The ever-renewing cauldron’s dutiful thud

I may have bemoaned Trade Time 2006 for failing to sternly set into motion the season’s drift toward decisiveness. But while I remain convinced that this year’s champions will sneak up on us as if they’d been on a long road to nowhere, I can’t say I’ll much miss this act of NBA campaign’s arrival upon shore. You see, like many fans who busy themselves with faint visions of earth-shaking transactions, chemistry amongst multiple All-Stars, raw prospects loosed upon the court, and jauntily constructed rosters finding their flow, I’d prefer that this time of promise never give away to the hour of fruition. In fact, even if late April saw KG join Kobe, or, say, a certain Slavic boy sent galloping out to ‘ol Epcot, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of disappointment. I, my friends, am among that uniquely cursed band of Association watchers who pride the potential, and often proudly fantastic, over the actual.

It’s not just that the so-called zone of actuality rarely delivers the kind of roaring outcomes you’ve spent so long working out in your head. More it’s the sudden, crushing sense that basketball has become irrevocably fixed: rotations set, strategies apparent, pecking orders recited by all. Of course powerhouses may abruptly crumble, and late bloomers can kick into gear for the home stretch. And as I’ve amply discussed on prior occasions, the playoffs can give rise to odd, narrative-driven heroes whose shine is entirely circumstantial. Yet uncertainty bordering on anxiety, the magma in which American sport is forged, is not the same as the wide-open, intoxicating tales that beckon us dreamers before the Deadline comes crashing down. Quite simply, a lot of me finds endless possibility as interesting as actual, meaningful results.

I am sure that at this point, several of you have already turned aside in disgust. But before you call me Judas, Leonard, or avocado, behold: THIS IS A LEAGUE OF POTENTIAL. The Assocation bustles with activity of one kind or another throughout the year’s twelve months. Yet only during March, April, May, and June could it really be said to achieve actuality. The rest of the time, it’s wrestling with its own growth and decay, as the denizens of the sport most prone to spontaneous outbursts, madding lulls, and improvised flourishes waits to see if they will soar past their own horizons or crash into unforeseen limitations. Couple that with basketball’s innate cockiness, swagger, whatever, and it’s hardly a stretch to presume that much of the Association is watching itself, wonder how high it can go and when. If football is the optimizing of a rational system, and playmaking ability a mere booster pack, then the National Basketball Place counts on self-exceeding instants as the basis of identity. Until things have to get serious, the whole damn league is waiting to find itself, and gambling on discovering the tremendous.

You don’t believe me? Check the fucking schedule.

TODAY-May: The regular season that matters
May-June: Playoffs?!
July: Draft
August: Free agency, summer leagues
September: Anticipation of untested combinations
October: Pre-season, news from training camp
November: Surprise teams, surprise players begin to show themselves
December: Disappointing teams and players still worth missing
January: It sinks in that everyone’s better than you’d remembered
February: Trade talk, dreams of second-half push

That’s eight months out of the year that basketball fans can’t help but spend a whole lot of time meditating on what could be. Some people insist that the Association is flawed because it only matters for that brief period of actuality; given that it’s my absolute favorite sport that ever was, I have no choice but to say that the potentiality does just as much, if not more, for me. You may say that makes me an abortion of a fan but I say, what else are you doing during those eight long months of deferred promise, o ye who claims devotion to this league?

Those of you who have been with FreeDarko before should show no shock. As little of an actual investment as we might have in the plight of Darko, what he stands for—ceiling so high it’s vague and invisible, projections bordering on myth, harvesting of a far-off crop of hypothetical beings—could not be nearer and dearer to the heart we try to share as much as humanly possible. We’ve also been steadfast in our attention to all matters Draft, and rarely needed much provocation to anoint an unproven combination of souls contenders on the loose. Any old slob can look at the givens and guess the outcome, and sly “expert picks” are like girls who ass-fuck to preserve their virginity: afraid of the tyrannical force they have tapped into. What sets us above from mere observers is the active role we take in fandom, the delight we feel in racing through scenes that may never be. This doesn’t make us better men, or disqualify us from the sheer racket of watching grueling competition. But seriously, in a league whose stars are known in large part for their auras, ineffable styles that transcend any mere collection of feats or breathtaking acts, why not savor the imaginary along with the real?


