Broke to get whole

First off, before we bother with the stuff that can be put into words:

And with that, Shoals opened his eyes, as if for the first time in 296 days. . . .

For reasons not yet readily apparent to me, DLIC and myself managed only a handful of hoops-themed conversations while he was in Austin. The following is loosely based on some remarks that occurred during one of these all-too-rare nuggets of testimony, and his contribution should be assumed accordingly.

Not sure if you caught this the first six thousand times, but I’m mildly obsessed with the Bobcats’ Gerald Wallace, aka "Multiplicity". I hailed his arrival after the first week of the season (sorry for the missing images), and when I once again no longer had a provident excuse for its content, spent an entire McSweeney’s column examining its metaphysics. Yet the one thing that gets me down about Wallace, and probably his signature feature among people not named EVERYONE TETHERED TO FREEDARKO, is his penchant for sustaining injury affecting the course of his season (unfortunately, Insider dap from Hollinger will not a public image make).

You would think that I’d be drawn to injury-prone athletes, in the same way that consumption once indicated creativity, gout was a marker of social status, and junkies inspired several generations of charismatic waifs. It certainly brings with it a connotation of tragedy, infinite potential, and meaningful connection (when you’re down, any love is valid love), and I’m loathe to admit that my longstanding fantasy sports habit has barred me from recognizing the aesthetic motherlode that is the walking wounded. Somehow, though, I’ve never really bothered to consider how I feel about “injury-prone” as a positive category, much less how it relates to our overall vision of FreeDarko-ness.

Anyone who has been consistently staring headfirst into our secrets should by now have some sixth sense of what and what isn’t FreeDarko. While taking my bi-weekly survey of the Association to better understand FreeDarko this, FreeDarko that, I came upon a truly upending trend: a lot of the players we’ve rushed to deify readily deserve this rueful appellation. Wallace, T-Mac, Odom, Arenas, Dalembert, Bad Vince, Baron Davis, and Kirilenko, to name a few, have all at one time or another in their careers been hit with this most damning of labels, and somehow also rest near the top of our gigantic commemorative heap of NBA pecking order. What’s astounding is that, when confronted with said correlation, I am forced to admit that the more a player comes up lame, the less I like him (again, not just a symptom of fantasy sports); to cite an extreme case, I barely even think about B-Diddy these days, since I always assume he’s either sitting out or not in any shape to perform like I know he can. It’s no accident that Davis’s two-year campaign for best NBA point also happens to have been the last time he was healthy for any consistent period of time. The bottom line is, once I’ve seen what a player can do, his potential’s cashed, and I feel like I’m being robbed of my what makes my version of the Association tick. As for the tragic story. . . well, watch me hold my breath on the daily over Amare, and you’ll see how well I take to heroes in limbo.

All self-analytic digression aside, I remain thoroughly puzzled by just what it is that makes these kingz of this earth fall apart at the seams with such discouraging regularity. This isn’t football, where blows are leveled that could shatter the build of the ostrich, or baseball, where things move at three-digit velocities and the rest of the time people stand perfectly still. There is probably a worthwhile distinction to be drawn between the chronic sufferer and the odds and ends undoings, with it being anyone’s guess which one bespeaks a higher form of disaster (or more profound disaster). But for me, who lives to ferret out the cause of all things and account for their living nature, there’s a far more pressing issue at hand: those whose game seems to warrant, or at least accommodate injury, and those for whom these bouts of bad luck seem nothing short of improbable.

This past weekend, DLIC and I agreed that it makes perfect sense for Odom to have a body that just won’t work correct. It fits with the do-everything, do-nothing personae he’s cultivated during his vexing career; as a player whose skill set is constantly outdoing itself without accomplishing much of anything, why wouldn’t there be a problem with incapacity or two thrown in, to keep up the spirit of haphazard variety? Same goes for his physical—if you’re built at once tall, broad, slithery, insistent, and dart-like, wouldn’t at least a few constructions end up off the beaten schematics? It doesn’t bring me any joy to announce this to you, but, in the sense that Odom embodies a certain sub-school of FreeDarko-ness, his adverse relationship with health comes as a necessary condition of this identity. The same could be said for McGrady or Kirilenko, both of whom owe their versatility to a similar gamble on the part of the Creator, or the Baron and his bygone days of 3X2 unleashingmentness.

