Revisiting A Modern Classic: The Office’s “Basketball”

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Basketball is like jazz. – Michael Scott

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I grew up in a small town without a whole lot to do in the nightlife department. On dead nights with no game or party to keep us occupied, we’d usually wind up at a friend’s place either playing poker, watching Anchorman, The Best of Will Ferrell, some chapter of R. Kelly’s angelic Trapped In The Closet series, or, my favorite television show of all time, The Office. It became appointment television for me during its peak second and third seasons. I’d shut my phone off during them. Ask that people please make no noise other than laughter when I was watching with a group. I’d buy them on iTunes and pour over them ten times over till I knew all the lines. One friend of mine who loved the show more than me for a time had memorized the numbers that flashed across the calculator in the opening credits. I never bothered with doing that, and I’m worse for it.

But I’m not here to talk about anything in the second or third seasons. I’m here to talk about an episode in the first season. We’ll get to that in a bit, though.

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With The Office, I’d missed the first season as it aired. My friend Scroggins rented it, fell hard for it, and insisted that a bunch of us watch it when we were at his house one summer night. So me, Scroggins, and our friend Jerrad, all gathered at Scroggins’ house, the nice one next to the rodeo, to see what all Scroggins’ fuss was about.

We spread around Scroggins’ living room, the one with the low ceiling, the dangling chains of the wood fan smacking forgetful visitors in the face if they were too tall. Me and Jerrad sat sprawled out on the L-shaped couch. Scroggins would sit in the burgundy recliner next to the window their fat cat, Kitty John, would sleep by, and we all inhaled all six episodes of the first season like they were air and we’d been underwater our whole lives.

That seems weird to say now, considering the pilot episode of the series was a rough, blatant word-for-word copy of its British counterpart, and how much better the show’s second and third seasons were, but we didn’t know that at the time.

We knew of Michael’s desperation and his obliviousness. We knew Dwight’s passion for authority. We knew how much Jim and Pam hated it there. And we knew all those things together made a show that was different, strange, and funny.

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With most great sitcoms, as with this one, there’s one particular episode that sets itself apart as the one that finally shook some love into you. An episode that, after watching, you decide “Yes. I love this. I’m a fan of this. I’m watching all of these.”

For me and my Office fan-hood, that was the fifth episode of season one. An episode titled “Basketball”.

The synopsis, essentially, is that Michael Scott (boss, regional manager, psycho) challenges the warehouse and all its workers to a “friendly little game of basketball” after noticing the hoop they have down there. Scott’s in the business of morale boosting and this game, he feels, is a perfect opportunity to get the love a’flowing for both him and Dunder Mifflin, but mostly just him.

Stanley’s playing “of course”, or so Michael says. Jim’s in. So’s Ryan. They need a fifth. Oscar offers his help. Mike says he’ll use his talents come baseball season. Kevin offers. Mike denies. Phyllis offers. Mike denies. Then Dwight offers. He shoots a pencil cup near the trash can and it misses, but just barely. Mike says he can play. Dwight asks if he can be team captain. No good. Michael’s the team captain. Dwight asks if he can be team manager. Nope. Michael’s the team manager. He can be assistant to the team manager, Mike says. Assistant team manager? No. Assistant TO the team manager. It’s lower.

The stakes get raised as we get closer to game time. Daryl, warehouse manager and Hot Tub Time Machine star, saunters into the upstairs office and Michael begins his chiding. Trying to steal our secrets, that kind of thing. Michael starts to talk a little. Daryl bites on the chatter. He wants to bet a dinner on the game. Michael says he’ll do him one better. Says that loser comes in to work on Saturday. Stakes! Bam!

B-Plot time. Pam’s still with Roy, warehouse worker, at this point. Jim’s still doing his best to suppress his feelings for her. This game offers Jim a chance to show off his abilities on the court to Pam because he’s actually pretty good.

Jim says when they win he’s going to the outlet mall on Saturday and Pam’s welcome to come with him. Pam says Roy’s planning on taking the jet skis out on Saturday. She says he’s pretty competitive. Jim confirms he’s also competitive and he’s planning on saving big on some brand names. She says she thinks she’ll be at the lake. Playful, flirtatious banter ensues.

The game itself needs no recounting by my pathetic self because you can just watch highlights of the thing and those are much better than my words. What’s more, if you have Netflix, which, c’mon, get it if you don’t, you can watch the whole episode there.

 

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Let’s just let Michael Scott, poet that he is, take us out.

“When I am playing hoops, all of the stress and responsibility of my job here just melts away. It’s gone. I’m in the zone. Who am I? Am I Michael Scott? I don’t know. I might just be a basketball machine. What’s Dunder Mifflin? I’ve never heard of it. Filing? Paperwork? Who cares. Possible downsizing? Um. Well that’s…that’s probably going to happen.”

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