1.18.2006

Call it pyrite, it's shiny for a reason



I don’t want to talk about All-Star selections. By now, any half-conscious NBA fan should know the drill: homers vote for their stars and, shamefully, their half-decent subs; Yao racks up a ton of votes and the xenophobia kicks in; Vince makes the starting line-up and purists feign outrage (ironically, he deserves to start this year but isn't getting the votes); and every columnist in the universe weighs in about who deserves a spot and why. The thing is, this serious consideration of "merit" and "accomplishment" is misleading, if not an outright joke. The All-Star Game isn’t a real game; it’s a glorified exhibition, and we watch it to see crowd-pleasing players at their most loose, brash, and exceptional. All the arguments that apply so readily to the MVP race—key guy on winning team, big numbers in the service of mediocrity, effect on teammates, clutch ability—have zero to do with what someone can make of a J-Kidd lob on the break. In fact, the Association has fifteen spots set aside for the Rip Hamiltons and Tim Duncans of this world: they’re called the All-NBA teams, and they’re supposed to reward players for outstanding work done during the regular season. I guess the East/West rivalry meant something a few years ago, when the West had such a gaping advantage that the occasional East victory came as a revelation and proof of substantial basketball worth. But with the two about even again, there’s hardly the need to excel at success that should be the hallmark of, say, the Olympic squad.

All-Star rosters should be most concerned with compiling that season’s most enthralling players. They’re out there to please the crowd, show up each other, and appeal to pure sickness, with the outcome irrelevant if it’s not a product of style. In a close game, it comes down to which team can discipline themselves without losing that all-important playfulness. It’s worth noting that T-Mac is historically a far better All-Star that Kobe, for the simple fact that Kobe has it in him to be methodical and gravely determined. T-Mac, on the other hand, takes chances and is immortal enough to improvise his way to a thirty-point outburst. Iverson may be the consummate All-Star performer, since for AI getting loose and bearing down are one and the same. I’m not proposing that we open the floodgates and fill each team with raw dunkers, but certainly the All-Star Game, consumed as a contest of style, needs to be recognized as that by those who take this “honor” seriously.



Now for the inevitable FreeDarko socio-cultural angle. If the NBA is making a conscious effort to downplay its hip-hop constituency, All-Star Weekend might as well be a lost cause. The Weekend is the Association’s dirty little admission of how much it owes the very fans it’s slighted as of late; in a month, it goes down in Houston; reliable sources tell me that last night, one of the local news channels ran a segment on the Ying Yang Twinz. The three day long party and highlight production tank pretty much screams “core audience,” and is as notable for its off-court action (AI renting out the whole damn Gallery comes to mind) as the celebration of dunking, long-range bombing, and the backward competitive spirit. And as much as Stern is concerned about the pale, corporate faces at courtside and in the luxury boxes, it’s that public’s willingness to treat All-Star Weekend like a national holiday (whose joke was that?) that gives it some sense of occasion and allows local businesses to capitalize. I know of no other sporting event whose identity hinges as violently on its pre- and post- merriment; you could have the most sorry, dog-earred East and West rosters imaginable, with a defensive gem of a Rookie Game and a Fred Jones-style dunk contest to boot, and it wouldn’t do a thing to the atmosphere of All-Star Weekend.



I’m not looking to racialize style—I think any FreeDarko reader knows that, for better or worse, I’ve done enough of that to last a lifetime. More to suggest that, as fans of “real” basketball exert more and more of a stranglehold on the Association’s official agenda and propaganda machine, would it kill the league to acknowledge that it does acknowledge the importance of style and the fans who find value in the “polluted” game? You can argue that, by this logic, All-Star Weekend amount to a caricature, segregation, or some other belittling of the excessive baggage that comes with the sport’s internal strife over the role of style. Politics, however, is rarely done in shades of gray, and in this case, conceding All-Star Weekend seems like a relatively minor gesture of goodwill. Yes, people of many colors vote in the starters, but everyone knows where those preferences originate; going platinum doesn't automatically make a rapper pop.

