5.23.2006

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.

53 Comments:

At 5/23/2006 1:03 PM, Blogger laura said...

the idea of a spur/pistons rematch gives me the heebie jeebies. i mean sure, i hate the spurs with every fiber of my being. but besides that, they uglify the game. i have to admit though--manu is great fun to watch when he's not flopping. and when he's not playing against teams i'm rooting for.

i hope the heat take out the pistons. i still think the pistons will beat the heat, but i'm crossing my fingers and hoping i'm wrong.

 
At 5/23/2006 1:06 PM, Blogger Mirabeau Lamar said...

Avery is a black fundamentalist. From former teammate Jack Haley, on the ultra-Christian mid-90s Spurs:

"Before the games we would have a team prayer and David (Robinson) and TC (Cummings) and Avery Johnson started quoting scriptures," Haley said. "It wasn't just a team prayer. . . . It was fire and brimstone."

The Mavs, as hard as it is for me to admit it, are exciting and powerful as hell. That series was a Finals caliber matchup where a new Texas rivalry was born. The Spurs are dead. Long Live the Spurs!

 
At 5/23/2006 1:18 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

last night when they showed a clip of avery i was thinking on how much black church language has been absorbed into the rhetoric of athletes, the same way it ended up in 1) the civil rights movement and 2) interviews with rappers where they try and come off as serious. draw your own conclusions.

that's part of what's so annoying about religion in sports that just involves thanking jesus christ; there's no context for the faith, no sense of how it affects their view of the game or why it drives them in the first place. again, draw your own conclusions here, but make sure they have a lot to do with race.

 
At 5/23/2006 1:23 PM, Anonymous Thunder Dan said...

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."

This discussion has gone around and around, and at this late date I doubt I'll do better than any who have tried before (APB for Huracan Andreo?), but to not see the thrill in Wade's game just appears to at this point require more willful effort than the alternative. I don't get how normally rational actors can look the other way at times like this, a shining moment (in the regular season, even) of exult in triumph. While he might not approximate Agent Zero's ineffability, the sunshine in his game is a repudiation of Riley's grind-it-out Knicks and Heat and LB's remnants in Detroit (where the story is that the name changed, even as the game remained the same).

As this is the first comment I've written in 15 months of reading and I doubt I'll be all that much more vocal, I'll just add that the reason people avoid talking about the Kobe-less title is because to start to break that down would be an entry into a psychological area middle-aged sportswriters avoid with a forty-foot long pole. To have one's recognition as an elite in one's field be seen as a creation of another, one who seems hell-bent on declaring that in fact he was that preeminent member of the pair? Particularly when the most common entry point of discussion into your psyche is that you live in a state of prolonged arrested development? Jesus, the dude should be neurotic.

As far as GP, Posey, Walker, Derek Anderson, Shandon Anderson and even J-Will? Yeah, I really can't defend that, and I got my start as a fan planning for the Rony Seikaly hall of fame enshrinement.

 
At 5/23/2006 1:30 PM, Anonymous cephalapod said...

A question I've been kicking around all year--Is Dirk a star? Is there a justifiable basis for some kind of Nowitzkian idolotry? Can we worship him? Can he bind our tiny little hearts to him as he binds the basketball within his huge Germanic palms? Perhaps.
He is not as much of an athlete as his peers. He doesn't toil in the paint like some common athletic genius, he doesn't release an incredibly giant will at the basket and he is, as Sir Chuck noted, only 6'3 on defense.
Dirk does not work. But he is worthy. He gives, he grants. But he disburses his points monarchically, on the sole foundation of his inheritance--his 7 foot frame, his innately soft and accurate jump shot, his gangly yet suprisingly coordinated and quick body. There is nothing more to his excellence. But it is excellence.
He is an anti-Piston in his blood and bones and, while not god-like, certainly imperial in both effort and effect.
He is, in short, The Holy Roman Emporer.

 
At 5/23/2006 1:36 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

that pass to mourning was worth admiring.

seriously though, my feelings on wade aren't entirely rational. he just doesn't move me; i don't enjoy watching him. at the same time, i have a semi-coherent explanation for this, which i can offer till the cows bleed out, and that's probably better than screaming "D-WADE IS BORING!!!!!!" he has his moments, and i respect those, but i'm not captivated from tip to buzzer. i can look away.

 
At 5/23/2006 1:43 PM, Blogger Neil Scientist said...

Piling on the anti-theological crusade--comments about the absurdity of LBJ's Musberger-led deification were taken as critique of LBJ himself, which seems to point exactly to why elevating mortals to the status of the Gods is fraught and polarizing, and something cautious emperors like Augustus resisted, while the Neros of the world sought. It generates rabid, superstitious enthusiasm (in the pejorative sense), moralia and demonization. There was nothing fun about LBJ's incipient coronoation; just frenzied bloodlust. I loved watching him play, and in as unselfish a way as possible, I was furious that Bayless was allowed to wrench others experience of watching him into this bloodcurdlingly serious, soldierly event.

Basketball is still relatively innured from the overbearing non-doctrinal religiosity so pervasive in baseball and football (I think). That is a charm. Even Avery's church militant stuff must be taken as a harder-edged, more eccentric version of the rote Jesus movement blandishments of many Latin American and/or born-again athletes. Personally, those eccentricities are what I watch for.

