What It Means to Be Ugly

I don't know if it's fate or laziness that paints me into this corner every late December. But it seems like all I can manage—despite the semi-emergence of Dorell Wright as a baby Josh Smith—is abject introspection. If I recall correctly, a few years back I offered to renounce basketball in the name of Clinton Portis's costumes. This time, I've been flung into a tailspin by the recent debate over change/authenticity/defiance/basketball.

The way I see it, there are two kinds of revolution: The kind people get from too much art or music, and what keeps others able to believe in social change. Granted, that's an over-simplification, but both are relevant to how I see sports (is it "sport"?). I don't know why readers get surprised when this site smacks of aesthetic criticism, or seems all too eager to lapse into fickle elitism. Duh, that's alien to sports; it's what myself and most of the other FD'ers cut our coming-of-age teeth on, and it's pretty consistent with the credo of liberated fandom. Yes, I want to believe, but I also reserve to right to cash in my ennui. It's bitchy, but it's also the sign of elevated, perhaps foolhardy, standards.

I have no particular allegiance to J.R. Smith, Gilbert Arenas or Gerald Wallace. When they stop filling my mind with starry wonder, I stop rooting for them, or clearing out time on my schedule to watch them play. If it worked any other way, than being a fan of obscurity would really suck; without some element of mystery or untapped possibility, a team like the Bobcats just plain blows. And since that aspect of them begins and ends with my own version of things, the only authority I have to answer to is myself.

That's why, despite having spent season upon season claiming J.R. over Josh, you'll never find a post from me explaining why I'm now for both. I can tell you why each is valuable, but I don't have a good explanation for the shift in polarity. If I tried—if I tried to rationalize what's basically a kid's eye view of the game—then this site would get very unbearable very fast. Then, and only then, would it take on the truly odious characteristics of criticism.

Wait, you say, don't you do this all the time? Doesn't this contradict all the talk about the Suns or Warriors are bellwethers of change? Well, yes and no. I believe that teams can win by running, by throwing positions out the window and letting each player be himself. However, I also recognize that the Spurs are darn hard to best, and that big men in the post are like cash in hand. I also don't know how realistic is it to constantly take my opinions are some sort of epoch-clanging oracle; even if teams and players I liked never made the playoffs, I'd still watch them. I'll take a fleshed-out style/psychology game any day over a brutely effective one, no matter what the difference in degrees.

FreeDarko is first and foremost about the fan's perspective, which, for this sport, often resembles a coping strategy. It takes the self-absorption of baseball fans and the moral fervor of the NFL heathen as its point of departure, and then assumes a certain separation of game and mind. Need I say again that I'm also embarrassed and somewhat bored by discussions of pure basketball, which is why I can only argue so well about where the game is headed in rings and wins terms. I like it when the Warriors overthrow the Mavs, or when the Suns dominate like they did last fall. It gives me an excuse to pull out the "history is moving" megaphone, and invests me more in the nuts and bolts of the league's daily operations. But as I told Emynd yesterday, there's a fine line there between real belief and enjoying the sound of it.

I guess it all comes back to the Suns, again. The 2004-05 team remains my favorite talent assemblage of all time. They were downright ecstatic to watch, and if someone were truly crazy, he could think they'd change the world. Of course, the Spurs squelched them in the playoffs, reinforcing the calm hand of orthodoxy. Amare and Nash alternately put on performances for the ages, but that was part of San Antonio's plan to neutralize the overall Suns system. Then came the 2005-06 Phoenix squad, less profligate and more self-standardizing, and 2006-07's thinking man's assault. Only then did it become reasonable to call them The Future, after they'd shown more than a glimmer of sustainable success.

So that's my Rosetta Stone, and my Garden of Eden, rolled up into one. That's where my demented fan's view intersects with hope for the future. Does that mean that, ideally, I could be less misguided about basketball? That's the question for the ages, and honestly, I don't know the answer. But if forced to choose between mitigated progress and truly fantastic stasis, I'll almost always take the latter.

My birthday is 1/1, so give me money. No, I am not an immigrant.


