Snack of fair demons
An old friend of mine emailed me yesterday to say, in a nutshell, that what I'd said about the loss to Greece was brief, but apt. After the firestorm of comments that followed it, however, I started to think I hadn't quite quite reinforced my feelings enough. And then this morning, I found a comment from one mysterious m., who pushed me over the edge and into the abyss of frenzied activity. Choice excerpts, not at all taken out of context:
The reason the NBA is where it is, is not that the best basketball is played there, but it has the most money, the most marketing and the most promotion than any other league.
Even good NBA teams have very good foreign players and good european teams have good US players. I am not dissing the NBA; I like a good fast break and slam dunk just as much as the next guy. However, basketball from a purely fundamentals point of view is played at a high level in many countries.
I may have shifted my initial stance of "FIBA ball is marvelously weird and inferior" to "FIBA ball is slightly lesser and weird," but this kind of thinking makes me want to sharpen up the 'ol Ricky Davis scythes all over again. I accidentally (and ironically) brought up the concept of "authentic" basketball with regard to international play; someone, I don't remember who, was quick to point to the FD Early Hoops Team as one definition of "authentic." Of course, this then leads into the great, and at this point fairly tired, Style vs. Fundamentals debate, which is the long-form narrative of race and basketball in America.
The key phrase there is not race and basketball, but in America. Basketball is not Hilfiger, invented by god-fearing whites and then tainted by black exploitation; nor is it hip-hop, cooked up in the innermost sanctums of urban America and then poached for white commerical exploitation. No, if it resembles anything but itself, it would be . . . .JAZZ, that most awful of basketball metaphors. Despite what Archie Shepp once tried to tell me, the story of jazz involves tons of racial cross-pollination, if nothing else in the raw materials African-American musicians made creative use of. Or perhaps a better analogy is Southern soul, which at its peak was a marvel of musical (and social) integration.
Look, I obviously am biased toward more "black" basketball. To pretend, though, that the next step in "real" basketball's progression is to go overseas is either self-serving or ignorant. I know that it's rank arrogance to assume that, because America invented the game, it will always own it. But saying that Euros are in a similar situation to blacks, who were able to steal their own little piece of hoops real estate and let it propser, is an insult to the fabric of this society. It bespeaks either a total cynicism toward the history of race in the USA, or a firm belief in the tenets of one side's supremacy.
This has been a land of organic exchange, however much evil has loomed in the background of these movements; I don't care how much FIBA seems to have in common with a certain brand of basketball crusaders, it's not part of the conversation yet. Play the same game we do, and prove more than once every two years that you belong in our league, and then maybe you'll have some credibility. Even then, it's basketball as a purely theoretical exercise, not something that flows out of this land's historical process. No matter how little some Americans like it, their preferred version of the sport will always be more closely tied to Tim Thomas than to the Greek National Team. If there's one thing FreeDarko has sought tirelessly to accomplish, it's been to invest the NBA with a larger socio-cultural meaning. Anyone looking to establish trans-Atlantic Right Way alliances is seriously deluded about the way basketball has evolved in this country: in short, it's a messy, dialectic process, and the NBA only bothered to look hard at Euros because Iverson had scared everyone into oblivion.
So kill the noise. Besides the objective lunacy of a statement like "even good NBA teams have very good foreign players and good european teams have good US players," it's flat-out disrespectful to prematurely lay claim to the sport's essence. Maybe international ball is more pure, maybe it can uspet rag-tag NBA assemblages, and maybe American pros should be able to adapt. Yet any countryman of mine who jumps on your bandwagon is a traitor, and anyone fan of FIBA looking to upstart their way into relevance is barking up the wrong tree here. Culturally, this is still an American sport, and until you stage a Latin-Americans-in-MLB like takover and transformation, Team USA's loss is a footnote. If the USA seems perennially foolish and secondary playing soccer, no fucking way Europe can just get handed the keys to "real" basketball.