6.05.2008

Molars of Soil




[Freedrafto is HERE]

From the high hills of South Dakota, to the shores of Montauck, we have heard all of the dripping nostalgia for the Lakers/Celtics final. So too have we heard elegant backlash, about how little the current Lakers/Celtics series has to do with the one of the golden age. I can't remember who made the joke, but I heard someone on ESPN note that if McHale's clothesline on Rambis happened today, he would be suspended for a week. That's not to mention the fact that the McHale/Rambis incident brings us back to a time when white guys were tough guy enforcers (see also Laimbeer) instead of softies and savvy shooters. And has anyone mentioned the shorts yet? The short-shorts of the 80s were emblematic of a time when guys were so comfortable with their masculinity, they would rock whatever was the status quo. The view toward short shorts today is one of discomfort and homophobia. The Lakers couldn't even wear them for more than a half when they gave em a try earlier this year.

And for all the differences that folks have brought up regarding the Lakers/Celtics of ought eight versus the Lakers/Celts of the 80s, I believe one remarkably important difference has failed to come to light. That is the fact that the teams of today have relatively little lineage, allegiance, or resemblance to the cities they play for. Key guys from Boston Garnett, Ray Allen, James Posey, Sam Cassell, and PJ Brown have all arrived in the past year. Rondo, Powe Perkins, and Big Baby are far too young to have any deep connection to the city. And the only guy who is a true franchise face, Paul Pierce, is from LA!!! On Los Angeles, you have the recently arrived Pau Gasol (see: The Onion), Radmanovic and Odom, who the city has never really embraced, and of course Kobe, who is probably the best example of a "lifer" in the series, even though he threatened to leave the Lakers twice in the past four years! D-Fish is establishment too, but he's taken a whirlwind trip of the Western conference over the past few years.

Bottom line, screw history, because neither of the squads in their current incarnation HAVE any history with these teams. Magic/Kareem/Worthy/Scott/Rambis and Bird/Parish/Ainge/DJ/McHale were like the Han Dynasty for their respective cities. This year, you could imagine Ariza coming into guard Pierce, and Lakers fans saying, "Who???" I'm pretty sure that Celtics fans just learned who PJ Brown was last week.



THAT is why the Lakers/Celtics of the 80s were important, because they came to embody the cities that they played for (full disclosure, I started watching basketball seriously in 1989, but trust me, I know this). The narrative of course was the glitzy, flashy "showtime" team of Los Angeles versus the hard-working, blue-collar, Eurocentric team of Boston. These days, I don't see anything close to these teams manifesting the characteristics of their respective hometowns in any way (unless you consider that a bunch of beardy looking white dudes with bangs are attempting to gain the validation of the only cool black guy in the room pretty much resembles Steve Aoki/Cobrasnake's LA).



Ray Allen is basketball's Poitier. KG is a mixture of contrived countryness + traces of goofy Midwestern charm, and Pierce is throwing up LA gang signs for chrissakes. Does any of this look like the baseball capped Masshole stereotype of Boston we've come to know and hate? What about the hyperacademified intellectual character of Cambridge, or the suburban semitic-ness of Belmont and Brookline? These guys are doing their own thing. These Celtics are decidedly un-Boston. I almost had to cringe watching these guys do the staged "Beat LA" chant after they won the ECF.


And on the Lakers' side, well I don't even know what LA is anymore. I haven't been there since 2004, but I know that the glamorous allure of "Hollywood" has faded as the definition of "celebrity" has come to encompass everyone from Nicolas Sarkozy to (soon) that possibly fake dude who lost his shit in his office the other day. So even the Kobe = star = Hollywood analogy doesn't really work these days.



There's also the fact that LA in my mind is inextricably linked with its Asian and Mexican population, neither of which are likely to be represented in full by any NBA team. There is the sprawl of LA that will never really change, its embrace of the 1950s, and (hyuk hyuk) it's overcast of smog. But none of these things have to do with the current Lakers, who are more space age than anything else. Radmanovic has been called a "martian" by the ultimate space cowboy himself, Phil Jackson. Kobe is glowing in the dark right now, and the never-before-seen inspired play of guys like Vujacic, Gasol, and Odom, seems somewhat supernatural. Whatever is going on with that team is far too alien to really capture the Dyan-Cannon's-jowls-as-Americana that Los Angeles curates for all to see.

