If you’re not familiar with the JR Smith/Dion Waiters Power Rankings from their previous home and new one, basic Power Ranking rules apply: Eligible participants (Dion Waiters and JR Smith) can rank anywhere from the coveted number one spot all the way to the bottom spot at number two, and order is decided by the arbitrary decision making of the committee (Alex and myself).
1. Dion Waiters, Writer, “Player’s Tribune”
This column (said by some to be the most important power rankings in sports journalism) took a turn this week. It went from a commentary to a conversation. Previously, Alex and I were talking about Dion Waiters. Now, we’re talking to Dion. Is he listening to us in particular? Who knows? But he’s listening to the general stupid conversation about everything that makes him Dion Waiters, which we are very much a part of. And in his terrifically out-of-nowhere editorial in the Player’s Tribune, which was simultaneously about nothing and everything, he talked back. Not so he could tell us (and everyone else) that we’re wrong. Really just so he could tell us how many f---s he gives (less than one).
Alex and I aren’t interested in defending our early credentials in the Dion Waiters Content Arena. We didn’t come up with “Waiters Island.” But we’ve been here awhile. We’ve written quite a few words about him, and we’ve both got a solid track record of shooting our metaphorical shots when it comes to writing passionately about things that no one should care about.
But you don’t spend as much time writing about Dion as us without spending even more time thinking about him. And that changes a person. It sounds crazy, but Dion lives his life a certain way, and numerous hours of our lives have been spent staring at a screen trying to contextualize that way of life, while you were off living amongst polite society. There is no one in this world I would trust more to articulate that journey than Alex Siquig.
Writing words about Dion Waiters on the internet can sometimes feel like shooting fish in a barrel with a machine gun. You start with this basic premise: Dion Waiters is not as good at basketball as he seems to think he is and then you just sort of riff from there. Well-landed rhetorical molotov-cocktails in service of the Hubris Police can be gratifying. But there’s no particular elegance or skill in taking a bat to low-hanging pinatas, and Jonny and I didn’t start this column to mock Dion Waiters, but rather to attempt to understand him, even yes, sometimes that obviously involves some hopefully obvious tongue-in-cheek mockery. Dion’s jagged path to cult status deserves both our respect, but also our laughter. It’s important to laugh at funny things!
The playoffs are in full catastrophic swing and to the heavy heart of all mankind, Dion’s not a part of this year’s multi-round tragicomedy. So why are we talking about him? Because he’s just dropped a piece in The Players’ Tribune that made his omission from the postseason hurt all the more by so eloquently reminding us of the alluring collision of man and myth and menace and Messiah. The article is very good and very much worth your time, whether you’re a newcomer to Dion’s charm or an old time aficionado who still fondly remembers hoping the Cavs would trade Flat-Earth Society President Kyrie Irving so they could finally build the team around Dion Waiters and his herculean confidence. Dion’s piece is rich in schoolyard bildungsroman pathos; losing friends, overcoming challenges, believing in yourself, all that good coming-of-age shit. But it’s also challenging, humbling even, because to many of us Dion’s an idea, a model, an experiment, an ontological quandary. So when he very candidly starts talking about his life and the associated hardships of that life...it makes you rethink some of your dumb jokes, some of your lukewarm takes. Not all of course. Not nearly all. But some.
The article is also, like so many things Dion is involved with, just generally inspiring, occasionally even on purpose! Dion’s writes of Kevin Durant and their one-on-one games back when they were teammates with cocksure warmth. Obviously Durant is-what’s the polite way of saying this-a million times the basketball player than Dion Waiters is. Most players going head to head against Durant might be acutely aware of the pecking order, or the gulf between their respective talent, and just put their head down and take their licks. Many others will talk some trash and give it the ol’ college try but still basically realize that Durant is on another level. The thing is, does Dion realize this? It’s unclear. Because when Durant lines up across from him, Dion’s like hell no, you better get your mind right Kevin, because I’m coming for your head. Or as he more gracefully writes in his piece, “I was trying to kill him.” See, this is quite inspiring for Jonny and I, as occupants of a specific tier of hoops wordsmithing with vague ideas of perhaps someday becoming successful. Sometimes we just gotta go at the Kevin Durants of our own trades, the Free Darkos and netw3rks and say, yes, maybe you guys are more successful at the whole writing words racket than we are, but that doesn’t matter because we’re here and we exist and we also deserve to rage about guys bouncing orange balls until the light takes us, just like our Patron Saint Dion Waiters would have wanted it. Trust in Dion, for he makes all thing possible, or at least probable.