Wallace, though, belongs to a wholly more dismal group: those too perfectly, meticulously designed to thrive on this earth. Vince belongs here, as does Amare—formidable athletes whose flat-out dominance seems to have been gifted upon them from on high, killing machines set down here to make the perfect statement in the art of a certain kind of niche game. Why such a man would fall victim to structural mishap is beyond me, since their perfect union of deed and destiny nearly redeems the otherwise-creepy term “physical specimen.” So fit are they, and so perfectly intended to carry out a certain function on the court, it would appear to be the cruelest of jokes that they nevertheless find themselves oft-impaired. Whether through the lens of mechanics most sheer, or in the crucible of fate’s grand design, one searches in vain looking for any justification that does not also lean heavily on the “too pure for this world” supposition so foreign to mass NBA consumption. After all, is this not a league of otherworldiness, an arena in which every game might well be more fructifying than the last—as opposed to the hard fought gnashing in the trenches that so many other sports hold dear.

ForEvers Burns suggested that Wallace et al. belong to no finer a lineage than that of Achilles himslf, supra-humans who are cursed with a single weakness. But while the Greeks told tales to teach lessons, I don't think many of us take in the NBA to see right and wrong meet in an ultimate battle, or judge contestants on account of their common decency. In fact, like DLIC said yesterday, this is not a league of moralizing—instead, it is almost something like a league of joyous amorality. Or at least a game of it. Unfortunately, if you join us in rejecting such small-minded accounts of why sports rumble about like they do, you also must bid farewell to the consoling embrace of "had to be that way. . . things happen for a reason. . . there is meaning in all," and any narrative arc that might make these disasters easier to accept.

This, my friends, is a League of being forced to deal with the fact that sometimes, things just really fucking suck.

Mid-day announcement: we hand-wring over Page 2 a lot, but make no mistake, their very own Patrick Hruby sang a sweet, sweet song with his column today. Just in case the FreeDarko Medal of Approval turns out to be worth something anytime soon, Hruby can from now on consider himself its first, and maybe last, recipient.

One more of these: especially in light of this week's newest line in the sand between bloggers and the MSM (this one makes our "fatwa" look silly by comparison, but I appreciate Brian remembering FD's grizzliest moment), I can't only bestow recognition upon an ESPN'er. Run, don't walk, to Joey's think post on Fishscale, glance at Cowherd's all-caps tantrum, and then just try and wrap your head around the notion of legitimacy in journalism today.

P.S., there is absolutely no way I can't prominently link to this, probably the most FreeDarko thing to have ever happened, anywhere, in any sport.


At 3/24/2006 9:23 AM, Blogger emynd said...

Holy shit. This might be the best thing I've ever read on this blog.

Anyway, I know I bring up AI with a frequency that would suggest I'm sexually involved with him in some way (or would at least like to be), but I think we can safely say that he--along with KG--is the exception that PROVES the "rule" that Shoals documented above. Sure, AI gets injured somewhat frequently, but rarely do these injuries threaten the trajectory of the season.

Anyway, great fucking post.


At 3/24/2006 9:49 AM, Anonymous T. said...

I think that's mainly because AI plays through the majority of his injuries. "I am what I am" - or whatever the folks at Rbk would have you believe.

Nice shout out from Kelly Dwyer on Tuesday by the way.

At 3/24/2006 2:03 PM, Anonymous LUCAS said...

That Liger is freaking sweet!

At 3/24/2006 3:16 PM, Blogger Brickowski said...

i think you're short-changing the ferocious physicality of basketball. i read an article a year ago (i think it was in the Times) that basically said that if you examined the knees of any of these guys you'd find that they're pretty fucked up. the point of the article was that the body, specifically the knee, isn't built to sustain the constant pounding that comes from continually leaping and landing on a hard wood floor. factor in the lack of any padding (unlike the armor bonds brings to the plate), all the traffic in the paint, and the fact that merely landing on someone's foot can sideline a player for weeks (see Shaq and Duncan), and, frankly, i'm surprised we don't see MORE injuries.

and i don't really think that the body types you mentioned have anything to do with one's susceptibility to injury. KG and his freak length should be prone to the same ailments as AK, T-Mac and Odom (except i've kinda always assumed KG has steel cables in place of ligaments and tendons). no player appears more indestructable than the Diesel (he's the JUGGERNAUT, BITCH!), yet he's missed as much time as anyone over the last two years. and while freak leapers like amare and wallace might be injury prone, don't forget that the gravitationally limited big men you so despise are also often impaired, as evidenced by Yao, Shaq and Duncan.

i think luck is the biggest factor with injury, but it's impossible to discount e's point about AI. as that commercial documents, he's had a myriad of breaks, sprains and strains, yet still keeps battling. vince on the other hand, well, vince is just a pussy.

