The windows have walls

Time for another crack at the curious question of Clipperdom. I recognize that my last post on the subject might've seemed like just the latest in a long line of killjoys I've been cranking out this past week, but I think I've had a real breakthrough. I understand that the world loves a feel-good story, and that people in LA deserve a chance to experience this as much as anyone else (major cities LIVE for these shots at underdogdom). The tricky thing is, though, this whole stance assumes that the Clippers are as generic a success story as George Mason. This isn't some bunch of cast-offs carried aloft by fortune; as erratic as this franchise has been, there have been moments, there is some voice, and this current incarnation is a high point, not a fluke. Yes, Sterling probably should be shot. But that doesn't nullify what's come before this taste of the nectar, or vaporize its ability to affect the meaning of Clipper Fever. The reason I harped on the '01-'02 team is that, to me, this was a statement roster, one that struck a chord despite its competitive shortcomings. T. wisely invoked the Larry Brown teams, the existence of which alone negates this "non-team touched by heaven" condascension.

The more I think about it, the more this whole scenario exposes one of the major flaws of the Association: teams that don't win get the franchisa non grata treatment, from the front office, the media, casual observers, and even their own would-be fans. Only winning seems to unlock not only the right to significance, and only there do the scribes who record sentiment awaken and start juggling connections. That's why the Clippers playoff run can be so easily be appropriated—there's no burden of heritage to stand in the way of the novice. It's the difference between a Big 10 school catching fire in the tournament and some obscure pin-prick mounting the stead of victory; not only can anyone root for the Clippers, anyone in LA can claim that this all-purpose underdog is indicative of their own inner lovable loser. I'm as much for this League of Psychology crap as anyone I know, but it shouldn't be a League of Fan Wish Fulfillment. In 2003, Kevin of ClipperBlog gave us a perfectly pleasant survey of the emerging Clipper fan culture; contrast this with the bedlam we're now witnessing, in which everyone has decided out of the blue that their sentimental bent is all that's needed to tool up for Brand and Cassell.

You want answers? You want positivity and a prescription for excellence? Look at the NFL. I'd say that, in large part, its monstrous success as a top-to-bottom league has been due to its recognition of all teams. Cities cherish their NFL franchises, no matter how sorry, and a combination of parity and the everyman-accesibility of football's visceral struggles mean that even the sorry Texans keep a hand on this city's organs. Fans don't only recognize that their teams have a past, present, and future unique to them—they find value in experience of participating in this up-and-down saga of conquest. They may be more nasty and guttural than most NBA devotees, but they're never abandoning their team or severing their self-hood from it. For better or worse, NFL teams are mirrors of the communities that house them, and gaining sudden admittance to the cabal of worship is no more likely than instant civic accpetance. I'm not entirely sure why the NBA is so resistant to, of incapable of, this, but the way the Clippers have been eaten up at home and abroad certainly proves the pitfalls of not discouraging it—and reveals one great gaping lack in the Association's order of things.

P.S.: Just to prove that my heart is always in the wrong place, the first time this semi-occurred to me was when, for no apparent reason, I decided to pray for the life of the Hawks.

UPDATE: This is exactly what I was trying to say.


At 5/17/2006 2:22 PM, Anonymous aug said...

I think people may be getting tired of the suns too. Their offense, once so fluid, innovating and exciting, is becoming almost gimmicky. Without Amare, this team isn't anything more than a bunch of average players who can shoot the 3 ball but need help from their point, a point guard who relies on them to stretch the court to score and open passing lanes, and then shawn marion. Amare and marion really make the suns what they are. I once liked this year's suns better than last, but i've outgrown them. It was nice to see a break from the good defense, post play and execution in the form of 3s, alleyoops and high scoring, but it has gotten old. I'm not sure like i once did that the suns stand for a better basketball future, or more just a small break to make me really appreciate good complete teams.

Anyway, clipper fandom 2006 really stems from them being the lovable loser, everyone loves cheering for the underdog, the suns gimmick getting old, and steve nash unjustly winning the mvp for the second time. Your reaction to this is quite normal. What's more normal than going against the norm?