Then again, Stern seems to have his own ideas about the relationship between All-Star Weekend and the "real" game:

25 Comments:

At 1/18/2006 3:26 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i wanted that post to be about principle, not practice, and this actually isn't such a bad year for all-star teams. mostly this was inspired by a chris broussard column that had trouble deciding if arenas was in or out. but because i'm bored as fuck at work, here's my teams:

EAST

starters:
g: iverson
g: wade
f: bron
f: pierce
c: ben

reserves:

g: kidd
g: arenas
g: vince
f: gerald wallace
f: ricky davis
f: jefferson
c: dalembert

west

starters:

g: nash
g: kobe
f: t-mac
f: garnett
c: dirk

reserves:

g: baron davis
g: ray allen
g: chris paul
f: odom
f: kirilenko
f: marion
c: camby

 
At 1/18/2006 4:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

WHAT DOES MELO HAVE TO DO???

 
At 1/18/2006 4:13 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i had him on here, but then i remembered kirilenko. if this were a merit-based team, he definitely beats out odom and probably ak.

 
At 1/18/2006 4:32 PM, Anonymous aug said...

I agree that it's for the fans and meant to be entertaining, but there is one problem with just choosing exciting players. The Hall of Fame. A big contributing factor the Hall of Fame committee takes into account in determining a player's worthiness besides stats, and titles, is awards such as mvps, first/second team, defense teams, and all star appearances. Same with the NFL and the ProBowl. Guys like John Lynch, Vince Carter, Larry Allen and Grant Hill make the all star game regardless of merit. Do those 4 deserve to be in their respective hall of fames? When their careers are said and done, they'll have a nice case for it and a big reason is all star/pro bowls. Take away about 3 allstar/probowls from each and their case for the hof looks a lot different. Most of the time, the really deserving guys make it so it's not a big deal (the nfl needs to adopt the nba strategy of voting only starters and letting coaches do the rest) because the coaches know what they're doing. I'm not saying that the nba doesn't owe its fans some big highlight plays, but i don't think adding gerald wallace is gonna make a big difference especially since he's mainly a cult star because of his injuries, and inconsistant play. I doubt he'll ever be a big star in the league, and don't see him as an all star. We already have in our minds what an all star is. I don't think the fans are dissapointed in the all star game due to lack of cult/hip hop players playing. The all star game is an different game like you said, it's fun to see the big stars in the nba at their best. As boring (and amazing) as duncan and rip may be, they're big stars and most everyone knows them. It's fun to watch them play with eachother. Regardless of who is playing you'll have enough highlight dunks in the game, but i think more people watch just to see the stars. Everyone wants to see how the best players in the league play against eachother. The best all star games in recent memory, haven't been the ones with the most big plays, but the competitive ones. The year iverson and i think marbury lead a huge comeback against the west and took it down to the wire was awesome. People were going nuts. It's a lot better, longer lasting satisfaction than a quick alleyoop. Sorry to ignore your regular social/style/racial commentary in the article, although i enjoyed reading it, i just don't think changing the all star game to team of highlight machines is gonna make it better for the fans, or the players.

 
At 1/18/2006 5:03 PM, Blogger A-Wood said...

Dalembert over Jermaine O'Neal or Shaq? I think that's taking the whole style argument a little too far.

 
At 1/18/2006 5:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i didn't change it to a team of highlight machines, i just left off the totally dull people and put gerald wallace on.

that was the best all-star game in recent memory, but like i said about iverson, it was a comeback of style. i think that, in order of most to least, people would like to see:

1. a competitive game with a lot of style
2. a reasonably competitive game with style
3. a very competitive game that's all low post footwork
4. a blowout

watching the stars play together is cool for about a quarter, but then it's just like having a bunch of your good friends who don't know each other in the same room. the only way for them to create any chemistry there is for everyone to overcome the weird, burdensom tension by being outgoing and outraegous as fuck.

