Calm Alone Can't Scrap a Stable
So I go watch Kobe and Arenas square off in Chinatown; in a sense that FreeDarko is a contract with my most basic feelings, I have no choice but to write something on it.
First, the basketball. Without Jamison, it's Butler who still struggle. He looked positively average tonight, while Arenas ping-ponged between flummoxed illusion and white-hot brilliance. He lost the war, but I will always have such unimpeachable moments as:
1) Arenas so excited to shoot over Kobe that he leaves time on the clock at first half's end
2) Arenas bouncing the ball off the ref's foot
3) The crossover on Kobe.
The first two lead to one of my most treasured realizations: unless he's miles from the basket, Arenas never appears fazed by contact, never diminishes his focus on the basket. Compare that with Kobe (drives designed to draw fouls), Wade (relaxes slightly after the whistle), or Iverson (goes out of his way to show how hard it is to shoot anyway). The latter, a telling symptom of the game: in no sport's play do stars get humiliated as frequently as in basketball.
Now, Kobe. Anyone who believes Wade is the league's finest baskebtall player is a fool. Dwyane Wade is a bronze age bully compared to Kobe's complete and total exegesis of the game's inner workings—the da Vinci of this shit!!! Gilberto Gil (what up D-Wil!) practices obsessively to fine-tune his habits. Kobe, on the other hand, works off the court so he can reason more sharply on it. You can see the spatial and numerical relationships rise off of his every possession. And at the risk of sounding stupid, he's so frantically analytical that everything looks like a well-reasoned post-up. A Duncan post-up. Except for breakaway dunks and most three's, of course.
Okay, Wizards. Here's what I find so fascinating about this team, which is probably just an extension of my Arenas experience. On any team more straight-faced about swag or intensity or flash, those gold jerseys would be a miserable mistake. With this merry bunch, however, they're almost an ironic, ludicrous statement of purpose. We want to be the team that rocks gold lame uniforms. And gets away with it, in part because being in on a joke is what makes us soar.
Actually, what I meant to say was that failure with the Wizards, and Arenas in particular, is a mightily complex thing. Arenas, and the team as a whole, don't just alternate between good and bad, on and off, useful and impaired. To my (admittedly biased) eyes, they're either playoff-worthy or absolutely inept. Arenas goes from superstar to the dowdy benchwarmer his appearance initially suggests; the team as a whole from explosive to clueless. Granted, I'm a little stuck on this after seeing them flounder without Jamison, and Arenas get mixed up about exactly what the Lakers were consistently giving him. Still, I believe this is part of what makes the Wizards so lovable, and at the same time such a maddening love to cradle.
In the comments on my All-Star plaint, someone made an off-hand remark about Amare "not yet dominating like he once did." His numbers are certainly there, but I'll admit, he's not quite the force he was. It's not the system, or the depth, or the chemistry—Stoudemire may still be able to have his way with most of the league, but he's terrifying no one. In a way, though, I'm perfectly happy with this outcome. He'll be an All-Star on and off for a while. He may get a ring or two. He's learned a thing or two about the game, and can keep up with this far more complex and varied Suns team. Amare's now got the tools to last in the league; if he had to sacrifice a pinch of his profligate athleticism to get them, that's likely a fair trade. Now leave my alone, and I hope to never come down on this side of things again.