The moral of all of this is that it makes a true rivalry incredibly difficult to have. There are no legit reasons for LA residents or Boston-ites to hate each other any more nor for them to see the other as its polar opposite. The two cities are orthogonal in their character. Perhaps then this series has a more universal appeal than the NBA/ESPN is trying to pitch to us with their constant stream of "historical" clips. The Lakers/Celtics series of 2008 is about everyone in the entire world. And I think that's a good thing.

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28 Comments:

At 6/05/2008 12:31 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I hope Dr. LIC didn't wreck anyone's mind too hard with this post, because I just did a column on what's at stake for Ray Allen that is worth reading.

 
At 6/05/2008 1:07 PM, Blogger goathair said...

I was talking about this very subject with Shoals a couple of days ago. One thing that the city of Boston has in common with the Celtics team is that there are a lot of Celts who act like assholes. Perkins and Posey are the most notable. I'm guessing when they do something borderline dirty, the city LOVES it.

 
At 6/05/2008 1:09 PM, Blogger Brian said...

For one thing, I live in Brookline, and Ray Allen, strangely enough for someone who played Jesus, is very Brookline.

But more importantly, Boston would hate this Lakers team even if it weren't for any historical narrative, for the sheer fact that they are a perfect fit for the Yankees hatred that needs a new target now that the Yankees are so inept.

Kobe = ARod, Jackson = Posada, Walton = Damon, Gasol = Abreau, Bynum = Joba, Vumonovic = Chien Ming Wang, Fischer = Jeter, Odom = Mussina. Turiaf = Cano? That might be a stretch. But the dislike is authentic.

 
At 6/05/2008 1:47 PM, Blogger ItTakesAThiefToCatchAThief said...

Damn good Shuttlesworth article, Shoals. It would be nice for him to remind us, and himself, of what he can do.

 
At 6/05/2008 2:32 PM, Blogger Ryne Nelson said...

I just want a post all about players with "goofy Midwestern charm." That would be amazing.

 
At 6/05/2008 2:39 PM, Blogger Wild Yams said...

Great post, although I think you're overlooking the main reason this isn't a rivalry at all: these teams really have never played each other before. Last year's Celtics bear no resemblance to this year's squad, and the pre-Gasol Lakers are almost as alien to what they currently are. The weirdest thing for me about trying to predict anything in this series is just the feeling of having no real true basis for what to go on. It's 100% pure speculation. I feel like how I did prior to Shaq taking the floor with Phoenix this year in that virtually anything was possible because I had no grounds on which to make a real sensible prediction.

Anyway, how much bad blood is there really when not the last time but the 2nd to last time the Lakers played in the TD Banknorthwhatever Garden the fans there were chanting "MVP" for Kobe?

 
At 6/05/2008 2:54 PM, Blogger Ken said...

What I really hate about all the hype is Bill Simmons.

I hate his the Lakers will beat us...here's 13 reasons the Celtics are better...blah blah blah.

Thank god for you guys.

 
At 6/05/2008 4:37 PM, Blogger Sean C. said...

Goathair: Blah, blah, blah, Boston sucks, blah, blah, blah. We haven't heard that before!

Seriously though, everyone needs to lay the fuck off of Boston. Are there assholes? Absolutely! Are there still primitive-minded racists who still dwell within the city? Of course! And, as a New Englander, I'm ashamed of those people.

But let's not kid ourselves: sports fans from L.A., NYC, Chicago, etc., boast and brag as much as fans from Boston do, and every other city in this country has been plagued with racism at one time or another.

I mean, as far as I can remember the Rodney King beating/riots, the Amadou Diallo shooting, the New Jersey Turnpike pull-overs, etc., etc., etc., didn't take place in Boston. And the last time I checked, those evil Massholes voted Deval Patrick into office. While this doesn't mean that New England is some bastion of tolerance and understanding, I do think the region in general and Boston in particular have changed a lot over the last 20 years or so.

 
At 6/05/2008 5:18 PM, Blogger db said...

One of my peeves with the whole thing is the way the racial history of the league is being suppressed with comments like those of Sean C.

The usual narrative goes: Boston pioneered black players, then became the most identifiably white team during the 80s, and now they don't have a white player on the roster so you can't really say anything about it.

But if we look at the C's as embodying a history of identifiably white Northeastern liberalism all these phases are continuous: the concern with "fairness" that leads to the breaking of the white xenophobia in the first place, the holding on to a particularly Protestant style of hard-nosed working ball against the incursion of both blackness and commercialism (I see this hanging on as a kind of expression of repressed whiteness); and the latent brutality which links McHale to the crowd's responses to a Posey hit today.

