On Warfare and Mr. Dill

Very early on in the Great Mainstream Stat Wars, Silverbird5000 called me on the phone with misery in his voice. He was concerned that everything he typed for this site ended up flush with Marxist longings, the kind that make pavement crinkle and birds take flight. Silverbird's promising academic career was not built on this sort of celebratory posturing, and the tunnels of his mind are proofed against fire. Yet somehow, FreeDarko brought out the booming rector in him.

There's a good reason for that: since its inception, FreeDarko has been rife with overtones of prophecy, revolution, imminent change, and apocalyptic fervor. Hence the preoccupation with Futurism, the Old Testament, Islamic extremists, the Black Panthers, Heidegger, the First Continental Congress, and Herzog. I can't exactly say what draws me to these things, other than ennui and impatience. And though when I start writing about sports, these are the reference points I glom onto. Part of it is a reaction to the NBA's massive style quotient; the only appropriate response seems to be some mix of nihilism and idealism. But I also should probably confess that, like most people, I like to feel I'm in the presence of important stuff. And nothing dribbles weight quite like imminent upheaval.

This doesn't mean, though, that the tone we take with the NBA is purely satirical or self-serving. There are very real tensions in the Association, and the post-Jordan years set all the known stages for transfiguration: decay, decadence, famine, specters of greatness, virulent quarrels, and strange arrivals. If I sometimes come off as over-invested in LeBron or the Suns, it's partly because of how they arrived on the scene. Say what you will about LBJ's hype, but his first game made it all into truth. And when the Suns unveiled their 2004-05 act, you really had the sense that something qualitative had changed.

What we might routinely over-estimate is how widespread or systemic these movements are, or even how much sense it makes to look on them as movements. In part, I dread turning my fandom into just another snotty critical discipline, where taste governs value and reputation. History's over in art and music, but maybe basketball has yet to ride out that tide. The ripples of team destiny are what every fan's truly after, and I'm stuck trying to do this for the league writ large.

And at the same time, there had to be a counter-argument to critics of the league. They were organized, coherent, and on message (sound familar?); I wanted a response that was equally formal. There were plenty of rational accounts as to why the Right Way was needed, how fundamentals had disappeared, what thugs all players were, and just generally how far the sport had fallen. At least half of the revolutionary impulse is frustration and overthrow, but without the constructive part, that's just name-calling. You need an alternative before you can tell someone they're wrong; you have to tell them they're wrong before you tell them "I hope a bear rapes your mother."

That raises the question, though, of whether FreeDarko-ness beckons because we hate stuffy NBA thinking, or whether we hate that thinking because of a strong allegience to FreeDarko-ness. I honestly couldn't tell you; it's a bit like asking if revolutions are motivated by hatred for the present or hope for the future. FreeDarko walks like it does in part because it needs to dignify its hit-list, but also because we want to believe in basketball's future. And the only way to do that now is to hope for change, to aggressively note it at every turn. If we sometimes force the issue, or appear delusional, it's because someone has to camp at the vanguard for when reality's caught up.

Sometimes I worry that a lot of what we say is fruitless or misleading, that there is no great dawn on the horizon. For instance, the Positional Revolution is constantly stretched and tweaked so it can uphold its good name. I carry within me oodles of doubt, wondering if the linear future is as empty a term in sports as in all other fields of human endeavor. Those demanding redemption are cave-dwellers, but in asserting progress, am I not but a slightly less wretched knave?

Then, this Kirilenko situation. It's been like finding evidence of a furry dinosaur, or uncovering the tomb where Martians fell. Without resorting to any hyperbole, for there is no need for it in the hour of fulfillment: Andrei Kirilenko is the player of tomorrow. More than Garnett or Durant, he marks a turn in the game that is as material as it is conceptual or speculative.

In so many ways, he could not have existed before this exact time-span. Kirilenko plays every positon and yet no position; defies specialization, instead excelling at bundles of pell-mell production; hails from a far-off land and runneth over with cheeky personality; and, in a very real way, is deeply invested in the kind of ball he plays. When Kirilenko was reduced to jumpers and blocks, it produced anguish within him, as if his need to run free were personal, not functional. His basketball being stakes itself on an FD-ish environment, and his emotional well-being follows closesly from that. If Amir Johnson is our Baby Big Bang, Kirilenko is a snapshot from after the asteroid hit.

