3.29.2006

Every underbelly deserves its own underbelly



You might say DLIC did the definitive FreeDarko ax-sloshing of college ball last week, but the Final Four brought on in me a whole new wave of bitterness. Hence, tomorrow I will present without qualms my contribution to the effort, the one McSweeney’s joint I’ve thus far written that comes off as deranged (and uneven) as this blog can sometimes get.

I did leave out one simple, solid point in my version of the anti-college onslaught, one so inflammatory and desperate it makes sense only in the heated environment that is the last gasp of March Media rhetoric: LeBron. Say what you will about the values of the NCAA game, the profligacy of the pros, or what sport in America means to you. But on a strictly technical level, no individual has ever been as tailor-made for the game of basketball, in any one of its many forms, as King James. His skill set, physique, athleticism, and attitude pretty much ensure that, no matter where in history you were to set him down, LeBron would dominate basketball as he found it. And last time I checked, this walking incarnation of all that is timeless, and acontextual, about the sport spends his days up at the NBA level. As in, if you actually care about basketball in its purest form—as opposed to any one perspective’s heavily-biased purism—you should tend toward the setting in which its human corollary most adequately practices his craft. LeBron is the single best argument against college ball: whatever it is, it’s not a state-of-the-art realization of Naismith’s original thirteen in their most perfectly theoretical form.



If I am paying any attention to what’s left of the field of sixty-four, it’s because of the entropic influence they exert on everyone’s Draft projections. Generally, this is looked at as a frantic plus for would-be pros; nothing falls as softly on an underclassman’s ears as the news that, due to his irrationally over-valued performance in a handful of widely-viewed games, he is now projected to make millions more than he was during an entire season’s worth of output. I’ve joked for some time, though, that a prospect might carefully monitor his stock with an eye toward not getting selected by a god-foresaken team that will waste the best years of his life. Of course, the profuse amounts of money involved make this an unlikely scenario, but peep this insight into the mind of Joakim Noah (Palm Beach Post, by way of Inside Hoops).

The last NBA game Joakim Noah saw in person could be his last one for some time. The Florida Gators 6-foot-11 sophomore star said Tuesday he plans to return to Gainesville next season, despite his rapid ascension up NBA Draft boards. A trip to the Final Four to face George Mason this weekend, coupled with a visit to Madison Square Garden last season to see the Knicks and New Jersey Nets, make the decision a no-brainer for Noah.

"I left in the middle of the game; it was boring," Noah recalled of the Knicks-Nets game. "It's a joke almost. Everything is slowed down — they play 85 or 82 games or whatever. "College is just so fun." Noah, 21, is in no rush to leave the college game behind, even if he could be drafted among the top five picks and lock up a guaranteed two-year contract worth more than $5 million.


I’m sure some less important people out there will be quick to trumpet the triumph of uncompensated college fun, with its emotional geysers and indelible sense of rightness, over the “just a job” mentality of the NBA. Look between the lines, though, and you’ll notice the detail that supplieth the serpent: he was at a fucking Knicks game. This possible #1 overall didn’t just witness some typically deflated pro basketball; he had to visit its frostiest seat of lowliness, and take in a team crowded with talented, mis-coached into oblivion, and forever mocked by the long shadow of its hair-brained GM. In short, Noah saw every reason why you wouldn’t want to go the NBA right away, fast money or no fast money.

Granted, dude’s set financially thanks to his tennis-pro-turned-reggae-star dad, but from a strictly economic point of view, ending up on the Knicks (yes, I know the Bulls get their #1 overall) or Hawks hardly puts someone in a position to cash in come 2010. The Bobcats are victims of unimaginable pain, the Raptors on the way up, and the Hornets have Chris Paul. But Portland? Minnesota? Utah? For assorted reasons, hardly destinations that will offer the utmost in personal and/or professional fulfillment. Yes, lottery teams are rarely ideal situations, but you can see why going to a disorganized, poorly-run franchise lacking in fan support and likely to dampen one’s future might not be worth the premature payday? This is a league of stars, and landing on a team capable of positioning you to be one is a major part of that. Otherwise, it can set you back several years in development and acclaim.



