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.


At 10/03/2005 7:29 AM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

is a buzzer beater not moving? what about if you let your follow through arm linger in the air a little bit and then drop it into a spirited fist pump?

At 10/03/2005 9:15 AM, Blogger Ken said...

Hey James Joyce, chill out with the parenthesis. This thing is damn hard to read.

At 10/03/2005 10:03 AM, Anonymous aug said...

The most moving nba moments i can think of would be guys coming back and playing with an injury like willis reed in 70 and isiah in 88. Those are the slow motion, classic moments i would put up there with some baseball/football moments. Because of the constant action of the nba (and soccer for that matter) it's hard to get a moment equivilent with the nfl and mlb who have such defining time defined plays.

I like the lakers this year. What a misunderstood trio kobe, odom and brown make.

At 10/03/2005 10:46 AM, Blogger Ken said...

I'm not trying to be negative here, but how are those guys misunderstood? They seem like two underachievers and a guy whose ego killed a championship machine.

At 10/03/2005 11:43 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

although i liked the fact that this whole post stings of dementia and helium-esque euphoria, totally appropriate for me on this subject, the parenthese were a bitch. i was just too out of it and tired to edit last night. but fear not ken, i'm about to.

that and my new roomie had filled the apt. with bleach and i was dizzy, eager to get out to higher, less toxic ground.

i guess bleach is the opposite of toxic.

At 10/03/2005 11:52 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

something tells me that bad-ass and moving are mutually exclusive. bad-ass is life-affirming, moving affirms the power of the hereafter. it's the difference between james brown and marvin gaye.

i hate james joyce.

aren't underachievers always misunderstood? like if someone could figure them out, they could be put to good use

At 10/03/2005 1:27 PM, Anonymous aug said...

shoals kinda summed up what i meant about misunderstood.

Kobe- As close to jordan as anyone is probably ever gonna come(i don't want to get into a huge kobe-jordan argument). He's the best 2 guard in the league. I still have him over tmac if we're throwing out the fact that he plays the 3 a lot. Kobe's fg% went down but the shots he does make are fantastic. He has the most conistantly hard shots to make out of anyone in the league. Almost every bucket is highlight reel worthy.

Odom- A poor man's magic johnson in the right situation. The man was heralded as this coming out of college and he could still do it. He's not magic but he's a point gaurd stuck in a 3/4's body. He's a great playmaker and could also be compared to pippen without the defense. The lakers always played better when he touched the ball and ran point-forward. I think phil will realize this and use him like he did scottie. The marijuana thing gave him a bad rep which the misunderstood thing comes from too.

Kwame- A lot of mystery surrounding him. First high schooler number 1, biggest bust in that year's high school heavy draft, michael jordan calling him a fag(if i remmeber that story correctly), and some other things. He shows flashes of brilliance like most young stars but can't put it together. Regardless, he's an athletic 7 footer. Nuff said.

I love myspace's brightest star bynum too. I could go on, but it's easy to tell that i'm looking forward to seeing how this lakers team develops.

At 10/03/2005 2:08 PM, Blogger zachille o'neal said...

whoa. bobby simmons. i would have never taken him for the thug.

At 10/03/2005 3:07 PM, Anonymous C-Funk said...

Think what you are really talking about is suspense. I think because of the time in between pitches in baseball and in between plays in football, the drama/ emotion/ suspense is allowed to build, were as the play in basketball is ever-evolving so there is less time to agonize over what's gonna happend next.

Also baseball has the whole mano-a-mano aspect of a pitcher vs. a hitter, and football has the qb engineering a drive dynamic. I even PGs in baseketball don't control the game as much as a qb in a 2 minute drill.

Although in terms of emotion, what about Big Game Bob hitting the shot over C-Webb a couple years ago-- as a Webber fan from the time I was 10 years old, i can tell you that was damn emotional. What about like Nick Anderson missing those free throws or the Nique-Bird shootout, or T-Mac's last minute comeback last year...

At 10/03/2005 3:19 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

i guess a buzzer beater isn't per se moving, but sean elliot making that huge 3 from the corner after coming back was moving as hell. and i'm not even a spurs fan.

At 10/03/2005 4:35 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

there's probably also an exhilirating/moving distinction to be made. both are emotional, but exhiliration really doesn't go beyond the here and now. buzzer-beaters can go either way, but i think there have to be external factors to make them moving. obviously anything pertaining to your own team is moving, if it's on the road to a championship or other historic victory. without the identity of the actors or the bigger picture coming into play, though, i'd say it's still lacking that nfl films quality. nfl films can make nfl films out of anythng, and there's a reason for that.

this also might answer the question we've often kicked around: why no nba films?

boxing might actually be the gold standard for this. and boxing is basically set up so each match is a story with an emotional economy all its own. football and baseball, for the reason C notes, are closer to boxing than basketball in this respect.

late game free throws might be all basketball has to consistently offer that fits the bill. and i almost want to say that it's the missed ones, more than the made ones, that resonate the way i'm thinking of here

but, just as skip bayless claimed that kicking has no place in football, you could convince me that free throws have no place in basketball, esp. because they so often dramatically decide the outcome. maybe without them, basketball could find its own language.

buzzer beater can resemble a free throw if it's a fairly straight forward shot that everyone sees coming, taken by exactly who you think is going to take it.

