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.


At 11/12/2007 2:55 AM, Blogger T. said...

You know what? Your knowning more or less about basketball does not add or detract from the quality of your analysis or the interesting-ness of FreeDarko. I think we all know that someone like Charlie Rosen has forgotten more about basketball then I will ever know - but does that make his disjointed hateful inconsistent ramblings good basketball writing? (NO!)

I don't come here to see if Adelman's new system placing Yao at the elbow is making the Rockets offense more efficient (surprisingly, it isn't - the Rockets PVOA offensive ratings are almost exactly the same as last year's - after 6 games) - I come here to get an elevated view of the game. Both from the Masters of the Klondike - and from the best basketball commentary section on the internets - if I can go around patting ourselves on the back - a fact I'm reminded of when reading the FanHouse . . . or Deadspin, or anywhere else.

cfczz - Carlos finds Chaucer snooze inducing

At 11/12/2007 3:42 AM, Blogger Pooh said...

Perhaps to jump off from T, one wonders if Charlie Rosen in memorizing so much of the minutiae of basketball has taken himself away from knowledge of basketball, in much the same way as say a Dave Berri (intentionally or otherwise) uses 'facts' to obfuscate truths.

At 11/12/2007 3:57 AM, Blogger Ty Keenan said...

I really like Pooh's point here. It reminds me of many historicist literary critics who end up arguing that certain works project historical contexts that they brought into the works. The question becomes one of why you'd even read that work in the first place. In a way, knowledge becomes knowing.

That said, I'm not sure the freedom of Atlanta or Charlotte is as free as Shoals suggests (for me, at least) in that those games are still informed by things like the players' collegiate careers and written accounts of those teams. I also don't think a small amount of context is a bad thing, although there's definitely a balance to be struck.

At 11/12/2007 4:05 AM, Anonymous Kaifa said...

Your opening paragraphs got me thinking about Charles Barkley on Inside the NBA. He also chooses the games he watches by a particular if totally different set of parameters ("Why should I watch the Bobcats?" aka "I watch the teams that matter"), also gets only bits and pieces of information here and there, but does not feel even a slight sense of insecurity about voicing his opinion. Obviously his personality and status as a former all-star play the major role here, but I find it interesting how they let his view dominate the discussions for long stretches but also make fun of his lack of knowledge with the "Who he play for" game.

I believe that you don't have to see every game to voice a solid opinion about most topics. In your case, not watching a Bobcats game and reading a mythical statline of 16-13-5-6-4 for Gerald Wallace the next day might do more good than harm for the way you can write about him. I guess it depends on what you want to get out of the game of basketball or the viewing thereof. If you watch the games accordingly, how could anyone ever accuse you of not knowing what you are talking about (except for the FanHouse crowd)?

Me personally, I'm very interested in how single players impact the flow of the game and the dynamics of their team. That's why I loved watching AI's 76ers, even if it was much more than the five games of the 2001 Finals. I haven't watched a whole 76ers game and just one Denver game since then, but feel quite at ease with my opinion of the essence of AI resting on this foundation.

That's also why Kobe remains of such interest to me despite of the unnerving trade stories, because he's one of the very few guys who can be a totally different player from one game to the next. When he loosens the reigns on the flow of the game like he is doing in the last few games by using only really small parts of each posession, then his impact is totally different even though his numbers dont change all that much (except for FG% maybe).

Shoals, if I remeber correctly you are also quite interested in Kobe's strange psychology. Some interesting bits in this Esquire story, if you haven't read it already:

At 11/12/2007 4:09 AM, Anonymous Kaifa said...

And I fully agree with Pooh's "not seeing the wood from all the trees" interpretation.

At 11/12/2007 4:48 AM, Anonymous db said...

'Sometimes one who reads a text by a philosopher, [just] a tiny paragraph, and interprets it in a rigorous, inventive and powerfully deciphering fashion, is more of a real biographer than one who "knows the whole story."' - Jacques Derrida

At 11/12/2007 11:49 AM, Blogger kellydwyer said...

And we all see where that obsession has left me. Hawks/Wizards was left off the package last night, and I'm scrambling for a torrent.

Beware, cats and kittens ...

At 11/12/2007 11:54 AM, Blogger lost said...

-"Whoa, I know Kung Fu"
then he proceeds to get his ass kicked by an old man.

a common pop-culture reference point, but did any of you believe this narrative lacked credibility?

I have never been surprised that Jeff Van Gundy offers insight, but constantly amazed that he can hold my interest. By all accounts he lives, breathes, and eats HOOP and that usually makes people pretty damn dull. Sadly these are the folks who get paid to talk and write about the game.

I don't read their columns, I read yours and Henry's.

At 11/12/2007 11:54 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

That reminds me of a very funny Silverbird5000 story. Silverbird wanted League Pass, but didn't want to pay much for cable. So he got the cheapest service possible, and then slapped League Pass on top of that. Somehow, he's ended up with every game at his disposal except for those on ESPN or TNT, which are somehow not in his ultra-minimal cable package.

Yes, I've decided to start using caps in my comments.

At 11/12/2007 12:08 PM, Blogger kellydwyer said...