His problems with Jerry Sloan this year are, quite simply, proof that FreeDarko cries out not in vain. I like watching the Jazz, but with Sloan's preferred style in place they are anything but hospitable to such pure a fleck from beyond. That Kirilenko is so muted, so dismayed by life under this regime is proof that we do have a cause. There are athletes who need defending, flags to be raised, and tyrants to fall. We do this site not to make LeBron richer, or debate the merits of trading Marion, or even gloat when Josh Smith blows up. No, we are advocates for a world yet to come. And only by freeing its displaced kings, or properly memorializing a Warriors-like triumph, can we justify our own existence.

The prophet speaks so that one day he may be silenced, silenced by a world that has made him noble but irrelevant.


At 9/21/2007 3:44 AM, Blogger Ian said...

Fuck yeah

At 9/21/2007 4:07 AM, Blogger worldwidewes said...

that completely rejuvinated me for another 7 hours of studying. thank you and dirt bless AK and Amir.

At 9/21/2007 4:32 AM, Blogger axegrinder said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 9/21/2007 4:33 AM, Anonymous axegrinder said...

All Hail the Coming of the Free Darkopocalypse.

A Russian track star being posterized by a shoot-first running back full-upped on street cred via a bullet fedora (among a multitude of other things) is only one of the many signs. A white, Canadian point guard with 2 MVPs confounding an Italian-raised, African-American uber-star with self-destructive tendencies is another.

Signs and wonders for those with eyes to see.

At 9/21/2007 8:01 AM, Anonymous jspilker said...

what does that say about the NBA if AK does go back and play in Europe or Russia? That the NBA is the epitome of stodginess? Or just that Sloan is?

At 9/21/2007 9:21 AM, Anonymous Cyanide said...

Remember, AK's only known the Jazz, so maybe his experiences there have jaded him to the league as a whole. Or maybe he just thinks getting back to Europe is the best way to get loose of the Jazz, rather than them surrendering him to another team.

Andrei's one of my favorite players though, so I hope somebody can make a decent offer that would convince the Jazz to cough him up.

At 9/21/2007 9:53 AM, Blogger J.E. said...

This is why I chip in 40.

At 9/21/2007 10:02 AM, Blogger salt_bagel said...

Ah, soon my "displaced kings" hoodie will hang in the closet right next to the one that says "S.N.A.G.L."

This is emerald stuff.

At 9/21/2007 10:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ever notice how there's a flurry of quick posts after Shoals unloads a real clunker of a post like the Vince Young-as-Iverson that he's gotta backpedal on?
shit, and i was just about to fire back that his criteria made Peyton Manning the blackest quarterback since C.Thomas Howell.

At 9/21/2007 10:33 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

that vince young post was not nearly as bad as you or i think it was. but if you're trying to point out that i'm thin-skinned and impulsive, congratulations.

look, i do this shit (mostly) for free and as a vehicle for my thoughts on sports. it's the off-season, i had a strong feeling about vince young . . . sorry it didn't come out fully-realized. pay me more and these will be more better, all the time.

At 9/21/2007 11:14 AM, Blogger Pagoda said...

Bill Simmons, er, Anon. Go fuck yourself.

At 9/21/2007 11:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seconded. Imperfection is FD.

At 9/21/2007 1:02 PM, Blogger dcarter said...

this is beautiful; the voice of the basketball-as-art advocates.

shoals, you're a basketball Isaiah, saying "Prepare ye the way ..." to a generation on the cusp of listening.

or like Jeremiah, the prophet who couldn't keep from speaking the Word, lest it burn like fire in his heart and consume his bones.

keep the speaking the fire.

At 9/21/2007 1:46 PM, Blogger MC Welk said...

That's why he needs to go to Phoenix, where the chaos is organized. http://sports.aol.com/fanhouse/2007/09/17/the-suns-marketing-department-is-short-on-science

At 9/21/2007 3:47 PM, Anonymous Geraldo said...

Thank you Shoals. I think that this post succinctly articulates the FD mindset, verifying what I had always hoped you were getting at.

I often wondered if I was the only one who saw AK's anguish as evidence of predestination for positional versatility rather than validation of his fragility.

Good shit.

At 9/21/2007 4:28 PM, Blogger Ty Keenan said...

