Truth and Daggers
Part 2,4578,234 in our 2006 'Lamentations on the Lig' series. Today I will return to the topic I presented last week: the imbalance of power within The Association. Generally, imbalance can be healthy for a major sports league. The Yankees and Red Sox play their villainous roles graciously; generally they are defeated, and a sense of morality is restored. Within the NFL, The Patriots (admit it: even when they are not the team to beat, they are always the team to beat) play the role of a champion we can cheer for. And in the NBA, even during the Jordan era, it was refreshing to know who was the foodchain topnotch and who were the crustaceans. In the Amare-less 2006 season, however, Jesus Children of America from the sunsplashed blacktops of Oakland, California, to the brick-shadowed concrete courts of Newark, New Jersey SHED TEARS when Avery preaches defense, when Flip Saunders tightens his necktie, and when Poppovich calls a TO 23 seconds into the game (JUST TO SHOW HOW DISCIPLINED WE ROLL, RIGHT?!).
This is definitively NOT another anti-Spurs/Pistons/whoever tirade. See, just when you think Freedarko is on some macro shit, I bring the argument to the micro level. Man for man. Player for player. There's an imbalance at the individual level that I'm here to tell you about. Of years past, there was a proper hierarchy that has since crumbled. You can keep your MJs, Magics, and Birds. All of them will be duplicated if they haven't been already, or their prototypes will be altered to fit the bodies of your Wades, Brons, Livingstons, Telfairs and Diaws. Big men will fluctuate in-and-out of the Chamberlain mold and the Euro:pass+shoot threes mold until homeostasis is reached. But what I realize every Thursday when I watch TNT, and what I worry we will never again see, is another Charles Barkley: The vocal spokesman of the Dream Team Era.
While Jordan et al. provided the face of the league, Barkley made sure it was functioning properly behind the scenes. Charles seemed to go beyond "telling it like it is," to speaking ridiculousness with the sole purpose of keeping everyone else honest. Aside from the current FACE OF THE LEAGUE problems--Lebron? Not yet a champion or a leader, Duncan? The true champion, but with obvious problems, Wade? Too fucking boring. The Pistons (the other true champions)? Too homogeneous--the league lacks a vocal gatekeeper like Sir Charles. Barkley's influence STILL is profound in the league today. When he criticizes Dallas' pick n' roll defense, they become a defensive-minded team. When he suggests KG ask for a trade, KG is forced to respond. Some would even argue that Barkley's halftime comments altered the course of the all-star game. Age limit, dress code, Ron Artest. People will listen to his views. Charles has earned the right to speak with authority, and to be heard.
A few years ago it would have been possible for AI to capture this role. Unlike Charles, however, AI's emotion-driven rhetoric was never balanced with cold rationale. AI has always been simply too real, and always too much the posterboy for Stern's "50 ways we can clean up the league" campaign of the past few years. Other players in the Barkley's "badboy" image would never be fit for such a prominent position either. Larry killed Roscoe. Artest has no credibility. Kobe has no friends. And so, it seems that over the past few years, Shaq, oddly enough, has taken over the vocal spokesman role of the league. And his capacity for humor aside, there couldn't be someone more poorly fit for the job.
Shaq is too deliberate whereas Chuck was automatic. You get the sense that a lot of Shaq's soundbites are things he practiced saying in a mirror. Shaq is significant because of his stature, yet his being lacks any true semantic quality. What does Shaq stand for??? I have no idea. Charles, on the other hand, is constantly making a statement because of who he is. Having completely defied his physical limitations, he took it upon him to defy all social norms as well. Also, in a strange way, Shaq just isn't very fucking cool. His shoes were always wack, even when he was with Reebok. His streetclothes are straight vaudeville. The whole police officer thing is a little Hulkamania, and we could make Shazam/Space Jam, or "What's Up Doc"/"Everybody stay fly get money kill and fuck bitches" comparisons all day long. Charles, on the other hand, did a commercial with Humpty Hump and married the blondest, most prim and proper, Saltiniest woman possible in the same manner that you or I would buy a mink coat.
But where Shaq fails most in the vocal spokesman role is in his bullyish nature. Barkley never chose such easy targets (e.g. Laimbeer, Oakley, etc.). Diesel's recent track record, on the other hand, is just silly. Picking on Erick Dampier? Too easy. Never ever ever letting the Kobe thing drop until he had the perfect public forum to do so, making it look like HE was the one who squashed it? Mad Hollywood. And just last week, he took it upon himself to--for no good reason--trashtalk Steve Francis.
...Which leads me to switch gears and pose the following question: Why am I the only person on God's entire green earth who will acknowledge that the Francis-to-NY deal was a great deal for the Knicks? For the past 48 hours, I have had to listen to pundits from Walton to Greg Anthony to Aldridge absolutely trash Isiah for this deal. ESPN.com seems decidedly opposed to the deal. And the message boarders/bloggers aren't offering much support either. Excuse me miss, but, last time I checked
THE KNICKS TRADED PENNY HARDAWAY AND TREVOR ARIZA FOR STEVE FRANCIS.
Does that make sense? Think about that for a second. They traded two bad players for a really good player. And how else were the Knicks going to get better? By acquring one of those awesome Przybilla-caliber free agents with the mid-level exception this offseason? By drafting LaMarcus Aldridge with the draft pick they don't have? By trading one of their untradeable contracts? GIVE ISIAH CREDIT WHEN DUDE COMES THROUGH FOR ONCE.
See, I think all of this Francis-trade-bashing is evidence of this old Genealogy of Morals (fuck yall) type idea of having to suffer to experience pleasure. Like, we don't deserve to enjoy the potential awesomeness that a Marbury/Francis backcourt could create (oh, the matchup problems!). We're not supposed to cheer for this deal because Marbury and Francis are supposedly losers or cancers or because they like to score. Forget that they can electrify the NBA's most important market. Forget they are coached by the same guy who took a shoot-first PG and an undersized 2 to a World Championship two years ago.
This no-fun attitude still painfully permeates popular NBA punditry and comprises the same wheel-spinning about how we shouldn't expect fastbreaking teams to do well in the post season, and Dirk really needs to work on his defense, and Varejao really brings so much to the Cavs, and blah blah blah screw-your-aesthetics, we want to see the drabbest game possible to know that our senses have experienced the "right" form of basketball. And so, dear reader, I am back at where we usually start. This is a League of Bile. And we are a blog of petty arrogance (Thanks to Brandon for pointing this out...click on the image and look real closely in the upper right):
While we have often been criticized for being on some Rockwell shit, we can say that our "paranoia" is at least now somewhat justified, seeing as how Page2 appears to be on some Kylie Minogue shit with regard to us. So on behalf of the entire Freedarko collective, I would like to say to Caple, Shanoff, Scoop, and the rest of the crew:
WE SEE YOU.