State of Fiery Heaven Address

You might still be upset about Shaq to Phoenix, but I'm not. I'm loving the Diaw/Amare combo, and have to figure that Shaq will mostly just contribute in the personality department. And while I kind of miss Marion's melancholy, that's not really an emotion I associate 2004-05, my favorite Suns team. I'm still convinced that Odom/Bynum/Gasol will warrant a stamp of approval, even if it's not exactly visionary. It's Kidd's to the Mavs that has me really feeling like this season has shifted into high-gear, and it's one I'm not so pleased with. Everyone wants a championship, and they want it now. And they want insurance on that.

I've never felt that winning didn't matter, just that it wasn't the only thing. I also try and stay rational about the relative values of victory, but there is something to be said for quantity. Like fine, people make fun of 50-win teams that can't make it in the playoffs. I find it just as fatuous to praise the "well, they won when it mattered" team.

Which brings me to this evening, when the Suns and Warriors went buckwild and reminded me exactly why this site exists. Fine, so the Warriors aren't going to win a title, and the Suns might look very different in two weeks. Still, they can play a game of basketball, play it hard, and transfix me doing so. They can do that any number of times during the season, and maybe even a few times during the playoffs. And you know what, I don't really care if the basketball I like can't go all the way. It's successful sometimes, on more modest scales, and that justifies it in my books. It's kind of arbitrary which teams get branded boom-or-bust, win-it-all or lose all legitimacy. For whatever reason, small-ball, up-tempo, or just plain fun teams get it more often than others.

I also want to add a note on potential, because I think it's gotten too confused with our ultimate mission. Potential is funny, and intriguing, and in keeping with what underground, imaginative ethos this site has. But it doesn't justify shit. It's a sideshow I happen to like a lot, and I'll take it over staid vets. That doesn't mean, though, that I think it's part and parcel with THIS IS OUR BASKETBALL. While the Hawks are funny, I'd much rather see them become who they are. It's on-deck, who's next shit, not what I'd stake this site's integrity on. And it's a rare case indeed that someone like LeBron can embody both at the same time.

Proof: Last night, I went with Seth Kolloen to see Tony Wroten play. I spent forever trying to write about it, and somewhere along the way typed this:

A decent amount of the butts in the stands were there to support the halftime show: a troupe of jugglers and unicyclists from some elementary school. It didn't seem to go with the experience of seeing greatness in the making. Nor did the Garrison Keeler-sounding PA guy and his adjective-laden player intros. Or the cheerleaders who kept snickering mid-routine . . . . Watching Kevin Durant find himself in an empty Key Arena makes you wonder why his progress matters, and hearing the crowd react more vigorously to a break-dancing five year-old is just plain depressing. By contrast, it made a lot of sense to watch Wroten in a less real, or maybe more surreal, context. There's something innocent, or at least honest, about a player working through who he is that's fundamentally at odds with the finished product, bottom line setting of the pros. And, as surprised as I was to realize it, this jibes perfectly with what the most "pure" forms of amateur basketball are supposed to be.

Yes, that's in me. I kept it on ice because I couldn't explain it anyway, but now I see: It's proof that I don't take potential all that seriously, and that it has very little to do with FD's style + substance credo—which, I firmly believe, can be credible without having to answer to the absolute authority of the sports mainstream.

I realized the other night that, Liberated Fandom aside, I see the game in a weird way. When most people turn on a game they have no particular interest in, they watch to see who wins. That's the tension that draws them in, the drama that makes sports worth watching. It's the same way that people can't help but sing along with a catchy hook. All I'm saying is that, before I give a fuck if anyone lives or dies, I'm going to take stock of whether the game has style. If it does, I'll get sucked in, just as I was at that high school game the other night. If not, though, it might as well not even be basketball to me. Is that irresponsible? Should I spend all nine months preoccupied with the outcome of the NBA Finals? That seems tedious, and implausible. And that I reserve the right to enjoy a basketball game, no matter how unimportant it may be—and dismiss them even if there's a ton of invested value in the outcome.

ALSO: Matt at Detroit Bad Boys developed this beauty of a shirt, with my blessings. Cop that, and tell him I sent you so I can get mine free.

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At 2/14/2008 1:43 AM, Blogger Gregory said...

I agree for you on the most part, but it'd be a ridiculous argument to say that a player's competitive nature isn't stoked by "meaningful" games.