For the 2000-01 and 2001-02 seasons I had a stolen cable co-ax in my apartment that got about 12 channels, three of which were NBC, TNT, and TBS. That went through my VCR for taping and into my tiny college-boy TV. On the other TV I had Direct TV; but no channels package. Just League Pass.

Barren and broke and in a basement apartment, pure basketball and little else. It was lovely. I didn't watch a network TV show from Seinfeld's end until the US version of the Office sparked up.

At 11/12/2007 1:09 PM, Anonymous Bluebeard Curry said...

I've taken to watching games via SopCast that would otherwise be unavailable to me.

Some of the streams are cribbed from foreign feeds, so you will sometimes get one in a language that you can't understand. This isn't really a problem for watching basketball, though. It's actually amazing how superfluous the play-by-play is if you happen to have a pair of working eyes.

Watching games on a Chinese feed is actually more entertaining than watching them with Bill Walton commentating. The ever obnoxious "Throw it down big man!" simply becomes "Hoh".

At 11/12/2007 1:25 PM, Blogger goathair said...

I think the availability of information has its good and bad.

For instance, I watch the Suns this year and can't help noticing that their fast break seems disjointed. I know if I hadn't read Seven Seconds of Less that I'd still see it as a thing of beauty, rather than being bugged that this team isn't exactly how I have them built up in my head this whole offseason. However, reading that book opened my mind to the philosophy and complexity of why and how the Suns run. All in all, I think I want know that something is off even if ignorance is bliss.

At 11/12/2007 1:43 PM, Blogger lost said...

I don't have television, so I usually watch at bars. They tend to make you buy drinks, and you usually can't hear the announcers.

I've been enjoying it immensely. I usually keep the cell phone live, since I live in a basketball wasteland.

At 11/12/2007 3:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

NBA.com has posted this on their League Pass Billing/Sales page. I keed, I keed,

I loved the piece. Quite nice.

At 11/12/2007 3:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most FD forward tandems in the lig:

Marvin Williams and Josh Smith?
ChukwuEmeka Okafor and Gerald Wallace?
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett?
Rashard Lewis and Dwight Howard (C?)?
Carmello Anthony and K-Mart?

At 11/12/2007 3:26 PM, Blogger Pooh said...

Marvin and Smoove. Not close.

Darkhorse is Rony + Lamar though.

At 11/12/2007 3:47 PM, Anonymous djslickwatts said...

Monta Ellis and Mickael Pietrus.

At 11/12/2007 3:53 PM, Anonymous Disciple of Clyde said...

Shoals (and the rest of the FD universe): I want to see your commentary because I know you watch different.

It doesn't matter how much you watch. It's how you watch it, and how you're able to communicate what you've seen.

Myself, I've too often had that experience of cognitive dissonance where I see a game or a player described by TV or newspaper "analysts" in a manner completely different than how I saw things with my own eyes. They use the same old boring narratives, the same obvious talking points, and so on.

I don't want to hear that stuff.

That's what keeps me coming here, as I have been for the last year (though only starting to comment recently.) It's original, it's thoughtful, it's never lazy, and it's usually right (even when it's wrong.)

At 11/12/2007 3:57 PM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

Oh yeah? Well, back in 1998-2001, when I was homeless, at night I used to sneak into a Nobody Beats The Wiz and watch NBA games on a 50' screen with the security guard.

Wow, was that comment too Deadspin-y?

Anyway, my vote for best FD tandem goes to the Bobcats: Felton, J-Rich, Okafor, Wallace... those guys are the New Warriors. The Hawks are still just too many SFs without a PG (still Joe Johnson) or Center. And I hate Osh Smith's jumper. That sh*t is a war crime against basketball. Can I get a resolution?

At 11/12/2007 4:04 PM, Blogger goathair said...

What about Gasol and Darko?

At 11/12/2007 5:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ixnay on the Asolgay.

At 11/12/2007 5:10 PM, Blogger Pooh said...

However, Darko and RudyGay would be pretty FD if they didn't play in Memphis.

Somehow, I feel like the obeisance to Gasol is holding that team back. Sure a backcourt of Lowry and Conley is kinda mini, but a five of Darko/Rudy/Greaseball/Lowry/Jr is at least intriguing, no? (Not to mention they could get some good stuff of the Nocioni/Thabo and whoever else variety from say the Bulls)

At 11/12/2007 5:23 PM, Blogger Pacifist Viking said...

Can you talk about "King Lear" without reading every play Shakespeare wrote and without knowing all the socio-political realities of Renaissance England, or without a firm grasp of early Modern English?


At 11/12/2007 6:48 PM, Blogger MC Welk said...

Brewer at the 3 and Kirilenko at the 4, where they belong.

At 11/12/2007 8:44 PM, Blogger T. said...

I see your forward tandems and raise you Aldridge and Outlaw.

slusu - The sound of the nets at TMac's house when he's not home

At 11/12/2007 9:44 PM, Blogger T. said...

From a couple of posts ago, there was a discussion about basketball as American imperialism (or benevolence) spreading globally - in tandem (or perhaps intertwined) with the global spread of hip hop.

