1.10.2006

The President, the King, and Mehmet Okur

I made small talk with the school janitor each day as she cleaned out my classroom. On one particular Friday, she asked my weekend plans. When I mentioned that I might try to make it to the Clinton Library in Little Rock, she stopped sweeping and leaned against the end of her dust mop before saying: “Ooh wee, Mr. K, if that Bill Clinton walked in my house, he could take me right there on the kitchen table. My husband could watch, I wouldn’t even pay him no mind.”

I am not aware of any particular social conventions for responding to an elderly woman who just graphically professed a desire to cheat on her husband with the former president. Consequently, I sat silently at my desk, struggling and failing not to visualize Slick Willy and our balding, pumpkin-shaped janitor engaging in coital relations as her husband watched aghast.


While I hoped for some time that I would find a way to repress that memory, it has proven indelibly burned in my mind. But disturbing as it was, it speaks of the magnitude of Bill Clinton’s physical appeal. Yet for all of its intensity, it did not seem to have any clearly apparent source; he was too chubby and creepy for it to be purely aesthetic. I’ve heard repeatedly that women are attracted to power, but I've never heard any woman openly pine for a mustache ride from Joseph Stalin. Yet the Clinton appeal would make itself clear to me in the most unexpected of places.

I’ve been to Graceland five times; that’s not as weird as it sounds if it’s a few hours away and you live in a town of 800. Before you tour the mansion, you can watch a montage of Elvis’ performances, with the first half focusing on his early days. The room is always crowded and filled with the noise of idle conversation, even through the beginning of movie. Yet as each person momentarily looks to the screen, their gazes are captured and an awestruck silence sweeps over the room.

Suddenly, you “get” the whole Elvis phenomenon. He was the most captivating figure the world had every seen and, above all else, the personification of pure human sexuality. Elvis had the power to transform groups of meek fourteen year-old girls into screaming mobs that turned riot police pale with fright. No figure in history brought out in people the magnitude of emotion that Elvis did, and when you watch him closely, you begin to understand why.

On my fourth tour, among the numerous decorative handguns and the rotating circular fur bed with a mirrored ceiling, I noticed to my amazement that Bill Clinton looked distinctly like a young Elvis. Granted, they wouldn’t pass as twins, but notice the chubby similarity of their facial features; they walk with the same quiet confidence; they speak with the same soft southern drawl. (You are obviously free to disagree with my various contentions of physical resemblance, but I definitely stand by them.)

To this day, I am convinced that one reason for Clinton’s ability to bring out the basest emotions in people is due in part to the subconscious connection that people make between him and Elvis. They were both similarly captivating. The same kind of repressed women who yearned for Elvis for being a southern rouge that daddy wouldn’t approve of would have found Clinton desirable as well; the same kind of uptight white men who have an aneurysm at the very mentioning of Clinton would have regarded Elvis as the harbinger of impending moral degradation, where man and beast lay together free of social consequence. (Shoals alerted me to a book by Greil Marcus comparing the two, which can be found here).



As we all know, time was not particularly kind to Elvis. As his sideburns grew, so did his belly and his ego. In embodying the American dream, he came to embody all of America’s wretched excesses as well. As he found sequins, capes, and the lyrics to Neil Diamond songs, he lost his moves, his mojo, and his artistic credibility. But like rubberneckers at a train wreck, America couldn’t avert her eyes, packing concert halls and stadiums to hear a fallen angel forget the words to “Sweet Caroline.”

When I saw Mehmet Okur play for the first time all I could think was, “Holy crap! He looks like fat Elvis!” Okur simply does not fit with the aesthetic of the league. How many other players sport ridiculous sideburns, chest hair, and a clock-stopping double chin? Scott Pollard takes great pains to look different, but he comes across as wannabe hipster with too much time on his hands; every time Memo steps on the court, he looks like he could have just slept with one of LBJ’s daughters.


Okur also plays exactly how I would have imagined that the older fat Elvis would have played. Mehmet plods around the court with all of the grace of a drunk dinosaur. As he lurches towards the basket, he clears defenders out of the way, either by the sheer momentum of his girth or because opposing players just don’t want to touch someone so hairy and sweaty. He plays no defense whatsoever, allowing even the likes of Mark Blount to light him up at will.