At 10/03/2005 5:34 PM, Anonymous C-Funk said...

There has been a lot written comparing basketball to jazz b/c of its flow, improvisation, ect-- think Ralph Wiley wrote an article on this on Page 2 a few years ago during the NBA playoffs.

Where as football is more like a military march-- which is part of the reason NFL Films are so goose-bump enducing, that and John Facenda's voice. But maybe that's why basketball has less "moments."

You can listen to part of the William Tell overture on it's own and appreciate it... but Coltrane/ Miles/ Thelonious's genius is best witnessed by listening to how they weave improv into the entire fabric of a song.

So to isolate one play in basketball or chop it up into NFL Film moments, you kinda lose the whole flow/ beauty of the whole game. If a person were to soley watch AI on sportcenter, you'd see his quick cross, abibilty to get to the lane, but you'd miss out on the 100 other things he does througout the game that make him AI. But you can watch 2 minutes of highlights of Peyton Manning or a Big Papi at bat and get a pretty good understaning of what makes them special.

I am probably simplifing things, but i think that basketball players are asked to do more of a variety of things than any other sport- defend, play O, work off ball,ect. So when you just pick one play it kinda shortchanges all the other stuff.

At 10/03/2005 5:38 PM, Blogger glomgold said...

I'll blame Kwame's stunted growth on Jordan. That guy, as good a player as he might have been, was a complete ass. However if Kwame continues to show nothing this season I will retract this statement (a bit).

And doesn't everyone just wanna punch out that Ja Rule kid?

At 10/03/2005 6:27 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

usually after " my favorite things," and then pretty much all the time once he hits impulse, trane is kind of like a combination of the two. climactic moments masterfully woven together. i am trying to decide if there is a basketball player whose fits that description over the course of a game, or maybe a single possession.

or should i be thinking in terms of teams--you can say the above of trane, but it wouldn't have been the same without the rest of the quartet (as booming or as ingeniously all strung together)

At 10/03/2005 6:29 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

and if i have to flash my jazz nerd credentials, i'm bringing the recluse down with me

At 10/03/2005 7:21 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

this is totally half-assed, but since jazz nerdism was requested:

coltrane quartest: 1996 bulls

trane: jordan
mccoy tyner: scottie pippen
elvin jones: dennis rodman
jimmy garrison: ron harper

At 10/03/2005 7:32 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i somehow only just now realized that, for at least the last decade, i've had the makings of a trane/chamberlin comparison sloshing around my unconscious. it has to do with the following coltrane quote:

Kofsky: Because I don't see any saxophonist now who isn't playing something that you haven't at least sketched out before. But maybe you would rather not think about that.

Coltrane: No, because like it's a big reservoir, that we all dip out of.

and a certain wilt nickname.

isn't the seventy minute solo the contemporary jazz equivalent of the 100 point game?

At 10/03/2005 10:07 PM, Blogger elandfried said...

A day's worth of comments and not one mention of:

Eddy Curry, New York Knick

If ever there were a match made in heaven...

At 10/04/2005 1:48 AM, Anonymous Jimmy Jefferson said...

larry brown must be pumped about getting another fat center.

At 10/04/2005 3:51 PM, Blogger JephB said...

alston for mike james


At 10/04/2005 4:22 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i was just about to jump on here and weigh in on the new new look rockets. this is completely and totally out of control. you're looking at a starting five of t-mac, yao, stro, rafer, and some other guy. that is almost too much for me to be excited about. . .it's like my style-meter resets and is forced to go back to thinking about it in terms of actual basketball playing.

actually, that's kind of the way i've always felt about rafer. he's freedarko kryptonite, if kryptonite were shaped like superman and even stronger than he was. not sure if rafer shames me over overwhelms me, but seriously, all i can think here is "how will he play with t-mac?" maybe that's because t-mac is one of the single greatest joys to behold in all of basketball, and no amount of street cred is worth disrupting his flow.

then again, almost all the pg's that the rockets had last year (sura, james, whoever else i'm forgetting) weren't exactly playmakers. in their own quiet, unassuming way, they were looking for their shot every time.

At 10/05/2005 10:25 AM, Anonymous aug said...

jon barry and david wesley. I don't know how much they were looking for their own shot, but they certaintly weren't playmakers. They kind of lumbered around slowing down the game, missing open jumpers and getting burned on defense. I'm not expecting much of this to change with skip, except he'll push the ball a bit more. I love skip from a style standpoint but when it comes down to playoff time. I'm not so sure they're better off with him than mr. triple double or mike james. After raefer doesn't work out for them, i think they should look for a pg in a trade. Maybe andre miller or earl watson from the nuggets. I'm sure they wouldn't mind moving one of them for a veteran guard and a draft pick. Bob Sura for some strange reason is Mr. Triple Double. It has to be one of the oddest things in sports. Anyone?

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