#137 Fool's Trade
February 28, 2019
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Yes Yes No returns and Alex Blumberg takes us on a journey from secret celebrity love letters to the biggest, strangest rock band you’ve never heard of. Also, basketball.
You can see the tweet here.
You can see the tweet here.
ALEX GOLDMAN: From Gimlet this is Reply All, I’m Alex Goldman.
PJ VOGT: And I’m PJ Vogt.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Welcome once again to Yes Yes No, the segment on the show where our boss Alex Blumberg comes to us with something he doesn't understand from the Internet. In the hopes that we, Internet experts-
PJ : Internet experts?
ALEX GOLDMAN: I know it feels pretty bad to say that-
ALEX GOLDMAN: In the hopes that we-
ALEX BLUMBERG: Compared to me.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Two people who-
ALEX GOLDMAN: Who have decided to make a show where we try to explain things from the Internet, explain it to him.
PJ: Uh, Alex, what have you got for us?
ALEX BLUMBERG: I have a tweet for you. But, um, this is- this is something that I sometimes do where I have a tweet that I believe I understand that you guys are not gonna understand.
PJ: Is it a tweet that is about sports?
ALEX BLUMBERG: It is. Um, why don’t I show it to you because it’s like one of these ones that’s like captioned-
PJ: Sorry, I can try to read it.
ALEX BLUMBERG: Okay.
PJ: It’s by somebody named Michael Caley at MCA Of A. And it's like a split screen image, on the left is Natalie Portman and the like, it's like Grandpa meme font. You know? Where it's like Impact font with like white letters with a black outline.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Grandpa meme font?
ALEX BLUMBERG: Yeah.
PJ: Like the fonts that they, that like, people's like old relatives use when they're like passing around stuff about like “Killary” and like also Trump–you know what I mean? Like, it's like you're most–It's like meow cat meme font.
ALEX BLUMBERG: It's like, yeah, the “can I has cheese burger” font–
PJ:Yeah. Yeah. So anyway doesn't matter, it's a font.
ALEX GOLDMAN: By the way, “I can has cheese burger” and it's lolcats.
PJ: Ugh! Um, OK, so on the left side under this much discussed font, it's a picture of Natalie Portman. And it says, “NBA Superstars. They'll now offer max ontracts”.
ALEX GOLDMAN: It's like contracts without the C. Max ontracts.
PJ: And then on other side is, I think, Jonathan Safran Foer, the author. And then on his forehead it says "The Knicks."
ALEX BLUMBERG: (laughs)
ALEX GOLDMAN: How could you identify Jonathan Safran Foer by sight?
PJ: I don't know, a life spent occasionally reading books.
ALEX BLUMBERG: (laughs)
ALEX GOLDMAN: That's way more embarrassing–
PJ: Also he came to my high school once and talked–
ALEX GOLDMAN: Than not knowing what lolcats are.
PJ: So it has 88 retweets and 646 likes and I have no idea what this is about. Alex Goldman?
ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah I'm clueless on this one.
ALEX BLUMBERG: (whispers) Ask me, ask me, ask me.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Alex Blumberg. Do you understand what this tweet means?
ALEX BLUMBERG: I–
PJ: Do you understand this tweet that you brought to us so that we won't understand it?
ALEX BLUMBERG: I do!
ALEX BLUMBERG: We're in "Sports Sports Sports" guys!
[SPORTS SPORTS SPORTS MUSIC]
PJ: Okay. So what–how do we do this?
ALEX BLUMBERG: So here’s what's gonna happen, ready?
ALEX BLUMBERG: So this tweet actually encompasses two different worlds. And we’re gonna- and the–one world that is professional sports specifically, the NBA.
ALEX BLUMBERG: And I’m going to handle that part. We’re going to get to that later. I’m very excited about that.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Right–
ALEX BLUMBERG: But before we get there, we have to take a tour through this other world and that is the exotic world of New York literary publishing. Okay? And for that, I have a special expert who’s going to come in and help us. Reply All producer Jessica Yung.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Nice.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Hi Jessica!
JESSICA YUNG: Hey guys.
ALEX BLUMBERG: Hey Jessica!
ALEX GOLDMAN: Thank you for joining us.
JESSICA: Yeah, course.
ALEX BLUMBERG: So, so, Jessica, I told these guys you are going to handle the- the first- the first part of this tweet. Right?
ALEX BLUMBERG: So, will you just kick us off here.
