Artestifyin', Vol. 1

Here at FreeDarko, we are more or less incapable of business as usual. You could also say that 1) with us, it's always personal or 2) the business-ical is personal. So while I had planned to start typing in hopes of unraveling the riddle that is Artest 05-06, I can't cast off the veil of sadness that is Amare, the Fallen. I'm glad to see that throughout the basketball-related media, the loss is registering nearly as profoundly as it has with me; it allows me to come off as excessive, but respectably and piously so, as opposed to just comical. But look, for all the talk about the return of scoring, or the new generation of stars, last season belonged to the Suns. And although Nash made off with the hardware, Amare's what made that team something altogether tougher, more soulful, and more transcendent than the Kings or Mavs that preceded them as moss did man.

Months without Stoudemire, perhaps even a full year before we get to see him resume in earnest what should be a career for the ages, marks a clean break with the freewheeling, gunslinging ethos of 04-05. It's a new season and with it, a new reason to live, and thus feels totally cold and foreign until I see it on the court. And while we await that blessed day, I expect to be visited on a regular basis by the ghastly ghost hounds of regret, fear, and shame, which have for me so far marked the ultimate collision of microfracture surgery and one man's will to survive. I, for one, feel a part of me die each time I imagine the slighest waning of Amare's powers, or question his ability to overcome the impossible. A leap of faith is in order to see the tower-sized bluebirds at the end of these dark days, but it is also getting more and more difficult to believe that Amare happened in the first place.

(If we have any readers in the medical profession, especially of the surgical variety that inserts tubes and lasers into famous knees, please get at me and tell me everything's going to be fine, lest I let disappointment rule my season, sink the rest of FreeDarko 05-06, and build up such an apocalyptically grand version of Amare that even a full return to form will be a letdown. As soon as the Kobe case began to take shape, I called the Recluse and demanded professional reassurance that the evidence was flawed and the case was made to get beat. If anything, the stakes are higher here; I'd rather see Kobe locked up than suffer through Amare never being the same again on the court.)

But if this blog is to soldier on and recognize this upcoming Amare-less season as of inherent worth, it's about time we take a good, long look at what's brewing in Artest country. Based on InsideHoops' scoop-tastic (as in "great story," not "in the style of Scoop Jackson") interview, some guy I work with who worships at the alter of Pacer-dom, and other stuff I may or may not have made up, this much we know is true so far of Artest's attempt to redeem his, umm, well-known name.

(I've always thought that "All Eyez on Me" was one of the most misused phrases in the world, since Pac didn't just hold people in suspense or make them want more at that point in his career—people had so little idea what to expect of him that they were forced to reserve judgment. This, my friends, is the juncture at which Ron Ron so heroically stands.)

What we know:

-he will play like an uncaged animal and let the refs sort it out
-he is up to 260 and wants to make 280
-he will play some center
-the bulk won't affect his defense, so he claims
-he might come off the bench
-because of Indiana's help D and interior might, he might not be needed as a forty minute "stopper" on Kobe, Wade, etc.
-Carlisle thinks he's not playing within the offense
-he's the Pacers' most versatile offensive player
-his J is wetter than ever
-his game is purely mental

The incoherence is staggering. He should be their franchise, but instead is being pushed out to the margins; he's a recent Defensive Player of the Year, but might be used primarily for his offense; instead of taking his skill set as license to step up and run shit, he's being turned into a jack-of-all-trades role player who would get by on a vastly dilluted, lamely versatile shadow of himself. The kookiest thing, though, is that Artest's devotion to the Pacers now borders on pathological, as he's willing to sacrfice himself for the team that may or may not be willing to do the same for him. Yet as compliant as he seems to be, he's still claiming ghetto as fuck, saying he won't back down, and generally exuding that kind of QB Werewolf steez that makes Carlisle, Bird, Stern, and the entire fucking NBA fanbase uneasy. It's like he's going through the motions of being a good solider so as to stick with the contendor he helped build, but missed the memo that explained that "soldiering" for a professional sports franchise was 1) a metaphor and b) seriously different from the metaphor of holding down a project tower (word to KG, who understands exactly where and when these things converge, and who's earned the right to cross these boundaries without catching hell and being denied his right to insight). He's practically forcing the Pacers to think that life might easier without him, but isn't showcasing his strengths enough to allow them to get a deal they'd jump on.