This isn't to say Boston is any more or less racist than anywhere else, but it is a particular cultural history which is very obvious to those from elsewhere, and I hate it when people try to flatten these histories and equalise them with "it's all the same anyway". My interest (and I think that of FreeDarko to a degree) is to track and unearth those cultural histories that are not about the win-loss column, histories that tell us a simultaneously bigger (racially) and more personal story about being and becoming, far more interesting than just what happens on the court.

For that reason, I have to disagree with ken: one of the good things about this series is that we are seeing Simmons feeling his Celtics mojo and performing the limitations of the fratboy white northeast culture: his pronouncements on hip-hop are asinine, his taste in women banal and conservative, and overall he moves further away from having anything interesting to say to Ralph Wiley as he goes on. I'll still read everything he writes because he's such a talent and a fan, but it's clear that the more culturally/personally specific analysis that comes from the web is making that style increasingly outdated.

 
At 6/05/2008 5:23 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

In all of the televised Celtics games I've watched, I've yet to hear a song by a black artist played in the arena, but it's possible I missed one.

Um, what does Bill Simmons's "banal and conservative" taste in women have to do with anything? What does that even mean? Is he supposed to like Latinas or big-boneded women or suicide girls or what?

 
At 6/05/2008 5:26 PM, Blogger goathair said...

Sean: I like the city of Boston. I just imagine that they whole-heartedly embrace the guys that act like jerks more than other cities would.

 
At 6/05/2008 6:09 PM, Blogger Sean C. said...

DB: I want to start off by saying that I don't think I, a sophmore at a state college in southern New Hampshire, am in a position to suppress anything, league-related or otherwise. I think it's pretty well known that Boston has had a very troubled history in regards to race relations, and in no way am I trying to disregard or make light of that history.

While I agree that New England has always embraced the "working class" sports team, one only has to look at recent events to see that that attitude is less prevalent than it was in the past. For instance, no one had any trouble embracing the Patriots' style of play last season; they were flashy, scored a lot of points, and featured Randy Moss, for God's sakes. No one (except for the occasional jackass)in this area gave a crap about how the team played, or about the background of any individual player; all they cared about was winning. I know it's a cliche, but it's true. If the Celtics played like the Suns (pre-Shaq trade) or the Warriors and were winning, no one would care about whether or not they embodied the "white Protestant work ethic" or what have you.

Besides, we all know that if Len Bias and (to a lesser degree) Reggie Lewis had both lived, shit would have been different.

I do have one question: what the hell are you trying to say when you bring up McHale and Posey?

Brown, Recluse, Esq.: I think I heard "Soulja Boy" over the loud speakers during the broadcast of one game, though I'm not totally sure on that.

Goathair: I don't know, dude. L.A. has no problem embracing Kobe, Miami loves Alonzo, New York adored those mid-1990s Knick teams (and also cheered the Zach Randolph trade), San Antionio is nothing but supportive of Bruce Bowen, etc., etc.

 
At 6/05/2008 6:10 PM, Blogger Sean C. said...

I meant "San Antonio", not "San Antionio."

 
At 6/05/2008 6:16 PM, Blogger R. Lobstah said...

Simmons does what a disproportionate number of Celtics fans do, they over think events. FD writers do the same but with a key difference. Celtic fans over think their failures. They wonder how to make Bird out to have won more championships then Magic, they disqualify their failures because they would have won if only... They even disqualify another team's success (Houston in 86') in order to qualify their dominance (the Lakers were so afraid of Boston's '86 team, they decided to lose to Houston instead). They will twist their thoughts so as to arrive at, "since the Celtics would have beaten the Lakers that year and since it was Kareem who beat Bird in '85, then Magic doesn't really beat Bird in head to head competition in the Finals). There is nothing tongue in cheek about these theories. They consider such ideas rational.

FDers over think but do so as intellectual/creative exercise. Most of what comes from FDites are fairly interesting fantasies or great notions expressed in sneaker squeaks.

One of my best buddies is a Celtics fan and there is no doubt you can hold an intellectually honest conversation with him. But, speaking to the generality of Celtic fans, its like two million Tommy Heinsohns came out of hibernation at the pheromonic call of the Garnett trade.

I'm waiting to see who cheated them out of this championship?

 
At 6/05/2008 6:24 PM, Blogger Sean C. said...

R. Lobstah: I think what you're describing is the norm for most sports fans, regardless of the sport or the team. Go read the message boards at Fanhouse, MSNBC sports, Fox Sports.com, etc., etc., and you'll see that blind loyalty prevails over liberated fandom more often than not.

