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.


At 3/13/2007 5:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The last sentence is a sad truth.

At 3/13/2007 5:52 PM, Blogger erikg88 said...

Hey FD!

Two notes, both utterly unrelated to the content of this post:

1.) You sound exactly like I'd imagined, Shoals. I'm glad, too, cause I hate when writers don't jibe with their writing.

2.) Have you guys thought about implementing tags on your posts? That way, if a reader wants to read your take on the NCAA, he could just click the little link at the bottom and see it all laid in front of him.

At 3/13/2007 6:09 PM, Anonymous OG said...

i was trying to post this comment off of the billups piece, but blogger doesn't like me today, and the new post went up while i was wrangling with this stupid sign-in field. anyway, since this irritation merely falls in with the point of my stupid effing post anyway, i'm just going to paste the comment in here. ARRRRRGH. it was meant to follow joey's comment...

i think joey makes a lot of important points about race dialogue and the need for it. if i can try and tack on an addendum, i would also say that while the authors of the site may not represent a plethora of diverse voices, they do a lot of thought-provoking writing, and in turn attract a large number of commentors from a wider spectrum of background and experience--and this number is growing, and i would imagine the site slowly reaching places where others will be brought in as well.

since this discussion has recently taken a turn for the meta, i figured i'd chime in with my concern that while this dialogue on race, culture, and society offers a lot of important ideas, i have concerns about how productive it and other blogging forums can be. i visit every day, but i stopped commenting about a year ago merely because it was too frustrating... cats leave incendiary remarks and then fail to respond when people call them out, worthwhile comments get buried, as do worthwhile posts (i loved this billups post, but it seemed like there was some important shit still to be hashed out with the previous one). plus the whole anonymous thing--and don't think that because you front some punny handle that you've assumed any kind of real accountability, i'm not calling out anonymous commentors here, and in fact this goes for me too--makes it all the more reckless.

i'd be real interested to see some kind of fd conference get put on, with workshops and stuff, give this bloggosphere a little human touch, some physical reality. i wonder if people would go calling each other crackers face-to-face, or if being in the same room with others would temper that a little bit. we could also have a basketball tournament, and sort out who can actually play, too (um, that would not be me).

i just wish this exercise could feel a little more productive sometimes. i want it to enact actual change, and i'm never quite sure if it does more than waste people's time at work.

At 3/13/2007 6:18 PM, Blogger MC Welk said...

New Mexico State over Texas in the opening round, Shoals' mad subjunctive skillz aside.

At 3/13/2007 6:23 PM, Anonymous Bayern Munich said...

Very interesting post. The bit about KD being dismissed as "lazy" if he brings his same graceful/fluid/effortless style to the A is probably very prophetic - especially with expectations being as high as they will be.

As far as the Coach as Witch-Priest and the idolization of hard work as a sort of sacrifice to the basketball gods - from what I know of FD, I'm surprised that wouldn't actually INCREASE your appreciation of it. Not inasmuch as it's a "right-way" approach (a Larry Brown/Karl "work harder, dammit" ethos), but, if I'm reading properly, I wonder that the ritualistic angle, with regard to the seemingly arbitrary outcome, wouldn't be seen as encouraging of style, individuality and oddity.

In other words, it seems like sacrificing to the "basketball gawds" and hoping for the best would be more stylistic, whereas a "the hardest worker wins" league, without the angle of the unknown, would be more along the lines of the "grim domination" you've reviled in the past.

At any rate, thought-provoking, as always.

At 3/13/2007 6:58 PM, Blogger Brother Afrocan said...

Great post Shoals as always, you did however leave out one major piece of the puzzle- the dastardly villain whose sole purpose is to foil our super-hero's noble quest for basketball revolution. This evil SOB is none other than his coach- Rick Barnes, a honorable mention goes out to our villain's subtle but equally nefarious sidekick DJ Augustine.

As fate would have it, Kevin Durant is being stabbed in the back by those closest to him. No one can claim to have watched a full Texas game without foaming in the mouth, totally enraged, just itching to grab Barnes and Augustine in an undertaker like choke-hold, lift them 4 feet above the ground and yell "GIVE DURANT THE FUCKING BALL AND GET OUT OF THE FUCKING WAY!"

