6.17.2008

Lunchtime Dialectic



Note from the title, I'm not even disguising this one. . .

I am not quite sure why this Finals is leading to such an eruption of FD soul-searching. Maybe because I need to understand my feelings about this series, especially when I acknowledge that they're conflicted. Maybe I'm just bored and want to hide from the truth.

But I did have another bright thought today about this whole "you do not love winning" accusation. A friend of mine who doesn't follow sports much read the post and asked if "winning" was the quality of a game, or just the final outcome. Of course, the two aren't mutually exclusive, but I think we can all agree that there's something very unsatisfying about a victory in name alone. Case in point, game five of this series. I know that sports are all results and bottom line, and that traditional fandom demands first and foremost that we look for our jersey to be raised above all others. I can't help but wonder, though, if a Lakers fan wouldn't feel better about game five if it had come in remotely convincing fashion. Aside from that one Kobe play.

This also seems to hold with the question of "dominating," and the two are actually, to me, quite related. Can a team or individual dominate and fail—that is, lose? Win the game despite never evincing dominance? That depends on whether we interpret "dominance" as a quality—you can call it aesthetic if you want—or a question of what shows up in the box score. Dare I say, I'd rather watch a player/team dominate and lose then whatever the opposite of that is. Great men, amazing feats, drama in the air, and going down in a cloud of gunsmoke. What bugs people about the Spurs, however unfairly, is the perception that their dominance is quiet and elusive. Effective, but deceptive.



All of this, and the problem of style, come back to process. You can exude dominance along the way without that being the end result. The same even goes for winning—do we wait till the buzzer to utter the phrase "heart of a champion?" No, since these are qualitative assessments of how someone's play strikes us, what effect or influence it appears to have on the course of the game's outcome. The same thing can be said, on the other end of the spectrum, of style. Style has a use, and can be applied—usually toward some version of dominance, in fact. However, that application is no less simplistic than working backward from a final score to a game worth watching again.

It's the challenge of not just winning but WINNING, of style taken into the trenches and made into the language of competition, that I want. A product that doesn't lend itself to a dominant/dominance illusion. Is that idealistic, unnecessary, and a disaster waiting to happen? Sure, but don't go saying that this position misses the point of sports. I'm just not willing to settle.

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49 Comments:

At 6/17/2008 3:14 PM, Blogger LaRocque said...

I was happy to see the piece on Paul Pierce yesterday. I am a lifelong Celtics fan and I live in Boston. Because I live there, I can totally understand why you don't like the city itself. Sometimes I go to Fenway Park, look around me, and fall into a state of self-loathing.

Regardless, I was happy to see the Pierce piece yesterday because I've wondered all along (and even more after reading this) why Pierce doesn't satisfy what you're looking for. Doesn't his play do what you've just described? The guys whole career has been spent fruitlessly toiling away and yet he's always maintained his own style and he's elevated his level of play for these games. I know that you guys have expressed deep anti-Celtics sentiment, but if they do win, can you accept it on the Pierce grounds?

 
At 6/17/2008 3:19 PM, Blogger LaRocque said...

And, along similar lines, how FD is Eddie House, if at all? I've imagined that he is very, but obviously you guys are the experts.

 
At 6/17/2008 3:22 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I think it all goes back to the LeBron/Pierce duel, which to me, didn't showcase either of their games all that well. From there, I was probably blinded to how dope some of his other efforts were.

The thing about Pierce is that I fucking LOVED those idiotic Toine/Truth teams. He wasn't quite himself during the dark days (I watched the Celtics more then, actually), and this season, there was some change (though not as bad as with the other Two). These last few weeks, though, he has really been important and I should've given him more credit.

That said, James Posey is Satan.

 
At 6/17/2008 3:22 PM, Blogger goathair said...

Iverson dominated the '01 Finals but his team lost. Seems fitting.

 
At 6/17/2008 3:22 PM, Blogger Christopher said...