I will now conclude this most shrieky of companion posts (the sins of the McSweeney’s column shall revisit it twenty-fold. . .) with what I spent all weekend trying to write before I realized there wasn’t much to it. In fact, it is nothing more than a pet peeve of mine that seems like there must be some authority behind it: can we please, as a community of over-intellectualized NBA fans, foreswear the deadly jazz/ball comparisons? Yes, both are distinctly Afro-American. Both reflect common themes of improvisation, spontaneous collective dynamics, identity-through-action, and the primacy of voice/style in any gesture; as metaphors for each other, they're a cute couple every five years or so. But basketball’s arrival as a sport of great expressive, symbolic power pretty much coincided with jazz’s ultimate withdrawl from mainstream civilization; there are any number of seventies cultural touchstones that better mirror the ABA era, and today’s hip-hop epoch has as little to do with jazz in any real way as, well, hip-hop.



It's not just that there are more apt metaphors for the style-laden NBA, or ones that bear a more comprehensive family resemblance. When it comes to linking the NBA to black cultural traditions, there are forms of music (and dance) that you can actually perceive in the rhythms and cadence of the past thirty years of Association(s). Today, Ray Allen is the only guy in the league whose game makes sense juxtaposed against the contours of classic Blue Note, largely due to Spike's commercial; for any other individual, or any contest as a whole, Hot 97 or that latest mix-tape is the real musical key to the aesthetics, aims, and even creative ethics of the NBA as we know it.

Honestly, it seems like jazz's high/low credibility is merely an invaluable tool for redeeming what many perceive as a long-term decline in the game. Saying that basketball has assimilated funk, disco, boogie, and two decades of hip-hop doesn't sound nearly as majestic—or as defiantly contrary—as insisting that it's merely gotten more jazzy, with this trend coming to head at exactly the same time as, according to the Association's detractors, the hip-hop element has destroyed the game once and for all. Not surprisingly, this discourse is often in league with attempts to locate the hidden jazz in hip-hop. If you ask me, the whole thing smacks of essentialism; why aren't these same minds spending their days and nights dissecting the Bill Evans-influenced on-field exploits of a certain unemployed amateur pianist?



Oh, and if anyone can send me a video of that TNT spot from a few years back in which Vince, Webber, Ray Ray, and one other All-Star were playing as a jazz combo in someone's living room, consider yourself the proud owner of a free shirt. That's the single best evidence of the imperative I've been pushing for the last three paragraphs.

32 Comments:

At 3/30/2006 9:23 AM, Blogger Dr. Lawyer IndianChief said...

rarely do i praise our own so publicly, but this post should be making the throat-slash gesture. over.

 
At 3/30/2006 9:43 AM, Anonymous TZ said...

Yeah, amen to that. Shit.

 
At 3/30/2006 10:19 AM, Blogger Ian said...

Outstanding. But I just wonder if the Bulls wouldn't be a force all of a sudden if they got Noah.

As for the Hawks, it seems impossible that Atlanta has such a bad basketball team year in, year out. All things being equal, what baller WOULDN'T want to come to the ATL? There's the weather, the low cost of living and there's an actual hip-hop scene, as opposed to the mixtape wasteland of NYC that's on life support.

 
At 3/30/2006 10:40 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

the hawks remain one of the great mysteries in the league to me. your list of ATL perks is dead-on, but most of all, it's a city with an enormous middle-class black population--people that, pardon my stereotyping, might have a little bit of interest in NBA basketball and the means to support a team financially. it just goes to show that, unlike the NFL, communities really only give a fuck about a winning NBA team.

maybe if they got a star to give them some brand identity, or made any sense on the floor. i like the idea that the hawks are just too damn inconclusive for anyone to get behind, no matter how they want to.

 
At 3/30/2006 11:03 AM, Blogger Mirabeau Lamar said...