At 3/01/2006 7:35 AM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

dude, if you were really serious about jocking potential, you would join me in the mire of following AAU tournaments and college basketball recruiting.

At 3/01/2006 10:51 AM, Anonymous aug said...

If you guys are in the gainesville area next month,(a history of very good young city leagues), i'm going to an 10-12 AAU tournament of kid i used to coach. He's not that good, but a couple of the kids were in my league, and they're pretty sick. Gainesville produced Celtic Orien Greene. I was supposed be one of the coaches on the team, but i didn't have time. I don't really like the coaches because one of them wasn't very keen on my favorite/best player i've ever coached. A little point guard machine who could play great D, rebound, drive past anyone, 1 man press break, and score at will, because his shot form is a bit off(even though it goes in). From other stuff these coaches have said, i think it's safe to say they're a bit anti-style.

At 3/01/2006 11:33 AM, Anonymous Aaron said...

This wasn't a post for me. I'm only a basketball fan until baseball season kicks in, so potential couldn't mean less to me.

Only if you don't have better things to occupy yourself with in the offseason do you obsess over the potential of NBA players. Also, the AAU leagues scare me.

It's an interesting point, though, that potential in the NBA may be associated with style, even if it's style that may never be. When we glimpse the potential stardom of players, it's not in their numbers. It's when they do something so unbelievably cool that only one of the superhumans who rule the league could do it.

At 3/01/2006 12:23 PM, Anonymous tp said...

I cannot stand NBA trade speculation. I don't mind the pre-draft stuff, but trade speculation makes me want to resolve international crises by strangling Chad Ford. If I hear one more of his ridiculous 4-team trades that made it through the Trade Machine, I'm going to fly to Hawaii and kick his Mormon ass. Thank god we won't have to worry about it until the summer or the next team he thinks aloud about how he could make over the Knicks if all of a sudden, teams would bend over backwards to make the Knicks better. It don't make no sense, son.

At 3/01/2006 2:29 PM, Blogger Vegan Viking said...

At least while speculating on the NBA, an 8-9 month season means there are actual games occuring while dreaming of potential. The NFL gives us 5 months of PURE actualization, then 7 months of PURE potential--nothing by FA, draft, and dreams.

I don't know about others, but I tend to take my basketball interest backward (to history) rather than forward (to potential). Rather than wondering what particular teams and player could do in the future, I spend time thinking about how current teams and players stack up to the legends of yesteryear.

At 3/01/2006 2:40 PM, Anonymous T. said...

I don't think this is a mostly basketball obessession - or even a big basketball affliction.

I do live in Texas - there are three seasons here - football, recruiting and spring football.

If that isn't about potential then nothing is.

At 3/01/2006 2:59 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

pv nailed it, though. . . once football starts, there's an almost grim unwillingness to think at all in terms of potential. it's just not a luxury that the nature of the season affords, and not something all that compatible with the sport's mentality. with hoops, though, it's hovering in the air well after you'd think known quantities would have taken center stage.

At 3/01/2006 3:01 PM, Blogger mutoni said...

though i value the idea of thinking and basking in the endless possibilities of the ball season, it can't possibly compare the actualization itself. potential is like a delicious and slightly addictive appetizer whereas the actualization is the long-awaited and perfectly prepared steak.

At 3/01/2006 3:02 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

maybe i'm asking this: is today's nba ever really, truly actualized? is part of the "league of stars" mentality refusing to ever believe it truly has?

At 3/01/2006 6:55 PM, Anonymous westney said...

I'm sorry, but Robert Horry's hand-in-the-air dagger-in-the-heart 3-ball and the loping, shoulder-dislocating posterizing of the entire Detroit squad were definitely fulfilling.
We immediately knew the Spurs would win in '05 when Tim's sideways fallaway 20-foot prayer got trumped by lucky-ass Derek Fisher... what we didn't know was that Big Shot Rob would bring it like that.
Seriously, don't tell me you didn't look back after last year's finals and say, "yep."

At 3/01/2006 7:35 PM, Blogger mutoni said...

i looked back at last year's finals and said "ugh!"
the only highlight was Horry's game 5 performance. the other games actually caused me physical pain to watch them.

