My radio, believe me, I like it loud

Before I get started with my actual post, I feel compelled to make an introductory statement or two. First of all, while it was an intimidating enough prospect in and of itself to join the ranks of the Masters of the Klondike as a certified “lil’ dude” (or, as I like to call the new generation of FreeDarko-ites “The Bastards of the Klondike”), both Rocco Chappelle and ForEver Burns have so thoroughly impressed me with their personal, insightful, and well-thought-out pieces, I felt it necessary to introduce what I intend to do with my posts on this blog, as much to justify it to myself as to the rest of the blogosphere. As is immediately clear, both Rocco’s and Burns’ pieces take on a micro-level examination of two particular players to say something somewhat bigger about the NBA and the game of basketball in general. I will very rarely be composing such a micro-examination (mostly because I am thoroughly incapable of doing so) and thus, you will most often find me painting the canvas with much broader strokes, making wildly expansive claims that will probably be pretty easy to disagree with and find exception to. But, I am hoping this won’t detract from whatever ridiculous argument I may or may not be making and will incite some sort of commentary in the comments section. So, without further ado, let me say something potentially ridiculous that might be pretty easy to disagree with…

I know it’s a pretty darn obvious thing to say, but listening to an NBA game on the radio absolutely sucks. Of course, most sports aren’t very fun to listen to on the radio and nothing a radio play-by-play guy can convey will ever really capture the nuanced beauty of the real, live, visual action (Baudrillard is cringing) that the many cameras and angles and slow-motions on TV provide us with. But, let me state right now that this isn’t going to be some laudatory rant about how the NBA is the worst sport to listen to on the radio and thus, in a sly inversion, proclaims that the NBA is the best sport because the pace, feel, and style of the game are all so incapable of being captured with language. But, let’s face it, you really can’t capture the pace, feel, and style of the NBA with language. There simply isn’t a vocabulary for it.

Why is this?

The obvious FreeDarko answer is that this is so because, more so than any other sport and/or any other league, “the NBA is a league of style.” To re-phrase the old Elvis Costello quote blasting music critics for attempting to talk about something that there isn’t a clear vocabulary for: “play-by-playing basketball is like dunking about architecture. It’s really a stupid thing to want to do.” Of course, the broadcasting of games on the radio is a necessary evil and, quite frankly, I’d be pretty annoyed if I couldn’t listen to the Sixers game while I was in my car on my half-hour journey into Philly. But, while I certainly believe Todd McCallaugh when he states that Iverson just made “a fabulous drive to the hoop, taking on all comers,” it’s impossible to really get a feel of any particular play—let alone a whole game!—through radio. Again, it’s worth reiterating that I realize that this is the case for virtually all sports. But, for those unaware of the Freedarko ethos: the essence of the NBA is “style”—the “how” instead of the “what”—and nowhere is this more apparent then when you’re listening to the game on the radio and are only granted access to the barebones “what” of each and every play: “Webber 16 footer, assist Iverson”; “Iverson with a spectacular play”; “Korver pump fakes, steps back, shoots a three and is good!” (The Korver quote is obviously a fictional one because Korver doesn’t make threes unless he catches and shoots, seemingly without looking at the basket or much of anything else, but you get the point).

What one quickly realizes while listening to the game on the radio is that “style” doesn’t just function aesthetically in the NBA. This is where the old-head NBA viewers (like my dad) get it so wrong. They claim that the game is “too flashy” and “too individual” and “fundamental-less,” etc, etc, etc. It’s all just a veiled way of criticizing what we love about the game: it’s insistence on “style.” But, what these criticisms fail to take into account is that, in the NBA, “style” isn’t just “style for style’s sake.” “Style” has a very real purpose and affect/effect in each and every single game of the NBA and, more often than not, helps dictate the outcome. (Side note: What’s not altogether clear to me is whether “style” has always been a necessary part of the game, or if it has only emerged recently. We at FreeDarko often link it the omnipresence of “style” to the increasing influence of “hip-hop” and “black culture” on the sport, but it might be worth investigating if “style” has always been at the very forefront of the NBA while the recent onslaught of “blackness” has only made the importance of “style” to the sport that much more obvious through the explicit “otherness” of “black culture.” But, I digress.)

