All 4 You

From yesterday, a real post: Me freaking out about what Palin means for basketball in this election.

As far as blogs go, this site has always slept soundly in the Stone Age. That's because, by and large, I think technology, and the aesthetic it ushers in, are ugly. But we have lately realized that we need to boost traffic to direct more people toward the book and that, while I hate lots of what I've written before last week, newcomers to FD are at this points actively discouraged from exploring the archives.

So in the spirit of science and rediscovery, I just spent about three hours tagging every post that came after the great Flickr purge of 2007. Everything before that looks like shit, and you venture their at your own user-peril. But now, about 200 posts are ordered by more than date alone. Too many of them are "playoffs," and I'm rapidly losing my handle on when to use "personality" but not "psychology" (and the other way around). Also, "style" seems like it could go everywhere. Thus, I'll cop to have done an imperfect job. Hopefully it will still open up the site a little, and maybe even spark debates on what were at times arbitrary classifications on my part.

Curiously, only like two posts warranted a "potential" label. Seems like we've decided to either hedge our bets, or pretend that someone like Anthony Randolph has already arrived.

Labels: ,


Basketball Culture Wars, Part 2

In the coming weeks, you will get so many basketball/politics analogies streaming from my throat that you, and I, might well collapse from annoyance. But they come to me, they work, and I am not trying to be cute. I honestly think these parallel structures both bring us comfort and illuminate dark corners, which is to so say, one serious deserves another. And I need an excuse to keep writing about the election, which has overrun my brain and will destroy us all, or at least keep this site tethered to that which attracts our modest pool of readers (Coming soon: Tags! And then, the deluge!).

I have been riding the Palin Express since I woke up yesterday, reveling in the steady amount of jack-assery that's been turned up on the woman, marveling at what a perfectly vexing political decision that McCain camp made, hoping and praying that this ball of confusion resolves into truth and justice. I've also been haunted by the idea that her selection is not unlike one of those draft picks so bold, and yet so inane, that it causes cancer on the spot for all those who spend their spring projecting the draft instead of watching the playoffs. For some reason, the ones that most readily come to mind are two from the pre-Colangelo Raptors: Villanueva in 2005 or Rafael Araujo the year before. Both were surprises, and in their own way, bold gambles. Villanueva's talent was undeniable, Araujo was tall when that still mattered. That's also the ending I'm looking for here: Araujo failed immediately, never quite realizing that only summer league games have no foul limits, while Villanueva was soon traded but still has some hope of eeking out a productive career. He just needs minutes.

These are what I anticipate being the two possible outcomes for Palin. This choice has thrown her career into overdrive; at the same time, it's an obvious choice of too much, too soon (Note: That Rob Babcock is about on the McCain campaign's level of sophisitication should be noted, but not dwelled upon.) Palin could very well have ended up mattering on the national stage, but now, thrown to the wolves before she's the slighest bit ready, with regard to either issues or sheer political poise, a disaster should be inevitable. I'd be fine with her fading out like Araujo, maybe ending up in the House one day; isn't Hoffa on some team's roster now? Or, the Villanueva version of things, where she gets exposure from this, takes some advantage of it, and is able to salvage a little something from what's bound to be a high-profile failure. In this case, she'd need one 50-point game before the Dan Quayle charges, or cries of exploitation, really start to stick.

For now, it's a fun, perverse, and slightly treacherous ride. I just hope it resolves into something sensible before too long.

Also, while the Recluse launched his take on this election's Duke/Carolina culture wars, I wanted to take on the broader topic of basketball culture wars. I'm not saying that has happened yet, but this Palin crap is so clearly positioned to fuck with the "Obama, basketball president" monolith. She's white, tough, scrappy, rural, so devoid of physical gifts that she didn't even play in college. Now that's real. Barry, on the other, was a lean, fluid gunner as a teen, before evolving into a guy who did a little of everything but wouldn't hesitate to cross you over. Palin's version of the game is near-extinct grain under siege, one that exists only in the monastic lair of large-town Alaska. Obama, on the other hand, has taken his game to Occidental, to Harvard law pick-up games, to Chicago city courts, to informal play against our troops. Now, we may look at Obama's relationship with the game, and self expressed through it, and find the same co-mingling of supposed opposites that makes him such a fascinating figure. Yes, I know I said this last week.

