It's Meta, And It Matters

I know people hate getting up and going to work, or campus, or whatever, but working from home has stresses you can only begin to imagine. Especially if you're prone to crippling self-doubt, think you're the center of the universe anyway, and throw off your day by sleeping till noon.

This is part of a comment from "Turd," which I'm assuming came out of my bald-faced assertion that there was some "two Americas" shit going on in Howard's dunk:

I think you had a ton of promise as a writer, but you seem to have been intent on completely undermining it with the megalomaniacal and insecure "voice" you claim to be aware of. My problem with a lot of what you've written on race (and it's not really race that you've written about so much as "hip-hop culture" or whatever the fuck mass reproduction of underclass black culture is getting called these days) isn't so much with the content often missing the mark. Everybody does that, and it's near impossible to make hard and fast manichaen judgments in this realms anyway. The problem is with your tone, which is so often condescending and authoritative even when it has no right to be.

The basic premise of FreeDarko is that we have a different relationship with sports. The whole "fifth grade opinions voiced as revolutionary manifestos" thing sums up what others have called "Shoalsian bombast." I'm not sure it's true, or real, or empirical in the way that cap-munching NBA analysis probably should be. From this site's first days, there's been a clash between the Spurs unquestionable dominance and my desire to see the Suns win a title. I think I've found ways to negotiate that, mostly by casting FD as idealists, and sports as the site of something at once bigger and smaller than the outcome of the game. Winning isn't the only thing.

At the same time, there's something patently absurd about this. It works for me, but I can't really discredit anyone else's more grounded, empirical views. Hence my lack of enthusiasm for the Cavs trade: I see that it helps the team a lot, and yet it doesn't move me. That probably makes me a bad basketball writer. Or maybe I'm just after a different kind of commodity, one that can't just be dismissed with "go to And1". I believe in the transformative power of sports. . . by which I mean, their power to transform sports. As usual, it's pretty basic music/arts criticism applied to sports. If I'm condescending or authoritative about this, it's because I'm trying to assert myself. There's really no way to half-ass "the Gerald Green trade matters more than the Cavs deal".

Of course, when I do write about more traditional basketball matters, I don't sound insane, or over-confident. I try and sound authoritative but shit, that's the whole point of making claims about ROY races and division rivalries. That's why I can write places other than FreeDarko.

What I've yet to really figure out—and what really embarrasses me about a lot of the now-unreadable archives—is how to sort out all the ways socio-cultural issues play into my view of sports. On a basic level, there's a really base, postmodern attempt to use extremists, terrorists, and activists to connote the way I feel about basketball within itself. That's crass and imaginary, I know, but I don't think anyone seriously believes that for me, the NBA is the new Russian Revolution. I'd like to add that Billups, who said commenter places miles above of me, does this kind of shit all the time, and only an idiot would think he's trying to establish himself as a socio-cultural authority about race in America.

The problem is that I do see race a lot of the time in the NBA. In a very serious way. That's the same problem I ran into writing about The Wire. It's a television show, with characters—much like the way I see the NBA—but it's grounded in very real societal issues. And yes, I'll fully agree that once you cross that murky line, that same bombast does come across as inane and entitled.

When the issue is "hip-hop culture" in sports, or questions of player vs. audiences, it's a little less of a minefield. But so many other people addressing these things are just fucking stupid about it, so it's hard to not get caught up in the fact that, duh, I do give them more thought than the average MSM columnist. Do I really know what Dwight Howard's thinking? No, probably not. I was trying to point out that there could be rather awkward irony at play in his Superman dunk, something other people have said about the entire Souljah Boy phenomenon. Of course, the way I write this site lends itself to pushing the envelope; if I'd been a little measured, less general, and less prone to confuse fantasy with reality, no one would be grumbling about that post.

So it all comes back to this: I am trying to figure out how to modulate my writing so it can address things that aren't one big inside joke. Before I left AOL, I did a column on the rift between many beat writers and the players they cover. It was relatively provocative, but stayed within the boundaries of good taste. There are a lot of piece in the archives that, franky, are terrible and should never be read again, exactly because they confuse that "culture as zany metaphor for basketball" fervor with "I care about this shit and want to address it" slant.

The basic problem is this: This site does nuance, but with an apocalyptic undercurrent. Frankly, that's the energy that keeps me motivated to write as much as I do. However, I could probably stand to be a little more mindful of the effect this has on posts that aren't just my own delusional vision of a sport. Because the bottom line is that, while I've come up with a version of the NBA that doesn't have to answer to no one, the second that NBA intersects with the real world I am accountable. People calling bullshit is certainly helpful, but at the end of the day, I need to be the one to mae sure I'm not risking irrelevancy every time I try and show that the NBA is more than just my imaginary friend.


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At 2/22/2008 6:04 PM, Blogger Slayer is life said...


At 2/22/2008 6:04 PM, Blogger Balcony Gal said...

