If It Splits Like a Fortune Cookie. . .
I don't much care for Neal Pollack, but he's responsible for at least one memorable passage of basketball writing. One, in fact, that fairly regularly lingers around me. It's about the Suns and from Slate, back before that troika spelled slobber.
D'Antoni's philosophy revolves around ball movement, speed, defense in short spurts, and sense of humor. In one regular-season game, the Suns fell short after a furious comeback when reserve center Steven Hunter missed a dunk at the buzzer. Nash and Stoudemire came over, doubled up laughing, and dragged him back to the locker room. I've never seen players less affected by losing. If it's possible for a basketball team to be run by wit, then the Suns, with their intellectual point guard and their Continental coach, are that team.
I've never been convinced that Pollack got at the heart of D'Antoni, or the Suns players. If he had, this would be a one-way vortex into "men of the NBA don't care" territory. But his willingness to rationalize, even indulge, players' levity about winning or losing, tells me something about those for whom this sport cries out: You can't be an NBA fan without a sense of humor, or maybe even a sense of irony.
Look, when the game is glorious, I'm every bit as enthralled as Lil Baby Boo-Bear and Old Grandpa Snurm. For better or worse, though, it's not that on a regular basis. We all know the "flaws" of the league; the ones worth noting involve the first half of the season, the first two quarters of games, the Eastern Conference, and fickle intensity. Yet if you're resolute about professional basketball, no "superior" sport is going to woo you away because, well, they'll never be basketball.
There's probably a joke sitting here about sexual orientation and liberal arts colleges, but I'm already too bored to make it. Point is, you've got to accept the league, (some) warts and all. I'm no longer about trying to say the regular season's doper than the playoffs, or seriously suggesting everyone fill their nights with Hawks/Bobcats. I'm no longer an NBA evangelical; I can't convince anyone sane that Hawks/Bobcats is objectively worth more than the Super Bowl. And if you want this game in your life, you've got to confront the sheer silliness of it. In this era, Hawks/Bobcats is a microcosm for the entire league: as a compelled fan, you need a coping mechanism, or a slightly less polarized version of what matters in sports.
Why does this site only work for basketball? Because the NBA isn't a "perfect" sports product. It's hard to imagine having a sense of humor, except for the most bleak and self-immolating, about an NFL loss. Irony has no place in games where it makes sense to try on serious. The Association, though, has an element of the absurd to it. Accepting and embracing that is not unlike what happens with life itself. And that might be why I find this to be meaningful, not dissonant or silly.
If sports are going to overtake or consume life, they probably should mirror its form--not grossly hide and disfigure it. Maybe sports are fantasy and ideology, but if you spend two trillion hours a day immersed in something, shouldn't it at least recognize the shape of human existence? If not, you're stuck in a fairy tale, which speaks to much of what's wrong with America.