JESSICA: Yeah, yeah, yeah, sure. As you guys know, I- I used to work in book publishing, right?
ALEX BLUMBERG & ALEX GOLDMAN: Mhm.
JESSICA: I actually worked at this one publisher that had cause there are few, I guess literary blogs that kinda gossip about the industry, and um, one of these blogs was at this publishing company I was working at. And so, we just loved to talk about Jonathan Safran Foer.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Before that, as someone who’s never read a Jonathan Safran Foer book, who is- who is he?
JESSICA: We’re going to get there.
PJ: You never read a Jonathan Safran Foer book?
ALEX GOLDMAN: I know that he wrote a book called Everything is Illuminated and that’s it.
JESSICA: Oh my god, I am so excited to bring you guys through this. Okay. In 2002, he came out with this book called Everything is Illuminated.
PJ: And he came to my high school.
JESSICA: And he came to your high school. Which, I mean by the way this book was his undergraduate senior thesis at Princeton.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Woah.
PJ: This is what- I–I remember (JESSICA: Yeah.) it was one of the first times where I like realized that there were going to be a lot of people in the world who were like a lot smarter and more accomplished than me. Because he was like this guy that came to our high school, he'd already written this book and he was like as old as people who I knew. And everybody was like, (JESSICA: Yeah.) “Oh, the book’s a genius book.”
JESSICA: And he very quickly becomes this guy that’s the epitome of successful young writer, right. He marries Nicole Krauss, who’s also a very like a commercially successful, critically successful writer And then he starts to just get like seven-figure advances on all of his novels.
PJ: That’s insane.
JESSICA: It's insane. And this is kinda of a side note but there’s something, I feel like this is probably common in other industries, too, but there’s something in book publishing where everyone’s like obsessed with real-estate They’ll like post blog posts of people’s houses if it’s on Street Easy or something and I-
PJ: And say what?
JESSICA: Just remark–
ALEX GOLDMAN: Look at how much this person's house is worth?
PJ: Got it.
JESSICA: Yeah. I–I still remember all of the rooms of his house.
PJ: Can you talk us through some of the rooms of his house?
ALEX GOLDMAN: That's legit creepy.
JESSICA: I mean it's creep–OK. His, his house, which he got in 2005 very soon after Everything is Illuminated.
ALEX BLUMBERG: Uh huh.
JESSICA: Has the biggest private garden in all of Brownstone Brooklyn.
ALEX BLUMBERG: Woah–
PJ: How big is that?
JESSICA: Do you wanna see it?
JESSICA: I have it. Hold on.
ALEX BLUMBERG: It's not that big.
PJ: I feel like this is like a very short turnaround–
ALEX BLUMBERG: It’s as big as an average garden in Savannah, Georgia.
JESSICA: But look at that!
ALEX BLUMBERG: Oh, that is crazy.
PJ: Yeah it looks like a–it looks like the grounds that someone would like stride around when they were convalescing. Like it looks like, you know, like olden days when people had to go to wards?
ALEX BLUMBERG: Yeah.
JESSICA: So he has like a good amount of fans but there were also a lot of people that started to resent him.
PJ: Because he was like this successful person who everything seemed to come really easily to and he had a house with a football stadium sized garden–?
ALEX BLUMBERG: Right–
JESSICA: Yeah. Yes. And I mean I think it's also just like he became the emblem of everything that people resent about the literary industry, which is that it's skewed towards like a certain kind of person. Right? This–
PJ: People from Brooklyn named Jonathan?
JESSICA: Yeah. Yeah. Like a white dude that lives in Brooklyn that went to Princeton.
JESSICA: And I mean there was so much hate towards Jonathan Safran Foer at this point that there was even a term for it, it was Schaden Foer.
PJ: Enjoying the pain of Jonathan Safran Foer.
JESSICA: Yes. Any kind of downfall, people were just cheering on the sidelines. So Schaden Foer really hits its peak around 2009. He publishes this book called, Eating Animals. It's his first nonfiction book.
PJ: I remember this book. I remember not reading this book. Because it was like, why you should be a vegetarian with all the like horrible like PETA stuff. I was just like, "I do not need this book in my head."
JESSICA: Yes. That's exactly right. I read it when I was in high school.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Did you become a vegetarian?
JESSICA: OK, you, you know–
ALEX & PJ: (laugh)
JESSICA: You know my eating habits you know like I–
ALEX GOLDMAN: You could be a vegetarian now because mostly what you eat is like–
ALEX GOLDMAN: Candy.
