Jrue Holiday’s record of snakebittenness should be famous. Four pretty good years in Philadelphia, during which he developed from a rangy, not-quite-point-guard into a bonafide two-way playmaker, and then a trade to New Orleans and just an avalanche of bad luck. A season-ending stress fracture in his right leg, a months-long reaggravation of that injury, a cracked orbital bone. The leg was such a persistent problem that the Sixers were forced to pay the Pelicans $3 million for downplaying its severity in medical reports. And once he got himself healthy, Holiday missed the first month of the 2016-17 season to be with his wife after doctors discovered a brain tumor five months into her pregnancy. (Mother and child are doing more than fine these days.) It was far from all bad: at the end of his tumultuous mid-20s, Holiday was rewarded with a massive five-year, $132 million contract. But professional athletes want to, y’know, actually play and win games. Money pays for the house; it doesn’t quench desire.
So it was gratifying to see Holiday participate in 81 games last season, and more gratifying still that he excelled in the playoffs as the Pelicans swept the Blazers in the opening round and fell, inevitably but bravely, to the Warriors in the Western Semis. These weren’t nice little performances; it was All-NBA caliber stuff. Holliday averaged 27.8 PPG and 6.5 APG against the Blazers and was the primary defender on Dame Lillard, who shot 35.2 percent from the field over the four games. In the Pelicans’ elimination tilt, Holiday played 46 minutes, grabbed 10 rebounds, dished 11 assists, and scored 27 points on 52.4 percent shooting. We hadn’t known up to that point that Holiday possessed a Prime Gary Payton gear, but apparently he does. His flashing of it felt like the culmination of a process long-delayed.
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It’s been en vogue, over the past decade or so, to describe prestige television as novelistic. That scans insofar as spanning 60, 70, 100 hours allows a show to stretch its legs, focus on fine character details, introduce a storyline, back-burner it, and have it return significantly later in the story. And, case in point, a lot of books are getting made into limited series now, in part because an HBO project starring Amy Adams is about as highbrow as mainstream culture gets anymore, and in part because it allows a fuller (if not necessarily better) adaptation of the material. Movie scripts tend to drop entire characters and subplots from the novels they draw from because otherwise it would be impossible to, say, do Anna Karenina in 130 minutes.
But I don’t know that runtime is all that important. I would argue that a key component of what we think of as novelistic is the spaces in between consuming the thing. You usually watch a movie, even a really long one, in a single sitting. Books and TV shows are often too voluminous for that—or in the case of watching a TV show as it’s being produced, it’s only made available to you an hour or half-hour at a time, once per week. So you bite off a piece of it and go away for awhile and live. You say to your friends “I’m reading George Mills” or “I’m watching The Sopranos,” as if it were a continual activity, which it sort of is. You walk around with the work you’re in the middle of, pondering it while you’re chopping vegetables or waiting in a checkout line, and then returning to it with perhaps a richer understanding of the text than when you were encountering it in the moment.
Of course you do this with movies too, but it’s not exactly the same. It’s a contained experience that you repeat rather than resume. I watched Red Desert for the first time a few nights ago, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. (The barn-colored swingers’ nook, primarily.) But I probably won’t see it again for a while—maybe never again. My relationship with it isn’t altogether finished, but it’s not ongoing either. And I know how it ends.
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If we’re going to call things that aren’t actually novels novelistic, then sports certainly qualify, because as with TV shows, what lends a given season its power is not only that it’s long, but that in the middle of one, with incomplete perspective, we’re intermittently processing it in our day-to-day lives. And of course sports have no hard endpoint. Years of action bleed into each other. Sites like this one exist because people get bored at work and want to read about the NBA some five months after the most recent game was played. This piece exists because Jrue Holiday is a minor yet interesting character in the league’s broader story, faded into the background for a spell and now once again splendidly prominent, demonstrating a simple pleasure that requires nothing so remarkable as marching time and a gap in our attention: suddenly, our old friend is back.
If there’s a thrilling aspect to living, moving through time—and there might not be—it’s this kind of rediscovery. Consciousness is mostly tedious, remembering hurts, and the future is only imagined. But feeling something, then forgetting it, then finding it again years down the line—Jrue Holiday is back! and he looks terrific!—can be deeply moving. Maybe because it illustrates that what seems sadly confined to the past can sometimes return; maybe it’s just finding a mental-emotional $20 bill in an old pair of jeans. For whatever reason, that process of recovery resonates with us, which explains the specific enjoyability of art that takes its time—and that we take our time with. The vastness of sports means we don’t catch everything, we lose track of people. This is good. It makes for happy surprises.
More 2018 Futures: Kevin Love, Manu Ginobili, Marcus Smart, John Wall, Devin Booker, Paul George, Blake Griffin, Trae Young, Kenneth Faried, Joakim Noah, Mike Conley, Ben McLemore, Kawhi Leonard, Aaron Gordon, Danilo Gallinari, Wayne Ellington, Frank Kaminsky, Donovan Mitchell, Chris Paul, Jrue Holiday, Paul Millsap, Kris Dunn, Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid, Victor Oladipo, Kevin Durant, C.J. McCollum, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic