Find out the new goal

Note: The following post will proceed without mention of the Spurs, who for the good of our readers I have decided to remain silent on for the season, and the Pistons, who are the NBA equivalent of Gangstarr circa Hard to Earn.

Even if you’re one of the thousands upon thousands of individuals who tuned into FreeDarko for the first time yesterday, you should have no problem chewing your way through the live flesh of this brief pop quiz:

1.Which of the following statements has never been made on FreeDarko, and would most likely never be made by anyone with a reasonable grasp on the affairs of the National Basketball Association:

a. This is a league of stars
b. This is a league of style
c. This is a league of African-American identity politics
d. This is a league of youth
e. This is a league of experience

If you guessed “e,” administer upon yourself the preferred form of self-congratulation; if any other answer you did choose, I am not entirely sure I want you reading any further.

Yet despite this blatant feature of the ’05-06 Association, agedness and the wisdom that comes with it remains a nauseating staple of hack observers and fans who mindlessly model their “informed” patter after these jokers. For as long as I’ve bared my arms to the Association, broadcasters, columnists, analysts, and radio callers out to establish for themselves some fleeting credibility stress the need for a “veteran presence,” or insist that playoff success comes not easily to teams and/or players who have never underwent that most seasonal of second seasons (despite the fact that almost every remotely competitive game is described as having a “playoff atmosphere"). I am here, lovers of newness, to violently disembowel this myth of the irreproachable might of the veteran and his leadership.

As someone who spends a lot of time trying to construct grand narratives for anything and everything, whether it be that night’s attempt to stop starving or the reason why I lose feeling in my feet on a regular basis, I know a thing or two about the NBA life cycle (as created by the media and that yellow gnome in Mount St. Helen whose job it is to churn out sports truisms). Stated with the least possible respect and an utter lack of attention to detail, it goes something like this:

1. raw (optional)
2. young
3. prime
4. veteran
5. cagey veteran

In a sport that leads the major sports in players who “don’t get it,” this model exclaims, with a complete and totally lack of subtlety, that “getting it” is an ongoing process, having mostly to do with how many years a player’s been in the league. It’s for this reason that Darius Miles can continue to renew his “potential” card every season: by virtue of sticking around, he will at some point “get it.” By that same token, someone who has been around ten years knows things about the Association that a mere third or fifth year expert could never hope to grasp.

“Veteran tricks,” rather than being something one picks up after taking their rookie lumps, are in fact an ongoing canon of discovery, such that vets are always finding their way into new and wily ways of confounding their juniors. No matter how much rookies grow up, vets are getting older and wiser; the learning curve is so absolute that, even if teams hired a retired pro to school the young bucks on “veteran tricks,” there would still be something missing from their understanding of this most secretive (and usually trivial) branch of the basketball arts until they’d made it there themselves. The last time this happened, it was called Oakley to the Baby Bulls, and it didn’t lead nowhere.

This is like night and day with the NFL, in which prime is over before it started (the running back at thirty rule, for instance), and, since the NCAA feeder system forces players to get their on-field education as a condition of getting to the league, experience, manhood, responsibility, whatever, is built into the combine-era pre-history of any draft pick ready to soldier. I’m not saying that NFL rookies don’t go through some things, but they’re assumed to have a working knowledge of football, a foundation upon which they can build—usually in the form of a specific offense, specific skills, mistakes you can point to on film and correct for the future. Basketball goes through the motions of this highly effective learning on the job, but to listen to the pundits, you’d think that they take a backseat to the elusive process of growing up, maturing, getting it, whatever it is that starts the second someone enters the league and continues until he retires. And of course, every team needs a vet—not to teach the kids their secrets, but to counter other vets’ mysterious powers and set an example, in the abstract, of how it is that the prospects get on the path to righteousness.

(Interesting note of proportion: whenever the NFL is cast in similar terms, it’s almost always in reference to receivers and corners, who I think we all know are the bane of the NFL that America believes in with such depressing urgency.)

