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.


At 12/17/2007 3:48 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

I disagree that Josh Howard has "turned a corner" this season. Since entering the league, he's gotten progressively better in every season. This year only continues that trend, he's not done yet.

At 12/17/2007 3:53 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I'm not saying that Howard has "turned the corner," just that his kind improvement is in that same vague category. But I would say he's made a leap from complementary star to featured player material.

At 12/17/2007 3:58 PM, Blogger Alistair said...

I've seen that in Paul too, although I didn't know it was a new thing (late to the League Pass movement). He just hangs around the top of the key/free throw line and stays low with his dribble until the defender realizes he might be fucked, at which point he is.

As far as the style arguments go, are the existing categories as simple as 1.) concrete style: e.g. worked on/improved jumper in off-season, 2.) spiritual style: e.g. unafraid to shoot said jumper, 3.) hybrid style: e.g. realizing the jumper was improved upon to be shot when open, lest said player ride the pine, lose contracts, etc., thus creating a bad look for his children's children's children...?

i heard kobe used to fuck around in high school games to make it close at the end so he could make the game winning play. watching that last houston game i think he still does it.

kyrylo fesenko watch

At 12/17/2007 5:35 PM, Blogger goathair said...

There are a ton of PGs that have copped Nash's baseline dribbling to the point where it's now commonplace for a PG to go under the basket and keep circling around looking for a cutter. I assume this falls in to the third category but will soon be part of the first.

At 12/17/2007 5:39 PM, Blogger Sweat of Ewing said...

Are these styles purely situated in a player's (d)evolution? If so, I propose another.

Style of focus: player realizes what his game is/should be, and sticks to or re-interprets himself in that mold. Examples of this are Dwight becoming the center he always should have been (he used to talk about wanting 3-point range), Tony Parker (until this season) forgoing the jumper for the drive, Iverson giving up on being a point guard, Jax becoming the heart and soul of a nation of believers, etc.

This runs along the lines of the Shoals' post, about Garnett and Marion being at their best as Utility+.

At 12/17/2007 6:15 PM, Blogger Sweat of Ewing said...

More on that: it seems that one of the most common threads of a player realizing his style is when he finally STOPS doing things of which he isn't really capable, or of which others can do better. Jason Kidd hasn't taken a shot in something like 4 games, and yet he's still a top 5 point guard.

Perhaps this is a Buddhist style, in which players cut away that which is less important (illusory) to their games, leaving only the true meaning.

At 12/18/2007 3:57 AM, Blogger Tom said...

What category does Kaman version 2.0 fall into? It seems like his motivations are all about professional responsibility but everything about his game screams BEAST.

At 12/18/2007 4:54 AM, Blogger T. said...

There are a ton of PGs that have copped Nash's baseline dribbling to the point where it's now commonplace for a PG to go under the basket and keep circling around looking for a cutter

This is totally Wayne Gretzky/Jeremy Ronick's behind the net move.

ogazfaym = Don't mess with the family.

At 12/18/2007 11:51 AM, Blogger Kid_Dynamite said...

First of all, I think this reassessment of style is a healthy thing for the whole free darko “project”. I have a comment or two: First, I love this idea of “pure motion” as “diary”. It parallels an argument that I often make that links athletics and dance. And I think it is important to see narratives in sports, in particular alternative narratives. But need they be standardized? Understand wanting to see similarities in the experience, both mental and physical, of certain players, but it seems to me that the truly great players make their own categories rather than prescribe to others. Even players who fit into basketball clichés like the un-athletic defender, or the unselfish shooter, can produce “physical stories.” Take Bruce Bowen. There is a quite centrality to his borderline illegal defensive style that makes him one of the most effective players of the day while he simultaneously clings to a game he is for the most part mediocre at. Why systematize when part of the beauty of basketball is that it inherently mocks system (anyone who has ever tried to run a “play” in basketball fundamentally understands that the majority of the time the game laughs at your attempt to predetermine an outcome)?
Ok, this is getting long, sorry, and even though it contradicts much of what I just said, I have one category: Late Style.
Late Style: After a player has passed his peak ability, and plays with a combination of wisdom and quite desperation. This does not mean he does not continue to grow as a player, but the growth has a mental singularity : “I have only a limited number of chances left to win”. Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing. Presently I think Tim Duncan and Steve Nash are beginning to play in this style.

At 12/18/2007 1:59 PM, Blogger Spencer said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 12/18/2007 2:02 PM, Blogger Spencer said...

Obviously the sad case of the mis-use of AK47 can be seen through this lens of style. Kirilenko is clearly of the Spiritual Style variety, and is feeling the loneliness of the believer as the godless pragmatism of Jerry Sloan is imposed upon him.

