Vulnerability is challenging. It’s a rare event to become unguarded enough to broadcast our deepest flaws - occasionally in the company of a therapist, or in that first big test of a relationship. In Florence + the Machine's 4th studio album, High As Hope, Florence Welch sits you down to reveal her worst moments to you.
High As Hope shifts from the progression of her previous albums. Lungs was our introduction to Florence's bubbly ebbs and flows in the rapid-fire emotions of her early twenties. Ceremonials was the perfect sequel. It's her recognition of her path. She now understands life can be violent and suffocating, yet opportunities of love and happiness along the way balance out more arduous moments. How Big How Blue How Beautiful was the grandiose finale to her trilogy. Written in the wake of a breakup, the album is overproduced, and exists on a much larger scale than her previous work. While audibly magnificent, its slower tracks create jarring interruptions.
What initially makes High As Hope distinct is its tempered production. Stripped away is the magnificent orchestra of HBHBHB. What’s left are subtle hints of trumpets and kick drum undertones materializing sparingly throughout the album. The last track “No Choir” completely removes excess instrumentals unveiling total vulnerability.
Lyrically, Florence completed her boldest project yet. She's always been insightful in her lyrics. But High As Hope is much more than a peak into her mind. It’s the whole Florence experience. The good, the bad, and the struggles that challenge her public perception.
Florence opens up about her struggle with alcohol, her estranged relationship with her sister, and her darkest insecurities.
Such as this verse from “Big God." Florence slips into a mind-racing aggression after being ghosted. People never admit to not playing it cool after their crush doesn't text back. Florence does not. She wants this person to know exactly how she feels.
"You keep me up at night
To my messages, you do not reply
You know I still like you the most
The best of the best and the worst of the worst
Well, you can never know
The places that I go
I still like you the most
You'll always be my favourite ghost"
Depression is tricky. Some days you’re in a stable place. Other days a ghosting can drag your mental health into an inescapable Hell. This new cultural phenomenon has become standard practice and created an unhealthy expectation of accepting being treated poorly. Florence deserves enormous credit for her honesty about breaking down from something a lot of people are afraid to confess hurts them.
This is definitely her most ambitious album yet. Her previous installments are up for interpretation by design. They’re a combination of an outlet for her experiences and something audiences can figure out how they relate to. High as Hope is for the people that her actions have impacted the most. Maybe us as the audience can relate and maybe we can’t. That doesn’t matter. It’s an album that took a ton of bravery to create and that’s what should be applauded.
Do you remember where you were when James Harden was traded to the Houston Rockets? I was meeting my brother's new girlfriend (now loving wife) for the first time at her apartment. It was a Halloween party and SportsCenter was muted in the background. I came as Rick from The Walking Dead and regretted my decision. A costume sheriffs hat somehow made me look fatter in the bathroom mirror.
The news suddenly broke on the eve of the 2012-13 NBA season. I quickly forgot about my bloated, drunken face as the ESPN ticker flew across the screen. The Oklahoma City Thunder were unable to reach a contract extension with Harden. They were sending the 6'5" shooting guard to Houston for Jeremy Lamb and Kevin Martin. Pleasant conversation stamped out with an eruption of incomprehensible shouting as OKC had just broken up its budding nucleus. The moment the trigger for the Harden deal was pulled, one of the best bar arguments of all time was born.
What if the Thunder never traded James Harden?
The last memory of Harden in OKC was the 2012 NBA Finals Game 5 blowout loss resulting in LeBron James' first NBA title. A defeated Harden hung his tired arms over Westbrook and Durant's shoulders on the bench as the 4th quarter slipped into garbage time. It was a tough moment to watch, but expectation was they'd bounce back. At the time, the young core was made up of Durant, 23, Westbrook, 23, and Harden, 22. Reigning titans of the Western Conference, Dirk, Kobe, and Duncan, were quickly decimated in the playoffs by Harden's firepower, Durant's dominance, and Westbrook's fearlessness. There was no doubt they’d be back next year.
Harden was still coming off the bench in 2012. His development grew exponentially after the trade, but back then his future as a starter was obvious. So instead, what if the Thunder traded a variety of contracts to keep Harden and promote him to a starting role? Each member of the trio probably doesn't win an MVP award. Each would make less money over time by sacrificing to keep the core together. But it would all be worth it as they would eventually win a couple titles and stifle the South Beach super team. The rise of the Golden State dynasty would be less meteoric and it's possible Durant never joins them in 2016.
It's hard to imagine Harden as anything but a Houston Rocket. As the winner of the 2018 NBA MVP, he joins the ranks of legendary Rockets' big man, Hakeem Olajuwon. As time passes, people will forget about Harden's stop in OKC the same way they did with Hakeem in Toronto. If Harden was never traded then perhaps he wouldn't have become the MVP he is today. Maybe there was just too much talent on one team for it to ever work. It could be Harden was always meant to be more than the third piece.