But perhaps some of you are getting antsy at my lack of names, dates, and faces, the same liability that prompted such a wacky plaza of silence in the wake of my well-oiled T.O. post. You need look no further than today’s top stories to see just how little veterans really matter (as a rule). LeBron, Arenas, Wade, Melo, the Baby Bulls, Joey Johnson brought in to save the Hawks. . . throughout the league, it’s being proven (or at least wagered) that leadership, character, comprehensive feel for the game and yes, “getting it” in droves are not necessarily a function of ongoing age. Or college. Or any of the old structures of basketball society that have now gone the way of the Loyalists. Jordan broke space in two, but Bron has defeated time itself.

The age limit wasn’t about “salvaging” a game that had become corrupted by blackness. Instead, it was meant to reassert the myth that age mattered in basketball, which was important to both the NBPA and the older fans (for whom a veteran-venerating game was also a respectable, honest game; it was never really about style). In fact, this generation gap is right behind race/class in the long line of socio-cultural factors that churn mightily at the heart of today’s Association. This is what Cuban said, what Stern meant with his head-scratching remarks about fanbase, and why Phil thinks he can get away with what everyone else recognized as rank discrimination. Iverson may have been the hip-hop revolutionary, its signature outlaw dressing crazy on the corner. But Bron and the gang are the heralds of the mass culture-borne “hip-hop generation”—Jay in the board room, Curtis Jackson a multi-million dollar corporation, the People’s Champ as small business provocateur. All the smoke and mirrors is just denying that they’ve already pulled a seat up to the table.


At 11/30/2005 10:14 AM, Blogger Dr. Lawyer IndianChief said...

i believe the exception to your argument,is the 05-06 clippers, who clearly have brought in cassell and mobley as oakley-figures...and NO ONE has veteran tricks like cassell. we're talking about someone who with no athletic bone left in his body and whose game relies solely on pump fakes, falling down, and vocal persuasion...i'm sure he told brand, "hey, i played with kevin garnett, and you can be better than kevin garnett" just like he told KG that he could be as good as Olajuwon...what the 04-05 suns were to bringing back the fast break, the 05-06 clippers are to bringing back the veteran presence. ELGIN BAYLOR FOR EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR. clip SET, clip SET, clip SET...(my certifiably last mention of anything diplomats-related on any blog, ever...except to say that I think juelz should sample the clash's "police and thieves," and talk about how his "drugs are so sick, he's got the bird flu"...it would probably win pazz & jop song of the year)

At 11/30/2005 11:01 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

that just confirms my recent suspicion that the "big redemption" we foresaw coming over the hill this season might, in practice, be a colossal drag. veteran presence? the right way in new york? artest as a feature of depth? kobe and odom surrendering to triangle (okay, they're pretty horrendous to watch without any structure, but still. . ..)? the franchise finally surrenders to the low post savior?

i like my redemptions to be upheavals, chaotic and jittering, in adolesence, mid-life crisis, death in the family, or on the doormat of the pearly gates. not at age 25 or when retirement has left you nothing else to do but take stock of your life's works.

At 11/30/2005 11:04 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

oh, and not wanting to start a rap discussion here or nothing, but as ian (sexy results) so effectively demonstrated, juelz's album killed the dip set as a movement. from here on out it's cam or no one, and in my mind he's a lone wolf who occasionally calls his caretakers.

At 11/30/2005 11:16 AM, Blogger Dr. Lawyer IndianChief said...

i will silently acknowledge your second comment and now, with regard to the first comment state that we shouldn't buy into any trends, redemptions, or themes within a two-year radius...because as soon as greg oden comes into the league, we'll have a hybrid amare-shaq on our hands, which will revert the pattern to teams scrambling to find oafs named stojko just to clog up the paint.

At 11/30/2005 12:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

what does the phil line refer to?

At 11/30/2005 12:47 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

p-jax said: "The players have been dressing in prison garb for the last five or six years. All the stuff that goes on, it's like gangsta, thuggery stuff. It's time. It's a good time to do that." the artist formerly known as THC addressed it here.

