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Shaken AND Stirred: The NBA and James Bond

Those who know me well know that my two favorite pastimes are the NBA and the James Bond film series. The latter involves a license to kill, while the former involves many with a license to thrill. This autumn marks the 50th
anniversary of 007’s debut on the silver screen, and this weekend, the release of the latest Bond film, Skyfall. With that in mind, I present, on a film-by-film basis, the NBA figure(s) who is/are the best match with a prominent feature of each film in the 007 series:[1]

1. Dr. No (released in 1962): Who else but Dikembe Mutumbo, the NBA’s all-time leader in blocked shots, who became famous/notorious for wagging his index finger at opponents whose shot he had just blocked, as if to say “No no no”.

2. From Russia With Love (1963):  This one goes to Andrei Kirilenko, who is the best Russian-born NBA player to date, his decline over the past several years notwithstanding. Besides, with him, “From Russia with Love” takes on a whole new meaning when considering the annual “free pass” from his wife which became public a few years ago.[2]  If that weren’t enough, From Russia with Love even has a character, Krilenku, with a similar-sounding name (although Krilenku was a Bulgar working for the Soviets).

3. Goldfinger (1964): Bill Russell gets the nod here for his jaw-dropping collection of championship rings. If he wore them all at the same time, he would have 8 gold-adorned fingers, 2 gold-adorned thumbs and even a gold-adorned toe. It’s enough to make even the depository at Fort Knox seem meager in comparison.

4. Thunderball (1965): This can only be the Oklahoma City Thunder, whose progression from league dregs to NBA Finalists in just three seasons makes them the (arguably unrealistic) model for franchises seeking a turnaround. Their progression to the last step of becoming NBA champions will certainly be tested by the trade of James Harden (a mistake, in my opinion), but even with that, the Thunder still belong on any short list of teams with the brightest future in the NBA.

5. You Only Live Twice (1967): When Earvin “Magic” Johnson announced on November 7, 1991 that he was HIV-positive and was retiring, virtually everyone watching thought they were seeing someone who would not only never play again, but would be dead within a short period of time. Three months later, Magic returned for the All-Star Game in Orlando and won MVP honors with the most memorable performance in All-Star Game history. In January 1996 he came back to play the remainder of the season for the Lakers before calling it quits for good. Today, 21 years after his announcement, Magic is busy with his business ventures, media involvement and HIV/AIDS education activities; in his second life, if you will, he is more alive than ever.

6. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969): This one goes to Luol Deng of the Bulls and Patty Mills of the Spurs, both of whom played for Queen Elizabeth II in this year’s Olympics, Deng as a member of the British national team, and Mills as a member of the Australian national team (the Queen is the official head of state of Australia, a commonwealth country). In fact, Mills might be a more apropos choice for this film, since it featured the one and only appearance by native Australian George Lazenby as Bond.

7. Diamonds Are Forever (1971): The bulk of Sean Connery’s last official appearance as 007 is set in Las Vegas, so this one goes to the NBA itself for having the bright idea to hold the 2007 All-Star Game in Las Vegas. What was touted, at least in part, as a trial balloon for Sin City’s ability to host an NBA team on a full-time basis turned into a massive debacle, played in a substandard arena (the Thomas and Mack Arena, on the UNLV campus) and plagued by logistical nightmares and gun violence. The NBA quickly shelved the notion of fielding a team there full-time, forcing the Maloof brothers (more on them later) to look elsewhere.

8. Live And Let Die (1973): Roger Moore’s debut as 007 was released in 1973, and the beginning of the film is set in New York. Two months before its release, the New York Knicks won their second and last championship to date. Much of the rest of the film is set in Louisiana, in and around New Orleans.  The 1972-73 Knicks were led by Willis Reed, the team captain and a Hall of Fame center, as well as a Louisiana native who stayed in-state to attend Grambling.

9. The Man With The Golden Gun (1974): This one goes to Gilbert Arenas, whose gun antics and subsequent suspension in December 2009 effectively finished off his NBA career. (The knee injuries which limited him to a combined total of 15 games played in the ’07-’08 and ’08-’09 seasons staggered his career, but the gun antics and suspension were the knock-out blow.) He was once the league’s most dynamic scorer not named Kobe Bryant, and he’s still just 30, but he’s as washed-up as washed-up can be and has had to move to China to pursue gainful basketball employment. To think that Orlando still owes him an average of $19M per year for the next two seasons.

10. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977): Carly Simon hit #2 on the U.S. charts in the summer of 1977 with her title song, “Nobody Does It Better.” The obvious choice for this one is Michael Jordan; as I’ve written before, no one’s done it better than him, perhaps not even half as good, and it does make me feel sad for the rest. :-) Honorable Mention goes to Bill Walton and the 1977 Trail Blazers; no one did it better than them that year, as they pulled off their “Blazermania” championship that is revered to this day as one of the purest examples of team play that the league has ever seen.

