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.


At 4/26/2007 11:19 AM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

My take on yesterday's game is not that it was a "first-rate meltdown", but that the Warriors were sending a clear message to the Mavs - "You didn't beat us. The refs did." Whether or not you agree with blaming the refs doesn't matter. The Warriors sent the message to the Mavs, and when they meet in Oakland, the Warriors will still have their confidence, their swagger. Will Dallas? Or will they remain scared because they are wondering if they got bailed out of a 2-0 hole yesterday?

At 4/26/2007 11:25 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

"first-rate" was too harsh. . . but if baron and s-jax had stayed under control, the warriors would have won. then again, i think they play this well only when they're emotionally on edge.

At 4/26/2007 11:27 AM, Blogger John said...


My question is; once one looks for the humanity animating the game, how does one keep the game as essential framing device - how do you keep from just doing biography on all the players you're interested in, incorporating the way they play as inordinately weighty in their expression of who they are, just as a writer's words are, but not stopping there?

put short- doesn't the game need psychological reductionism in order to remain a relevant unit of analysis?

ps - I saw this and I'm hoping to see what you think about it.


At 4/26/2007 11:30 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

sml--okay, i made an edit

john--i'll get to this in a minute.

At 4/26/2007 12:01 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

response for john: the key is that we know the game far better than we do the biography. we have bits and pieces of fact and rumor, but these are almost always going to be either league-sanctioned or gossipy punchlines. the only thing we know about them first-hand is what we see on the court, and so that becomes the context, or maybe the medium, for all the psychologizing.

i also don't agree that the game encourages reductionism. i think only a few kinds of basketball moments lend themselves to reductionism. however, those are the things that most people use to frame the rest of the action.

i don't have much to say about that link. yeah, situation makes a huge difference. that's less scouting, more "don't stupidly draft a player you don't need or want"

At 4/26/2007 12:05 PM, Anonymous Aaron said...

Meanwhile, too many teams this year played like '05-'06 Amare.

I think the Suns erasing the stigma is a more believable thesis than the other idea, though.

At 4/26/2007 12:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The particulars of the Warrior's 13 years of golden turds are part of the equation as well. If the same team is, let's say the Knicks or 76ers, with the same level of success, there would be some demonizing press going on with every loss a spotlight on the flaws you described well. Since it's perpetually awful Golden State their style is freedom by way of nothing to lose.


At 4/26/2007 12:37 PM, Blogger Pichi Campana Aguanta said...

This was some vintage FD, well done Shoals.

Also, I want Agent Steinz and Mottram to include a segment on the Blog Show where a camera looks over your shoulder while you do Google image searches.

At 4/26/2007 12:54 PM, Blogger Pearson said...

This has nothing to do with the post, but is Barkley starting to sound more and more like the crazy relative whose pills go south on them depending on what they ate for dinner or what? Like the wrong amount of shellfish suddenly causes his SSRIs to stop working or something? He used the 'we all look the same' line on Kenny Smith forgodssake. (it was not meant for Ernie Jones!)
He's always been outspoken, he's just weird now.

At 4/26/2007 1:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thrilling read, S-Jax is really breaking down the walls that I had put him in. Complex guy.

At 4/26/2007 1:36 PM, Blogger crazylegsjackson said...

In the same quarter, Jackson both stopped a fight from breaking out (which he got T'd up for), and came within a couple steps of bumrushing a ref after getting ejected. I love this man.

At 4/26/2007 1:45 PM, Anonymous JTExperience said...

I just like to imagine Baron and Stephen in the locker room while the game's still going on, working themselves into a roiling frenzy that will be unleashed in Oakland. That's what up.

At 4/26/2007 2:04 PM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

Good lord - jtexperience is right.

We were wrong all along - it wasn't Isiah, but Nellie: The boys are gonna unleash the four horsemen of the apocalypse all over the Mavs.

At 4/26/2007 2:49 PM, Blogger Matt said...

This is a horrible metaphor, but the Warriors are Hyphy to the Sun's crunk: roughly inspired by, but entirely different, entirely more desperate, and probably destined to remain on just the brink of success.

The warriors are part reckless action hero, part desperately poor gambler who can't afford not to hit.

They have this essential drama about them - whether they win or lose, it has to be a spectacular thing. There's no such thing as routine in there, and that makes it impossible to turn away.

At 4/26/2007 3:45 PM, Anonymous Baroness of Silence said...

Bethlehem Shoals = Legend.

Posts like this are what keep me coming back through the frustration of every perceptive Kobe column being met with a cacophony of knee-jerk reactions in the comments section.

FD is about new neural pathways. Let Shoals, DLIC, the Recluse, Billups (more Billups please), do their thing. They lead...we follow. Some of the regular commenters need to stop playing little brother and lay off until they can write something half as good as this post.

At 4/26/2007 5:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...the warriors would have won..."
Have they now guaranteed themselves failure?
You won't predict out of fear.

At 4/26/2007 5:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Haters, each and ev'ry one o' ya.

At 4/26/2007 5:17 PM, Blogger Andrew said...

More Slovenian farm league analysis, plz!

Just kidding, top-notch stuff. I, too, envisioned Stephen and Baron throwing themselves off walls during the end-stage of the game. Or perhaps just polishing some nickel-plated burners in silence. Metaphorically, I mean.

At 4/26/2007 6:24 PM, Anonymous ronald james davis said...

I too believe that the warriors collective mentality will refuse to let them lose game 3. however, does anyone think they might come out overconfident in game 4? I'm interested to hear what everyone thinks.

also, as a testament to the insane magnetism of the warriors, my primary goal was to watch the ducks and canucks game 1, followed by the dodgers giants game. when it was all said and done, I'd guess I spent 80 percent of my time watching the warriors game in which I had no rooting interest. even as it unraveled at the end, I couldnt look away.

At 4/26/2007 8:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

RJD, you MAY be a basketball fan.

At 4/27/2007 1:18 AM, Anonymous Ian said...

Warriors are the unpretentious Phoenix Suns

At 4/27/2007 11:44 AM, Blogger Wade said...

What's your dad like?
I wanna meet that dad!

At 4/27/2007 6:35 PM, Anonymous J Rock said...

Is Don Nelson the most FreeDarko coach of all time? If Montgomery was still the coach and the Warriors make "The Trade", there is no way this would be happening.

Nellie is THE Basketball God made flesh; his ability to save the souls of jaded men is what seperates him from the demi-gods Jackson and Riley. The Mavericks players (especially Dirk) still wish he was their coach. They've lost their joy. They are jaded. Too bad the savior's taken.

At 4/27/2007 6:43 PM, Anonymous J Rock said...

Oh, and I pray his final miracle is the Celtics. He is the rightful heir to Auerbach, the O.G. (original god).

At 4/13/2009 4:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...




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