Thumb for a Bride

During last year's All-Star interlude, all the world was abuzz over the wholesale importation of the Detroit Pistons. In a move that thoroughly bucked the condascending logic of the purists—or cemented it via imperialist aspirations—the NBA's staunchest franchise swamped the roster and coaching ranks of this most hallowed, and supposedly hollow, exhibition. Ultimately, the arguments came down to two key vectors: was the honor of the ASG distinct from, or part and parcel with, regular season success? Was it a chance to celebate winning, or doff the headwear in the direction of something far more sinister?

With the added perspective of months, these debates seem somewhat puerile. Yes, it was a bold, and possibly foolhardy, move to equate "NBA's best team" with "Eastern Conference All-Star Team." Yet it was a weak year for that paltry conference, with only Gilbert Arenas sufferingly seriously for this landmark. And yet the specters it raised were nothing less than angry ones. Those prone to demographic fissure will note that the ASG, "the Black Super Bowl," stands for something quite different than the playoff grind. And while the regular season supposedly has no bearing on the postseason, the truth is, it does. In effect, the Pistons movement factored team glory, and contribution to the team, heavily into a contest based primarily on individual achievement.

You heard it oh so many times: winning is for the real thing, the ASG seeks something else. Still, players are often selected based on their team's performance (i.e. "best player on good team."), and "sterling stats on bad team" is frowned upon. In the final analysis, one must conceded that what the Pistons did was force a dialogue on this correlation, in a way that most sports' MVP award so sorely need.

There were two distinct ways of viewing last year's All-Star Game. One was the hokey postulate "can a well-oiled team best one comprised of excess talent?" You don't need a high-priced production to check this one, which has been borne out time and time again in all the major team sports. Far more useful for our purposes is the second: is there some qualitative difference between the ASG and "real" basketball? Here, we see the influence of partisanship within the fanbase. If certain elements of the game are judged frivolous or self-indulgent, they would crumble before grown-ass focus. And certainly, they would resist attempts to strategize in any meaningful way.

Enter D'Antoni. Usually, coaching an All-Star Game consists of some combination of laughing a lot, throwing out the occasional set play, or basking in the novelty afforded by their roster. When Flip Saunders and his Pistons crashed the party, the paradigm suddenly jolted. Now, a coach could actually set out to win an ASG, instead of being at the mercy of his players. To some, this might have seemed a perversion of the occasion. Yet during the Pistons Game, it seemed an assertion of the fact that this was still basketball and damn it, rules and regulations applied. This was no Rook/Soph malarky, and a crack unit of professionals could be brought in to execute and stabilize. If you can win it, it must be basketball.

I have never been more convinced of the Suns Revolution than I was last night. Working with a mish-mash of stars whose positional distribution had been wrecked, D'Antoni nevertheless just coached like he knew. Flip had turned the All-Star Game into Dee-troit basketball; D'Antoni made it apparent that for him, every game is the All-Star Game. Usually, the commentary centers (no pun) on the size of the West's line-up. In its place, we had talk on how Kobe/Marion/Amare/T-Mac/Garnett (I think) was a dream line-up for Suns Ball.

It was a blow-out, and traditionally, All-Star blow-outs are stuff of slackened viewing. To me, though, this wasn't just one batch of talent overpowering the other. This was a window into exactly how wild the Phoenix style could get if given limitless ability. In the same way that we can't look away when the Suns tear through an opponent this season, I was relatively transfixed by the thrashing administered by the West. Yes, it's still the superior conference. But they also had the good fortune to be saddled with a coach who, for once, actually felt at home working with a surfeit of star power. Oddly, these last two ASG's have set us up for the eternal referendum: can a team made in D'Antoni's image ever take out one with less brashly constituted? If the Pistons Game served to show up the ASG tradition, the West's effort last night made it seem more relevant than ever.

Two late additions:

-My boss points out that raising the goal would open up the door for all sorts of other equipment modifications. Where do you draw the line? It's your classic damned-if dilemma: big men can't show off their ups with the usual set-up, but raising the basket is, in a sense, a form of handicapping.

-That Posterized show was great. And I've now realized why the Dunk Contest goes stale——the same angles, over and over again. Green's first dunk was the only one that didn't come from a completely predictable spot on the floor. Half of the most memorable dunks in history involve a slightly awkward point of release or plan of attack.


At 2/19/2007 11:23 AM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

i just want to protest that my favorite in-game dunk of all time--kevin johnson over dream--was omitted from the top 5. that dunk was insane. like the starks dunk, but better because it was over one of the greatest shotblockers of all time. AND IT WAS KEVIN JOHNSON!

At 2/19/2007 11:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did he have hands? Did he have a face? Yes?...Then it wasn't us. Idiot.

At 2/19/2007 11:58 AM, Blogger T. said...

BRE - I think there's two reasons for that, 1. The Starks dunk has the significance of Jordan being involved (and those Rockets championship teams are always forgotten) and 2. For some reason the Dream is forgotten about when dicussing best players of the 80s/90s. (I have him ranked #2 from 1985-1995) I agree, that dunk is wicked.

Shoals - Josh Howard (not Garnett) is the missing piece of Doug Collins' proto-Suns - which doesn't really make sense since Howard doesn't quite have the range or the ball handling ability to make it work. But I think Doug was really referring to having a backcourt of TMac and Kobe - which, honestly, will make any offense work, not just the Suns.

