Dropping (Three) Jewels: The FreeDarko Guide to NCAA Enlightenment

In light of the recent inquisitionative comments about the ethnicity of various Masters of the Klondike, I am going to come clean about my own ethnic heritage. When I fill out the census form, I check the box that says some shit about Pacific islands. And, in the interest of full disclosure, I'm only half Japanese, but I love sashimi and drive a Civic, so I deem myself Asian enough to speak knowledgeably about Buddhism. For the rest of this post, just know that when I talk about "the right way," I'm thinking more about the Noble Eightfold Path than Multiple Offense and Defense.

In the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, the Buddha's first discourse after reaching Enlightenment, he advocated a Middle Way between the extremes of the "addiction to indulgence of self-pleasures" and the "addiction to self-mortification." Applied to the world of basketball, the NBA, with its superstars and flashy play, clearly represents the former, while college basketball, with its emphasis on sacrificing for the team, represents the latter. Some roundeyed roundball observers, such as my colleague Shoals, will take a mutually exclusive "this or that" approach, praising the empyrean splendor of the NBA at the expense of pedestrian college hoops, but I'm here to tell you that there is a happy medium between the two: the NCAA Tournament.

In attempting to define FreeDarko-ness, esteemed scholar Silverbird 5000 has theorized about the notion of "liberated fandom," the capacity to watch basketball with an eye toward individual narratives that is not bound to allegiance to a particular team. By its nature, a tournament featuring 65 teams shouldn't offer much to the conventional fan, who cheers for his favorite team and against one or two primary rivals. At max, that's three teams out of 65 that confan can really give a shit about. It's no accident that March Madness is now inextricably linked to the innumerable brackets we all fill out for various pools. That mostly arbitrary decision to pick Winthrop over Notre Dame instantaneously provides a rooting interest in the outcome of a game where there previously was none. This is the artificial construct that gets affixed to the tournament so that the conventional form of fandom can be maintained.

By contrast, the liberated fan approaches the tourney with no team allegiances, or at least none that mean anything (more on that later). What matters instead are familiar concepts to anyone who's taken more than a casual glance at this site: style, singular individual performances, and most importantly, narrative. By narrative, I don't mean the typical Cinderella stories that surface every March, but the birthing of legends. Think Bird vs. Magic, the Fab Five making back to back title games, Melo putting the Orangemen on his back, and of course, Jordan hitting that jumper in '82. Style, yes, outstanding individual achievements, as well, but those things mean nothing without context. Removed from the championship game, these events become footnotes rather than the text itself.

This year's bracket is ripe for this kind of legend-birthing narrative. Thanks to David Stern, we have the perfect storm of one of the greatest high school classes of all time coinciding with the year the age limit is first instituted. The excitement surrounding Oden and Durant has overshadowed what would in other years be the dominant storyline: last year's golden boy Joakim Noah and his team of buddies trying for the first repeat in 15 years. We would also be remiss if we failed to mention the rosters full of future pros at Kansas and North Carolina or Trip Thompson attempting to fill Big Papa's shoes at Georgetown. This year's tournament features some once-in-a-generation talent, so relying on the seeds and office pools to create fake drama is doing everyone a disservice. THIS IS A TOURNAMENT OF STARS. This is basketball nirvana.

[That's Randy Foye.]

Addendum: Earlier, I mentioned something about meaningless team allegiances. This year, in an attempt to find something to believe in, Shoals has agreed to join Dr. LIC, Billups, and me in a thought experiment where we each pick a team to ride for this March. Watch out for our confabulated confan dispatches throughout this inaugural weekend and perhaps beyond, depending on how our teams do and whether we get tired of it. Me, I'm rolling with the dude whose jersey says LAW IV on the back. That's right........GO AGGIES!!!!!!!!!!!!


At 3/15/2007 11:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Darkofan: Nice piece, Now where is the work on last night's epic.There were at least three or four "personal narrativies " going on.

At 3/15/2007 11:24 AM, Blogger zip said...

The team concept will always override the individual player fandom.

While most people can't name anyone on OSU besides Greg Oden, or another player on Texas besides Kevin Durant, it's the team that is remembered in the annals of history over the individual.

Magic vs Bird was a once in a lifetime occurrence, and their has been nothing close since. With the exception of Syracuse in '03 being the "Carmelo Anthony team", it's hard to recall a single player who dominated a tournament all the way to a National Championship (caveat for Corliss Williamson).

Tim Duncan only was able to take Wake Forest so far in '97, and I bet most fans on this board will have a hard time naming even one of the starters on the Arizona championship team of '97.

Where is Miles Simon by the way?