Yet Okur is mesmerizing when he shoots the ball. He technique is otherworldly; it’s not just that he doesn’t hold his follow through, his release is fluid but from a strange angle; he looks awkward and natural at the same time, not unlike Bird. But the man can shoot. A few days ago, I saw him knock down three 3-pointers in the first quarter against the Celtics. For the first time, that night I saw a center shoot a technical foul free throw. Yet when his man has the ball, he looks like a bewildered but curious bird, peeking his head to get a look at the action and then darting it away the moment something moved. Okur looked confused and diffident constantly, but in the act of shooting, he had the confidence of another man.

Fat Elvis would have been a gunner too. He'd trudge out to the arc, lauch a three off the glass (he calls it, of course) and then make some stupid "return to sender" joke. In his later years, he was a walking disaster area, but still managed to release a few shockingly good songs (sorry FreeDarko, I love Edan as much as the next guy, but deep down I’m country to the core). Beneath the cartoonish clothing and piccolo accompaniments, there were times when fat Elvis still shined. In the same way, you can spend thirty minutes watching Memo shy away from driving opponents and throw passes into the stands while wondering if he even knows what team he’s on. But when he shoots you forget all of his gaffes and spend the rest of the game screaming at Deron Williams to run more pick and rolls.

America couldn’t avert her eyes from fat Elvis because of the spectacle he offered. I need to watch Okur for the same reason. He’s a walking antithesis to Wade, LeBron, Iverson, anyone really. How one man can move so goofily but shoot so sublimely seems to defy any logical conception of how human beings ought to play basketball. He looks like Elvis, he plays like Elvis, and I can’t look away.

Were I a more spiritual person, or maybe if I just did more drugs, I might argue that Elvis’s spirit somehow occupies Okur’s body. Maybe one day, he woke up, looked at himself in the mirror and said, “Well, I’m seven-feet tall and Turkey’s got no rock and roll, so I guess I better learn myself a jumper.”

The basketball snob in me says that I waste my time with Okur when there’s so much good basketball to be seen, as if indulging in Okur is the basketball equivalent of Lot’s wife turning back to look at Sodom and Gomorrah. But until I turn into a pillar of salt or unless he dies on the toilet, I’ll tune in whenever I can.

26 Comments:

At 1/10/2006 9:07 AM, Blogger emynd said...

Best post ever.

 
At 1/10/2006 9:13 AM, Anonymous The Blob said...

I just watched a clip of the Jazz game last night on ESPN...the bloated Elvis comparison is hilarious. Mehmet has always reminded me of Liberace, and I have to think that he would wear a pinky ring on the court if he was allowed to.

 
At 1/10/2006 9:26 AM, Anonymous The Blob said...

By the way, I know that this is an NBA blog, but if someone could find their way to doing some kind of subjective analysis of Adam Morrison's game, that would be a great read.

 
At 1/10/2006 12:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

BRILLIANT!

Do you think Elvis would eat peanut butter and banana shwarmas the way I picture Mehmet throwing them down his gullet after yet another 18 and 11 night?

-t.

 
At 1/10/2006 12:28 PM, Anonymous aug said...

I definitely agree with the Clinton/Elvis comparison in all ways. The only thing i disagreed with in the whole post was the line about elvis having artistic credibility. He had a fine voice, but no artistic talent whatsoever. Everyone knows that he was pretty much a hack musically, but his pop culture impact can't be matched. The man couldn't play guitar or write a song to save his life, but boy could he make girls scream. The beatles were the same way for awhile, covering blues resurgance and chuck berry songs, but they finally came into their own as original music juggernauts. I'm not hear to debate rock and roll, so i'll move on to Okur. Love the hairdo, love the chest hair, love the goofy face. I'd rather him cover some chuck berry, but i'll take a silky stroke.

 
At 1/10/2006 1:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love it, love it.

BTW, Okur's not hairy...believe me :)

 
At 1/10/2006 1:34 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

country like kenny chesney,
country like the carter family,
country like merle haggard,
country like solomon burke, or
country like youngbloodz?

also, nice post.

 
At 1/10/2006 8:02 PM, Blogger L.N. Smithee said...

I don't understand people who would say what the cleaning lady said regarding Bill Clinton, be they male or female. I guess I should feel blessed that, speaking solely for myself, my physical attraction to beautiful women ends if I discover they are, underneath the surface, repulsive in personality or philosophy. I don't have "love/hate" relationships; if I can't love her once we're out of bed, wild horses -- or for that matter, wild whores -- can't drag me in.

