, either).

A U.S. Marine Corps M-1A1 Abrams main battle tank. It is not JR's ride either.
A U.S. Marine Corps M-1A1 Abrams main battle tank. It is not JR’s ride either.

But it’s met with a bland meh. Or a rolling of eyes at the foibles of the uber-rich.

That’s a problem.

Not because it’s a little daffy to ponder dropping that much cheddar when you (if you are, in fact JR Smith) have just accepted a reduced-value contract for all kinds of mysterious, unexplained reasons.  But rather because this car’s yet another example of the blurring of the lines between military and civilian life.

And ain’t just cars. I think it’s a problem that military clothing/camouflage have become accepted stylistic fashion trends, somehow divorced from their meaning/original intent. In fact it’s the very opposite of their intent. The point of camo is to hide one’s self, not stand out like a garishly overpriced sore thumb because you’ve managed to score a sweet pair of  those hawt, must-have $1195 Louboutin camouflage pony hair & studded leather smoking slippers. (Yes, that’s real thing. The product is described by Saks Fifth Avenue thusly: “Reinvented by a camouflage print and studded patent leather cap toe, this pony hair design is topped with an embroidered crest for a signature edge that screams chic.” Screams, indeed.)

To be clear, this isn’t an anti-military screed. I’m not some wacked-out, uber-idealistic hippie who thinks that,”If people would like just you know, like, LOVE each other, we could like, you know, live, like all together in peace and like, you know, harmony, Mannnnnnn. PeaceLoveDope!” America needs the armed forces, period.

But the idea that military clothing and cars, not to mention language and terminology (See All Major Sports, US; Politics, US) should be accepted as part of the norm is problematic. Look at this story. We  chortled because it’s JR, and his foibles off-court are part of what makes him so durned lovable (or loathsome, if you’re going to descend into an old-man-screeching-about-those-durned-kids-on-his-lawn-with-the-dreadlocks-and-the-hippity-hop-and-respect-for-the-game-level crank/stereotype; a trope that’s seething with unsubtle racist overtones, if you cut away the fake nostalgia for a pure, unsullied hagiography of sport and athletes bullshit — the fevered dream of a thing that never really existed anyway.)

So yes, we pointed and giggled at JR, but very few people seemed to say, “Wait. You can buy this car? What does this say about us asa society that you can, if you have the means, and would like to scare the absolute living shit out of the locale populace, have and drive this car?”


You know, a few years ago, I worked with a theater company that put on a play called Surrender. When the audience arrived at the theater, we took their clothing and possessions, gave them a regulation battle dress uniform and a replica M-4 and for the first 2.5 hours of the play, put them through a very rudimentary basic training — how to handle a weapon, clear a room, search a detainee and so on — and then  put them into a simulated battlefield situation. In the 2nd act, audience members played the lead role (reading their lines off supertitles projected above) in scenes of soldiers coming home. The training was led by an Iraq War Vet. It looked like this.

International WOW Company SURRENDER Excerpt

We made this play because about 0.5% of all Americans currently serve in the armed forces and roughly 7% of has family or knows someone who’s an active serviceperson. Basically, it’s an alien experience for the vast majority of the population. One year prior, we had received about 3-4 weeks worth to prep for a movie we made called Memorial Day with the Sargeant who leads the training sequences in Surrender. The thing that none of us Lefty/Peacenik actors saw coming is that we liked it. We really, really liked it, the training. Okay, “liked” is probably not the right term, but boy o boy,, was it an incredibly powerful experience, even if it was just training for a freaking movie. Holding the weapons (which looked and felt very much like the real thing). Being part of a unit. Sublimating one’s identity to the unit, a unit that had the power to kill. Counting on the unit to save your life and you theirs. Life and death stakes. And this was just pretend.

