Comedy's Newest Star Doesn't Tell Jokes--He Dribbles - Wired

In mid-July, after the NBA Finals had long been concluded and the only headlines about professional basketball centered on free agency speculation, a 30-second clip started picking up steam on Twitter, YouTube, and elsewhere. In the clip, which looked to be filmed on the court in someone's suburban driveway, a player was imitating Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook, exaggerating Westbrook's emphatic on-court celebrations, and his noted displeasure whenever he's not properly dapped up. It became so popular that ESPN asked to air the video; NBA blogs everywhere praised the chiding likeness, and even Westbrook himself responded with laughing approval.

The handle responsible for the video, @BdotAdot5, turns out to be 25-year-old Brandon Armstrong, who played college basketball at Division II Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee, and later spent time in the NBA D-League with the Reno Bighorns before playing overseas in Spain. And if you ever played with him on the court, you probably knew this side of him. "I've always done comedy, making my teammates laugh," Armstrong says. In the Westbrook video and others Armstrong has made, the imitation is more than just as a comedic endeavor; it's a mimicry that Armstrong and his friends would often practice during scrimmages. "That's something that we always did, especially when we were playing pickup basketball," he says. "We'd ask ourselves, 'Who're you gonna be today.' 'Oh, I'm gonna be J.R. Smith.' 'I'm D. Rose.' 'I'm gonna be Kyrie [Irving].'"

Armstrong has been an avid social media user throughout his pro career, recording comedy snippets and playing characters in short videos. But he shifted to player imitation during this year's NBA Playoffs, beginning with a video poking fun at LeBron James' tendency to travel. That sparked more ideas about how imitating players on the court could be stretched to comedic extremes. So far Armstrong's videos for Westbrook and Houston Rockets guard James Harden have taken off, but he's also done brilliant imitations of Tim Duncan, Shawn Marion, Tony Allen, and a pitch-perfect take on Swaggy P, aka the Lakers' (and Iggy Azalea's) Nick Young.

So why have Armstrong's videos captivated Sports Twitter? Part of it is that it's the offseason, the few months during the summer when football, basketball, and hockey are all on hiatus and off TV--and 24-hour sports networks need more than baseball highlights and mock drafts to fill airtime. But Armstrong's work would be notable even during the fever pitch of sports overload in the fall.

Unlike other comedians who impersonate voices or mannerisms, Armstrong is uniquely qualified for what's arguably a brand-new form of physical comedy. Sure, Kenan Thompson does a great Charles Barkley, Jay Pharoah has both Shaquille O'Neal and Shannon Sharpe, and Frank Calendo has an endless rolodex of sports voices. Armstrong is taking in-game mechanics--like when Pete Sampras imitated Andre Agassi's trademark court walk at a charity doubles match with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal--and using the bits of personal style that emerge from game action, and turning it into comedy. "I can actually do the moves," he says. "It's second nature to twist it and make it that much funnier, from the mannerisms to the dunking to the shot."

But even more so, Armstrong isn't content to coast on mimicry--instead, he incorporates fantastical elements to elevate the bit. For Armstrong's video of James Harden, he upped the ante with shots of playing on a rooftop, pushing past a defender in a pool, and trotting around the court singing "The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz." That came from careful study of Harden's dribbling moves. "He's trying to draw contact, and he kind of holds the person's hand, it's very weird, with his right hand, and he'll like carry you along," Armstrong says, "and it reminded me of Dorothy hopping down the Yellow Brick Road."

Armstrong still aims to play professional basketball as his main career path; he's seeking tryouts, and had the chance to participate in some Summer League games in Las Vegas. Regardless, other paths are bound to open to him now that his videos have been noticed. (Might we suggest 2K Sports at least hire him to do some motion capture work for player modeling?) He already met with Russell Simmons in Los Angeles, and now that his latest video just dropped yesterday--a Kobe Bryant impersonation, with a nice added touch of game audio--maybe it's time for Armstrong to go full-bore into entertainment opportunities off the court.

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