The unsung gospel of Marcus Morris, the $5 million man.
The center of the galaxy wore #24 for a night and ESPN cameras cut to the orbiting stars. Jack muttered something to himself. Snoop took selfies. And Kanye smiled, for once, in a yellow shirt. There were 31.6 seconds left in Kobe Bryant’s career. He had just seized the lead with a streamlined fadeaway. It was just like all the others, except it wasn’t.
Kanye’s yellow shirt read “I FEEL LIKE KOBE.” He had worn a nearly identical design at the Madison Square Garden premiere of The Life Of Pablo. That one was red and read “I FEEL LIKE PABLO.” The repurposing made sense. You never wanted to be Kobe; you only ever wanted to channel his essence.
You wanted your gut to do the Kobe underbite when push came to shove and you wanted to remain still in the face of every Matt Barnes ball fake. You never wanted to say that “friends come and go but banners hang forever.” Friends are pretty great.
Kanye eventually sold those “I FEEL LIKE KOBE” shirts for $65. It was an appropriately egregious amount considering that Kobe’s $48.5 million contract had defined him up until those last moments, when that familiar fadeaway made us all forget.
Marcus Morris was just a contract too when the Phoenix Suns traded him to the Detroit Pistons for nothing. He was extremely affordable at $5 million per season and even warm bodies were worth $5 million. The Suns had offered the Morrii twins $52 million collectively. Markieff took $32 million and Marcus took $20 million. The split didn’t matter because the brothers shared a bank account. Markieff was born seven minutes before Marcus and Marcus was drafted five minutes after Markieff. All they wanted was to play together.
And they did, until the Suns unceremoniously shipped Marcus out of town less than a year after signing that contract.
He arrived in Detroit with an aggravated assault charge and the distinction of having the 11th most technical fouls in the NBA despite playing the 3rd fewest minutes of the 20 worst offenders. That was more technical fouls than three teams.
Reggie Jackson, Detroit’s $80 million man, offered to pay for Marcus’s technical foul fines. Marcus proceeded to perform at the highest level of his career, increasing volume while maintaining efficiency. I don’t know if the two were related, but I do know that Phil Jackson got credit for a whole lot less. Reggie should’ve paid for a $65 shirt too.
Marcus earned two more technical fouls for the Pistons than the year before, although he also played 10 more minutes per game. The grander opportunity bore further fruit. Here are the YouTube results, all from the 2015-16 season, for “Marcus Morris”:
Marcus Morris bitching out Jeff Hornacek also accounted for a number of the search results. The Arizona Republic named Marcus Morris one of the “10 biggest villains in Arizona sports.”
But when Zach Lowe called Marcus a “flaming volcano,” he wasn’t referring to Marcus’s volatility. He was talking about the scoring that was scalpel-sharp over the last month of the season, when Marcus averaged 16 points on 52% shooting from the field and 53% shooting from 3.
To be sure, when you watch Marcus – whether it’s live, high definition or an illegal Russian stream – you watch him through a chain link fence. His game lacks flamboyance and takes little consideration of modern analytical strategy. But there’s a rugged method to the midrange. He scores in geometric slices. I prefer mine with pepperoni.
Marcus is a skilled practitioner of the George Blaha turn-and-gun towards the baseline. His legs dangle when he shoots another fadeaway, as if his head and shoulders are pinned to a bulletin board, not unlike Kobe’s own with 31.6 seconds left.
Maybe it’s a Philly thing.
“LOWER MERIONS FINEST” was emblazoned across the back of those $65 “I FEEL LIKE KOBE” shirts. Lower Merion High School is located in the western suburbs of Philadelphia. It was named one of the top 50 schools – public or private – in the United States by The Wall Street Journal. Lower Merion was also Kobe’s high school.
Eight-and-a-half miles away, Simon Gratz High School was not named one of the top 50 schools – public or private – in the United States. In 2011, Simon Gratz qualified for the School District of Philadelphia’s Renaissance program, which sought dramatic improvements in low-performing schools.
There was an Interplanetary Colonization Club at Lower Merion. Simon Gratz hoped to offer a home economics class sometime soon. Marcus started out at Simon Gratz, and Rasheed Wallace did too.
It was Sheed who predisposed Pistons fans to Marcus’s disposition. Marcus went to Rasheed Wallace basketball camps as a kid. And even though Sheed was bombastic – the exclamation mark! lurking in the middle of a paragraph – both he and Marcus stirred irreverence with their styles. The only moment I ever questioned Stan Van Gundy’s competence was when he neglected to keep Sheed as a coach.
Van Gundy, of course, didn’t need Sheed on the bench nearly as much as the NBA Vine economy. The Pistons won 12 more games than the year before. Marcus was the patriarch of the Pistons starting lineup at 26 years old, his beard the mark of an adult Amishman.
The Pistons made the playoffs for the first time since the 2008-2009 season. Lowe and the national media were actually talking about the Pistons, and you didn’t want to be the Pistons in the 2016 NBA Playoffs. The Cleveland Cavaliers were the #1 seed. They had LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Tyronn Lue finally played Kevin Love at the 5.
LeBron and the Cavaliers swept the series. But it felt good. Marcus averaged nearly 18 points on 47/39/87 shooting. At one point in Game 2, LeBron caught an elbow from Marcus and stormed away to nebulously exclaim that he was going fuck him up. It was the in-game equivalent of Drake’s deleted Paul George Instagram.
“I know for a fact he wasn’t talking to me,” Marcus responded when asked about the remarks. “You can quote me on that.”
The $24 million Goliath should always dispose of the $5 million David. Especially when Goliath is 6 foot 8, 249 pound LeBron James, the man who took possession of the acronym “LBJ” from a former President of the United States. Kanye watches LeBron, too. But LeBron doesn’t have a hoop mixtape on YouTube titled “Aggravated ASSAULT!”
It was a fight that started in January, when Marcus and LeBron had to be separated at midcourt, and a fight that will stretch into April of next year. Marcus scored 24 points on 9-12 shooting from the field and 3-4 shooting from 3 in Game 4 against the Cavaliers. The only orbiting star was Flo Rida, who had performed at halftime.
“I’m here to be a Piston. I like the toughness,” Marcus told Keith Langlois towards the beginning of the season. “I feel like I fit straight in. I feel like I’m home.”
I Feel Like Marcus. Print the shirts.