At 11/30/2005 1:01 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

oh, and on the matter that both i and thc wish to keep as close to unmentionable as possible, i would like to offer this ear-splitting moment of guiding light: "i stay lonely and cocky"

At 11/30/2005 1:03 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i mean DLIC and i

At 11/30/2005 1:31 PM, Blogger SilverBird5000 said...

I really like this post, though i'm not sure if the age-gap is really a 'third' stigma behind race and class, or more a re-coding of the first two - that is, one that goes beyond symbols of Style vs. Substance, as the triumph of Style itself demands. Consider an early child of that new Republic, Jason Williams. J-Will, aka J-Dub, aka White Chocolate, he was a semiotic crisis unto himself; a Jerry-West-like husk exploding in a glorious rainbow of free-flung signifiers. "Selfish". "Extravagant". "Randy Moss". "WHITE CHOCOLATE". Even his real name had so much danger in it that eponymous colleagues - the respectable, chess-playing, Blue Devil ones - had to bury their birthrights in the sand. In retrospect, those years seem to me a high-water mark for NBA style and politics, and the Kings - Euros and all - its microcosm. But as always in the last analysis, symbols will be controlled by those who produce them, and eventually they find their nefarious design. Williams would never be made middle-class, but he could be middle-aged.
"Williams Grows Into a Grizzlies Veteran" announced an '04 headline of USA Today.
"Memphis Grizzlies point guard Jason Williams -- the between-the-legs dribbling youngster with the checkered past -- has quietly grown into a mature husband, father and basketball player."
How these last three things are supposed to relate, the author does not explain; nor does he cite any real evidence for Williams' great "improvement" (a lower assist-to-turnover ratio doesn't count as a realization of Man's Potential). The truth of it is that Williams never really had "potential"; just as LeBron lives as actuality , Williams is by nature an unfinished product, which in the end is sort of the whole point. He wasn't supposed to grow up. So why did he?
Leave it to Webber to see the future. From the dusk of last millennium, he calls out to us:
"We're Generation X or whatever stamp they put on us. Older folks judge us with prejudice or preconceived notions of what we're about. We don't have those. If you took a questionnaire of people under 30, no one would even care about White Chocolate."

At 11/30/2005 2:58 PM, Blogger emynd said...

I can't believe you idiots don't like the Juelz album. I'm about to resign from this ish 'cause of that. You guys obviously don't like rap music.


I'm distraught.


At 11/30/2005 3:33 PM, Blogger Dr. Lawyer IndianChief said...

This just like our civil war with Andreo, about hating the Heat's offseason acquisitions while he praises them. Dissent is very healthy to the team concept.

At 11/30/2005 3:51 PM, Blogger El Huracan Andreo said...

I'll be cheerfully watching the Heat and White Chocolate's "veteran tricks" this evening as they take on the Hawks.

At 11/30/2005 5:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i feel like i've read this same entry about 56 times on this site already ... though i cannot specifically recall when. perhaps it's the compare/contrast between the nba and the nfl. seems like that point/counterpoint, league of individuals/league of teams stuff pops up on here about once a week. i don't know. good job. but maybe not. though probably not the former.

At 11/30/2005 6:18 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i can't really figure out if you ended up giving us the gas face or not, but either way i wanted to respond to this.

1. yes, this site can get reptitive, and i'll take most of the "blame" for that. try writing several thousand words a week on the nba in a "thoughtful" mode. . . the same ideas, themes, and issues crop up over and over again.

2. that does not, however, really mean i'm repeating myself. anyone writing about american history deals with race, class, individuality, capitalism all the time, but they always occur in different ways, contexts and instances. i'm not just making the same argument over and over again--in looking at particular things and situations, i keep finding the same things at the root. i like to think, though, that this also means i'm offering a variation on these basic themes whenever they crop up.

3. this post wasn't about individuals/teams. it was about veterans and experience, and said the nfl and the nba deal with them differently. as far as i know, i've never written about experience or veteranship before; maybe i've mentioned that the nfl doesn't need an age limit, but who didn't do that?

