Sometimes it's Hard (to Be a Woman)

Freedarko is up at McSweeney's again today. The Buddy Cianci of this hoops-blog shit. On some two places at once/getting elected mayor while we're sitting in a jail cell.


“…God, I can’t believe both Carmelo and Nene are younger than me. There’re so many NBA players younger than me.

“Kind of ruins your dreams of playing professional basketball,” says a voice.

“Get ready to see a lot of younger people more successful than you,” says another.

“Yeah, I know. It’s just weird in basketball.”

The NBA can be crushing to a quarter-lifer, as it flashes in his(my) face all that one cannot be and all one is leaving behind in adulthood. Furthermore, The Association is an institution that never ages and is always in fashion Vs. in real life this is impossible unless you're like, Prince. Now, the question is whether this phenomenon is specific to basketball, or is this a point about sports more generally. Instinctually, I want to say that it's a hoops-specific thing, because basketball is simply inherently "cooler" than other sports. Like, when you think about Babe Ruth sleeping around and think about Wilt Chamberlain sleeping around, you know that Wilt was on some different shit. Same with comparing George Gervin's drug problem, to say, Mark Gastineau's.

And now I'm clearly conflating "youth" and "cool," which I think at this point we have some license to do, but I'm still not satisfied with my answer. I also feel like the eventual reconciliation on what makes basketball so eternally youthful/STYLE, and hence maddening, may be one of the primary justifications for this blog's existence. I know that rocking a football jersey would make me feel like Pittsnogle walking clueless around Times Square or something, and that wearing a baseball jersey would seem to involve going to a costume party with fake facial hair--whereas NBA jerseys just feel like "gear." But the worry is that the NBA stands out in this regard, only because it's my favorite sport. And maybe it's not so special or youthful after all. I have my theses*, but I'd love to hear yours as well, in hopes of transcending past oversimplifications akin to 'basketball is jazz/rap and old people dont like loud music or artistic progress.'

Thanks for coming to therapy with me...The pictures seem less random today.

Frustratedly yours, D-LIC.

-Focus is often on the single INDIVIDUAL for greater periods of time in hoops. Baseball is pitcher/hitter matchups, football is team-team oriented
-Courtside seats and everything that comes with them is UNHEARD OF.
-Specialized skill sets are more bad-ass + more military-like (defensive SPECIALIST, three-point ASSASSIN, paint ENFORCER) vs punters, kickoff returners, late-game defensive replacements at first base simply because some guy can do the splits better than the fat dude who was in the game for the first seven innings
-Hoops' renaissance occurring late 60s/early 70s (WALT FRAZIER = James Brown 'In the Jungle Groove') vs Baseball (1920s - Al Jolson doing minstrelsy) + Football (LATE 70s, inching ever more closely to "Coming to America" type joints)
-relatedly, remnants of all that was the ABA
-Coaches dress like pimps
-higher scoring games: more points, opportunities for offense = more more pleasure/hedonism/approach tendencies (i.e. drugs)


At 3/10/2006 11:26 AM, Blogger Vegan Viking said...

But most things in basketball that are youthful and cool change, too. Walt Frazier was the coolest man ever to dribble a ball...but does Clyde's style of cool translate to today's cool? Even in the short shorts? Well, I say yes.

The saddest thing in basketball is when the cool gives way to the uncool. When I see pics of the man, the myth, the legend, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, with an afro in his Bucks jersey, I get giddy. Then I see a balding Kareem sporting goggles for the Lakers...and I sort of want to cry. Kareem is like a metaphor for all of our aging. He starts out as Big Lew full of potential, he develops into a man, and comes into his own identity (even changing his name), then he too stumbles into middle-age boringness, until now, an old sage, he means something again.

At 3/10/2006 11:38 AM, Blogger Mirabeau Lamar said...

I think what sets hoops apart in terms of cool and hip is the inextricable connection to urban (read: African-American) culture, which for the past half century has been absolutely seminal in most pop culture trends and idioms. Rock n' Roll, Jazz, and Hip-Hop all owe their origins to the black, urban experience in the U.S. Similarly, since the 1970s and the brief, brilliant manifestation of the ABA, pro basketball has been dominated by African Americans to an extent that no other pro sport has. The sport itself also has conditions that put a premium on individual expression: no hats or helmets (which lets the players express themselves through their coif), the style of play allows for the highest degree of performance virtuosity, and the game is the most easily imitable of all the team sports. This in turn makes the game that much more marketable than other team sports, especially to the youth market. Unlike baseball and football, whose ethos is still dominated by white, red-state Middle America, or hockey, whose game is more climate and region-bound, basketball is straight urban and black. Until the League's demographics change significantly, or we watch another minority group create a new pop culture paradigm (and Hip-Hop is eclipsed), pro hoops will continue to enjoy its hip reputation.