 
At 5/23/2006 1:44 PM, Anonymous Memory Jones said...

Have you seen the Gladwell column about the Wages of Wins?

He's just proposed the most anti-FreeDarko ethos possible: that watching the game is only an obfuscation, and the truth is in the numbers. (Which, of course, even if you swallow it whole, relies on the premise that the most important thing a player can do for a team or a franchise is 'win games.')

FD's true nemesis is not the boredom of generic sports commentary, but those who compose inevitable formulas for success: the literal embodiment of the demonic "Right Way," only wielded by Stanford economists instead of Larry Brown.

I guess in a way it makes sense that Gladwell would embrace this, since he learned to love basketball by reading box scores and old Sports Illustrateds at the library.

 
At 5/23/2006 1:56 PM, Anonymous Thunder Dan said...

An addendum for clarification's sake-
I find myself unable to construct a framework in which to discuss the reasons a discerning yet resistant basketball fan should alter his position on Wade. Maybe this will explain more of my reasoning. To see him in a nightly setting makes for more excitement than any year post Tim Hardaway's inexorable knee problems.

PS-Clearly, this is not the best way to establish my bonafides on this site, but I can give a seven minute dissertation on why Amare is sleeping in a house that contains Caron Butler's ROY award.

One shining moment

 
At 5/23/2006 2:13 PM, Blogger SilverBird5000 said...

MJ-

yeah, that Gladwell column was something else, though at the same time, completely unsurprising.

I actually don't think there's a real difference between the "generic sports commentary" and the Standford economists. Both are wrestling with same demon (trying to "solve the Iverson problem", as Gladwell puts it). For the moralists, it's the fact that Iverson gets to be an All-Star; for the economists, it's the fact that Iverson gets $70 million. But the reason it's the Iverson problem is the same for both.

oopoudug

 
At 5/23/2006 2:37 PM, Anonymous Futuristxen said...

I fully agree. This household will be wearing Mavs dancing hats. Also you forgot to mention the idea of David Stern having to congratulate Marc Cuban on national television--will be faaaannntastic.

I'm also a big fan of the dirty German and Marquis Daniels.

Winning a championship would really force people to recognize that yes, Dirk is in the NBA, and he is quite good. And probably, if you weren't going to give Kobe or Lebron the MVP, all of the reasons you gave for giving it to Nash, apply doubly for Dirk.

 
At 5/23/2006 2:49 PM, Anonymous fix_the_knicks said...

Seconding MJ's commentary on Wages of Wins:

I'm a computer scientist with an emphasis on statistics, so I probably have more faith in the power of quantifiable objective analysis than most of you fuzzy headed literature types. But what these guys (Gladwell and the authors of this book) don't seem to realize is that this stuff is HARD -- you're not going to quantify Allen Iverson's value by some dinky formula where you add up his made free throws and subtract 2.5 times his turnovers or whatever. That's basically the level of analysis that they're doing (check the blog), which is nothing you can't find already on ESPN.com.

I don't love everything about 82games, but I think they're at least on the right track -- looking at individual situations that arise within basketball games, rather than bulk statistics. It's hard to believe these guys got a book deal -- I guess having PhDs in economics opens a lot of doors.

 
At 5/23/2006 3:08 PM, Anonymous Mr. Six said...

I will refrain from posting the perhaps overly negative description of the Pistons that I drafted on Sunday and set aside; instead, I will simply say that a Spur-less WCF and the prospect of a Piston-less finals has redeemed the latter rounds of the playoffs for me. Even with the Pistons, either the Mavs or Suns create the prospect of interjecting a modicum of joy into the event, which observation is spot-on.

Those stories about the 90's Spurs and the almost mandatory AJ-led prayer sessions always sat poorly with me, and I've found Rev. Avery a little distasteful ever since ... which has dampened my ability to enjoy the Mavs this year. I need to work harder to ignore him and enjoy the game. Devin Harris help.

 
At 5/23/2006 4:00 PM, Anonymous Memory Jones said...

I actually don't think there's a real difference between the "generic sports commentary" and the Standford economists.

The difference I see is that sports writers, even in the throes of the most ill-thought-out stat analysis, will still hold over a bit for "x-factor" or "intangibles" or simply their gut feeling. This likely comes from the fact that so many of them are heavy gamblers.

Next: http://boomslang-rock.blogspot.com/

 
At 5/23/2006 4:54 PM, Anonymous aug said...

My girlfriend is also rooting for the mavs, mainly because she likes how Dirk looks like a cave man she said. She can't get over his protruding brow line and for some reason loves the mavs because of him and avery johnson. While she loves dirk for being lovely, she absolutely hates nash for being ugly. Go figure.

My loyalties will also lie with the mavs. I have grown tired of shaq, wade doesn't excite me, i don't want the pistons to win again, and i just don't like the suns gimmick anymore. The mavs have more entertaining players as you mentioned.

Plus, i have a soft spot in my heart for marquis daniels since he played for the Steppi Roofing basketball team that my friend's dad owns in an Orlando city league when he was in high school. And how can anyone not want to see more avery johnson press conferences.