It almost appears as though Durant's team's sole purpose is to undermine his greatness. His coach and teammates are striving to reduce Durant to mere mortal- perhaps in a misguided effort to validate their existence and right to share the same court with him. Every well-contested flat-arced three-point shots from his guards, every uncoordinated post move from some un-athletic and unskilled post player, is a slap to the face of Durant’s effortless efficiency.

Why the fuck don’t Durant’s big men set up down screens for him? His jumper off a curl-screen is money like Rip Hamilton on a good night. Why can’t his guards make entry passes when Durant posts up on players 4-5 inches shorter, with 6-10 inch shorter wing-spans and lacking anywhere close to the defensive ability required to contain Durant? Why can't his guards set high-screens beyond the arc to set Durant up with enough daylight to stroke his effortlessly accurate three-ball?

It appears that for Durant to triumph, he must first break the yoke that has enslaved his teammates. They are married to the concepts of hard work and team-work that Shoals has outlined in this post. The Larry-fucking-Brown right way to play. Predictably Durant's team-mates will instinctively oppose any force that seeks to disrupt the established college ball equilibrium. The team is rotten to core- from the coach down its point guard. Durant must first win the battle within, before he can take on his external foes.

At 3/13/2007 7:06 PM, Anonymous Freddie said...

First of all, to appease OG, my name is Freddie fucking deBoer, of Hartford CT, and you can look me up.

That said-- I can only offer the usual critique of the Right Way criticism, which I know is very boring to the people who work on this blog, or to the people who are the real regular readers or commentators on here. And while I will try hard not to define what anyone else's opinion is, to speak for anyone else, it's probably going to be inevitable-- so there it is. I apologize in advance.

Anyway here's that same critique-- I agree totally with the intellectually vacuous and lazy conception of the Right Way vs. the Style way. I agree that those assumptions are made by people with no ability to actually understand the work ethic or effort of any player. I know that the basketball media tends to work in broad crude strokes, and that they tend to see "work ethic" only in players that inhabit the affect of that concept until it becomes caricature. I believe that the conception of the Right Way is rife with racial and racist baggage, that it is in many ways a product of a white basketball media who is distrustful of black culture, of black identity. I agree that the Right Way notion trivializes aesthetics and grace, and that it is a product of the conservative meme of sports, a meme that perverts our conception of what the game means and says.

Where I part company, and where I think others do, is with the guilt by association that confuses the argument and insults players who have no particular attitude towards the Right Way whatsoever. To say it simply: rebounding and defense, etc., are praised by those who preach the Right Way; those stats and the outward appearance of hustle is seen as indicative of playing the Right Way; therefore the outward appearance of effort, defense, and rebounding, is bad, or more to the point, praising those things is bad; and, as corollary, those players who are regularly praised for those attributes are bad. This is simply unsound logic, and it leads to a vision of basketball that is just as myopic as the Right Way (if far less annoying.) Eduardo Najera plays ball. He is not a golum, as much as he (or anyone like him) may be made into one by the basketball media. He plays ball, and yes, it's ugly. He does what his limited ability allows him to do. He doesn't deserve any particular extra credit because he seems out of breath while doing it. But he likewise doesn't deserve to be made an emblem on the other side, either.

And I simply reserve the right to call out a player who doesn't make any discernible sign of effort on any given play; I likewise reserve the right to say that the player in question seems to perform that way often. I can think that Scott Skiles is a loudmouth while still being generally appreciative of the job he is doing coaching my team. I can object to the way in which he motivates his players, and the frequency with which he does, while still approving of the idea of trying to motivate a player to perform better or, yes, work harder. I can say that Eddy Curry is an at times shitty defender, and I can ask why a man with his size, strength, and knowledge about position (so evident in his post game) can't get more rebounds. And dear God, I can call a certified bitch like Tyson Chandler a bitch.

And I can do all of this, by the way, without appealing to racial stereotypes, and while genuinely trying to be aware of my own prejudices and petty racisms. Not that I think I am inoculated from accusations of racism, or that such accusations won't ever be warranted. But I think I can have an opinion on Ben Gordon's ability off the dribble that doesn't contain hidden cues to my racial understanding.

Billups doesn't impress me; I find his rhetorical style lazy and his writing affected. That statement shouldn't be made to reflect on my attitudes towards basketball, or the right way, or anything else. I know he's beloved around here, but sacred cows don't help anybody to understand anything.

At 3/13/2007 9:44 PM, Blogger PostmanE said...

