Top of mind
The metrics of recognition calculated through Kyle Lowry, Robert Sarver, abuses of power, and how we talk to the people we love.
It’s hard, for me, not to think of Kyle Lowry. For so long the man was a polestar — to Toronto, to my fandom, to the way I left and came back and related to the Raptors. To watch Lowry go from sullen stopover at best to begrudgingly buying in on a stubborn dare, to twin engine to co-pilot to a leader so often radiant with love — I’ve never had passage like that with another player, to see the curving arc of their career climb and dip and grapple and hit. I won’t say peak, because I hardly believe that was all for him.
But for the past couple weeks I haven’t. Well that’s not all true. I’ve caught last quarters of Heat games, watched highlights and postgames, I even had a dream Lowry was playing in a hybridized All-Star/Summer League tournament that took place on a court the size of a two-car garage that I lost my credential for and was escorted out of, fuming.
So, I have been. Thinking of Lowry. But the steady beat of him in my head is gone. He’s not in the games I cover, he’s not coming out of the tunnel beside me, his presence is noticeably absent when this season’s Toronto team spills, rangy and jolting, over the floor. He isn’t top of mind.
What’s been weirder to reconcile than Lowry’s absence, though, has been how front and centre he is for an entirely new viewership, even collective consciousness.
At first it was nice, this new and widespread Lowry appreciation. I’m not so naive as to think most American fans ever watched Raptors games unless they were national, but I did think at least they knew who Lowry was, what he did. But then there were so many stories around Lowry hitting his stride, finally (finally?) in Miami, via the ceaseless pulse of the Heat system. So many stories that framed it as Lowry’s benefit, rather than Miami’s. That what he needed was a working team with a chip on its shoulder to really, finally (finally?) compete.
I think about last season’s trade deadline, when the complaints from the Heat, Lakers and Sixers were that Toronto’s asking price for Lowry was too high. But then the Heat, Lakers and Sixers fell out of the playoffs, fast, and the price seemed paltry compared to a few more rounds in contention. Compared to, literally, time.
Because that’s what Lowry gives you. As the game folds in around him, as he plots out the course of the game, in-game. He is so fast, 3.80 seconds per touch, 3.08 dribbles per touch. Chain-lightning on court for how he flashes the ball around, smirking in the dissipating ozone and waiting for the game to catch up.
But this was all known, no?
The cruelest thing about Lowry’s career is how under the radar it’s been by virtue of lazy geography. This trailing of attention the farther away from the false bounds of the league’s dominant (by way of dollars) country it drifts. It’s an incuriosity not limited to basketball but limiting to basketball, in play, in motion, and to the best of its craft who happen to be practicing “abroad”, away from the navel-gazing black hole of America. Lowry was so unseen in his nine seasons with the Raptors that it feels now, watching him work in ways so familiar I can idly trace his steps around the floor like doodling on a phone call, that Toronto was a coma all these people are waking from, picking up a severed line from Houston 2011 and raggedly double knotting it to Miami, 2021. He couldn’t be top of mind when that time — or how it’s being framed, anyway — has been lobotomized.
What was in the middle, then? Where did he, this experience, patience, manic defence, chaos reclined on a knife’s edge offence and grinning pace come from?
The one silver lining is: good luck forgetting him now.
The things you fall asleep thinking about, from rote checklists to cinematic beats plucked from memory. Making a note to measure past the white border of the print, both prints, the Kim Ondaatje Steph got you and the Matthew Wong, to find the right size frame for. Eating the grapefruit tomorrow. Eating the $18 warm, brown sugared grapefruit in Manhattan with Yusef, outside a torrential spring rain flash-flooding SoHo. Does Captain need dog food? The look on the surgeon’s face that said Hatchet job, as she started to dig the scar tissue out of the middle of my forehead, like a mechanic hearing someone grind the gears to hell attempting stick. Why am I thinking of that, what was that noise?
Trying to hold tight to people, their faces, memories of places so your brain uses them as a starting point when consciousness buckles and the reality of these thoughts invert to dreams. How deeply, quickly, the brain moves past these markers or the reminders you make for tomorrow into the murk of subconscious. When you drift, loose, relinquishing all the restraints you’ve set for yourself in your waking hours and dream completely unhinged things, forbidden things, brand new secrets to keep when you sift through the dormant and discordant pulses the next morning.
What stays with you coming to and what surfaces going under, two completely different things.
