Let me set the scene for you: A cutthroat, 10-team head-to-head league with a zero dollar buy-in, and a few team owners who had maybe never seen a quarter of NBA basketball in their entire lives. The consequence for getting swept in one of your weekly matchups was having to upload a video of you covering a pop song to the best of your abilities to Facebook for the entire world to see—a grim reality where your only prize for succeeding was not having to belt out Carly Rae Jepsen’s greatest hits and upload it to a platform all of the hot girls you went to high school with still frequent.
It was like if Bill Simmons wrote an episode of Black Mirror.
This deadly serious league was where I found myself last October after being invited to play fantasy basketball for the first time ever by my good friend Simon. To prepare for war I quickly sized up my competition on Facebook to see if any of them were actual NBA GMs. After confirming that almost none of them were, I named my team “Kawaii Leonard” and photoshopped a photo of the Spurs superstar so that he had gigantic, glimmering anime eyes to use as my team banner. I was ready to compete, and set to dominate.
In the end, though, like any before it, this past NBA season was chock-full of upsets, injuries, and Dion Waiters buzzer-beaters that rendered useless most of the research and predictions fantasy owners take the time to do.
I fought valiantly enough—remembered to set my lineups often enough—to find myself in third place after the dust had settled. And although I didn’t win, I claimed a moral victory and came away with some bulletproof fantasy basketball tips I’m willing to pass on to you guys right now.
Establish A Team Identity Early
Most people think statistics are everything in fantasy basketball. This is a false narrative that has lead a lot of nerds down the advanced stat hole and opened their third and most annoying eye. The actual most important thing in fantasy basketball is team identity. Without a hook—fun pun name, only drafting injured centers, etc.—how will other owners in your league know that you are here to crush them for the next 19 weeks? A good way to do this is to write an introduction for yourself, explain the way you plan to play against your foes and watch them tremble through their computer screens like I did at the outset of last season.
As you can see, I balanced humor with intimidation like a fantasy Sun Tzu. The art of war, in my case, was as simple as name dropping Shawn Kemp and posting an artist’s representation of God and his only Son, J.R. Smith. It put me on a fast track to becoming feared and respected by all nine other team owners who loved memes and were bad at fantasy sports.
You’re Gonna Do Some Really, Really Dumb Stuff—But That’s Okay.
Pobody’s Nerfect. Even basketball’s consensus “GOAT” wears baggy jeans and spends his days in casinos losing money earned from selling his overpriced sneakers to impoverished youth across the world—so when you step up to the plate and strike out, I implore you to shake it off and keep moving forward. Last year I accidentally drafted a very injured Nerlens Noel—he only played 22 games, and none in the first half of the season—and then put Jusuf Nurkic on waivers a week before he was traded to Portland so I could pick up Mo Speights. To be completely honest, those are just the two mistakes I’m not too ashamed of to admit. Keep on trucking—for every Mo Speights you make, there’s the possibility of 10 non-Mo Speights’. Everybody deserves non-Mo Speights’.
Become the less-stunned looking, more outwardly cruel Mark Cuban of your fantasy league—minus the Shark Tank stuff. Send messages to opposing owners like, “Hey dude, noticed that you need some more depth at your forward spots. I suggest picking up yo mama—if she’s not too heavy.”
Being a polarizing figure to the people you’re supposed to be chummy with will only garner success and will never backfire. Emulate the likes of Pat Riley when entering trade talks with your friends: “You want my Player A for your Player B? I’m going to burn down your house, get out of my damn office you ingrate!” Scorched earth is the only policy, or else it could be you singing pop hits on Facebook next week.
Prepare To Sing Pop Hits On Facebook
Look, I know this is a very specific league stipulation that might not be popular yet, but it could happen to you. The anxiety I felt going into the Sunday night of a weeklong matchup being down 7–1 was tantamount to what I imagine going down 3–1 in the NBA Finals feels like. I urge you to be prepared for the worst possible outcome and live with it. Figure out which of Adele’s songs you have the range for, or if Taylor Swift has a song where she mostly talks instead of sings. You have got to get your mind and body ready to become an accidental viral hit if things break bad for you. I practiced my scales every night for weeks, toned my diaphragm and re-read lyrics until I could recite them in the mirror with almost no tears. I was equipped for whatever was going to be thrown at me… A miracle of our league last year, though, is that nobody was ever swept—nobody ever had to be vulnerable to the masses and weird out former classmates they hadn’t spoken to in years. So prepare, and hold out hope that the same fate befalls you.
Pay Attention For Three Months
In all likelihood, unless your friends are jobless or character’s from FX’s The League, there will come a time when they start to lose their focus in fantasy basketball. Finals need to be studied for, Christmas time is spent with family, significant others want a break from NBA basketball twice a week to watch The Bachelor and Grey’s Anatomy or to make you go to dinner with her parents that don’t like you. So wait them out—if you can keep your team strong and together for 2–3 months you’ll soon see other squads start dropping off of the face of the earth. An owner I won’t name from last year benched Harden by accident for long enough that it took him out of contention because he was busy with school. Another—me—forgot to set his lineup almost every Monday night for the entirety of February because it was cold out. Wait those losers out, and show them what five minutes of daily attention to Yahoo’s fantasy app can do.