I'll add this to Brother Afrocan's thought: that zone Barnes busted out on Kansas' last shot at a three Sunday was totally embarrassing. Such a simple concept, and Durant's final moments of victory were squandered and then lost in OT. Brutal.

At 3/14/2007 1:57 AM, Anonymous g said...

tyrus thomas jacking amare's swag?

At 3/14/2007 1:59 AM, Blogger john said...

so freddie, how do you feel about the phoenix suns? (this is actually an innocent question. i love the suns only slightly less than i love the kings).

At 3/14/2007 3:29 AM, Blogger T. said...

as for "See You Forever" - I was sort of struck speechless by the amount of bleary eyed "randoms" that were in the collections. There's not really much to respond to - it's a very visual post, ne?

At 3/14/2007 12:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This post was heavy... good to see BS not dropping that B.S. thats been piling up lately.
As much as I liked the post I'm hoping you're wrong about Durant. Everything I'm hearing about him is new & improved KG, with a mix of TMac. I would love to see him live up to that or at least have ppl recognize when expectations have been set too high.


At 3/14/2007 3:40 PM, Anonymous Freddie said...

I love the Suns. I would rather watch them than any other team.

At 3/14/2007 3:52 PM, Anonymous Josh said...

Jeebus. I'm finally listening to the Basketball Jones interview now.

Black Eyes?! Talk about a deep cut.

You live in DC, don't you...

At 3/14/2007 4:09 PM, Anonymous D-Wil said...

Tight post, my friend Internets friend.... and god yes, the NCAA game is a manifestation of all that's wrong with too many students today. What is the commercial - ahhh, Cisco; "and anyone can be famous." And that is the perfect "new age" adage for the laziness and incompleteness that manifests itself as "students unable to excel" without a pre-established template to follow....

To those who comment:

A series of round tables-conferences would be nice, but not necessary...

BTW, I have never had a problem with calling white people "crackers" face-to-face. Anyone who is affronted by the word as if it's the equivalent of calling a black person "you know what" is incredibly misinformed as to the socio-cultural implications of the two words; one is a complaint, the other is an expression of an ancient fear become hate.....

Finally, the writings of peeps here and elsewhere cannot be a waste if the words might just express something already known in a manner that spurs action - yours. Everyone plays a different part in the act of large-scale change and everyone personalizes their part. It's about time we try something different other than the tried-and-true methods we've been told....

Brother Afrocan-
Rick Barnes is an incompetent college hoops coach, just like most others in the NCAA ranks, so please forgive his incredible stupidity in his mistaking his position as head coach with that of "thinker."

As far as D.J. is concerned, he's just another new age PG. A dude with incredible talent with no understanding of what it means to be a PG (I find it ludicrous that a PG can get a college scholarship without understanding the proper angles by which to execute effective entry passes!). There's more to that lack of understanding, but I hope that entry pass example allows you to catch my drift....

peace and hominy er'body!

At 3/14/2007 6:04 PM, Blogger Wild Yams said...

IMO Jay-Z's "retirement" was laughable. The guy was "retired" for three years, which is probably about the average time in between albums for most musicians. Not that his "retirement" was unusual in the music industry (how many farewell tours have the Stones had?), but it was so obvious he wasn't really retiring when he announced it. I mean, it had only been like seven years since his first album came out when he "retired", who really thought he was done?

When I leave work tonight, I'm officially retired. Consider me finished with my chosen profession. Until tomorrow morning, that is.

At 3/14/2007 7:11 PM, Anonymous Casey said...

The FD posts (and the metacriticism in the comments section) keep getting more and more unhinged & bizarre. Why are all you smart people making these ridiculous generalizations about sport, social class, popular music & culture, race, ethnicity, "style", and so on? I can see how it would be fun for a little while, but now it's seeming more and more like a Sun Ra prose poem. It's all more or less the same. Or so it seems to this humble reader.

At 3/15/2007 12:14 PM, Anonymous D-Wil said...

...and to wild yams-
since i never read the comment to DLIC's post that mentioned my piece on simmons, i'm going to make sure each person who talked with the presumption of "knowing" catches my drift...

if you want to know how i meant to use cracker, you could have emailed me and asked.... that's one thing i despise of in too many people - presuming when they don't know; it's also a hallmark of "the West."

Racial epi---? What?! Cracker=what?! A black mans' complaint against the "whipcracker" that is white. male. western. soulless. culture.


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