But how easy would it be to spin Palin as pure Hoosiers, and Obama as a tall black dude who prefers the blacktop and can hack it because of his cocky attitude? The former "Barry O'Bomber", who for all his pretenses of analyzing action on the fly, remains at heart a me-first egoist out to prove his badness. Hell, why else would he get out there with today's Heels? PURELY TO SHOW HE CAN HANG. Palin, she'd prefer to nod approvingly while some young men or women, unspolit by even the corrupting influences of college ball, exhibit the kind of behavior that will help them later in life. For her, it was a valuable learning experience and proof of valor, but as a lifestyle-marker, was discarded in favor of hockey (like the NFL down here).

I don't really anticipate basketball becoming a wedge issue here. However, it's an important part of both Obama and Palin's bios. So even if we don't see them fielding questions about ball in their respective debates, it is part of a larger cluster of signs and symbols that the Right's going to lean on in the coming months. Palin's experience helps bolster this "Barrack is Other" meme, making his basketball, and thus him, blacker and therefore less American.

Labels: , , ,


Basketball Culture Wars

The longtime or especially astute readers all know I'm a University of North Carolina alum and an ardent Tar Heel basketball fan, and I can't help but notice how closely this election parallels the UNC/Dook rivalry in basketball, especially after today's announcement of Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate. Maybe this is a stretch, but follow me.

Smith versus Krzyzewski

Dean Smith is a liberal who participated in the civil rights movement, opposes the death penalty and the war in Iraq, and once allowed a player to skip practice to protest against the UNC cafeteria workers' low wages. He's also talked and written candidly about how his Christain faith has shaped his worldview.

Coach K is a Republican who likes to tell offensive jokes and has succeeded in part because of dirty tricks and media manipulation. He coaches his players to play dirty (slapping wrists, taking bullshit charges, etc.) and dares the refs to call the foul, which seems pretty similar to me to the Karl Rove tactics of distorting opponents' positions and spreading rumors and daring the media to call him out on it. These strategies work by intimidating referees through constant yelling and cursing and causing journalists to fear that they might confirm the "liberal media" image that the right-wing has created for them.

Kansas versus Alaska

Obama's grandparents are from Kansas, as are Dean Smith and longtime UNC coach Bill Guthridge. Of course, Roy Williams also coached at Kansas for many years, as did former UNC player Larry Brown. Kansas Governor Kathleen Sibelius is a strong Obama supporter.

Duke has had two star players from Alaska: Trajan "Alaskan Assassin" Langdon and Carlos Boozer. McCain's recently announced running mate, Sarah Palin, is the governor of Alaska and ran the point for Wasilla High, leading them to the "small school" state championship back in '82.

Jordan versus Wojo

No UNC player, with the possible exceptions of Lennie Rosenbluth and Phil Ford, is more associated with UNC basketball than Michael Jordan. He famously hit the game-winning jumper against Georgetown in the 1982 NCAA title game, the same year as Palin's high school championship (meaning that Jordan is older than she is!). Jordan is known for his incredible work ethic, but on the court, his gracefulness often makes it all look effortless. He is also seen by some as a transcendent post-racial figure, someone whose popularity has helped to pave the way for the first black president.

Christian Laettner is probably the iconic Duke basketball player, but no one symbolizes Duke more to me than Steve "Wojo" Wojciechowski, the scrappy Polish-American point guard who now sits next to Coach K on the Duke bench. Although I've never seen Sarah Palin play basketball (and, really, probably only a hundred or less people have), I like to imagine that she is a similar player to Wojo, succeeding through gritty hard work and not above a cheap shot or two, if it gets the job done.

Unitary Executive Theory

Current UNC Coach Roy Williams has surrounded himself with two assistant coaches in Joe Holladay and Steve Robinson, who have over fifty years of coaching experience between them. He has the confidence to listen to their ideas and trusts them to run elements of the team's practices. Similarly, Obama has selected Joe Biden, who has served for thirty-five years in the U.S. Senate, to be his running mate, and is known for being a respectful listener who asks acute questions of his advisors.