 
At 5/23/2006 5:01 PM, Blogger SilverBird5000 said...

You're right - that is an important difference between the two. And its also the case that in most discussions (including the Gladwell piece), cranky old intuition is described as being opposed to the new statistical taylorism. But I do think that at bottom, the sentiment that's driving these two schools is essentially the same: namely, the need to solve the Iverson problem.

 
At 5/23/2006 5:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dirk - The Holy Roman Emperor! And, it isn't necessarily theological in nature..."the Holy Roman Empire was neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an empire." - V.

It fits. Surrounded by unruly kingdoms he had to subdue, slowly carving out a vast empire for himself, and finally blessed by those in need of his protection.

Perhaps a character from an Umberto Eco novel. Invite me to the coronation.

 
At 5/23/2006 5:28 PM, Blogger GentleWhoadie9000 said...

It goes without saying that my Dirk fetish puts me squarely in the Mavs camp this spring. But beyond that, I can only wonder what Mark Cuban is going to pull if the Mavs make the finals.

Should the Heat face the Mavs in the finals, Shaq v. Cuban may be the most intriguing backstory to the series. Will Cuban open implore Avery to employ haq-a-Shaq strategy? I forsee some nebulous argument about an on-court confrontation escalating into a war of words rivaled only by a Don King sponsored weigh-in.

Let us also not forget that Gary Payton is the Kenny Lofton of basketball (although Kenny Lofton did play point guard at Arizona, so maybe Kenny Lofton taught the Glove everything he knows between foul shots in the Pac-10). I have this image in my mind's eye of him sounding like Chris Tucker as he barks petty insults at anybody who will listen.

 
At 5/23/2006 5:37 PM, Blogger ~CW~ said...

Not to put a damper on the fun that will be Mavs/Suns, but how much more fun would this be with Amare? And I understand salary cap situations and the need to resign the aforementioned Human Wrecking Ball, but can you imagine this Suns team if they still had Joe Johnson to go along with Raja Bell? Positively deadly.

As it stands, I'll take the Mavericks in five or six, simply because they're capable of going at the same pace as the Suns, yet they have more depth. If Marion manages to T-Mac Dirk, it might give them a chance, but who the hell does Nash guard? Terry and Harris would both blow right by him.

 
At 5/23/2006 6:28 PM, Anonymous mtp said...

If Wade is boring to some people, it's only because he is forced to ply his wares in a world where his position is so clearly defined and upheld. On the rare circumstance where he doesn't get by his man, he can just flip the ball up to Shaq, who quickly brutalizes the elegant flip. It's more kin to a trainer tossing a limp trout to Shamu at Sea World, than to a spontaneously creative athletic feat: startling at first, but quickly seen as manifest. Despite all the Suns surface appeal as fast-paced and out of control, they exist in a similarlly contrived paradigm.

On the other hand, the gratifying thing bout the Mavs is that they seems to be in constant upheaval. One game Stack is the OT hero (Jerry Stackhouse! In the year 2006!), the next game Terry punches a former teammate in the balls. By having so many players that create their own shot, their success relies on the hope that the ball will continue to find the next hot hand.

They are also satisfying as a season-long narrative given Dirk's playoff dominance and seemingly inadvertent ability to make his game stand above, while not on the shoulders of, his chaotic team's play.

 
At 5/23/2006 7:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Tim Thomas was a video game character, would he be the dog from Duck Hunt?

 
At 5/24/2006 12:01 AM, Anonymous Captain Caveman said...

shoals, help me out here, because I'm an NBA fan with no true team loyalties, and an ardent FD reader, but I can't understand or agree with the anti-Wade sentiment. Specifically, these words from last November:

The problem is that Wade is just too fucking good. He's so impossibly quick, strong, explosive, intelligent, and determined that he makes it look easy. The cosmos shifts not, for the simple reason that the natural order of things is for him to score at will. Wade speeding straight-line to the hoop. . . Wade rising up out of traffic for the dunk. . . Wade with the abrupt jumper. . . Wade deftly flipping it over his back while getting bodied up mid-flight. . . he might as well be guarded by my dead aunt (the shorter one). Creativity in the NBA isn't just a matter of self-expression—it also had the strategic purpose losing or evading defenders. Wade, god bless his soul, just doesn't have to worry about this on any regular basis. Don't get me wrong: when he does, truly unreal things take place. And even if he's not must-watch, it's still amazing to see him do his thing, provided I'm watching anyway or have nothing else to do. But I just can't get excited about Dwyane Wade: Face of Basketball when he's so sorely predictable in both approach and outcome.

I would almost prefer it if you just said you couldn't explain your lack of interest in Wade, rather than to place it in a now-somewhat-hypocritical fog of elegant prose. For what is LeBron's OT Game 3-winning layup against the Wizards but the cosmos (and Jamison) not shifting and thus granting him free reign to the hoop (as even you admitted back in early May)? Were I to remove the names away from that italicized paragraph, I would think you were talking about Bron and not Wade, who has shown in these playoffs precisely the emotion that you require of the new breed, jawing mid-game with GP.