Really though, Artest boggles the mind only because he's such an anomaly these days. All he wants to do is win. Don't care about stats, his career, making the All-Star team. He's a super nova of a competitor, and a year away has just exaggerated what his game was all about to begin with. More unabashedly nuts than ever, because for him, that's part and parcel with the motivation to do anything and everything to win. What makes Artest so amazing is that, like do-it-all stunners LeBron, T-Mac or Wade, he's not a guard, a scorer, a finisher—he's just a basketball player. But while the post-Magic paradigm involves packaging every skill under the sun together into a seamless, dynamic whole, Artest is from the days of grimy yore, when a player's verastility was measured by his rising to the contextual occasion. We're talking Magic at center in the Finals not because he could do the job, but because he had to; committing to the moment, not just effortlessly, off-handedly satisfying the requirement. If it seems especailly jagged, disjointed, or counter-productive when Artest does so today, maybe it's because the beholder has changed his tune.

Amare, for all his provident might, is the anti-Artest. He exists to subvert the game, to overwhelm it into accomodating him, to avoid the role of center because of the baggage that comes with technicality. While Artest claims that his game is all mind, Amare dares you to try to outthink him; Amare, for all intents and purposes, is a system player gone berserk, while Artest's cunning is deceptively respectful of the flow of a game. And Amare's lost season is looked upon as a national tragedy, while Artest is being pushed out the door from the minute he tries to begin what should barely be labeled a comeback.

Part of me would like nothing more than eight months of unrelenting, engimatic Artest sturm und drung. But in the spirit of this Day of Atonement, I have to admit that my fascination is misplaced and totally self-serving. Ron Artest may be hung up on life in the projects, bad with the media, emotionally damaged, and a moral liability to the Association. But on a more basic level, he is basketball itself, basketball of a pre-style era, the kind that college football coaches gnash their teeth in rhythm to. Put it this way: basketball is just not man enough, not fight enough, anymore to welcome Ron Artest and what he stands for historically. He knows it, they know it, and the danger is that all of us realize it, since it's not a matter of respect for one man—it's a matter of the game's respect for itself. All these people yelling about fundamentals and team play: your words are empty unless you can admit that your pure game needs Ron Artest just as badly.

(I respectfully dedicate to this post to the sin that I have committed by having nothing to say about Darko's arrest.)


At 10/13/2005 3:32 PM, Blogger Rocco Chappelle said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 10/13/2005 4:04 PM, Blogger El Huracan Andreo said...

Too scared to comment.

At 10/13/2005 4:22 PM, Anonymous brickowski said...

Agree. It's daunting in the same way as the T.O. - Artest post that treaded similar ground. I didn't comment then and I can't really comment now. I can only nod my head in silence.

At 10/13/2005 4:39 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I'd actually forgotten that Artest was even in that post; after re-reading the Owens one, I like to think that this runs perpindicular to it, rather than contradicting it or overlapping too much.

I am not really sure how it could run parallel to that one, since both are about Ron Artest.

At 10/13/2005 4:42 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I'm also beginning to think that the upshot of this post will be my realizing that I hate Artest. Unless he's such an arch-traditionalist that he turns back the clock to the days of New York Jews doing battle in steel cages.

At 10/13/2005 5:29 PM, Blogger zachille o'neal said...

I feel your pain about Amare's medical condition. I have never walked through my daily life with so much fear in my heart. I'm a secular dude, but I started praying every night that we will all one day see Amare surpass his 04-05 season.

At 10/14/2005 4:11 AM, Blogger Dub V.2 said...