For karmic purposes, the basketball gods sent him a young Ukrainian who equally rejects the totaltarianism of the regime. Fes embodies the hope of all Jazz fans for the overthrow of the Jaron Collins era and all that he represents.

P.S. The best part of Kyrylo Fesenko is that the first "o" is silent, making the name rhyme with "fo' real".

At 12/18/2007 3:36 PM, Blogger BasilDukeLee said...

I think I generally agree with this but might frame it another way. There is only one kind of style, but it is composed of two elements/impulses: 1) the concrete impulse and 2) the spiritual impulse. The friction or interplay between these two elements = style. I say friction only because it seems possible, even necessary, that these elements are in some kind of opposition. There's a definite tension in this breed of style.

At 12/18/2007 3:36 PM, Blogger JCN said...

does this not bring us full circle to the "Wiggle from the Lavender Grave" post?


At 12/18/2007 4:09 PM, Blogger Amphibian said...

When does the "Insider" stuff kick in? Or will it? Either way, I'm good.

January 6th, people. January 6th.

At 12/18/2007 4:29 PM, Blogger Kid_Dynamite said...

Is this not really just a new way of looking at the right way/fun way debate in more dynamic terms?

At 12/18/2007 4:52 PM, Blogger Sweat of Ewing said...

BasilDukeLee, I like that - you can frame it as the desire to improve through assimilation of the external versus the desire to improve through purifying the internal? What about in Dirk's case this season, where his game has not changed one iota but is suddenly a pale shadow?

At 12/18/2007 5:37 PM, Blogger jawaan oldham said...

He's an example of the warrior whose body is whole but whose spirit is adrift. It may take him a bit to get over last spring.

At 12/19/2007 12:34 PM, Blogger lost said...

Personally I am much more interested in the hybridicity (made-up word) of spiritual style. What I mean by that is that I am attached to the notion that the artistic interpretation of hoop by the individual players of the Association is the game.

Picks and rolls all day? Possibly this would be the most efficient approach to winning basketball games. I'd as soon watch somebody solve crossword puzzles all day. At that point it's only a 'game' in that it lacks any greater utility.

So many sports fans treat their teams on- and off-court decisions as though the players and coaches were managing their mutual funds, or trying to solve the problems associated with teen promiscuity. It's supposed to be fun to fucking watch.

I've completely transcended and/or collapsed as a sports fan. I know longer give a fuck who wins prior to the game, with few exceptions. (I still love to see Duke suffer.) Usually, I am simply rooting for somebody to do something creative or defiant whenever I watch a sporting event. I'd rather see an argument over whether 'creative' and 'defiant' are redundant on the basketball court than see anyone attack or defend another person's style.

I hate sports analysis. I'm reluctant to even participate in such a discussion as this, attempting to 'define' style. It's like psychology; like putting mayonnaise on filet mignon.

To the extent that I accept any analysis of style, I'm going to apply it to this blog. I seem to remember FreeDarko as a celebration of style both in content and form. You all were 'free blogging', using the intrnutz approximation of free verse, constrained only by languages human and electronic and an interest in the NBA.

Lately it seems as though you've begun to take the whole sports blog thing more seriously. More and more comments and even posts seem devoted to quantitative assessments of the value of things that actually don't matter, such as the outcome of basketball games or the correctness of your opinions.

I'm surely not the first to note an increasing linearity in your selection of photos. I, for one, am not at all comforted by knowing why a photo appears where it does.

From the moment you made it explicit that a study of style was the "project" of this blog, I thing you severely limited the potential of that project.

But I take comfort in chaos. I'd hate to see you take other people's comments to heart, and the same applies to mine. I see that you've changed what you're doing. It's your prerogative and must be accepted as your style. This post, though, hints that you might not like the change, either.

At 12/29/2007 12:59 AM, Blogger seth76ers said...

this post is crazy. i'm 16 and tonight at dinner, after i had been reading these blogs for a couple of days, i said to my dad i might want to be an nba blogger when i grow up, and i attempted to explain this entry to him. he did not get it at all, didn't try to get it, and inquired how i would make money writing a blog. he thought the idea was pretty much insanity.

i think the idea works somewhat..there is a mental and physical part of the game, of course, and every player needs to improve on one of the two. i practice alone and don't play in many games, so i need to work on my mental style, but a raw player with a lot of game experience just needs some good "physical" time alone. of course, judging from other comments, this clear-cut idea is way, way too easy to grasp to post on freedarko.com.

i think the closest category for chris paul's dribbling patterns is the hybrid of physical/spiritual (/mental) style. he has developed enough mentally that he can develop this new physical skill (keeping his dribble) from one he already had (just plain dribbling). or, maybe it is just completely mental, and he has realized that in his third year, he can now take anyone he wants off the dribble if he just waits for them to put themselves in a bad position. but, the reason he can now take anyone is because he has developed physically.


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