My Interview with Nets Rookie Anthony Randolph
It's too chilly up here for me to watch the summer leagues, and plus, those are perfect examples of basketball that means more to me as a box score. Like a young Andre Miller, as we've discussed before. Incidentally, before you rush to label that po-mo and crazy, remember that your father's father followed a lot of the American League in much the same way.
Instead, I've decided to do part two of what I started on Monday: Plainly stating our basic tenets with a clarity I never could before, and then wondering how true they really are. This is both an attempt to rescue the site's distant past, and to prove that, despite all that shrieking during the Finals, there is peace in the valley and no one need turn in their decoder rings just yet.
Long ago, when names like Rocco, Brickowski and Ken roamed the comments section, I did a post about the link between style and personality. I probably oversimplified it at the time, so here's what I wish I'd said: The style a player develops, both as an abstract ideal and as a process of work on the ground, is a function of his personality.
Yes, his physical abilities and needs of his team figure into it, but for it to achieve any unity, any identity, there has to be a nexus of his sense of self and his game. One that, while essentially symbiotic, can slant one way or the other at various points in time. At the same time, there exists a similar bond between personality and biography, which—almost done here—means you end up with a system of mutual construction that involves all three elements.
Diagram, by Tom Ziller:
But looking back at this pivotal FD moment today, I'm a little embarrassed by how over-credulous this model is. Certainly, we know a lot about players, and can gauge something of who they "really are." Then, there's also all sorts of misinformation, spin, dissembling, and empty utterances. It seems like, if we want to salvage this at all, we'd need to either replace "personality" with "persona," or better yet, insert the latter as a qualifier on the former, with the "personality" hovering out somewhere unknowable that involves Kant and outer space.
Tidy and dogmatic, I know. What I'm wondering now, though, is if, while the nexus of style and personality remains utterly individualistic, the basketball acts that make up "style" are a lot more generic. The minute touches and details that FD hangs on are the intersection of style and personality; it might make even more sense to say that "style" is that intersection, and "basketball acts" is one node. Like there could be two combo guards with, for all intents and purposes, the same approach to the game; however, the tone would be totally different because of personality (and biography).
Why am I doing this, and why do I refuse to say anything concrete? Because, duh, I'm talking about Kobe. What's the oldest argument in the world about the man: Gorgeous game, awful person. And while certain aspects of who he is seem indispensable to this basketball force walking on earth, they are only so subtle: Work ethic, intensity, arrogance, sense of history, capacity for abstraction in all manners of life and job. I don't think that really captures the Kobe Bryant we bicker over all day. But at the same time, it's tough for people to separate man from game. There's something about the tone with which it's carried out that keeps the two stuck together, facial expressions and body language that may not register as basketball acts but nonetheless infect perception.
I understand you, now understand me. This same thing accounts for my extremely objectionable feelings on Garnett, but in a totally different way. KG was once the absolute standard-bearer for this way of understanding pro athletes. For whatever reason, it feels to me—again, as a purely subjective viewer of the sport—that these connections have slackened, or weakened. At the risk of making this even more confusing, he now plays a less subjective game. I'm not saying Kevin Garnett the man has been diminished, just that his play doesn't crackle in the same way. He does a lot of the same things, just with a different feel. It makes perfect sense if you think about his age, his weariness, all the frustration and scrutiny he's faced.
This may or may not have helped him win a championship; who knows if Kobe should pay attention. But I'm beginning to think that, when we're trying to understand our likes and dislikes around the league, we need to think in terms like these. Because it's simply too simplistic, and boring, to focus our feelings on the elements without trying explain how they work together in our minds to create these semi-mythic pop figures.