On the Eve of Pricey Incursion

Preface: There's really nothing to be said about this latest Stern firebomb. Though TAN pointed out that the politics of clubs being in or out should be interesting.

And thanks to GentleWhoadie 9000 for calling my attention to the video up top.

Go ahead and burn your calendars—tonight, it goes down. Actually, it would have on Saturday in my very own Houston, had it not been for the blasphemous sprouting of Mother Winter's extra limbs. In those rosier times, I'd been tapped by our friends at the Chicago Sports Review to capture the occasion firsthand; this coup was not to be, but instead I spent Saturday trying on the credentialed trousers of an actual sports journalists. What follow are the pinches and fits that might assuage you on this morning of longing.

The potluck grave

Warning: this will bear little or no resemblance to FreeDarko's ballsy romp through the Bulls and Wizards' locker rooms, or brush with USA Basketball richness. I showed up alone, sad, and clueless, and immediately realized that it was foolish to have accidentally rocked this with The Glide wandering the press buffet. I then proceeded to have my tape recorder break within two seconds of arriving at George Karl's feet, but did take near-indecipherable notes during his official pre-game. The likely inexact highlight:

"The Suns have shown that you can play fast and have good shot selection. It's the best way to play, looking for shots early on in the clock; shooting later is overrated unless you have a great post player you can feed it to. The last seven seconds has the worst shooting percentage of the whole 24."

After that, my morale was but a wisp, so I decided to lounge around and bitterly define myself against "the basketball industry" (yes, that's an Adorno reference) all around me. Really, it is a little strange that so much manpower is dispatched on any given game night, in hopes of maybe getting a quote or rumor that no one else overhears. When that conceit got old, I wandered around the service area some and marveled at how Altman-esque the scene behind an NBA production is. Thankfully, there was only a little bit of time left to kill with that before tip-off.

Butterfly massacre

I used to maintain that televised sports was the way to go, since it preserved that inhuman, larger-than-life aspect that FD so pathetically clings to. This past week, though, it's beginning to dawn on me that some things are only discernible in person. Here's a brief compendium of these from Saturday and last Wednesday's Rockets/Suns event, plus a gratuitous rap analogy I refuse to relinquish.

-Steve Kerr actually got me thinking about this on Thursday, when he told viewers that Andrew Bynum's length could only really be understood in person.

-Ditto for Marion, in my opinion. Everytime he extends within five feet of the basket, he's practically touching the rim. It all might as well be dunks for him.

-Amare goes into this strange trance when the ball's headed his way, like he's so intent on killing someone with it that he forgets to competently receive it. I can't remember if this was the case in the Season of High-Test Fables, but now it diminishes, now enhances, his fear-wreaking capacity.

-T-Mac is a different player. Still can raise havoc, still smooth and impressive. But that snap, that anger on the end of each play, is missing. It's a little too easy to attribute it to back fatigue, and he also gets his points far less conspiciously than he once did. I call it maturity with a touch of age.

-J.R. Smith's swag is absolutely off the charts. He makes Iverson look tame and deferential. And that rap analogy: Smith is Peedi Crakk. Don't even try talking me out of that, and don't ask me to explain it.

-Speaking of Iverson, he never makes it look easy. Maybe it has to do with his sight stature, or the grim determination always in his eyes, but everything he does comes off as forced and desperate. I think that in Philly, his cockiness dared you to call him on it. But he's slightly less edgy now, which allows you to realize how much of his style is showy over-exertion. Impossible is nothing, if only because he goes out of his way to give everything the air of impossibility.

Doors open, doors close

After the game, I was emboldened enough to wander into the Nuggets locker room like a man. So much so that I inexplicably found myself alone with all the players and one journalist who seemed to know AI. It's all kind of a heady blur—damn right, I'm still an awestruck fan—but watching Iverson in that setting for about three minutes confirmed everything I've always believed about basketball. Funny that a Seckbach video can make players seem fairly silly and mundane, but AI came off as even more exalted. It was an OT win and they were rushed to catch a flight, so maybe I caught him in unusually frantic spirits. Still, anyone doubting what he can mean to a team needs to spend some quality minutes with a half-dressed Iverson.