JESSICA: OK. Well–
PJ: Breakfast candy–
ALEX BLUMBERG: (laughing)
ALEX GOLDMAN: Gummy hot- if–the only meat you eat is like gummy hot dogs.
JESSICA: Wow this is turning into like a huge shame session now.
GOLDMAN: No, no. This is just what it's like to be behind the mic with us. It sucks. It feels–you feel naked all the time because people are always pointing out your weird flaws. Welcome.
PJ: I would just call these attributes.
GOLDMAN: (laughs) No, I’d call them weird flaws.
JESSICA: Well I read it when I was probably in ninth grade, I think, and I–the only thing that I feel like it feels similar to is like when I discovered what Hell was? You know, when I was a kid and I was like I need to be–I need to be a Christian and I–or else I'm gonna be, I’m a bad person you know–
PJ: You just felt like a moral panic and shame–
JESSICA: Yeah. Totally. Exactly. And so, I mean I think that there were people that were like, that, these are really good moral arguments. But then there was this other group of people that was like, this totally overlooks, you know, class and money and how expensive it is to be a vegetarian or a vegan.
PJ: Also just like the successful person whose success comes easily to is now writing a book telling everybody what to do.
ALEX BLUMBERG: Right–
PJ: Would be a not super charitable way that one could feel about it.
JESSICA: Right. So there are people that don't love him. Jonathan Safran Foer. But there is one person that does love his work and that is Natalie Portman.
ALEX BLUMBERG: Natalie Portman.
PJ: I know a little bit about this.
JESSICA: Oh, yeah.
PJ: This is like one of my favorite horrible things that has happened in the world.
JESSICA: Oh yeah. Me too.
ALEX BLUMBERG: (laughing)
ALEX GOLDMAN: I don't know anything about this.
PJ: She also seems, like, in a very different way and on a very different level, I think a lot of the things people feel about Jonathan Safran Foer, they feel about Natalie Portman. Like, she's this very undeniably talented person, who's also like- has just–has had a lot of success and had a lot of privilege. Like, she went to Harvard. She like–she does all these different things and she does them really well. Like someone who from outside it seems like things have always come easily to and like either you really like them or that drives you crazy.
PJ: Like they're from the same fancy island in the sky.
JESSICA: Yes, yes. And Natalie Portman is really into his new book Eating Animals. I mean she even writes this article in the Huffington Post where she says, “I used to be a vegetarian but because of this book now I'm a vegan.” They announced, Jonathan Safran Foer and Natalie Portman, that there’s going to be a documentary made out of Eating Animals and that Natalie Portman would be the producer on this movie–
PJ: I didn't know about this.
JESSICA: Yeah, and so, soon after there’s this gossip site that publishes this rumor that Natalie Portman and Jonathan Safran Foer have just been writing emails back and forth. And apparently over time they were just getting closer and closer. And then, Jonathan Safran Foer according to this gossip site went home told his wife that he was in love with a very intellectual movie star.
JESSICA: Broke up his marriage.
JESSICA: Without telling Natalie Portman first.
JESSICA: Then went and wrote an email to Natalie Portman confessing his love to which she said, no.
ALEX GOLDMAN: I don't like that.
ALEX BLUMBERG: (laughs)
JESSICA: Because she was married and is still married to the dancer Benjamin Millepied.
ALEX GOLDMAN: I don't like that. You–like to do that you have to assume that like the feelings are reciprocal right?
PJ: Well it sounds like he did assume the feelings were reciprocal.
JESSICA: I think he was maybe too confident?
JESSICA: Yes. In his love–
PJ: He had a lot of success in his life.
ALEX BLUMBERG: Hubris.
ALEX BLUMBERG: I believe is the word.
JESSICA: Yes, but here’s the thing. No one’s published these emails, right? I haven’t seen these emails. I don’t know anyone in the book industry who has seen these emails, but there is a lot of talk. Then it’s you know, everything is kinda quiet for a while. And then this is my favorite part.
PJ: (laughs) This is the part I know. This is a very intense part.
JESSICA: So, that was 2014, right?
ALEX BLUMBERG: OK.
JESSICA: in 2016, Jonathan Safran Foer and Natalie Portman are both working on new projects.
PJ: Separate new projects.
JESSICA: Yes, separate new projects. So they do this promotional piece in T magazine
GOLDMAN: The New York Times Magazine.