One aspect of the game that makes basketball unique is that it is “a game of runs.” Sorry to have to resort to employing such a clichéd phrase, but it’s true. Every single fan of every single team watches his team blow big leads regularly and often mistakenly thinks that only his team is the one that consistently blows 8, 15, or 22 point leads. While, of course, there are varying degrees of how often this “blowing of the lead” happens depending on how good your team is (for example, the Sixers have a penchant for blowing leads late that rivals a 16 year old’s penchant for blowing loads early), the fact of the matter is that it happens to every team pretty frequently. It’s the nature of the game. It has happened in the past and will continue to do so into the future. Likewise, we are all much too quick forget about the times that our team was losing by 8, 15, or 22 points only to win the thing in dramatic fashion (for example, I can’t remember the last time the Sixers did this. Two years ago, perhaps?). Again, it’s simply the nature of the game. Very rarely do two teams exchange buckets consistently for the course of 48 minutes. If they did, I suspect the game would be pretty doggone boring, but we can save that for another discussion. The point is that basketball is “a game of runs.”

And so what encourages “runs” in the NBA? Well, this is question with a lot of different answers: Maybe it’s the 6th-man who sparks a run when comes off-the-bench and thunders down a ridiculous alley-oop dunk. Maybe it’s a suddenly stiffened defense. Maybe it’s a 4 point swing that turns a potential tie into a two possession game that steals all the momentum back for good. Maybe it’s the lights going out mid-game for 2 minutes. Whatever it is, it’s not something you can really forecast, predict, or really even describe until it’s already happened. It’s just a feeling that you are aware of when you’re watching the game. It’s a feeling in the shift of the game’s dynamics that you can only appreciate when watching the game. It’s these shifts in momentum that often decide games but, unfortunately for radio, it’s these shifts in momentum that are most lost in radio broadcasts.

What’s more, it’s these shifts in momentum that are most obviously the product of what we here at Freedarko call “style.” Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, but I think we can safely say that it is very rarely sheer basketball ability alone that pushes a run forward. It isn’t just that a team is suddenly making more baskets than the other team although, of course, this is usually the case. It’s a very palpable-yet-inexplicable shift in dynamics that isn’t motivated by much of anything except momentum itself. The runs often come from out of nowhere and dissipate just as quickly. But, again, it is my contention that these runs are, more often than not, the product of little more than a single player or several groups of player changing the shape of the game not necessarily through “what” they do, but in the manner in which they do it. Or, in a word, “style.”

Now, it’s worth noting that if we here at FDHQ were all just “style” fanatics, this blog would be all about AND1 mixtapes, streetball legends, and/or our favorite rappers/basketball players (the freedarko “slashies,” if you will). But, the major difference between the AND1ers and the streetball legends and the NBA players that we worship is that the AND1ers and the slashy ‘ballers are only capable of using “style” for “style’s sake.” Sure it can be beautiful and awe-inspiring, but what separates most of these players—many of which obviously have the skill, athleticism, and ability that NBA players have—is this inability to turn “style” into a weapon that can really change the course of a game, time after time. It’s one of those indescribable traits that a player either has or doesn’t have. “Style” is a cunning beast, too, frequently attempting to disguise itself as being other traits--“competitiveness” or “hunger” or “dominance” or “will”—but when you see it manifested in the truly great players who not only “have it” but simultaneously “embody it,” you know that all of its guises are false ones.