11. Moonraker (1979): The Houston Rockets have to be the choice for any Bond movie set in space itself, as this one was. In addition, that spring Moses Malone became the first Rocket to win the league MVP award. (Hakeem Olajuwon is the only other Rocket to do so.)

12. For Your Eyes Only (1981): I’m going to cheat a bit on this one. Much of the action, and the climax, for this film is set in Greece, and Bond’s main squeeze, Melina Havelock (played by French actress Carole Bouquet) is half-Greek, so I’m going with the 2006 Greek national team, which shocked the U.S. 101-95 in the semifinals of that year’s world basketball championships before losing to Spain in the gold-medal game. It’s a cheat because that Greek team had no NBA players on its roster.[3] But that makes its silver-medal showing all the more remarkable.

13. Octopussy (1983): An octopus has 8 arms; Pat Riley has 8 championship rings.[4] An octopus’ arms are arrayed with suction cups to help it grab onto various surfaces. Over the past three off-seasons, Riley has used his charisma and motivational methods to grab marquee free agents (LeBron and Bosh two years ago, Shane Battier last year, Ray Allen this year), in each case overcoming the disadvantage of having less money to spend than other suitors. Teams have learned the hard way that if they let one of their free agents walk into a Riley recruiting pitch, they might as well wave goodbye.

14. A View To A Kill (1985):[5] Much of the action, and the climax, of Roger Moore’s last appearance as 007 is set in San Francisco, including on the Golden Gate Bridge itself. The Golden State Warriors, who have called the East Bay home for the past four decades, are no doubt viewing a financial killing in planning a move back to San Francisco in 2017. But we may instead wind up viewing the killing of a downtrodden but loyal fanbase, much of which is likely to be priced out with this move.

15. The Living Daylights (1987): The easy choice here would be the Lakers, whose acquisitions of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash have scared the living daylights out of much of the Western Conference. But judging by the bulk of preseason predictions, even the Lakers’ new superteam isn’t the 2013 title favorite. Why not? The main reason is because LeBron James is squarely in his prime at age 27, he still has room to improve skills-wise, he got an 800-pound mental gorilla off his back in June and now knows how to win, and told NBA.com/TNT‘s David Aldridge before the Olympics that he wants the title-winning feeling again. The combination has to scare the living daylights out of at least the 14 other teams in the East, and most of the West as well.

16. License to Kill (1989): The original title for this film was “License Revoked”, because M revoked 007’s license to kill after he went off on a personal vendetta against drug lords who maimed his friend, CIA agent Felix Leiter, and murdered Leiter’s wife. Mitchell Wiggins and Lewis Lloyd were backcourt-mates and key contributors to the Rockets’ 1986 Western Conference championship squad. The following season, both were handed lifetime bans from the league for substance abuse. But like Bond, whose license to kill was reinstated at the end of the film, Wiggins and Lloyd were both reinstated for the 1989-90 season. (Lloyd played 21 games that season before hanging it up for good, while Wiggins played most of that season and much of the 1991-92 season as well.)

17. Goldeneye (1995): This one goes to Steve Kerr, who according to http://www.basketball-reference.com is the most accurate 3-point shooter in NBA history, having made 45.4% of his 3-point attempts during his career. That’s better than what most players shoot 2’s these days. Kerr certainly had a “golden eye” from downtown; he also came through in big moments, esp. in the 1997 and 2003 playoffs, and has 5 NBA championships to show for it.

18. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997): This one goes to the Lakers. In a town that places a high premium on star power, the Lakers’ ability to produce a nearly unbroken line of leading men going back more than five decades, from Elgin Baylor to Jerry West to Wilt Chamberlain to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Magic Johnson to Shaquille O’Neal to Kobe Bryant and now Dwight Howard, has made them the NBA’s longest-running hit.  In particular, their knack for nabbing superstars at the beginning, or in the prime, of their careers has ensured a long string of bright tomorrows.

19. The World Is Not Enough (1999): 1999 saw Michael Jordan’s second retirement from the Bulls and the break-up of the Bulls’ dynasty, arguably the league’s most dominant run since the Russell-era Celtics. Jerry Reinsdorf and Jerry Krause were on top of the basketball world: they had a championship team led by the greatest and most popular player in the world, a marketing machine the likes of which the league has never seen before or since, and home sell-outs every night. Anyone else in their position would have tried to keep all of this going for as long as possible. But for whatever reason it wasn’t enough: they set the wheels in motion, as early as the 1996-97 season, to break up the team, by antagonizing Phil Jackson, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. By in effect pushing Jackson out the door just a few days after winning the 1998 title, and then by making it clear that Pippen wouldn’t be brought back, Reinsdorf and Krause essentially left Jordan with no choice but to retire upon the end of the lockout in January 1999. All of this was in a colossally misguided attempt to show that, in Krause’s immediately infamous words, “Organizations win championships.” Well? The Bulls wouldn’t return to the playoffs for six years, they wouldn’t win another playoff series for eight years, and the stigma of that episode on the Bulls, in my opinion, has yet to fully fade.