At 3/01/2006 8:40 PM, Blogger The Electric Zarko said...

Being a League of Potential would explain why roughly half of all NBA-related articles or blog posts (not on FD; rather, on places like The Worldwide Leader) constantly reference How Good It's Going to Be. This being the belief that the NBA is in some sort of larvae form right now, that we are in a transition state before the Real Game stars getting played.

This seems to be based on the idea that we will see Lebron, Wade, Melo and other "rising stars" (although those are almost always the 3 that get mentioned) reach some sort of orgasmic ubermensch state and then (and only then) will we be ushered into the New Golden Age of Basketball. It seems to me like this is a remnant of Jordan-Love, where the memory of Salieri (much love to the Wizznuttz) still has not managed to diminish the shadow that he continues to cast upon the League.

I'm rocking it Dickenson-style here because this kind of view strikes me as some sort of dreamy mysticism and to go back to Jordan, creates a landscape where basketball fans are somehow in need of rescuing by a Hero figure.

In a way, it's important that Stoudamire has been hurt and thus out of the spotlight because he is different, he is referred to as a "manchild" because there is an assumption that his potential has already been reached. No, I'm not saying that he won't get better, the implication is that we have already seen what Stoudamire is capable of as a player, that his game can be refined; yet there is no discussion of "when he gets it" or "when he figures it out" that circles around figures such as Wade and Lebron.

I liked last year's Finals. It should also be noted that Sheed is probably my favorite player in the League, aesthetically or otherwise.

At 3/01/2006 8:44 PM, Anonymous Torgo said...

Uh, long time reader, and such. Love the site. This post is, well, true. Every day during the season, I find myself reading the recaps of games with teams I like, and checking the stats on all the other games, but about this point in the season, it gets kind of routine. July, though, the frantic hurry up and wait period before teams can sign players, I can't stay away from the internet. The free agent signings, the trades, somehow, that ends up as being more fulfilling, more exciting.

And Mutoni, I have to disagree. The Spurs Pistons series had some amazing ball. I don't recall which game it was, but in one game, as a team, the Pistons had 5 turnovers. 5. It was stunning. They were just toying with the Spurs the whole night. I know people get sick of hearing people talk about "the way the game should be played" but when that's the result you get, 5 turnovers, (I think) about 50% shooting, and good defense, what's wrong with that?

At 3/01/2006 9:13 PM, Blogger Vegan Viking said...

Thom, that makes me think: so often in sports, we hear how things now aren't as good as they used to be. Players, attitudes, quality of games, champions, competition, EVERYTHING about every sport is worse than it once was (in the minds of a lot of commentators). You seem to suggest that a "league of potential" is simply an offshoot of that; the current game isn't as good as it used to be, but could be again someday. It's similar to the mythology of the "Star Wars" saga: when things seem bad, the best way to make things good is to restore something from the past that is lost. Jordan (and Magic and Bird) seems to represent the Old Republic, and even though the Galaxy is currently dominated by the evil Empire, a young hero of amazing skills (LeBron) is set to rise and restore the Galaxy to its former glory.

It's interesting that in sports, we so rarely appreciate the moment. We spend much of our time thinking about the history of the sport, or speculating on the future of the sport. I think this is largely because every year, somewhere around 95% of sports fans are going to be disappointed in the result. The fact is, in a given sport in a given year, the odds are very low that we as fans will be rewarded--most years, our favorite teams won't win the championship. We'll end most every season disappointed. This causes us to either look back at former glory, or to look ahead to hopes of future glory.

If you live in Minnesota, this usually just means an extended state of depression.

At 3/01/2006 9:34 PM, Blogger emynd said...

I don't think the "this is a league of potential" insight has anything to do with glorifying history. In fact, I think it does quite the opposite. While it is aware of history every step of the way, potential is always about potential and nothing more. It's not necessarily a reference to the past nor is it a predicter of things to come in the future. That's the beauty of potential: while it seems to be heavily dependent on history and seems to be all about fulfilling some idealized future, potential is--in reality--all about the limitless possibilities of the present tense. That's what makes it fun. That's what makes it exciting.

While it seems like both, it's neither anticipation nor nostalgia: it's just the pure, unadulterated enjoyment of the present tense in disguise.