In the nfl(which has more suprise teams), i hated the bandwagon tampa bucs more than anything in the late 90s and currently. I lived in tampa in the mid 90s before the winning seasons and before the new hip jersey change. Everyone in tampa hated the bucs, and i was able to go to games midway through the first, and walk pretty low to watch it. As soon as i left, they started winning and they were the new most popular team in the nfl and i hated them for it. I didn't like the fact that they had some lovable players when they weren't successful, but no one cared. Now people just root for the win column and blindly love the bucs regardless. I thought i saw through this blind fandom and disliked the bucs for it.

I can see where you're coming from with the clippers. The team you once loved with so many high profile, high risk, talented, unique individuals who were exciting didn't pique the nation's interest. But as soon as they lost some of the exciting players and started putting up wins, they're the media and nation darling. It's frustrating to watch a team's popularity grow so quickly and some would say unjustly.

About the actual game though, why did dunleavy refuse to put in maggette and kaman towards the end? They weren't getting offense boards in the OTs, and in a tight game with a team minus one of their only guys over 6'8(TT) you figured they could've eaten them alive down there. But livingston kept making mistakes, and the whole ewing/ross project didn't do much either. Considering that the clips did a cassell/brand pick and roll on the left side EVERY SINGLE TIME in the OTs you figured having kaman and maggette in there to get boards and keep marion off the glass would've helped more.

At 5/17/2006 2:31 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i'm all for coaching ingenuity in cases like the suns or the lakers, where many players's effectivenes depends largely on match-ups and the role they're allotted. but yeah, it doesn't take a genius to put the best line-up possible out on the floor when the game is on the line. the ordinariness of that sentence should be taken as an indication of how obvious i think it is.

and aug, great to hear that you've finally seen the light re: this year's suns--though you're right, nash's second mvp does forfeit his/their underdogness.

At 5/17/2006 4:45 PM, Anonymous Memory Jones said...

Without Amare, this team isn't anything more than a bunch of average players who can shoot the 3 ball but need help from their point...

I would argue that even though Amare gives them a dimension that they undeniably miss, their current incarnation, sans Amare or Crazy Eyes as their imposing low-post presence, allows them to more completely embody the run-and-gun archetype, which I believe is what they truly want to be (that is, an extension of Nash's will).

They're a team of running guards and athletic small forwards that through the regular season provided incredible matchup problems that the other teams for the most part just weren't able to take advantage of.

The fact that they're unorthodox, though, is what grants them the magic that they've exploited up to this point. How do you play a team that doesn't even seem to be playing the same game that you are? They are sublimating into a cosmic essence of running basketball.

Say all you want about them being overmatched, overrated, and gimmicky, but the fact is that they're nearly to the Western conference finals. If they make it, everyone outside of Phoenix/Charles Barkley assumes that they'll get eliminated by whichever team from Texas is appointed as their destroyer. But their embodiment of that elusive phoenix of yore (a flaming bird scuttling up and down the floor and launching three-balls) is more complete now than ever, and it may allow them entry into the NBA finals.

This all arises from me looking at the field of play in the NBA right now and thinking about the Lakers, Cleveland, the Wizards, and others, "they just need time and patience to realize their potential, and hope that management doesn't destroy the team before that potential is reached."

But when I look at the Suns, I see a team that can't possibly get any better or do any more. They are pushing the envelope of their own abilities and the identity of their team. For better or worse, it's Amare's absence that has allowed them to reach that point.

At 5/17/2006 5:15 PM, Anonymous mtp said...

I also think that Amare's presence served as a physical incarnation of the Suns' radically different version of the NBA game. He's a big man, but he's not a mourning or ewing BIG MAN's big man. In the same way, the D'Antonis clearly are playing basketball, just an unusual video-game version of it.

Also, Phoenix is no U of WV, gingerly handing the ball off to each other behind the 3point umbrella. They're unorthodox but not gimmicky (with Amare, i'm sayin). Until they start full-court trapping, at least.