JESSICA: Yes. The New York Times Magazine. In which they are going to write new emails Jonathan Safran Foer and Natalie Portman to each other, talking about their outlooks on the world and the projects they’re working on.
JESSICA: Yeah, and, I mean, it’s just so painful to read.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Is it two people trying to impress each other with their intellects?
JESSICA: Yes. And everyone else.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Ugh.
JESSICA: Yeah. Yeah exactly. I mean–
ALEX GOLDMAN: That bums me out.
PJ: Do you want to just read a section?
JESSICA: Sure. Okay. Okay, so this is Jonathan Safran Foer. “It's almost 6:00 in the morning. The boys are still asleep. I can hear the guinea pig stirring but that might be the residue of a nightmare. People often refer to aloneness and writer's block as the two great challenges of being a novelist. In fact the hardest part is having to care for guinea pigs.”
PJ: Oh boy.
ALEX BLUMBERG: (laughs)
ALEX GOLDMAN: I want to crawl under the desk.
PJ: It just sucks because also like I feel like I wrote letters like this in like sixth grade.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah but you had the good sense not to publish them.
ALEX BLUMBERG: Oh god! Also–
PJ: Well no one was offering.
ALEX BLUMBERG: It’s not a email.
ALEX BLUMBERG: Nobody writes that in email–what!?
PJ: It's like you can hear the scratch of the quill.
ALEX BLUMBERG: Email?!
ALEX GOLDMAN: No I disagree. I totally would have written that in an email to try and impress someone. But I definitely would have been like, if someone–If the New York Times came to me was like–
PJ: Also, if you were–
ALEX GOLDMAN: “Hey I want to publish this.” I would be like, “Hard pass on this.”
ALEX BLUMBERG: The hardest part is raising and then there was a guinea pig emoji or something like that’s not like in a fucking email.
JESSICA: Here's another one. Here's Natalie Portman, “An ex-boyfriend of mine used to call me Moscow because he said I was always looking out the window sadly like Moscow, like some Russian novel or Chekhov play. I have that longing yearning. It's better over there tendency.”
PJ: Natalie Portman, what are you doing? That makes me think that maybe...whatever, I don’t want to speculate on the lives of other people. But it does make me think that they had an emotional affair and he just overread it. Just like stay away from that whole country. Moscow. Longing. No!
ALEX BLUMBERG: (laughs)
JESSICA: There is a part where she kind of out of nowhere writes about how Millepied, her husband, makes her laugh a lot.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Oh right. Mhm–
PJ: The way you like bring up your boyfriend at a party (ALEX GOLDMAN: Right. When you–) when you’ve run into someone who's flirting with you too much.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah. Someone flirting with you and you’re like–
PJ: It sucks–I get that like they're rich and famous people and like their failures are fine to laugh at. I feel bad like I feel bad for him. I feel bad for her. It's just like, oh man.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah that’s tough.
JESSICA: It all feels like secondhand embarrassment when you're reading it.
ALEX BLUMBERG: Right. Like you guys got bad advice.
PJ: Yeah. Yeah. And how was there not somebody close to you to just be like, “don't do this–”
ALEX BLUMBERG: Don’t do this. Do not do this. This is the worst.
PJ: Also I feel like in particular the New York Times one of the things that they know how do as a newspaper is like- they’ll–they’ll have things that are–it'll be about like a rich person's wedding and the text of it is like, “look how grand it is.” But they know that this is just for everyone to read and hate (ALEX BLUMBERG: Uh huh.) and they will like completely set up somebody like this. And I feel like this is just that. Like, like the person editing this must have known that like, oh god–
ALEX BLUMBERG: This is, this is like the New York Times’ version of a reality show.
ALEX BLUMBERG: They produce them and into, into like doing something that everybody would hate watch.
PJ: Yeah, sit down in front of the camera (ALEX BLUMBERG: Yeah.) and talk about–
ALEX BLUMBERG: Oh man.
PJ: The residue of your nightmares.
ALEX BLUMBERG & JESSICA: (laugh)
PJ: It’s gonna be great–
ALEX GOLDMAN: It’s just a guinea pig.
ALEX BLUMBERG: There you go.
PJ: Okay so wait so just like slightly going back to the tweet. I feel like what I now understand like the the thing that Jonathan Safran Foer and Natalie Portman represent is just like the relationship between somebody who very foolishly thinks that something like they want somebody they foolishly think it’s going to happen in a crazy act of hubris and it’s not going to happen. I don’t understand how that relates to basketball in any way.