I think that's true about ATL and the Hawks and, generally about communities' fickle support for their NBA team. Hell, Big Boi (ATLiens?) was on Best Damn last night and admitted to not giving a damn about the Hawks since 'Nique played. I lived in Milwaukee for the 03-04 season when Redd, TJ Ford, Kukoc, and Van Horn all played together and I never once heard a conversation about the Bucks. The Packers owned the sports scene there. It was like the Bucks were an Developmental League team. And that franchise has won championships and the city proper is 50% black.

 
At 3/30/2006 11:24 AM, Anonymous T. said...

t just goes to show that, unlike the NFL, communities really only give a fuck about a winning NBA team.

Or when it's the only game in town (ref. San Antonio, "the city of Utah" & Sacra-tomato).

Hell, here in Screwston, we have "the low cost of living and there's an actual hip-hop scene" AND no state income tax, and probably the best/2nd best strip club scene in the nation.

And yet, interest in the Rox is lukewarm at best - unless they're winning. And we have TWO of the most market friendly stars in the league.

 
At 3/30/2006 11:36 AM, Blogger Ian said...

You're right, BS. It's not really stereotyping to say that Atlanta likely has the wealthiest African-American community in the US. But the points made above really show why OKC needs to have the Hornets.

 
At 3/30/2006 11:53 AM, Anonymous TZ said...

"And yet, interest in the Rox is lukewarm at best - unless they're winning. And we have TWO of the most market friendly stars in the league."

I'll give you Stro, but Luther Head? Come on, man.

Seriously though, I wonder what besides challenging for the crown it would take the ATL to wake up and get excited about the Hawks. Do they need a White Chocolate-Webb type rebirth? I mean, it's not like they don't have exciting players.

Billy Knight should've went after Multiplicity last summer instead of JJ (who has been great) and Tyson Chandler (who would've been the biggest mistake ever). Not just from a roster standpoint - actually, contrary to the roster standpoint; another swing is the last thing they needed. But fuck, go all the way with the clone team theory. Reinvent the game.

 
At 3/30/2006 12:01 PM, Blogger mutoni said...

frighteningly good post.

i have nothing else to add.

 
At 3/30/2006 12:01 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

i love me some multiplicity, but JJ is clearly the superior player. dude could average 25, 7, and 7 (not that he is or ever will, but if he did) and still be slept on.

 
At 3/30/2006 12:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think PG county, MD has the wealthiest African-American population, but Atlanta must be close.

 
At 3/30/2006 2:25 PM, Blogger Brickowski said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=neqVm1BzRCI&search=colbert%20kareem

and check for the refix with kareem.

 
At 3/30/2006 2:36 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i have no idea if that helps or annihilates my case, but it was only the second or third most hilarious thing i've ever seen. up there even with jon stewart's coverage of ashcroft's farewell address.

i will say this, though--not knowing what kareem's doc looks like, i'll take his willingness to participate in this as evidence that, even for an nba great working on a jazz/hoops project, there are limits beyond which lies only catastrophe.

 
At 3/30/2006 2:37 PM, Anonymous Aaron said...

A few weeks back, Major League Gaming held its National Championship in Jersey City. It was open to spectators and since it was an easy PATH train for me to take, I decided to go and check it out.

I'm not a serious Halo II player at all. Was the national championship match where the four winners won 20,000 dollars any different from any game I'd watch with my friends? Not to my eye.

The majority of the crowd, though, was serious into Halo II, and they noticed something I would never have. The players in that championship match had figured out a way to... i don't know... clip the reload animation or something. It saved them about a second whenever they reloaded their guns. And that second was the difference between being an easy target and being loaded and dangerous. That, to me, was the mark of a professional video gamer.

I think the same thing applies to the NBA game vs. the college game. Sometimes to the uninitiated (me, for example) who doesn't know how important every bit of footwork is, it doesn't seem like the NBA is at a higher level than the college game. Sometimes it seems,like Noah said, that the college game is faster and more exciting. But then something is pointed out to me, the way a cut was timed, the way a defender juked, and I realize just how high a level the NBA is at.

