Early last week I met a friend for coffee at a Starbucks in midtown Manhattan. This friend, whom I'll call Therese, works as a producer for MTV's "Cribs", and was noticeably edgy. "Look," she said, "I really shouldn't be doing this, but I have this thing, and it's fucking gold." She dug into her purse, pulled out a DVD sleeve, and slit it across the table to me. The disc, itself a purplish fucking gold, was unlabeled. "What is it?"
"That." She takes a long drink from her macchiato. "That is three hours of the hellhole that is Stan Van Gundy's life." She explained that the Orlando Magic coach had suggested last fall that they should film the episode during the playoffs, so he could show off his "new homemade trophy hut" in advance of their "inevitable victory" [his words]. Of course, the Magic were eliminated in the first round, and Van Gundy was fired three days before the episode was to be filmed. "We asked him if he wanted to postpone, but he almost begged us to visit. It was kind of sad."
In the end, the three hours of raw footage could not be edited into seven minutes of material suitable for Cribs. While I cannot post clips here due to legal issues, I will do my best to describe what I saw. What follows is a portrait of a man in disarray.
The cameramen arrive at Van Gundy's home in the suburbs of Orlando. The house is typical for a wealthy Florida neighborhood -- low, sprawling, of pastel stucco and ceramic tile. The yard is tidy, but for the Camaro parked half on the lawn. Though Therese had phoned him just moments before to ensure he was ready, Van Gundy takes about six minutes to answer the doorbell. He is wearing holey cargo shorts, a Miami Heat jersey, and electric blue Crocs. He smiles broadly, but his eyes are red and puffy, as though he's been crying. "Hey guys, come on in!"
The crew follows Van Gundy into the foyer, an impressive skylit room with a great spiral staircase going upstairs. He seems genial, shaking everyone's hand, introducing himself as Stannis Van Gundy. "You know, like Game of Thrones? I get to read a lot more now." He reveals that in the three days since being dismissed as head coach of the Magic, he's read the first two books and started the third. When Therese asks about getting the family together, Van Gundy's smile fades. "Well, ah, I guess that can't happen today." He pulls nervously at the corner of his moustache. "Ah, Kim took the kids to her mother's. Just for awhile. Or so. Ah, I guess let's go see the kitchen."
Upon entering the kitchen, the former coach nearly trips over a can of Great Value Baked Beans. "Damned things get away from you." He nudges the can aside with his foot, into a pile of other empty baked bean and soda cans. Therese hesitantly asks to look inside his fridge. Van Gundy struggles to open the sticky refrigerator door. He finally jerks it open to reveal seven opened cans of baked beans, three with plastic spoons sticking out, and an entire shelf of Dr. Thunder soda. He smiles once more. "Look, I'm not sad. I love the bachelor life. With the wife away, I can eat whatever I want!" He grabs a bottle of Bacardi 151 and asks if anyone in the crew wants to try his signature drink, the Flaming Dr. Thunder. No one does. He pops open a can of Dr. Thunder and pours in rum until the can overflows. "Daddy's little secret." He winks at the camera.
The crew follows Van Gundy as he trudges downstairs into the basement. He sits on a big, soft leather couch and stares at the television, paused on an image of Dwight Howard. He no longer smiles. "Big man," he grumbles. "Big man, a big man." He sits silent for what seems like an eternity. "I'm my own man. I make the rules." He turns to the camera. "Kim never let me smoke in the house. But now I make the rules." He grabs a pack of Marlboros from the coffee table. His hands shake as he removes a cigarette from the pack and lights it. He takes a single drag, lasting about 20 seconds, that burns the entire cigarette to ash. He doesn't seem to exhale. He grabs another cigarette and lights it. He doesn't smoke this one. He holds it inches in front of his mouth, until it burns down. He ashes it. "I make the rules."
After several minutes of silence, Van Gundy excuses himself to the restroom. The crew can be heard murmuring to each other; while I can make out little of what they say, it is clear they are uncomfortable, worried about the subject of the show. I'm pretty sure "crazy" came up a couple of times, as well as "fucking nuts." After several minutes, Van Gundy returns, his eyes again red and puffy. Therese asks the coach if he'd show the crew his collection of trophies. "The trophy hut?" he asks. He hangs his head. "I'll show you the trophy hut."
Back up the stairs Van Gundy trudges, each step more laborious than the next. I am on the edge of my seat. The coach leads the crew into his office, an opulent room with wood paneled walls and a great desk of cherrywood. To the right of the desk is a crude plywood shelf, the joints held together with Elmer's wood glue and scotch tape. A single Eastern Conference Championship trophy rests upon the second tier. Above the shelf, suspended with an elaborate network of scotch tape, hangs an umpbrella with Christmas lights taped about its circumference. "The hut."
The silence in the room is deafening. Van Gundy watches the hut, as if waiting for accolades to present themselves. For several minutes, the cameras pan back and forth between the trophy hut, the shamed coach, and the film crew themselves as they debate how to proceed. Finally, Van Gundy speaks. "My legacy. My fucking legacy." He rips a boom mike from the hands of the sound tech. "I make the rules!" he bellows, and swings the boom like an axe at the trophy hut. The crude structure collapses immediately. The coach keeps swinging at the pile of rubble. "I make the rules! I makes the rules, Dwight!" Shards of plywood shoot throughout the room. He collapses before his former shrine. "I make the rules!" he sobs, tears falling freely. Eventually, he quiets. A whisper now: "I make the rules."
The next segment is difficult to watch. The crew films Van Gundy, sobbing on the floor, embracing the wreckage of the throne hut for a full 90 minutes. Therese tells me they were afraid to leave him alone, but they eventually decided they couldn't get any more good material. Still filming, they step over his wreckage and walk away, Van Gundy crying after them not to go. The crew backs out of the house and shuts the door, muffling the sound of Van Gundy's tears. As they walk back to the van, no one speaks. The camera rests on a seat inside the van as the crew collect themselves.
"Jesus fucking Christ," someone says. And the video cuts to black.
Greg Perryman is an occasional basketball fan. He lives in Ottawa but travels the world installing sinister-sounding eye scanning machines. You can follow him on twitter here.