BLUMBERG: Right what that has to do with the New York Knicks?
BLUMBERG: Alright well that okay. I’m now going to explain that part to you. Um after the break.
PJ: OK, so now we're at the sports part?
ALEX BLUMBERG: Now we're at the sports part–
PJ: Also it's so weird that this tweet is a crossover of whatever–
ALEX BLUMBERG: I know. That's why it's like such a, it's such a crazy sweet spot. Like, Nabeel put it in our basketball Slack channel with a note saying that the audience Venn diagram for this incredible meme is so small–but it, but it is.
PJ: It’s Nabeel, Alex Blumberg, and Jessica.
ALEX BLUMBERG: (laughing) It’s Nabeel and me. Yeah, because I’m not even sure Jessica knows the whole–
PJ: Jessica only knows one half of–
ALEX BLUMBERG: (laughing) Yeah she only knows one half of it. All right, so. So now you know that in the world of this meme, Natalie Portman is NBA superstars. They'll now offer max ontracts.
PJ: And it's supposed to be ontracts.
ALEX BLUMBERG: No it’s not. That's just, that's just–
PJ: (laughs) OK.
ALEX BLUMBERG: He just–yeah.
PJ: Got so excited that he had such fire on his hands–
ALEX BLUMBERG: (laughing) Got so excited with his meme that he forgot to put the C in contracts. And then the Jonathan Safran Foer side of the, of the picture is the Knicks.
ALEX GOLDMAN: OK–
ALEX BLUMBERG: All right. Let's start simple. Do you know who the Knicks are?
ALEX GOLDMAN: I feel like you can presuppose a certain lack of knowledge. But this is just insulting.
ALEX BLUMBERG: PJ Vogt do you know who the Knicks are?
PJ: The New York City based basketball team.
ALEX BLUMBERG: Yes exactly.
PJ: Uh, blue and orange font.
ALEX BLUMBERG: Yes.
PJ: Kind of a purply blue.
ALEX BLUMBERG: So Knicks fans, they are the saddest fans I think in the entire NBA because the Knicks last won a championship in 1973 and have not won since then.
PJ: Which is weird because they are New York sports team you’d think that they would just have a bunch of money and buy all the players.
ALEX BLUMBERG: Yes. So which is it- it’s–it’s crazy.
ALEX BLUMBERG: And it doesn't make any sense because the–Madison Square Garden is one of the storied stadiums. It's like the limelight. Like everyone wants to play in The Garden. It's like there isn't–there is no reason that the Knicks should not be on the same level as the Lakers.
PJ: Is there is a–I mean is there like one thing that has happened?
ALEX BLUMBERG: There is one thing that has happened.
PJ: So what is the one thing?
ALEX BLUMBERG: Do you know the family that owns the Knicks, the Dolans?
PJ: I know something really wonderful about the Dolans.
BLUMBERG: (laughs) Now i’m afraid to say, so this is the level of the Knicks fan I’m afraid to like actually say this because there are knicks fan in this building who—like Cedric if you are out there—I know this is painful, part of it don’t come at me alright man.
PJ: What are you afraid to say.
BLUMBERG: But like he’s it’s so painful being a knicks fan is so painful I know this is just going to be like an hour and a half long conversation where he’s like yes everything you said is true but we’re fixing it we are going to address it we are going to address it.
PJ: But it’s not like art you can tell if a sports team is bad, because they don’t win.
BLUMBERG: I’m telling you I’m telling you. So the Dolan family, they are this family, they originally came from Ohio. Cleveland. And the senior Dolan moves his family out to New York City to pursue his dreams And he starts this small cable company that grows to become Cablevision. You know, an enormous cable company.
ALEX BLUMBERG: And the family becomes super powerful and wealthy. And they go on to purchase sort of famous landmark New York City institutions and real estate, such as Madison Square Garden, they purchase the Rangers, the hockey team. They purchase the Knicks. And then, in 1995, the senior Dolan, Charles, hands the business over to his son, James. And James is sort of developing this reputation as sort of like this blustery, brash guy. His hobby is like racing yachts. Like, the full on New York rich person, sort of–
PJ: Master of the Universe.
ALEX BLUMBERG: Yes, exactly. So for–just as an example–well let me just give you a question. If you were the wealthy scion of this big family that had moved to New York to pursue this scrappy ambition of starting this big cable company that had then been acquired for billions of dollars and you had your own passion project–
PJ: This is what I know about.
