On Nov. 21, the NBA issued its first fine under the new ban on flopping. The target of the $5,000 penalty was, to no one's surprise, Reggie Evans of the Brooklyn Nets. But like the gentle hand on the back that sent Evans stumbling and flailing all the way off the court, the punishment barely touched the true problem. The flops are simply the most obvious example of the fact that the NBA is becoming camp. And no one is a more annoying purveyor of camp than Reggie Evans.
What is camp? The brilliant Simon Doonan-whom you may remember as the flamboyant little Brit in VH1's I Love the 80s-perfectly described the phenomenon as "simply a matter of doing things AS IF you are doing them." Camp people don't merely perform actions, they luxuriate in them. They don't walk; they strut and sashay. They don't sing karaoke; they BELT OUT SHOWTUNES. They don't eat beef jerky; they snap into a Slim Jim. And they don't absorb an elbow in the post; they're jolted into convulsing submission by a defibrillator.
Deadspin NBA **** List: Reggie Evans, Basketball Camp
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"The noncamp person always comports himself apologetically and anonymously," Doonan writes in Slate. "A camp person, in sharp contrast, purposefully and glamorously and knowingly plays the part."
Reggie Evans doesn't play the part he's supposed to. You'd expect a guy who's assigned the hard-screen-setting, glass-crashing, post-defending scut work of the NBA to take a more straightforward, paint-by-numbers style of play. He's the worker doing workmanlike work, the Grant Longish sort of player who gets profiled by the local beat writer after everyone else on the team has been written up, with lines like "He's not looking for glory" and something about lunch buckets.
Annoying as those stories are, there's something admirable about their subjects, the guys who hang on to NBA careers through sheer force of will, as quiet, effective cogs. They may have ugly games, but their obscurity keeps their pathetic skills from standing out. Restaurants need dishwashers. Your neighborhood needs a good garbage collector. The NBA needs its Joel Przybillas.
That's the type of player Reggie Evans ought to be. He should be totally anonymous in the flow of the game, till you check the box score at the end and notice that he scored six points and grabbed nine boards, and held the man he was guarding below his season average. But no. Whenever Reggie Evans does one of the little, unglamorous, helpful things—one of the few things he can do—he makes sure the whole goddamn world knows about it.
Time to set a pick? He tries to tackle guys without using his arms. Is there a chance to draw a charge? His rock-solid, 6-foot-8, 245-pound body goes staggering wildly at the slightest contact. He wants to be menacing, so he wears a crappy beard, shaves his pate, and mugs like a WWE heel. He wants to get position when rebounding, so he grabs Chris Kaman's balls.
"Well, he's great to have when he's on your side," you say? No. No, he isn't. This isn't Dennis Rodman, a self-contained performance on a healthy team. Evans is a perverse sort of role model, whose sensibility infects entire teams. He emerged from obscurity with the Sonics, after a few years as an undrafted free-agent benchwarmer, when coach Nate McMillan wanted to bring some toughness to a team led by Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis.. He helped transform a franchise that for 15 years had been considered "soft," by acting like what ESPN columnist Frank Hughes called a "hooligan." During the 2004-05 season, the Sonics' last relevant year, Hughes wrote, "Evans played well enough to earn a job, throwing around his body on defense, grabbing enough rebounds to matter and infuriating opponents with a style that could best be described as aggravating. At worst, it could be called assault and battery." The team took on Evans's ****ty style and though it worked for one year, it fell apart soon after, and the Sonics returned to the cellar.
Then he was off to another team to assault the eyes of a different fan base. He's bounced from Denver to Philly to Toronto; last year, he landed with the Clippers, and look what happened. All it took was that one year for him to turn a team built around a telegenic budding superstar, Blake Griffin, into an infuriating, campy mess. Let Reggie Evans loose—even for 13.8 minutes per game, as the Clippers did—and soon everyone else is "taking" a "charge."
Now he is in Brooklyn, a "gritty" player on a club that's selling itself as "gritty" to reflect its borough. I guess he fits the Nets' new brand, which involves a marketing plan based on that gritty reputation AS IF the team weren't nestled in a sea of gentrified neighborhoods. Helmed by Jay-Z, who acts AS IF he owns a majority share of the franchise. Playing in an arena adorned with pre-rusted steel to make it look AS IF the building has been there for years. Wooing a crop of well-heeled Brooklyn hipsters who style themselves AS IF they're indigent woodsmen. "Being-as-Playing-a-Role," Susan Sontag called it, in "Notes on 'Camp.'" If we have to endure Reggie Evans in the NBA, at least we know he's in the right place.