Here's hoping somebody sneaks this shit into my rabbi's sermon tonight.

At 9/21/2007 10:44 PM, Blogger jon faith said...

"Hence the preoccupation with Futurism, the Old Testament, Islamic extremists, the Black Panthers, Heidegger, the First Continental Congress, and Herzog."

Simplere query, is the last name cited Werner or Bellow's id amok?

I consider AK the Pelevin of the league with all of his (Victor's) baggage. Much like Talk of the Nation, I'll take my answer off the air. cheers

At 9/21/2007 11:14 PM, Anonymous trouc said...

best thing you've written in months shoals, glad to see you're still alive

At 9/21/2007 11:23 PM, Anonymous Maria Alana said...

A blog unexamined is not worth typing...?

You get me through the offseason, Shoals.

At 9/22/2007 12:50 AM, Blogger Mr. Six said...

Finally, the FD Transvaluation of All Basketball Values Manifesto.

Thank you, Sir!

At 9/22/2007 12:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...but if you're trying to point out that i'm thin-skinned and impulsive, congratulations."

Ok, now let's go have lunch and think about the next post.

Congrats anon ??:??, you are just as irrelevant as me. Shoals has this format, and it is what it is. If his article (VY-as-Iverson, which I liked the concept of more than the execution, I can admit) was so awful, WTF are you doing back here? Get lost or contribute an article to Blogfrica worthy of linking to... oh and attach a name to it as well.

At 9/22/2007 12:57 AM, Blogger metaleptic said...

Free Kirilenko=

T-shirts? It could work, no? My roubles would be your roubles....

At 9/22/2007 1:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A big time PSA from someone not affiliated with this site:
The FD rock of asking has slowed down a LOT this summer, in time with the end of the season. We have holidays coming up people. We been sittin' 'round a grand for a long time now.
Can we get it going big time before the end of the year?

Unless some big stuff happens in the lives of our authors, I'm really hoping this is THE SEASON for FD. God bless the winner of this glorious path.

At 9/22/2007 2:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Personally, my passion for FD and the upcoming season was re-upped when Skip stabbed that dude in the face. But this is good, too.

At 9/22/2007 2:09 PM, Anonymous trouc said...


i believe what you're looking for is


At 9/22/2007 5:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 9/23/2007 11:06 AM, Blogger Martin said...

Ditto on the FREE-AK fervor, if AK resorts to a Siberian exile it will be a HUGE step back for all that is FD about the NBA. There are tons of NBA teams desperately in need of AK's skill set- the Warriors (most FD destination), Cavs (most revolutionary! LBJ + AK = system upheaval), Suns, Knicks, Wizards, Lakers even the Nets (in exchange for the insufferable fuck that is Vince Carter - see Shoals previous post on VC).

There is no team more dedicated to the assassination of freedarkoism than Utah. While Sloan may not be an outspoken haranguing demagogue of the "Right-Way" like Larry Brown, Sloan remains the most dutiful apostle of its dogma. We are talking about a man so married to the "Right-Way" concept that despite being furious over Ostertag's lack of production he repeatedly extended contracts to the stiff including a 6-year deal worth more than $30 million, higher than Karl Malone at the time. All because playing basketball the "Right-Way" demands the presence of a 7-foot lumbering body in the paint. Sloan is a man who only believes in one offensive set- the pick-and-roll and will live and die by it. I am sure if Sloan were to win a championship playing a different brand of basketball, rather than celebrate the achievement, he would be itching to hurl the trophy into the fiery depths of hell as penance for having compromised his "Right-Way" principles.

At 9/23/2007 1:43 PM, Blogger personalmathgenius said...

Martin, for openers, IANJSS*, but what the hell else can the man preach as far as offensive sets but the pick and roll? In the void between Stockton and Malone's day & Memo and Deron's, that was a seriously bare cupboard. The only 'gimmick' he had was 'Right Way'.
When he had Stockton and Malone, that was the justification right there, discussion over.
Save for any flashy scorers, Utah's practically a European team anyways (I'm speaking as to the stereotype of making it a palatable place for an NBA player to make a career). Maybe their personnel would look different with a different coach at the helm- I'll grant you that JS has GOTTA be Ostertag's biggest fan- but until that stigma/stereotype is gone, Sloan, or something like him, is quite necessary in Utah. And if he's stubborn, its because his margin for failure is probably smaller than anyone else's in the league. Can't be Suns/Warriors smallballin when you're going to war with Keith McCloud and four guys named Paul.

