Air Bud

Outside of a few years where I regularly watched pro wrestling during the Attitude Era, I have basically no experience with sports. (And the wrestling stuff doesn't even count, because it's technically "sports entertainment" and not "sports".) But when the Portland Trailblazers were in the playoffs last year, I felt that I had a civic duty to keep up with the home team's progress, so I watched some of the games. It was interesting, actually, because even though I don't know much about basketball I was able to understand the meta narrative behind what was happening just by reading body language.

For example, even without looking at the score I could tell that the Trailblazers were vastly over matched by the Spurs, because every time they went for a free throw they looked frustrated, while the Spurs took their free throws with quiet confidence. You could tell that the Spurs had flustered them, and that they were never going to win the physical battle when the Spurs were so far ahead in the mental battle.

So when I critique Buddy, the basketball playing dog who is the star of Air Bud, on his basketball technique - well, you should probably take it with a grain of salt. After all, I am no expert. But then again: I'm not so dumb that I can't see the flaws in a less than perfect player's game.

Now, this movie would have you think that Buddy sinks 100% of his shots. Time after time we see the ball tip off his snout and then bounce directly into the hoop. And he might actually be that good... when he's playing pee-wee league. But he has a long way to go before he can go pro, because the snout-ball seems to be his only shot. There's no skyhook, no fadeaway jumper, and certainly no goddamned dunk. How is this dog going to get a sneaker endorsement deal if he doesn't have a dunk that looks cool in silhouette?

(Also, if he is serious about getting a check from Nike, he might want to upgrade from the "kids sneakers ducttaped to his paws" look - hard to get an endorsement deal when your recognizable look could be charitably described as "semi-homeless.")

(Although to be fair to Buddy, he was actually homeless shortly before he joined the basketball team. Maybe he could tug on Nike's heartstrings with his tale of woe, which involves being apprenticed to a cruel clown named Snively who abandoned him, and then being adopted by a dadless moppet named Jake who seems to think that dogs eat nothing but vanilla pudding. If he works it just right, a combination of his hard luck story and his unprofessional look could be a marketing godsend, a true rags to riches to dog superstar story.)

Another problem that Bud's going to have to face if he wants to move to the next level: his passing game is a bit weak. He's not a ball hog [he's actually a ball dog. See what I did there?] but he seems mostly content to lurk on the outside of the melee till someone passes to him for an easy lay-up. If he's really going to be integrated into the team, he's going to have to start bobbing and weaving more, instead of simply laying back.

Then again, it is hard to blame Buddy for being a little uncooperative, given how lame some of his teammates are. I've already mentioned Jake, who is a basically a true blue friend to Buddy. (He even went to court to prove that he should be Buddy's legally adoptive parent in a classic child fights clown over a championship contender dog case.) However, Jake's problem is that he's somewhat unstable, since he's still dealing with the emotional trauma of losing his father, who I assume was a test pilot. (It would be weird if Jake just had a framed news story about some other middle aged guy's recent death on his wall, but nobody ever refers to the dad's demise in any specific way so I can't be sure.) Anyway, if Jake's going to be semi- undependable, particularly in tight moments when the clock is ticking, then I get why Buddy would hesitate to pass the ball to him. Although I guess Buddy does have to consider how awkward it will be to home to the bedroom he shares with Jake after the game if he refuses to pass to him during the game...

Buddy's other noteable teammate is a kid with the most egregiously terrible bowl-cut I have ever seen and a weird fetish for sticking food that he's seen professional athletes throw away into his socks, and the less said about that horrorshow child the better. I would pass a machete to Jason Voorhees before I would pass that wiener a basketball.

On second thought: maybe Buddy's problem is that he's being too generous with the ball. His drives might be one sided, but a dog shooting 100% of easy lay ups is infinitely better than a dog and a wiener with used gum in his socks shooting 100% together. (Also there is no way that little wiener shoots 100%, not even with Saint Buddy's help.)

If it sounds like I'm being harsh on Buddy - who, after all, plays basketball better than any other dog that I've ever heard of - then consider this: at four years old, he's fully grown, while the elementary school kids he's playing with are only halfway there. What's going to happen to him in ten years when he's fourteen and his knees are totally shot but they kids he was playing against are finally getting the hang of their mature bodies?

Oh, wait, that hypothetical actually has an answer. Ten years after this movie he... got dognapped and made his five kids save the day? What the hell?

Well, I know absolutely nothing about solving dognappings, and I'm not even going to pretend that I do, so I should probably wrap this up before I start sticking my foot in my mouth. To sum up: Buddy the basketball playing dog's game is lacking in some important areas, but with a little bit of work on his fundamentals he might be able to land an endorsement deal - and I can say this with all of the authority of someone who has watched at least one game this year from start to finish.

Winner: Me

Air Bud on IMDB