At 5/17/2006 5:19 PM, Anonymous Memory Jones said...

Re: NFL v. NBA

If the NBA is the league of style, then the NFL is the league of ethic.

In the NBA, you can have a superstar or two and then a couple of journeymen just keeping the engine running.

In the NFL, even if you're Joe Montana, if there aren't seven guys willing to make sure you stay upright for four seconds per snap, you're not going to be able to do much. Teamwork (and coaching) are much more fundamentally important in football: Running requires blocking, passes required well-timed routes and QB-receiver coordination, and defense requires that each player is moving towards a concerted goal. It's not just "put the best players out there and let them do their thing." Too much independence is a liability because it prevents the team from knowing what you're going to do next and being able to help you do it.

Look at Mike Vick. He's tormented as a player because of the conflict of those identities: one who wants to become the team's QB and the other who wants to wow the crowd and do whatever it takes to win the game.

Then you've got sad-sacks like T.O., Randy Moss, Chad Johnson -- guys who want to transcend the game and yet are locked in a love-hate relationship with fans and teammates.

None of this really speaks to your point directly, because why should ethic be any more valid as a focal point for fan loyalty than style?

One problem is with continuity. When the team is embodied by a type that relies on the interaction of many players, it's easier to maintain that team's identity in the minds and hearts of fans.

When dealing with style, that style relies on players, who are shifting teams, retiring, etc. L.A. without Kobe is a completely different team. Even Detroit (the most NFL-like of all NBA teams) is changed without Ben Wallace at the five-spot.

But the Steelers without Jerome Bettis or Hines Ward are still playing "Steelers football." The Broncos, to use another example of a team with a relatively fixed identity, is always going to be able to squeeze 1,000-yard seasons out of fifth-round draft picks -- that's who they are.

As a fan, it's easier to focus on this continuity and to build the kind of loyalty that you're talking about.

There's another dimension, though, and that arises from the question "if the NBA is the league of style, then whose style is it?"

Isn't it the style (primarily, though certainly not exclusively) of young African-Americans and of hip-hop culture? By embodying this style, the League (much to the fear and loathing of D. Stern) is embracing something that is unsettling and even fearful to a great many people.

Even these (NFL) fans are not consciously racist, they probably hate rap and don't watch Cribs to see what kind of rims Master P spins on his Hummer. This is a style -- a culture -- that they have no entry into and from which they feel alienated and possibly afraid.

It's not just about color, but the racial dimension seems pretty pervasive.

Clearly a lot of NFL players also adhere to this same style and culture, but on the field, it's hidden beneath lampblack and shrouded in their helmets, as opposed to NBA sidelines, where the tattoos on AI's neck are all too visible to the people who "just can't understand a guy like that."

You have NFL players (like those cited above) whose personas embody the style, and they become pariahs.

The racial element deepens when you get into the question of rooting not just for a team but for an organization. Though the owners look much the same (and in some cases are the same), there are no Mark Cubans among NFL owners, let alone Robert Johnsons, and these are the two who represent a recent trend, one that doesn't exist in pro football.

WV: onooxtdm (oh no! or, exactly too damn much)

At 5/17/2006 5:21 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i can't remember who it was, but around the time of the ncaa's someone said that villanova's 6,00000000 guard line-up was what made college ball so special--each team has such a idiosyncratic approach that they're barely playing the same sport. even if none of them do it particularly well. the conclusion was that it's a sort of clash of basketball civilzations, where it's every man for himself and the tower of babel has just fallen. it's the battle of concepts that's fascinating, not the shitty execution.

that is kind of how i feel watching the suns. like only they realized that they could change it up like this, and are basically taking advantage of other nba teams' lack of imagination.

At 5/17/2006 5:26 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

mj-- that still doesn't explain why atlanta doesn't embrace its hawks.

one other thing: that broncos system is all because of the coach, and pittsburgh is probably the strongest franchise identity/brand in all of sports. i'd argue that the pistons and spurs are somewhere up there, though. maybe i am just calling them football teams, which wouldn't be that much of a stretch.