That was probably the most brilliant piece I've read on this blog so far. In summation of my stance on the above I would say that I agree with everything writ and disagree with nothing. To take it a step further you could position the NBA as rap and basketball as hip hop. Basketball, in its purest form, exists in the NBA only as a fleeting moment. It appears out of nowhere as a glimpse at the truth. It appears in the form of Amare's block, happening in an instant where the scoreboard melts away and the brilliance of what just happened fails to wrap itself around your mind. It's akin to the moment your brain unravels the puzzle of the best hip hop lyricists couplet, where you discover a Doctoral Thesis' worth on information in a single sentence.

Your thought that Amare, "exists to subvert the game, to overwhelm it into accommodating him, to avoid the role of center because of the baggage that comes with technicality" was spot on. His brilliance is in lifting the X's and O's of the page and manifesting their human form and then molding them like clay-doh to suit his bidding. His loss is not just staggering, it threatens the soul of the upcoming season. Every game played until his return almost deserves an asterix next to it denoting that he wasn't in uniform so the results don't count.

The same, sadly, can not be said for Artest. He exists on an entirely different plane. You were right to call him, "basketball of a pre-style era". He's a throwback to the days when the NBA actually played basketball. Amare though, well he's Deltron 3030. He's the future, the alien invasion that Spielberg predicted in Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind. When the rock is at his disposal it becomes Chocolate Thunder's Planet Lovetron, and with the whole wide world in his hands Amare dunks it on the opposing team, their cheerleaders, and their fans simultaneously.

Sadder still are the possibilities concerning his future. It's a thought process that I've fought by the minute since the bad news dropped. I'm in the midst of a self imposed embargo against admitting that any of the negative possibilities concerning Amare even exist.

For Artest the real test seems to be whether he will back up his press clippings in his play, and while he has never proved himself as less than a man of his word I have no doubt that he will. It is the only way he can return to his prior stature. The same can be said in regards to his "pathological" devotion to the Indiana Pacers. In as much as the fact that he exists merely to win, being whatever they want seems to fit the psychological profile. Why risk a move to a team with little to no chance? It's his competitive edge that allows him to walk the line between being an absolute mad dog on the court and a yes man to his franchise. He's intelligent to. He must recognize that his best chance at winning is in Indiana and even his own penchant for self destruction isn't going to get in the way of his ultimate purpose. Artest is a winner on the court. Off of it is a mixed bag that most of us could not possibly understand. The NBA fanbase you described as uneasy is also, sadly, the same fanbase that keeps the league alive. That it often entirely misses the point seems to be of no consequence to the powers that be whose primary concerns are only the perpetuation of a business model instead of art.

The best part of hoop is its art, and unfortunately art doesn't sell to middle class America where plasma TV's replace paintings and a mirror hangs where the Van Gogh counterfeit used to hang.

At 10/14/2005 11:32 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

okay, i do have something to say about darko. or, rather, something i want to put out there as totally, surely speaking for itself

From Inside Hoops:

"Milicic was asked what he was thinking about when the handcuffs were being slapped on. "I just wanted to get some food," he said." Detroit News

the real question is: WHAT food

At 10/15/2005 5:03 AM, Anonymous 'yotes said...

Del Taco, Dearborn.

When I saw the headline, I was really hoping he had been picked up for a gun charge, or domestic violence. Just not lame shit like that. At least something Olowakandi-like.

At 10/15/2005 12:49 PM, Blogger elandfried said...

Holy crap - did you guys see that Jason Collier just died, probably of a heart attack? Wow, Shoals wasn't kidding about heart problems being the new plantar fascitis...

RIP Big White Dude

At 10/15/2005 12:51 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

totally unrelated, and probably the kind of thing i should wait on and post later. but kobe is totally nas. that just dawned on me. everything about their bios matches up perfectly.

At 10/15/2005 2:14 PM, Anonymous brickowski said...

makes sense to me. (i'm really only thinking of their fathers and their apparent isolation from the rest of their fields. you probably have litany of other similarities.) and yet, nas still calls kobe out for cooning:

"You beat the rap, jiggaboo, fake nigga you, you turn around then you shit on Shaq."

then again, kobe will retire with at least 3 rings. that's probably better than a 1 hot album every ten year average.

then again, kobe will retire with at least 3 rings. that's probably better than a 1 hot album every ten year average.