Aside from the unknown quantity that is Rondo. Pierce has been without question the most FD player in this series. Aging, unorthodox, gangster in the clutch... Pierce was absolutely one of my favorite players in the L in 2001 and 2002. Getting to the line at will and now setting the tone defensively on the perimter. If PDouble stepping in to perfect position while Kobe hopelessly collides with him for the charge has no "FD value", then there is a serious flaw.

VSWIMU - Vujacic Signs With Innovative Machine Names

 
At 6/17/2008 3:22 PM, Blogger Graydon said...

To be honest, I don't think you can be dominant and lose. I think dominance is a type of victory, as opposed to merely a descriptive style of play. As you note, someone can play with the "heart of a champion" but that just means they lay it all on the line and don't fuck up or something to that effect. It doesn't mean they actually pull it out. Duncan played with the "heart of a champion" this season but, well, we're not watching the Spurs this evening.

I think dominance, as the name implies, is more total. It's not just about the box score, its about a way of playing, maybe even a mindset. You can win close and still dominate (Lakers-Nuggets series, a couple of close games, but domination nonetheless. Same for the entire Spurs-Suns rivalry of the last 5 years).But I don't think it works both ways.

 
At 6/17/2008 3:25 PM, Blogger LaRocque said...

It's true, 2005-2006 was the signature Pierce year, and yet the entire national media refused to acknowledge it because the team played so poorly.

 
At 6/17/2008 3:28 PM, Blogger Graydon said...

Goathair- I don't think Iverson dominated in '01. I'm sticking with this "heart of a champion"/domination distinction. Did AI play with the heart of a champion? yes. Did he dominate? no way. The Lakers won in 5.

 
At 6/17/2008 3:45 PM, Blogger goathair said...

Graydon -- The Lakers lost one game in that year's playoffs. At home. To the Sixers. Exhibit A.

Iverson sat out 3 minutes of that entire series while averaging 35 a game. Plus 6 boards, 4 assists, and 2 steals a game. And he only turned the ball over 12 times the whole series. Exhibit B.

6:18 of this video. Exhibit C.

Sure, numbers can lie, but those ones don't. The Sixers had one guy that needed to be stopped and that was impossible for the Lakers (who had to NBA 2nd team All-Defense guys) to do. That's dominance.

 
At 6/17/2008 3:56 PM, Blogger Graydon said...

Goathair- Touche. Whether we agree or not (I actually am willing to cede a little ground after looking at those stats), I think you hit on a key issue for me which is the "impossibility" of stopping someone or a some team. That seems to define dominance more than anything, because it suggests that the court is under that players control, literally is his "domain."

 
At 6/17/2008 3:56 PM, Blogger Christopher said...

The question is then... were the Suns "dominant"? although their brilliance never materialized into playoff success...

 
At 6/17/2008 4:16 PM, Blogger cw said...

Wins definitely have a quality. That last laker win was not that satisfying, because the Celtics easily could have won it. There was some luck, some bad plays involved. I think he best wins are when both teams play great and the game is decided by one team taking hold of the situation at the end and doing what is necessary to win.

I was one of the people that said your aesthetic was disconnected from winning--which is kind of weird when you are talking about sports--while at the same time you seemed to care deeply if your favs won or lost. Definitely a psychological contradiction. So now you seem to be trying to reconcile these two contradictory impulses. Deciding that you are looking for a certain style of winning works for that I think. You want the whole thing: the winning with the drama, the improbable characters, and the certain kind of style.

THere have been champions that won with enjoyable style as well as effective functionality (though the style is always the functionality) Although I don't knwo if these teams met your own particular standards. Some of those lakers/celtics series were great. And when I was young I remember the warrriors/bullits series had the improbable charachters and the drama. I heard it all on the radio and that was totally out of nowhere. And my favorite team of all time, the 82 sixers had a great style/functionality/drama/character thing going. The totally dominated the whole year, playing beautiful fast break bball with Erving, Jones, cheeks and tony, but all so played this great ugly ball with Moses. And I really liked all the players on that team. So, someday you will probably find your close to perfect team and they will win. It will probably be a long wait though, becasue it seems like you have very particular needs, but oh well. Maybe you could go zen and learn to enjoy the journey more.

