Pilgrims Caked With Trash
The other day I tried to convince the Recluse that point guards are uninspiring. When doing this, I was especially wary of plummeting into the "ALL I LOVE IS SCORING" abyss. I figured, hey, a grown man can admit he's partial to dunks and drives over measured jumpshooting; why can't there be a similarly rational aversion to once-removed production? I know how the fulcrum tumbles: those who admit being partial to emphasis and bombs are unsubtle, uncultured, and unavailable to most any intelligent burble.
I failed miserably, not in the least because it's very convincing when the Recluse gets convincing. He said what all of us were already thinking: that of course it's totally awesome when a PG sets someone up for an unexpected shot. The Suns rule in large part because of Nash's hand legering; what makes LeBron such a bedeviling proposition is his ability to find a teammate when all signs point toward a choked shot attempt. In fact, our gospel of competitive style should by all rights prize passing above all else. After all, what better exemplifies practical flourish than Steve Nash's distributing? Lo, many of the things he does would be unimaginable without something commonly classified as "style."
But I will yet insist that the passing game has its own set of aesthetic criteria. And by and large, these consist of the giant gaping possibility of negation, or at least monstrous qualification. Look, please: the scorer either scores or he doesn't. No matter what precedes the interaction of ball and goal, the event disappears forever if unsuccessful. The super-example of this is each and any time Vince Carter drives, busts a three-sixty, and then misses after shedding every defender in sight. Or all the many days Lamar Odom has eluded whole teams, only to brick a point-blank lay-up. I have championed their memory, but only rarely do we even get so much as a replay. Behold, another way in which Josh Smith is leaving the sport's very structural shoelaces scattered in his wake.
The pass, though, completes itself and yet quite frequently longs for more. Say Nash pulls off a special pass. If it leads to an open jumper or lay-up, it's muted slightly by banality. If the shot is missed, then the act stands, but is tarnished by its yearning. At least the blown shot can vanish with dignity; the thwarted assist, especially the flashy one, ends up being a lasting confrontation between desire and limitation. The only way the assist can truly resolve itself is through a splendid finish, and even then, too profoundly difficult a basket overshadows the pass that preceded it. And I don't think I speak for myself when I say that Amare is the aesthetic heart of that team exactly because he punctuates all the fluidity and skill.
The major flaw here would be my attempt to posit the pass as a score-like act. Perhaps it's supposed to be humble, selfless, and wholly uninvested in its own future. But if the block, steal, rebound, and even the screen can be self-contained units of meaning, then that leaves only the assist. Certainly, it has been fetishized and tickled with ideology, such that this quirk goes unnoticed. A pass can be appreciated regardless of how little feeling it leave us with, feeling that grows only out of that piercing sense of success. I feel it be high time that we bring the assist up that mountain—even if on the way, it will have to let itself be dragged through the blindness ahead.
In some sense, the assist was born to suffer. Its meaning is forever dependent on its eventual outcome, and yet it retains some squeaky bundle of self-definition. The dynamic between the two is indeed an uneasy one; at times, each seems powerless against the other, while in theory they strive toward perfect harmony. I refuse to idolize the pass-in-itself, but in accepting its troubled dialectic we ourselves closer to a fully-recognized picture of the assist. Though this may be petty, and it may be totalitarian, the end result is an interpretation that captures its uneasy poetry. Foundation be damned—give me the drama of the buckling ground floor!!!!!!