AI was as much of an energetic scramble in that setting as he is on the court. Trying to intimidate everyone at once into giving him some lotion, affably taking shit from DNP Jamal Sampson for going to the studio with Slim Thug, possibly singing the hook from a track called "Who Pooted?" they'd cut, and then belting out an improvised luv jam once the rest of the press filed in. He was clearly the focus of the team's emotions, with everything flowing to and from him. I barely even noticed Marcus Camby and his gigantic three-piece Louis Vuitton set.

When Iverson ambled up to the crowd of mics, the transformation was totally depressing. His eyelids lowered, his mouth drooped, and he started speaking in that monotone that some mistake as menacing. The tone of his answers ranges from serious to frivolous, intent to bored, but never did he capture the force or magnetism that I had seen a few minutes before.

It's no secret that players, especially superstars mobbed by reporters, often opt for roteness in their on-record quotes. But I think what Iverson said about his role on the Nuggets has a lot to do with the Jekyll/Hyde shift I witnessed:

"They've been without their leader. I've never been a vocal leader before. In Philly, it was guys like Eric Snow or Aaron McKie, and I've learned to do it from them. I don't know if Melo's that kind of player, but this is his team."

"Do I want to be a mentor for [Carmelo?] I want to be able to give him advice and be there when needs me. I don't know if that makes me a mentor."

He is right: it's Melo's team, and Melo's beaming smile and babyface will be the one expected to deliver the quote of record. If it seems ridiculous to hear Iverson say he didn't lead in Philly, it's because he thinks of himself as the soul of a team, the players-only conscience that the media and most fans couldn't begin to fathom. It's understandable that he seems himself this way, given his uncompromising identity and the controversy that's dogged him his entire career. Iverson doesn't want the pedastel or the spotlight. He's actually basketball's most phenomenal everyman, the People's Champ whose greatness forces a distance from people. This Denver experiment won't lead to a clash of egos; on the contrary, it's about one man finally being free to post up in the trenches where he's most comfortable. Iverson may be the most popular kid in school, but the last thing he wants at this point is to run for class president.


At 1/22/2007 12:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

really enjoyed this, thanks BS

At 1/22/2007 12:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is this an exception to the rule that it's unacceptable to only care about the second half of the season/playoffs? I'm giddy about Melo's return...

At 1/22/2007 1:03 PM, Blogger Trey said...

Iverson may be the most popular kid in school, but the last thing he wants at this point is to run for class president.

Pure Shoals gold.

At 1/22/2007 1:36 PM, Anonymous Mr. Six said...

Thanks for this one, Shoals. To play the FD analogy game, AI is Achilles.

Meanwhile, I was at the Cavs-Warriors game on Saturday (rocking the classic FD T--sorry, no pics), and I was shocked at how indifferent and unfocused LBJ seemed. He still put up 32-7-5, broke down the Warriors, and played solid and game-winning defense (incredibly quick hands). (He also missed both potentially game-winning free throws.) So, he obviously was competing. I just couldn't tell whether he cared about competing. And Mike Brown is a terrible offensive coach. Just terrible.

I still feel the ultimate triumph of LeBron in my bones--and have previously charitably attributed some of his deliberate progress as the result of a (young) man pacing himself so that he could figure things out--but I feel the creeping fear that he's just biding his time until he can get out of Cleveland. I would like to see him raze cities until then, but maybe he has other unpatterned plans.

At 1/22/2007 1:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

one of my favorite posts in recent memory. brilliant stuff, shoals.

At 1/22/2007 3:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brilliant as always - I do believe that 'Melo will be back next time the Nuggets take the floor and that should add some entertainment to the Western Conference picture.

At 1/22/2007 3:43 PM, Anonymous vs said...

whoahhh adorno got ups. good entry.

At 1/22/2007 3:52 PM, Blogger Brigadier Pudding said...

that was phenomenal.

snaps to shoals.

At 1/22/2007 3:52 PM, Anonymous King Criticism said...

Is it possible that Lebron is just tired. Despite what we may want to accept he is human. He carried this team much of last year. Larry Larr was a great addition but he can never stay healthy, after him the King has no help only jesters. He took them further into the playoffs than they probably deserved or even expected to go. Then he played most of the summer and didn't have some wisdom teeth extractions or a 15 game suspension to get some rest this year.

I think what happens is that we see plays like the dunk he had on the entire Pistons backcourt last year in the playoffs and forget that he's made of flesh and blood.