At 3/10/2006 11:52 AM, Anonymous T. said...

and the game is the most easily imitable of all the team sports.

I think this has a lot to do with it. I can be "Byron Scott" in my driveway or on my junior high black top - but it's a lot harder to call "Steve Young" or "Kirk Gibson" - it just doesn't have as much appeal to be those guys.

But man, I wanted to be Byron Scott. So much so, I still shoot my free throws like him.

At 3/10/2006 11:53 AM, Blogger Jeph B said...

one of the benefits of basketball is that its stars are clearly visable for the full duration of the game. You want to stare at Iverson's greatness you can see him clearly for the full 4 quarters. Even when he goes onto the bench you can still look at him. Contrast this to football where there covered up in helmets and pads. Or to baseball where even the most well known player is seldom seen without a brim propped low and barely above his eyebrows. Baseball and football also have significantly longer feilds of play. If im watching a basketball game from the right spot, i dont need to move my head, and if im watching it on telivision every player is on screen at once. Not the case in football where half of the defense is usually off screen or baseball were your eye is only drawn away form the pitcher and batter when something happens.

I think this increased visablity adds to the culture of basketball. I couldnt tell you what one fifth of MLBers looked like without there team caps, likewise i couldnt tell you which offensive lineman wore there hair in braids or not but i can tell you Ben Wallace wears an afro at home games and puts it in rows for the away ones.

I would probably be more able to pick out the starting lineup of the atlanta hawks in a lineup(a team i dont follow) more than i am pick out two lineman on the eagles (a team i do follow)

At 3/10/2006 11:59 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

as i told you over the email, it's exactly that conflation of youth and cool that's worth examining in more depth. i honestly don't know if hoops seems young because it's eternally cool (as long as you can flex a little. . .), or cool because, by and large, the young rule the roost and late career heroics/extended prime are always better spoken than seen. i guess it comes down to what one expects of the game whether you prefer players in their late twenties who have masterfully put their whole package of skills together over young bucks fresh out the AAU. i'd say that, in the same way that old people are like babies, players too raw or too lopsidedly fresh and springy are in their own way as deformed as the nominal three-point vet or guy whose game screams "PLAYERS ASSOCIATION"

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


How weird. I used to pretend I was Byron Scott in the driveway, too. Of all the Lakers at the time, why him? I have no idea.


At 3/10/2006 12:50 PM, Blogger Dr. Lawyer IndianChief said...

to quote shoals, conflating 'youth' and 'cool' may not be the most "intellectually sound" thing i've ever done. yep, thats true. still, one should beget the other, and i'm having a hard time figuring out exactly how thats operating here.

At 3/10/2006 2:30 PM, Blogger emynd said...

And as Mirabeau states above, I do think there's some conflating of "youth" and "cool" with "black" and/or "other" going on here (with most of us) as well. Which isn't necessarily "bad."

Which I guess is to say: it's kind've impossible to say how much my interest in both rap music and the NBA is dependent on some sort've socialized exoticization of the "other." But, while it's certainly impossible to quantify this accurately, it is something that I feel I should at least attempt to be aware of, be careful of, and account for pretty diligently. I like to think that my experiences (both from afar and, at times, within) "black culture" have helped me see things from a different perspective and that it's something much more than just some sort've racist "exoticization," but I think it's kinda dangerous to just take for granted that we're engaging this stuff innocently.

I'm not claiming anybody you (dr. lawyer) or anyone else in this thread need to re-examine how they engage with this shit. Just sort've rambling on 2.5 hours of sleep.

All that being said, I really enjoyed the McSweeney's piece.


At 3/10/2006 2:41 PM, Blogger Dr. Chestnutt said...

I would argue that unlike football and baseball which exist as the benevolent spawn of boredom and expendable income, basketball contains within itself the codes of poverty and chaos, and thus, the mark of “legitimacy” and “cool.” Much like soccer in other impoverished parts of the world, the game is the province of poor kids in urban areas who can take an inexpensive ball and a city-provided rim and transform themselves into quantifiable legend. To the “uncool” members of the semi-privileged class, it appears accessible within its own inaccessibility, a framework of easily grasped imperatives populated by distinct personalities with understandable motivations.

In this sense we must equate “cool” with “danger,” and so the “cooler” the sport, the thinner the line between triumph and embarrassment. Since this principle is highly individualistic, it requires a sport which honors the dictates of team, but also contains a thread of personal responsibility that can crush even its greatest heroes. For Americans born after the 60’s, it must also fit in with the natural paranoia of Ironic Nation - it must be an existential sport, one that rejects egalitarian presumptions in favor of danger and unconcealed lust.