I lack the wordsmithing skills to adequately make my case for Wade, but he gets fewer chances to take over games than LeBron (what with Miami boasting more than one player who can actually create and make shots), but when he does get the opportunity, he seizes it with four fewer inches and thirty fewer pounds, and arguably as much -- or more -- grace and beauty. I'm not knocking Bron, of course, but I fail to see how you can adore King James (and even Arenas) without retracting your uninterest in Wade. Oh, and his defensive skills are nonpareil.

Phew. I dunno. Or maybe I just liked that commercial where Dwyane keeps getting back up.

 
At 5/24/2006 12:11 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

wade is a lot more reptitive than lebron. lebron does impossible, improbable things and makes them seem as perfectly foregone as wade's moves. i like wade when he mixes it up, but it's almost always just some slight variation on that murderous first step and immediate elevation.

 
At 5/24/2006 12:13 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i forgot the key word: creative. lebron is more creative. he makes creativity seems inevitable.

 
At 5/24/2006 12:16 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

wade's style is also too streamlined for my liking.

i really wish you hadn't posted that paragraph. . .it proves just how often i repeat myself, and makes me want to take down the entire archive. one of the problem with having this much writing up is that i'm bound to trip over myself; for what it's worth, i wasn't as in awe of lebron then as i am these days.

 
At 5/24/2006 12:18 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

last thing: that lay-up lebron had against the wizards involved like three changes of direction, several fakes, and a key reassesment of the release he was headed for. that shit just doesn't happen with wade.

 
At 5/24/2006 1:00 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

silverbird made me add this: no cosmos-shifting with wade, cosmos shifts abundantly with lebron. wade scoring in certain ways is busines as usual, while lebron is constantly reinventing the business of his scoring as if, after the fact, there had been no other option.

lebron forces it to shift to pieces, and that's inevitable, whereas wade makes it happen as if on grooves.

i think that my mcsweeney's post addressed my feelings on wade better. i should probably stop linking to that old post.

 
At 5/24/2006 1:44 AM, Anonymous griffin said...

caveman, i agree with you about Wade. i think the following excerpt you wrote says a lot:

but [Wade] gets fewer chances to take over games than LeBron (what with Miami boasting more than one player who can actually create and make shots), but when he does get the opportunity, he seizes it with four fewer inches and thirty fewer pounds, and arguably as much -- or more -- grace and beauty.

i wonder how Wade would be judged on FD if Lamar wasn't traded. There might never be a team again more "freedarko" than the Odom/Wade Heat, and I wonder if Shaq's freight speed ruins Wade for fans like Shoals.

That's one theory. But the more I think about it, the more I think it probably runs deeper than that. Wade and LeBron must represent two different ideals, or else people wouldn't gravitate towards one or the other as often as they do.

For me, I lean towards Wade because my morality is that of a peasant, apparently. I see it this way: LeBron is the swelling of commercialization and lazy sports journalism. The LeBron James Mythos is Jordan, Magic, Big O and whoever else all in one. He is the future of the sport and he will do things we never thought possible.

LeBron James, the 21-year-old man, is an unusual mixture of speed and strength who's very good at penetrating to the basket and finishing (a big version of Tony Parker? ultimate blasphemy?). He's good at finding the open man. He tries to involve his teammates to prove that he's ahead of Jordan at his age. He's an average - at best - jump shooter, and below average defender.

But the myth propels him to become more than he is. and he's crowned a king.

d-wade, on the other hand, was not placed among the game's 50 Greatest before his first NBA game. he's proven his brilliance without the help of a propaganda network. he does it with undeniable grace and intelligence, and with a killer instinct to boot.

So I guess, conveniently, The King represents inheritance to me. The kingdom was given to him before doing anything to deserve it. Wade, on the other hand, is an enslaved Maximus earning his kingdom through actual displays of brilliance.

But like I said, I have a peasant's morality, and therefore I would stand with Wade.

 
At 5/24/2006 1:54 AM, Anonymous Captain Caveman said...

Well, griffin puts it nicely in terms of the feudal system, but I've already spent a few minutes putting my thoughts in (dis)order, so I'm pressing forward:

I think my main concern was that I saw FD as a movement to appreciate players of a style X, and the refusal to include a player who seemed, to me, to very much embody style X, made FD less of a revolution, and more of a blog where the writers like some players of style X and dislike others. (Or does Wade play Trotsky in the freedarko revolution?)

For what it's worth, though, shoals, you've sufficiently clarified the point; I can now at least understand why you don't stay enraptured for an entire game, which was your point in the first place.

My take: I see LeBron as Picasso, able to create something in any style, creating new styles when he tires of others, all the while never really having a peer in whatever phase he might have entered on a whim. And (perhaps this takes the metaphor too far, but it works for my purposes) Wade is Frederic Edwin Church -- he may only do one thing, but he does that one thing in gorgeous, grand productions. I admit that Picasso is the better, more creative artist, but I still prefer the peace of an expansive Andean landscape to the twisted reality of cubism. But then, I have simple tastes. Not to mention a peasant's morality.