With the recent appointment of Nate James as assistant coach, Coach K's three assistants--Chris Collins being the other--are now all former players of his, none of whom have much coaching experience. This sort of cronyism and insularity is all too common in George W. Bush's administration, and McCain's selection of a comically inexperienced Sarah Palin is an indication that he may also tread down that same path.

The Audacity of Hope

To me, the choice is clear. I hope my fellow Tar Heels share my vision and help Obama win North Carolina in November! If the Heels get to shake Obama's hand in a post-championship visit to the White House next spring, I will be able to die a very happy man.

Go Heels! Vote Obama!

Labels: , , ,


The Beasley Postulate, Extended

I was so serious when I said it: This is now a politics blog. Why else would we have covered a veep acceptance speech? Therefore, it with great importance that I command you to watch this video Chris Bosh made for FanHouse, of him and the gang eating fast food:

A few weeks back, I posted some image-defying, at-home footage of porn stars, and wondered what such a thing might do for NBA players, and if it ran too counter to the interests of branding and such. Well, here it is. First of all, this is stunningly mundane. And yet, you're still struck by the sheer presence of the scene—LeBron James, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, and Deron Williams, sitting at one table like it's nothing, millions of dollars and thousands of win-shares kicking it in front of, as Bosh note brilliantly, a wall of Penzoil. They come off not only as less serious and polished than we're used to seeing them—why wouldn't they, since this is their world, not the media's—but they also come off well. This is the most loose and amusing we've ever seen LeBron; weirdly, it was the acting of the "The LeBrons" that had previously seemed like the most authentic Bron we'd seen. I guess the common thread is humor and goofiness, which are largely absent from the King James we're sold.

But I'll be darned if this doesn't make me like James a lot more, and realize that underneath all the stone-faced professionalism, this is an outgoing young man having the time of his life. We can pretend that sports are war, or the measure of a man, or something whose true significance fans, and not players, are responsible for generating. However, who exactly relies on this construction for their interest? Does the demographic whose name is synonymous with the mention of "demographic" in sports want a stiff upper lip, as opposed to this window out onto levity and entertainment? I guess that (as it would be for the Nautica Thorn example) it's a slippery slope into all the old stereotypes of the modern athlete, and an evocation of Johnny Unitas's flat-top and the brow of Dave Cowens. I keep wondering, though, if 25-34 year-old males don't at some point catch up to the athletes of this era, or maybe even find themselves relating to exactly this capacity for frivolity.

Of course, this stuff lives on the internet for now, when we actually do get to see it. And I don't mean on-set bloopers, unless it's that batch of Iverson that got pulled off of YouTube after a few days of existence and never returned. Still, this shit is real, and people respond to it. It may muddy, or make slightly more complex, our picture of an athlete—or a candidate. But in the end, having us feel there's a real person underneath the professional feats, one that informs and infuses them with our common humanity, is worth the sacrifice. Instead of trivializing our fandom—or political allegiance—it engages us, turns us into more than circuits responding to cues and unrewarding, rote narratives. If we don't expect it, and the powers that be don't think we want it, the cycle can be broken and life will be more interesting for all of us. Unless I'm grossly wrong and a lot of people do need their athletes, politicans, and porn stars to be a series of accomplishments surrounded by formulae or talking points, nothing more and nothing less.

But seeing as this tincture of personality is what makes for Obama's appeal, and it's what made McCain's name in 2000, you'd think this charisma would have some recognizable value. It's only a matter of time before sneaker companies realize this, and hopefully, this election will hammer home that point even further.

P.S. Tum Tum=official Redeem Team soundtrack

Labels: , , , ,

We Are Fighting for Power

You already know politics is sports, so we thought we'd grab Ziller and chat Biden's acceptance speech like it was Hawks versus Grizzlies. For some reason, Dr. LIC and Shoals couldn't stop talking about how good-looking they think Joe Biden and Bill Walton are.

So wait, why did we decide to do this?
Brown Recluse, Esq.: It was your idea, dude.
Dr. LIC: Because Biden is the most FD out the Obama camp. B-Clinton woulda been, but he is mad bitter.
Ziller: Bitter is not an FD quality?
Shoals: I think Clinton turned a corner tonight and became more Biden. Which is to say, post-bitter.
Ziller: Or does it just destroy Bill's inherent FDness?
Dr. LIC: But that guy is running everything behind the scenes.
BR: Clinton showed his ass during the primaries in a big way, but the speech was on point.