In keeping with the grad student/humanities degree holder reading list of FD, Shanghaiist today linked to an article in Foreign Policy "It's a Hip Hop World"


At 11/12/2007 10:57 PM, Anonymous Hemingway's RJordan said...

This has probably been brought up on this site before, but Emerson's concept of "creative reading" (which he probably didn't come up with, but I haven't seen it anywhere else) is pretty much why FD is so interesting. I don't think anyone here truly believes that Amare put that much thought into his "Knowing is Knowledge," but Shoals and the gang read the NBA creatively. In the FD NBA-worldview, every player's game, tats, and actions are the reflection of his psyche, and while this is completely inaccurate, it provides for incredibly compelling commentary. Writing about the L in the incendiary, revolutionary manifestos as Shoals does is delightfully absurd, and provides the perfect contrast to the hackneyed and pedantic commentary of Walton, SAS, McCallum, Dwyer, Hollinger, et al.

Speaking of which, my favorite thing about watching games on NBA TV is the absymal chemistry between Andre and Fred Thompson. Every time Fred opens his mouth, I brace myself for Aldridge's uninterested "Allllriigght".

At 11/13/2007 12:38 AM, Anonymous badly drawn boykins said...

I've only skimmed through the article but looks like a great read. One story

There are whole lot of parallels between hip hop and basketball vis a vis globalization, most of it awesome, some of it transcendent. If it turns out that Tony Parker and Boris Diaw had a role in the Paris riots, I'd write a fucking term paper about it.

VW: hcdyeph = "Hornacek can dunk, yep, Hornacek."

At 11/13/2007 1:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Monta + Mikael = Not Forwards.
"What about Gasol and Darko?"
Rudy Gay yes, white towers of Memphis no. Similar to the white towers of Sacto in Miller and Hawes, the opposite of all things FD.
Brewer is a solid G/F, but doesn't he really belong at the 2?
Outlaw and Aldridge is solid, but I kinda meant guys who start together. Doesn't Webster eat most of Outlaw's starter minutes?

What about Marion and Amare at the positions they should be playing?

At 11/13/2007 1:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


In 19:26, Sean Williams 6 points, 8 rebounds, a steal and 4 blocks.

Dwayne Jones played 14 minutes and led the Cavs in rebounding.

Kirilenko has been nice this year, and had another 15/8/8 with 3 blocks.

And most importantly, J.R. Smith is showing his typical November flashes, with 29 points on 10-13 shooting (7-8 from deep) with 4 boards and dimes. Perhaps being responsible for the death of a close friend was enough to motivate our young pupae.

At 11/13/2007 4:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your point in the second paragraph on why you watch basketball is brilliant. Watching not for the poetry but the steady stream of information. It eloquently describes my strange relationship to basketball.

At 11/13/2007 9:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brad Miller is the opposite of FD? i always saw him as a mildly watered down Vlade Divac (minus the chain smoking).

At 11/13/2007 10:11 AM, Blogger lost said...

The thing that always made Vlade unique, to me, was his mouth. It was always open, protesting a foul or asking for one. He kind of looked like a Muppet: Grover or Dr. Teeth? Somehow, though he was as aggressive as 'sheed when arguing a call, he managed to play a a victim. Of course, he was a victim: of his own clumsiness.

Miller's mouth, on the other hand, always seems to be sewn shut; knitted with the thread of his frustration at some perceived slight of his own talent, perhaps. Or maybe he does it to restrain himself from biting off other people's fingers.

But Vlade's game was always pretty floptastic. Is that FD?

At 11/14/2007 6:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gasol can't catch a break. In these parts,, he's everything FD isn't. Here in Memphis - The RIght Way's southern capital - he's nothing but a half-assed, no defense-playing pussy from a country that's not America. He can get you 20, 10, 50 and 2.5 any night of the week, and he's done that with frontcourt mates of, among other garbage, Tony Massenburg, Lorenzen Wright, Tsakalidis, the old Ike Austin and Robie ARchibald, who the Logo selected while Boozer was still available. Thanks for that burden, Jerry!!

While that may be too symmetrical to be FD, dude's still got a soul. He's been stuck in this backwater craphole his whole career with no chance of any recognition, yet gets pilloried by the oh-so sophisticated local media for every Grizzlies negative. Take last night, for example - he goes 5-6 from the line down the stretch, yet a Calipari Youth faction rains boos down on him, even though he ends up with 26 and outmuscles Yao and Scola for two game-winning rebounds.

You know, it's interesting that in my little neck of Right Wayness, white folk tend to be prejudiced towards white players, yet will defend to the death their inalienable right to hate, loathe and despise that which is FD. I don't knw if this is the case in other parts, but case in point, the U of M's big man, Joey Dorsey, is a local icon while Pau is the embodiment of all that is wrong with the game. Dorsey's throws up an 0-0 night against Oden in the Right Way quarters last year, hurls Aquafina splitters at unsuspecting co-eds and gets fellow teammates arrested at a dive on Beale for making it rain, yet he's got game because he can get nasty on some Sigma Chi from UT-Martin. Pau's no McGrady, but he ain't Coach K's lieutenant either.

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