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Coming 2015

Why Kendrick Perkins is like Michael Anthony (sort of).


We want this guy.

Last May, right after the Rapture didn’t happen,
I ruminated on this very blog how, if basketball teams are like bands (which I believe they are), then the Boston Celtics are the Van Halen of the NBA.  And if you take the previous sentence to be true, then it logically follows that Kendrick Perkins is the Michael Anthony of NBA players.  Shortly after coming to this realization, I wrote it and forgot it…until now.

This week I saw a couple of things that really stuck with me and got me thinking about chemistry in collaborative endeavors.  The first was the new Van Halen video, for the first single from the recently-mostly-reformed lineup.  The song “Tattoo” is a pretty generic stomper, with a hatful of David Lee Roth’s usual vocal gimmicks and prancing, preening stagecraft, and a typically supple and dexterous guitar solo from Eddie.  Although the song didn’t suck quite so suckingly as I expected it to, I was still summarily unimpressed.  But the strangest thing about it was Michael Anthony’s absence.  Anthony, who was unceremoniously dumped and replaced by Eddie’s son Wolfgang in 2007, has apparently been enjoying his retirement from VH, palling around with Sammy Hagar and selling hot sauce.  But seeing and hearing Van Halen without Michael Anthony’s chugging, persistent bass lines and stratospherically high backing vocals was disorienting.  And somehow just wrong.

Not this guy.

The second bizarre moment came on Monday afternoon, when the Oklahoma City Thunder visited the TD Garden to take on the Boston Celtics.  As Celtics fans have been crying about for the last year, Danny Ainge shocked the NBA last February when he traded Kendrick Perkins to the Thunder.  At the time, the Celtics were in first place and looked like they were well on their way to one final run at a championship with their aging core of players.  But after the trade the Celtics fell apart, and without Perkins their toughness evaporated quickly along with their whole identity as a team.  They wound up getting lapped by the Miami Heat in the playoffs, in what will likely turn out to be the last gasp of a proud group of future Hall of Fame players whose careers are presently circling the drain.  Meanwhile, Perkins gave a young Oklahoma City team exactly what they needed: a tough guy who didn’t take any shit, played defense and let the other guys have the spotlight.  OKC wound up losing in the conference finals last season, then came out to start this year’s campaign like a house on fire.  Now they look like real championship contenders, while Boston looks old and washed up. 

On Monday night, Perkins returned to Boston for the first time since the trade.  Celtics fans gave him a long standing ovation, and the team showed a video tribute to his years as a Celtic before the game.  It was touching, and also a little awkward.  There is no rock and roll equivalent; Van Halen isn’t about to show a video montage of Michael Anthony’s best on stage moments as a warm up to their 2012 shows.  Then again, Michael Anthony isn’t about to jump on stage at a VH concert and kick the crap out of Eddie and Dave, which is basically what the Thunder did to the Celtics last Monday. 

We want this guy.

Maybe it’s just me (okay, almost certainly it’s just me), but I found myself struck by the similarities between these guys.  Both Michael Anthony and Kendrick Perkins are support players.  No one is giving Kendrick Perkins any points for graceful offensive execution, just like no one is going to put Michael Anthony on a pedestal for his elegant, artful soloing.  Both of these guys can look brutal out of context, whether you’re looking at Perkins’ stats for offensive efficiency or listening to one of Anthony’s remarkably atonal, blaring, seemingly endless stadium bass solos.  (There’s a reason the term “bass solo” is a much-derided cliché, and we have Michael Anthony to thank for it as much as anyone.)

But this is one area where bands and basketball teams are alike: it’s what they do together that counts.  By playing with a solid pocket, adding brilliant backing vocals and giving the more flamboyant Eddie and Dave plenty of room, Michael Anthony made Van Halen a much better band.  Just like Kendrick Perkins made the Celtics a much better team by adding great interior defense, solid rebounding, setting iron-hard screens and putting the occasional opposing player in a headlock. 

Without Perkins, the Celtics look more like an over the hill team that has lots of bark and little bite.  Without Michael Anthony, Van Halen looks more like a Van Halen tribute band with a scab bassist. 

Not this guy.

Now, maybe all this won’t matter to fans who want to hear “Hot For Teacher” bad enough to fork over $150 a ticket.  But it matters to me and I’ll bet it matters to most of us who saw the genuine VH article back in the day.  And after watching the Celtics get outplayed on their home floor, I think a lot of us fans suddenly feel like we’re watching the casino circuit version of this team, and not the arena-rocking real deal. 

In the immortal words of Jack Black: “that’s fuckin’ teamwork.”