The Slatest

The Best Photos We Didn’t Use This Week: The NBA Celebrates Hot Vax Summer

Nikola Jokic (L) and Devin Booker (R) stand face-to-face, with Devin Booker saying something and looking upset.
No more social distancing! Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Slate’s homepage editors spend a lot of time looking for editorial photos to put on our site. Those searches sometimes yield unexpected results: random, perplexing, and mesmerizing photos that don’t belong on the homepage, but that are too good not to share. Every week, we’ll share the weirdest photo from the wires.

Hot vax summer is here, and the NBA is all in.

Consider this June 13 photo from Game 4 of the series between the Denver Nuggets and the Phoenix Suns. Nikola Jokic and Devin Booker are locked in a passionate embrace. Booker has one arm wrapped around Jokic’s back as if to draw him closer, while Jokic stares down at his opponent with an intent gaze. As my fellow homepage editor Seth Maxon noted, the Suns star looks “pained and desperate, like Jokic just told him that what they have is special but it can’t go on.”

Kevin Durant and P.J. Tucker also shared an intimate moment during Game 3 of the Brooklyn Nets–Milwaukee Bucks series. In this June 10 photo, the men are in each other’s faces with their noses squished together, while their teammates and referees try to pry them apart. Durant gives Tucker a smoldering glare, but Tucker is visibly heated, his teeth bared a few centimeters from Durant’s mouth as the men exchange words.

Kevin Durant (L) and P.J. Tucker (R) stand nose-to-nose, while Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks players, as well as two referees, gather around them.
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

In both cases, the men are breathing all over each other, their sweat is undoubtedly mingling, and spittle is most likely flying. It’s a testament to the power of mass vaccination that the NBA playoffs are currently happening—sans NBA bubble, with fans in attendance!—and players are once again getting up in each other’s faces, close enough for a smooch.

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As more and more Americans get vaccinated, they too are indulging in the up-close-and-personal activities that were off the table during the era of social distancing and masking. Whether that closeness takes the form of jawing at someone on the basketball court or, say, making out with a near-stranger, it’s exciting to have those options available again.

This latest development in basketball intimacy proves the NBA continues to lead the way on the pandemic. In fact, the league has been a vanguard for the United States’ coronavirus response since the beginning. On March 11, 2020, its abrupt decision to suspend the 2019–20 season marked a turning point in how Americans understood the severity of COVID-19. And once games resumed in July, the league stood out for its uniquely stringent protocols in the NBA bubble at Disney World. There were zero positive coronavirus cases in the bubble for the remainder of the season (in sharp contrast to the rest of the U.S. and the world), demonstrating the power of isolation and copious testing to stop the spread.

Now, NBA players are modeling how to forgo personal space while engaging in vigorous physical activity. Let’s follow their lead.

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