Oh, and I'm considering signing my posts J-Bug from now on. Any objections?

 
At 3/30/2006 2:47 PM, Anonymous T. said...

I'll give you Stro, but Luther Head? Come on, man.

Pah. Obviously I'm referring to Steve Francis and Moochie Norris.

gfmebod -> indeed. i couldn't have said it better myself

 
At 3/30/2006 2:48 PM, Blogger The Electric Zarko said...

it just goes to show that, unlike the NFL, communities really only give a fuck about a winning NBA team.

Please explain how the Warriors continue to draw excellent crowds and generate interest entirely out of proportion to their crappiness, which is of the level that there is a legitimate argument that they are the worst team in the Association.

(I'll throw in my theories regarding ATL and the Town now: The Warriors do well because the Town and the surrounding area (including SF) have a number of people who just like their ball AND there isn't that much to do in Oakland at night. As one of my co-workers likes to proclaim, there is too much going on in the ATL for people (even real basketball lovers) to waste time going to see the Hawks.)

 
At 3/30/2006 2:49 PM, Anonymous T. said...

I'll give you Stro, but Luther Head? Come on, man.

Pah. Obviously I'm referring to Steve Francis and Moochie Norris.

gfmebod -> indeed. i couldn't have said it better myself

 
At 3/30/2006 4:07 PM, Anonymous TZ said...

"As one of my co-workers likes to proclaim, there is too much going on in the ATL for people (even real basketball lovers) to waste time going to see the Hawks.)"

This is true. If I'm in Atlanta, I'm probably not killing two evening hours in Philips unless the seats are free.

 
At 3/30/2006 4:20 PM, Blogger Pooh said...

It's often been said, but ATL is just not a 'good sports town'. They don't give a shit about the Braves, who win the division every year. Do the Hawks even have a chance?

And I think that dovetails with what Noah is saying about the 'fun' of the college game. Before it becomes all business (and even after, I would argue) these guys are in it, to a degree, for the juice, and the crowd plays a big part in that. Which is why I blame the commish in part. He's allowed the constant dumbing down of the masses so that the game isn't enough, it has to be an event. Which is crap, you put a good (FD-intensive, I might add) product on the floor, and the fans don't need frisbee-dogs or techno music. Though the dance team can stay. Preferably at my place.

 
At 3/30/2006 5:55 PM, Blogger Don't do this to yourself said...

"communities really only give a fuck about a winning NBA team."

True. And true. Here in Portland, fans lapped up Sheed, Arvydas and his DUI-friendly wife, Bonzi, Stoudamire and the like as if they were nectar from basketball heaven. When it became obvious that this particular team wasn't going to win it all, because of age chemistry or whatever, the fans started focusing on the reefer madness and ref-baiting and drove those guys out of town. To compound matters, in come Qyntel and his friendly dogs, which is a whole other story of course.

The local papers were filled with editorials depicting the Blazers as low-life thugs one step removed from dealing rock in NoPo and claiming if they got rid of the culprits, they'd come back to the team. So the team junked the troublemakers, brought in white middle-class citizens like Przybilla and Blake and Juan Dixon and promptly lose 50 games. Do the fans remember their promise and come back? No, because the Blazers don't win. End of story.

 
At 3/30/2006 8:19 PM, Anonymous Uzair said...

Hang on -- LeBron came from an underprivileged setting in Ohio (part of the proud Midwestern Wasteland). Picking the NBA over hooping in college for a couple years had nothing to do with the quality of NBA ball.

Of course, what you're implying is the opposite -- that LeBron playing NBA ball makes it pure. Which (with apologies) is just plain stupid.

The prevalent *style* of college ball is, perhaps, purer than NBA ball -- last I heard we all cheered the free-flowing Princeton-style offenses in NJ and Phoenix, and the team-oriented approaches of Sacto and Dallas. Most other NBA teams get too bogged down in the one-on-one mentality (that, incidentally, reduces basketball to as robotic a sport as ping-pong) to leave any room for purity. It's another matter altogether that college ball is highly diluted -- we can return to that in a couple of years once the effects of this new age-limit are a little more measurable.

