For a part of the NBA season that is not strictly a part of the NBA season, this is a pretty entertaining part of the NBA season. Teams don’t begin training camp in earnest until today, but Monday was media day, which meant players wearing their uniforms around team practice facilities, getting photographed, and being asked What They’re Excited About In The Year To Come. Coaches talked about how they want to play at a faster pace and maybe one or two other things if there was time. Dwight Howard got off a solid dad joke.
Of the thousands of photos taken across the league, maybe one might be elevated to lower-tier meme status. It’s usually tough to tell which one that will be, although some candidates are easier to identify than others.
But almost all of these photos are forgettable. This is no knock on the people posing for or taking the pictures, but as soon as there is actual basketball to watch no one will need to remember photos of Jordan Clarkson* looking distracted or a scowling Marcin Gortat. All of which made it that much more surprising when the first photos of Tony Parker in his Charlotte Hornets home and road uniforms hit the internet on Monday afternoon. Even if you remembered that Parker had left the Spurs after 17 seasons and signed on in Charlotte, even if you had prepared yourself for the possibility that it would look weird to you at first, the sight of Parker in various teal-intensive looks will chill you to the bone.
There are a number of obvious reasons why these photos might seem so uncanny—17 years is a long time, for starters, and certainly long enough for the image of Parker in those somber and unchanging Spurs jerseys to imprint itself on a person’s consciousness. But also and more to the point what in the world?
This happens to a certain extent with other teams and other players, of course. The sight of LeBron in a gold Lakers uniform—let alone with the slouching and similarly costumed presence of Lance Stephenson nearby—is weird enough to spin anyone’s dials for a moment. You get used to things without even knowing you’re getting used to them, and that familiarity is most deeply felt in the instant when it’s ripped away and replaced by its opposite. A lot of things work that way. It’s upsetting.
And faces, especially, work that way. A little kid who has only seen her father with a beard will be very confused the first time she sees him without it; that kid might not recognize her own dad, might cry and think she’s looking at someone else. We get older and meaner and bigger over time, but that confused-baby part of the human brain is powerful and permanent. Also look at this shit.
What I’m saying is that I’m not buying it. These are all probably real but I think it calls for more study.
* CORRECTION: I originally had “Jeremy Clarkson” where Jordan Clarkson’s name should be for some reason. I don’t even watch “Top Gear.”