 
At 5/24/2006 5:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting take on the LeBron/fate and LeBron-on-the-same path-as-Jordan argument (from DJ Gallo at ESPN Page 2):

It seems that the biggest story line coming out of Detroit's elimination of the Cavaliers on Sunday is not that the Pistons move on but that their victory has set LeBron James' career on a path that most assuredly will match Michael Jordan's step by step. The apparent thinking is that James, just like Jordan before him, will lose to the Pistons in the playoffs at the beginning of his career, learn from those defeats, and eventually break through against Detroit and go on to dominate the entire NBA. Of course, it could just be a random coincidence that James and Jordan came across the Pistons in the playoffs early in their careers. In fact, it most assuredly is a coincidence. But coincidences don't really make for good copy, so I'll also go with the cosmic fate angle. And that's the more fun angle, anyway, because if it all plays out the same way, that means 20 years from now, Richard Hamilton will be Detroit's general manager, Rasheed Wallace will be coaching in the WNBA and Chauncey Billups will be destroying the Knicks. If the Knicks are still around in 20 years, that is.

 
At 5/24/2006 6:04 AM, Blogger SilverBird5000 said...

...and the refusal to include a player who seemed, to me, to very much embody style X, made FD less of a revolution, and more of a blog where the writers like some players of style X and dislike others

speaking as a colleague and long time friend, let me just say that whatever its pathologies, Shoals' love of the NBA can at least claim the virtue of being completely undistorted by the partisanship of team loyalty. i have witnessed its development firsthand, and i really can't overemphasize how weird it is. the man has managed to cultivate a lifelong attachment that has all the emotional urgency of the tribal fan, but absolutely none of its content. as someone who has literally winced every time Bill Simmons writes the word 'Celtics', i can't help but think this a good thing. And had this blog existed 10 years ago, and I were forced to construct a post-hoc League of Style around the exigencies of anthony mason, charlie ward and derek harper's mid-court post moves, god only knows what kind of aesthetic Reign of Fire would descend upon this comments section. anyway, all this is merely to say that, regardless of its resonance, there's really nothing else behind all this other than genuine appreciation.

[lest this come off as overly fawning, let me just add that Shoals’ actual basketball aesthetic - as opposed to his aesthetics of basketball - are ugly as sin. nothing but elbows, ticks and the occasional running hook shot. once favorably described as 'a cross between Bruno S. and a nurse shark', and i think even that was too charitable]

i also want to emphasize something that's already implicit (actually, explicit) in these last two comments, which is that in the new NBA, Lebron vs. Wade is inevitably going to be an either/or, zero-sum equation, at least as far as aesthetics are concerned. The difference between a universe of Stars and Style is one of distinction, taste, and above all else theodicy, and let's face it: Duncan will only be around for so long. So unless Melo or Bosh somehow become less awesome and weird, I'm just not sure how one could give love to both Bron and Wade, even if they wanted to.

 
At 5/24/2006 7:41 AM, Anonymous Kaifa said...

Silverbird, I second you're point that LeBron-Wade is always going to be an either/or argument if one's personal fandom is taking into account more than just what the respective players actually do on the court. I guess nobody's going to discredit either LeBron or Wade for the way they play, since both of them are pushing the boundaries of what players their size should be able to do against top competition. As soon as style or personality or whatever you want to call enters the equation, these guys are polar opposites. Therefore it would be difficult to explain rationally how you could be able to relate to them in the same way.

I personally come down on Dwyane Wade's side because everything LeBron does after a basket seems contrived to me - the pseudo-intimidating staring, the grimaces etc. Couldn't like his game more though, expcept for him going back to the mid-air wrist-flick passes he threw as a rookie playing PG.

Also, Silverbird, Bruno S. = Bruno Sundov? Now that's ugly...

 
At 5/24/2006 8:14 AM, Blogger SilverBird5000 said...

Bruno S. = Bruno Sundov?

man, that just totally made my day.
but no, i actually meant this guy.
may the two now forever be one.

 
At 5/24/2006 9:32 AM, Anonymous Kaifa said...

I see. Although Zeke might have as well signed your Bruno S. to play C for the Knicks in '04! Anyway, to properly mourne one of the great European journeymen (Dallas, Indiana, Boston, Cleveland, NY), here are two of his stations in the league. RIP, Bruno S.!

http://www.cavshistory.com/images/players/Bruno_Sundov.jpg

http://celticsbeagle.net/Photo-BrunoSundovHangin.jpg


WV: Duipevej (Croation for Gatling, Chris?)

 
At 5/24/2006 12:59 PM, Blogger GentleWhoadie9000 said...

A lot of the Masters of Style seemed to employ a certain Bruno S.-ness.

 
At 5/24/2006 1:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is anyone else on the neither-nor of the LeBron-Wade argument?? I might be alone ont his but I feel cheated by the easiness and polish of their offensive games at such an early age.

 
At 5/25/2006 11:10 AM, Anonymous Graham Swift said...

I woke up a little uneasy today... and thought I would share:

Generally, the apartment I live in could be described as "cheap." My window really won't close all the way and that usually means I wake up to nice, springtime things.

Birds, the breeze, sunlight.

Those usually lead to pleasant thoughts: my bed is comfortable, my girl is next to me.

I am home. Life is good.