At 3/15/2007 11:32 AM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

mike bibby was on that arizona team, remember. as was michael dickerson, who had a pretty nice nba career before he got hurt.

danny manning famously led kansas to a title pretty much by himself.

anyway, the point isn't that individuals are more important than teams. it's about the middle way between both! i mentioned the fab 5, who had a team identity equal to any individual player. this crazy kansas squad could be something like that, for example.

At 3/15/2007 11:41 AM, Anonymous paddy said...

Nice piece, but this illustrates my ultimate disagreement with the premise of this website. Nothing you say is necessarily wrong . . . . but we root for teams, not individuals. Individuals are celebrated for their contributions to the team, not for their own accomplishments. We root for Durant, who is the heart of the Longhorns, but we also root for the 12th man, who is nothing but the little toe. My disagreement with the "middle path" is that Durant is nothing without the Longhorns.

This is my problem with the NBA as the "league of stars." It always is and always will be the teams that fans give their allegiances too while the stars change teams every few years. The essence of this is that we can't wholeheartedly root for "our" former stars when the are playing "our" team. For instance, Bulls fans could root for Jordan in his days with the Wizards, but not if it meant that the Bulls would lose.

Although I could probably say this better, I respectfully disagree. It's not a wholesale disagreement, but only one of degree.

At 3/15/2007 12:15 PM, Anonymous Cyanide said...

but we root for teams, not individuals

Actually, you (and many, many, many other fans, obviously) root for teams and not individuals.

While rooting for that special team of yours is obviously the more common variety of sports fandom, it's not the absolute. That's the belief I think is expressed by a majority of the FreeDarko crew. Maybe I'm just trying to see compromise, but I think it's the idea of offering the view of the NBA as a league of stars/celebration of the achievements of individuals rather than team success moreso than forcing it upon the reader as the absolute way.

Personally, I'm a Maryland native and a huge Wizards fan and definitely know what it's like to support a team from top to bottom (more specifically, from Gilbo to Ruffin), but I watch as much ball as possible mainly because of my wanting to see a few individual players. I don't care about the Hawks, I just wanna see Josh Smith block shots and dunk. I don't really pull for the Rockets one way or another, as long as I see McGrady drop 40. I think that's where the "league of stars" theory comes into effect.

At 3/15/2007 12:26 PM, Anonymous Zembla said...

People do root for teams instead of players, but that is some weird shit. I don't disagree that Bulls fans would root against the Wizards version of Jordan. What it implies is that fan loyalty is to a corporation, not the individual players. At the college level, where players might only be there for a year or two,

That's why the head coach is so fetishized in the college game. With so little permanence to a team roster, fans have to focus on the coach, because there is no other continuity. Announcers are on Coach K's jock, to be sure, but the coach provides historical context for the program. So you get seemingly rational people tying their rooting allegiance to the middle-aged white guy pacing the sidelines, and not the players on the court.

Also, Kentucky's 1998 champs are way more anonymous as individuals than that '97 Arizona team.

At 3/15/2007 12:27 PM, Blogger T. said...

zip - simon, edgerson, dickerson, bibby . . .aj bramlett? jason terry off the bench.


edgerson had the old school afro and the 1994 air delta forces.

just off the top of my head -

rip hamilton in 99
okafor in 2004
donald williams in 1995

one player dominant performances

BRE - what's with the masters having to choose? Did none of y'all attend Div. I universities? I know Shoals has a horse in the race (at least from grad school) as does who ever went to UNC.

Me - my school missed all the post-season, so I'm backing UCLA even though it makes me queasy.

At 3/15/2007 12:33 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

i went to unc and am a conventional fan of the tar heels. but, when it comes to the nba and the rest of college hoops, i'm pretty much a "liberated fan". for this experiment, i felt i had to choose a team that i have no natural allegiance to. thus, the aggies.

At 3/15/2007 12:45 PM, Anonymous cyanide said...

okafor in 2004

Okafor was MOP, but Ben Gordon would like a word with you, heh.

At 3/15/2007 1:41 PM, Anonymous MegaPickles said...

stephen curry is straight crushin' right now. it's as if the entire game is about him.

At 3/15/2007 2:07 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

that's dell curry's son, right? i wonder if he inherited the gray patch gene from his pops.

At 3/15/2007 2:40 PM, Blogger Dan said...

speaking of continuity, the hornets should prob draft little curry

At 3/15/2007 4:32 PM, Anonymous MegaPickles said...

they kept showing dell in the stands. s dot curry hit a wall midway through the 2nd half, but his 1st half was unreal.

Monarchs needs to get their shit together.

At 4/13/2009 5:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...




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