Top of mind exists most freely for the people already there. Like an infinite mirror, reflecting versions of themselves back to them. Robert Sarver said he didn’t like diversity, didn’t think it encouraged agreement across the board, he wanted to look around the room and see heads like his nodding yes. Neil Olshey, in his summer pantomimes, did due diligence to the same charades we’ve seen for years now. The motions of casting a wide net, of interviewing women (or one, singular woman) for the job. We were fooled because we’re also mesmerized by mirrors, we want to see the best version looking back at us, always. But top of Olshey’s mind, the entire time, was Chauncey Billups, and knowing that now the parody of due diligence makes even more sense. We always pull faces in the mirror before settling back to the most familiar one.
Steve Kerr in his polite refutals, never outright rejection, of some temporary facsimile of the men he knows. He didn’t recognize the Luke Walton that was accused of violent sexual assault, doesn’t recognize Sarver’s tendency to intimidate for the purpose of holding power over the people he employs — 70 accounts over 17 years, some that surely overlapped Kerr’s six year stretch with Sarver on the Suns — now. To Kerr these are tricks of the eye. Bad impersonations. In assigning Walton and Sarver, these versions of them, no recognition, he removes himself from an actual position of passing judgement. Walton, Sarver, likely more, don’t need to take responsibility and Kerr stays on friendly terms with them and the concentric, aligned power they each inhabit on this upper echelon of what it means to be top of mind, all the time.
Top of mind doesn’t have to be so huge, either. Top of mind, like I said to Haley over the phone, can be tiny, really. A protected inner circle reenforced by ready shorthand and reference points because they’ve been in all the same rooms together, making the same jokes. A steady-state of comfort and a singular tone tuned by how often they call on each other that to be called out of it, even for a few minutes, causes a punch of psychic panic. They will tell everybody how you made them uncomfortable. They will tell everybody because the feeling is so foreign that it will be like sprouting a second head to them. This is sports media, but this is also anything. Where do you feel made to be vigilant, aware of the steps you’re taking? In what worlds, in what enclosed spaces, at what times of day? See? Anything.
I think of being asked for recommendations of other women to write, talk, be featured; women to live, for a time, top of mind. How I am happy to make those recommendations, how needed I understand them to be, but that I’m making them because otherwise the radar blips past, doesn’t settle on us. The weight of their names aren’t heavy enough to stake claim in the minds of the smart, seasoned, self-aware enough men who are asking. It’s not that they are bottom of mind that hurts. It’s that they aren’t even there, we aren’t even there, at all.
How much sustained thought about something, someone, renders top of mind a little disconcerting, inverts the pyramid — or whatever you imagine the space below the top to be — and flattens focus to a plane of unease? You know because you can feel it start to shape and shred your other senses, turn the whole of your body into a wide open receptor. The world gone to frustrating fuzz.
And how awfully bereft it can feel when you sense the psychic tethers between you and someone else slacken. When you both held fixed the familiar shape of the other, near fevered, at the fore and whether through intuition or perception that goes to drift, brings about a real-time erasure, a fading out, you’re helpless to reverse.
I think of the people I’ve met through basketball, friends and colleagues. How when men make plans for later, network, ask me to do their show, want me to write for them or who they work for, it will be me following up. How when women do this, without fail, I hear from them the next day, if not later the same one.
I wonder if the people I love that I hoist up there, to the Hanging Gardens of my heart, ever feel little pulses of energy out of the dark, some deranged and radiant arrow, when I think of them. How when I think of them, like when you think of anybody, it’s not just their face that I conjure but an amalgamation of memories, moments, stilled and careening violently together with them at the centre.
I picture all kinds of precise light of their faces. Whether the air is hard, clear, still, listless. I picture their bodies, buffeted by water on all sides, heads bobbing like corks, grinning like sharks. I picture them angry. Tight-lipped and serious or frustrated skewing funny, like fumbling with their seatbelt on a plane. I picture the too intimate sounds they make coming awake every morning. Their eyes squinting open, shrouds of sour warm breath lifting invisible like small prayers to the day. I picture them keening. Walking fast with their heads down so alone that my chest aches.
I picture the weight of their hands, the warmth of their bodies. I picture the way our lives are going to line up for rhythmic stretches so synchronized it’ll be hard to draw our own memories from then, and where they’ll fall away from each other, abruptly, awfully or even worse, quietly, without reason or any acknowledgement.
But there is no way to say shit like that, in one fleeting moment. So I send probing missives into the void like,
What’s up freak
Blonde woman detective emoji
secreted instantly into their phones.
Really, really fantastic.