When language dares leak
As anyone familiar with the FreeDarko List of Names knows, Arenas and Amare are inescapable around these parts. It's not just that they've been this site's patron saints since the jump; between the two of them, they embody damn near everything we idealize about Associated basketball. Gilbert's glut of personality is inseparable from his All-Star play, while Amare's larger-than-life mythos has only been enhanced by his heartbreaking limbo. If we sometimes let Gil or STAT-related incidents pass without comment, it's because we recognize how easily we could dissolve into a hydra-headed fan page. Maybe it's best put like this: these two are in the background of each and every pronouncement we make 'round here, since without them we might never have started walking like we do.
That said, today I'm in the rare position of wanting to hold forth on both of our master builders, which almost makes me feel cheap. The webs hath delivered unto us important tidings in the realm of both men, the kind that threatens to shake up our central meme. And so in keeping with the FD policy of absolute, indiscrete intellectual disclosure, I bring you a glimpse into my utmost heart of basketball darkness. If in the process the limbs and wings of FreeDarko get swallowed up by discourse's shifty magma, so be it. We live not for the hunt, but for the fox's anger.
Appropriately, the whole world is abuzz over Tom Chiarella's Arenas profile set to run in November's Esquire. Part of me can't help but get possessive about Agent Zero, whose corner I've been in since his rookie season. When you're talking about professional athletics, however, the very notion of a cult star is more than a little absurd. Gerald Wallace or J.R. Smith can languish in those depths, for the simple fact that they remain marginal. All-Stars with proven playoff gusto need be known, and if it be otherwise the situation's cruelty far outweights its deliciousness. Sports are mainstream, populist institutions, and anyone making a serious mark therein deserves to be common knowledge.
In Arenas's case, his inscrutability has often been linked to his eccentricity, as if only a few could or would want to embrace an athlete bursting with quirks. Since last spring, however, there's been a mounting effort to make Old Weird Arenas into the man's principle selling point. Once considered too deviant to warrant attention, it's now a commodified version of Gilbert's mild lunacy that's feeding his popularity.
Problem is, after reading that Esquire piece I'm a little less convinced of Arenas's utter and total madness. In fact, over the last few weeks his most bombastic feats seem, for him, relatively explicable. The tent was excessive, but I found Caron's claim that he's now planning to build a hill in his backyard far more batty. The Pain/Gain tattoos ended up being pseudo-religious. And a lot of the details in Chiarella's psychological close reading just sounded like someone I'd know. I once thought Arenas was a bonafide nut case; increasingly, I wonder if he's just a non-standard athlete unafraid to admit this. Something like a more colorful, animated Adam Morrison, except that Arenas gets painted as a clown, not someone wandering outside of the NBA box.
(To his credit, Chiarella concludes by suggesting that a lot of Gilbert's strangeness boils down to honing his competitive edge.This is a third alternative, one which could be applied to tons of players but isn't. Has anyone ever called Jason Terry insane for sleeping in the opposing team's uniform the night before a big game?)
I'm not trying to downplay all that's chaotic and fascinating about my favorite player. If I could do that, he'd probably cease to be my favorite. But recognizing the distinctions between the truly warped and the mildly explicable seems key to actually doing the guy justice. There's been plenty of over-the-top Gilbertology over the years, a lot of which leaves these newer revelations in the dust. If he's indeed in position for a career year, let's hope that this leads to us understanding him better, not burying his humanity alive for the sake of a facile image.
Amare, less thunder to raise. . . I've been shying away from ESPN's running "will he live or will he die" coverage, mostly to avoid furthering my resident despair. While I do stand by everything I've ever said about Stoudemire-as-Enduring-Specter, this will be a tough one to stomach as it goes down.
That said, this Ian Whitell featurette offered some valuable insight in Amare, the person. Around the time of the Katrina relief efforts, I began to suspect that there might be more to Stoudemire than his leaps and bounds. I'm not trying to claim that he's Kobe or C-Webb, but this articles here shows that he's got depth of feeling and reflectiveness to go with the profundity of his former court presence. No one objectified his opponents like Amare, and ironically, this led to his being objectified by fans more than almost any player. Nice to see a little bit of subjectivity creep into his media profile, even if its at the expense of one of natural basketball's foremost wonders.