Eyes of the Leaking

I would like to heartily thank everyone who made it to our little shindig yester-soir. I am hoarse this morning and feel the world is a slightly different place, so we must've accomplished something.

That said, it's strange for me to meet people who know me only as the entrails of FreeDarko. I can make sports small talk with total strangers (that's what it's for, right?), but membership in the FD community demands more than that. And yet most of my in-depth conversations about the game are with friends who know my dark secret: I don't know shit about basketball, and rent my clothes each night over this awful fact. Each time I web-chat with a writer far better-versed than me, or sit down with someone aware of my alter ego, anxiety eats my goblins. The clutch sets in at my throat, and I back myself into a corner from which I am ill-equipped to escape.

There's a fairly simple explanation for this, or maybe even two. First of all, I've never played the game seriously and still don't recognize it's a standard human activity. Baseball purists are the most pure because they love the shape of field and the path of a ball toward home plate. Remove all the humans and the sport would still be beautiful to them. I'm at the other extreme of spectrum; not only do I feel nothing when I see an empty gym, I have almost no interest in basketball when it's not brought to life by NBA employees. Without question, that's because most of what I know about basketball, I learned by watching the pro stuff. There's never been any practical pressure for me to understand its universal workings, so my technical know-how is a mixture of impressions, deduction, and bullshit.

When it comes to X's and O's, I'm in one of those "understands the language, yet can't reliably speak it" situations. I'm not clueless; when something works, I can explain what happened and why. But if it's time for diagnostics or all-out abstraction, I trip myself up awfully fast. The reason I have come forth with this career-threatening confession? That basketball lends itself to this amateur-ish treatment says a lot about why I enjoy it so. Most joggers have a passing interest in cardiac fitness; not everyone who enjoys sex stays up on the latest developments in urology.

Last night, I ended up talking with Padraig about LeBron's role on the Cavs, and whether or not James could play more like Magic-era T-Mac or Philly Iverson. I totally failed at figuring out my end of the argument, mostly because I was at the mercy of my brain's ability to conjure up highlight footage. I felt like absolute shit about this for fifteen minutes or so, before realizing what a ridiculous problem I'd created for myself: those three players are all radically different, and any "role" they take on is going to be shot through with their respective styles. Yes, in technical terms there's a finite number of basketball acts. But just as baseball lends itself to radio and basketball doesn't, this form of description or conceptualization only tells part of the story. Compare that to football, where telestrator holds the key to all truth.

In the NBA, pure execution doesn't allow for victory, much less an absolute understanding of the facts. In fact, I'm not even sure it exists. Even on the Spurs, its language can't account for all the improv and nuance that infect every scrap of technical essence. Individuality isn't merely interesting, or useful; it's what animates the the sport, the means by which technique becomes something real. That's why, despite my shortcomings as a scholar, I feel like my appealing to a higher power is in line with what the this Association's all about. I would rather watch LeBron than sketch him in hypotheticals; if that makes me deferential to particulars, it's because that's where I find the heart and soul of the NBA.

(Skeets found the video.)


At 8/31/2007 2:48 PM, Anonymous The Gong said...

That's an incredible video. I can run down stats with most people, but I hope I'm not as abrasive as those two. I'm looking forward to highlights from the commentors.

At 8/31/2007 3:09 PM, Blogger goathair said...

The biggest thing I got out of last night is that I'm psyched to watch the Grizzlies as much as possible this year.

At 8/31/2007 3:31 PM, Anonymous NW Narcissist said...

For what it's worth, I come here precisely for "impressions, deduction, and bullshit."

Maybe a ridiculous t-shirt from time to time, too. And to watch the shenanigans on the comments page as you defend the above. But mostly, the pure, thoughtful BS.


At 8/31/2007 4:13 PM, Blogger Ty Keenan said...

The idea makes sense here, and I'm not really sure knowing the game should be a prereq for being prime NBA Fan #1. I should add, though, that my appreciation has only grown as I've learned more about x's and o's. Over the last few years, I've had the opportunity to speak with fairly high-level coaches on a regular basis. Hearing what they have to say on a tactical level has made me understand each player's role on a particular play much better. In turn, that makes it even more exciting when someone transcends the limits of that definition.