At 3/24/2006 3:31 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

what's most striking to me is the lack of correlation between athleticism--freak physicality--and durability. it's not like all high-flyers are injury-prone, but it's not like none are, either. i guess i just don't understand sports well enough to see why this shouldn't surprise me.

i keep thinking back to mcgahee's recovery. everyone went on and on about how he was able to zoom ahead of schedule because of his astouding conditioning, strucutre, etc. and yet this apparently didn't apply (even as speculation) to amare, who along with lebron and wade might as well be a poster child for human form.

At 3/24/2006 4:49 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i am compulsively adding to this post instead of commenting on it. kobe bryant is jewish. yours, shoals.

At 3/24/2006 4:55 PM, Blogger Brickowski said...

i think it's possible for players to be too athletic for their own good. the athleticism that we're talking about here seems to be of the "gift from god" variety, not the product of personal trainers. i probably know even less about this stuff than you do, but i've always had the impression that balance is really key to conditioning, and that an athlete would be fucked if certain muscles were disproportionately stronger or longer than other muscles.

this leads me to some shit that's liable to anger the FreeD gods but seems unavoidable: i question the heart of T-Mac, Odom, Vince and even my beloved Kirilenko. (wallace escapes this questioning because he's too new and underground, and Amare's passion is palpable even through my shitty brokSonic television).

like i said earlier, i think luck has a greater say than anything else in this conversation. further, it's impossible for me to determine which attributes are natural and which ones are the product of extensive time in the gym. yet, i don't think it's a coincidence that e referenced AI and KG, two guys who are often described, here and elsewhere, as having the biggest hearts in the league. and i can't shake the thought of that monument to both drive and athleticism known as jordan. that guy never missed time!

kobe, too, has spent very little time in street clothes, and i don't need to say anything about his drive. it's just a hunch, but i suspect wade's career will follow a similar path (lebron's a different story since we've never seen anyone that BIG have that kind of explosiveness).

i hope i'm wrong. i really want to see T-Mac and AK thrive in this league. but i haven't seen enough evidence yet to believe that they're willing to put in the maniacal effort required to maximize their freakish innate talents.

At 3/24/2006 5:16 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

iverson is notorious for never working out, to the point that it used to piss off some of his teammates who did need/want to log extensive time in the gym.

also i think back issues are no joke. especially if someone's got as frighteningly elastic a game as mcgrady.

At 3/24/2006 5:32 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

and i fixed the last link in that post. it was to a particular deadspin item, not the whole blog. i mean, i love deadspin with all my heart, but it's a little confusing for me to say that another blog writ large is the most fd thing ever. sorry for any exegetical crises this may have provoked.

At 3/24/2006 6:02 PM, Blogger Brickowski said...

since we're paying respect to good shit on the internets today (something i think we might want to do more often), i have to give some much overdo love to our very own emynd and his fantastic lemon red mix. E and his boy Bo manage to blend Madonna, EZ Rock, Hov and the Chicago Bulls intro. BASKETBALL WITHOUT BORDERS! The shit was in my car for like a week, and only got bumped out by the new Starks (which is basically the highest praise anyone can aspire to). I meant to jock it here at the time, but I got caught up with an office move and a trip to Austin to meet up with Shoals and DLIC. Anyways, go cop it here if you haven’t yet: http://www.lemon-red.org/mix/2006/03-06-emyndbobliz.html

then go read joey’s on-point Ghost review. I think I’ve listened to Big Girl approximately 67 times in the last two days.

At 3/24/2006 6:10 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 3/24/2006 6:13 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

the most amazing thing about fishscale is that it makes all of ghost--from cuban linx to supreme to pretty tone, which certainly had a purpose--into one, totally seamless and human, artist. he still may not always make sense, and no doubt the personae is erratic and weird, but you get the feeling that there's a reason for all of it. that there is a dennis coles behind the mask(s) (no pomo) and totally in control.

if the two poles of wu-tang were always the rza (methodical, self-conscious, pressure points and shit), and odb (pure id), you've got to think ghostface has aged as well as he has because he encapsulates both without contradicting himself.

