What Dads Are Like
If sports are dumb, clumsy, or fraught with cliche, a lot of the time it's because we make them that way. Case in point: Raptors fans regard Vince Carter as a spineless deceiver, when awkwardness and indecision deserve a place in the equation. Or people on here who have Kobe all figured out, on and off the court. Marketing might prefer us to think in broad swaths, and on some level we might find this version of sports comforting. But come on, do you really think the world of basketball is any more murky than all other human endeavors? It's people, interacting with other people, and having to negotiate a range of interactions to do so. While there may not be much ambiguity when it comes to a made shot or the buzzer sounding, all that changes when you try and get into attitudes and motivations. Even if all athletes were morons, it's not like stupid people have less confusing inner lives.
Maybe all this sounds a little hypocritical, seeing as FreeDarko tirelessly devotes itself to the NBA of myth and imagination. However, not all myths are monoliths. Myth is more about tone than content, and with the modern age came the possibility of unsettled parables. The bearded Russian writers will never die only because they built convenience stores at these crossroads. I assume anyone reading this site has at least an outside interest in enshrining man's conflicts, and in carrying that over to the game of basketball. I probably fail as a fan exactly because I can't see sports as a return to innocence; I could care less about those moments when good/evil or right/wrong fall into sharp relief, when they paint a false picture of what it's like to be human in this century. This is a league of psychology, but it's also a league of relevance. No shit a dunk is escapist, the game-winner transcendent, and all that. Doesn't mean they have to become the framework for the whole--of sports, or of mankind.
Once it became apparent that the Warriors were playoff-bound, I became mildly obsessed with the media's failure to cast them as "bad," or at least sinister. They are anchored by the volatile presence of Stephen Jackson. They are showy, sloppy, and take gunning to new levels of irreverence. There are only a couple dudes on their roster who could be remotely considered "role players." And in a league where on-court flaws are often read as signs of off-court disturbances, the Warriors are flecked with all types of undesirables: Baron Davis, shoot-first point guard who won't stay healthy; Jason Richardson, most famous for dunk contests and a gun charge before people cared; Monta Ellis, exiled to round two because all he could do is score; and Al Harrington, former Pacer who can play like a star only when no one needs him to. THESE ARE NOT MY OPINIONS, but it's what I could easily have seen coloring a mass-mediated introduction to the Golden State team.
There's not even the slightest whiff of redemption, or repentance, in their journey to where they are today. From rag-tag assemblage to cohesive explosion, the Warriors are now a team that analysts all take seriously. . . without remembering how awful they were during a lot of the year. Yes, there were a few injuries. But to suddenly go from floundering to eight deep, well, that's not logical. And such a leap could at least be explained by a passage from iniquity to enlightenment, right? I then thought it might have to do with the Suns. That because of the Phoenix example, scoring and running just aren't stigmatized the way they were a few seasons ago. So thus, even though the Suns are a picture of fast-break sophistication, and the Warriors like a knife fight on wheels, the very idea of uptempo basketball is now a badge of honor. Thus, a decent amount of the negatives I described above would instead be misguided positives. Raw material for a festival, not disasters waiting to happen.
I got the answer last night, when Golden State followed a stunning upset with a self-inflicted hemorrhage. One that, incidentally, they nearly rode to victory. I know that technically the early quarters don't matter, but Dallas came to try throughout, and they couldn't handle the Warriors for a decent chunk of the first half. Then came Baron tossed for upbeat sarcasm, and S-Jax possibly getting himself suspended as he was leading his team back into the game. It's not supposed to work like this. Ill humor is supposed to begat failure, not go hand-in-hand with rallies. Frustration isn't a motivator, it's a disintegrater. Somehow, though, Golden State brings all these together, just as they effortlessly unite themes of THE WRONG WAY with the heart of a champion. Not to hold up Stephen Jackson too high, but I've seen few things as poignant his combination of leadership and self-destruction in the later going of game two. Or maybe it was just really fucking weird.
A few years back, Al Michaels called Larry Brown "such. . . a human." It didn't stick with me because of what it meant—I think Michaels just wanted us to know that LB was needy and kvetched a lot—but because of what it could mean. Finally, with these Warriors, I've found my great human team for the ages. They defy easy characterization, dare you to slap on the familiar labels, and laugh when you find yourself bathed in regret. They're impossible to hate, or even disrespect, and yet they're nothing short of maddening. After the first game, I wrote some sentence about how they played like a whole team of 06-07 Amare. That's true for their strategy, but I also think it goes for their greater significance: both angelic and demonic, responsible and crazed, rebellious and oppressive, they embody exactly what we should expect of our mythology. Because when I wake up and look in the mirror, I see a lot more Baron&Monta&Stephen&J-Rich&Baby Al than I do Dirk&Jet&Howard&Devin&Diop.