Boris Diaw Goes on Vacation

Everyone's favorite French curmudgeon wrote a children's book. It involves poop, olive pits and bizarrely precise measurements.
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Let us appreciate the cosmic alignment that allowed the final acts of Boris Diaw’s career to coincide with the ripe middle of the Twitter age.

In a prior generation, Diaw’s modest career averages of 8.9 points and 4.5 rebounds per game would have quietly floated by in an obscure ocean of stats. Instead, we are privy to the full, readily meme-able truth about Boris. He will steal your girl. He will set athletic milestones between sips of a cappuccino-- that he made for himself. He is such a bon vivantthat he is not eligible for the veteran-resting program that his teammates benefit from. He will stretch a barely silly pose into a community-galvanizing inside joke that lasts for years.

There is also the essential factor of Diaw’s actual basketball, where he doesn’t have a résumé as much as he has built an art gallery. Despite nonexistent mainstream cachet -- at least in this country-- Diaw, for the basketball connoisseur, is as exciting and eagerly pursued as a jolt of crack cocaine. Diaw is one of the league’s few players who can carry a highlight reel with nothing but passes. His assists don’t complete a well-executed play as much as they invent a new dimension to basketball’s most universally potent offensive weapon: the creative team. What’s more, you can watch Diaw do his thing on two of the, let’s say, five most creative teams of all-time: Mike D’Antoni’s Four Loko-fueled Phoenix Suns and Gregg Popovich’s committee of wry academics on the San Antonio Spurs.

Whatever. There are higher stakes here. Thanks to a new book co-written by Diaw, called Hoops to Hippos! -- which is definitely targeted at readers who are seven, maybe eight years old -- now we know that his presence at the ongoing Olympics is really just taking time away from his favorite hobby: embarking on African safaris and taking pictures of animals.

Impressively, while the book is co-written, the photography in Hoops to Hippos! is all Diaw. (Save, of course, pictures like Diaw posing with his two Siberian huskies, Croc-Blanc and Neige, which are no less important.) It looks exactly like what I’d expect a book from National Geographic for Kids without any NBA tie-in to look like. He’s been doing this for a while, thanks to beginning his career on some truly dreadful Atlanta Hawks teams that reliably missed the playoffs by a wide marginover his first few NBA seasons. Seriously: Diaw credits abundance of free time in Atlanta for inspiring his first safaris, although he does not call out Josh Smith or Al Harrington by name.

Diaw’s motivations for wanting to photograph animals are so pure and simple that they are child-like and/or saintly. In a video promoting the book on, Diaw describes one lion he photographed as “having fun, chilling,” and another lion as “napping, having fun.” I posit that this is valuable insight into the mind of Boris Diaw. Drifting into unconsciousness is no reason for anybody, human or animal, to stop having fun.

The video leads me to believe that Diaw’s deliriously G-rated ghost-written tone in Hoops to Hippos! is actually pitch-perfect authentic. As Diaw describes a mother cheetah with her cubs:

Then the mom got tired. She put her paw out and stopped one cub mid-run. It ran right into her paw. It was so cute.

We are given an earnest chapter on conservation (“Crunch Time”) and a potentially poignant image of young Boris, living with his mother in France, traveling to visit his father in Senegal. But another, more surprising subject is responsible for the most arresting passages in Hoops to Hippos!: poop.

Now, I realize that animal poop/scat is probably like a valuable tool for important tracking and research purposes. Still, it doesn’t feel like there is a ton of scientific merit to the frequency and it feels like giddiness with which poop emerges (thematically) from this thin book. As Diaw’s safari Jeep rumbled through the bush, we see the guide: “He sniffed the air for fresh poop.” Then the group adventures on foot, so they could inspect, “things like flowers and animal tracks, or a shiny dung beetle rolling a ball of zebra poop.” On another trek, Diaw’s group is pushing through thick reeds when:

I could smell something strong and strange, though. The guide told us it was hippo dung. [...] Then I saw the huge rear end of a hippo. It was about 15 feet (4.6 m) away.

Hey, I get it. That hippo has to point its business end somewhere. But these anecdotes are a warm-up that will leave the reader ill-prepared for the fateful moment when Diaw voluntarily gets personal with a turd:

An impala is a kind of antelope. Its poop kind of looks like olive pits. The guide taught us a traditional African bush game. He said it was like a contest where people spit olive pits. It was like that game. But in the bush, we didn’t spit olive pits. Can you guess what we did spit?

The simultaneous impossibility and casual set-up of this story left me dizzy and in no shape to guess what this “game” consisted of, despite all clues leading in one direction. Regrettably, Boris confirmed the worst-case scenario for me:

I tried the game. It wasn’t that bad! The guide showed me how to pick the right impala dropping. It should be a bit dried up, he told me. I was proud -- I didn’t win the game but I did spit my “olive pit” 15 feet (4.6 m)!

The meticulous repetition of the distances involved in these stories, for a reason I do not know, haunts me. One can only hope that every future 15-foot (4.6m) shot that Diaw takes will be on a basketball court. But it’s everything else away from it makes Boris Diaw

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