Better paint and marrow

Hoistin' up the mantle on McSweeney's today. This began as some tangential thoughts on the playoffs and nature's way, but then I realized just how badly someone needed to stick up for the usefulness of the regular season and the unity of the two. The condemnation of games #1-82 is one of the shallowest, most commonly parroted cliches in all of sports, and those who wear these beaks simply cannot be let out of our sight. I'm interested in knowing, though, if I ended up sounding like the godless streetball apologist that some have accused me of being.

At the request of DLIC and the Recluse, though, here are two totally independent points I was working on before I was ambushed by common sense. Be glad that you are being spared but their respective gists.


To every sport approved of by the hearth of moral victory, there is a season. Most classically, baseball is summer; once the slightest snap comes into the air, something is at stake, the player sharpen up, and voila—summer’s wistful demise, as leisure is at last called to bloody arms. The footballs have a similar drift to them; celebrating the crunch and severity that is coldness’s Shermanian march, it culminates in the freezer-scorched utopia of breath-watching and brute will. March Madness is synonymous with Spring Break, and those dastardly Olympics make sense only as abstract odes to the spirit of their respective seasons. A sport in harmony with the climatic rhythm of the universe has a far easier time convincing people to incorporate them into their lives. I will refrain from falling too far into history, but lessons ranging from astrology to the Muppets attest to this most basic of supra-social mechanisms. The NBA regular season, however, fit its will to the most dreaded of purely human constructions: the academic year. Jumping off just after schedules are set, dissipating into far more exalted mists as teacher and pupil alike scurry to fill in the remaining blanks, it is practically set up to have its arrival overshadowed and its resolution buried in singed nerves. The best possible case makes it into a pleasant social ritual selectively deployed in these periods of flurried activity, setting it up to sag once the nights get lonely.


The appeal of the playoffs cannot be separate from their timing; their annual odyssey closely parallels the progression of the summer, right down to the prolonged misery it represents. Summer, as distinct from the imagined snapshot mentality of “summertime,” is the slow, barbarous descent into ungodly heat and whimpering decay. Man spends the beginning anticipating the plunge, teetering back and forth between half-full spring and half-empty early summer (the early rounds of the playoffs). One day, he wakes up and finds himself confronted by the fact that life is suddenly harsh and restrictive (playoffs down to the contenders). That last third, August in all its anxious dread, he that realizes he’s been marched into an eerie, inescapable desert that threatens to show him nothing before or since. The Finals are this and nothing more: a merciless death march that one suddenly realize he's been on all along, no matter how shimmery it initially seemed, and whose last days represent the pinnacle of suffering.

Somewhere along the line, I decided that the NBA lends itself more legitimately to year-round fandom, if only because it's so sorely lacking in outrageous peaks and valleys. But I'm not quite comfortable asserting that my favorite sport rules because it's off-season; it comes dangerously close to insisting that mediocrity and/or stylized tedium is the Association's essence.

Speaking of which, shouldn't the NFL and NBA swap drafts?

At what point does Mel Kiper, Jr. become scouting writ large? Does it make any sense for him to assess whose stock is rising or falling, or report on what the general feeling around the league is about a prospect?

Lest anyone accuse us of Cowherdin' it up, one Revgen first posted the photo of The Jacket on a Clublakers.com forum, followed shortly thereafter by Lakers Dynasty 2000. Had we thought that we were the only ones who had been alerted to its presence, we probably would've done a better job of carving out the right paths. Or maybe we just owe a certain Disney intern a big, fat, peersome apology.

Linking here has nothing to do with blood ties, everything to do with the second part of the mix posted therein. And you shouldn't just be listening to this because dude put his home and belongings at risk so I could see Wednesday finish up as it happened.


At 4/28/2006 11:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The second part of the remix you linked to, I have to find out what the track's called that starts about 2:34 into the part of the mix. Or isn't it one particular track but rather the lyrics over a seperate beat? What's that damn called? Any ideas?

D'Antoni in the LA Times on the Suns identity:

"The biggest thing is right now they are imposing their will on us," Sun Coach Mike D'Antoni said. "All year, we played to win in a sense that when Amare [Stoudemire] went down, we had a chip on our shoulders. Everybody said we couldn't do it, and we really didn't have anything to lose.

"Now, all of a sudden, it's like, oh, if we fail now, we're not who we are. And we're playing that way. We're playing cautious and we're playing with a weight on our shoulders. It's been like that for about a month or so.

At 4/28/2006 11:56 AM, Blogger T. said...

totally off topic, but Ms. Arenas - check your email.

At 4/28/2006 4:10 PM, Anonymous Aaron said...

Not that I disagree with the McSweeney's piece, Shoals, but...

The Clippers dropping games at the end of the season and it resulting in 2 easy home games against the slumping Nuggets...

The Bulls, Pacers, and Bucks making the playoffs with records at or sub-500...

This kind of thing is the thing that cheapens the regular season for casual fans. In football, 10-6 is sometimes not good enough to make the playoffs. You'd never think of tanking a regular season game. It couldn't possibly help you.

Because basketball has the longer season, with many more games and thus so much more psychological complexity on display... the games of the regular season have much less meaning on their own. They have meaning in the context of the ebb and flow of the season, of course, but the Knicks can beat the Pistons during the regular season and nobody will be surprised. That won't happen during the playoffs. Ever.

Which is not to say that turning on basketball for the playoffs is somehow legitimate diehard fandom... But it's a more understandable position in basketball than in some other sports. The playoffs have a meaning in basketball that is separate and different from the regular season. The two are related, as you note, and clearly the regular season does more than just decide the seeding and allow players to tune up...

But your mention of Arenas suggests that we have a notion of 'playoff stars' that is purely separate from 'regular season stars'. And a large part of this has to do, I think, with the fact that half the league sits out the playoffs. But maybe some of it is because the playoff season really is a distinctive entity.

I do know that quite a big deal was made of 'reef's inauguration into the Playoff Player Fraternity... to say nothing of King James's induction.

At 4/29/2006 5:01 PM, Anonymous jack said...

In football, after a great team has clinched a a premium play-off spot, or a crappy team has eliminated itself, they often rest the starters and play back-ups and rookies. This usually results in tanking the game.

Also, upsets do happen in the basketball play-offs. Without jinxing any current possible upsets in progress, I bring up Van Gundy's Knicks.

I think what you're looking for is a first round upset in basketball, which is a little ridiculous. You'd probably discount the 5 seed beating the 4 seed as a real upset, which is fair, but if you think about it, that leaves the 1-8, 2-7, 3-6 games. In football, the 1-8 and 2-7 don't even play in the first round, because they're afraid of the upset. In baseball a comparison totally breaks down because of the different structures.

So maybe we should start looking for upsets in the second round, which is entirely reasonable and happens all the time. If you consider that the Anaheim Angels's and Florida Marlins's wild card streaks to world series titles in 2002 and 2003 is an series of upsets, consider that it would be largely the same as if Dallas won the championship.

At 4/29/2006 9:18 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

if the first round was still five games long, you would see a lot more upsets and everyone would feel good.

At 4/29/2006 9:36 PM, Anonymous Aaron said...

You may be misunderstanding me. I don't want upsets in the playoffs. I want the best team in the league to take the championship. That's how I interpret a championship. I HATE that Anaheim championship (not so much the Marlins championship) because there is no way in hell those Angels were the best team in the league.

As to the 'tanking' of games by resting starters, that's entirely different. The Clippers tanked games to get a lower seed. It was about matchups, not about conserving for the playoffs.

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