Traveling at the speed of quickness
Before I lead you into some more important matters, I have a dramatic move to make: if the Cavs aren't in the Conference Finals this season, I am now officially ready to start blaming LeBron. He's quite possibly the perfect basketball player, a combination of MJ, Magic and, I don't know, Elgin Baylor, with almost no weaknesses. And while last year I went on and on about how he wasn't quite yet unstoppable in the way Wade and Amare seemed to be, at this point he's gotten so efficient, so deadly from the outside and so victorious using jets and muscles to find his way inside, that he makes Kobe and T-Mac seem like errant gamblers.
When it was just him, the Cavs still nearly made the playoffs. Now they've got a roster that practically screams "veteran order" and "complementary pieces," meaning LeBron should be prepared to leave the heavy footprint of a powerhouse. Maybe we'd expect an average superstar to merely get his and let the others do the rest. But if LeBron is indeed the player he's told us he is, the vessel of unimaginable greatness who finds his meaning in the team game, it's on him to make this team fulfill its destiny. If a top coach gets talent, he's supposed to make moves. LeBron, bless his soul, is that much of a giant—if he can't harness these new friends and send the Cavs galloping into the meadows, he's just not doing his job.
Okay, now let me go out on a perilous and confess the unthinkable: everything wrong with this blog can be traced to a single, persistant neurosis of mine. At some point in life, I got tangled up over the announcer-isms "fast," "quick," and "explosive," sometimes used interchangably, sometimes in tandem. On an intuitive level, I know what's what, who's what, and who's who. But when I try to break it down, things crumble, my mind goes gray, and Francisco Garcia must lead the way into light.
In the abstract, it's unbreakably simple. "Fast" is straight-line, baseline-to-baseline speed; "quick" is agility, nimble, darting-move brilliance; "explosive," power and burst that clears out the air around it. All involve vast acceleration, but "quick" evokes it most often, since it has that element of unpredictability that turns a first step into an event, not just the beginning of a drive.
(Emergency: I don't think I will ever be able to watch the Mavs again. At least six months before they rise to the Hawks' level of credibility)
The problem comes when you try to observe these traits in the wild. "Fast" yields most freely; I'd say that Nash and Parker both have nothing going for them but that sprint-like whirr, not a lateral bone in their respective bodies. When they take off, mostly the defender just has to worry about keeping up with them. Iverson epitomizes "quick," stopping on a dime all crafty and keeping opponents not only one step behind but not even knowing what step they'd take. Thing is, rarely is a "quick" player not also "fast"—Melo is the only one that immediately comes to mind—and "fast, not quick" seems like a decidedly European designation. And AI, murderer that he is off the dribble, beats them with both on that first step, i.e. no one can follow it and it's blinding even if they could.
"Explosive" correlates with "strong," but isn't a "burst"—as in "burst of speed"—itself a kind of explosion? There are players who are "explosive" but not particularly "fast," most of them athletic big men, but when you get talking about strapping guards, it gets too complicated to matter. Arenas is sometimes one, sometimes all three, sometimes none, and rarely in any differentiated way; it's here that you most often hear commentators interchange them, probably at the expense of their intelligibility in other situations. Watching LeBron earlier, I heard all of them thrown around, in ways that managed to tell me nothing about him other than that he was athletic beyond anyone's wildest dreams. If we really want to figure out ways to describe a singular talent like James, or properly etch the legacies of Wade or Arenas, we need to get the language for it.
If this doesn't require this many words to figure out, or I've grossly misread things, tell me so my heart can rest. Like I said, it's the announcers that have cast this fear into my body.