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,
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.