 
At 6/05/2008 6:50 PM, Blogger db said...

@Brown, Recluse, Esq.: He's not "supposed" to like any kind of women. He just seems very keen to make assertions about how attractive certain women are and have some kind of hierarchy of hotness or beauty acceptaed as a social norm, and to me it just makes it clear how conservative his social values are, which is part of the larger issue about the cultural politics of Boston. I'd find him easier to take if he wasn't so aggressively heterosexual.

@Sean C.: I am just alluding to a formal straight-lacedness punctuated/counterpointed by an informal brutality that we might describe as "white"; in distinction to the way black violence is presented as "uncontrolled/uncontrollable" or somehow inherent. Again, the point is that these are cultural things that don't necessarily map onto skin color.

 
At 6/05/2008 7:02 PM, Blogger holopawer said...

Isn't the Celtics introduction jam a
50 Cent/Timberlake song?

 
At 6/05/2008 7:20 PM, Blogger Sean C. said...

DB: I hate to break it to you, but it is the same everywhere. Most men, rightly or wrongly, do like to make "assertions about how attractive certain women are and have some kind of hierarchy or beauty," and it has nothing to do with "conservative" social values or "the cultural politics of Boston."

Maybe I'm stupid or ill-informed, but I still don't see your connection with the McHale-Posey issue. I'm aware that black violence historically has been viewed by white people as "uncontrolled/uncontrollable," but I don't see how that relates to the McHale takedown of Rambis. If Posey does that to Kobe, I don't think too many Bostonians will object.

 
At 6/05/2008 9:31 PM, Blogger PostmanE said...

I think the above conversation has distracted a little bit from the fact that this post was an absolute banger, and everything I've been trying to put into words about this series for the last three or four days but couldn't.

It got even worse this afternoon. I got home from work, picked up my mail, and the cover of Sports Illustrated -- and the center spread -- is covered with nostalgic nonsense about the renewal of the Lakers-Celtics rivalry. Beyond the names on the front of the jerseys, there is literally nothing resembling the Lakers-Celtics of yore. It feels entirely foreign. That storyline isn't annoying just because it's overplayed; it's also wrong.

In other news, L.A. just committed the most blatant over-and-back I think I've ever seen in an NBA game. OK, overstatement. But it was bad.

 
At 6/05/2008 11:20 PM, Blogger Tom said...

FUCK THE HATE.

This series is going to be dope.

Everything else is irrelevant.

 
At 6/05/2008 11:31 PM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

Doc Rivers to the Celtics in the huddle during a timeout: "What did that guy from South Africa say about adversity?!"

That guy?!? Nelson Mandela? Desmond Tutu?

The concept of "Ubuntu" just rolled over in its grave...

 
At 6/06/2008 2:39 AM, Blogger Sean C. said...

To paraphrase a really bad T.V. movie, Pierce's comeback was either pretty bogus or mostly radical.

 
At 6/06/2008 2:41 AM, Blogger The Walker Wiggle said...

@stopmikelupica

Or Trevor Immelman.

 
At 6/06/2008 3:45 AM, OpenID tredecimal said...

@SML: I'm glad someone else caught that too. I thought of those people, Oscar Pistorius, the super gun guy, Patsy Kensit's character in Lethal Weapon II...no matter how I spun it, I couldn't make it make sense.

@no one at all: Simba is getting downright anti-prophetic. He says Kyle Gass isn't clutch, he comes up big against the Pistons in 6 and tonight. He says ET is done, but he led their bench tonight. Now that Boston wins everything, I think he should yield his column to a homer from a city with some real losing tradition.

 
At 6/06/2008 5:41 AM, Blogger Ty Keenan said...

tredecimal just made my day, because I wondered aloud if Doc tried to counter Phil's movie clips by showing the team Lethal Weapon II before the game. Either that or he took the book idea and made them all read Coetzee.

 
At 6/06/2008 8:59 AM, Blogger Dr. Lawyer IndianChief said...

Paul Simon?

 
At 6/06/2008 9:00 AM, Blogger Dr. Lawyer IndianChief said...

Also, I love how the quote was something completely vague and cliche. I think it was "Nothing can get you down."

 
At 6/06/2008 4:35 PM, OpenID mstaton02140 said...

I just can't believe that a well-respected NBA blog name-checked my hometown of Belmont. That said, while Belmont Country Club may have been the "Jewish" golf club, there are other suburbs that are much more Jewish than it. Mitt Romney is from Belmont and there ain't nothing kosher about him.

 

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