And so this is radio’s great failure and the NBA’s great triumph: with the radio, we are only allowed access to the “what”--the box score and the basic play-by-play—never allowing us to experience the very thing that makes the NBA the unique sport/league it is: “style.” And, when listening to a game on the radio, you can’t help but realize just how important each and every stylistic nuance is to each and every moment of each and every game. Listening to a game on the radio certainly sucks, but—just as a black-graphic-bar that’s supposed to censor nipples on television ultimately draws more attention to the hidden nipples instead of actually hiding them—listening to a game on the radio, ultimately draws attention to the fact that the NBA is a game of “how” much more than it is a game of “what.”

**EDIT**: I originally meant to link this phenomenal highlight video of Amare's pre-cursor, Mr. Shawn Kemp, but I forgot. Anyway, here it is. Amazing stuff.



At 12/05/2005 11:35 AM, Anonymous garrett said...

and thus it appears that emynd, in fact, hath killed the radio star. here i thought it was video. good article though dawg, regardless of how much I might be on nextman's dilz thanks to an incredibly swift cross-over or release..it will always be substance over style for me--see the aaron mckie three

At 12/05/2005 12:37 PM, Blogger Rocco Chappelle said...

The Kemp reel kills. Somebody needs to write an article about the Kemp dunk on Chris Gatling where a pre-headbanded Gatling immediately gives Kemp a pound after getting yoked on. That was the most obvious sign of submission of will I've ever seen. I've just seen a man castrated in slo-mo. Gruesome.

I'm going to have to disagree with you about McKie's three. I think is just a tier below World B. Free, Reggie Miller, Jeff Malone, & Bill Cartwright as a stylized jump shooter. If you saw some game footage silhouette out would you be able to identify McKie’s corner 3-ball? Probably. Others here may differ, but the way that I define style in this context is that a player’s general mode of play and nuanced individual idiosyncrasies supplies some type of insight into the character of the man.
To me every play of every game is less so about win/loss but more so about the mythos of the American dream being re-codified. It's a dynamic battle between adversity vs. opulence, mastery vs. charity, individual aspiration vs. team success. It’s all very complex and therefore compelling. That's what style is about to me. How does each player view his role in the battle? Does he step out of his limitations and fall on his own sword? Does he fear his own strength and withers when confronted? Does he understand his place, plays within himself and then turns his strengths into meta-strengths? To me, that’s the gristle of the game.
Yeah it's cute if some dude can dribble between his legs really fast but I think emynd did a pretty good job distinguishing between that type of "style" and the style that I find so interesting

"but what separates most of these players—many of which obviously have the skill, athleticism, and ability that NBA players have—is this inability to turn “style” into a weapon that can really change the course of a game, time after time."

At 12/05/2005 12:53 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

on the history of functional style in basketball, here's a quote from 1930's NY Daily News sports editor Paul Gallico that I happened into headfirst this weekend:

"Curiously, above all others, [basketball] appeals to the temperament of the Jews. While a good Jewish football player is a rarity. . . Jews flock to basketball by the thousands, because it places a premium on an alert, scheming mind. . . flashy trickiness, artful dodging and general smart aleckness."

He was writing about the largely Jewish NYC basketball scene of his era, and while I don't think this really says anything about past or present issues of race and culture, I do think it makes one thing clear: there's the whole Hoosiers thing and then there's this, and the African-American style unto substance we would now associate with this kind of language.

What's going on here is nothing less than the lines being drawn for the culture wars that would consume the sport in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, and that, for all the world to see, this is as much, if not more, a part of basketball than the purism of our foes. that's my rock and i'm standing on it.

At 12/05/2005 12:56 PM, Anonymous brickowski said...

nice article, e.
a couple of years ago i grew so frustrated with the inferiority of bball on the radio that i gave up on it altogether, prefering instead to just listen to music until i got to a place where i could watch the game. that changed last year during a drive to lake charles, LA. after several hours on the road, with lonliness setting in, i desperately searched for something more "human" then whatever i was listening to at the time (dungen?). thankfully, i found a spurs-hornets game. the reception didn't last for more than 30 minutes and the game wasn't even interesting, but it was all i needed. mentally matching faces and games to all the names i heard made me feel that i was no longer alone.