 
At 6/17/2008 4:18 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 6/17/2008 4:19 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

That was also part of my point about process.

 
At 6/17/2008 4:31 PM, Blogger The wondering Mind said...

From what I have seen to most “big time columnists” winning is dominance for example KG’s game one was every bit as miserable as Kobe’s. After he started out 5 for 5 or something like that he proceeded to miss like 200 shots in a row but if you read the papers the next day he dominated Pau. I guess in a sense you are asking who was better Wilt or Russell. Dominance over the stat sheet versus dominance over the win column.

 
At 6/17/2008 5:58 PM, Blogger cw said...

"That was also part of my point about process."

Yes, I think we have been saying to some degree the same things. Sometimes I have to restaqte it as I write to understand.

But now that you are refining you tastes, do you have a good mental hold on the particular style of bball you like? My take is you like sort of what I would call ghetto iconoclast. It's the black bball ethic of challenging authority, counting coup, putting on a show for the crowd. I don't knwo if black offense can win in the era of white defense, which is where we are now. It think black bball will have to evolve to meet this challenge.

Again, that may be what you are saying rephrased.

 
At 6/17/2008 6:02 PM, Blogger bernard snowy said...

It seems to me that part of what makes a team or player FD is a close correlation between victory and dominance. That is to say, teams that only ever win by being dominant are more FD than those that are capable of 'winning ugly', regardless of how often those dominant victories actually happen. This seems to tie in to the recent post about creative and destructive teams: a team like the Spurs does have a preferred way of playing, but they're perfectly capable of winning without imposing their will on the game. By contrast, it's impossible to imagine the Warriors ever winning a game without playing "Warriors basketball", and playing it well.

 
At 6/17/2008 6:14 PM, Blogger Graydon said...

Cw- I take issue with your characterizing this as an "era of white defense." I don't find it offensive, but I just don't like subscribing to the framework of "flash is black, fundamentals is white."

My case and point being this Celtics team, which plays out-of-control hustle/selfless defense, and is pretty much all black. Hell, Doc even invokes the struggle against apartheid to motivate the team. How can that be boiled down to "white defense"?

I have no problem giving credit to black ballplayers for advancing the aesthetics of the sport, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, but I don't like the idea of characterizing good defense, which is so often linked to winning championships, as "white". It seems to me to be a slippery slope by which “right way” black players could be hobbled by bullshit “oreo cookie” accusations. Tim Duncan comes to mind.

 
At 6/17/2008 7:37 PM, Blogger cw said...

Graydon,

Yeah, who knows if that makes sense or not. There is definitely white style offense and black style offense and they track pretty well with values in both the sub-cultures. White offense is team oriented, authority directed. Personal goals are subsumed for the goals of the team. Complaining, displays of emotion, excessive celebration are not welcome. You shut up, work like hell at your job, hide your emotions. You ignore the crowd. If you were so inclined you could trace it back to the northern european protostant work ethic.Black bball is almost the opposite of that.

But is there black defense and white defense? It seems like their should be. We are definitly in an different era defensivly since the late 80s and early 90s. The kind of defense that is played now does not value style, but hard gritty team oriented work. You don't play to the crowd. In fact the crowds don't like great defense, they like fastbreak dunks. In some ways it seems like good defense is not a fertile field fo exercising the values of balck basket ball. It is hard for an individual to find glory, to conect with the crowd. Or at least it is much easier on offense.

So I don't know. The fact that boston players are black doesn't mean they can't play "white" defense. Anymore than the fact that Larry Bird was white prevented him from playing "black style bball."

But again, I don't know if it makes sense, or is rooted in misconception or predjudice. I just thought of it as I typed and it seemed to fit. I should probably think about it some more.

 
At 6/17/2008 7:38 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

How much of that was supposed to be in quotes?