4. you're basically saying that, when i write a ridiculously long and analytic post comparing the nba and the nfl, i find similar differences each time. fine. but i get there different ways each time, and the path is never completely obvious to me going into it.

5. there's something wrong with comparing the nfl and the nba? comparative this and that is an entire intellectual world unto itself.

6. i still don't really think i've figured out how individuality works in the nba, so why not keep talking about it? nor do i know if "team basketball" is even the same kind of "team sport" as football is, so why not keep chipping away at that?

7. don't worry, i'm going to be writing much less now that we've re-upped our staff.

8. i like that the most stinging criticsm we've ever received only comes when we're on a self-love high. maybe hatery is the sincerest form of flattery, not silence.

At 11/30/2005 6:46 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

P.S. kind of disappointing that you posted this anonymously, since it's not like you're bringing up anything i haven't already wondered about myself. if the world were perfect and i'd made it, this would be followed by a long discussion, but instead it seems to have been deliberately set-up as a masked, drive-by snipe.

At 11/30/2005 6:59 PM, Blogger The Electric Zarko said...

Considering the nature of the usual lines of conflict in America and in the NBA in particular, I'm surprised that economics hasn't come into this.

My point being that 'veterans' have different economic values in the NFL and in the NBA.

The reason that so many older players are thrown to the wolves in the NFL is that it is frequently much easier to find a younger and more importantly, cheaper player for the same position.

While in the NBA, where potential equates to higher contracts (see: Dunleavy Jr., etc.), it is often a more cost-effective move to bring in a known quantity, strangely enough.

Which is probably a product of having well, less players who each take up a more significant chunk of the salary cap.

So, veterans are more important in the NBA because the league values youth over age. Booyaka!

At 11/30/2005 8:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My favorite "cagey" vet, "with no athletic bone left in his body and whose game relies solely on pump fakes, falling down, and vocal persuasion" is without question Nick Van Exel. Watching him early last year, I marvelled at his continued ability to get into the lane (on the tuesdays, thursdays, and sundays he decided to be interested in same), and said something in praise of trickery in the face of quickness-loss.

A pal of mine, also watching the game, shook his head with insight, and opined "They're just guarding who he used to be."

Probably the best call-&-response moment the Blazers offered me all last year.

-Lafayette Contradiction

At 11/30/2005 9:03 PM, Blogger SilverBird5000 said...


i think what you're getting at has a lot to do with differences in the economics of information between the the two leagues. part of the reason that older players in the NFL are so easily replaceable with young ones is that the college system and its traditional 4 years of player 'development' provides pro-management an almost perfect information system for evaluating new recruits. compare that with the new NBA and its increasing reliance on a Kwame/Darko market; first-round "risks" who, on top of all other injustices, have to then take the rap for not meeting management's expectations. when their 3-year contract ends, their potential is still unknown to the rest of the league, so when they go to bargain, they end up shouldering the costs of their own uncertainty. (here i think Dunleavy is more the exception than the rule). at the same time, the veteran commodity becomes fetishized merely for being known.

At 12/01/2005 12:54 AM, Blogger SilverBird5000 said...

that last part about Dunleavy being the exception is wrong. looking at the contracts, its clear he and Kwame really are the rule when it comes to young potential and the benefits of venture capital. i guess darko and the euros would then be the exception; a different kind of 'unknown', in the sense that the teams that pay the costs of scouting and then benching them will hold a power down the line that comes with a monopoly of information. (interestingly, the first generation of Euros - the drazen/zarko class - were originally paid a premium over comparably productive natives, but that had disappeared by the end of the 90s, and my guess is that its actually reversed).

At 12/01/2005 10:58 AM, Anonymous The Ghost of Len Bias said...

Right... now we play stiffs like Kwame F. Brown vast millions to play PF like some sort of black Boris Karloff... arms extended and shambling aimlessly.

The salary structure of the NBA is absolutely criminal, in many cases. You look at guys like Juan Dixon who are extremely productive college players, have proven to be good bench players/energy scorers, and they get $3mil/year.

Kwame F. Brown -- who sucks more than a brand new Dyson -- gets $7mil to push for the league lead in turnovers.