ALEX BLUMBERG: What would that passion project be?
PJ: I know about this is. This is the one thing I know about sports or James Dolan is like one of my favorite things that exists in the world. Are you talking about JD and the Straight Shooters?
ALEX BLUMBERG: I am talking about JD and the Straight Shooters!
PJ: (laughs) It's so good. It's so good. OK so Alex.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah.
PJ: Every once in a while a huge band will come to New York City, like Fleetwood Mac.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Sure.
PJ: Or the Eagles. And when they get to New York and only New York on their tour this weird thing will happen which is that the opening band.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Oh my God. Are you serious? That his band plays with them.
PJ: The opening band is JD and the Straight Shooters. Which is James Dolan and then just like a bunch of session musicians who are like young and him who's this like old CEO guy playing like horrible like him trying to do Boomer rock at Madison Square Garden.
ALEX BLUMBERG: Right it’s–yeah you're right about everything except it’s–one minor correction is JD and the Straight Shot.
PJ: JD and the Straight shot.
ALEX GOLDMAN: In answer to your question, if I had a passion project it would be to make a pinball museum.
PJ: So much less offensive.
ALEX BLUMBERG: So do you guys want watch his most recent music video?
ALEX BLUMBERG: OK. So this is like one of their, one of their singles–
[video music plays]
PJ: I can't believe we’re getting to talk about this.
JAMES DOLAN: (singing) In the morning, I get the news...
ALEX GOLDMAN: It's a, it's a montage of people looking at their phones and newspaper press.
JAMES DOLAN: (singing) Always someone telling you how to feel what to do. I know you care and it feels unfair but all this hate will never repair. The great divide...
PJ: Oh my god.
ALEX BLUMBERG: So it's like, it's all these like, all these images, these split screens of like–
PJ: Trump versus Hillary.
ALEX BLUMBERG: Trump versus Hillary. Occupy Wall Street versus, like, magnates, and it’s this sort of like Boomer plea for, I guess–
PJ: The healing power of billionaire rock?
ALEX BLUMBERG: The healing power of billionaire rock (laughing).
ALEX GOLDMAN: What I'll say about the song you just played is like the musicianship is actually good. And then he starts singing and it just sounds like garbage.
ALEX BLUMBERG: Well why do you think that might be?
ALEX GOLDMAN: I don't know. He didn't auto tune enough I guess.
ALEX BLUMBERG: No but he also hired a probably really fucking expensive musicians–!
PJ: He can pay people!
ALEX GOLDMAN: Well that’s what I- I–I know, I know–
ALEX BLUMBERG: Like, he probably hired the best musicians out there–
ALEX GOLDMAN: I know I–
PJ: And then they get- they’re like–they get to play Madison Square Garden but they have to play karaoke tracks for Mr. Burns.
ALEX BLUMBERG: Oh, man. So okay, so that is James Dolan. In 1999 he is the person put in charge of running the New York Knicks.
PJ: Singer songwriter basketball owner.
ALEX BLUMBERG: Exactly. And I’ll just say this. Like before 1999, the Knicks had been in the playoffs 12 straight season, the previous 12 straight seasons. After James takes over in 1999 it’s a train wreck losing streak of epic magnitude.
PJ: Huh. So what kinds of things does he do?
ALEX BLUMBERG: All right so, so–so many things. But just to give you a couple of examples. Like, one, so he wanted to hire this big time NBA star Carmelo Anthony. Right? And so he traded all the good players on the Knicks in order to bring on Carmelo Anthony. And then Carmelo is like by himself like this one lone superstar on this team of like really lousy players and the team sucks. And Carmelo Anthony is sort of mired in mediocrity for the better part of a decade. He’s like the one start on a team that can’t win.
PJ: He needs like literally someone to pass the ball to–
ALEX BLUMBERG: Someone else. Someone else has to be pretty good, otherwise you can’t do it. One person alone can’t do it.
Another thing Dolan did, he hired his friend Isaiah Thomas to coach the team. And Isaiah Thomas had been this big star as a player. But then he–turns out he’s not a very good coach. And like he- when he- and–he starts coaching the team, they just go on this huge extended losing streak. And then, Isaiah Thomas, like, has all these personal issues and he gets involved in like a sexual harassment scandal–
PJ: I feel like I saw headlines about that.