I recently relocated to Cleveland and am about to kill myself for not being able to witness The Takeover on a nightly basis, but I've seen enough of Lebron to realize that he's alot like most kids his age...a little lazy and gets bored quickly.

Excellent post by the way.

At 1/22/2007 3:55 PM, Anonymous King Criticism said...

excuse me "Pistons frontcourt"

At 1/22/2007 4:12 PM, Blogger Unsilent Majority said...

J.R. Smith wishes he was in the Roc.

At 1/22/2007 5:14 PM, Anonymous megapickles said...

I'm still waiting for the Robert Putnam inspired "Bowling Alone" bball piece.

At 1/22/2007 5:54 PM, Anonymous Petey said...

"Is this an exception to the rule that it's unacceptable to only care about the second half of the season/playoffs? I'm giddy about Melo's return..."

If you ain't a Nuggets fan right now, you simply ain't very FreeDarko.

At 1/22/2007 6:21 PM, Anonymous Petey said...

My guess, which I'm not sure is right, is that while the Nuggets are going to be 'Melo's team in terms of The Show - Carmelo gets the interviews and the final shots - it'll be Iverson's team on the court and in the locker room.

Dude's still a quarterback.

At 1/22/2007 6:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you ain't a Nuggets fan right now, you simply ain't very FreeDarko.

I think a 7-game Nuggs-Suns series would redefine Association Basketball as we know it, taking us back to the most recent golden age of college hoops (early-mid 90s, which reached its crescendo when Cat Mobley, in the middle of an A-10 game backpeddled down court after scoring, looked at Dickie V. on the sideline and yelled "I'm busting that ass!" as V. and Mike Patrick went nuts), adding NBA skill and athleticism.

I'm thinking well-made movie levels of aesthetic perfection here...

At 1/22/2007 7:06 PM, Anonymous Jake said...


That AI magnetism was on full display in the Denver home locker room only a night prior to your excursion, as well as during Friday night's postgame news conference, which was, admittedly, rare. He must have left the ability to maintain it in Denver.

At 1/22/2007 9:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How is no one with LeaguePass liveblogging this thing?

At 1/22/2007 10:23 PM, Anonymous Petey said...

"How is no one with LeaguePass liveblogging this thing?"

No man but a blockhead ever liveblogged a game except for money.

At 1/22/2007 10:29 PM, Anonymous Petey said...

"J.R. Smith's swag is absolutely off the charts."


Also, J.R. is a puppy, and he makes a lot of mistakes out on the court. But when he makes mistakes, he really knows it. He gets every bit as visibly distraught and crestfallen as he gets swaggish when he's rolling.

The degree to which J.R. wears his emotions on his sleeve is all very Iverson-ish.

At 1/23/2007 12:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess I'm not very Free Darko. I can't call myself a Nuggets fan. I can't stand George Karl, I tend to let Carmelo's flaws obscure his gifts, and I don't really care to invest myself in the mythology of Iverson. Revoke my posting privileges if you must.

"Doors open, doors close"? Don't blog rules dictate that you throw in a Clipse reference there--"Keys open doors"?

At 1/23/2007 12:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Go ahead and burn your calendars—tonight, it goes down."

12:37am District Time - this is now true.

At 1/23/2007 12:56 AM, Anonymous Petey said...

"Revoke my posting privileges if you must."

There's no way you should get off that lightly for expressing such sentiments. I believe you should be deported.

At 1/23/2007 2:37 AM, Blogger T. said...

Shoals - did you try the dessert in the press room? When they have the bread pudding, it's on.

At 1/23/2007 10:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you guys need to have a chat with your pal Timothy.

"Ignoring the NBA regular season
You know what? It really doesn't matter. The players even know it. Have you seen what the Heat and the Pistons are up to this year? Unless they're on national television, they just phone it in."

In the latest edition of "McSweeney's Recommends."

At 1/23/2007 11:19 AM, Blogger Stumbleweed said...

Great piece, Shoals. I was there to witness it in-person, and I'm nothing but excited for the rest of the year. I'm stupidly thinking of using my student loan money to get season tickets next year. It's that bad.

That alley-oop was bonkers, even if (as Eddie Najera said) it was more of a tip-in by the end. When Melo's jumpshot starts falling, it's all over. I can't wait to get my SWAG shirt so I can try to give it to JR at the meet the team party.


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