These things that quiet me

It's true that I just started my first semi-real job in five years, and am under the spell of one of my trademark adult ear infections. But the real cause of my prolonged silence? Earlier this week, I read most of Nelson George's 1992 Elevating the Game, and have been positively tormented ever since. For one, the reliably relevant Mr. George committed to print an embryonic form of many of the ideas that have come to be loosely identified as FreeDarko (adj.). Cal me a simpleton, but I draw some small satisfaction in the feeling that I've hit on something vaguely original. I've also been unable to come to terms with how fucking clumsy and stupid they seem in his hands, leading me to question exactly what it is I value in the game of basketball. Or, at very least, admit that what I look for in the sport is best understood as whimsical, since it don't wear absolute self-importance well.

For those not familiar with George's book, the basic argument goes something like this: white people conceived of the game one way, and throughout history blacks have injected it with style, athleticism, and attitude to make it the perfect pasttime we know and see today. During last week's football cypher, I let loose the following definition of FreeDarko at its most base: "'black' and/or flashy and/or dominant and/or hyper-athletic." My point was that this only really works with football, where this element is far more exotic and less conflicted. But let's face it: a large part of what we've deified here has been domination-through-style, the star as an existential force who asserts himself in the face of bland, functional models of play. And while we may not fall victim to the same one-note cheerleading as George—I like to believe that each situation or player we deal with expands or enhances our terms, rather than complicting them—I can't really say I disagree with the story he preaches.

I guess my main problem is that George takes the wrong things too seriously, maybe as a result of the era he wrote in. At this point in history, it's a little difficult to call a player "black" without some sense of irony, or dramatic overstatement. The same goes for declaring the inherent value of "pure" Afro-American basketball, a move that robs man of his right to find Iverson or the Rucker at all flawed. Race looms over all of the Association, but it's no longer as simple as correlating style with skin color or cultural legacy. In a way, this view seems more in line with the fabular contours of baseball's golden past. I'm not even sure this cause works well with the NBA of yore, given the sheer variety of positional approaches (not to mention Russell/Wilt/Kareem. . .); in 1992, was it really so easy to identify the "blackest" athletes, or the single "blackest" way to play the game?

If anything, George's polarized outlook seems to prefigure the post-Jordan years, when hegemonies duelled and basketball suddenly became the epicenter of the "young thugs ruining the world we knew" conversation. It should come as no surprise that Elevating the Game was republished in 1999, when George likely felt even more compelled to push a polarized outlook. It was basketball's socio-cultural moment in the sun, with the NBA suddenly as monolithically subversive as any sixties radicals. Now, this strikes me as one of the last times in human history that anything regarding race and/or basketball aesthetics could be construed this simply—at least with a straight face.


At 8/19/2006 12:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Billy, listen to me. White men can't jump."

At 8/19/2006 11:06 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

correction: should be adult EAR infections. as far as i know, i have no "adult infections"

At 8/19/2006 7:25 PM, Blogger Andrew said...

I, as an anonymous reader of FreeDarko, feel it is precisely the ever-evolving nature of FDness that resonates with me. I recommended this site to a friend not long ago and he asked "Isn't Darko already free? He's in Orlando now, right?" and in my bumbling attempts to explain FD as I saw it, it dawned on me just how ethereal FD is. I certainly appreciate it, though, and I believe I saw a sort of FD a priori in the unheralded-and-yet-awesome-to-me athletes of my youth; for instance, Ozzie Guillen.

At 8/19/2006 11:38 PM, Anonymous aug said...

Andrew makes a point shoals. I always get people asking me about the shirt. I usually tell them it's a website and start to explain it, struggle and give up. I really could use some advice to explain the site at least enough to make someone interested enough to check out the place. The only problem is though, i'd need it in 1-2 brief sentences. It may take a few 1000 word articles, but i'm sure you could help me out.

At 8/20/2006 2:15 AM, Blogger T. said...

I really could use some advice to explain the site at least enough to make someone interested enough to check out the place

I usually tell people it's what happens when you throw Ghetto Blueprint, Immanuel Kant, the idea of pitchfork.com (but not the actual pitchfork.com), the Critque of Pure Reason, and Paid in Full into a blender and poured it over the NBA and served it in a highball glass.

Or you could say it's the best in Slovenian farm league analysis and reporting since 1968.

Am I the only one around here who is stupid enough to set my alarm to catch the China-US game in a few hours?

