Nothing fits forever
It would seem that last night’s infernal burst of Gilbertology might truly need no comment from ours truly. As in, we live in heaven, he lives alone, our souls are intertwined and the moment need not be soiled by explanation. The more and more I gazed upon that fascinating still, though,—one as destined for iconic status as Tiger with the fist pump or Yao’s scream of antiquity—the more brutally apparent it becomes to me that Arenas, far from being an oddball, is the living, breathing god of my favorite kind of NBA player: the kind you eyes-on watch, instead of just view. What Iverson, Kobe, Nash, and a handful of others I go out of my way to see play have in common is this ability to not merely produce on any given night, but to casually redefine themselves through masterstrokes of basketball impressionism.
Let me put briefly put aside the strained fire and brimstone that guides this site long enough to admit, as I did last week, that this is by and large a league of consistency. Unlike baseball and football, where one can be violently up and down from one game to the next but still get recognized overall as a fantastic young person, to be a credible contributor in the NBA a guy’s got to come with steady output. Freaks and streaks can be profound, but no player’s a recognizable force (or definite failure) in this league until he can be counted on; to scrape the ridges of Mount Dunkmore, he’d better be guaranteed to account for a serious percentage of his team’s production, both in the box score and as a reliable force when the ball hits his hands. Until then, he will always get saddled with the p-word, no matter how impressive he is in spurts.
When you reach the rarified air of superlative hoops accomplishment, there are at least three kind of consistency. Most obviously, there are the rock-solid bequeathers, under-appreciated and often big men like Duncan, Brand, Bosh, Dirk, Jamison, Kidd, Ray Ray and Redd. These folks give it their all with frightening regularity, churning it out from the opening bell and expected to operate as if to a rhythmic tick. I want to stop short of saying that you can intuit them from looking at a box score, but by and large there is no dramatic arc to their in-game performances. Professional, workmanlike, whatever you want to call them, these are consummate anchors of an offense, the given you pencil in at most moments during the season’s onslaught.
In the next category, you find explosive players with a tendency toward predictable outcomes, who ebb and flow over the course of a game, occasionally make you doubt, and ultimately bring you right back to who you always knew they were. I’m talking about Garnett, Pierce, Wade, Vince, Billups, Bibby, Gasol, Melo, Richardson, Jefferson, Sheed, Marion, and Artest himself—unquestioned experts who sometimes lull, sometimes soar, but never have to redeem themselves and are constantly working within their own limits and images. This isn’t a knock on any of these fine, hurling turtles; merely to point out that if you turn on the television to see them play, you know what you’re getting and will be accordingly excited. Each game reinforces their profile, with ups and downs that end in a pointed reminder of yeah, that’s him.
Gilbert and his gang, as I will now aptly dub them, rest upon their own set of shaggy shoulders. To return to last week’s trope of half-assed existentialism, All-American and yet bleakly Continental, they are players constantly exceeding themselves, or at least engaging in what feels for all the world like a motherfucking statement game. It can LeBron or Amare exerting and expanding their dominance, Kirilenko or Gerald Wallace twisting up the parameters of a box score, Nash working his conductor-ly magic, or Kobe, Iverson or McGrady scoring not only at will, but as if it’s unnatural for them to miss—or even repeat themselves out on the floor. Arenas is a must-see, not only because he’s likely to put on a show, but for what each and every game can do to your sense of him as a player and personality. If Wade proves with each big game that he’s still Wade, still proud, then Gilbert does it up in a way that’s not only unpredictable; with each of these self-transcending events, he also manages to seem unlikely all anew. As does Kobe, Bron, et al. In the crucible of the game, their legend is broken down and created from scratch, surprising you not only with this most recent installment but, in its reconstitution of the player’s most basic essence, shock you yet again they exist at all, that anything they do has ever happened in the glare of man’s senses.
This may seem like two-bit metaphysics for those of you not in tune with my lifelong education on this planet (or anyone merely taking issue with my late night sloppiness). But next time you find yourself up past bedtime watching one of these aforementioned idols, think about whether or not you feel you’re seeing them for the first time, whether you’re transfixed partly out of the fear that you’re witnessing a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. Not just a good game from your favorite NBA player, or one of those “instant classics” this blog will reference two years from now; I mean one of those performances where, in some ways, you feel like you’re discovering the sport again for the very first time.