At 12/05/2005 1:02 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

when i listen to football on the radio, it's a largely intellectual, or at least technical, exercise. basketball, it's a sentimental one, calling on my vast wellsprings of hoops consciousness to fondly imagine what might be happening or flex the "applied faces I know so well" game that brick mentions.

sometimes with football i find myself beaming because i'm capable of following the action fairly precisely; nba, i am just happy to be alive!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

At 12/05/2005 1:03 PM, Anonymous brickowski said...

whoa. i was going to touch on the whole "emergence of style" sidenote, but shoals just blew my mind. i'll just mention pistol pete, gervin, clyde frazier, and the entire fucking ABA and leave it at that.

also, i've been thinking for some time now that it's entirely possible to darko-ize history. yaoming?

At 12/05/2005 4:09 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

enjoyed the post, loved the comments. FD is looking strong for the new year.

speaking of the radio, hopefully i won't embarass the blog in tonight's guest appearance on the internet radio show "sports bloggers live." you can tune in here.

i'll be back later with a full report.

At 12/05/2005 4:19 PM, Blogger Ken said...

If you can, check out Joe Tait who does the Cavs games on the radio. He was born to do his job, he just narrates the game with no color guy, he's the best announcer I've ever heard on the radio.

At 12/05/2005 5:47 PM, Blogger kellydwyer said...

It wasn't Declan, that quote came from Lou Reed.

And now I just thought of Laurie Anderson. Great. Thanks a lot!

At 12/05/2005 5:50 PM, Anonymous Aaron said...

Used to love listening to Walt Clyde Frazier call the Knicks games on the radio. Remember a 30 second span where Clyde used the word 'mesmerized' twice and 'hypnotized' once. And this was the ugly-as-hell early 90s Knicks he was talking about. You listened to Clyde partly to tell if the Knicks were winning, but mainly because of the poetry of the whole affair. The ridiculous, over the top, gushing poetry of it all. I was actually upset when they moved him to TV. On the radio, Clyde is the total experience. On TV, he's just one part of the whole.

Stumbled across an interview with Clyde on ESPN's Page 2: "I used to get the Sunday New York Times, the Arts and Leisure section, and I used to love the words when they critique plays, or whatever: "riveting," "mesmerizing," "provocative," "profound." And I used to write them down, in notebooks and note how they were utilized in a sentence. And then I just studied them. People think I'm a voracious reader, but the only thing I read are my words and phrases."

At 12/05/2005 5:59 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

wow, that's a great story about clyde! i can just imagine him opening up the new york times and just circling modifiers.

At 12/06/2005 5:10 AM, Blogger Drew said...

Style is paramount. Without getting on some "basketball is the best" shit, what legitimate stylistic opportunities do other major sports offer? Batting stance? Angle of stiff arm? It seems, from a very general point of view, that unique style "choices" are applauded/dissected in baseball (Dontrelle's or Hideo's delivery) and usually frowned upon in football (endzone dances, flashy plays).

With basketball, the presence and overall significance of style is understood. Everyone already knows that Nash's game is different than AI's game which is different than Arenas' game, or whoever you want to name. I don't often hear commentators opining on someone's high dribble or another guy's goofy-armed release. Sure, this shit is brought up sometimes, but as a general rule, fans and players alike love that the game and its rudimentary skill set is open to interpretation, and that's what's dope.

Of course, I'm just speaking from a purely physical standpoint. Style in terms of persona or swagger is completely different. Ask the Manchild about that.

Michael Doleac-jumper-as-racist-construct post better be in the works...

At 12/06/2005 11:48 AM, Blogger jon faith said...

Though I have enjoyed this blog for the past week or so, this approach struck me akimbo, as if there were something at play that the rest of us cunts would never understand, that something insular and exclusive was at play, like the Administration only with snarky vocab and colorful hyperlinks. I have enjoyed most of the other offerings. ciao - jon

At 12/06/2005 12:32 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

that strikes me as strange, seeing as emynd's was probably one of the more lucid, concrete, and consistently applicable posts we've ever hoisted upon our crimson manes

At 12/06/2005 12:36 PM, Blogger emynd said...


