Lobby of the Brain
I haven't talked about "style" in quite some time, and I know the reason why. At some point, I got way too invested in making style useful. While I still believe that "style" is related to "a style of play," and see it as rooted in on-court problem-solving, this ripped all the magic out of the concept. Positivism like this explained why we're not totally at odds with mainstream fans; it made us more palatable, and helped our credibility. But it made the whole thing so fucking serious. If style didn't represent some sort of blow to accepted ideas about sports—if it couldn't turn pure motion into its own kind of diary—then FreeDarko would be no better than Democratic health care reform.
With that in mind, I want to put forth a hopelessly flawed theoretical model that will unite these two spheres. I propose this be something of an open thread, as I need more examples and maybe more categories. For the time being, though, we'll start with my shaky little schema.
Early on in the season, Skeets pointed out to me that Chris Paul now kept his dribble going constantly, a la Nash with the soccer eyes. This struck me as kind of amazing—this kind of change in a player's game was neither wholly technical, nor consigned to inscrutable dust clouds of "feel" and "voice." It wasn't a piecemeal addition, but it also couldn't be summed up in a tidy cliche about maturity or commitment. This was evolution in the strictly Darwinian fashion (I think): a player moving not toward some impersonal form of perfection, but taking who he is and building on (or off) of it to improve on the court.
I caught another example of this over the weekend, when I finally spent some quality time with Gerald Wallace. I'd watched the Bobcats before, but prior to Friday's landmark national broadcast and Saturday's national holiday I hadn't really dug in. What I noticed mostly was how much more Wallace carries himself like a wing than an undersized PF. The jumper's still carnage, and he still looks to crash into the basket at close range. But instead of merely putting it on the floor, he now kind of has some handle. Also, he no longer has existential dead spots. Even when he's got no play to make, you can sense him thinking toward a better place, and doing so with confidence.
(No shit he's always been a 2/3 on defense, just one with added abilities. That's the new glamor position.)
Again, I can put this in strictly technical terms. But phrasing it as a David Thorpe-like breakdown misses something. A coach can't give Wallace a clinic on feelings safe in his skin. And the things he's doing now wouldn't come naturally unless they'd followed naturally from his previous identity. In a way, his is a more dramatic version of what I see in Paul's dribbling alterations. This is was nothing less than the missing link between utilitarian style and style of the spirit. With that in mind, I offer up the following categories of style:
1. Concrete Style: This is the aforementioned Thorpe-ian realm. Added repertoire or heavy tweaks that make a player objectively better, more complete, etc. These are largely impersonal and, while suited to the individual, are imposed by a third party. I have no idea who the other two parties are.
2. Spiritual Style: The purest domain of FD cliches like psychology and personality, it's also home to threadbare descriptions like "turned the corner." Josh Howard this year sums this up perfectly. Nothing's changed, he's just a lot better. This is why organized religion exists.
3. Hybrid Style: As described above. It bridges individuality and context, expression and accomplishment, personal journey and professional responsibility. One more of these: Ziller tells me that John Salmons now switches hands in mid-air a lot, probably as a way of dealing with his tendency to hang up there too and find trouble. This may not be optimal, or obvious, but it's how Salmons finds himself.
With that, I collapse in a heap.