I wasn't there last night, but welcome to the Memphis League Pass bandwagon, goathair.

Did anyone catch Kidd's backboard pass in the 4th last night?

At 8/31/2007 4:34 PM, Anonymous billy hoyle said...

"But just as baseball lends itself to radio and basketball doesn't..."

anyone fortunate enough to have had the transcendent experience of hearing Chick Hearn call a game would be with me in rebuking that statement. don't let contemporary shortcomings, while blinding, qualify that position as eternal.

At 8/31/2007 5:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Darkofan: The post describes a common pyschological phenomena.

Many people , including accomplished professional people, particularily those who are perfectionist in expression , secretly feel, on some level, as though they are imposters , in constant jeopardy of being exposed.

It is not cause to eat your guts, as more eloquently expressed in the post.

What do we think some of the celebrated Sports commentators know about the many sports they freely comment upon , by way of particapatory experience , knowledge of rules or techniques.

Some of the successful owners of franchise brought nothing more to the process tahn good judgment about character , work ethic, etc.

The FD writer is expert at what he does , whatever that is, and from that base, his criticisms and comparisons of players are absolutley valid.

Responsive to Ty K. :

Left some notes on the prior post ( comment 43 ) about last night's game.

There was also a backboard flip by Kidd that was so masterful it fooled Prince , a smart player, who was trailing on the play , into thinking it was for him .

It was actully inteded for , I think, James who was a bit further back .

The week of FIBA games has been a treat but exhausting from the Eastern Time zone.

Many extended sequences of free play.

When the International NBA get going, with a 100 teams, it will be this way all the time.

At 8/31/2007 5:16 PM, Blogger personalmathgenius said...

I'm waiting for this site to feature some high-level talks about the latest vintage of Dream Team. Even in winning, last night was the first time they didn't seem qualitatively different than last year's team. Granted, I think whatever knocks in the tank they were experiencing toward the end were a far cry from last year when they went home with moussaka all over their face. For the first time ever, I actually enjoyed watching LBJ and Carmelo. I know that's anathema here, but they've always left me as cold as DWade leaves one of the klondykes here (i forget which). But last night was different, they (and Kobe) were freed of the need to be Superman and just be a card carrying member of the Justice League.
I won't say Kidd was a revelation at point, because who did that surprise that a true 1 was one of three things missing last year (a legit shooter and Coach K's willingness to play zone the other two), but it was something of a revelation to see, in a transitive sort of way, just how marginal of an All-Star Vinsanity is and Jefferson will never be.
Finally, for all the infoporn he had to spew to kill time during each game's 3 1/2 quarters of garbage time, even when he was factual, Bill Walton still sounded about as knowledgeable on geography as Lauren Upton. That man should never be allowed near a game with a massive potential for GT again. I think listening to Dick Vitale hit on my mom would have been easier to tolerate.

At 8/31/2007 5:34 PM, Blogger goathair said...

Dick Vitale actually hit on my girlfriend when she was at U of Wisconsin.

At 8/31/2007 5:43 PM, Blogger Ty Keenan said...

Anon: I was talking about the one he threw off the backboard to LeBron from the right wing...while on the run. Best pass I've ever seen; LBJ doesn't fumble it a bit and we're watching it for the next 50 years.

PMG: Have you been watching all the games? Walton's basically just been reading wikipedia for his opponent notes. Some of his other work has been completely insane, though: in the Venezuela game he praised Hugo Chavez, and a few nights ago he quoted an entire passage about Puerto Rico from a Phil Jackson's Sacred Hoops.

Agree with you on Kobe and LeBron, although I like them more in the NBA more than you seem to. It's a damn shame that Ferry and Kupchak can't get their shit together. I think Coach K's best defensive change has been to let them switch on everything, though--exploit that athleticism to the fullest.

I'd love to hear some FD thoughts on these games, if anyone from the braintrust has been watching them. I'm liking them more than all-star games just because the plays come from creative in-game situations instead of a general desire to entertain.