I missed Posterized, but if it didn't have a tribute to Terence Stansbury's 360 Statue of Liberty, then it wasn't the end-all, be-all show about dunking. I don't understand how that dunk gets missed by everyone.

(Are we now supposed to have random Wire quotes?)

At 2/19/2007 11:59 AM, Blogger whitefolks said...

Neither the dunk contest or ASG had the vibe they should have, especially after MJ/Erving/Nique were unbelievably stingy with the points. I'd imagine on the PR front, this was a highly successful weekend for the League.

Honestly, how in the world could we expect the All Stars to be able to play a quality game at the end of a three day bender? They're held to no standard in an exhibition, injury worries are at the back of their mind and it feels like Wade and Lebron amongst others really don't care right now.

Truth be told, I think the weekend can be summed up from a "Do they care perspective?" by seeing what is going on with my Heat. Players and now coaches are taking part of the season off to rest and get back to things when they are important. Lethargy is communicable.

At 2/19/2007 12:41 PM, Blogger Gladhands said...

I officially hate Shawn Marion. Last night’s breakaway windmill notwithstanding, his game is completely devoid of style. Absolutely nothing he does on the court is aestically pleasing. I don’t even like way he carries the massive chip on his shoulder. It’s the opposite of swag. Last night, he more than any other player, seemed to be trying to prove that he belonged. It was completely joyless. I nominate Marion, over Wade as the antithesis of freedarko.

wv dndfp: The better half of Gangstarr holding down his favorite studio.

At 2/19/2007 1:12 PM, Blogger Pacifist Viking said...

"is there some qualitative difference between the ASG and "real" basketball?"

You could argue that an all-star game is no longer sport, at least not in the conventional sense of a competitive game. Nobody cares about the outcome. If anything, it is the evolution of game from a means-based game (in which the end is winning) to an end-based game (in which the game is its own end, played for itself with no concern for outcome). Which, in my view, makes it qualitatively different.

At 2/19/2007 1:23 PM, Blogger GentleWhoadie9000 said...

the ASG is like too much ice cream

At 2/19/2007 3:00 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

marion's strangeness is his style (see ernie henry/jamison post). i'm also getting tired of him complaining about being underrated, but the fact is--HE'S UNDERRATED.

also, his alley-oop fingeroll last night was one of the prettiest moves of the game.

At 2/19/2007 3:21 PM, Blogger T. said...

Last night, he more than any other player, seemed to be trying to prove that he belonged.

Gladhands - I'd attribute last night (not the entirety of his game or chippiness) to him being the "local guy" - from UNLV more than anything.

At 2/19/2007 3:47 PM, Anonymous Danny said...

Marion's always like that. I'm with gladhands. The only interesting thing to watch is his outside shot and jumping ability. But they're like freaks of nature, rather than aesthetic as we'd usually imagine it.

At 2/19/2007 4:11 PM, Anonymous danny said...

and while we're at it, what about Allen's whiny-ass game. He was up there with Kobe, LeBron and Arenas in the "I'm here to make myself look good and fuck the rest of you" plays.

At 2/19/2007 4:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"He HAD to die!"

Serge was awesome.

At 2/19/2007 4:25 PM, Anonymous paper tiger said...

katherine harris reduced to jack hanna with d'antoni grabbing the all star oppossum by the tail and all is right in the world.

terrific pictures today.

At 2/19/2007 4:30 PM, Anonymous jake said...

re Marion: like BRE said his aesthetic is his weird, impossible shot and seemingly gawky movement are his style. I like his game because of that awkwardness, both physically and in the way he carries himself. It's unique in a lig of ridiculously large men who glide along with the fluidity of water, a smoothness to their movements that completely denies their size. I think the chip on the shoulder effect is heightened by that style. His jump shot seems like an impossible proposition until the moment it hits the net. I guess it's just a matter of personal taste but to me his aesthetic has its' own beauty.

At 2/19/2007 5:10 PM, Blogger PostmanE said...

"Boris, right?"

At 2/19/2007 5:36 PM, Anonymous kmc said...

favorite AS moment:
tmac singing "viva las vegas" on the bench while yao sits next to him pretending that nothing is happening.

At 2/19/2007 5:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you want the players to play in the ASG then give them a reason. Like baseball did, homecourt advantage in the finals goes to the winner

At 2/19/2007 7:27 PM, Blogger PeteJayhawk said...

Celebate winning = AC Green in 1987, 1988, 2000.

At 2/19/2007 7:34 PM, Blogger salt_bagel said...

Re: Ray Allen--

It's funny about the question of Allen trying to show off, because I was about to stump for an even more ideal Suns Ball team of Kobe, Allen, T-Mac, Amare, and KG. It seemed like this was the lineup that made the court too wide to guard.

At 2/19/2007 10:07 PM, Anonymous Danny said...

True salt_bagel. Though I think you could only have either Kobe or Allen in a team for a short period before they started a halfcourt shooting/pissing contest.

Re: Marion's J - I'm all for the anti-aesthetic, when delivered with elan, or when wedded to the pursuit of justice. Unfortunately, for me he fails to stand for anything other than the supreme athlete who forgot how to learn to make his own shot. Being spoon-fed all the time has him in a state of Sprewellian self-denial.


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