I know this blog-space has often touted the hip-hop/individual-oriented approach as a positive, but keep in mind there's a difference between watching an MJ, and a league full of wannabes.

 
At 3/30/2006 9:47 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

that's not at all what i'm saying.

"pure" basketball is always a biased version of "the right way." lebron, on the other hand, could thrive in any version of the game, in any era. he is in fact pure basketball. and no one who actually values the sport, whether in the abstract or as a dynamic entity that unfolds over history, could seriously say there's more worth in the league without lebron than the league with him. if you do, you're working with a limited view of how the sport should be, while LeBron is in-finite.

it's like saying you'd rather drive a saturn than a lambo because the former is more honest and accessible. THAT'S NOT DRIVING.

damn straight this sounds stupid, but then again, so do all the other great sacred texts of this planet.

oh, and for the zillionth time: this blog is not as simple as loving hip-hop and isolations. if that's all you're after, i'm sure there are plenty other places on the 'nets that can provide that in a more readily digestible form.

 
At 3/30/2006 9:49 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

can you imagine lebron in the college game? me neither. that's why i hate it.

 
At 3/30/2006 10:12 PM, Blogger mutoni said...

Shoals, i can't even imagine any truly great player in the college game. It provides me with absolutely no joy whatsoever. It's far too restricting, military-like and robotic.

No wonder MJ was picked third in the 84 draft after toiling in that ridiculous four courners offense under Dean Smith.

The college game is just plain boring, outdated and incapable of evolving. The NBA is its exciting, acceleratedly modern and ever-evolving exact opposite.

 
At 3/30/2006 10:16 PM, Blogger mutoni said...

regarding MJ, i don't want to hear any of that garbage about big men (Dream and the tragic Bowie, in this case) always getting picked first because you can't teach size rhetoric.

If MJ had been given the freedom to be "MJ" in college, there's no way he wouldn't have gone #1 in the draft.

 
At 3/30/2006 11:31 PM, Anonymous Carlos Destrroyo said...

You have to wonder though, if MJ was allowed to simply dominate suckers in college, would he have evolved into a team baller like he did, or would he have been Kobe before Kobe was Kobe? Would he be so overconfident in his ability to take anyone anytime that he completely forgot about the team?

This of course discounts Phil's influence on Jordan's willingness to let the Wenningtons and Kerrs get their time in the sun, but it's not like it rubbed off on Kobe.

That being said, college ball is damn boring. There's nothing worse than watching a potentially great athlete run into the middle of 3 lanky white guys and throw a rocket at the glass.

 
At 3/31/2006 2:16 AM, Blogger Pooh said...

Here's the thing, and correct me if I'm wrong, but FD is about ball unbound by strictures of 'fundamentals' and Larry Brown's 'right way'. But excellence cannot exist without said fundamentals, and the less restrictive portions of right way-ism.

I gather that the FD ideal exists on that razor's edge between mechanistic fundamentalism and over-indulgent And1ism. An overabundance of either makes for lesser enjoyment.

I hate to go back to the music analogy, but to play jazz (or blues, or really most forms of music) you need to learn to play it 'perfectly' before you can really figure which parts of 'perfection' are unimportant and can be removed to make the whole exercise spontaneous.

Or I'm an idiot and don't get you guys at all...

 
At 3/31/2006 3:02 AM, Anonymous Torgo said...

The way I see it, college ball is a four year pass. You get time to play around, develop your game, try new things. And, if you're anywhere near the type to go into the league, you *play*. You'll have (if you're lucky) a coach who will have the time to help you improve on what you do well, and with a bit more luck, teach you how to do things you suck at.

Did Lebron need college? Hell no. Among other things, summers spent playing at Hoops the Gym probably taught him more than most college coaches could, except, of course, for a jumper, which if you forgot, he didn't have in his rookie year.

