Ladies, Your Intestines Shine
I've heard that the worst thing you can do in the wide world of sport fandom is be a fair weather one. Okay, I can get with that. If your point of reference is the tribal sphere, and you dawdle on the margins until there's good reason to perk up, it's not just insincere. It implies that the team owes you something, that your devotion to them depends on their proving themselves devotion-worthy. If you live in a city low itching for chauvinistic rallying points, the machine of pride doesn't operate if some people have the right to stand to judgment. I'm not saying that hometown fans are always unthinking monoliths. But if the team becomes a take-it-or-leave-it proposition, then the circuits of faith are jammed up to their core.
I think it's well-known, though, that FreeDarko could give a fuck less about provincial forms of worship. We exist on a higher, or at least more time-consuming, plane known as "liberated fandom." Put simply, we like the teams that meet our vague and furry criteria, such that our sensibility can find a match worth its while. This is no more shocking than only reading books that get good reviews, or avoiding a shitty bar even though your friend works there. I don't mean to disparage all ye fine people who have home teams, or insist that the two are mutually exclusive. Hell, some of my proudest moments as a watcher of the game have come when I've been able to approximate some sort of Arenas-derived pull for the Wizards. Alas, I am a wanderer by trade and a malcontent by spirit, and thus must make my way without the comfort of community.
The only reason I'm bothering with all this is that, with the playoffs close the edge (in so many ways), it's about time we all tool up and ride for the Nuggets. In case you've forgotten, this is the squad that has given a home to J.R. Smith, realized Melo's ceiling and respectability up to the tip-tops, and opened the door for me to come to terms with Iverson. Also, they've allowed me to remember just how minorly majestic Camby’s play can be, dispensed with my NBA nemesis Earl Boykins, and given George Karl free rein to rant and rave with everyone listening like it might be relevant.
I don’t think, though, that I’m the only person who had basically given up on this team until fairly recently. Until the streak, actually. The potential was staggering, but these were grown men—men who, at very least, we expected to not fulfill all of our worst nightmares about that combination for several months on end. Now that the cylinders are bursting and the steams exploding, the Nuggets have become the team we wanted them to. They stand to disrupt at least the slick rhetoric of this year’s playoffs, and maybe even put the fright of Noah into one of these regal estates. In short, they will be to this year what Arenas, god rest his aching carcass, was to ’06. And I’ll be damned if that first round series with LeBron didn’t set the tone for all the hi-jinx that followed, due mostly to Gilbert’s flair for tension, disaster, and deliverance.
What’s the catch? That quite evidently, you can’t fully comprehend an Iverson/Anthony team without the doctrine of thick-and-thin loyalty, which is pretty much just a hood version of some fat guy in Cleveland watching the Browns at his own heart surgery. By no stretch of the imagination can what I’m describing—not bothering with the Nuggets until they became what they could be—measure up to that standard. So in some sense, any allegiance I could claim to have to these Nuggets is marred, contradicted, even, by my refusal to stand with them throughout. Not because of the nature of fandom, but because everything I like about them is informed by this bleak determination. Or, to spell it out, if the difference between the Suns and the Nuggets is that Denver is overflowing with heart, grime and, as Dr. LIC put it, “mess,” how can coming to them late really embrace this distinction? If you stand by the end product, and not the journey, then there’s no use reveling in the struggle that came before it.
With Arenas, I’ve always felt fine going through ups and downs. Perhaps that’s because they never seemed pathological or self-defeating. There’s a rhythm to Arenas’s fuck-ups and redemptions that’s like the ocean or scared bugs, while Iverson and Melo both seems experts in the mire. Not wallowing per se, but only a slight improvement over that. When either of them gets down, they seem to have to dig themselves in deeper before rebounding with a wholly separate, often later, act. It’s not like I ever forgot they existed, or wholly abandoned my hopes for the team. But I think it’s only fair that I can grasp the range of Nuggets experience without having to indulge their every skid. When the prodigal son heads off, you’re supposed to leave him on his own for a while. What matters is how warmly you receive him upon his inevitable return.
Some similar problems apply when you start looking at the Warriors. Except they’re not definitely making it in, so I don’t want to jinx the Most Dangerous Team in the NBA. Okay, since you insist: one of their key players is an even more extreme of what I described above (Jackson) and another ends up in nearly the same place through injuried (Davis). I’m at peace with myself. And as a team, you could say that Don Nelson’s mad science can be just as trying as any of the players previously discussed. It’s almost like he’s trying to alienate you, or test just how willing you are to follow him to the canyon. Then he pulls you right back. Right?
Totally unrelated, but I have to say: fuck these Lakers. This is not a Kobe question. This is a banged-up Odom, not enough Mo Evans, Turiaf should start, Smush is not a point guard groan that begins in my nose and ends wherever the shirts I made during last year’s playoffs are stored. They had something to do with the Lakers being a bunch of wacky misfits, had a post that went with them, and I ate them all. Basically I don’t want to see the Lakers in the playoffs, since it will only open up Bryant to more bullshit when the problem is. . . Phil Jackson?