EXCEPT. Well, today I woke up to none of those thoughts. Today I woke up to, "what have they done to me??" And by they, I mean you. FREEDARKO.

I've grown up, a tribesman of the Detroit Pistons. That's how it's worked my entire life. The language of warfare. Us and them. I can't overemphasize the extremity to which... those were my feelings. I once took a church youth group to the Palace and instructed all the junior highers to "have a good time," "be safe," and "boo the hell out of Antoine Walker everytime he touches the ball because he's a fat chucker."

But after reading SilverBird's latest comment... after thinking over the newest addition to the magna carta... a league of fun... maybe I had to sleep on it. Maybe events needed to be deciphered, unlocked in the league-watching region of my brain.

I used to be unconsolable after a loss. My friends and I would just stare blankly at the screen... the words of George Blaha numb to our ears. Now? They are still uncosolable. And angry. Me? I find myself with thoughts... new thoughts I have to keep to myself.

"At least if they lose, that will mean Wade and LeBron... I'd still watch. And probably really enjoy it."

"Why do I feel more joy when I'm watching the Mavericks?"

"When are they going to start selling the new #24s?"

In a way... I feel like I've been ripped from my people. This is all I've known. And I woke up to a start this morning... knowing that I've... that something is different. That I don't belong anymore.

Because, of course, 23 years don't go away. When the offense is firing, when Sheed launches the three you knew he would... when Chauncey's got the smile of a cocky bastard. That's entertaining. Some part of "home" still lingers. But I don't... I don't mind the losses now. And it's more than that. My eyes have changed... what I'm looking for is different. I find myself watching a lot more basketball... just other teams. The realization that I've never enjoyed the game more.

It turns out there's a life I can't get back to... a home that I've lost.

It is... it's a league of fun.

And now I am a wanderer.

 
At 5/25/2006 11:55 AM, Anonymous Sweet Lou said...

That was the post I was waiting for. I'm a Pistons fan of 19 years myself, and I don't mind their style of play. But I do mind that they aren't having any fun. After losing to the Spurs last year, all the Pistons wanted to do was get back to work. Game 7 against the Cavs was joyless. I fear even a win over Miami would be met with grim and knowing nods. They have allowed themselves the possibility of one day of true joy: the day they would win the championship.

Am I having more fun doing office work than these guys are playing basketball? It's beginning to feel like it. Can I root for that? It's beginning to feel like I can't.

 
At 5/25/2006 12:56 PM, Anonymous Mr. Six said...

Random thoughts from the last 48 hours:

A whole post about the NBA being a League of Fun and no pictures of the Fun Police?

What should have been Mike Brown's starting five for Game 7:

Eric Snow G
Larry Hughes G
Ira Newble F
Anderson Verejao F
LeBron James C

That Gladwell article was and the related book sounds utterly dismal. I think the Iverson Problem may be misnamed, rather like the Allan Houston Rule. Whatever the statistics show about Iverson-like players, AI himself has put people in the seats at home and on the road for years. Thus, paying him top dollar made perfect business sense. And as to the larger points already addressed, the numbers may not show him adding very many wins, but the authors of the Iverson Problem should have forced the authors of the book to reconsider their whole endeavor. His on-court contributions are obvious enough to anyone watching the games that the authors should have tried harder to figure out why their numbers are so off, or they should have admitted that the data available aren't sufficient to support their analysis. The true failure of the statistical approach is hinted at at the end of the Gladwell piece: the NBA isn't, can't be, and shouldn't be just about wins; it is also entertainment and pure aesthetic experience. For me, enjoying the game in fact means being a dance critic, for "[o]nly in the dance do I know how to tell the parable of the highest things." Plus, he's given the franchise an unmistakable identity. Until someone develops a Beauty Scale and a means of number-izing Wow-Factor (not to mention other intangibles), and until someone tracks both, statisticians simply lack the data to fully explain the Game or the value of a player.

Related to the above: (1) How much more fun would the Pistons be if the Iverson trade had happened? (2) At one point, I thought, who else could the Sixers have taken in the 1996 draft that would have made them better? So I checked basketballreference.com and found some interesting options: Ray Allen, Kobe Bryant, and Steve Nash. Can anyone be certain that the franchise, as a sporting and business endeavor, would have been better off over the last 10 years with one of those three instead? I can't.

wv: yyzdyy why? why?

 
At 5/25/2006 1:35 PM, Blogger Brickowski said...

Graham-

I totally understand where you're coming from. FD has totally changed the way I watch, and sometimes I'm unsure whether or not this is a good thing.

Also, let me second Silverbird, and tell you that Shoals really has no understanding of fandom. NONE. Like, I'm almost unsure if he was raised on this planet. Sometime he's going to have to explain himself here, and divulge whatever traumatic childhood events made him this way.

Hopefully, I'll be back later with a post that will elaborate on this, as well as my thoughts on the end of the Spurs.

Word: uxvnuf
you crossed vlade enough!

 
At 5/25/2006 1:41 PM, Anonymous fix_the_knicks said...