 
At 6/17/2008 8:09 PM, Blogger Graydon said...

CW- I'm definitely not accusing you of prejudice. And I have no problem acknowledging that the different sub-cultures that exist in white and black America produce different styles of play/court values. Obviously playground basketball, which not only produces great players but influences even those not educated on the concrete, both downplays the importance of defense and is dominated by black people.

So there is this lingering sense that black-style bball is unconcerned with defense. But that is more extreme than discerning between styles. To say that the Spurs and the Celtics both play good defense and therefore their defenses are similar is to overlook a lot nuance in the ways they play defense. Is there a racial dimension to that nuance? Well, that's a fucking hell of a question.

As far as Boston is concerned, sure "black players can play white" etc... but are you seriously going to tell me that Garnett and Pierce and Ubuntu and the whole ethos of the team collectively make up some conception of whiteness?

 
At 6/17/2008 8:21 PM, Blogger DJ Slick Watts said...

Shoals,

Aren't we talking about "art for art's sake"?

Is there anything whiter?

 
At 6/17/2008 8:25 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Are you saying there's nothing whiter than the dunk contest?

 
At 6/17/2008 8:42 PM, OpenID tredecimal said...

I don't know why, but I feel like mentioning that reading this post has made me realize that I am a lot more tolerant of San Antonio Spurs basketball than I am of San Antonio Spurs football (Ohio State, Virginia Tech, the NY Giants).

 
At 6/17/2008 10:30 PM, Blogger rebar said...

watching the first half, my friend turned to me and said "look at how KG's playing, aren't you going to be happy for HIM if not the team if they win?"

i found myself unable to answer that question with a yes. i'm a big hater, and i feel like i'm watching my hopes and dreams die a slow, green death.

 
At 6/17/2008 10:35 PM, OpenID tredecimal said...

Rondo is playing in a way reminiscent of this post- he's only 2 for 8, has 3 boards & 1 assist, but because of those 4 steals, and all the ones he caused, he's certainly affecting the game in a dominant way- as in he's gambling (and winning) on defense, doing unto them as he has been done.

 
At 6/17/2008 10:42 PM, Blogger cw said...

" but are you seriously going to tell me that Garnett and Pierce and Ubuntu and the whole ethos of the team collectively make up some conception of whiteness?"

Maybe. Shoals has compalined that Boston players are tamping down their individuality and playing more like San Antonio. And if you believe that expressing individuality is part of the black style--which I do--and if you believe that suppressing individuality is part of the white style--which I totally do (being white and having played a lot of sports and so totally feeling the white sports ethos in my bones)--then you could say that Boston is apadpting part of the white style becasue they think it will be more effective in this situation.

I don't know. I don't know what to think about this direction of thought. That was just a throwaway comment. I would really have to think about it more. I feel pretty comfortable with the black/white comparison on offense, but defense is another matter. Black/white may not really be the best way to look at the game of basketbal, although race is certainlly ther in the context of the game. Obviously black/white is just one way. You could just talk about more effective, less effective practices and leave culture out of it completely.

What do you think about the idea of black and white styles, and what might it mean in terms of defense. Or is it all bs?

 
At 6/17/2008 11:00 PM, Blogger Fredrik deBoer said...

Shoals,

Aren't we talking about "art for art's sake"?

Is there anything whiter?


I'm sure you think that's very biting and meaningful, but really, that's just stupid, and just a wee bit racist. And not anti-white racist, either, but anti-black racist.

 
At 6/17/2008 11:07 PM, Blogger Fredrik deBoer said...

" but are you seriously going to tell me that Garnett and Pierce and Ubuntu and the whole ethos of the team collectively make up some conception of whiteness?"