At 8/20/2006 12:06 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

this seems like a matter to be taken by the FREEDARKO WIKIPEDIA ENTRY TEAM!!!!

personally, my heart will be always be made mush when i remember brick's early formulation: "6th grade nba opinions voiced as revolutionary manifeso"

At 8/20/2006 12:31 PM, Anonymous aug said...

So i have a my official explanation, shoals.

T, i've been watching all the games live. Not only that, but i'm avoiding all things that'll tell me scores so i can watched the argentina-france, and other taped games without knowing who won.

Yannick Bokolo for france has gotta be free darko as hell. Anyone else watch him in the game? He's flying all over the place on defense, being a one man fast break, and dissapearing every once in awhile only to gloriously re-enter your life.

Anyone know why nbatv plays the games on a 15 hour tape delay or do they just hate me? I could understand a few hours, but it's a bit much not to be able to look online during that time.

At 8/21/2006 9:50 AM, Blogger Mpinga said...

I watched the France-Argentina game and realised certain things(probably a tad too late):Frederic Weiss has no form of offensive game to speak of.Not even the NY Stinks can use him.Mikael Gelabale, awfully skinny,just don't him cracking over 15mpg.PG play has been erratic, all round at the worlds.

PS. Nocioni for President

At 8/21/2006 9:56 AM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

i like yannick bokolo just because his first name means "resembling a vulva."

[all right, that's spelled "yonic," but it's pronounced the same.]

At 8/21/2006 12:06 PM, Anonymous Ragtime said...

"We crashed against a genetic wall in every sense of the word"

-Puerto Rico Basketball Coach Julio Toro after losing 111-100 to the U.S. team on Aug 19, 2006.

Don't know if this slipped the collective FD radar, but it seems like this comment carries more latent racial implications than the beer commercial menioned in the previous posts.

At 8/21/2006 12:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So you're saying that Billy Hoyle was missing the point; it's not about looking bad and winning versus looking good and losing. In fact, in looking bad, then you have already lost. Are my early 90s movies references damaging my perspective?

At 8/21/2006 12:50 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

that seems to be nelson george's point; whether i'd still subscribe to that hardline is kind of what i'm wondering about

At 8/21/2006 2:38 PM, Anonymous Sweet Louis XIV said...

Not to get too materialist on you all, but lately I've started thinking of FD as an examination of the tension between work and play.

The League is in some ways a perfect lens through which to perform this examination: These men are described and scrutinized, sometimes simultaneously, as men at work and as men (I hope) at play. They are asked both to win and to entertain. Their salaries aren't just common knowledge, they're necessary to understanding how teams work. Dress codes, age restrictions, and rules of conduct are on the books. And yet pay sometimes depends on entertainment value, too, or on lending a city some personality, or on the ability to represent that personality. Meanwhile, as these men (and their League) struggle with this balance of work and play, most of us fans seek lives where we can "do what we love" and, most likely, fail to find them.

Clearly, FD prefers the "players": the ballers whose game is expressive but in a purposeless way. Winning can even be a strike against a player (see readers' comments on DWade). The Right Way Doctrine, which focuses on industriousness and purpose, has been specified as nemesis to FDness.

But to bring it back to race.... In the Marxist/Brownist utopia, race disappears, subsumed by efficiency. In the FreeDarko utopia of style, does the same thing happen? Or is race expanded and enhanced?

I would say the latter. The web-like internationalization of the game, not George's straight line from white to black, best diagrams recent basketball history. It is the prime reason for basketball's increasing variety of race, culture, and style. Internationalization means that some old ideas about race and culture are outgrowing their usefulness (see Nocioni, Hinrich, and Arroyo, just this past week), and maybe this explains Shoals's discomfort with George.

At 8/21/2006 2:57 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

i'm at work, or i would comment further, but i don't think FD celebrates players whose style is "purposeless." aside from the fact that style is its own purpose, i also think the importance of winning to FD's vision is understated by some readers. it's not that winning isn't important, it's just not *as* important as some other things.

At 8/21/2006 3:02 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i'm flattered that henry linked to this humble bit of self-reflection as a truehoop post in itself. i'm even more stoked, though about this comment left by a one-time reader, who has inadvertantly provided us with all the grist for new sloganeering we could ever need:

I was a huge FreeDarko fan for about 2 weeks, until I realised they epitomise the style-over-all method they constantly rant about (the NBA being a superstar's league, 'domination-through-style' etc.). Unfortunately, these guys don't seem to realise that they, like the Jordan pretenders they so happily mocked a few months ago, aren't Ralph Wiley, and not even Scoop Jackson or Bill Simmons. Like the supposed Jordan-aires, their game is style-over-substance. Quite often, they rant without reason, finding cause for fluffy 2-thousand-word columns that forget their thesis in the hyperbole.