Using transitive properties:

Higher Effort = More Entertaining.
Meaningful Games = High Effort.
Meaningful Games = More Entertaining.

Even if you don't give a shit who lives or dies, the players do, and the quality of play reflects that. That's not to say that Gerald Wallace isn't going to lay himself out for a suicidal block early in the season, but the number of plays like that increases when the games matter.

Maybe that's just an illusionary construct we build onto the game in late season play. But I don't think it's a coincidence that LeBron's best performance by far in the Lig came in a do-or-die situation.

At 2/14/2008 2:42 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Don't get me wrong, I would prefer to see the players I like in the most important games possible. But if you're watching them in a non-Finals game, and they care, that has to be worth something, right?

At 2/14/2008 3:47 AM, Blogger Gregory said...

For sure.

I don't think your as alone on this as you make it seem in the original article; if most fans purely cared about the championship, then season ticket sales would be pretty damn low.

I think the drive to feel like a part of something great is a factor in that, sure, but people also just like to see dunks sometimes.

At 2/14/2008 4:30 AM, Blogger Gregory said...

You're, that is. I need to fire my copy editor.

At 2/14/2008 9:14 AM, Blogger 7.5 PSI said...

The plodding concern of sports journalism with winning and losing rather than entertainment makes a lot more sense when you realize how much it exists to support sports gambling.

At 2/14/2008 11:24 AM, Blogger Keprotica said...

I'm with you, Shoals. Style points aren't something that SEEM like they should be a bad thing to keep as a top priority, but they sometimes leave me supporting teams that people see as laughable, because they didn't win. Like the 2001-03 Sacramento Kings, and the Dallas Mavericks of the same era. I remember watching the Suns/Kings and the Kings/Mavs series far more clearly than anything from the finals of those respective years. I remember both series getting discussed on NPR like some kind of fine art exhibition--the basic thrust being, "Even if you don't think you 'like' basketball, you should watch this, because it is so undeniably entertaining and visually beautiful that you will be able to see why people bother with this sport at all." When Ralph Nader went letter-crazy calling for a review of the officiating in Kings/Lakers '01, it totally resonated with me as well (even if I ridiculed him for it as much as anybody), because it seemed so very wrong that the more entertaining, more stylish of the two teams would lose--and lose on such a load of questionable calls, as if (and I'm not the guy who usually complains like this) someone, somewhere really didn't want them to win. Maybe the ultimate problem with style is that the refs have to run as much as the players...

At 2/14/2008 11:43 AM, Blogger Wild Yams said...

Even though I'm probably more Right Way than FD and do ultimately focus more on the outcome than the style, that game last night was incredible. The winner almost seemed arbitrary, as if the back and forth was just stopped at a random point. There were so many lead changes and the whole game was played like it was the last minute that when it actually did get down to that last minute it just felt weird that there was actually going to be an ending.

What I want to know is this: did it really end? Was that the final performance of the run-n-gun game that we've seen for the past few years? If it was, it was a hell of a final performance. Still, the thought of these teams meeting in the playoffs and seeing them pound it in to Shaq and Webber and playing inside-out brings a tear to my eye.

At 2/14/2008 12:03 PM, Blogger MC Welk said...

Keillor jibes.

At 2/14/2008 12:38 PM, Blogger padraig said...

7.5 PSI - Yeah, but not everyone can be a Ralph Wiley or a Halberstam, you know? Or a Nelson George or Simon Reynolds for that matter. Not that I'm saying you're wrong, not in the least.

Shoals etc. - Yep. I root for the Dubs as hard as anyone pulls for their team, and I've kinda hated the Suns for a long time, but as I was watching last night I felt that I definitely wouldn't have been upset if they lost (well, unless it was on a ridiculous Barbosa three, which almost came to pass - I still have vivid memories of him hitting one from damn near half court to beat the Bulls last year) - not that I wasn't cursing Amare & D'Antoni's tantrums and getting hella hyped on Monta, but the quality of the game was definitely such that it transcended those concerns. That's what Liberated Fandom is about to me - not some silly Style vs./over Substance ish, but the ability to balance the aesthetic with the practical.

Like Fela Kuti or Can or pretty much all roots reggae/dub - there are certainly melodies and hooks but it's much more about the groove or staying in the pocket or whatever - I remember reading this interview with Fela's drummer, Tony Allen, where he was talking about
the "endless groove" and at the risk of sounding ridiculous (the endless groove as quasi-mysticism seems like the kind of thing Frank Zappa would've parodied mercilessly) I appreciate
basketball in the same way.