Everyone obsesses about upside when production doesn't matter... which explains why quality players like Shane Battier (the ultimate 'glue guy') get paid less than the human bobblehead Dunleavy.

Yeah, this irritates me.

At 12/01/2005 12:01 PM, Anonymous BenSchwarmer said...

Why should Juan Dixon get paid for being a productive college player? If anything is criminal it is JD's lack of defense, and personal delusion that he is the next coming of AI.
If Dixon was paid for every time he allowed a bucket on D, then forced a shot to "even the score" with his man, he'd get paid like Kwame.

Good point about Battier, but you have to understand how teams are hesitant to pay someone with such a misshapen head.

At 12/01/2005 12:13 PM, Anonymous illwafer said...

the cat's out of the bag:


At 12/01/2005 12:34 PM, Anonymous aug said...

In Juan Dixon's defense, he's not being paid because he was a good college player, or for his subpar defense. He's getting paid because he's an offensive force. He can create his own shot and score in bunches which is an important thing for any team to have on their bench. Not all players are expected to be forces on both ends (i mean, we were just talking about euros here). The bottom line is that he produces. I love battier, his game, his mishapen head and his shanisms. The past 2 seasons, i have had a kid on my team similar to battier who does everything right and is really fundamental but isn't a consistant self made offensive machine. Our team is not as talented this year and he's going to have to step up. I'm looking forward to how he adjusts not have other stars to take the pressure off him. Battier, i think would not take that step up to the next level. It's not in his blood. I hope my kid isn't the same way. Some players are just born role players and are extremely important in basketball (especially youth basketball). This is different from leadership which not all do it themself offensive stars have. From a very young age, youth basketball's version of "getting it" is more about recognizing your role than it is recognizing your potential to be a star. Some kids/nba players can make the leap, but for some such as kwame, getting it may just be becoming an athletic role player like steven hunter has done as of late. Not every high draft pick can be the superstar they're supposed to be. Not recognizing this (the coaches and players themselves) is stunting the growth of certain high picks like Kwame, Dunleavy, Skita, etc... They could all find roles in their team's gameplan and be really productive players. Or they could get inconsistant minutes, turn the ball over a lot and frustrate themselves, their coaches and fans. Side note: this isn't me saying players shouldn't reach for their dream, be all they can be, etc... Completely different.

At 12/01/2005 12:38 PM, Anonymous brickowski said...

whoa! henry abbott representing FreeD!

i don't even know what this means, but it's got to be big.

if darko is aware of the site, does the site cease to exist?

At 12/01/2005 12:41 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

to go back to what silverbird was saying about j-will, though: where's the line between a player's carrying on in the league as if they're on the way to eventual stardom, and the media/fans not recognzing that they are what they are? i think the answer probably has something to do with the difference between role players being effective, whereas those mired in "becoming" tend to have one or two serious flaws. gaps or problems with someone's game are the luxury of a player in transition, whereas role players have their thing down pat. so what you get then is this assumption that flaws=process, as opposed to admitting that some players are just limited and should admit it. then, and only then, could they find the right niche as role players.

At 12/01/2005 1:43 PM, Anonymous BenSchwarmer said...

It seems what you are getting at is the general concept of playing within ones-self. It has gone fairly unsaid, but I would say the model for such behavior would have to be Tayshaun. A star at Kentucky, he realized if he was going to contribute in the League, he had to do the little things, like use his unparalleled lankiness hassle people who don't like getting hassled, and use his unorthodox shooting motion to make clutch 3s from time to time. This guy went from being the Man at a big-time program, to doing all the right things in the League.

That being said, there is always an interesting development that takes place with these guys when they are rewarded for their transition with a fat contract. Are they expected to do more? Do they maintain, and do what dey do? One of the only guys I can think of who made this difficult secondary leap was Brad Miller, who went from role player to 18-8-5 guy. I guess the question is, once you have found your niche, and been successful in it, do you stay there like Big Shot Rob, or aspire for more like Al Harrington and B Mills?


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