At 8/31/2007 7:00 PM, Blogger Ian said...

Kidd's most outrageous pass came when he was driving through the lane, holding the ball out as he took off, in the motion of a lay-up. As he begins rising through the air he lets the ball fall off the back of his hand to a trailing Dwight Howard's, leaving him with an open dunk if he doesn't juggle the ball. The appearance of the pass, Kidd flying forward as the ball stood still, looked like an optical illusion. It might have been the most creative, amazing pass I've ever seen.

Also, how about Carmelo getting elbowed in the face, then coming back and destroying Argentina for two minutes.

At 8/31/2007 7:12 PM, Anonymous ronald james davis said...

melo's dunk last night was exquisite. dude is the shit in international play.

At 9/01/2007 2:10 AM, Blogger Mr. Six said...

I agree with Ty that the little I know about X's and O's (and it is a very little) adds to my enjoyment of the game. (Sometimes Hubie drops a jewel that shifts how I view an aspect of the game.) But as someone with only the technical knowledge that I've picked up from broadcasts and a little reading, I can't really enjoy or even understand the game on that level. I come here for reflections on all of the parts of the game that come from hanging flesh on those X's and O's.

And add me to the list of those really enjoying the FIBA games. The big names on the team finally seem to be liking the experience and realizing their potential. Two other enticing aspects:

1. The What-If Scenarios. Kobe, Melo, and LBJ with a great PG (JKidd--yes, that almost completed pass of the backboard to Bron against Argentina would have been Classic). LBJ with a big man as athletic and mobile as Hellboy (he can finally run a successful pick and roll). Melo playing with more than one teammate who can make a post pass. KB playing with equals.

2. The Big Names fully expressing who they are. Melo scoring from all over the floor and rebounding insanely. Kidd running the show immaculately. Kobe spearheading a defense and asserting himself on offense with a complete arsenal. LBJ simply doing everything.

It's the most fun I've had watching ball in a while.

Sorry I missed the Chicago shindig. When's the FreeDarko US tour start?

At 9/01/2007 10:25 PM, Blogger salt_bagel said...

Jameer Nelson is one of my favorite young players. I'm hoping and assuming that his dad was still working at the docks by choice. He really ought to be soaking up sun at a huge pad out Main Line. The circumstances make the story that much more tragic.

At 9/02/2007 11:44 AM, Anonymous aug said...

I can and always do appreciate the transcendent talent and athleticism that lebron and wade bring to the game. However, knowing the x's and o's, coaching basketball and talking to other coaches allows you to enjoy the other side of basketball as well. The beauty of watching san antonio, argentina and phoenix (in a different way than the standard fan loves phoenix) is readily apparent when you're a big basketball fan first and foremost. If free darko has taught us anything the past 2.5 years, it's that there is room to enjoy both sides of basketball and even add a new angle of appreciation (psychology) and meld them all together.

Meet up sounded great. The offer of a few pitchers of cheap college beer in florida still stands.

At 9/04/2007 10:02 AM, Anonymous Kaifa said...

Just wanted to recommend the Dwight Howard video on NBA.com where he shows a great Shaq impression. His two-handed dunks with pulled-up knees look quite similar as well, so maybe he's finally accepted that his way is not the do-it-all-PF way like KG.

At 9/04/2007 5:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If LeBron wouldn't have fumbled it, the Kidd almost connection with him off the backboard would absolutely have been the best pass I have ever seen.

At 9/05/2007 10:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since Shoals is engaging in some introspection, I have some thoughts about his AOL cornerstone series, and his omission of Dirk from his list of top ten guys to build a team around. I've tried to comment there, but for whatever reason, I never get a confirmation email from AOL to post my comment, and it fits in here with what what I want to say.

Shoals' argument, which he doesn't seem to realize, is that Dirk will never lead his team to a title as a #1 guy, which is a far different argument, and a far more reasonable one, than saying he's not a "cornerstone" guy.