ALEX BLUMBERG: Yes. It was just like- and–it was just like a disaster and he was just like all these horrible headlines. And all these horrible things happened with Isaiah Thomas and like Dolan would just, for the longest time, refuse to get rid of him. Just stuff like that. Um, so, this is the guy who's in charge of the Knicks. And, and we're about to get to the, to the part where–
ALEX GOLDMAN: To the meat of this–
ALEX BLUMBERG: The meat of this thing.
ALEX GOLDMAN: This Natalie Portman Jonathan Safran Foer NBA crossover–?
ALEX BLUMBERG: Right? So, so and Knicks fans have been living this with like decades now, decades of obscurity, like futility and like this like poor management. And, we come now to June 2015.
ALEX BLUMBERG: The NBA draft. OK? So the Knicks, because they're bad, the one good thing about being bad is that you get to get a high draft pick.
PJ: We know this from Trust the Process.
ALEX BLUMBERG: Exactly.
ALEX BLUMBERG: And so, so they have a pretty high draft pick. They're going number four. And every–by this point everybody's primed like Dolan's gonna screw it up because he always screws it up. Okay. So in 2015 this is who they draft.
[Draft clip plays]
ANNOUNCER: With the fourth pick in the 2015 NBA draft, the New York Knicks select Kristaps Porzingis from Liepaja, Latvia.
PJ: Everyone's booing.
ALEX BLUMBERG: Yeah. Watch- look at- look at the–
PJ: All the Knicks fans are covering their faces and just doing every physical expression of exasperation you could do.
ALEX BLUMBERG: Look at the little boy. You see the little boy?
PJ: Yeah (laughs).
ALEX BLUMBERG: It’s a kid that’s crying.
PJ: (laughs) It’s like an eight-year-old crying–
ALEX GOLDMAN: He’s giving the thumbs down–
ALEX BLUMBERG: This is a compilation of like reactions to this.
[music changes in clip]
INTERVIEWER: What do you think about the Knicks pick?
KNICKS FAN: Wow. I mean I would’ve went with honestly anybody else at that point.
ALEX GOLDMAN & PJ: (laugh)
ANNOUNCER (on a tv): The New York Knicks select, Kristaps Porzingis!
KNICKS FAN 2: Oh my god!
PJ & ALEX GOLDMAN: (laugh)
PJ: Just someone–
ALEX GOLDMAN: A guy who just collapsed on the floor–
PJ: In his home–
ALEX GOLDMAN: In his apartment.
KNICKS FAN 3: (shouting) What the [blank] did they do? Who the [blank] is this [blank]?
KNICKS FAN 3: You drafted this [blank] kid? You [blank] stupid mother [blank]!
ALEX BLUMBERG: Okay so it’s a random seven foot three dude that nobody's ever heard of (ALEX GOLDMAN laughs) named Kristaps Porzingis. And so like, they're just like, and they're just like, “Oh my God. Dolan's done it again.”
ALEX BLUMBERG: All right? So like people are really really mad. But then something amazing happens, which is Kristaps Porzingis turns out to be amazing.
ALEX BLUMBERG: Yes. He turns out to be this like, one of these like new kind of players. He's 7’3” which is really tall.
ALEX GOLDMAN: I know–
ALEX BLUMBERG: Yeah.
ALEX BLUMBERG: Okay. I always forget what I have to explain and what I don’t. You know about like–
PJ: Most people aren't even 7’1” Alex.
ALEX BLUMBERG & ALEX GOLDMAN: (laugh)
ALEX BLUMBERG: You know about the average heights of humans.
PJ: When they’re babies, they’re even tinier.
ALEX BLUMBERG: Anyway he's 7’3” but he can like move like a gazelle. And so he just becomes this amazing player. Let me just–do you want to watch some greatest, some Porzingis great hits?
ALEX BLUMBERG: All right. Here we go.
PJ: I wonder if I’m going to tell if he’s good.
[announcer describing game]
ALEX BLUMBERG: So that’s him.
PJ: He looks like a grown up playing in a kids league.
ALEX BLUMBERG: Yeah, a little bit–
PJ: Like, he’s just so much larger and faster than everybody.
ALEX BLUMBERG: Yeah. Boom. (laughs)
[announcer talking, crowd cheering]
PJ: So the thing is just that he's like a massive giant that moves like a tiny little dervish?
ALEX BLUMBERG: Yes. Exactly. He becomes this like iconic–he's like this idol.