First of all, rather than the Iverson problem causing the authors to reconsider their approach, I'm sure that generating such a "non-intuitive" result (to say the least) was actually the whole point of their endeavor. I mean, if they say that the best players in the NBA are Nash, James, Kobe and Dirk... well, who buys that book? The whole point is to say something "surprising," a nugget of enlightment that only the resplendent logocentrism of economics could have provided. Then basketball know-nothings like Gladwell can buy the book and laught at the people who actually watch the games for being "dance critics."

Also, as I said before -- I really disagree that you need to concede that Iverson is NOT adding wins to the 76ers. Forget about putting people in the seats -- the sixers in the early part of this decade would have HORRIBLE without Iverson. His FG percentage is low because he's drawing double teams and creating space for everyone else on the floor. Every time he drives the lane and forces a big man to help, he makes it easier for his guys to crash the offensive boards. As far as I know, there are currently no stats that capture these kinds of things. I don't even know why I'm making this argument, I'm sure I'm preaching to the choir here. I guess all I want to say is don't assume their analysis is correct just because they have economics degrees and know how to use math to intimidate people.

 
At 5/25/2006 2:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

to me, the flip side of iverson as way overrated is shaq as most dominant ever. that is, iverson plainly has to be great b/c of where he tooks the sixers (how many finals did tmac or garnett or etc. take their teams to?). doesn't matter what the formula says, if it doesn't show AI as an incredible player, it's wrong.

similarly, for the most dominant ever, shaq sure needed a lot of help to get 3 titles. 3 titles with kobe by your side doesn't impress me much, particularly where two titles came after teams that had the lakers either screwed themselves or were screwed by refs. put another way, would ewing with kobe have won 3? did hakeem have anywhere near that level of help? etc.

so just as economists come up with ridiculous theories based on number tweaking that ignores intuition, sports writers' have similarly misguided ideas based on intuition rather than numbers (gee, shaq looks real impressive when he throws it down, and he weighs alot (even if he's not near the tallest guy we've seen) so he must change the game unlike any player before).

 
At 5/25/2006 4:27 PM, Anonymous Captain Caveman said...

...know how to use math to intimidate people

This really could have changed my high school experience.

 
At 5/25/2006 4:33 PM, Blogger SilverBird5000 said...

Graham-

I have nothing to add to Brick's comment other than to say I too felt the pains of conversion, and I empathize (though for a Knick fan, there's considerably less of a downside).

at the same time, i also think that the end of tribalism is more or less inevitable (and not just for FD readers), and that the end of the teams themselves at least should be.

like the nation-state, the Team has become an anachronism. much like the former, it has no natural right to existence, being essentially the invention and instrument of capital.
this isn't to say that team sports are all these things - just the Team itself (i.e. "The Knicks", "The Pistons"). historically, this arrangement made sense insofar as your average pick-up game player didn't have the money to build a stadium and employ ticket venders, and when the ideology of fandom (such that people would actually buy those tickets) didn't/couldn't exist in the absence of some local, tribal attachment. but it seems to me that, with globalization and the (small-r) revolution in media, that second condition may no longer be necessary. which is to say that when a kid in China buys an Iverson jersey, it isn't because it says Philadelphia 76ers on it. as for the first condition....well, we'll see. let's just say that I don't think the MLB will be the first league to claim fantasy sports statistics as property rights.

also, as someone who spent the Jordan years literally praying for Jordan's retirement, to begin the New NBA without having to root against its players is refreshing to say the least.

 
At 5/25/2006 4:54 PM, Blogger SilverBird5000 said...

I don't think the MLB will be the last league, is what i meant to write.

 
At 5/25/2006 5:35 PM, Blogger billikenbluff said...

-Dirk: Seven foot German who plays like an educated liquid giraffe.

Well done.

 
At 5/25/2006 11:55 PM, Anonymous bayaz said...

In the Pistons defense here, I think it's off to judge them at this point; they've played like crap for the last eight games (maybe until tonight). Wait and see if they've got something else. This isn't their only mode and they do have an affirmative style. Ben's defense on Lebron in game 6 was pretty nuts, really just wouldn't let him score in the second half and did it without physically assaulting him. There's gum-it-up defense and then there's whatever he was doing that evening which, in my mind, had to be about as creative as what James was doing out there. Tayshaun's been amazing too, win-wise and style-wise. Most of his moves just don't make sense with his body type. Real awkward beauty.

I'm not gonna sit here and write out another Pistons manifesto, and yes, they're never going to be as fun to watch as the Suns or Mavs, but they aren't styleless and even if they don't fit into the FreeDarko world I think it's worth regarding them as different, not inferior.

