Keep Your Guts to Yourself
This post really should have sparked more of a response, in fact I'm quite disappointed and have chosen to think it was overlooked. Here's a second chance.
With racial tension on this blog at an all-time high, let's get one thing firmly established: I am like Jay-Z in at least one major way, in that I will walk away from FreeDarko at the top of my game. Difference being, I'll just have run out of shit to say, so much so that I won't even have the option of skulking back for beer money. Despite this, I'll spare you the rehash of (most of) FD's basic position on the NCAA's. For that, you follow its quivering development across here, here, here, and here.
I do, however, want to make a slight adjustment to those lovely words. I used to think that college ball represented the triumph of work and discipline over skill. An individual, or a squad, wins simply by willing harder than the other side, and thus makes fans feel better about their own lack of exceptionalism. Now, I'll take it even further: it's the worship of work in hopes of culling favor with the basketball gawdz, whose seemingly arbitrary will decides the victor. When upsets become a way of life, they're rendered meaningless, stripped of all their feel-good resonance and gooey morals. When all contests come down to a race between free throws and last-ditch possessions, tyrannical fate is the only authority.
If I were a human being, the NCAA's wouldn't make me feel good about my chances in life. Instead, they would terrify me, representing as they do the complete and total upending of all order, free will, and sanity. March Madness thrusts our species back into the most benighted primitivism, when little was known except that the deity governed and the deity could in theory be appeased. So it is with the fetishization of hard work in college basketball. Heart, character, valor, and exertion don't necessarily correlate to victory—that would assume some control over the situation or god forbid, access to consistent skill. Instead, they are rituals, totems, whatever else gets said routinely in Introduction to Anthropology. The coach is the witch-priest, the earthly manifestation of the most high. He encourages subservience as an end in itself, which may or may not then be applied to actual basketball situations.
I am of pure Jewish stock, so I can say the following and no one can resist: at Auschwitz, "work makes freedom" did not mean that a certain number of hours would earn one his release. Indeed, it was a proposition steeped in the most sinister kind of faith: believe that work somehow pleases the being who hold absolute power over you. The question was not whether or not "work makes freedom" made any sense, but whether one had any choice but to trust those who inscribed those words. So it is with college ball, where one has no option other than to work hard at. . . well, working hard.
If I paint these terms too gravely, it is only because I this year see hope. Big fucking surprise, his name is Kevin Durant. Durant is the most insanely effective player in college, and also one of the most effortless-looking basketball presences I've ever beheld. I'll be watching at least some of these NCAA's, and it's in large part because of what the Texas freshman could mean for the diseased soul of college ball.
It's not just the idea of an NBA-bound freshman putting everyone else to shame; I remember Melo, and that was important and fun. Quite simply, Durant can free college basketball from mental slavery, by proving that it is possible to pinpoint the nature of accomplishment. His physical gifts are many, but first and foremost Durant is skilled beyond anyone's wildest imagination. And what is the point of skill if not to efficiently and effective assemble a winning effort? Given the choice between this and either drudging in all directions (best case) and dancing like fools for a restless god (the sad reality), there is only one true way that embraces the best interests of a liberated mankind.
The tremendous thing about Durant is how aggressively he wears his skills on his shoulder. He's so unspeakably fluid, sleek, and successful that it makes his peers look clumsy, malformed and, well, immature. Ironically, if he brings this same otherworldly grace to the pros, he'll be summarily dissed for laziness. Anyone in the NBA who plays with this kind of ease is criticized since, you know, people don't try at that level. The climate is one of presumed indolence, and so Durant would get read as such. For evidence on behalf of this model, look no further than the castigation of Chris Webber, or Dr. LIC's recent critique of Garnett and Iverson's expressiveness.
In the NBA, the individual is powerless against the burden of context. At the college level, though, the inverse is true. Durant is bolstered by his surroundings, such that if he dominates these noble youths, he must have assimilated their values. And of course Durant's game is founded on hard work—the hard work it takes to appear effortless. If I have one mortal gripe with college ball, it is that I feel it to be too lazy, too incomplete, full of students unable to excel without wearing their scripts on their sleeves. I am not arguing that the NBA is a valley of constant effort, but all too people misread facility as given-ness.
What Kevin Durant can prove, once and for all, is that a game like his can thrive, even dominate, within the halls of the Worker People because he represents what would be the ultimate fruits of their labor. Work, when intelligently and appropriately applied, seeks to make itself invisible. Contrasting the NBA and college misses this essential truth. Thus, Durant's March will be a chance to redeem the league he will soon inhabit, to clarify the nature of this contrast by means of setting. In this sense, Kevin Durant is more NBA now than he ever will be in the pros.