The hypothetical is a blackhole of bar conversation — tempting to approach but impossible to not get sucked in. It's up there with great conversations like what if Shaq didn't leave Orlando, if Michael never left in 1993, and if the Lakers/Chris Paul trade wasn't vetoed.
But with the Harden trade, I always wonder this: What if Clay Bennet never relocated the Seattle Supersonics to Oklahoma City? Would playing for a historic franchise in an established market impacted this young core differently? Would the fanfare received from the Seattle Seahawks Superbowl victory enticed coveted NBA free agents to sign with the Sonics? Would the Sonics have kept their iconic jerseys or redesigned them to reflect a new era?
The greatest what if of this decade will never be answered. Like when a marriage between friends suddenly ends, it hurts you to see their future dissolve. Each one of them now living very separate lives in different cities. Embellished stories of rifts and betrayals generates gossip, but nostalgia from old photos occasionally resurface loving memories.
Regardless of the paths the three men took, their talent and achievements should be celebrated and appreciated. Perhaps the journeys they're on now were always meant to be this way regardless of any trade or franchise relocation. No bar argument can ever answer what could have been. The only thing any NBA fan should do now is enjoy watching the rest of their brilliant careers unfold.
It's the monthlong event that arrives every four years. Journalists spend weeks sucking down cigarettes and coffee to help pump out content. Fans cement themselves in front of SportsCenter and refresh Twitter during sleepy boardroom meetings.
If you think I'm talking about those trash Summer Olympic Games, then you're clearly not an NBA offseason fan.
The NBA season is obviously fantastic. Even with the predictable and lethargic NBA Finals this year, it's by far the most entertaining professional league. What the NBA does better than other leagues is its offseason drama (known affectionally as Photoshop SZN). As soon as the season ends, draft speculation heats up, followed by wild draft-night trades, and finally the start of free agency on July 1.
Some offseasons are more chaotic than others, but every four years, something beautiful happens. It first began in 2010, when LeBron was an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career. This was the genesis of free agency mania with LeBron famously taking his talents to South Beach during the often rebuked The Decision. After four years in Miami, LeBron announced in a Sports Illustrated feature that he was returning home to Cleveland.
It's been four years, four NBA Finals appearances, and one Larry O'Brien Trophy for LeBron's second term as Cleveland's savior. After breaking Cleveland's title draught in 2016, two quick subsequent exits by the Warriors may have finally decimated this Cavs squad for good. Now the question Brian Windhorst will have to deny knowing the answer to for weeks is being asked.
Where will LeBron go?
Since everyone has to make a prediction, my official guess is LeBron stays in Cleveland. Kevin Love, the 8th pick, and Tristan Thompson will be the most notable assets on the move. Come draft night, Cleveland will talk themselves into Damian Lillard as a Steph Curry stopper and package their pick with two assets. If a trade fails, they'll try to sign Chris Paul. Obviously he's an elite talent, but he's aging and suffered a season ending hamstring injury in the playoffs. Cleveland needs to get younger if they want to get back to the Finals.
By moving Love and Tristan's contracts, along with dumping bad contracts like George Hill and Rodney Hood, Cleveland will put themselves in position to secure LeBron and scoop up Paul George. He'll write something for The Undefeated about unfinished business and staying committed to his roots while thanking his former teammates. A new big three era will begin — refreshed and retooled.
I'm probably dead wrong, but I don't think LeBron even knows where he's going. He's a thoughtful, community-oriented person, but he's not afraid to do what he feels is best. So this could be the end of LeBron's tenure in Cleveland.
The only thing I do know is if he leaves, the NBA power struggle will dramatically shift. The LeBron domino always triggers waves of discount free agency signings and unpredictable trades from fringe contenders trying to dethrone the king. After watching the Warriors hijack another NBA season, a LeBron move and the aftermath may threaten their dynasty. If you hated how predictable the NBA Finals were, you should be rooting for moving trucks outside the James' residence.
Details of the anniversary edition gameplay aren't out yet, but if the cover art is any indication, this game is going to be beautiful. It's a gigantic leap from the standard red background that had grown stale.
This year's cover art distinctly separates itself from all 18 previous 2K installments. The overwhelming size of LeBron's profile surrounded by his legacy defining soundbites makes this feel like a LeBron James video game - not a basketball game.
Never before has an athlete been bigger than the 2K brand. You were always sold an NBA 2K game featuring Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, and so on. The only exception was the 2011 Michael Jordan edition. But compare that cover art to 2019 and tell me 2K put Jordan above the brand.
As polarizing as LeBron has been, we're not going to have another athlete of his magnitude for a long time. Hate him or idolize him, you have to appreciate what he means to his fans and everything he's done for the NBA in the post-Jordan era. He deserves to be elevated above all the cover athletes that came before him.
NBA 2K19 drops September 11.
P.S. Smart of NBA 2K to give LeBron a generic black jersey after last summer's trade debacle.
I write the words I'm too uncomfortable to say.