When Jeff Van Gundy said he wanted the game to go on forever I was with him 100% - somehow it didn't sound at all like a tired sportscasting cliche (probably helped immensely by dude's openly sincere and unreserved love for basketball). Don't worry, Wild Yams - there is NO FUCKING WAY a Nellie/D'Antoni playoff series would be anything less than absolutely bonkers - seriously, it could be 10 clones of Shaq playing each other and Nellie would find a way to inject the appropriate mixture of wackiness and sleaze. I hope it happens just so we can see him and D'Antoni try to out-Lou Holtz each other at every post-game press conference.

At 2/14/2008 1:15 PM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

Is there anything sadder in the NBA right now than Kevin Durant on the Sonics? I mean, it's the right starting point for him to eventually ascend into basketball heaven, but still... it just seems so... flavorless.

I second Wild Yams comment. If it is the final act (and I don't think it is - remember, Shaq and Webber are just temps), then it was a damn good show....

At 2/14/2008 1:45 PM, Blogger Wild Yams said...

I think padraig is probably right, and if there is a Suns-Warriors series in the playoffs that Nellie will inject some lunacy into it. Was he sitting Webber last night because he's actually hurt or was it because there was no way he wanted him anywhere near a game that was guaranteed to be played at that pace? I'd like to think it's the latter.

After reading this article about what this matchup would have looked like if Shaq was active, I can't help but speculate on what a potential playoff matchup would look like. Would Nellie feel he needed to counter The Diesel by using Webber (or starting Biedrins), or would he just say fuck it and go all in with the same lineup he ran out there last night? How fucking awesome would it be to see the Suns, featuring Shaq like the turncoats they are, go up against Nellie's Dubs with Captain Jack on Amare and Harrington on Shaq? Would Nellie have the balls to try that? Would it work and would it force the Suns to have to sit Shaq as a result, or would Nellie eventually be forced to play a Webber/Biedrins frontcourt? Maybe there still is hope.

At 2/14/2008 1:52 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Padraig's right: JVG's enthusiasm here is the most important kind of endorsement, and sheds some light on why I love the guy so much. As a coach, he made teams un-watchable. But as a broadcaster, you see him gush about the aspects of the game that are truly lovable, amazing, etc. As a coach, it was his job to win a championship. But from where he's sitting now, he's allowed a broader, or more local, maybe, appreciations of the pleasures of the game.

I loved that interview with Baron and Monta after the game. You could tell they'd thought Barbosa's shot was headed-in. . . just because it was that kind of a game.

In other news, Bobcats/Hawks met and it sucked.

At 2/14/2008 2:17 PM, Blogger Dan Filowitz said...

I both root for a team and like to watch other games/players.

When I watch my team, I care more about the outcome than about other aspects, i.e. I don't mind seeing an ugly win, though I'd prefer a pretty win. (being a Knicks fan, there is no hope for the latter this year.)

When I watch other games, I have other motives. Like, "will this be fun to watch" like the Suns-Warriors last night. Or "I haven't really watched a Raptors game yet, let me see what they're all about." Or, "I'd like to see Josh Smith in a game." It is almost never "I wonder who is going to win."

With my team, I'll likely watch the whole game regardless of what is happening.

With the other games, how long I end up watching depends very much on the style. A game like last night's, or Suns-Hornets from last week, I watch the whole thing. Catch the Warriors on one of their off-nights? Or trying to watch something uninspiring and perfunctory-feeling like Sonics-Jazz last night? I'll stop watching pretty quick. For these games, if all I cared about was the outcome, I could have saved the cost of the League Pass subscription and just watched the highlights on Sportscenter.

Which is a long way of saying that I completely and wholeheartedly agree with your "right to enjoy a basketball game, no matter how unimportant it may be—and dismiss them even if there's a ton of invested value in the outcome."

At 2/14/2008 3:59 PM, Blogger Kaifa said...

Padraig - of course a game featuring ten Shaq clones would play out like Suns-Warriors, we've all known that for years. Remember that old commercial (for Pepsi?) where Shaq was playing himself, that game was way over 100 points for both teams, mostly off dunks, I guess.

At 2/14/2008 6:16 PM, Blogger padraig said...