Also, look... I for one like any considerations of racial politics, and think we can use more in our culture, and I recognize that the racial politics around here are very complicated. But I have a big, big problem with a largely white commenting base (and I think that is the case around here) condemning predominantly black teams or black individuals as "white", or "spiritually white", or "stylistically white", or whatever the fuck else. I know that those things always invoke the pose of supporting black identity, or whatever, but they inevitably require a constrictive definition of the black that is disturbing and unfair. And on a basic level, I don't agree, at all, with white people regarding black people as white, or like white, or whatever. That is a rhetorical rabbit-hole that, no matter how studied or considered, leads you to some really noxious and ugly notions about black identity.

 
At 6/17/2008 11:56 PM, Blogger Joshua R said...

Funny that a post about dominance was posted on the eve of...well..a dominant performance. (Although all due credit should given to the Lakers for rolling over in the third.)

"watching the first half, my friend turned to me and said "look at how KG's playing, aren't you going to be happy for HIM if not the team if they win?"

i found myself unable to answer that question with a yes. i'm a big hater, and i feel like i'm watching my hopes and dreams die a slow, green death."

Conservatism cannot fail, it can only be failed.

[That's the sense I've gotten from FD these past few days; nobody really cares about KG, just the idea of him or what he represents. He can be disowned with ease once he steps outside of some strict ideological framework. KG=Trotsky?]

 
At 6/17/2008 11:58 PM, Blogger AG said...

Don't ever say this guy doesn't have soul. He just bared his heart to the world. Everyone cares about KG. This guy is talking like he's drunk, and he's stone sober. He's drunk off his own hype. Amazing.

 
At 6/18/2008 12:01 AM, Blogger Ghost Deini said...

"anything is possible."

"i'm certified."

"i've got one of my own now." (into bill russell's ear)


i will never again underestimate what a tortured, insane soul kevin garnett is.

that was beautiful.

 
At 6/18/2008 12:04 AM, OpenID tredecimal said...

Oddly enough "the Champ" by Ghostface just dropped on my player. Can Garnett POSSIBLY be spun unpositively after tonight? Is he not the realest human being ever? If we had to pick a genuine emotional response to show an alien what it looks like, would we not go "THAT GUY"?

Rondo is beyond the truth, he is UNPROVABLE.

 
At 6/18/2008 12:13 AM, Blogger Octopus Grigori said...

What happened to DLIC's bitter post about how sad and upset he is that Boston just TOTALLY FUCKING DESTROYED THE WEAK ASS BULLSHIT LAKERS? It totally disappeared, which is really too bad, because it was a true, blissful paragon of stupidity.

What in the world could be more FD than the way the Celtics just dominated, exposed, and demolished -- in a creative, stylish, beautiful way -- the weak ass, weak-willed, overhyped Lakers?

Nothing. And if you thought KG and his tears were contrived, you are simply not fucking human.

Thanks.

 
At 6/18/2008 12:22 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

We're talking about it, and trying to figure out what it has to do with his lifelong T-Wolves fandom. New post shortly.

 
At 6/18/2008 12:28 AM, Blogger Jerry Vinokurov said...

So, having read that DLIC post, I don't get his hatred for Boston at all. I mean, I'm not in love with the place (I don't live there, I live in Providence, and I grew up in SoCal) but (transportation clusterfucks aside) it's a pretty nice city. It just seems like people have a personal beef with Boston that goes beyond sports fandom or even distaste for rabid fans or whatever.

 
At 6/18/2008 12:32 AM, Blogger jawaan oldham said...

The good doctor must be having a difficult evening of it. Minnesotans must feel like it's the fuckin Twilight Zone the way their guys keep splitting for Boston and getting rings.

 
At 6/18/2008 12:37 AM, Blogger Ghost Deini said...

So it might be the cognac talking but...
Kendrick Perkins is the Thing.
Rondo is Freakazoid.
Pierce is Kyle Rayner era Green Lantern.
Ray Allen is Cyclops.
Kevin Garnett is Jean Grey as Phoenix.

yeah, thats about right.

 
At 6/18/2008 12:55 AM, Blogger Caleb Tyler Adam said...

"This is for everybody in Sota."

Sports have never actually made me cry before.

 
At 6/18/2008 12:57 AM, Blogger AG said...