At 3/01/2006 10:05 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

one thing that totally contradicts my post: basketball has a far lower incidence of the freakish "career year" than either football or baseball. and consistency from game to game, at least statistically, is almost hard to help for any regular rotation player with a well-defined role

At 3/02/2006 1:02 AM, Blogger elandfried said...

Darko breakout performance? 12 pts, 9 boards, 2 assists, 2 blocks on 6 of 7 shooting. It's about time.

At 3/02/2006 10:21 AM, Anonymous tp said...

pv is entirely right about this. it should be about enjoying the moment. i'm a wiz fan, am i going to enjoy this run to the playoffs or am i going to be thinking about how much better they'll be if they can replace haywood this offseason? while i'm watching i'll be thinking of the latter, but i'm a basketball fan because i like to watch games not because i like to fantasize about the potential. granted, i do sometimes think about potential, but i'm not more excited by free agency, drafts, and trade rumors than the playoffs. and i don't even think it's close.

At 3/02/2006 10:31 AM, Blogger Rocco Chappelle said...

I think PV has a good point here. Whenever I'm in a moment of sports related fulfillment I am experiencing it through a lens of history as well as the immediate and distant future.

When D-Wade pulls one of his patented ‘impossible slither & split of 3 defenders, raise up 12' from the basket, and yoke hard on his own neck’, I not appreciating the moment in-and-of itself. I'm evaluating the quality of the current experience relative to the 100 other times he's pulled off this type of feat. I'm comparing other monstrous game changing plays that are in my RAM and the players that made them. I also looking forward to seeing the play over and over again in the 97 replays they're going to show as bumpers on commercial breaks as well as on ESPN for the next week. Then ultimately, I questioning whether that play will be a definitive moment in my as well as my generation's sporting memories, a la the most recent Jordan commercial

As an aside, it’s such a bitch trying to explain that commercial to my girlfriend, she keeps asking me, “Is that Michael Jordan’s son?”, even the Asian and African booty scratchers. That commercial makes no sense to her unless one of the folk in it is Michael Jordan’s child. I don’t get it.

Back to the point at hand, For me, no actual moment in any sporting event has any value outside of a contextual analysis of some sort. Whenever something in sports or to be more grandiose in life happens outside of a contextual palette of reference it is nothing more than spectacle.

I don't think I'm going to be any more clear about this, so I guess my point is that, I believe that Shoals' original point was (please correct me if I'm over-simplifying or missing the point) that he derives greater enjoyment out the possibility of an experience then by it's actualization. I think this is an incredibly "human" condition. The present lacks the mystique of the past and the potential enormity of the future. Even when the present is great, I don't think most folks can appreciate it without being referential.

Word to Baba Ram Dass, Be Here Now

At 3/02/2006 11:28 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

for some reason i have trouble believing that we experience the past without some hint of potentiality. as in, part of reliving past NBA'ers is recalling the potentiality so essential to their star presence. you don't compare wade to jordan the fixed quantity, but to both the "limitless possibilities of the present tense" (quoth e.) and long-term prospects for seemingly limitless greatness that jordan stood--and still stands--for.

there is no original, anchoring point for these references. everyone is a mess of potential, even if it's just the potential that was.

At 3/02/2006 11:48 AM, Anonymous Mr. Six said...

Perfect segue into my thinking on the subject: I don't know that I agree that the NBA is solely or even primarily a league of potential, but potential certainly is one of the captivating aspect of the Association, the teams, the games, and the players. And if you're going to talk about potential, you also have to consider that which goes unfulfilled.

Watching last night's Sixers-Rockets game, at several points I had the same thought I've had almost every time I've watched Chris Webber play over the last few years: he should have been the greatest power forward of all time. He isn't and won't be, but every game, I see flashes of the potential that was never realized. Those moments have a special kind of beauty and are one of the things that make me care about the game.

At 3/02/2006 11:59 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

and that is why webber remains such a captivating figure. it's impossible to give up on him.

At 3/02/2006 12:37 PM, Anonymous T. said...

he should have been the greatest power forward of all time.

I always had the same thought about Derrick Coleman. If only he'd give a damn.

Whoop-dee-damn-do, indeed Derrick.


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