That's the Name I Was Given

READ SHOALS' analysis of last night just below this post. I, on the other hand, will acknowledge that I didn't really watch the games yesterday because I'm prescient and I don't like to watch games that I don't like the outcomes of. Am more interested in this D'Antoni to the Knicks thing, because I might be the only person on the planet who thinks that it might work out perfectly. Look, the Knicks' players suck. I'm finally going to admit that. And no amount of fastbreaking will change that. But there are some important similarities between Mike D and the Knicks that bode well for the future.

They don't like to play defense. He doesn't like to coach defense.
They've never won anything. He hasn't really won anything either.
They're tremendously overpaid. He is tremendously overpaid.

All of this results in the perfect cocktail of something to prove mixed with a sense of entitlement that may give New York the exact type of swag they need. D'Antoni's rep as a coach players like is also important for facilitating the jettisoning of the Knicks' deadweight players. To put it simply, if you don't jibe with D'Antoni, it's YOUR FAULT, so leave. The only thing I really didn't like about Isiah's hateable-ness is that it gave his crappy players a free pass. There was too much attributional ambiguity. Oh, Zach Randolph has a bad attitude? Blame it on Isiah. Stephon Marbury is nuts? Must be because of Isiah. Eddy Curry is lazy you say? Isiah's fault again. For better or for worse, D'Antoni is so likeable that the players should feel a renewed sense of personal responsibility.

ON TO MORE IMPORTANT THINGS (taking the long road there). You know when you grow up "doing some sort of art." Say, rapping. If you do it for long enough, you reach a certain level of maturity where two important things happen: (1) You realize that you are actually now as smart or smarter than certain people "in that artform" that you formerly looked up to. Like, why would I look to Grouch & Eligh & Sixtoo for insight about life? I've had enough interesting life experience to know that this stuff isn't really that deep. And then (2) You realize that certain people are so good at the particular craft and you admire them so much, that you've actually just been a crappier version of (Posdnuos/Breezly Brewin/Andre3000,etc.) this whole time, and you need to do some serious soul-searching to do something that is specifically and originally YOU to really do good art.

Well, just as I've had these experiences on the music front, the same could be said for my "sportswriting." Similar to rolling my eyes at indie rappers' life insight, it's like, look, I've taken enough stats and methods courses over the past few years to know that John Hollinger's propaganda is essentially a lot of pseudoscience, and at a basic level inferring causation based on correlation. Had Hollinger been around when I was 13 years old, though, I probably would have thought I was reading like, the Steven Pinker of basketball. At the same time, there are those (an ever dwindling number) who get this shit so right, that it makes me rethink my whole agenda in this hoops blogging game. For example, prior to this past weekend, the passage below, from Bill Simmons in response to Ralph Wiley, during one of their legendary conversations, was probably my personal hoops-writing Pledge of Allegiance--the most important thing to me:

You asked why I love the NBA so much, and if it bothers me that some of my readers don't want me to read those columns as much. My feeling was always this: if you write about something passionately enough, and you know what you're talking about, I think most people will want to keep reading no matter the subject. Sometimes you can go too far -- like John McPhee writing about rocks -- but I think there are enough diehards out there, as well as people following the NBA on a rudimentary level who could be coaxed into following it more. So that's always been my hope. I would rather write about something I love than write about something I don't follow.

(Note: One of the biggest problems with the NBA is that there aren't enough quality writers involved. Think about baseball and all the wonderful writers that have tackled that sport -- Updike, Talese, Angell, Cramer, Halberstam, etc. -- along with the dozens and dozens of baseball books that come out every year. But the best NBA book ever was "Breaks of the Game," and that came out more than 20 years ago. In my case, I grew up reading Bob Ryan in the Globe -- his passion made me like basketball even more than I already did. He's always been the role model for me when writing about hoops, as well as for how to get away with a cheesy blazer and khaki pants that are two sizes too short on national TV.)

The biggest obstacle for the NBA has always been the black-white thing -- marketing a league full of mostly black players to a country filled with mostly white people who can afford the tickets. This almost killed the league in the late-'70s (detailed extensively in "Breaks of the Game") and reared its head in the post-MJ Era (and I'm not counting the Wizards years, because they never happened). I always thought Iverson's career was a fascinating litmus test. Here's someone who was clearly the most exciting player in the league from post-MJ through 2002, but he also represented everything that Generic White America hates about the NBA: Tatts, cornrows, in-your-face, loose cannon, the background to match. And I'm not sure how this dilemma is solved.

Yes, the NFL is the best product. Yes, baseball has the history. But I always feel like the NBA should be more popular than it is, and I think part of the reason is that enough quality people aren't writing about it. What other sport combines this much athleticism, drama and unintentional comedy? What other sport has Calvin Murphy's kids, Doctor J's sex tape, Mrs. Christie, Mark Cuban's Weblog, Barkley and Kenny making fun of Sam Cassell in code, the completely insane Ron Artest, J-Kidd trying to seduce the NBA trophy and everything else? Hot damn I love this game.

It still holds up 4 years later, and that was pretty much my inspiration for years, what made me tell my friend Pete in Berkeley in 2004 that I wanted to write a book of the type that Shoals, Recluse, Silverbird, Big Baby, and I just completed. To me, it was pretty much the pinnacle of encapsulating everything I wanted to say about basketball. Until I read this. And this. Many of you may have already seen these pieces (evidently there's one more coming today), but if you have not, drop your Sudoku puzzle, and take some time to read these insane interviews with Britt Robson. I really can't describe the level that this dude is on, and would prefer you just hear it from the man himself. I was lucky enough to grow up in Minneapolis and read his stuff in the City Pages, but it wasn't until I actually moved out of state that I became a regular reader.