ALEX BLUMBERG: For Knicks fans. Right?
ALEX BLUMBERG: And then, um, and then on January 31st of this year they traded him.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Why?!
ALEX BLUMBERG: I don't know!
ALEX GOLDMAN: You know, I'm not a sports fan but I feel really mad for them.
ALEX BLUMBERG: That is exactly what every single Knicks fan in existence asked.
PJ: I feel Alex is going to become a sports fan just because there's one more place he can be angry all the time.
ALEX BLUMBERG: I know. I know because you love–
PJ: You get to yell.
ALEX BLUMBERG: That righteous resentment that you are feeling right now.
ALEX GOLDMAN: But–
ALEX BLUMBERG: I know. So, we don't really know what, what happened. There was a lot of talk at the time that like that Porzingis was really unhappy possibly because of how badly mismanaged the Knicks were and how bad they were playing and, you know, he didn't want to end up in the sort of Carmelo Anthony situation where he's just like the one lone good player on this struggling team. Whatever. We don't know for sure. But whatever it was from the point of the view of the person who made this tweet once again like the knicks squandered their chance to actually be good.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Now I know what my parents felt like every time I was like, “Hey guys, I enrolled in community college again.”
ALEX BLUMBERG: (laughs)
ALEX GOLDMAN: “And this, this, this semester together. (PJ laughs) I’ve got my shit together. I'm going to study. I’m definitely going to do a good job–”
PJ: It's definitely just like the 90s.
ALEX BLUMBERG: Right. I know. So, what the Knicks management is saying is that like this is OK because now Porzingis's contract–we don't have to pay Porzingis all this money. So we have, now we have cap space, we have room.
PJ: Because the whole thing with the NBA is like in an effort to make it so the rich teams don't just win–
ALEX BLUMBERG: Yes–
PJ: There's like a salary cap. Like, you can only spend so much money on your players.
ALEX BLUMBERG: Yeah so, what Knicks management is saying is basically is like, It's okay. We've gotten rid of Porzingis, so we can spend his salary, what we would've been spending on his salary, we can spend that on other really good players." But then, people are looking at that and being like, "Well, you're not going to be able to attract those players because everybody is going to feel like Porzingis. Nobody is going to want to come and play for you, James Dolan."
ALEX BLUMBERG: Have we reached yes yes yes?
ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah. This is a real sad one.
PJ & ALEX BLUMBERG: (laugh)
ALEX GOLDMAN: This one makes me feel really sad.
PJ: I know it's just like all about like hope and disappointment and striving and looking like a jackass.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah.
ALEX BLUMBERG: Do you guys wanna run it back?
ALEX GOLDMAN: Sure–
PJ: Yeah, Alex, you run it back.
ALEX BLUMBERG: Yeah.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Ughhh….OK. So this is a tweet by Michael Caley @_MC_of_A and it is a picture of Natalie Portman and Jonathan Safran Foer and underneath Natalie Portman it says, “NBA superstars they'll now offer Max ontracts.” I think it meant to say max contracts. And on Jonathan Safran Foer’s forehead it says the Knicks and so in the world of this tweet Natalie Portman is all of the incredible professional basketball players that the knicks supposedly are going to get now that they have traded away Porzingis but uh, but since they are Jonathan Safran Foer they are dramatically over estimating their ability to attract good players.
PJ: Right and also I guess the Knicks have like traded Porzingis away before they’ve actually found the players they’re going to get. So it’s like one more–
ALEX GOLDMAN: Oh yeah.
PJ: So, they think it's going to work out. They also could just like end up alone in their sad apartment.
ALEX BLUMBERG: Exactly.
PJ: The remnants of a nightmare.
ALEX BLUMBERG: (laughs)
PJ: All right. Thanks Alex.
ALEX BLUMBERG: Thank you.
Reply All is hosted by me PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman. We’re produced by Sruthi Pinnamaneni, Phia Bennin, Damiano Marchetti, Anna Foley Jessica Yung and Emmanuel Dzotsi. Our show’s edited by Tim Howard. We’re mixed by Rick Kwan. Fact-checking by Michelle Harris. Our intern is Christina Ayele Djossa. Special thanks this week to Nabeel Chollampat and Cedric Shine. Our theme song is by the mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder. Our ad music is by Build Buildings.
Matt Lieber is a random interaction with a stranger where afterward you don’t feel awkward.
You can listen to the show on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you in two weeks.
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