BS, you need to see Kev's post-game conference too. This guy is all real, all FD. He was just hiding it, teasing y'all.

 
At 6/18/2008 12:59 AM, Blogger Jerry Vinokurov said...

This may be the best postgame interview I've ever seen.

 
At 6/18/2008 1:01 AM, Blogger Graydon said...

Frederik deBoer- I'm not white, but have been called an "oreo cookie" and and "uncle tom" and whatever other type of race stealing term you want to use, primarily based off the fact that I was educated, which is unimaginably frustrating. And that is pretty the basis for my comments regarding CW. I don't have problem with conceptions of "white" and "black" style, but when white people try to identify selflessness and hustle as white characteristics, it pisses me off. So, ya I agree with you, deBoer.

 
At 6/18/2008 1:02 AM, Blogger ItTakesAThiefToCatchAThief said...

Beautiful.

 
At 6/18/2008 1:06 AM, Blogger Graydon said...

Oh, and ya, I have serious beef with anybody who tries to hate on Garnett after tonight's post-game interview. I think I just fell in love with the game of basketball all over again.

 
At 6/18/2008 1:08 AM, Blogger jawaan oldham said...

Any displeasure with KG is henceforth not allowed. This is the commandant.

 
At 6/18/2008 1:23 AM, Blogger rebar said...

yeah, i'm a fucking ideologue. i'm not unhappy with Garnett, i just couldn't be personally invested in that shit as soon as he became boston. i think it's the cocky fucking leprechaun mascot that makes me hate them. no other city has such a recognizably racialized and provocative mascot. even the washington wizard is sort of indeterminately shaped/colored.

whatever, i'm over it.

 
At 6/18/2008 1:24 AM, Blogger ~CW~ said...

I'm not ashamed to say I was tearing up during KG's postgame interview, and when he was hugging Bill Russell, I just wanted the ability to take the imagine on my TV and immediately have it framed and hanging on my wall forever. Marino was/is my childhood hero, and for KG to be able and get that giant monkey off of his back is a relief to anyone who loves him as a player/person/idea/whatever. No one can ever take this away.

Also, I maybe totally wrong, but I think the fun begins for this Celtics team next season. The Big Three will be getting reduced minutes so they will go all out when they're in there and Rondo, Perk, Powe, Baby and whatever veterans sign on for the ride are going to put on a liberated, fantastic show.

 
At 6/18/2008 2:49 PM, Blogger DJ Slick Watts said...

DeBoer,

I know that much of the internet needs a racism cop, but I don't know if this corner of it does. I plead guilty only to being cryptic.

What I meant about the whiteness of art for art's sake, in quotations, is that Cousin and Gautier--19th c. Frenchmen--and later Stein and Pound and Eliot, when they embraced it at the beginning of the 20th c., are unequivocally icons of whiteness. And that most of the African Americans we associate with "high modernism" in art or lit or whatever were too politically engaged--they had something at stake, they wanted to WIN--to really be associated with that notion.

Maybe I should have written art pour l'art.

 
At 6/18/2008 5:21 PM, OpenID ChipDoggyDogg said...

I have been wondering this for awhile, and this post (in tandem with Euro '08) really solidified the idea in my mind: Does soccer have more FD potential than basketball? These are my two favorite sports to watch because of the overarching similarities between them (free- flowing game, fluidity of player roles, potential for virtuoso athleticism and moments of sheer undeniable genius), but I think that soccer falls more in place with some of the ideas expressed here. A 0-0 game could be a thing of beauty; a team can dominate and still manage to lose. It seems that soccer fans are different than their American counterparts in that they desire both a victory for their team and a high level of play in the game. Often, they seem genuinely satisfied as long as one of the two happens. Finally, certain players have undeniable unique flair: Messi's desperate runs, Ibrahimovic's graceful power, Ronaldo's cocky dribbling. If you haven't investigated this before, I think there could be something there.
(hopefully people are still reading this post with all the drama going on above)

 

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