At 5/17/2006 7:19 PM, Blogger bobduck said...

Re: Suns

Does anyone else get the impression that Steve Nash is a totally awful player with the game close/late? When Phoenix is in their game (hitting open 3s, etc.) he's teriffic and routinely creates shots, but when it gets down to crunch time something snaps.

Take the game last night-- he made several key mistakes that almost cost the Suns the game. If Dunleavy wasn't clinically retarded, the Clips should have run away with it.

At 5/17/2006 7:30 PM, Anonymous Memory Jones said...

but when it gets down to crunch time something snaps.

Phoenix's inability to finish close games (I think they're 1 in 8 or something with games won by three points or fewer) is one of the most perplexing things about that team. You'd think that a team that is quick, has a lot of shooters, and loves to pop up threes would be golden in close situations.

At 5/17/2006 7:37 PM, Blogger there is no you or me without Suomi said...

My burning Suns question (ha.) is this: could D'Antoni have worked this magic with the Denver Nuggets squad Paul Westhead tried to take back to the fast breaking future*? I think not. By the converse, could Westhead's style succeed now? I don't think so either. In the college ranks, a new up-tempo small ball team seems to emerge every year, but honestly none of them look like the Suns, and not just because of the absence of Nash and Marion. Its possible that Simmons is right and the allowance of moving picks is the true reason for their success, but I doubt that's the whole or biggest one. I'm amazed that they can force the tempo at all as well as they do without trapping or playing even less defense than they do already. They really do seem to be doing something different within the style of fast paced basketball.

*which sounds remarkably like the reduction of the Suns made in the first comment by Aug.

wv: uetmu (really? how did it taste?)

At 5/17/2006 7:43 PM, Anonymous Memory Jones said...

that still doesn't explain why atlanta doesn't embrace its hawks.

Sorry, I didn't read the thing about the Hawks until now, so I guess I was speaking to a different ultimate point. The Hawks are clearly an anomaly in the whole thing. I don't think there are any simple answers for that one.

It's times like these (and only times like these) that I wish I knew more about baseball, because I feel like there might be some insight to be gleaned from looking at ATL's other franchises as counterexamples.

The Falcons consistently sell out their games, but they've got the big name to hitch their star to, and they made it to the SB only a few years ago.

At 5/17/2006 7:45 PM, Blogger bobduck said...

Maybe the reason for the Suns' lack of close/late success is their free-flowiness.

Because in the last few possessions of a game, basketball essentially turns into football, complete with huddles after every play and extensive diagraming, the Suns' strength is sapped. If the other team has the resources with which to make the Suns plan their attack, they become a one dimensional team: Nash/Diaw running the pick and roll game up top while everyone else stands around and prays for an open look.

Because the other team can predict this outcome, they're able to counter-act it, either by reminding everyone to maintain defensive responsibilities and force Nash to make his own gravy, or some other method.

Nash/Suns thrive on the entropy that is fast-moving, fast-break basketball, especially in the 1st-3rd quarters. But when the other team imposes order on the game (as the Lakers did in games 1-4 of that series) their attack completely falls apart.

At 5/17/2006 8:18 PM, Blogger T. said...

I'm amazed that they can force the tempo at all as well as they do without trapping or playing even less defense than they do already. They really do seem to be doing something different within the style of fast paced basketball.

You mentioned Westhead - I think he's the right guy to look at, but the Nuggets aren't the right model. Take a closer look at the 1990 Loyola Marymount team. That's your model for the Suns. Hank Gathers is a combination of Amare and Marion. Everyone else on that Loyola Marymount team was about shooting three pointers. The whole offense - spread the floor and shoot within the first 8 seconds.

Of course, that LMU team ranks really high on my favorite teams of all time.

At 5/17/2006 8:22 PM, Blogger T. said...

By the way - early opinions on WMTR appearing on Inside the NBA? Image reconstruction full circle? I like the pastel ensemble.

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