A Break From Dawn
First, a link: This blog PhDribble is really good, especially when he lets loose with some withering knowledge on Chinese history and Yao, or Yao/Yi.
Despite the omniscient voice and eye-of-the-cosmos density, I'm actually a very insecure person. No, please, don't drop dead with surprise. I spend at least a third of my life worried about the problem of authority in basketball writing, especially when it comes to the nuts-and-bolts stuff. On any given night, I'll watch excerpts of about a third of the schedule, less if there's one worth seeing through from start to finish. I'm fine with this as a reasonable level of commitment; the yoke of Liberated Fandom demands no less, since I can't take the homer's grease-lined path. And I know that only one man watches every single game, and I would never purport to approach Kelly Dwyer's level of know-how.
I think I'm at peace with this now, but along the way I've done a lot of "what is basketball knowledge?" soul-searching. Like what do I need in the way of evidence to make claims about teams, and what sort of viewing counts toward this? I'm still a strong proponent of going distraction-free, since this sport doesn't lend itself to piece-meal apprehension. But the busier I am, and the more I feel compelled to keep an eye on, the less and less of an option this is. It's a compromised experience, to be sure, and yet at the same time it's almost like a bodily function. I'm not really watching for poetry or chills, but for the steady stream of information it provides. While I might be missing the holistic brilliance, keeping League Pass open on my desktop allows me to mainline the basketball ones and zeros I need.
However, there's a hitch in this ticker-like set-up, and it comes mostly from the way certain teams are constructed. There's a fine line between avoiding analytic cliche and working within obviously important themes or topics. I don't buy a lot of the expert judgments on, say, the Phoenix Suns, but that doesn't mean I can avoid addressing these discursive nodes. Excuse a former grad student his turn of phrase; when we watch well-publicized teams, the channels of information are, to some degree, already outlined by discussions in the media, on blogs, and among friends. That's not to say that we can't have an original thought when watching Steve Nash, but at least some part of brain is preoccupied. After all, it takes some energy to sort and apply each play to what we know, or think we know, or think others don't know, about such a endlessly scrutinized basketball object.
On the other hand, when Charlotte/Atlanta takes the screen, the sense of open space and freedom can be almost overwhelming, like listening to Husker Du in a clean room. You've got two choices--ignore the game completely, or fully invest yourself in making some sense of what's transpiring in front of you. What's more, there's very little orthodoxy to tether your thinking. It's easy to imagine that Josh Smith's inconsistency is something remarkable and possibly beautiful, since you so rarely hear anyone address it. In a way, it's less real than Gilbert Arenas's off-nights, but then again, it's also more so. You can take your sports endlessly mediated and totally intelligible, or you can stand before the utter, full strangeness of third-tier teams and obscure players.
That's one way in which, forever and a day, FreeDarko differs from music or art snobbery. Those practices prize discipline and control, the posture of having the entire world in their palms. As I said eons ago, I watch this game to be surprised and intrigued, to have some players exist for me as open questions or immodest ghosts. The unknown is the necessary prelude to the most overwhelming sense of discovery, of coming face to face with something for the first time. In a perfect world, every game I watch would smack me across the face like this. And I think it could, if I lived an untroubled, unbusy life surrounded hedgehogs and downers. Given the conditions on the ground, I thank the league every day for these bounties of League pass, that keep me honest and in the clearing of enlightenment.