Step up the Arenas
Some disgruntled readers have suggested that we "step up," so I'd like to take this opportunity to slash away at the throat of something endlessly near and dear to me: last year's Washington Wizards. As autumn falls upon us, and the 2004-2005 campaign increasingly bathed in the warm glop of immortality, the Arenas/Hughes roadshow looks more and more like a guard-centric, low post-ically impaired East's answer to the Suns, the Ultimate Running Team that the West had been threatening for some time. Alas, we have nothing to keep us safe at night but the memories. . . or the convoluted story this weekend that Kwame Brown, lonesome, frustrated man-child of the Forgotten Draft, had to leave Washington once and for all because he feared what he might do to franchise savior Gilbert Arenas.
Most read this news item as confirmation that Kwame is, indeed, living proof that the Association cries out for an age limit. A four-year vet who has yet to consistently crack the starting line-up, demonstrate any feel for the game's cohesion, or do much to disspell a largely disinterested public's view of him as a spoiled, aloof, and immature bust, Brown's fame comes only from his repeated screw-ups. Were he a remotely solid or reasonable role player, like Chandler has become and Curry seems doomed to end up as, we would never whisper the name Kwame Brown like so many dithering school children in the fields. Not to mention that, in retrospect, going #1 overall was the worst thing that could have happened to him, or any underdeveloped, possibly wayward, prospect, as a pro.
Not surprisingly, because of his pangs of melancholy, potential so vast, so long-deferred that it hath been rendered nameless and infinite (didn't you know? it grows with time, to justify itself), and star-crossed circumstances, Bethlehem Shoals the Elder has been long fascinated by Brown. Send him to the Lakers, team him up with my other favorite misunderstood anti-hero, and watch me try and break out the guise of Psychological Commentator. Something like the Moral Commentator, a long-abandoned project of mine that would bring the fumes of ethics to a play-by-play. On second thought, though, the Psychological Commentator should probably be a columnist, or an essayist feared the world over, since we're looking for long-form sketches of individuals, not dime store observations. Then again, if you wanted to grant the Moral Commentator that same dignity of profession, look for me on the block like
What bothers me so about this completely trivial and baseless NBA feud (Gilbert's supposed input was a no-brainer) is that, unfortunately, it shatters some of my most dearly held FreeDarko-isms about this league. The rumor is that Arenas did something remotely rational, and that Brown, rather than sulking and dreaming, was ready to wake up and punch is, well just a little too unordinarily ordinary for my taste. Now, Brown blusters and wants payback, while Gilbert, straight-laced as they come, dismisses the whole thing as beneath him. Though staying home in order to keep yourself from resorting to violence is pretty moving.
(umm, can basketball action ever really be moving? I don't mean MJ in tears with the trophy; that's cheating. We know basketball is soul personified, but can it match the anthemic grace of baseball or football: the final out, the big home run, the short run or pass into the end zone, the two-minute drill?)
(notice I've named four of the whiter tropes in sports. I wonder if Jim Brown roaring down the field is "moving.")
Which brings me to 12/26. The day after Christmas, as in NEXT LEVEL. It might be marketed as a Kobe/Arenas shootout, like that LeBron /T-Mac one two years ago, but as THC so poignantly observed, it really is the second coming of the vastly over-hyped Kobe/Shaq X-Mas anti-climax. If you put Kobe in Shaq's body (and vice-versa) and made everyone involved just a little more unstable, frivolous, and unorthodox, mentally, spiritually, and game-wise. For me, it will be perhaps the biggest of the many Big Redemptions that, when stitched together, form the narrative backbone of a season that will undo many a Faustian pacts without fucking up any sneaker contracts (I would be more specific but if you can't see these already, I really can't make you). Because it is with that game, and only with that game, that two of the brightest stars in my NBA Constellation (it looks like a car with a rug inside, only much bigger, and possibly breasts are involved) can return to my normal.
Kwame: three tantalizing plays, a lot of defeat, some crying on the bench, a block of great proportions once the plot's already been lost
Arenas: ignores Kobe, finds a way to make Brown guard him every time, drops forty in a loss and then, post-game, says he did it because he's always loved the holiday.
JUST TO STAY ON TOP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
(let me spell out the visual for you: it's faded and distorted like a memory, or a hallucination, and can apply to either the old camraderie or today's dire griping. perhaps the two are more similar than we cared to admit then, or need to believe now)
10/4 Update: Okay, apparently shit is cool between them now, with Kwame having called Arenas to patch things up. I can see how, with someone as wacky as Arenas, "slap the shit out of" has to be taken relatively, and according to his world of lust and decay. But I still think that game should be something to see, because it will be like a peek into the deep, unconscious turmoil that is the Kwame/Gilbert relationship. Personally, I'd rather have my NBA drama veiled than broad-siding me every time I open up the morning paper.