Writing blogs to watch basketball to write blogs. . .

We've been saying forever that this is a League of Stars. That came after "this is a League of Style" (which, amazingly, has no actual creation myth anywhere in our archives), so it'll be to you to decide whether the latter complements or obliterates the former. And while we may have backed down off of this soapbox somewhat over the years—if only so we had more than three months worth of material—at certain times it returns to me with the fixity of the commoner's dream for a better tomorrow.

I watched the end of the late game last night. Nice ending, good to be reminded just how likely it is that Livingston and the newly Diaw-ed Barbosa will crack my personal top twenty by next season. But people, you know as well as I do that this, and what will happen tonight, are just basketball. The Suns certainly stand for something in the discussion of where this league is headed, but they're polite enough to need a foil to do so. Nash/Bryant was a study in colliding opposities; LeBron/Arenas was a heady war between two aggrandized generals. Here, though, you get Nash/Brand: top ten stars who inspire universal, almost foregone, respect and, perhaps appropriately, seem insulated from each other by the teams around them. Tonight, I'll get to watch what could very likely be the most sturdy, optimized playoff contest we'll see this time around. That doesn't mean, though, that they'll be anything at stake other than getting the win. Like Suns/Clippers, the Spurs and Mavs are both too quaintly professional for either to assert their importance. Defense and veteran guile are hardly moral points when they're givens, and neither one is going to go the other route and show up the other. These might well be the two least psychological match-ups in the history of the post-season.

I'm sure plenty of people like it that way, or at least refuse to acknowledge that there's a disconcerting absence of light in this situation. I'll buy that style doesn't matter to everyone, and that some find individual stardom distracting or indulgent. Don't even for a second, though, pretend like this round has half the hell-bent lyricism of the first one, that you have half as much to say about or feel anything like a non-reflexive opinion about what's transpiring in the spooky calm of Round 2's waters. To be sure, this is good, strenuous basketball, and some might welcome its inability to be other more than this. Pretending that this makes your life a richer place, as opposed to merely a space furnished with uncluttered athletic accomplishment, is a flat-out lie.

We don't advocate stars for the sake of centralized celebrity; style never has been, and never will be, nothing more than the demand for dunks and isos. I'd venture to guess that "League of Psychology" came lastly because, in a sense, it's what we've realized was at the root of these other two preoccupations. It's the final product of our sloganeering and also, whether we knew it at the time, what set it off in the first place. Stars whose performances we're inclined to cast in human, rather than athletic, terms carry moral weight and allow us to have actual complex feelings about the sport and its participants. Style is part of what allows this interpolation, and in the imperfect team game it's easier to discern multiple individuals, role players peaking out from under the lead bib. Even if you adamantly refute this aspect of NBA-watching, it's not like reducing the basketball landscape to Spurs, Mavs, Clips, and Suns leaves you feeling washed to your very core by glory's rippling sponge. In the playoffs, it takes all kinds—even some deviants—to really generate that sense of larger-than-life challenge and release. Or, to paraphrase a doctor of mine, everyone in heaven is bored and goes down to hell to feel alive.

UPDATE: Yes, I am watching the game. Please, try and convince me that this is any more significant than the Pistons succumbing to the will of the Bucks on one lonely night; I'm not suddenly now going to suggest that this is actually a referendum on individual/team, or Jordan vs. Pistons/Celtics. These Pistons have gotten a little lazy, and I, for one, kind of like it.

Wait, what happened in that post-game interview? Who had LeBron said something to on the court? I was barely listening.


At 5/13/2006 7:57 PM, Anonymous db said...

that photo is nasty dudes

At 5/13/2006 8:07 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

rit's a serious issue.

more serious: i can't open my eyes at the moment, but if the media picks up on this game as a way to leverage the hype-ratchet, then the whole world is bullshit. that meant less than the regular season, and it's sickening that people will jump on a false prophet like this win just because IT'S THE PLAYOFFS!!!!!!!!! it look, felt, and smelled like the playoffs, and lebron had game that, statistically, cements this inaugural run of his as one for the books. none of this changes the fact that the cavs are hopelessly overmatched and the pistons should be more or less invulnerable.

i would prefer "basketball as usual," since this is almost like god is mocking me. . .apologies to anyone who came here expecting to find one my paeans to lebron. i am not that gullible.

if they win another, though, i'll erase this comment.

