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.
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.