 
At 1/18/2006 5:10 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

that was me, before i just fucked up the identity section. if no one got that.

i would rather watch dalembert than a beat-up, bloated, can't stop andrew bynum shaq. jermaine o'neal is a great guy but i can't take watching that jumper anymore.

look, some of these choices were ridiculous, and shaq obviously has to be there for personality's sake. but it's bullshit that the all-star game--taken at the halfway mark of a meaningless regular season--really stands for much of anything. they should be concerned about making the best all-star game they can, not pretending it has anything to do with the rest of basketball history or the season

 
At 1/18/2006 5:15 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

just dawned on me how much this all-star post has in common with this anti-spurs post from a year ago

http://freedarko.blogspot.com/2005/01/for-sake-of-song.html

 
At 1/18/2006 7:18 PM, Anonymous 412hater215 said...

yo i remember when AI rented out the Gallery. Everybody and their mom was in Center City. Cam'ron made a 3-point turn in the middle of the intersection of like 6th and South in front of City Blue and then Jermaine Dupri leaned out the window with his mini-cam (how those two ended up together in the car, i don't know) and put it all in my grill.

Then Brendan Haywood walked down Chestnut St. a little later, and I got really confused because he had absolutely no business hanging out anywhere other than the gym during All-Star weekend, working on his fucking game.

Long story short, the purpose of All-Star weekend is for ballers to hang out with ball players.

By the way, I wonder if JD ever watched that video and asked, what the fuck is that dude doing with that "yo, jd, what the fuck are you doing here and in my face I'm tryin to hit the record store and you're causing a traffic jam" kind of look on his face.

 
At 1/18/2006 7:21 PM, Anonymous 412hater215 said...

oh, and while we're on the topic of random NBA players making cameos in my life, Sammy Dalembert showed up at a West African Social Services Fair and soccer tournament at the park on my corner in West Philly this summer. Dude can eat ox tail for days.

 
At 1/18/2006 7:40 PM, Anonymous d.d. tinzeroes said...

andrew bynum played 3 and a half minutes and scored 2 points. Somehow this translates into "shaq is finished." I don't get it. Not to criticize this piece in particular, just that the buzz surrounding 2 points seems a bit out of perspective.

 
At 1/18/2006 7:41 PM, Blogger Jeph B said...

chris bosh belongs in this game.

 
At 1/18/2006 8:56 PM, Anonymous Jimbo said...

Do you not think that there have to be some unstylish players in the All-Star game just for the sake of contrast? I mean, if the All-Star game is a celebration of style over 'playing the right way', don't you need a Gerald Wallace type throwing down on a Tim Duncan?

 
At 1/18/2006 10:36 PM, Blogger elandfried said...

I like that idea. They should just position Frederic Weis 4 feet from the basket and not let him move.

 
At 1/19/2006 9:09 AM, Anonymous T. said...

Meh.

I'm good with whomever is chosen, just as long as they stay away from the Mark Eaton's of the world. (Or their 2006 equivilant).

Even Yao Ming threw that little underhanded flip pass alley-oop to Stevie in LA. I think everyone over the last few years has at least had a modicum of style.

 
At 1/19/2006 11:01 AM, Blogger emynd said...

Part of the point is this: the All-Star game basically says the "black way" (i.e. basketball with "style") is the most exciting, aesthetically pleasing, and marketable "way" to play basketball, right? It's what the fans want, and yet the league and old crumudgeony fans like my pops wanna deny the reality of the situation. We could argue back and forth all day whether or not this "way" of playing basketball is "better" or "worse" than the previous "ways," but a huge point is that this is what we--as fans--want to see, right?

So, why is it that so many fans who readily admit that the All-Star game is great because of "style" are so quick to openly criticize "style" in league play?

There are a few important factors at stake here, one of which might very well be race.