In Dion’s piece, he describes Pat Riley as an “O.G.” in the mold of Robert DeNiro in Casino. You can’t help but draw a connection to a different very famous gangster film. There’s this little trilogy about an old man who is a lot of people’s godfather and he himself has three sons, the first two of these sons are the volatile Sonny and the hapless Fredo. Dion perfectly synthesized the weaknesses of these two heirs to the gangster throne. Excessively emotional, trigger happy, bombastic like Sonny, and also a peculiar afterthought, a joke, and just generally a nuisance like Fredo. But somewhere during Oklahoma City’s run to the Western Conference Finals last year (when we came one Klay Thompson explosion away from the Dion/JR Finals) and the Miami Heat’s Air Bud-esque climb from the dungeon to just missing the playoffs, the discourse began to soften towards him. Dion’s status as an ironic cult hero mutated very slowly into an earnest cult hero. And now, washed in the blood of the lamb of a few glorious runs of team-based success and still very much with maximum amounts of bluster and boldness hardwired into him, Dion Waiters is preparing himself for his next act, in which people won’t even need to compare him to characters from a beloved mafia franchise to explain his value, because it’s rapidly becoming self-evident. He’s decisively won the war he thought he had won long ago. He’s escaped from the purgatory of disappointing shooting-guards and emerged into a new tier of weird and wild respectability.
And you know he’s gotten to you when whilst reading his article, you find yourself imagining the Dion Waiters led Heat in these playoffs and pondering all the damage they might inflict on the various paper tigers of the East. The Raptors barely escaped Milwaukee alive. The Celtics are a smörgåsbord of postseason fatal flaws. The Wizards have approximately five above average players. The Cavaliers looked like a dumpster fire for much of the final weeks of the season. Had the Heat made it to the big dance with their leader healthy and full of his weird magical vengeance, we would have seen the Cult of Dion exponentially grow with each ill-advised shot or reckless drive. As it is, we’ll have to wait at least another year. But it’s coming. You can’t stop what’s coming. The human man unbound by logic and reason and sometimes good taste is coming for your head.
In short, the NBA is lucky Dion Waiters is at home doing damn articles.
2. JR Smith, Guard, Cleveland Cavaliers
JR Smith...He’s the guy who took off his shirt that one time right?
It certainly isn’t a good look for J.R. Smith that he’s been relegated to the bottom spot while he’s currently playing playoff basketball for a team contending for an NBA championship in favor of a guy who is sitting at home probably watching Casino for the third time today.
And I already know what you’re thinking: JR can reclaim the number one spot with a big game or big series and there’s nothing Dion can do about it. The second round of the playoffs is the perfect time for a 34 point, six three-pointer game from everyone’s favorite Cavalier (it really would be insane if any other Cavalier is your favorite Cavalier). That’s what JR should do to reach the top of these rankings, right?
Yeah, maybe. I guess it would work. But that Dion article was incredible.
I think JR needs to start a podcast. He should record and post it the day of games and not talk about basketball at any point. He should have diverse guests and ask them questions that have tugged at his curiosity. I would love to hear Paul Thomas Anderson on JR Smith’s podcast. Or Wyclef Jean.
I promise you that a 30-minute conversation with Wyclef Jean would put JR Smith atop the JR Smith/Dion Waiters Power Rankings.