At 12/28/2007 1:59 PM, Blogger PhDribble said...

cheers to you shoals. i think the blend of populism and elitism that i so much appreciate about the FD revolution is best captured in Lenin's coinage: "vanguardism."

At 12/28/2007 4:02 PM, Blogger personalmathgenius said...

Why does Earl Watson hate Kevin Durant? Or does it just seem like he genuinely doesn't like passing to the man?
Watched the Sonics get played with like a dead bird last night, it was a repeat of every game I've seen them in this year-
A. Durantula goes to the far right corner of the court for the duration of the first quarter, goes about 2-9.

B. Watson shoots so much that even Luke Ridnour seems palatable, and after that, Delonte West seems godlike

C. Wally Szczerbiak plays a deceptively productive 15 minutes

D. the second quarter is so unwatchable with Durant getting a break, I change to another game

E. ...only to come back and find he dropped 20 in the third and kept them close

F. Carlesimo inexplicably keeps him on the bench to start the 4th

G. a 6 point lead turns into 16. Durant, Delonte West come back in

H. this should really go around B or C, but somewhere in there I wonder "Collison is on the Olympic team!?"

At 12/28/2007 4:09 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I've said all this before, and I think it's actually made the Sonics unwatchable. As if they haven't fucked up that situation bad enough already.

Not to get all alarmist, but between all this and OKC, that franchise might not have Durant to kick around for long.

At 12/28/2007 4:21 PM, Blogger Wes Hawk said...

I love the aesthetic criticism and the credo of liberated fandom I find on FD. I am willing to hear reasons that the current Suns are less worthy of worship than the 04-05 incarnation.

When I threw out the word “fickle” in response to C-Blanch’s most recent post, I was reacting to his arguments, rather than the idea that is was blasphemy to challenge the FD status of the Suns. I simply think that there are compelling reasons to keep drinking the orange and purple Kool Aid.

Nash/D’Antoni are icons in the making, but they are not gods. My NBA pantheon begins and ends with World B. Free, at the moment. I need the perspective of years (and the help of others at the fringes of the NBA cult) to either canonize or deify. Even the Pistol awaits canonization, despite his translation to the presence of the Lord of lords and God of gods.

Don’t take anything I say in the comments too seriously, B. As the Don of FD, I hope that you will give me room to think out loud, as well. I am still a slave to the W-L column. My blood pressure rises considerably when I watch Georgia Tech, Phoenix and a few others come close without getting their hands on the cigar. You all have succeeded in making my viewing experience a much more complicated, and therefore much richer, affair.

At 12/28/2007 4:57 PM, Blogger MC Welk said...

This post deserves money, yet it's a tough time to be asking. Do I have to forgo my Cristal??

At 12/28/2007 7:11 PM, Blogger tommi teardrop said...

The Suns didn't win me over until the 05-06 beatings they handed to the Lakers and the Suns minus Amare. The year before, I guess I chalked up their success to being new and unpredictable and therefore hard to handle until the Spurs came along. But as Raja and Tim Thomas nailed jumpers to win games in those 06 playoffs, suddenly I came face to face with the greatness of Steve Nash and the Suns system. The debate about Nash vs. the system and who is reponsible for the succes is probably my least favorite debate.

I really felt like last year was the year. It seemed to be in place. Kurt Thomas' D on Duncan. So I've watched them a few times this year and I don't know what to think. I sit and I wonder why Grant and Marion are both on the court and why they never tried to surround Amare and Nash with lights out shooters. Why is Marion shooting 3s? Can Brian Skinner be anything but a foul machine?

I read that Amare had one of his best defensive games last night. I will keep rooting for the Suns unless they have to play the Nuggets. I have never been as emotionally invested in an NBA team as I am right now with the Nuggets. To the point that I'm starting to loathe Melo and his inability to find the open man on a double team. It's driving me crazy. And I never thought I would ever root for Chucky Atkins.

At 12/28/2007 9:41 PM, Blogger Andrew said...