Baseball reflected the American consciousness before its values were transformed by irony and cool. It is the articulation of the American dream as seen by its middle class – a “fair fight” within rigorously drawn lines (temporal – innings, spatial – the diamond and the outfield) where individual effort is the most crucial contribution to team success. It is no coincidence that a nation which began as a handful of farmers besting THE colonial power of its time has a national pastime based on the precept that one man faces the combined efforts of nine others, and that the one man succeeds almost 1/3 of the time. It is a sport of individual moments that combine for a largely anonymous whole, where the assignment of unique and specific roles for each player inoculates any one person from bearing the full brunt of failure. It is the promise of old America – a collection of differing interests uniting to form a stronger union.

Basketball, on the other hand, is sport as experienced by the marginalized. It is a game where tribes battle each other in even numbers and each man is assigned (in principle) the exact same task, but also where specific roles are hewn from the accumulated detritus of conflict. It is a timed game, unlike baseball’s potentially infinite innings, where the clock is as relentless as death in defining the absolute boundaries of possible failure. It is a game of “systems” and hierarchy and tacit authority constructs, where regardless of your status on the court, you are still a cog in a machine. A baseball player is protected by team responsibility, a basketball player is exposed by it. In this way the sport allows for the constant possibility that no matter what you do and how hard you try, it might not only be not enough, but it is also likely that failure is your fault. It conveys upon the individual the (often unfair) responsibility of its team (read: nation, or people)’s success. In this light, it is no surprise that the avatars of the league were New York Jews, and its most relevant heroes of the past 20 years were urban blacks. It is far less important to understand a game than it is to feel it, and only the marginalized can intuit at a gut level, that which the game contains in its DNA.

It is precisely this history of other-ness that is felt as “cool” to those who cannot look at their own lives and find the specific examples of loss and culturally defined pain that we naturally intuit as “legitimate.” As we see in both rap and sport, if we cannot ourselves feel legitimate, we either reject the icons of “real” suffering or embrace them as semi-transcendent figures within our own worldview. The fearful become either racists or fanboys, the ironic become both and neither, while the intelligent either don’t care or read Freedarko. In all cases, it is decades of perceived legitimacy derived from individual suffering and no-bullshit competition that makes basketball ineluctably cool.

At 3/10/2006 2:41 PM, Blogger Vegan Viking said...

In the original post, Dr. Lawyer Indianchief considered, "the worry is that the NBA stands out in this regard, only because it's my favorite sport." I think this may be the case. Yes, basketball is an easier sport for kids to imitate--but I think plenty of people who consider football or baseball their favorite sport probably had a lot of fun imitating athletes in those other sports (I used to take a Nerf football out in the yard and try drop back and throw like Troy Aikman, Dan Marino, hell, even Steve Walsh). And yes, basketball players are easier to recognize because they have no head-gear--but there are plenty of die-hard football fans who have no problem recognizing linemen, particularly on favorite teams. And I'm a lot more comfortable throwing on a football jersey than a basketball jersey.

I'm not saying basketball isn't a unique sport with different attitudes--I read this blog because I'm interested in the way you're all exploring that. But there is a degree in which it is possible to project a larger significance (that might not be there) for basketball if basketball is your favorite sport.

At 3/10/2006 3:09 PM, Anonymous T. said...

emynd - I think for me, it's because my turn from casual fan to watch-every-game fan conicided with the 1986-87 and 1987-88 Lakers (and my entry into the 7th and 8th grade where I met Steve Howard). B was the leading scorer on that 88 team - which, despite being slightly inferior to the 87 and especially the 85 Lakers, is still my favorite NBA team ever. Even though the Rockets sign my paychecks, I'll be a fan of the 1988 LA Lakers for life.

What is odd, however, is everyone discussing the link between hip hop and basketball. Not that there isn't one - but my basketball fan-ship was born during the times that I was listening to the Talking Heads, New Order, the Smiths (I was a tormented middle school student) - and my heroes, quite famously, were listening to Parliment Funkadelic (Magic) - and the only rap cassettes I owned were Raising Hell and Licensed to Ill.

At 3/10/2006 3:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

what i find interesting about the mention of "imitable" is that b-ball is the only pro sport i, or anyone i know, could play. that is, 30 seconds on the football field and i would be dead -- those guys are too big, too fast, etc. if you've ever been in a batting cage that goes even to 85 mph, you know there's no way you could get a hit off a major leaguer. whereas many of us could be steve kerrish -- liability on defense, hide in the corner and hit a three. having played with both legit college and pro players, i know this to be true even though i've only got marginal skills, no real hops, etc. (same way i once saw a group of 45 year old professors who played together daily absolutely school the jv squad of a way serious university -- being 6'7", fast, and strong only gets you so far). so even though some of the most acrobatic feats come from basketball, it's also easiest to relate to in many ways.