*(I Am Not Jerry Sloan's Son)

At 9/23/2007 8:29 PM, Anonymous db said...

If AK went back to Russia it would be awesome for the NBA, because it would finally be a top-flight (or top-salaried) player leaving NBA money on the table to play some real basketball. This would have to solidify the stirrings already in the L, like "Damn, maybe I could get some good money, enough to set me up for the rest of my life, and live somewhere with a sense of life, community, and human values that are never to be found in WASP America." This would in turn bring about some real competition for talent, and force the NBA to focus on what is the core of its competitive advantage: its grounding in African-American culture and connection to that history. The ensuing specialisation (a product of globalisation) would enable new revenue streams that allow the league to give up the fantasy that it could ever be accepted as a "national sport" for the white U.S, and fulfil its role as a transnational force for all things FD.

At 9/23/2007 10:46 PM, Anonymous The Gong said...

Shit, leave a computer for 2 days and I miss the most amazing post ever penned.
Euphoria is the only word to describe my mood.

At 9/24/2007 5:13 AM, Blogger Ritchie said...

Kirilenko for transcendental signified!

At 9/24/2007 4:15 PM, Blogger Martin said...

personalmathgenius during the bare years the - "void between Stockton and Malone's day & Memo and Deron's," AK was positively kicking-ass and taking names. He thrived in the very bare cupboard environment you describe. AK's swiss army knife skill set allowed him to plug any hole on the team and that is what earned him his big money contract as Utah's highest paid player- because he was essentially the team.

Now you may or may not be Sloan's son but you cant ignore his rigidity and refusal to evolve. Once Sloan restocked the cupboard with Memo, Boozer and Deron. He immediately returned to his strict adherence of to role specialization and repetitive perfection without trying to integrate the do-it-all AK.

At 9/24/2007 10:51 PM, Blogger MC Welk said...

Martin, you just don't get it. AK quit on the team because he was no longer the focal point. Check out his "hot zones" on nba.com. He shot 50% fewer layups last year than the season before. Why? Because he refused to cut to the basket. Perhaps it was a lingering wrist injury, perhaps it was because he is has steely (knife reference) as a thinking reed. Harpring shot more layups in fewer minutes because he worked for said layups. For AK to say he's been marginalized into a perimeter player is bullshit. He stayed on the perimeter because he was afraid to mix it up. Part of it is that Sloan's games devolve into wrestling matches for which AK is ill-suited, true. But do you think he was filling the stat sheets as part of some sort of anarchy, or did Sloan's system set him free, until he "got paid," and started believing his own hype. Isn't part of being FD the hunger of the ascent? Can you imagine Gerald Wallace in Sloan's system? I can. P.S. Andrei Karenina will be in camp. If Sloan makes him cry wait for Masha sans $63 million.

At 9/24/2007 11:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

any basketball blog with a transcendental signified reference is the one for me.

AK will not leave the NBA, and one can only hope for a Garnett-esque trade back to relevance, perhaps with the Warriors (although my dreams call for the Bobcats and AK playing center alongside GW @ 4, or a GilZero accompaniment in DC) Speaking of greed over style, it is such a tragedy that good players perpetually remain on shit teams for the money, when they could be destroying the world on teams for less money (see Michael Redd).

AK in DC would be wonderful. Him n' Gil could go far.

At 9/25/2007 1:17 PM, Blogger Martin said...

MC Welk, I "may not get it" as you succintly put it, but didnt the ascent of Carlos Boozer (not counting Boozer's first year as he was still adjusting to the yoke of Sloan's system) directly coincide with the descent of AK?

Boozer was Sloan a Malone2.0 which is an accurate take- Boozer is far better suited for Sloan's pick and roll sets than AK. This forced AK out of his traditional PF position to an unfamiliar SF role on the perimeter.

I dont get why you seem dead set on placing the blame on AK rather than any external (read SLOAN) factor. I am not privy to your impetus but to me it comes off as a desperate attempt to preserve the sanctity of the "Right-Way" principles- Surely a player that does not thrive in a "Right-Way" setting only has himself to blame for his demise.

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

On AK to the Bobcats:

Jerry Sloan would love Adam Morrison.


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