One more, for the firmament

Ours is a nation of justice, at times nearly infinitely so. Justice is blind, but its blindness is as cutting as it is fair—handily dispensed punishment, admitting no sunlight or pain.

(break: did anyone else see that NBA/prostate cancer commercial? From it, I’ve learned that all NBA players are mortal, all the greats can be killed just the same, and being a man means having a finger up your ass)

Some of you want Kobe to crash and burn once and for all. You want Phil to suffer through the indignity of a legend’s retirement with eternally-mounted questions of whether he could win without marquee talent. Better yet, you need him to be lured into MSG (who in their right mind wants Isiah hanging over his head? Shouldn’t HOF-bound coaches know better?), only to sputter, calling his entire shrieking legacy into question.

I, however, do not live in this nation of yours. Seeing others suffer brings me no joy, even if said suffering is meted out to all with the serrated generosity of a beetle-vendor. I, o blatant audience, am a proud member of NBA Nation, where drama (as an earlier post this evening has made abundantly clear) is no prelude to rational resolve—it’s the very stuff this deafening sport makes its mind of! Football, that is a game of American ways and underhanded honor, means of staring into the field of competition that struggle in the name of values. The NBA, though, cuts down no one. We build, and build, and build, with each dramatic failure or enchanted development only adding to the teetering heap of plot and swoop.

The NBA believes in charms, in dooms, and in making the wound appear light and hurried. There are no just desserts, no come-uppance—only short roads to redemption, mess elevated as quirk, and sound over the horizon that coats even as it recedes.

What other sport would sport would prematurely annoint its “Chosen One,” or hopelessly flutter about in hopes of crowning a new Jordan well after the dream turned mush? Where else would a team like the Knicks, who haven’t been worth watching in at least four years, remain an epicenter of activity on the strength of booming embers from the past? No league maligns its busts as severely as the NBA, for those are the rare cases in cannot salvage, the times when the robes fall away to reveal an emperor stuffed with sand!

Kobe and Phil. Phil and Kobe. Perhaps no two figures so adequately sum up the evocative power of the National Basketball Association as these two profligate talents, both of whom have scaled the heights of conquest, while all the while wearing their scuffs like tattered heirlooms. The maddeningly elusive coaching mastermind; the best player in the league despite himself. Never were there two in this game who so beautifully, and disgustingly, bounded along in the steps of a prophecy they themselves laid in their spare time. They are names from an epic ballad, riddles we tell fat women, the scaled and trickling oracle from which all hoop dreams issue in this era of head-scratching self-fulfillment. And above all, they are a reason for basketball to be what it’s become.

Yes, we have LeBron in all his exemplary glory. The Suns, transforming the game one erratic break at a time. But they remain strangely fresh and undefined—there is no water under these bridges. Kobe and Phil do no merely feel time passing through them. Like the stone that Moses struck, they leave no doubt that the world not only began anew in their stead—they themselves provided its channels. They may no longer be the face of the league, but they remain its heartbeat.

Above all, they are hamstrung by their own greatness. For Phil and Kobe, and for the eyes that watch them, might is the only option. A feckless Phil Jackson, a stumbling Kobe Bryant. . . this is not the script the Fates hath wrought for these two lizards of excellence. No one brings the drama like this pair, but for the league to keep its identity intact, the final outcome must be utter, lifelessly profound, glory. We wait, watch, and listen, not to be disappointed, or to shake our heads at weakness. To admit compromise would be to kill this league while it sleeps. No, these two must join arms again and take their rightful seats up on high. Above all, Jackson and Bryant need to stand together in a victory of the humans, lest this sport we love be reduced to a nimble, streetwise version of football (see San Antonio Spurs).

(I cannot believe some of things LeBron does. Not in a “wow, I didn’t think that was possible way”—it’s a “I honestly never conceived of that in my entire life”)

Godspeed, Phil and Kobe. You need each other and we need you. The Lakers may come and go, and Duncan may end up with more rings than both of you put together. But only you can remind us just how flummoxed the immortal can be, and without this, today’s rising stars will only ever be athletes, athletes who can neither pierce our souls nor rewrite our lives. They will live and die on the court, when we know they should be shattering the very air around us.


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