At 5/13/2006 8:21 PM, Blogger The Electric Zarko said...

I don't think the inevitability of the 4-1 series defeat (just like Jordan!) takes away from what LeBron did in the 4th. The Pistons defence didn't just give him those drives because they were having an overall poor game.

Still, there is an anticlimatic tinge to all of this and the ascension of James to his throne still has a feeling of being rote. It's as if reality has matched up so well with speculation that it feels scripted.

At 5/13/2006 8:48 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

if i were a very different person, in totally grasping for something to say about this game i might point out the following:

when asked about the gameplan and his quiet first half, lebron sharply retorted that "he doesn't have a plan, he just follows the flow of the game." could that possibly have been a potshot at kobe, who has been hiding behind "the plan" to explain game 7? or did he just want to distance himself from kobe's weird love/hate relationship with the team game?

At 5/13/2006 9:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Off topic but I've been glancing at your blog every now and then for about a month and I just now realized that the pictures have nothing to do with the articles.

I had no idea.

Whenever I would see a picture that wasn't basketball related, I would naturally assume the article was talking about something else and would close your page without so much as reading the first sentence. Which means I haven't actually read your blog since last month when Kobe hit the buzzer beaters in Game 4 of Lakers vs Suns.

I know the name of the site is "FreeDarko" and I should probably think you're talking some basketball but I just assumed it was one of those blog sites that started out as being about one very specific thing and just became a general blog about whatever (like BlogMaverick). Just letting you know how an audience of stupids such as myself might be missing out.

At 5/13/2006 9:32 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 5/13/2006 9:39 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...


i like to think that they do have something to do with whatever little slice of basketball the post's dealing with. but yes, you can count on freedarko to always at least start off talking about basketball.

fyi, if you'd been right, freedarko would have over the last month covered the following gratuitous range of topics:

-barnyard relations
-inventive strategies for raising whooping cranes on nature preserves
-god getting visted by an angel
-crispus attucks
-j-treds comin' out
-the shield
-what happens when a man with blurred vision looks at a somewhat attractive woman sitting on a vase shaped like the earth
-larry david on espn
-ray charles's funeral
-the final scene of miike's "graveyard of honor"
-herb alpert
-freddy vs. jason
-tecumsah sherman
-the crusades
-the recluse's best of guess of what his father would look like as an ombudsman
-the tragedy of self-injury, as brought to you by a girl i like to think looks somewhat like the gap-toothed lady on CSI

all in all, that sounds like the worst thing i can possibly imagine.

At 5/14/2006 12:34 AM, Anonymous White People Don't Know said...

The worst part was brent musburger calling lebron "the chosen one" all through the 4th quarter. made me really miss the tnt guys. they wouldn't have stood for that messianic shit for a second. they'd call it what it was: not james playing good, but the pistons playing bad (and in a way that they will not happen again).

At 5/14/2006 12:40 AM, Anonymous futuristxen said...

I like how Verejao's last name changes depending on what network he plays on.

I was just glad Musburger didn't talk a bunch of football today.

Give me Walton or TNT.

At 5/14/2006 12:41 AM, Anonymous Futuristxen said...

Oh, and there was once an america that would have made quite the deal out of Lebron holding his out of wedlock child at the end of the game. Thankfully that breed of fan stopped watching basketball after Larry Bird retired.

At 5/14/2006 9:28 AM, Anonymous Will Leitch said...

Wait ... so are the pictures related, or are they not? Wee!

You know what? She DOES look like the gap-toothed woman on CSI.

