Good and Bad.
Day and Night.
Soft Serve Ice Cream and Frozen Yogurt.
For years, these were the greatest rivalries of our time. But in the summer of 2008, one rivalry ascended above the rest. This rivalry went deep into the hate abyss.
This rivalry is between Rick Carlisle, the head coach of the Dallas Mavericks, and Russell Westbrook, the starting point guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder. They had a band…and then they didn’t.
Initially everything was grand. They had come up together in the West Hollywood music scene and their new age blend of Russell’s rock and roll and Rick’s classical piano set the west coast ablaze. Women and men from several states away flocked to the LA bars Tribulation played. For a truth starved culture, they were everything. They made sense. They spoke for those that couldn’t verbalize how they felt, and America loved them for it.
Formed in January of 2007, by February of 2008 they were on top of the planet. Their first album, Dripping Hearts and Fluttering Wings, went to number one on the Billboard charts in five short weeks. They were on top of the world. They could do no wrong.
Then it all came crashing down in a Titanic style nightmare that made David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen look like they adored one another.
Death. Death to the music. Death to the friendship. Fate, driven by their selfishness, was speeding down the highway towards them.
The rumors on how it happened are many. No one really knows what went down exactly. Some speculate that it was because Rick had slept with Russell’s aunt. That is untrue, though. That did happen, but Russell had no problem with it.
The real reason is not sexy. It is not unique or new or different or special. They fell victim to the one thing most all broken up bands do:
Tale as old as time.
Russell thrived in uptempo songs where he could solo for extended periods of time and unleash himself upon the room. There could be no structure, only feeling. Feeling and shredding. Complete improvisation. He operated best when he was at his most free.
This was Carlisle’s hellscape. Carlisle, a classically trained pianist and Beethoven level visionary with regard to arrangement, was at his best when there was order. He wanted and needed structure. He saw each chord before it arrived. He was prepared, always. He could not be bothered with someone who, he felt, wasn’t.
It finally came to a head an hour before a sold out show at The Troubador in July of 2008. In an argument over which song they would close with, (Westbrook wanted to close with the band’s rocking, 14 minute hit, Heater. Carlisle wanted to end with the band’s one true love ballad,Gulp) they stumbled and sunk to a level of vicious they couldn’t recover from. Westbrook swung and Carlisle swung back. They fought for 5 minutes, destroying their dressing room at The Troub in the process. The two were eventually separated by security and the band released a statement saying that they were fine and alcohol was to blame, but the damage had done been done.
They were publicly together for another few weeks until another altercation at a bar* led to Westbrook shouting “Tribulation over” at the top of his lungs in the middle of Hollywood Boulevard. Carlisle was rabid, being restrained by Westbrook’s personal security a few yards away, attempting to rain spit on him. By mid-August they had officially broken up, both promising that their solo careers would trump the others. The band’s fans wept.
* We are unclear as to which bar it was. Some say Dillon’s Irish Pub. Still others swear it was Geisha House. We do know that, wherever it started, it ended in the street.
Carlisle was informed of the insult and fired a round back over the wall.
“I’m not surprised to hear those words spew forth from that child’s mouth. He did always enjoy eating horse s—, so it’s no wonder it comes out of his mouth so freely now. It is my dream to live in a world where Russell has no hands. That way we aren’t subjected to his many gross, ill timed forays to the rim, and we’ll never have to hear one of his God awful guitar solos. Contrived, unprepared drivel they are. He pees his pants when he drinks too much, by the way.”
This is why the venom. This is why the Mavericks can be experiencing their worst start to a season of the past decade and they can still play the Thunder, a contender and a team with the best record in the league, so extremely close.
The games are powered off of hate, both teams headed by men that would just as soon see the other slip and fall into the jaws of a great white shark. And so they loathe one another. They sit and they stew and they pray for the chance to eliminate the other one from the playoffs.
Now we wait. We wait for the next game. The next album. The next confrontation.
Poets and prophets they are and were, we cannot help but be reminded of the final stanza of Gulp, a song they co-wrote. Carlisle’s voice is heard softly over the top of Westbrook’s aching guitar.