Honorable Mention: I’m going to get myself into some trouble here. On June 17, 1986, Len Bias, an All-American from Maryland who had already been favorably compared to James Worthy, Dominique Wilkins and even Michael Jordan, was taken as the #2 overall pick in the NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics, who were coming off perhaps the best season by any team, ever, and had their Hall of Fame quartet of the Big Three plus DJ all in their primes. It was the perfect landing spot for Bias, who could contribute immediately off the bench (and, in all likelihood, contribute to another title or two) while buying time to grow into the role of the next great Celtic and the headliner of their next era of greatness. In other words, Bias seemingly had the basketball world at his fingertips-and it wasn’t enough. He wanted some white powder too, and approx. 40 hours later it killed him, in what remains to this day the most tragic and senseless death and waste of talent in NBA history. Is it disrespectful for me to include him here? Perhaps. But there’s no denying that it’s all too fitting.

20. Die Another Day (2002): This one goes to the 1994 and 1995 Rockets, who went a rather incredible 8-0 in elimination games en route to back-to-back titles. In 1994 the Rockets rallied to beat the Suns in Game 7 of the West semis after losing the first two games at home and trailing by 14 at halftime of Game 3 in Phoenix.[6] In so doing, they became only the second team to that point to win a best-of-7 series after losing the first two games at home. Then, after trailing the Knicks 3-2 in the NBA Finals, the Rockets won Games 6 and 7 at home to take the title. All of this, however, was merely a prelude to 1995. After limping to a #6 seed out West, the Rockets rallied from a 2-1 deficit to beat the Jazz in the first round, mounting a fourth-quarter rally to win the deciding Game 5 at Salt Lake City. Then, after falling behind a revenge-minded Suns squad 3-1 in the West semis, the Rockets took the last three games, including fourth-quarter rallies in Games 5 and 7 at Phoenix, making them only the second team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit by winning Games 5 and 7 on the road. After all that, Hakeem made the West Finals and NBA Finals look easy. Their resilience in do-or-die situations truly exemplified the “heart of a champion,” as Rudy Tomjanovich so famously, and accurately, boasted.

Honorable Mention goes to the 1994 Nuggets, who won six elimination games in just that postseason. After falling behind the Sonics 2-0 in the first round, the Nuggets took the last three games to become the first #8 seed to beat a #1 seed in the playoffs. Then, after falling behind the Jazz 3-0 in the West semis, the Nuggets won the next three games, one on a buzzer-beater and the other two in overtime, to force a deciding Game 7. Denver’s thrill ride ended there, however, as the Jazz regrouped to win Game 7.

21. Casino Royale (2006): Who else but the Maloof Brothers, who own the Palms casino in Las Vegas and also own the Kings. An exceedingly ill-timed expansion of the Palms, coming just as the Great Recession was hitting Las Vegas in particular with full force, left the Maloofs hemmoraging money and looking to compensate by upgrading the Kings’ financial picture. Negotiations with Sacramento civic leaders over a new stadium have repeatedly stalled, but their preferred destination of Anaheim has been blocked by opposition from the Lakers and Clippers, and Las Vegas is apparently not an option either. If none of these roadblocks gets resolved, then the Maloofs will have to seriously consider a longer list of options (Seattle and Kansas City are two possibilities which have also been mentioned) or will have to consider selling the team. In the meantime, one imagines that Kings fans can’t think of the whole situation without making a face similar to the one Le Chiffre made when Bond pulled out the straight flush on the final hand. (No word on whether any of them have ever wept blood, however.)

22. Quantum of Solace (2008): Dictionary.com defines “quantum” in part as “a particular amount”, suggesting that a quantum can be as small or as large as the context warrants.  Sonics fans who were heart-broken by their team’s departure for Oklahoma City in 2008 got a “small quantum” of solace when the Heat defeated the Thunder in last June’s Finals.  Dictionary.com also defines “quantum” as “a large quantity; bulk.” Cavaliers fans who were devastated by LeBron’s departure for Miami in 2010 got this larger quantum of solace from Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving, who restored hope to the franchise and, with more development and seasoning, seems poised for stardom.  (They had previously gotten a “small quantum” of solace from the Mavericks’ victory over the Heat in the 2011 Finals.)