I hope JVG doesn't get snapped up by the Sixers or Bulls or somebody - Marv Albert needs someone to pass the torch onto and it's a pretty desolate landscape otherwise. And, maybe this is obvious, but it seems like the same qualities that make him a great announcer doom him as a coach - he's just so earnest and unassuming, unlike a Skiles-type who just thrives on being a petty, rigid disciplinarian. pure speculation of course but I just get the feeling that JVG the coach might be too nice for his own good.

yams - what I prefer to think is that Webber was purely a Mullin pick-up and thus Nellie will avoid playing him except in garbage time (well, actually I like to pretend that the Webber accquisition never happened). I haven't really been paying enough attention to know if that's the case but I don't want to disillusion myself by finding out otherwise - I'm just hoping I won't flip on a Dubs game in 3 weeks and so Baron tossing an entry pass in to that decrepit, knee-less (all due respect) man. As to the case of a Suns/Dubs series - Nellie's too crafty to try to take Shaq head-on, especially when it's much easier to go around him these days. And even if did want to, what good would Biedrins and Webber really be? Andris is too skinny to body him up and I doubt Webber is strong enough either, not to mention that he's always been a finesse dude.

Besides, I'm thinking about the Heat/Bulls series last year - granted Nash & Co. are about 1000x better than that crappy Heat team with a half-recovered Wade, but the Bulls still did just fine without any legit 7"s (PJ Brown doesn't count). I don't why people are deluding themselves about Shaq's defense - yes, he can still overpower people, he can still rebound based on his mass but he absolutely cannot move his feet on defense and he's not a threat to block shots. That article you linked is a little delusional - dude thinks that somehow Shaq would've stopped the Dubs' guards from getting to rim. Nope. The best effect for the Suns from playing Shaq will be him soaking up the fouls that Amare usually picks up and guarding the Duncans/Yaos so Amare doesn't have to play "defense" as much. Of course Kurt Thomas did that last year and he, unlike Shaq, has a passable mid-range jumper...

Kaifa - as long as Kazaam can somehow be involved I'm cool with it.

At 2/14/2008 6:32 PM, Blogger Wild Yams said...

padraig, I 100% agree with you about Shaq's D (that article I read just made me wonder about what last night's game would have looked like if he'd been playing, but I definitely didn't agree with most of what it said). I think the Nash/Shaq combo will be absolute death for the Suns on defense, as Nash will usher a layup line of PGs right into Shaq's foul-prone last line of defense at the rim. This more than anything is why I think the trade for Shaq was bad, because it's hard for me to envision that he won't perpetually be in foul trouble, and anytime that's the case the Suns are essentially fielding the same team they always have, just without Shawn Marion now (although they'll have a hell of a comedic presence on the bench and in the locker room now instead).

Here's a neat stat for you, in the four games since Marion was traded, the Suns are giving up an average of 115 points per game. Yikes.

At 2/14/2008 8:16 PM, Blogger Zeke said...

To me, it's not a question of style versus substance, but one of credibility. If it's the regular season and my team isn't involved, then I want a well-played game over a sloppy, ugly one. There's nothing wrong in my opinion in stating that the Suns and Warriors play an entertaining style of basketball. The game needs constant innovation.

Having said that, I got tired of hearing about the Suns, and I believed that the Nash-Amare-Marion team was overrated. Ooh and aah all you want over their fastbreaks and how they move the ball, and I have no problem with what you're saying, but don't tell me that team could've won a title. And make no mistake, year after year, the Rick Buchers, Tim Leglers, Chris Broussards and others picking them to win a championship were doing so out of wishful thinking.

It's not so much in the case of the Warriors, because pretty much all observers agree that they aren't a serious contender, but the amount of hype and love that the Suns have received over the past two years up to the Shaq trade has been totally out of proportion to their merits. They were a great story in Nash's first year with the team when he helped lead a huge turnaround, and then the next season as well when he held them together without Amare. Since that time, the love for them has just been annoying. Hello, other things have been going on in basketball the past two years.

At 2/14/2008 8:39 PM, Blogger Mr. Six said...

Van Gundy redeemed himself last night with a single sentence: the Suns could have won a championship as previously constituted.

With that, I forgave him for all the ugliness he brought to the league, and I can enjoy him as an announcer (even if he takes a little too much delight in seeing players get fouled hard).

At 2/15/2008 2:59 AM, Blogger Warren said...

I was under the impression that you were Texas based. What were you doing in Seattle?


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