Where I come from, everybody goes
For reasons that have nothing to do with FreeDarko and much to do with the inescapable vicissitudes of the spirit, I estimated some few days ago that there are approximately one thousand pages of writing in this site’s ongoing project of human thought. There is no end to the earthly delight I experience when, at some odd hour of the day, I check on one of our laser-aged counters and find some intrepid soul working his way through the wilds of FreeDarko’s grouchy beginnings, a period that will go down in our history as “when we for some reason refused to use any images.” Let that settle for a second, all ye who find our slang too blotchy for its own good—we once did not even have the pictures to light the way. Then again, from what Andreo has told me, I get so visual that it just makes the typed part even more impenetrable.
Usually, though, this chronicle of a loud urchin finding his voice is left untouched, like the so many gentle songs that beast composes heartfully for man. It was therefore as an act of self-reflexive charity that I began rifle through our not-so-distant past. What I found stirred in me feelings of unaccountable fervor, best expressed in this quote from the daring, the beautiful, Lydia Maria Child, nineteenth-century intellectualess of some note:
“As usual it is full of deep and original sayings and touches of exceeding beauty. But as usual, it takes away my strength and makes me uncertain whether to hang myself or my gown over a chair”
Wait! Hold your catcalls! Ms. Child gave this quote to me not to describe the heights of greatness FreeDarko achieves on a daily basis, nor to reflect my startling realization that, as recently as last season’s playoffs, we were still on a regular basis dispensing with off-puttingly shrewd bits of analysis regarding specific games, on-court events, and plans for a future on this earth (there’s also an entire water park’s worth of bickering between myself and brickowski over the cosmic implications of something called “the San Antonio Spurs”).
No, friend, what it points to is the fact that, despite last spring’s alarming tendency toward rational composure, we spent much of April and May not necessarily agreeing with but nevertheless always seriously addressing some of the more histrionic playoffs storylines. I have provided some choice examples, which should be very familiar to anyone who has followed the NBA for more than six months (and positively indelible to anyone who picked it up exactly six months ago):
What is the common thread here? None of these statements is true. . .
(on raw skill alone, T-Mac might have an edge on Kobe, but he’s not nearly the master technician or fearless gamer that the reviled TS is. But anyone saying that either of these vets has a thing on the third-year ambassador from basketball heaven, whether mentally, physically, spiritually, or psychotically, would only ever take place if there were tireless supporters of the pre-Bron era, cats for whom SLAM and the post-Jordan muddle were the memories they held most fond. Manu is nowhere near the top tier of shooting guards; as DLIC has said before, dude’s closer in spirit to a one-dimensional ghoul like Troy Hudson than the saintly creators discussed previously. And while Wade certainly did firmly plant himself on that level last year, nothing this season suggests he’s eclipsed any of them.)
. . . but they were seriously considered during last year’s playoffs.
The glamor stories of the 2004-2005 playoffs were, in order of appearance in the public consciousness: T-Mac shows grit and determination, plays some defense, carries team; Manu busts out and lights up everyone he faces; the world discovers how hard it is to stick Wade. The trouble came about when people started trying to turn these into broader claims about these players on a day-in, day-out basis.
("Jerome James, Franchise Center" only gets implied here, since Isiah was that theory's sole subscribor. But could one man's misguided notions possibly have any more of an impact on the sport than do his?)
The NBA playoffs may be so long that they count as a season unto themselves, but they’re still playoffs. Facing one team over and over again doesn’t make the match-up any less knee-deep in contingencies, special circumstances, and flukish conditions. And yet while in a perfect world ongoing battles would spur both squads to new heights of ingenuity and engagement, as often as not you just get the same shit but uglier cause everyone knows what’s coming and is trying to get over through sheer will.
Baseball has its kings of the October, but it’s taken largely as a measure of how clutch premier players actually are. October isn’t there to manufacture greatness, just to confirm or deny it, and fittingly, that’s how the media frames it. Basketball, though—partly because they playoffs last so fucking long, partly because we’ve been taught to devalue the regular season—has increasingly turned into, in the minds of fans, the press, and even some players, a place where meaningful conclusions about one’s legacy can be fashioned. Robert Horry is the disgustingly obvious example of this, but the whole obsession with making the post-season as the measure of NBA worth—it’s as if the whole eighty-two games mean nothing, are just a contest to see who gets the chance to really play basketball (hence Melo over Bron for ROY: Bron wasn’t even eligible). By that same token, much of last year’s outrageous playoff posturing was simply a matter of who was still hanging around; once T-Mac was out, it was between Wade and Manu for #1 off-guard in the Association, and when the Spurs wrapped up the Suns with the quickness, suddenly it was down to Wade alone. Notice, however, that the Finals were too God-forsaken for anyone to even try and extrapolate from.
How do we know that these were but fleeting, frenzied sparks off of the glowing core of a mystical post-season? Umm, it’s called Regular Season 2005-2006. Over an extended period of time, with an ever-fluctuating cast of variables, the truth rises to the surface. The post-season is built off of streaks, grooves, momentuum, mysterious things that are the antithesis of regular season combat. You can say this is an indictment of the first eighty-two, but unlike baseball or football, basketball is not a sport of streaks, peaks and valleys, insane desperation followed by raspberry-like propulsion. Inconsistency and an inability to adapt can thwart excellence; production is suspicious if it relies too heavily on this or that. In these other games, up and down is a way of life, but it’s only in the playoffs that the NBA allows itself to not only worship the situational streak but take it as an unfounded edict.
The great trick is that, with no down, it’s easy to mistake an extended spell of excellence for a marked improvement, something that will carry over into the next season and is consistent with basketball’s metaphysical imperative of constancy. But until you’ve seen that new sensation go through some changes and weather the tidal constraints of team chemistry, a fun-house of opponents that don’t stay long enough to write, health, and an entire league’s need to know once the shock and competitive delirium have worn off, let’s not go mistaking “learning the playoffs,” or maybe even “learning that playoffs,” for figuring out their place in the game.