23. Skyfall(2012): This one goes to the present-day Bulls, whose 2012 title hopes evaporated the moment that Derrick Rose’s ACL snapped on April 28. As if that weren’t galling enough by itself, Joakim Noah got hurt, Carlos Boozer and the rest of the team failed to pick up the slack, and the Bulls lost to the 76ers in Round 1, marking just the fifth time in NBA history that a #1 seed lost to an #8 seed. On top of all that, this off-season saw the Bulls, whose quality depth enabled them overcome a slew of injuries to finish with the league’s best regular-season record in each of the last two years, lose a big chunk of that depth (Omer Asik, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, John Lucas III and C.J. Watson) without adequately replacing it, in my view. Richard Hamilton is 34 and is reportedly being shopped, and Boozer’s regret-inducing contract still has four years to run, meaning that the amnesty for which many Bulls fans are already clamoring is unlikely to occur until 2014 at the earliest. Obviously the Bulls’ outlook will brighten if Rose comes back 100% healthy, but he’s now expected to be out until at least next February, and there’s no guarantee he’ll regain his old form when he comes back.

[1] This post covers all 23 official James Bond releases produced by EON Productions, and thus does not cover the 1983 release Never Say Never Again, starring Sean Connery.

[2] On a totally unrelated note, “Fwom Wussia Wit Wuv” is Elmer Fudd’s favorite Bond film, narrowly edging out “You Onwy Wiv Twice”.

[3] Guard Vassilis Spanoulis played the 2006-07 season with the Rockets, but this was after the world championships.

[4] Riley was a player on the Lakers’ 1972 championship team, an assistant coach on their 1980 championship team, the head coach for their other four championship teams of that decade (1982, 1985, 1987 and 1988), the head coach for the Heat’s 2006 championship team, and the Heat’s team president for their championship last season.

[5] A View to a Kill is arguably the most trivia-rich of all the Bond films. In addition to being Roger Moore’s last 007 film, it featured (i) the only Bond title song (recorded by Duran Duran) to hit #1 on the U.S. charts, (ii) a pre-credit sequence which is widely credited with helping to jump-start the snowboarding craze, and (iii) probably the single most horrifying moment in the entire Bond film series, namely when Bond got into bed with May Day (played by Grace Jones).

[6] Not that this is likely to ever happen, but if I were to get a chance to meet TNT’s Kenny Smith, the one question I would ask him is what Rudy Tomjanovich said to the Rockets at halftime of that Game 3.  Their turnaround in that series is one of the most remarkable and underrated comebacks in NBA history.


6 Responses to “Shaken AND Stirred: The NBA and James Bond”

  1. c’mon man,the all-time leader in blocks is Hakeem the Dream – other than that, nice article … it’s nice to see something different

    Posted by EnnBeeAyy | November 11, 2012, 4:58 am
    • You’re right, that was my bad. (A classic case of what I thought I knew for sure being different from the actual facts.) Mutumbo is still my choice for Dr. No, on account of the finger-wagging.

      Posted by E-Dog | November 12, 2012, 11:32 am
  2. “17. Goldeneye (1995): This one goes to Steve Kerr, who according to http://www.basketball-reference.com is the most accurate 3-point shooter in NBA history, having made 45.4% of his 3-point attempts during his career.”

    That’s true, but Kerr’s percentage was boosted by the fact that for three seasons (94-97) the three point line distance was shortened.

    In those three years Kerr had a percentage of .524 .515 .464 respectively (all above his career average).

    I think 17. should have gone to the late Drazen Petrovic.

    Posted by doosiolek | November 11, 2012, 10:59 am
    • Good call paying homage to Petrovic; he ranked #3 all-time by making 43.7% of his career 3-point attempts, and (as you note) did so without the aid of the shorter line. In the end, though, I still have to give the edge to Kerr, on the strength of his longer body of work (15 NBA seasons; Petrovic only played in 4 through no fault of his own, due to his untimely and tragic death in a 1993 car accident) and his playoff feats.

      Posted by E-Dog | November 12, 2012, 11:39 am
  3. Great article! Entertaining to read and, as Ennbeeayy noted, a refreshing change from the norm.

    Posted by Brandon Crockett | November 13, 2012, 11:55 am
  4. To continue on your existing timeline of Bond films with iconic NBA moments, in 2015 the Bond franchise is planning to launch the next installment, Spectre, which follows events post Skyfall. With its release planned in October 2015, it could be linked to the first ever championship won by the Golden State Warriors under coach Steve Kerr. Steph Curry and Igoudala could be the highlights of this release, with the former becoming the season MVP and the latter the Playoffs MVP. If the team continues to ride on their recent success in the following season, this association to the new Bond releases automatically falls into place.

    Posted by Jeff Lopez | September 7, 2015, 7:57 am

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