At 5/14/2006 10:22 AM, Anonymous Aaron said...

Watching Mavs-Spurs last night, I can't help but feel like the League of Psychology post needs a rewrite for the Post-Season. It's not that it's not a League of Psychology in the playoffs. It's just that the psychological complexity manifests itself less in individual psychodrama and more in group psychodynamics.

Yes, you still have people like Ron Artest, but more significant are stories like Tim Duncan's emergence in the face of his team's lackluster energy, while Dirk Nowitzki submerges himself in the team concept and lets the offense flow around him. It's not that they as individuals demonstrated their psychological complexity. It's rather that their interactions with the players on the court, both teammates and the other team, appeared magnified by the playoff intensity.

Why does every playoff foul seem tougher, every argument with a ref more potentially explosive? Because it is not the individual, but the team, whose psychological dynamic becomes revealed in the playoffs.

Also... I felt last night that more than other games driven by psychology, basketball's outcome can be driven by luck. A bad bounce can overtake a psychologically dominant performance.

At 5/14/2006 11:28 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

that's the generic psychology of the playoff setting. stars step up while trusting those around them. i don't disagree that these add some texture to a game, but i can't honestly say that they're telling me anything about these folks. that's how you're supposed to act in the playoffs, just as everyone on death row repents and all child stars end up on the skids.

At 5/14/2006 12:40 PM, Anonymous Jimbo said...

You know Shoals, for an NBA fan you're pretty invariably pessimistic about the NBA. I won't go so far as to say it's getting a wee bit boring, but I will say this: your constant suggestion that the likes of the Spurs and Pistons are ruining the league sounds like the perfect inverse of the 'play-the-right-way' complaints of the opposite camp.

Vis, it sometimes sounds exactly like 'all this dunking and one-on-one play is ruining the game' except 'all these perfect defensive rotations and extra passes' are ruining the game.

But hey, it's your blog, I'm not going to tell you what to think.

At 5/14/2006 12:47 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

actually, i thought that this showed that i have a little more nuanced understanding of "the opposite camp," as well they should of ours.

this does raise an interesting question, though. i have suggested in the past that we might be a blog built for the regular season, and this postseason would seem to bear that out. because you're right, it's a challenge for me to keep it fresh now that most of what i care about in this league has exited stage left.

consider the parting shot before a new, less grouchy and principled shoals emerges to take the reigns.

At 5/14/2006 12:48 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

consider this the parting shot, i mean

At 5/14/2006 1:03 PM, Blogger mutoni said...

The playoffs (and all interest in them) officially ended in game 6 of the Lakers/Suns series. Tim Thomas's hideous three that forced overtime and for all intents and purposes, ended the series killed everything. No Staples Series, no game 7 between 'Bron/Arenas (karma, baby), no nothing. What's left to be excited about? What could possibly top round1?

Tim Fucking THomas destroyed these playoffs. Of all people. That scumbag. Ugh.

But I have begun to think that these playoffs were doomed from the start. Maybe round 1 was a little TOO good. Too many great and interesting things (lebron's two strange game winners, Anthony Johnson's inexplicable 40, Melo's dissapearance, raja bell, arenas/james, kobe's game 4 etc.) happened too fast and it all collapsed onto itself in one disgusting heap.

We were spoiled, now, we're paying for it.

In more ways than one, see you at Training Camp!

At 5/15/2006 3:39 PM, Anonymous Ronnie Friday said...

I think Tim Thomas is done for this year's playoffs so I'll share my Tim Thomas story.

It was March of 2002 and I was inside Fan Fare inside the Grand Ave. Mall in Milwaukee and Thomas was buying a buch of hats and jerseys. He pays with a credit card but it's declined.

Thomas then shrugs his shoulders and goes into his pockets and pulls out a huge wad of bills and pays for the stuff with cash and walks off.

At 5/15/2006 3:51 PM, Blogger mutoni said...

there's not a more perfect player to accompany that story (maybe 'sheed). good times.


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