Plants Are Not Small Trees
First off, many Adriatic blessings to all those who have donated. First day results are producing high-fives across the weblines, and I'm as rosy as ever about waking up and writing. I'm keeping it at "unlimited" for the sake of tact and sky-high optimism. I will, however, reveal that we're developing some kind of insider-ish content prize, most likely a regular dose of Silverbird's arm-mushing statistical universe.
So today, the internet is abuzz over Daniel Artest. I get it: he's an Artest, he weighs 300 lbs. and can dunk from far back, and is trying to bull his way into the professional ranks with little or no right to be there. That, my friends, is what we in the weeping business call a real American folk hero. Someone who lunges into the league on the wings of improbable narrative, who captures our fancy with a healthy dose of cartoon iconography. The best-case scenario for them is usually transient role player or fringe fan favorite, which is why I wish they didn't exist in the first place. I get that these stories are part of the summer leagues' charm, but they also stress the futility--and the condescension--inherent in embracing those destined to lose.
Hell, go ahead and tie this into what I wrote yesterday regarding those mired in infinite potential. There is something truly pagan, or at least pantheistic, about gathering 'round a player whose future is deliriously undefined. We want nothing more of the colorful volkscheld than to see him squeak into the pros. I am supposing that for this category, the false gods of FreeDarko, the ultimate dream is for him to burn out, succumb to injury, or otherwise stay suspended in our memories as a being of unlimited possibility. But also one without direction, a walking risk that embodies an unstable, peace-less universe.
I don't want to fixate on oddball or off-beat player assuming that they will fail. I also have no interest in taking up the cause of decent fellas whose only dream is to find a seat on the Stern-sanctioned pine. If we are going to truly take up the cause of players who embody values of style and importance, they must be those whose career arc is both wild and determined. Those who desire to win a championship, but wreaking holy terror on themselves and others along the way. For this reason alone, LeBron is a non-stop favorite. Never has anyone been so clearly fitted for the O'Brien in advance; at the same time, few superstars try on as many hats with as much untroubled disruption.
The league needs a push, and it needs one from the very players this site has become so devoted to and dependant on. The Premise of Competitive Style goes thus, and it dances in endless marriage with the strangeness of the individual. To glamorize fleeting goofballs, or wear ten fake gold ropes at once, is merely the other side of ghettoizing personality or assuming that pyrite doth not shine somewhat like the real thing. What I am seeing in myself this summer is nothing less than this anger: too much enthusiasm over the summer leagues precludes looking for the summer league qualities inherent in all players worth jocking.
Oh, and because Steinz asked: I would apply this same principle to perennial redemption candidates like Artest. Put simply, I'm sick of it, and the man that did it is Baron Davis. Davis was down, out, injured, and disreputed, and then he came back and helped change the identity of this year's basketball. That's Nash-like, but with some dark skin and surliness thrown into the mix. We should hold our malcontents to no less high a standard than this, lest we be stuck with questions like "is Eddy Curry a man yet" or "has Artest stabilized?" Zach Randolph is perhaps the one guy like this who I have a Baron-like faith in, and that's only because denying him the ball is the quickest way to usher him toward transcendence.
If you read that as FUCK THE STREETS AS AN END IN THEMSELVES, you probably should have. Baron's turnaround has proven that you can be a forgotten, discarded emblem of the post-Jordan NBA, and still assert yourself as crucial force on the game's landscape. Hell, the same could be said for Big Bad Stephen Jackson, who is as gully as they get but find light with the Warriors. Or Melo, who overcame PR obstacles (public relations, not Rican) to forge a new kind of popular thug magnetism. These are the standards for redemption to aspire to; Marbury leading the Knicks to 45 wins and the Eastern semis will simply not be enough.