If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Brandon Armstrong is a pretty sweet talker. Known to his followers on Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and whatever other social media platform will let you post videos as BdotAdot5, Armstrong is a former pro basketball player who’s found his true calling making short parody videos about basketball culture. He’s done send-ups of both basketball arguments and pickup basketball stereotypes, and even fantasies of schooling Donald Trump one-on-one.
But the real artistry is in his parodies of specific NBA players and their signature playing styles in his “Be Like” videos.
Sometimes shot in gyms but mostly in driveways or next to a pool, the videos build on a simple premise every kid with a hoop they can lower is familiar with: pretend to be your favorite NBA star. Armstrong goes a step further, mimicking with loving accuracy everything from shot releases to celebrations to ticks like the way LeBron James’ compulsively blows into his hands.
It doesn’t take Armstrong long to suss out what he wants to do and prep for a given video.
“I have a general aspect of the player that I could do,” he says. “I may look through a couple different highlights of that player, just to get the shot form down or the movement they do with their legs. Like James Harden, he’s got a dribble move and his stepback. I generally know what’s going on – it’s just five to ten minutes of looking at highlights.”
As in most good parody, Armstrong goes over the top. But as in all good parody, Armstrong understands that it’s best to begin small and nudge things gradually over the edge. So in the above video, he exaggerates the way Harden himself exaggerates contact when he heads to the hoop. But then he’s in the pool doing it, shoving his way through the water. Then he’s suddenly on the roof pushing a defender through a bedroom window.
The complicated ritual of the pregame handshake begins in a fairly realistic place, but quickly devolves into pattycake, then rock, paper, scissors, then CPR.
But did you notice the announcer’s call of “Starting sixth man … BRANDON JENNINNNNNGS!” There’s a wealth of subtle touches like this, in everything from the music choices to the cuts, and the videos are usually about a minute long – the perfect length to make a handful of jokes and get out before overstaying their welcome. They’re punchy but never overproduced, and they’re retweeted hundreds of times with crying emojis or “I’M DEAD” comments. The mockery is also consistently light and not mean-spirited – it stays flattering.
And if you think flattery gets you nowhere, just know it’s gotten Armstrong on Jimmy Kimmel and now into the Celebrity Game for All-Star Weekend. He might spend most of his time in the backyard dunking on 7-foot hoops for the camera, but as a former player for the Reno Bighorns in the NBA D-League, Armstrong has actual game even if he hasn’t, in his estimation, played a professional game in three years. So will he be out for blood when he squares up against Master P and Romeo Miller – both of whom he helped train for the event – and alongside 2016 Celebrity Game MVP Win Butler?
“Nah, I’m going out there to put on a show,” he says. “I’m going out there to entertain the fans. It will be a sight to see.”
But does he have anything planned in advance? “We have something in the works, where I might come out one of the quarters impersonating one of the players. It should be fun.”
Let’s be honest: the Celebrity Game is goofy fluff, ranked well below the All-Star Game itself in terms of basketball importance (although still above most Summer League games). At least with Armstrong out there, there’s a chance we’ll all be able to have a good laugh about it.