For a lot of folks it seems that "style" is all well and good for an exhibition game, but when it comes to actually winning, "style" is looked down upon. So, yeah, let's exoticize these folks for a weekend, let them do their show-boat-y thing and we'll enjoy it (because deep down, we DO want to see this ish), but as soon as its business as usual them darkies better get back in their place and learn some fundamentals!!

Of course, I'm overstating for effect, but I think the point is pretty clear: the All-Star game is what we like about basketball made most obvious. During the regular season, most fans then frantically try to deny that "style" has anything to do with much of anything.

(By the way, it's not a god damn coincidence that the NBA All-Star fesitivities are the only watchable All-Star festivities from the four major sports.)

Black culture changed basketball into what it is today. The only time the league and most of its fans seem willing to aknowledge that fact without any hint of condescending longing (racist?) for the "good ol days" is during the All-Star weekend.

It's kind of sad.

-e

 
At 1/19/2006 11:37 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

until a "stylish" team can beat a "right way" team for a title, this'll continue. that's why the suns were potentially so important.

not sure what to make of this season's pistons. and then if i put them on the side of evil, i wonder if i'm not setting too unreasonable a standard for how stylish nba'ers can be in a responsible manner if they're not iverson, mcgrady, etc. that's just not something most players are capable of. see what i said about kobe above.

 
At 1/19/2006 12:44 PM, Anonymous T. said...

the All-Star game basically says the "black way" (i.e. basketball with "style") is the most exciting, aesthetically pleasing, and marketable "way" to play basketball, right

While I appreciate the racial dynamics of the NBA - I don't think the 2k6 version of NBA style falls around race fault lines anymore. Not when JWill, Nash and Ginobili play with as much style as anyone, and players like Bruce Bowen, Bo Outlaw and Adrian Griffin survive in the league on defense, hustle and grit.

It's no longer a racial divide in the league.

It's difficult to draw racial

 
At 1/19/2006 1:05 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

this was part of me and e's original discussion. there's that crucial distinction between the mere idea of playing with style and a particularly kind of style. while there are guys who have a style no obviously based on a "black" style that's integrally tied to other themes in black culture, by and large that style remains what most people think of it when you throw out style in general. as for bowen, outlaw, and griffin. . . i don't think any of them spring to mind when you do a cursory survey of the league and its meaning. maybe bowen, but only because of those rings.

 
At 1/19/2006 1:36 PM, Anonymous aug said...

I'm late for class, but finally got a chance to read comments. BS, i know what you're talking about chemistry wise, but you can say the same for a bunch of highlight machines. Also, like it or not, being a X time all star means a lot in terms of how the player is viewed. It's hard to change history the way it is.

Also, look at fan voting. Gerald Wallace, Ricky Davis and Dalembert don't get many fan votes. The fans vote for who they want in the all star game. They normally choose the best players regardless of their style(tmac, vince and grant hill are still "star" players but were just injured). Notice how cult stars don't make much noise in fan votings. The only thing the nba could really do is have (in your words) a style category for fans to vote on for each sqaud. Then limit choices to the above average style players like ricky and wallace. But you can't steal glory away from duncan because he bores you. Once again, i strongly disagree that people would rather see wallace going up against ricky instead of shaq going up against duncan. Bynum dunking on shaq wasn't huge because it was a great play, but simply because he did it on shaq. That makes noise, not how nice the dunk was(if he did a flashier dunk).

On the suns. They're not just style over substance though. They blend both perfectly, especially this year. I've posted many a times about how their offense brings tears to my eyes with the beauty of passing and moving without the ball. It's a sight to see, but also very fundamental, only they take more 3s than most teams. But the way the offense creates those is very substance based and textbook.

I'm really late now, but what's Antonio Davis's dead? I think he was pissed because someone thought he was on the bulls still. And to think, as a magic fan i was angry when he snubbed us that offseason. Thank god the magic didn't waste more money on him. In some alternate universe, him and alvin williams are leading the raptors to glory.

 
At 1/19/2006 2:28 PM, Anonymous kenny ken said...