I've been following basketball since I was 9 years old (87-88 season), and in that time, here is the list of guys that have "led" their teams to a title:

Magic Johnson
Isiah Thomas
Michael Jordan
Hakeem Olajuwon
Tim Duncan
Shaquille O'Neal
Kobe Bryant
Dwyane Wade

And here's the list of guys that have led their teams to a Finals appearance:

Clyde Drexler
Charles Barkley
Patrick Ewing
Shawn Kemp
Gary Payton
Karl Malone
John Stockton
Allen Iverson
Jason Kidd
Dirk Nowitzki
LeBron James

I would argue that the 99 Knicks, 00 Pacers and 04 Pistons were "team" efforts with several all-star caliber players but nobody that stood out head and shoulders above his teammates. Still, over the last 20 years, that leaves only 8 guys that have done something Dirk hasn't, and only 10 players that have equaled his accomplishments.

Gilbert Arenas, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Greg Oden and Carmelo Anthony have combined for 5 playoff appearances and one series win, and those guys as or right now are better than Dirk, who has a Finals appearance and 8 series wins under his belt? For all of his faults and weaknesses, Dirk is a top-five player in the League, so how is he not a "franchise" player when he annually gets his team 55+ wins and only twice has failed to get out of the first round? His team is 5-0 in series-deciding games.

Shoals says the Golden State series changed the way he looks at Dirk. It was an upset for sure, he certainly did not play up to his standards (19, 10 and 3 on 38% shooting as opposed to 25 and 10 on 48% shooting in the regular), but who is willing to argue that the talent gap between the two teams was 25 wins? How many more games do the Warriors win if Baron and J-Rich don't miss a combined 50 games, or if the trade with Indy takes place in October as opposed to February? Who on the Mavericks had a good series against the Warriors, who met his regular season production, let alone exceeded it? Dirk deserves plenty of blame and his reputation took a warranted hit with that series, but it doesn't change that he's a top-five player, it doesn't change that his playoff resume is a lot better than Paul, Arenas, Oden, Howard, Melo and Nash. The reason why I find this cornerstone crap so offensive is that I would have never expected such a diss from Shoals, who passes himself off as learned hoops junkie, when he's making the most cliched of arguments (Dirk is a soft choker) that you're more likely to hear on a Rivals.com messageboard.

And where the hell is Yao Ming on this list? Shoals has no trouble addressing the omission of Garnett and Dirk, but he is silent on the omission of Yao. Are we seriously supposed to be believe that playmaking point guards like Chris Paul are more valuable than dominant bigs like Yao? No disrespect to Paul, he's well on his way to becoming the best PG in the League, but 7'5 guys that get you 25 and 10 are more valuable than playmaking point guards adept at creating for themselves and others. Shaq has four titles, Jason Kidd has two finals appearances. Yao Ming and an average PG will go further in the playoffs than Chris Paul and an average big.

But why should we put any stock in this cornerstone series? When I first found freedarko, I enjoyed the writing, because nobody had the same approach to basketball. But I kinda feel like Shoals has jumped the shark and become a parody of himself. He rode Dirk and the Mavericks' dick all throughout the 06 playoffs and set themselves up as the revolution and put the Heat in black hats. Then lo and behold 10 months later the Warriors are the future and the Mavericks are everything wrong with basketball.

Shoals freely admits that he values style over substance, and I have trouble wading past the polysyllabic words in order to get at the actual content, when it's actually there. I guess I just disagree with the notion that basketball has some sort of great socio-political significance, and analyzing the game through imaginary, subjective and ever-changing criteria makes for turgid writing and difficult reading.