At 3/24/2006 6:34 PM, Blogger Pooh said...

Kobe as a fellow tribesman? Me, him and Doug Gottlieb. Oh yeah, and Sam Jacobsen, the Jewish Jordan who was neither jewish nor Jordan, discuss.

But the real reason for my post is two things, first, awesome thoughts. I would think that injuredness fits in well with the FD scheme of potentiality - what could have happened? We can still speculate as to how Len Bias would have been C-Webb a decade earlier based on potentiality. We can speculate as to how great a Randy Livingston would have been considering he still made the League with knees of a 55 year old, or what might have happened if Ronnie Fields (who KG still calls the best he ever played with, IIRC) had not wrapped his car around a light post.

This isn't much different then imagining what might occur when the reigns are taken off of a J.R. Smith.

As to the 'injuredness' point itself, I'm sure you've read about all the goofy stuff Dirk's German svengali puts him through right? So as to make his joints capable of supporting the muscle as its added. I think what happens to these guys is they get too built too fast and the ever increasing speed with which they hurl themselves causes something to give.

KG has never been 'cut', so his is perhaps a more natural, hollistic, strength then the tonnage T-Mac clearly added to his torso about 3 years in.

And I think we're comapring apples and oranges in talking about McGrady's back and Amare's knee in the same convo. Injuries happen somewhat randomly - afflictions somewhat less so, though improperly treated, an injury can become an affliction (see McDyess, Antonio; Hill, Grant; and Hypochondriac, Anfernee)

At 3/24/2006 11:33 PM, Anonymous T. said...

don't sleep on danny schayes.

At 3/25/2006 12:21 AM, Blogger Chris said...

McGrady is def injury-prone, because an iffy back just comes and goes and it just cripples you.

At 3/25/2006 11:28 AM, Blogger Joey said...

For some reason, I, too, find that a player's tendency toward injury is inversely related to the esteem in which I hold him. And yeah, it's been tough watching Manu, Baron, TMac, J.O., and Larry Hughes fade into relative irrelevance this season.

At 3/25/2006 1:28 PM, Blogger Ian said...

I imagine Kobe wouldn't mind being a Jew because he spent his entire youth around them. Lower Merion High School is about as draped up and kiked out as you can get; shit, my mom went there. The starting lineup that won the Pennsylvania state championship in 1996 was Kobe and four guys with names like Steinberg or something.

At 3/25/2006 1:56 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

that's why i'm still puzzling over this. he warmly pledges his solidarity with our people, but then evidently doesn't remember enough about our proud race to not be surprised that we no longer overrun the ranks of pro sports. and then, to top it all off, he comes with a practically talmudic gem that will keep me up for at least another two days: he's not certain he's converting, but if he were to, he could be counted as a jew in the nba. what the fuck, kb8?

also, my girl sadly observed that this might just be some LA Kabbalah shit, not the eastern seaboard brand he should know so well.

At 3/25/2006 6:20 PM, Blogger Pooh said...

OT but Tyrus Thomas. That is all.

At 3/26/2006 2:45 AM, Anonymous T. said...

I think AK-47's 10 blocks has been the most amazing thing I've seen this season.

At 3/26/2006 1:08 PM, Blogger mutoni said...

I don't know what you guys read into about what Mamba claimed regarding converting to Judaism, but it seemed (at least to me, anyway) that he was just busting the reporter's chops. Everyone knew it was a joke, hence the hilarious concluding phrase of the column : "And if he does, that's one tip-off Bryant won't be too excited about."

At 3/26/2006 8:42 PM, Anonymous T. said...

Players I could not have been more wrong about (#1 of about 1,000):

Charlie Villenueva - 48 freakin' points? (Of course Ced Ceballos and Willie Burton have both dropped 50 point games).

I guess I know why I'm not a scout (I was also convinced that Billy Owens was going to change the game of basketball).

At 3/27/2006 10:45 AM, Blogger Joey said...

Ian, how can you diss dan pangrazzi or pangrazzo or whatever his name was? It must have been three Jews, because that dude ain't of the Tribe.

Co-sign on being wrong about Charlie Villanueva. You just wonder where this intensity was last year, as N.C. State was ruining my life.


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