Think about the others that should have gone, but didn't: Eddy Curry, Tyson Chandler, Jermaine O'neal, even dear old Darko. They're all in the league, and they got paid, mostly on potential (someone'll give Darko at least the midlevel), but for four years, nothing, mostly because they practiced, but they never played, or played inconsistantly. If they'd had the tools from a stay in college, they'd be Chris Paul impact players. Some players, one year and done suits them, others need a little more time to marinate. The college game gives them that, and lets us see greatness as its finding its legs.

I just wish Chandler would figure out a way to score...

 
At 3/31/2006 8:37 AM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

if you think dean smith's offense is just four corners, then you're a moron and don't understand basketball at all. four corners wasn't nearly as important to unc basketball as the secondary break or numerous other innovations. also, i don't think MJ would describe his years in chapel hill as "toiling."

obviously, i'm being a defensive tar heel fan, but i'm not necessarily standing up for college hoops. i pretty much agree with shoals' take in the mcsweeney's column. that said, i think we can go too far in praising the nba at the expense of the ncaa. let's just accept that they're different iterations of the same sport with their own strengths and weaknesses. it's the moralizing over the purity of the college game that is so objectionable, to me, at least. i personally prefer to watch the best players in the world go at each other, and that's the nba's obvious advantage.

still, i would've been interested in seeing lebron play at least a year in college. i mean, his 20, 5, and 5 as a 18-year old nba rookie was fucking historic, but i don't think he would've been as shackled in college as some seem to think. remember that melo's title run was pretty thrilling. the real tragedy is when a truly elite big man comes along and spends his whole collegiate career getting hacked and quadruple teamed. have fun in columbus, greg oden!

 
At 4/01/2006 10:24 AM, Anonymous DB said...

yeah, college basketball doesn't hold a candle to the pros (although you guys are surprisingly hard on it - i'd expect at least somebody around here to be waxing rhapsodic about tyrus thomas), but why assume everyone is in a hurry to get there? for some of these guys the fun kind of stops at that level - everything becomes business, from the meals they eat to the pussy they get (imagine asking a girl to sign a "non-rape" waiver right after you slip the rubber on ...), so for a guy like noah who doesn't need the money right away college is probably the last time he's going to be able to act an ass for a while. i kind of hope oden fucks everyone over and decides to pull a duncan and actually be a real college player for a while. i know he wants to - it's just a matter of whether he has the fortitude to turn down that kind of money for that long. daniel gibson is going back and lamarcus wants to return as well. horford is staying at florida; brandon roy matured nicely during his time at washington; morrison's heart is clearly still at gonzaga and it already seems like if he comes out it'll be a decision that was made for him.

if anything, i think all this is ostensibly good for the nba, because it'll help cultivate a generation of players who give a shit. the only thing coaches can appeal to these days (to players who have already been extended after their rookie contract) is pride, and there's precious little of that to go around. do these guys give a shit when they lose? going back to morrison - his emergence at gonzaga showed a guy whose competitiveness is damn near at a kobe bryant/allen iverson level. the nba's not hurting for talent; it's hurting for effort. put a guy like that on a team like the bobcats and that's some brilliant shit about to go down.

the nba would benefit from more "sure things" coming in via the draft. of course true "sure things" only come along rarely, and even when they do there's a pallor of second guessing that goes on, but as a draft junkie myself i've gotten really fucking sick of hype, potential, and raw talent trumping intelligence, work ethic, and effort on draft night. i absolutely love to see ryan gomes play four very solid years at providence, only to get swept aside on draft night, fall to the second round, and emerge as one of the most solid rookies of the class because he's smart and he tries. more of this, please.

 
At 4/01/2006 10:05 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Speaks said...

ummnn... please forgive me, this has nothing to do with this article, but is Bethlehem your given birth name? I've spent my whole life searching for another Bethlehem, and you'd be the first I've ever run across.

 
At 4/03/2006 9:59 AM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

found a link to the highlights from this year's ncaa dunk contest. james "flight" white does some absolutely ridiculous shit. he would've won this year's nba contest hands down and probably every other dunk contest since the year vinsanity won.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=UwxA-pHhVwI

 

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