Delurking here because I found two cents. Poor "Turd" has some serious issue, no? Turdie, if you're out there, you do realize you have the choice to close out a page when you're offended, right? Your opinion is valuable, certainly (I'm practicing running for mayor here) but if you find an author condescending and out of their league then you should do yourself a favor and run away from them and don't look back. Lots less stress in your life that way, my man.

Darko, just keep it up. "...if I'd been a little measured, less general, and less prone to confuse fantasy with reality, no one would be grumbling about that post." Some of us enjoy our Darko breaks. Your insight is, um, fun. There are millions of places I can go to get the stats and less fantasy. I keep coming back here for the value. Something like that. Times up.

At 2/22/2008 6:07 PM, Blogger Brendan K. said...

Well measured and fair. I do think that FD is much better-written than it was when I first started reading it in... early 2006? A while, anyway.

Honestly, the only constructive criticism I could offer is that self-aware reflexivity is the one of the surest enemies of features writing. Personal neuroses aside, you do have an original voice that is not always well-served by intermittant (but consistantly present) admissions of personal insecurity. I mean this as wholly apart from the silly criticisms rendered by our friend "Turd" with his claims of offense to your "falsely"-"athoritative" speaking for the subaltern or whatever he's implying. Rather, I merely mean to share a well-intentioned pat on the back as I impart the best advice I ever got: Toughen up.

Now get back to work.

At 2/22/2008 6:27 PM, Blogger Marcus said...

Yeah, you have a good voice. Don't let the crowd get to you. Just drive to the hoop like you know you can.

BTW, if anyone wants to see a terrific book on underclass black culture, check out "Gang Leader For A Day". Fantastic. It's got a blurb from that Freakonomics guy (ugh), but don't let that stop you.

At 2/22/2008 6:39 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

Being that it was my praise of Shoals's writing about black culture that set off Turd in the first place, and that I'm both the most literal-minded and the most petty member of the crew, I am going to present a point by point rebuttal to Turd's admittedly rushed and lazy comment.

(Hey, it's the freakin' weekend!)

First, you state that the H&H post was "not as bad as [you] remembered," but that despite your misremembering (yes, sports talk radio hosts of America, it is a word) the point of the post, you persist in "hating" Shoals. You also admit you don't read much of his writing. So, you "hate" someone because you misread a couple of things they wrote? And this is somehow anyone's problem but your own?

Then there's this middle school shit about how you really just read FD for Billups. Look, I love Billups's writing, but if you want to talk about white people writing about hip-hop in some sort of inauthentic or even exploitative way, I mean, damn, Billups is like Public Enemy #1, Professor Griff!!!

So, I'm parsing your comment, and your main criticism of Shoals seems to be that you think he's "condescending," "megalomaniacal," and "authoritative even when it has no right to be." Do I need to remind you that you just left a comment telling someone that they "have a ton of promise" and that you really just read the site THAT THEY CREATED to read someone else's writing? And that you'd bless us all with "more substantive criticism" but you're just too busy? How is that not condescending?

Okay, to go back to your first comment, you say that Simmons is "far less offensive" than Shoals because he's "up front" about his middle class whiteness. If you actually read the H&H post THAT YOU LINK TO, you would find the following sentence: "I know I’m not the only white, middle-class fan of the show who can’t get enough of the show’s complex, black outlaws." Hmmm.....

You'd also find that, as you already kind of admitted, you TOTALLY MISREAD the post, which was actually about Shoals's acknowledging that he, a middle class, educated white male, does fetishize the "black gangsta" image in popular culture. He never at any point says anything about the "authenticity" of "Cuban Linx." What he does say is that it's "badass," a word that is basically shorthand for "shit that it's [sic] so over the top and...pretty much specifically designed for stoned white kids to flip out over."

But, you wouldn't know that because you don't have time to actually read anything, so save us all the trouble and please don't bother. We'll be sure to let you know when the Billups-only RSS feed is operational, dickface.

At 2/22/2008 7:28 PM, Blogger MC Welk said...

If the book contains none of the inane, entitled bombast, then I don't want it.

At 2/22/2008 7:59 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Don't worry, I'm in the middle of writing about whether or not Vince Carter is a functional sociopath.

At 2/22/2008 8:16 PM, Blogger Ben said...

Not for nothing, in his latest links column, Simmons seems to take the pickup-style all-star game idea wholesale and apply it to the rookie-sophomore game.

At 2/22/2008 8:27 PM, Blogger MaxwellDemon said...

Wait wait wait--Simmons is white?

I enjoy a good lyrical beat-down as much as the next citizen, but this type of commenter is not worthy of a response. Engaging with the blogger is time well spent; completely dismissing said blogger is not. It's a big Internet, motherfucker--move along if you don't want to be part of the conversation.

At 2/22/2008 8:41 PM, Blogger crazylegsjackson said...

Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck. Gerald Wallace has been on the floor for 15 minutes after getting his face annihilated by a Mikki Moore elbow/cudgel. Let's all take a break from nattering on about blogger entitlement for a minute and meditate on the gifts he has given us: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I6phQvwUM8A

Please god don't let this ruin an otherwise-amazing season.

At 2/22/2008 9:00 PM, Blogger spanish bombs said...

Umm, I think I might be alone in this, but I liked the earlier writing style of the site better. The unreadability and complete ridiculousness was fun. Also, is your book going to have funny pictures of Tim Duncan as an octopus?

At 2/23/2008 1:30 AM, Blogger Vinnie said...

Damn... I came here tonight expecting happy writing. J.R. had seven 3s in a quarter, for God's sake!

As for the matter at hand--Don't apologize for anything. Just one man's opinion, but: I don't have the attention span to read anything. I only use that limited energy to read on something I know will--or I fully expect to--offer the proper returns, and even then, it's usually a disappointment. That said, I read this blog.

Needless pandering aside, the glimpses of insecurity only add to the credibility, not detract. Without it, any writer is a fraud hiding behind a self-made ideal, especially when that writer speaks in big words and ambitious insights from a semi-vacuum state. I don't need to tell you that no one is a self-made ideal.

Basically, keep it up, and don't worry about it. But still worry about it. No one who's anyone doesn't.

At 2/23/2008 9:57 AM, Blogger gordon gartrelle said...

I understand that you all want to defend your boy, but come on. Of all the places that shouldn't be an echo chamber...

This site works because it represents the complex and sometimes maddening intersection of race, class, sports, writing, and pop philosophy.

No need to catch feelings cause someone isn't on board 100%.

At 2/23/2008 10:44 AM, Blogger avery said...

stick to the music/arts criticism defense...because that's what this site is. It treats basketball as an art form (rather than just an entertainment form) and that is sometimes a hard leap to make.
With that said, the influences of the art form have to be examined--and "hip-hop" is one of those. The NBA has invited it upon itself (promos that use raps songs, etc.) and the players have invited it as well--such as with Shaq's rap album, or Ron Artest's. Or D. Howard's dunk. It's all fair game.

At 2/23/2008 2:14 PM, Blogger Fredrik deBoer said...

I thought this was a very thoughtful, polite and searching post; which is why I'm so disappointed by the comments attached to it. Procedure matters, process matters, and criticism matters. Look at most of these comments; hell, just look at the first comment. They are all inviting you to simply turn off the criticism and dial up the bombast.

I mean, shit-- saying "you have the ability to close your Internet browser" is a form of a dismissal of any criticism of anything whatsoever. And that's a terrible crutch to rest on; it destroys the point of this kind of an enterprise. Of course you have fans who will tell you to ignore the criticism. But, sadly, one aspect of fandom is that you cede some of your control of the critical apparatus; in accepting ownership you abdicate criticism. I don't agree completely with Turd but, I'm sorry, what he said must be given pride of place over a hundred people telling you to "ignore the haters."

The best of you is this post, if you'll allow me to be so arrogant-- conflicted, pained, involved, invested. I'm sure you realize that your bombast is uniquely vulnerable to the greatest intellectual sin there is, taking yourself too seriously. Keep agonizing about this sort of thing. It's the most important thing you can do. Otherwise, fuck. You're Ric Bucher, you're Billy Packer.

At 2/23/2008 3:42 PM, Blogger Blake said...

your insecurity and defensiveness are actually helpful sometimes. If it weren't for those qualities, I would've believed that you actually believed you had a right to sound "authoritative and condescending". You're doing just fine, sir.

At 2/23/2008 7:08 PM, Blogger Captain Caveman said...


I've been reading FD since my earliest awareness of sports blogs, which is somewhere in the neighborhood of two-plus years now. I've read more FD posts that I've thought were nonsensical philosophical exercises (or, as I might call it elsewhere, "bullshit") than I have FD posts that truly resonated in my brain's heart. But I always come back because FreeDarko presents a magnificently unique look at sports.

Your angst, soul-searching, and self-doubt affirm that, yes, you are a writer. But it's not necessary here. This is YOUR metaphysical playground; everyone else is a guest. You needn't apologize or justify what it is you do; just keep on doing it.

At 2/23/2008 7:16 PM, Blogger Captain Caveman said...


I politely disagree. Criticism matters, but careless admonishments from lazy readers don't warrant the kind of hand-wringing Shoals gave it. I come to FreeDarko for the philosophical discourses on the NBA, not apologies or explanations for what the site was or is trying to become.

At 2/24/2008 1:40 AM, Blogger MaxwellDemon said...

@deBoer--what Caveman said, plus: "love it or leave it" is occasionally a valid response to blog critique. Somebody who is completely at odds with the mission or vibe or whatever of FD is not going to add value to the community. Like, a witty intellectual who doesn't have any affection for basketball would also be advised to comment elsewhere.


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