Golub: The wasp and the cockroach

Nov. 5, 2018, 2:30 a.m.

Despite a LeBron-less path to the top of the Eastern Conference, the Charlotte Hornets continue to buzz unnoticed. They sit firmly in the playoff race at 5-5, having lost a few close games and having stomped some unworthy opponents. Cardi B’s favorite baller, Kemba Walker, has picked up where he left off last season. He currently averages a cool 28.0 points per game on 46 percent shooting to go with nearly six assists per game. However, for all his accomplishments, Kemba has never gotten his due. Part of the reason might be his inability to beat the best. Heading into this season, Kemba’s team faced LeBron’s team 22 times. Twenty-two times, Kemba lost. Why? Kemba has the chip on his shoulder and flashy handles of a Hornet, but LeBron, poised and composed, is more like a wasp.

And on the subject of insect metaphors, the extent of LeBron’s apine nature extends beyond just comparing him to Walker. Now that LeBron has flown West, the state of the burning dumpster fire he left behind — the Cleveland Cavaliers — demonstrates the true wasp-ness of the King. Emerald jewel wasp-ness, to be precise.

Emerald jewel wasps, according to wasp enthusiast Cooper Shea, are a species of small parasitoid wasps of the family Ampulicidae, which are all specifically adapted to hunting adult cockroaches. These wasps are solitary and lack the social organization of more advanced Eusocial Hymenopterans, such as social wasps, bees and ants. While LeBron’s business and media savvy stand unparalleled among athletes, he does maintain a tight inner-circle. Jewel wasps have a highly specific method of capturing prey in order to provision their small, single cell burrows to raise the next generation. Analyzing this method sheds light on the mechanics of LeBron’s pre-meditated construction and destruction of his hometown Cavs. Following Miami, LeBron knew exactly what he wanted from a team and exactly how to get it.

Upon finding a suitable cockroach, a jewel wasp stings its target in order to temporarily paralyze it. The wasp is small relative to the cockroach, so it stings it first to protect itself from grappling with the somewhat dangerous prey item. In LeBron’s case, he paralyzed the Cavs’ decision-making process by offering the possibility that he might return home in free agency. After the cockroach is forcefully pacified, the wasp stings it again. This time though, the wasp inserts its stinger into the main ganglia (brain) of the cockroach, searching for a specific area with its sensor-filled, somewhat prehensile stinger to inject more venom. This second sting effects the cockroach in varied ways. First, the cockroach begins compulsively cleaning itself for 30 minutes. Think of this part as the initial roster construction: grab other stars like Kevin Love in exchange for unknown potentials like Andrew Wiggins, trade future assets for shooters like J.R. Smith or Kyle Korver, bring in heady vets like James Jones, Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye. Just as the wasp sometimes takes this time to dig a burrow, LeBron spends his first season (and future regular seasons) not playing defense and preparing for the part that really counts — the playoffs.

Once it has prepared its prey, the wasp begins to dig in. The wasp returns to the cockroach to bite an antenna off of the hapless creature and inject it with more venom.  This venom’s primary effect is to disable the fight or flight reflex of the cockroach. Once LeBron has assumed control of the team’s decision-making apparatus, he aligns its goals with his own. LeBron always saw his second Cavs stint as a short-term play. Get in, win as much as possible in as short a time as possible, including at least one championship, then get out. Once he’s maneuvered into a spot influential enough to chart the course of the organization, he zooms in on his goal. The cockroach loses the ability to create enough mental impetus to begin to move. The critical parts of the cockroaches motor circuits are intact and functioning, but they are disconnected from its choice to move. Taking advantage of this ineptitude, the wasp leads the considerably larger roach to its burrow, using the antenna of the cockroach as a meat leash. Unable to connect their transactions to a long-term sustainable future for the team, the Cavs organization, mainly the brain trust of owner Dan Gilbert and whichever GM he is about to fire, bends to LeBron’s will.

After leading the cockroach into the burrow, the wasp lays an egg on the abdomen of the cockroach then seals the burrow from the outside to protect its progeny.  After winning a title and solidifying his chokehold on the organization, LeBron begins thinking ahead to his next phase. The organization, unable to plan coherently, sacrifices any semblance of roster cohesion by trading away all sorts of players for aging vets like George Hill and unproven young guys like Jordan Clarkson and Rodney Hood. To polish off his masterwork, LeBron gets the Cavs to give his future team, the Lakers, a first-round pick (Mo Wagner) and clear away contracts like Clarkson’s and Larry Nance Jr.’s in order to make room for all-defense first-team center Javale McGee, fast-break maestro Lance Stephenson and the walking bucket Michael Beasley. The Cavs’ fate is sealed.

The cockroach is left to to await its horrifying fate, as perfectly conscious as a cockroach can be. The venom’s effects wear off eventually, but eventually is beyond the time frame of the cockroach. The wasp larva burrows inside the cockroach and feeds off its insides, avoiding the vital organs to keep the host healthy until every bit of nutrition has been extracted. The Cavs’ makeshift roster stays intact long enough for LeBron to drag it to the Finals, where he ditches it in a small blue recycling bin intended for items that need a new home. The wasp will mature inside the cockroach, eventually erupting from its sorry carcass and starting the cycle over again (in LA).

And you know what?  Good for the wasp. No one really likes cockroaches anyway.


Contact Jack Golub at golubj ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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