For example: I had a crush on Monica Lewinsky back in 1996, long before her misdeeds were uncovered and destroyed the name "Monica" for newborn girls overnight. When Clinton won re-election and gave his triumphant acceptance speech in Little Rock, he high-fived and shook hands with people standing in a rope line. Beret-wearing, bright-eyed, ruby-lipped Monica -- then in the down period in her yo-yo dieting cycle -- was one of those, and gave him the now-infamous hug. "WHOA!" I said as I watched on the newscast. "Who's she? She's hot!"

I love voluptuous, flirtatious, vivacious women, and if Monica had worked in my office, I would have had a thing for her too. But finding out that she is a would-be homewrecker (see Bleiler, Andy) would have been the end for me.

Even if I could perform the and place the mind of a woman who would be my perfect match into Monica's head, I couldn't go for her. Because she would still have to kiss me with those lips. And I know where those lips have been. (Shiver!)

 
At 1/11/2006 8:03 AM, Blogger jon faith said...

Jon-The-Bot is on the bandwagon: adroit post, rife with humor and socio-political thought. I saw Turkey play Spain in the World Basketball championships in 02 and remain impressed with Okur's game.

 
At 1/11/2006 11:07 AM, Blogger zachille o'neal said...

yo darkos...

can we get you guys to weigh in on this? Does Kobe make his teammtes better? Does LeBron really? The debate is raging...

http://idleatwork.com/2006/01/im-jumping-on-kobe-bandwagon.html

 
At 1/11/2006 11:35 AM, Anonymous her man said...

Don't forget Okur lobbied for one of those gaudy yet very King championship belts Sheed bought the Pistons after their '04 championship. Not "has". It was "lobbied for".

 
At 1/11/2006 4:51 PM, Blogger zachille o'neal said...

any idea what "YM" stands for on his armband shown in this post?

 
At 1/11/2006 5:03 PM, Blogger Casually Me said...

Ok, that was a classic post. Okur and Elvis, I loved it.

 
At 1/11/2006 6:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm guessing Y stands for "Yeliz", Memo's wife's first name.

 
At 1/11/2006 9:41 PM, Blogger Adam said...

As if on cue, Elvis...er, I mean Okur, throws up 25, 8, 8 in beating my Sixers even though AI had 46. Thanks FreeDarko!!

 
At 1/12/2006 10:33 AM, Anonymous Aaron said...

Wait... is the Free Darko Effect the opposite of the SI Cover jinx? I guess that makes sense. FD doesn't care if players win, so naturally they do well after being mentioned. SI glorifies winners, so naturally players do poorly after being mentioned.

 
At 1/12/2006 6:40 PM, Blogger Jeph B said...

if thats actully how it works, please refrain form talking about any players that are about to play the sixers. i am hanging by a thread here.

 
At 1/13/2006 10:58 AM, Blogger Chimpo said...

I like the Clinton/Elvis comparison...but I have to say that Mehmet looks more like Andy Kaufman than the King.

 
At 1/17/2006 10:51 AM, Anonymous Worldwide Wes said...

In addition to rocking the Fat-Elvis, Memo has the one of the greatest, yet least fitting, nicknames of all time - the "Turkish Tornado."

 
At 1/17/2006 1:52 PM, Anonymous panoptican said...

In case you can't get past the great wall of insider over at espn, hollinger linked to this article. is that the first time espn directly linked to free darko i wonder?

 
At 1/17/2006 8:26 PM, Anonymous aug said...

I think there was another article or two that gave a link. Maybe on Page 2, or maybe i'm mistaken. Anyways, hollinger articles are at least interesting. Gotta love in depth stats like the ones on 82games.com

 
At 1/22/2006 11:50 PM, Blogger mark said...

nice post. you're right on with the elvis-okur comparison. maybe next a chris kaman-hulk hogan analysis could be done.

 
At 2/01/2007 10:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

dude! r u sure that okur is hairy? suppose you havent seen a hairy man yet! he is not the worst player at all! there are a plenty of them in the league... it is true that "YM" shown on his armband stands for Yeliz & Mehmet btw...

 
At 4/20/2007 5:29 PM, Blogger j said...

As a Jazz fan, I've never heard Memo called the "Turkish Tornado". Around here we call him "Money", because at the end of the game, thats what he is.

 
At 3/24/2009 3:22 PM, Blogger ZZ said...

Turkish Tornado is Hedo Turkoglu

 
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