Robson, to put it similarly to our friend Kelly Dwyer, is the next epoch. As many of you know has been the beat writer for the Timberwolves since forever, and is pretty much the sole reminder of the fact that Minnesota professional hoops doesn't end with Kevin Garnett. The guy wrote multi-thousand word tomes after every single Wolves game THIS PAST YEAR (can't think of anything more Free Darko than that), discussing the intricacies of Chris Richard's helpside defense and Ryan Gomes' confidence with Coen Bros-caliber intrigue. Just read the amount of truth and substance this guy is dropping and you will remember why you get out of bed in the morning. For me, it's time to reinvent myself.

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At 5/12/2008 12:24 PM, Blogger Kid Dynamite said...

Great article, Doc. I am not a big fan of Simmons but I appreciate his sentiment and absolutely agree that basketball has placed before us the imperative to raise the quality of the literature surrounding the game. And no shit, these Robson interviews are out of control awesome. Thanks for being one of the guys who inspired me to start writing about basketball and part of what I believe could be a golden age in hoops writing, if we make it so.

At 5/12/2008 2:33 PM, Blogger MC Welk said...

It's "jibe."

At 5/12/2008 2:42 PM, Blogger Dr. Lawyer IndianChief said...

good catch. fixed.

At 5/12/2008 2:42 PM, Blogger Kevin said...

"I've taken enough stats and methods courses over the past few years to know that John Hollinger's propaganda is essentially a lot of pseudoscience, and at a basic level inferring causation based on correlation."

I'm glad you've taken some stats classes, but hopeful that you have more than an argument from authority against Hollinger. Accusing him of a causation/correlation fallacy seems strange. Are there many places where Hollinger makes causal claims about two basketball related events when no such causal relationship actually exists? Let's take PER, since that's probably Hollinger's best known contribution. Does Hollinger make causal claims related to PER or the calcuation of PER that are really mistakenly labelled correlations? I don't think Hollinger's methods are perfect, but you accuse him of pseudoscience and a basic fallacy, and that's a bit strong, isn't it?

At 5/12/2008 2:43 PM, Blogger ItTakesAThiefToCatchAThief said...

I just like seeing Wally called out for being the Zoolander dbag he is.

This isn't a very FD post.

Deal with it, America.

At 5/12/2008 2:49 PM, Blogger Dr. Lawyer IndianChief said...

Hollinger's whole argument is that PER has some predictive utility, which is impossible to prove without random assignment. Sorry, I should have said, "I've taken enough 11th grade math to know that John Hollinger..."

I'm not arguing anything about the nature of PER itself. It seems like a fine formula. I've just never seen it hold up against anything better per se. It's just folk wisdom, like "defense wins championships," "no rebounds, no rings."

In fact, I'm gonna go Yogi Berra on you (or is it Casey Stengel?): "Good pitching beats good hitting, and vice versa."

At 5/12/2008 2:58 PM, Blogger Mother Father Chinese Dentist said...

i've heard arguments from other knicks fans that d'antoni will be larry brown all over again. it seems like d'antoni will have the support of his gm, as opposed to brown and isiah who were at each other's throats from minute one. plus, if nothing else, the knicks will be a lot more fun to watch, and i feel like d'antoni will be more likely to let his best players play as opposed to his biggest contracts. isiah's pride was his downfall (not sending morris to the d-league because of the cba bitterness is the immediate example that comes to mind.) is seems like d'antoni has a better chance of working with walsh than isiah did working with...himself?

At 5/12/2008 7:10 PM, Blogger Martin said...

The D'Antoni news simply reveals that like the 99.9999% of us that are not billionaires, the C.R.E.A.M code is still king. Cash does still Rule Everything Around Me and D'Antoni. I find it funny when non-liberated fans feel betrayed by a player heading out of town for an extra million or two on a multi-million dollar contract (money that can create employment for his cousin's, cousin's best friend, thereby making family reunions that much more bearable). This animus mostly comes from people (like myself) that have never had to make a choice that involved forfeiting millions in the name of some nebulous honor or loyalty.

At 5/12/2008 7:16 PM, Blogger Croz said...

Next season for the Suns = Nash's MVP-in-retrospect campaign. Like seeing if comic book style ret-con can be pulled off in the real world.

Next season for the Knicks = the glowing horizon, unless...

Next season for D'Antoni = blood in the water from the knives of the Post/Daily News.

At 5/12/2008 8:41 PM, Blogger Dan said...

is it too lazy to ask you to link to the third installment?

one of the things I can't get out of my mind watching these playoffs is the freedarko season preview where leon powe- gets his

At 5/12/2008 9:57 PM, Blogger FunWithLogic said...

To play the parallel game without discussing the CREAM, I find it interesting that D'Antoni made a move similar to the one Joe Johnson made a few years back (there might be a Marion argument as well). A large part of the issue for both of these guys was what kind of canvas were they going to be allowed with their respective teams; they both have accepted some imperfection in their alternatives for the sake of a long term, and maybe greater, (subjective) good.

I think that I still have rookie status on this site, so I say, without maybe totally grasping the term, that his move should coincide with the FD state of mind: his identity is linked more to the ideas and their actualizations than geography and even loyalty to those mechanisms (players, GMs) that he used for a period of time. That might be giving him too much of the benefit of the doubt, but he has earned at least a year or two of that.

It's the ideal that remains constant, not the identity. Now he is in the largest/sexiest market, on a team that does not care about risks, with free agents soon coming off the books and a dream to catch. Here's to easy success the weak East while you rebuild your fantasy, Mike.


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