Non-expiring viola clause
Fittingly, I got hit with a backhoe of a head cold right as these Conference Finals snapped into place. So no immediate reaction post (I had none, anyway), and no sympathetic boasting first thing this morning. I come to you with one simple plea, and if you don't want to hear, you can press rewind.
Yesterday as I was driving through some rain, it finally dawned on me what I need from the NBA. Style is too precarious a calling card, while psychology runs the risk of seducing us away from the basketball aspect of it all. I'm not foresaking these two FreeDarko trademarks; merely observing that, as ways of life, they sometimes leave me feeling vulnerable and afraid. Vulnerable to too valid accusations, afraid that I can willfully neglect too much of the sport, or go too long without watching a game, because of the yoke of principle I've so sinlessly settled myself into.
All I want, all I've ever wanted, is to have some fun. This may sound strange, coming from a man whose blog has, in many ways, remade basketball fandom in the image of grad school. But I want to be clear here: the part of higher education that's ever affected me is the "scream at other smart people with some delightfully frivolous, outlandishly thoughtful ammo and realized that the joke is in the joy" aspect, not the "sit in the library and cook up something airtight, insular, and lifeless" deal. At the same time, I've always been repulsed by the martial, or at least militia-like, quality of so much sports watching. I don't feel love or positive happiness when (if) a Democrat takes down some scum of the earth Republican—spiteful pride, rage to conquer, and a vague sense of responsbility, but not the sense that something beautiful is being created before my very eyes. The worst thing about the whole "sports as war" conceit isn't that it's disrespectful to our troops (they really could care less), but that it reduces what should be a celebratory contest to the bottom line of grim domination.
(Tyra apparently just told a story about dropping a popsicle on the floor in front of Shaq, who encouraged her NOT to eat it).
And so, with this sizzling lasso in hand, I turn to the field of the remaining NBA Playoff entrants:
Pistons: not evil, but not much fun. Big Ben is a folk hero, Chauncey a soldier, Sheed's Sheed, but no one to make you smile on the court.
Heat: Wade is most def not fun, Shaq's pursuit of a Kobe-less title is the great downer that no one wants to talk about, the rest of that roster breathes "bummer."
Suns: The form of fun, but none of the vitality that made last year's squad such a monster of the heart. Maybe a little too perfect, maybe too crisply executed. . . I just doubt the presence of any real feeling. Nash has flashes, and if Barbosa and Diaw got a cognitive clue I could be into them. Watching them, though, it's all too basketball-y for me.
Dallas: Where it looks like my loyalties will rest for the next couple weeks, and not only because of Lady Shoals (who, incidentally, was nearly browbeaten into writing a post on Mavs fever because she knows things about Dallas that I never, ever will). Let's look at the breakdown, shall we:
-Dirk: Seven foot German who plays like an educated liquid giraffe.
-Jason Terry: Looks like an eighty year-old murder suspect
-Stackhouse: Epitomizes the Mavs' When We Were Kingz ethos, still makes a lot of the shots that he doesn't realize his body won't let him go for anymore
-The Little General: Says things like (loosely quoted): "fear doesn't even enter the equation. When we signed on for this, it didn't say 'only when the shots are falling' or 'when winning is easy.' This is what it's all about, the struggle, the hardship. We live for this. You're talking to a guy who got cut on Christmas day." I don't know why I find him positively irresistible, despite him being as Popped up and Spurred out as they come. Maybe it's the same way that white fundamentalists disgust me but I'm willing to at least tolerate black ones.
-Josh Howard: Four limbs taped to a hand grenade.
-Devin Harris: Tony Parker without the French or the stick shift.
-D-Diop: Those consecutive stops on Duncan were legendary.
-FREE THIS MAN!!!!!!
So while my illness lingers, I am at least relatively confident that, beyond any sober analysis or binding labels like "high scoring" or "running team," the Mavs can give me at least a little of what I've felt slipping away from my fan experience these past few weeks: the sense that I am watching something slightly wacky, possibly wonderful, and almost irrationally contagious. We haven't talked about the Mavs much in the past, maybe because their cast of characters isn't the most obviously fecund and their style of play won't blind you with its ramshackle elegance. Watching them take out the Spurs, though, I did begin to notice why people can get behind this team: plain and simple, they make the idea of winning a championship fun again.