At 10/15/2005 4:00 PM, Blogger Dr. Lawyer IndianChief said...

elandfried, for the record, i was the one who coined heart problems being the new plantar fasciitis. ava l'sholom.

At 10/15/2005 8:22 PM, Blogger El Cid said...

Ron Ron's new music video:

Iced-out thong strap? Oh my.

And Kobe might be too consistently awesome to be Nas, who really only has flashes of brilliance followed by maddening periods of mediocrity (the Firm, that Oochie Wally nonsense, basically everything except for Illmatic and half of that second album)

At 10/16/2005 10:33 AM, Anonymous luol dang said...

"To take it a step further you could position the NBA as rap and basketball as hip hop."

oh give it a fuckin rest you fag. i thought we all pretty much stopped complaining about 'hip hop vs. rap' somewhere in the neighborhood or our 20th birthdays. i guess i could understand it though if you're like some comparative lit student at williams college or something ....

or if you're european. that's pretty much how they've always gotten down (stay well true to the four elements, mate!), so that one gets a pass too.

At 10/16/2005 12:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow... what a nice, reasonable, level-headed response from luol dang on a crucial and relevant topic.

Bonus points for clever use of hate speak. You showed him!

I guess I could understand it though if you're like some Texas - NY transplant who went to some uppity blueblood school out east and now consider yourself the arbiter of all things hip hop or something...

or if you're european. I hear xenophobia is all the rage over there, so that one gets a pass too.

At 10/16/2005 1:51 PM, Anonymous luol dang said...

dog, debating which parts of the NBA are 'rap' and which parts are 'hip hop' is hardly a 'crucial' or 'relevant' topic. i'm not trying to pretend like i wasn't being an asshole or anything, but let's not kid ourselves here.

okay, okay .... so i'll explain it in nice guy terms.

the entire premise of the comparison is ridiculous and juvenile. i haven't gone back to read the post, but what was the example used? deltron 3030? i'm not an arbiter of quality rap music or anything, but i'd rather sit and bitch about the videos on 106th and park than listen to a deltron 3030 album all the way through.

but i am in fact a texas-NY transplant who did go to an uppity school out east. you're probably my brother or my homie **n trying to call me out.

At 10/16/2005 2:09 PM, Anonymous luol dang said...

BY THE WAY .........

a nice (partial) offset to the amare situation, which i'm also a little upset about, is the return of the (2nd) nicest little man in the league (to nate robinson), TJ ford. how has this gotten nary a mention on freedarko? you guys rightfully argue that the NBA is a league of style, and young TJ exudes savoir faire in buckets. on the court at least. off the court he's kind of shy and awkward. but that's part and parcel of his basketball appeal.

i was far more heartbroken when TJ went down two seasons ago than when i heard about amare's procedure (which, to be honest fellas, is more preventive than anything else at this point in his career). i was quite literally teary-eyed and emotional seeing him being taken off the court in a stretcher with kevin garnett on the court leading the applause. KG knows how much of a baller he is.

so now that he's back it's going to be dimes dimes dimes dimes dimes dimes dimes dimes

At 10/16/2005 10:20 PM, Blogger Rizoh said...

Brilliant piece Darko.

Just wondering, how'd you get your page to be so wide. I've got a similar layout yet the standard one appears clustered. What am i not doing?
Thanks in advance.

At 10/17/2005 9:11 PM, Blogger Rocco Chappelle said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 10/17/2005 9:15 PM, Blogger Rocco Chappelle said...

I appreciate this site and particularly your contributions, so I am begging you (well, not really begging, more like emphatically asking), please don't go near the Kobe/Nas thing. I think I see where you're going with it and I'm telling you now, YouR WronG and you're going to regret it. Hyperbole and metaphor are valuable tools (and in my mind among your greatest talents as a writer), but this metaphor is dangerous. For emphasis, I'll say that this metaphor is potentially calamitous. We all know what "Nas is like..."; for the safety of all those interested and involved, I humbly ask that you not lead us down that rabbit hole.

Sorry for the double post. This new commenting feature is screwing me up.

At 10/19/2005 8:55 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i'd actually already forgotten about it

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