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Thursday, April 11, 2013
Caveman with a van: The War on Drugs

By Stefan Marolachakis
ESPN The Magazine

Matt Bonner
Dave Hartley talks about the social media campaign he started for the Spurs' Matt Bonner.
Editor’s note: Drummer Stefan Marolachakis is traveling the country in a black van with tinted windows, touring for his band Caveman’s eponymous second album. Every week, Stefan will hunt the nation to gather musicians and athletes to discuss the link between the two clans.

It’s been a glorious week in the world of sport for us out here on the road, mainly for the following two reasons:
  1. Carmelo Anthony was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week, averaging 41.8 PPG as the Knicks went 4-0, extended their winning streak to 13 games and clinched their first Atlantic Division title since 1994.
  2. The day after our show in Chapel Hill, N.C., we got to see the Durham Bulls win their opening night game with a bottom-of-the-ninth rally and then watched that barn burner of an NCAA championship game.

That would be the showdown you all know about between the Michigan Wolverines and the Louisville Cardinals, in which Louisville ended up victorious in no small part due to the wildly hot hand of Luke Hancock. Before I go any further, allow me to borrow the words of the infamous Mobb Deep when I say: “Let me start from the beginning, at the top of the list.”

To give you some context: I am a massive fan of Jalen Rose the commentator -- as a player, his tenure with our Eastern Conference rival Pacers was tough to swallow, though it was slightly tempered by his brief stint with the Knicks -- so I couldn’t help but pull for the Wolverines. Not to mention that our singer Matt’s mom went to Michigan, which sweetened the deal even further.

After Rose publicly and passionately made the case that his former teammate Chris Webber should join him and the rest of the Fab Five at the championship game, all my eighth-grade era memories of basketball watching came rushing back. When Webber actually did show up, I found myself deeply moved. The Fab Five had been the definition of cool when I was growing up -- the baddest dudes on the planet, all barely out of high school!

Unfortunately it just wasn’t in the cards for Michigan, but the proceedings served to remind me of the crucial role nostalgia plays in my love of sport.

With sweet memories of 1993 flooding my mind, I was shot right back to that moment of my life when rabid sports fandom collided with a burgeoning obsession with music. Back in the good old '90s, it felt like a kid almost had to make a choice: Do I go to band practice, or do I play a pickup game? Do I read the new issue of SLAM, or do I go hang at HMV for the next three hours? Who better to discuss this mishmash of sport, music and emotion with than my good buddy Dave Hartley of Philly bands The War on Drugs and Nightlands? With the final show of our 45-day tour on the horizon in Philadelphia, I caught up with Dave, who seemed to know exactly how I was feeling.

“I feel like a bunch of people in bands who have kind of been doing this for a while grew up playing 'NBA Jam' and 'Tecmo Bowl' then got into music because they weren’t very good at sports -- or just weren’t good enough," he said. "Then they got to their late 20s or early 30s and all of a sudden they’re like: 'You know what? This is something I’ve always loved!' It’s a false dilemma. It’s a false dichotomy between the two. These two things are actually very compatible.”

Like science and religion, chocolate and vanilla, Edward and Jacob, people truly need both.

Hartley went on to illustrate that not only are the two realms simpatico, but they may even inform each other more than most would imagine. “I look at touring a little bit like it’s a season, you know? You have a great gig, and it’s like you had a big victory. It’s weird because it’s not competitive, but this Nightlands tour I just did, I really approached it like the way Tiger would approach the majors. I wanted to have my best shows in N.Y., L.A. and Chicago.”

You may remember Hartley’s name from the first installment of this column in which Matt Bonner told me about the time he and Hartley sneaked into the Penn gym and shot some late-night hoops.

“It was me, my buddy Tim Showalter, Luke [Bonner], who’s 6-foot-11, and Matt, who’s 6-foot-10," Hartley said. "Now, I’m about 6-foot-3, and my buddy Tim is about 5-foot-1. … It was a really funny crew.

"We walked down to the Palestra, a legendary U Penn gym where a lot of big games have been played, found a ball and got some shots up. It was kind of a dream come true for me to sit there and shoot with an NBA player. Matt’s so down to earth. He never makes you feel like you’re hanging out with a professional basketball player -- until he starts shooting, which is just insane. He didn’t even take that many shots, but it was like: Plants his feet, ball goes in. Plants his feet, ball goes in. It wasn’t even really well-lit in there; it was actually really dark. Obviously, the guy’s a specialist. It was incredible.”

In my mind, Hartley and Bonner will be forever intertwined because of the #LetBonnerShoot campaign Hartley initiated on Twitter to get Bonner into this year’s 3-point competition. What started with one solitary tweet turned into a viral campaign that galvanized the likes of Arcade Fire, Eva Longoria and even the governor of New Hampshire.

There's so much injustice in the world that we can't do anything about, but this is something we can change. #LetBonnerShoot

— Arcade Fire (@arcadefire) January 18, 2013

It's the year of the underdog! Show some love for "the NBA's resident nerd", Matt Bonner, by signing the petition to h… say.ly/FVR4ZFw

— Eva Longoria (@EvaLongoria) January 19, 2013


“It was crazy, man, kind of just luck, in a weird way," Hartley said. "Shannon Brown, who plays for the Suns now, got into the dunk contest five or six years ago because of some fans who started a website called LetShannonDunk.com. I knew from the times I’d met Matt that he wanted to be in that competition. He’s so humble, but this was the one thing he wasn’t humble about. He just wanted it.”

Cue the social media onslaught. “Literally all I did was start tweeting about it," Hartley said. "I made an Internet petition, and then Adam [Granduciel, Hartley's bandmate in The War on Drugs] started tweeting about it. I should give Adam credit, because the two of us started tweeting about it -- just sort of like jokes, you know. It’s an easy thing to riff on: a ginger who should be in the 3-point contest. Once Luke got on board and we started getting a lot of retweets, it felt like it all happened at once. Okkervil River, Arcade Fire, Justin Vernon [of Bon Iver], Eva Longoria. Then when it became kind of an organized thing, it took on a life of its own. The governor of New Hampshire and all these political people started getting in on it, and then people started calling me like ESPN, Grantland.

"It was one of those things where really I didn’t actually do anything after the first day. I just tweeted, and everyone was like ‘He started it!’ I guess I was the first person to tweet it and I wanted it for him, but honestly he deserved it.”

Bonner got into the competition and made it to the final round. “And he would have won,” says Hartley. “That’s the beauty of it, he basically won! He killed it, both rounds. He didn’t win, but he would’ve won if Kyrie Irving hadn’t had the second-best round in 3-point contest history. At the very least, he showed that it wasn’t some charity thing. The dude got in there and dusted people.”

CAVE DWELLINGS
Check out Caveman on tour: April 10 at Webster Hall in New York City, April 11 at Johnny Brenda's in Philadelphia and May 25 at the Sasquatch! Festival in George, Wash.