At 3/10/2006 4:20 PM, Blogger Mirabeau Lamar said...

Dr. Chestnutt:

I enjoyed your comments and your elegant metaphysical theory of the meaning of hoops, but I think that one of your arguments, that basketball alone is peopled by members of the underclass is insupportable. While basketball has the fewest financial barriers to actually playing the game, and serves, as you point out, a similar class function as soccer in every other nation, football and baseball also draw on the marginalized in our society. Not to mention that some of the greatest basketball players of the last two decades have come from bourgeois homes (Jordan, Shaq, Grant Hill, Kobe, Nash, etc).
Here in Texas, the local governments, through the schools, heavily subsidize both sports, and train and promote the best players, regardless of background. Maybe this is not the case where you live, but in the South and the Heartland, the poorest are often athletic gods on the diamond or the gridiron. I just don't think there is much merit to the claim that professional basketball has a higher percentage of players from the working poor than baseball (e.g. all of the players from the Dominican Republic) or football (countless players from impoverished rural and inner-city communities). I love that basketball requires no major equipment, minimal players to play a game and a great meritocratic spirit, but it by no means has a monopoly on players from disadvantaged backgrounds.


At 3/10/2006 5:25 PM, Blogger Vegan Viking said...

The more I think about it, the more it seems that notions of "cool" must be inextricably linked with "young. When something is considered "cool," it is not simply that it is popular, and it certainly has nothing to do with any intrinsic quality. Something is considered "cool" based on WHICH GROUPS IT IS POPULAR WITH. All the little old ladies in the world can love Daniel O'Donnell, and it will never make him "cool." But when anything, be it an athlete, a musician, or a product, becomes popular with young people, it has the cache of "cool." Really, "cool" could be defined as "that which is popular with young people."

At 3/10/2006 7:16 PM, Anonymous hospital said...

I don't think, say, Britney Spears could ever have been considered "cool," and this is nothing against Ms. Spears. Cool means popular only if the word has been sucked dry of any specific meaning. Cool is linked somehow with a certain restraint, a certain mystery, a certain disengagement. Maybe this links better with some sports than others, but I can't see any intrinsic physical reason why, say, pool fits better than golf. Which NBA player is most similar to John Coltrane? Well, obviously Rod Strickland. Who's most like Isaac Hayes? ...I've lost track of my point here.

At 3/10/2006 7:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Darko is on a bit of a rampgae.

At 3/11/2006 7:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great article at McSweeney's. There's just one thing I wanted to point out: Reggie Miller wasn't on the original Dream Team. I think he was on the second 'Dream Team' that won the World Championship two years or so later.

Still, Tayshaun's block on Reggie proves the point Dr. Lawyer Indianchief is making. But the cheap shot at Laettner (although always well-deserved) is a litle base-less.

At 3/11/2006 9:46 AM, Anonymous T. said...

Who's most like Isaac Hayes?

Charles Oakley?

At 3/11/2006 10:37 AM, Blogger Dr. Lawyer IndianChief said...


Great point about Reggie Miller. Barkley always talks about Miller being his "dream team brother" so I had forgotten that he was on the 1994 squad. There was no cheap shot at Laettner. I was saying that if I said Miller was the last surviving dream team member, hoops-specifists would point out that actually Laettner on the Heat advanced later into the playoffs so HE was the last surviving member. But I'm not trying to hear that, because it makes my article sound less snappy.

But since we're talking 1994, I should be worried about the Shaq/Alonzo Mourning pointer-outers instead.

At 3/11/2006 11:43 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i hope that by reminding others of this column, we can declare a thoughtful moratorium on all but the most extensive, well-played hoops/music comparisons


At 3/14/2006 12:55 PM, Anonymous Mr. Six said...

I wonder if the association of youth/cool-ness with basketball is related to its perception as not producing the kind of sports mythology commonly linked with baseball and football.

If the latter two are indeed associated with a sense of immutability and timelessness, they contain within them the necessary foundation for what many consider a kind of classical, hero-driven mythology. Thus, they can produce the Caseys-at-the-bat and grid-iron giants that many have pointed out basketball has not.

Basketball, instead, is defined by its constant state of change. It eats its young and its own tail. It reinvents itself every five years. It changes not with fad but with cool. In classical mythology, entropy usually defines the past and something to be overcome; the labyrinth is basketball's ever-present.

Which makes me wonder whether baseball and football are "America's games" because they are what America wants to be, whereas basketball is who we really are.


Post a Comment

<< Home