On the real, this post defines Free Darkoness better than any to date. As a Magic fan, I turn a sorrowful eye to my team's slide in the standings, but ultimately, I enjoy watching Shard, Hedo and Howard run the inside-outside game win or lose. And even though I'm a Magic fan, I can watch the Bobcats and Wiz without malice in my heart. I can even watch the Heat and ponder Dorell Wright's emergence. This site helps expand my horizons as a liberated fan.

At 12/28/2007 10:21 PM, Blogger personalmathgenius said...

What It Means To Be Ugly = the Rockets since before even Franchise's first run with them.

Possibly even more un-FD than the Spurs. The search for the 'right way' has been both unsuccessful AND unwatchable.

At 12/29/2007 12:40 AM, Blogger El Presidente said...

That was a wonderful post.

The 04-05 Suns... well, they knocked my team out of the playoffs. It was a time of growth, when I realized I enjoyed forces beyond my control, and could root for players who had crushed my hopes. Amare Stoudemire was my Allah. So violent and controlled. Also J-E-T might be the most ying yang player in terms of clutch offense/anti-clutch defense in the league.

In 05-06, Tim Thomas made me question allah. If he can do this, could not Grant Hill?

In 06-07, Grant Hill made me question the Suns. Can't anybody do this? Brian Skinner is on YOUR roster?

It is idiotic, naive, and so far, true.

At 12/29/2007 12:43 AM, Blogger El Presidente said...

Damn drunken years I see.

At 12/29/2007 2:37 AM, Blogger cw said...

You sound sad, like you're getting ready to pass out the kool-aid.

At 12/29/2007 3:40 AM, Blogger Folkhero said...

The 05-06 Suns were really a great team to watch even with Amare wearing the ugliest suits he could find. Boris Diaw was truely a special player by the end of that season. A point gaurd in a small forward's body who was starting at center defines what the future of the NBA should be. Nash and Marion were both playing at MVP level and Tim Thomas wasn't mailing it in. I'm no Amare hater, but I think I prefer the 05-06 over any Suns team in the Nash era.

At 12/29/2007 1:31 PM, Blogger Mr. Six said...

A comment I didn't have time for but thought about in relation to Snr. Blanchard's post, but that did come out there and is relevant here ...

The Suns revolution might boil down to two key elements: pace and positionlessness. Others have adopted the pace, but only the Warriors have taken up the war on positionality.

Marion at the 4 and Diaw at the 5 have been definitional for desert success.

If there's been a drop off in Suns fervor, I think it stems as much from a retreat from positionlessness as anything else. I suspect that there is a great deal of internal tension within the organization as they war with themselves about whether they can capture a LOB by committing fully to their own vision for change.

At 12/30/2007 12:35 AM, Blogger rebar said...


At 12/30/2007 3:06 AM, Blogger T. said...

One cannot discuss ugly and sports in the same breath without giving a shout out to Patrick Ewing.

At 12/30/2007 12:21 PM, Blogger T. said...

Hey, it's a different T., but with an excellent comment. I would have gone with Ken Bannister, myself.

At 12/30/2007 12:37 PM, Blogger rebar said...

ironically enough bill simmons has compiled an entire list of players he thinks are ugly. his choice for ugliest team ever: 2002 kings.

At 12/30/2007 11:18 PM, Blogger 800# said...

Who was the cat who predicted short-shorts throwbacks by the end of the season?

At 12/31/2007 1:51 AM, Blogger T. said...

Ugliest team ever - 1985 Bucks (Paul Mokeski) and 1986 Celtics.

But the short-shorts return tonight was awesome. I wish they had played the full game that way. Props to Ariza for rocking the Magic Johnson knee pads too.

At 12/31/2007 3:09 AM, Blogger 800# said...


I know he's from São Paulo, but I wonder what others think this about Barbosa and the Suns paralleling Brazilia's/Brazil's fate. As signs of change, the future, and the promise of power, will the legacy of the Suns be one that electrifies young players and fans, or will their inevitable loss to the more capable empire make way for their aesthetic to become anachronistic and alienating? Does so much style inevitably become hollow once it's lost it's context?

At 12/31/2007 1:17 PM, Blogger Spencer said...

I missed the Lakers-Celtics game last night, but my short-shorts prediction was spot-on:



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