It's a massive shame, because I was really ready for someone to fill Wiley's void, and I feel cheated.

my girl claims that it's petty of to respond to this on my own blog, or even at all. but look, anyone who thinks that the methods of FD are style over substance--as opposed to style sublimated into substance or vice-versa--probably shouldn't have been reading us in the first place.

sorry if that sounds pissy, but we are most certainly men of content.

At 8/21/2006 3:06 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i think that expression reaches its highest form in winning. the problem is that winning doesn't always = expression.

At 8/21/2006 3:40 PM, Anonymous Sweet Louis X!V said...

First, I would defend myself by saying that FD's "substance" and "content" are not at issue for me.

Looking at it now, "Purposeless" should be in quotes--that would be the word of critics who see winning as the only purpose of play. I would say that, in big games, this includes most sports fans.

As for winning, yes, the perfect FD team would be stylish and win. Winning (as imposition of will) is the ultimate in style. But in the current reality, champions have often been unstylish, and the stylish have often fallen short. Winning even comes to seem unstylish; Miami and even Wade became less popular with the wider FD community as they neared the summit.

At 8/21/2006 3:49 PM, Blogger BasilDukeLee said...

I suppose I don't understand the reluctance to allow the FD platform to have a fundamentally racial base. I know when pushed by internationals to defend the U.S. in virtually any cultural sphere of influence, I happily invoke race as a trump card of sorts -- "well, we have the coolest black people in town..." And it's implicit here that the coolest black person will always be cooler than a comparable honky. I think white people have become nostalgists by nature, which prevents them from skating out to the edge of the ice with any (needed) faith in the process; black people still believe it's worth pursuing the new-and-shiny, a much healthier point fixed out on the multi-dimensional periphery of the day-to-day. It's the difference between the grunge/vintage aesthetic and the leave-the-labels-on & the kicks-pearly-clean urban costume. The former is based upon purposefully covering oneself with dirt, self-inflicted aesthetic defeatism; the latter in demonstrating new-ness and glory-won at every turn, values of a piece with the revolutionary age.

At 8/21/2006 4:06 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

louis--i see what you're saying. but the way in which the spurs are "dangerous" because they win without style isn't the same way in which wade pisses some people off. wade is more like a false prophet of all FD stands for.

bdl--it's george's humorless fundamentalism that gets me. saying that we think race is an important aspect of the league, and something that works on a variety of deep and shallow levels, is far from claiming that a SOULFUL EXPRESSIVE BLACK CULTURAL IMPERATIVE verifies or negates the sport's ability to flourish in the 21st century.

wv: domyfra ("do my friend" said by albanian cabbie)

At 8/21/2006 5:22 PM, Blogger GentleWhoadie9000 said...

I like to describe "freedarko" as the product of a clique of bols with 120 thousand dollar liberal arts educations writing about the NBA like they are from outer space.

word verification: skiijnn, as in "slap me some, bjorn"

At 8/21/2006 5:50 PM, Blogger T. said...

I like to describe "freedarko" as the product of a clique of bols with 120 thousand dollar liberal arts educations writing about the NBA like they are from outer space.

Bols? As in Manute? - or is there some reference I'm not getting.

(and my liberal arts education was only $30k. Public school biznatches! Jason Kidd ups our median income from my class too)

At 8/21/2006 6:02 PM, Anonymous Aaron said...

I tend to describe FreeDarko, the blog, to my friends as the only basketball blog to ever successfully invoke Nietzsche. As to what FreeDarko, the concept, means... you folk have definitely left that far too open for any short explanation. You even have Duncan supporters closely affiliated with the idea, so I don't think there's any way I could sort it out.

One thing I would say is that the FD conception of the League of Psychology is what I consider your most revolutionary, innovative and important idea, and means a lot more in the end than anything you can say about style or substance.

At 8/21/2006 9:03 PM, Anonymous J.E. Skeets said...

FreeDarko is this ... in words.

At 8/21/2006 11:39 PM, Blogger GentleWhoadie9000 said...

T said...
Bols? As in Manute? - or is there some reference I'm not getting.

Bol is to jawn as bobby is to whitney

At 8/22/2006 2:54 AM, Blogger T. said...

Ah. It's a Philly thing. I wouldn't understand.

smoublc = Stephon Marbury owes Uwe Blab Lincolns, Cadillacs


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