Fear not. FreeDarko is for the people!

I by no means ever intended to come across as exclusionary in any way, but only meant to articulate what so many of us find compelling about the NBA game. As my italicized disclaimer at the beginning of my post proclaimed, you are certainly welcome to disagree with the broad strokes I tend to make (as Garrett did) and I don't know what makes you think I (we?) wouldn't respect that disagreement.

My post wasn't meant to illuminate something that "the rest of [you] cunts would never understand." Quite the contrary. I think, the post took for granted that the reader had a certain sympathy for the main point (the NBA is "a league of style") and thus went on to articulate several very simple points: (a) "style" is not simply "for style's sake" in the NBA, (b) "style" is necessarily lost in radio, and (c) "style" is what makes basketball the most compelling sport to us.

I apologize if I came across as somehow exclusionary or insulting in anyway. That certainly wasn't the intent.


At 12/06/2005 12:55 PM, Anonymous illwafer said...


good lookin on that kemp highlight reel. omg.

ever single play had such style...awesome.

i forgot how hard he used to dunk...and the way he would drag his back foot across the floor before dunking? silly.

At 12/06/2005 1:15 PM, Blogger jon faith said...

No offense taken:
that said I am sure that the League can be myriad. Two of my favorite players are Kurt Thomas and Michael Sweetney: do they possess the requisite style? I appreciate their efforts, much as I do this particular forum, which has raised the dialogue ofr soemthing we ALL love, if for different reasons. ciao - jon

At 12/06/2005 1:21 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

It's FREE DARKO's first annual Alienate Our Readers Day!!

At 12/06/2005 1:31 PM, Blogger emynd said...

There's something important that needs to be said about the oft-mentioned concept of "style."

This notion of "style" isn't monopolized by hot-dogging players who dunk a lot, take ill-advised shots, talk a lot of trash, and listen to rap music. This is a common misconception. I don't want to speak for the other FreeDarkonites, but the only thing I am saying when I praise the virtues of "style," is--as I said in my piece--that the "how" of the game is so vital to it.

There are numerous ways that this "how" can manifest itself, it be in a thunderous Shawn Kemp dunk or a silky-smooth Ray Allen jump shot. My point is simply that I feel like the game is ultimately controlled not by what is done, but by how these things are done.

So, in other words, just because Kurt Thomas' game isn't "stylish" in the "oh it's so pretty!" sense of the word doesn't mean that you can't make the argument that he isn't somehow "style"-less in the FreeDarko sense of the word.


At 12/06/2005 1:50 PM, Blogger El Huracan Andreo said...

I love Elton Brand.

I love Tim Duncan.


At 12/06/2005 4:21 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i actually did a post a few weeks ago about the limits of what i meant by "style." i don't feel like linking to it because i already did once and still no one commented on it, but suffice to say I am on the record as being with you on this one.

At 12/06/2005 6:37 PM, Blogger Mr. Babylon said...


I finally "got" Clyde's lilting, looping, color-commentating style the other day after telling a lifelong NY-er I hated it. Poetry, he said, and left it at that. A couple of quarters, a spliff, and seven repeats of the word "precocious" in reference to Nate Robinson later, I was sold (not to mention convinced dude writes down a "word-of-the-day" he tries to work into each broadcast, just now confirmed by Aaron's anecdote).

Same conversation touched on the lack of any truly great basketball announcers on television or radio, and while style certainly has something to do with it, the speed of the game is just as important a factor. It happens too fast. There's no time to describe things vividly, to wax poetic, develop a narrative, or to tell any decent anecdotes.

Baseball and football announcers have a much more leisurley time of it, and the old-school guys were often pretty great. Example: http://www.salon.com/people/feature/1999/10/12/scully_koufax/


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