The Basketball Feelings Podcast, Episode 16: Sam Anderson
New York Times Magazine writer and author on basketball mythology, how to talk to Russell Westbook, Derrida vs NBA media and the Blazers' boundless bummers.
You need forces that big, and ideas that big, and images that striking and powerful to explain the kind of drama you get from basketball.
I cold emailed Sam Anderson in the first summer of the pandemic. He’d just written a feature for the New York Times Magazine on the NBA Bubble — which was anxious and strange and sad and beautiful — that I’d read while I was alone in the woods north of Toronto. It made me feel a lot of things at once that I hadn’t realized the pandemic muted, which was kind of exactly what I needed at the time. He didn’t reply for a long time but now, knowing Sam a bit better, it wasn’t personal. Because when he did it was incredibly kind and funny, and I knew I’d get him into Basketball Feelings some way, some how.
We talked about the origins of his own basketball feelings, involving patient, now deeply ingrained shooting drills and basic components of the game, plus homemade collages with cut-outs of NBA stars from magazines. I asked him to make sense of the Nets based on the profile he wrote about Kevin Durant last year, and why our analogies for the game always involve cosmology, including the gravitational pull between Durant and Russell Westbrook.
We also talked about the Bubble and how weird it was, the tragic history of the Portland Trail Blazers through Sam’s own fandom (he was wearing the same hat when we talked that he is in that photo with one of the world's last two surviving northern white rhinos), interviews, more about Russ, the secret simplicity of watching game warm-ups, and what makes basketball so mythic.
My basement was being dug out when we recorded and the occasional guttural vibrations felt then and sound now like the universe talking back.