The best moments of the 2022-23 season
Some of my favorite memories from a wild, wonderful year
It was an incredible basketball season; so much happened, as it does every year. But when I look back on ‘22-’23, a few things will stand out.
My list is entirely subjective, of course. I’d love to hear more from you all about what you’ll remember — leave a comment or email me!
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1) The Udonis Haslem Game
Haslem is the last of his kind. In a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, there isn’t much room for players who have played a combined 65 games in the previous seven seasons, no matter how respected their presence.
But Haslem made it to 20 years with the Miami Heat — the franchise has only been around for 34 seasons! Haslem’s teammate, rookie Nikola Jovic, was born just a few weeks before Haslem signed his first NBA contract in 2003. He’s less than half Haslem’s age.
Haslem was the oldest player in the NBA by several years, but that didn’t mean the tank was completely empty. For his last home game, the old lion had one last roar in him. A teary send-off in front of an adoring, raucous Miami crowd was a certainty, but nobody could have predicted Haslem’s final outburst — the supernova of a fading star.
It wasn’t a vintage performance; he was scarcely recognizable in a near-career-best game. Haslem’s 24 points were tied for his second-most ever. His three triples were half-again as many as he’d had in his entire lengthy career to that point. He became the oldest player to score 20+ points in league history.
But the numbers don’t really do it justice. He sought his shot as if he was former teammate Dwyane Wade (who was watching, amazed, in front-row seats). There were some classic baseline and elbow jumpers, for sure. But Haslem sprinkled in some pull-ups, an alley-oop dunk, some off-the-catch threes, and even the occasional bully-ball post-up. It was like watching an entirely different player.
Haslem made a career out of selflessness. But for one unforgettable night, he allowed himself to be greedy — and the result was glorious.
New-age basketball doesn’t allow for sentimentality. Anything that can’t easily be translated into numbers — like veteran leadership — can be discounted. We might never again have a player-coach like Haslem whose value lies in the soft stuff, the in-between. This wasn’t just Haslem’s last hurrah; it was a bow for an entire player archetype that is, with Haslem’s retirement, finally extinct.
But it was a show worth remembering.
2) The Sacramento Kings and the Beam
It sounded so goofy. The Sacramento Kings, the saddest-sack franchise in the league, would shoot a laser into the sky when they won? Such earnestness seemed doomed to be mercilessly mocked as the Kings inevitably went 32-50.
But coach Mike Brown, last-season addition Domantas Sabonis, and homegrown star De’Aaron Fox ensured the Beam became a jubilant middle finger to haters instead of a joke.
Plenty of people were optimistic about the Kings going into the season, but “optimism” for the Kings meant pegging them as a play-in team. Instead, the Kings won big behind Sabonis’ steady Jokic impression and Fox’s crunch-time heroics (he was the inaugural NBA Clutch Player of the Year).
Sacramento rose all the way to the third seed, where they had the misfortune of playing the Golden State Warriors in the first round. The Kings lost but acquitted themselves well, nearly knocking off the defending champs in a hard-fought seven games.
The Western Conference is tough, and nothing is guaranteed year to year. But Sacramento’s core is young and improving, and with another year of continuity, the Kings will be not just hoping but expecting a top-four seed again this coming season.
That weird sensation Sactown fans feel bubbling in their souls? Put the Pepto-Bismol down; that’s just optimism.
3) “IMMA MAKE EM BOTH”
The date: March 6th, 2023. The place: Cleveland, where the Cavs were hosting the Celtics in a highly-anticipated showdown between two top Eastern teams. The scene: tie game, 109-109, with 0.8 seconds left. Grant Williams, an 81% free throw shooter at the time, steps to the line for two freebies. Make either, and a win is virtually guaranteed.
Cavs guard Donovan Mitchell talked a little trash as he stepped to the line, but Grant Williams visibly told him, “I’mma make ‘em both.”
His bravado did not age well. Grant Williams did not make them both. Grant Williams, instead, clanked each free throw. The Celtics lost in overtime. (Twitter still isn’t playing nicely with Substack, but you can see the clip here.)
It was a hilarious viral moment that will live in infamy, but Grant Williams at least had the self-awareness to poke fun at himself:
This was a good year for the ol’ dunky-dunk. Kyle Irving at Sporting News has a more complete list here if you want to peruse at your leisure, but here are my three jams of the year.
Aaron Nesmith dunks so fast that Jarrett Allen can barely leave the ground:
Anthony Edwards, with two hands and off two feet, de-atomizes Alperen Sengun
Aaron Gordon, in a one-point overtime game on Christmas Day, carries Landry Shamet into the next calendar year (this was initially called a charge but overturned on replay):
The stakes and timing of that Gordon dunk can’t be overstated and add to what was already an incredible display of athleticism. Aaron Gordon had the dunk of the year.
5) Lauri Markkanen and the rest of the surprising Utah Jazz
“Now, why would the Jazz do that?”
With those words, Brian Windhorst famously augured one of the most fascinating seasons for a teardown team in recent memory (and created one of the NBA’s best memes in the process).
The trades of Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell (and others, later on) were supposed to set the Jazz up for failure. Instead, Lauri Markkanen turned into Bullseye and dragged the Jazz into postseason contention with the help of a mötley crüe of supporting characters.
I wrote extensively about Lauri here. Fresh off a dominant performance at Eurobasket in the summer of 2022, he entered the season brimming with confidence. He became one of the league’s most versatile offensive options, knocking down a huge volume of self-created shots from everywhere on the court. Markkanen also reminded people of his coiled-spring bounce:
By the end, Markkanen was crowned the season’s Most Improved Player.
The Jazz have a bevy of draft picks, several intriguing young players like Markkanen and rookie sensation Walker Kessler, and one of the best young coaches in the league in Will Hardy. For a team still beginning a rebuild, there’s a lot to be excited about.
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