By Sam Mermin and Noah Cohen-Greenberg
Ernie: Ernie Johnson here with Kenny Smith, Shaquille O’Neal, and Charles Barkley. Fellas, how are we feeling about what we saw this morning?
Shaq: I was in shock. Made me wanna throw up.
Chuck: The game changed after “epoxy” showed up. Everything since has been terrible. No way to run a league.
Ernie: Of course, Charles is referring to the word selection process, which uses a randomizer––
Chuck: Ernie. Ernie.
Chuck: Ernie, why do we always have to talk about analytics?
Shaq: Here’s an analytic for you: they ruined the damn game.
Ernie: To be clear, Wordle has released its program for choosing the words, and it’s actually—
Chuck: Ernie, let me ask you something. Ernie––What happened to words like “grass.” “Plate.” “Sharp.”
Kenny: “Birds” could be the word tomorrow!
Shaq: You know that’s not true. You know—It’s gonna be “onomatopoeia.”
Ernie: I feel obliged to point out that that’s too long anywa—
Chuck: They would never do “onomatopoeia” because too many people know it. It’s going to be something you don’t know, like “fluglaxious” or something. “Pliffable.”
Shaq: I had a bad feeling about the New York Times coming in running this from above. What do they know about the league?
Chuck: Nothing. We used to let guys play.
Chuck: Roll the ball out there, put away your whistles.
Shaq: It used to be a bloodbath. And I mean that in a good way.
Ernie: A lot of people like the modern game more. They would say players are getting more skilled.
Shaq: But Ernie, Ernie, you’re not listening. The modern game has no physicality.
Kenny: It’s an online game…
Shaq: You think anyone would have put up with someone like Ben Simmons in the old days? He would’ve gotten his teeth knocked out from his head, and his toes knocked into his ears. Now I’m supposed to want him on my team because he knows “epoxy.”
Chuck: Give me somebody who’s at least going to type a word into the box. I don’t care if it’s the wrong one ten times in a row. You keep going.
Kenny: You’re talking about a player who hasn’t appeared in a game in over a year.
Shaq: But Kenny, you don’t even have to play now. That’s the point. You get paid millions to dress up like a clown without typing a single word.
Ernie: To be clear, overall Wordle participation has stayed steady since the Times bought the game.
Shaq: Yup, that’s what the computers say, and look where that’s gotten us.
Chuck: See, the way we used to do it, it was eighty-two games. Eighty-two. If I get paid to play Wordle and there’s a Wordle today, guess what I’m doing?
Shaq: You’re playing Wordle.
Chuck: I’m playing Wordle.
Shaq: I’m playing Wordle until my thumbs bleed. Then I’m playing harder.
Kenny: I think all of us want to see the stars playing every day. Nobody’s disagreeing with you there.
Ernie: The league is considering a number of rule changes to that end.
Chuck: Ernie, here’s a change for the league to consider: Go find some guys who actually want to play Wordle.
Shaq: Thank you.
Chuck: Back in the old days when this game still meant something, in January, I sent my score to Michael Jordan every day. And if he sent back a better one, I didn’t say, “Oh, I’ve had enough.” I didn’t say, “I’m going to put on my bright orange pants and just stand there.”
Kenny: I don’t think that’s fair to say about all of today’s playe––
Chuck: I said, “What time does the next word come out?” I said, “Let me at this guy.”
Shaq: If I get beat I’m reading the dictionary top to bottom. Then I’m turning it upside-down and reading it again.
Ernie: Let’s be clear here, though: the Chuckster is referring specifically to Ben Simmons. Are we disappointed with this recent run of play as a whole? Should we let that example define everything about the game today?
Chuck: The new generation is soft. It’s as simple as that.
Shaq: He said it, not me.
Kenny: Why can’t we focus on all the guys who are going out there and competing? We’ve had some special performances.
Shaq: I see the stats, but Kenny, where’s the strength? Where’s the endurance? It’s like nobody wants to walk up a hill anymore. In my day, you’re a kid and you wanna play, you walk straight up a hill. Ninety degree slope. Ten miles.
Chuck: These days the kids are playing the game while they drink their morning coffee, eating avocado toast. With sprinkles.
Kenny: Well, you might have a point there, but––
Shaq: Doesn’t anybody want to sweat anymore? Doesn’t anybody want to beat up on somebody anymore? Pummel them with their hands.
Ernie: To be clear, we’re talking about Wordle, right?
Kenny: What I think the Times is thinking here is that they need to adapt to a new generation. And if this isn’t the game you grew up playing, Shaq, that might be a bummer for you, but maybe it’s what younger people want to see?
Shaq: Okay. Sounds good. Count me out.
Kenny: That’s not very—
Shaq: See you later.
Ernie: Well, the good news, fellas, is that tomorrow we’ll have another word. I know I’m excited to get back in there and play. Before we go, let’s hear everyone’s go-to first guess. Kenny?
Kenny: You can’t—
Shaq: This is what I mean. This is exactly what I mean. It’s all: “You can’t” this. “You can’t” that. Green light on, green light off. Oh, I hope I didn’t foul some kid by breathing near him! You know what we’d play as our first word in the old days? “Winning.” “Imposing your will.”
Chuck: My first word’s always the same: “power."
Shaq: Yeah, because they don’t let you start with “championship.”
Chuck: I’ll take that from you. I’ll take that. I’ll own everything that happened in my career.
Shaq: You should try starting with “lost in the finals.” Or “little bitty guy.” They’d probably take that.
Ernie: I know I’m excited to see who does best when the new word comes out—Chuck: Ernie, please. We all know everybody’s just gonna hand the trophy over to the guy with the highest PER-VORP-Net Rating before he’s even typed a damn word in the playoffs. Not me. Wake me up when it’s over.