We wanted to convey that experience, even if it didn’t begin to measure up to the totality of what it feels like to actually wear a uniform and serve —  to a theater audience. We weren’t saying this war was “good” or this one was “bad” but hopefully, if/when we succeeded, we were pointing to a reason that’s not often discussed about why men and women do join up — because, like Chris Hedges wrote, war is a force that gives us meaning.


I’ve taken you down this detour into the picayune world of downtown NYC theater because I do think war and the military are serious things. And how and when we go to war and what the armed forces are for is not a subject that can be worn as a fashion statement or for funz like the car that JR did/didn’t buy. When that happens, it’s the opposite of what we were trying to do with that play. It’s the idea that the military and military action is a casual, commonplace occurrence and subverts our right as part of a democracy to properly weigh the weight, power and force of war because we ignore it, even after a more than a decade of perpetual war. Or go on with our daily lives because when war is everywhere, it’s nowhere.

And when war and the trappings of war are so prevalent that you don’t even stop to question their presence, that’s how you get Fascism.

Yes, that’s an extreme conclusion to come to and normally I abhor slippery-slope arguments. JR Smith’s non-tank purchase is a silly thing and doesn’t really mean much. I get that. But it’s not funny.

It’s downright terrifying.

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Robert Silverman

Hey, did you know that in addition to banging the keys here and occasionally for the NY Times and at ESPN, Robert is a playwright, an actor and a wand'ring mendicant/gadfly? He also once wrestled a bear...and lost.

6 thoughts to “On JR Smith and the Armaments and the Ornaments of War”

  1. Just want to note that it’s always really good to see these long-form Silverman essays.

  2. One person opines about how other people should live their lives. One person goes about his business not caring what other people do. Who is the once with fascist tendencies? The problem has always been the people who think that there are TOP MEN (or TOP WOMEN) out there that know more about living others lives than they do themselves. Now, I’ll apologize to the author as I don’t know how he stands on lots of topics, but the problem is not the JR Smith and friends who want to buy armored vehicles and drive them around the streets of the US. The problem is with the military and it’s civilian leaders that will do everything they can to place these vehicles and the personnel associated with them in just about every country around the world.

  3. This story has no salary cap angle – so I have nothing to say.

    I do not see a “Melo is great” angle – so I cannot see Ruru commenting.

    I do not see how this story has an impact on the WP48 debate – so I cannot see THCJ commenting.

    Other tropes that this story does not touch:

    * Jim Dolan is an idiot.
    * Hide the children, Isiah Thomas is coming back.
    * Woodson does not know how to coach offense.
    * The defense switches too much.
    * STAT is a waste of $20 million.
    * GG should be flogged for the Bargnani trade.
    * Prigioni should get more court time.
    * TC is all hat and no cattle on Defense.
    * Iman Shumpert is going to be a star/huge disappointment.

    So, an interesting post that likely will generate little to no follow-on.

  4. Yeah we really missed out on the whole Hummer thing here in Australia. You would see the odd one arond, but generally everyone thought that whoever was driving it was a bit of a wanker. We still have the limo’s but they are usually reserved for teenagers debutante balls, out of control/overly agressive bridesmaid parties and bogan (I think trailer trash might be the US equivalent maybe?) weddings.

    JR also doesn’t strike me as the armoured vehicle type either. Maybe a Escalade or something like that, but probably not a tank……….unless he’s actually Batman.

    All in all the start of the season can’t come around quick enough. Heck training camp can’t come around quick enough!!

  5. Awesome to read your stuff as usual, Bob. I get why you wrote this. It’s downright offensive watching idiots garb themselves in camo for fashion when kids are dying in gas attacks.

    Anyone interested in understanding the true experience of war should check out Hemingway. For Whom The Bell Tolls puts you right in the drivers seat without the need for expensive props.

    I’m not writing about basketball anymore but I love the writing here and will continue to read the articles and some posts. I might give a hrumph here or there but I have a music blog I’ve started and that’s where I’ll post.

  6. ephus:
    an interesting post that likely will generate little to no follow-on.

    Uh, that’s because y’all banned the follow-on.

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