I think it's also telling how much the Spurs get dissed here, and that the undertone of Shoals' arguments against them, once you strip away the four-dollar words and runon prose, is that they're basically boring and cannot compete aethestically with Phoenix or Golden State. Style and looking good is part of the allure of basketball, we all respond positively to no-look passes, alley-oop dunks and sick crossovers. But style and looking good is something for pimps to concern themselves with, not basketball players. You play to win period. Much ink is spilled here over Gilbert and Amare, but Tim Duncan gets hardly any love. As best as I can parse it, the freedarko ethos prizes tantalizing potential over actual production, so I guess it's no surprise that Greg Oden, Dwight Howard and Chris Paul would be valued more for what we can imagine them to eventually be over what Dirk actually is. That's fine as far as it goes, we're all free to focus on and prize what we want, but it wouldn't bother me so much except for how much unwarranted cred Shoals has earned as a hoops junkie and how much weight his arguments carry in the blogosphere when he says that Gilbert, Melo, Paul, Oden and Nash are all better than Dirk. Of course, as a GM, I'd rather have a 19-yr-old Oden over a 29-yr-old Dirk, but I don't see how a coach would choose to go to war with Dwight Howard or Chris Paul over Dirk for the 07-08 season.

At 9/05/2007 12:20 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

that's a long comment for someone wishing to remain anonymous.

first of all, that list wasn't just me. it was an imperfect consensus between myself, ziller and watson. secondly, please don't put too much stock in stuff i write for aol. that's a gig for an audience, often one i'm trying to get a rise out of

i might say something about cornerstones later this week. but dude, i'm sorry you don't like my writing. i'm sorry you think i have undeserved hoops cred. i'm fickle and often incompetent and contradictory, but i never claim to be otherwise. feelings change. people change.

i think there's some middle ground between style over substance and pure substance. that's what i want to write about here. on aol, i want to deliver occasionally provocative basketball posts to make money. don't get it twisted.

At 9/05/2007 12:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Look, I don't think you're a bad writer, and you've had moments of pure brilliance here on fd. "Undeserved hoops cred" is probably indefensible hyperbole on my part, and I'd like to apologize and withdraw that portion of my previous comments. You have more hoops cred than I do, because you've put yourself out there, which is something I can't say.

I was just turned off and put off by your Dirk comments. It just seemed like you were going out of your way to diss him. But now that I know that freedarko is Rushmore and Bottle Rocket, and AOL is Shanghai Knights and You, Me and Dupree, and your only goal there is to drive traffic to the site, then I won't confuse the two again. Your Dirk comments on there are just plain stupid in my opinion, and I expect more out of you based on what I've read here in the past on fd. Not that your job is to please me or tailor your arguments to dovetail with mine.

Anyways, Peace.

At 9/05/2007 12:48 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

if we did it all over, we probably would've put dirk on. traffic or no traffic.

i volunteered to write the anti-dirk post largely because i hate what he's become under avery. and i felt some responsibility for his being left off.

At 9/05/2007 6:36 PM, Blogger The Cutting Edge said...

Has Freedarko considered that it's the most ignored sport in America that lends itself most comperably to Freedarko-ism (after basketball of course)? I find infinite similarities between basketball and soccer, not the least of which is the flowing and unending form both sports take as they exist.

At 9/06/2007 12:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You hate the fact that Dirk has become (according to 82games.com and others) the best offensive player in the game?


At 9/06/2007 3:04 PM, Blogger Black Crow Screaming said...

True union of style and substance is rarely found in human endeavor.

Such a union does not and will not exist in Dirk Nowitzki, who has been Americanized beneath the guise of toughness and efficiency. And he is better at basketball now.

"You Me and Dupree" was one of the worst movies I've seen in the last 5 years.

At 9/07/2007 12:16 AM, Blogger Mr. Six said...

I don't know if Anon 12:54 is the same as Anon 12:43 and 10:30, but I have to ask: you're resting your defense of Avery-era Dirk on a single statistical compilation? Here? I know this sounds dickish, but have you read this site before? We're all willing to consider statistical arguments, but you have to at least do something interesting with the numbers. Otherwise, even a convincing case that Dirk is a statistical giant on offense isn't really a counter to the implicit claim that the Little General Complex has compromised his essence.

And I also can't seem to let go of the need to respond to this idea that substance and style are separate. For me (and probably some of the others who haunt this site), substance is style, style substance. The idea that they are separate and unequal is the perpetuated justice of high school coaches, 99% of sports "media", and Gregg Popovich.


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