I might be wrong on this but to me the most compelling part of the all star week end since the late eighties has been the three point shoot out rather than the dunk contest, rookie game, game, skills challenge, two ball, etc. I think probably this has to do with the fact that it's the competition that's been tweeked the best and is the most logical and satisfactory to viewers. Everything else is arbitrary in an odd sort of "we can't come up with the rules to a simple game" kind of way. The showcase of abilities idea kind of leads nowhere and has fans huffing and puffing and then forgetting what the purpose for inducing asthma was in the first place. Thus, unless I'm just way off-base with how I view Bball compared to everyone else, what seems to matter to the aesthetics of ball isn't as much style as it is narrative (although a crip walking Brent Barry is also pretty much forever lodged in my memory). I don't think style is so much unimportant (especially to the allstar game) but I don't think the NBA is a genre developed enough to house it as an all encompassing aesthetic lens yet; right now style in the nba in the way you guys seem to be lauding seems kind of like pomo for the mofo of it rather than a kind of transgressive laughter sort of bachanal. AI is my favorite player ever as well, besides Zeke that is, but I'll take a pistons Spurs game over a sixers whoever game anytime (although that's not really a fair kind of statement cause the Pistons are funky as hell, especially Sheed). Style doesn't win in the NBA (it does in every other basketball arena where the fucko CEOs haven't messed up the damn rules but that's another story) and unless you reject the master narrative of success-as-domination completely, style only seems a tangential part of the product, only growing in importance the further away from the actual game that it gets (example: what the first AI shoes signified as a cultural artifact v what use they were put to during his rookie year; as said artifact their style really evolved separate from the NBA). This said, I'll probably watch all of the All star festivities and possibly even record them because, shiny waste of time or not, it's still basketball even though for some reason college ball is more compelling this year

 
At 1/19/2006 5:54 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i really can't say this enough times: i am not into style for its own sake. i am into style as a way of beating people, whether through moves or psychology. i have also written dozens of times that i don't miss the nineties nba, and that last year's suns were the best thing to have ever happened in my life. and there's no reason why whoever follows in their footsteps can't be competitive as well as culturally and aesthetically rad.

aug-freewheeling, pick-up-ish ball is a frantic, trial and error way to try and hit on chemistry. it's either that or run really basic sets.

as silverbird just said over the phone, people who excel in a certain kind of team game are not going to be able to reproduce said magic in the land of a million vague acquaintances.

 
At 1/19/2006 8:46 PM, Anonymous T. said...

a "black" style that's integrally tied to other themes in black culture, by and large that style remains what most people think of it when you throw out style in general

The styles could be rooted in blackness and whiteness - but there were many writers who wrote - rather convincingly - that Magic and Bird - had origins and played like their skin color opposites. Bird- hardscrabble, no father, poor upbringing; Magic - middle class, both parents at home. Bird was a trash talker's trash talker, Magic . . . well, Magic . . .okay, I can't remember their arguement on this one.

And I came up with Bowen, Griffin and Outlaw on the fly - I mean I probably would've gone with Duncan, Rip Hamilton, J O'Neal, and Zach Randolph. While they may rock the trappings of being a black athlete (tats, 'rows, 'fros, etc.) - they tend to play a very "white" game - bank shots, jump hooks, jumpers off the screen, drop steps . . .

 
At 1/19/2006 9:27 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

by "other themes" i was thinking more along the lines of improv, value of individual style. . . all that hip-hop by way of jazz crap that gets thrown around whenever people try and totalize african-american aesthetics

big men are a whole different animal. those that could be said to play COMPETENTLY with style-webber, dalembert, amare--are the exception that proves the rule.

 
At 3/06/2008 10:30 PM, Blogger d.d. tinzeroes said...

andrew bynum played 3 and a half minutes and scored 2 points. Somehow this translates into "shaq is finished." I don't get it. Not to criticize this piece in particular, just that the buzz surrounding 2 points seems a bit out of perspective.

But totally on target.

 

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