 
At 5/25/2006 11:57 PM, Blogger stonecoldlampin said...

sb5
the tribe is negatively defined, a reaction to the other, and thus -barring total homogenaity- will never become anachronistic. it's a genetic predisposition that you can intellectualize yourself around, but in doing so debase your humanity. this debasement may be transcendent, a triumph of the brahman, but i prefer to simply don my red white and blue and agree with sheed on every single call.
why lose the visceral pleasures of fandom? why forego the foundation of competition in favor of a pure aesthetic appreciation?
why would i want to give up saying "WE won game two of the eastern conference finals" for a flaccid "the pistons won..."
fight to keep the joys of fandom, no matter how atavistic they may be.
Sincerely,
Aldous Huxley

 
At 5/26/2006 12:43 AM, Anonymous bayaz said...

lampin,
Seems to me that the territory is, to an extent, something artificial and there are clear examples of non-territorial animal sociae, Bonobo chimps for example. sb5 is right that the team in its current incarnation arose in relation to and dependent upon capital (a lot of early teams were sponsored or run by semi-industrial corporations), but on the other hand the team is one of the forces giving the game its meaning, providing play context and emotive context. An Iverson jersey, or any jersey for that matter, is an awful point of departure because the jersey is by definition already geared to and dependant upon the individual player. There are people out there that exclusively buy team shirts, team caps, etc. It'd obviously be beautiful to see a more free-flowing association personnel-wise, an association where players were brought together not out of some GM’s alchemical experimentation but out of mutual respect or desire, but that doesn't in and of itself go against the notion of a team or of a tribalism, especially a tribalism not rooted in place but instead in style.

 
At 5/26/2006 2:15 AM, Blogger stonecoldlampin said...

first of all...bonobos are weird. their primary purpose on earth is to provide counterexamples to blowhard assertions of what is "natural".
i wasn't arguing in favor of allegiance by geography, but merely allegiance. why does the artiface by which a team is created matter? if the nba was a big pick up game...well yes that would be rad... but we would be robbed of the sense of belonging that is intrinsic to fandom. no chestbeating? I'm by no means opposed to basketball as art, but why must it rob of us basketball as subbstitute for primative instinct fulfillment?

you can't root for style. you can't be heartbroken when style looses. when style finally wins a championship you can't throw a parade for it or set a car on fire for it.

have a nice night,
ron jones

 
At 5/26/2006 3:30 AM, Blogger SilverBird5000 said...

It'd obviously be beautiful to see a more free-flowing association personnel-wise...but that doesn't in and of itself go against the notion of a team or of a tribalism, especially a tribalism not rooted in place but instead in style.

Very well said. I couldn't agree with you more. As I said in my previous comment, my argument is not about team sports; it's about "The Team" (i.e. "The Pistons"). Its about an organization, identity and mode of production that is autonomous from the players themselves. I don't think every game should be a pick-up game, with players distributed randomly and differently each time. I love the idea of players grouped by style, mutual respect, etc. But there's a big difference between that kind of team, and The Team. Its the difference between "Sheed plays on the Pistons", where Pistons = Rip, Chauncy, etc., and "Sheed plays for the Pistons", where Pistons = William Davidson.

why lose the visceral pleasures of fandom? why forego the foundation of competition in favor of a pure aesthetic appreciation?

the idea of making fandom into art criticism has about as much appeal to me as being blugeoned with a rusty pipe. this isn't about viseral vs. aesthetic, which seems to me like a false dichotomy to begin with. what you really want to defend is the object of viseral emotion, not the emotion itself; the idea that "WE won game two of the eastern conference finals". but you didn't win game two. a team of players did. if a sense of a shared identity seems to unite the two...well, fine. i'm happy for you. but don't kid yourself about the source. sometimes when I drink a Dr. Pepper, I'll think to myself, "I FUCKING LOVE DR. PEPPER!!!", but that doesn't mean that I'm genetically predisposed to loving it.


you can't root for style. you can't be heartbroken when style looses

if this isn't heartbreak, I don't know what is.

 
At 5/26/2006 11:43 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i'll wait till bricksowki posts to give my sad story, if i even have an intelligible one to offer. suffice it to say, however, that i am doing everything possible to encourage my girlfriend's mav-dom. that includes switching our hotel to ensure we can make it here in time to catch the game tonight, and deferring to her on any and all things maverickian because, well, she's (got a right to have) lived that shit.

oh and i have one other provocative term to throw into the discussion: PHILADELPHIA. being especially sketpical of traditional fandom after seven years in that area is like, i don't know, not wanting to get raped in the ass upon release from a federal penitentiary.

 
At 5/26/2006 12:28 PM, Anonymous Mr. Six said...

Also, as I said before -- I really disagree that you need to concede that Iverson is NOT adding wins to the 76ers. Forget about putting people in the seats -- the sixers in the early part of this decade would have HORRIBLE without Iverson.

Buried in that mess of a paragraph of mine is some implication that I wasn't conceding the point, but was instead explaining that if, arguendo, one were to accept the premise, the Iverson Problem would be misnamed. The econometric approach to sports seems, at base, much about paying players their actual worth. Even if AI hadn't won the Sixers a game, he would have been worth every penny the team paid him. But he has won games, which is obvious to anyone who watched and saw them. Further, it's unlikely that the Sixers would have better without him, given the players available to them through the draft or trades. i.e. I agree.

you can't root for style. you can't be heartbroken when style looses. when style finally wins a championship you can't throw a parade for it or set a car on fire for it.

I root for style; I weep like my man Freddy at the corpse of a beaten horse when style loses; and I want to live in a world that throws a parade when the mix of style, psychology, and fun wins a championship. Tribalism is but another anachronism to be overthrown; the lipstick of anthropological, psychological, and religio-political apologias can't make it other than it is.

 

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