Shoals: All Pat Buchanan talks about is red meat. He's like a brain-dead lynx this week.
Dr. LIC: Buchanan is totally the Keyshawn Johnson of the set.
BR: Bill Clinton talked about every single thing the pundits criticized all of the other speakers for not saying, but Buchanan picked out the one thing he missed (Guantanamo) and had to harp on it.
Shoals: Isn't saying "torture" close enough?
Ziller: It's like a Skip Bayless joke Leitch always tells.
Shoals: Biden is totally Bulworth.
Dr. LIC: Have you guys seen this:

Dr. LIC: That woman's name is QUINCY LEWIS.
Shoals: Wasn't she a draft pick?
Dr. LIC: Yeah, from Minnesota. He gave Kirilenko the name AK-47.
BR: Is Pelosi on pills?
She has peanut butter on the roof of her mouth.
Shoals: A. just asked if Jill Biden has been shopping at the Michelle Obama store.
Dr. LIC: She looks like a person showing up to Bruce Wayne's parties.
Dr. LIC: Joe Biden's handsomeness makes Obama look a bit ill in comparison.
BR: Like sickly ill? Or like illmatic?
Dr. LIC: Like, less handsome.
Shoals: Biden's off-the-chain-ness makes Obama seem like an elder statesman.
Ziller: Did Barack just call him "salt?" Salt and pepper!
Shoals: "Salt" is street slang for someone from Scranton. They had a Negro league team. The Scranton Salts. Joe Biden built a museum about it. With his teeth!
Dr. LIC: Biden looks like he could play a serious round of golf.
Shoals: With his teeth!

Shoals: Recluse, who was born fighting more, Biden or Webb?
BR: Webb would whoop Biden's ass.
Shoals: Every Jim Webb book sounds like a Johnny Thunders song.
Dr. LIC:
Beau Biden is totally Mad Men.
BR: Even though Biden's been in Washington for decades, he's actually been in Delaware this whole time!
Shoals: Dr. LIC, why are they talking about Humphrey?
Dr. LIC: Because Humphrey is the beginning and the end. Humphrey = democracy.
Shoals: Like some Greek shit?
Dr. LIC: Basically. Polis. Minneapolis.
Shoals: Dang. do you have any pamphlets I could read?
Dr. LIC: The Final Call?
Shoals: There's a special Humphrey edition?

Ziller: I thought the sentence was going to end at "Dad wasn't afraid to call Milosevic."
Shoals: Webb is a pussy. He'd never call Milosevic a war criminal to his face. He's too busy fighting the guy at the checkout counter.
Dr. LIC: Tragedy = qualified ?
Shoals: I told you, POST-BITTER!

Dr. LIC: I want someone to read this book to me.
Shoals: Like, on a date?
Ziller: Maybe Quincy Lewis?
Dr. LIC: I just don't have time to read it, but I want someone to tell me all about it.
Shoals: What's that song? "Hold on Loosely"?
Shoals: This Obama cameo will be like when I saw Jay jump on stage with Free and Beans at a Power 99 anniversary concert, and the women next to us said, "I'm going to tell my grandkids about this."
Ziller: Obama's coming in Owen Hart style.
Shoals: I actually made that joke about Ted Kennedy and felt horrible about it.

Shoals: Biden is the fighting Dracula of Scranton.
Dr. LIC: Holy shit, this guy has MAGNETISM!
Ziller: He's kind of Peter O'Toole-ish.
Shoals: A. thought Biden had gotten one of his kids names wrong, which isn't out of the question.
Dr. LIC: This dude took 1000 viagra before this speech.
Shoals: Quoth Bill: "I LOVE JOE BIDEN!"

The bravest warriors? Like William Wallace?
BR: Wrong country, dude.
Ziller: Finnegan!
Dr. LIC: Biden's mom has stripes.
Ziller: McCain dated her before the War.
Shoals: I spend all my time thinking about Favre cuckolding McCain in some sort of weird pill ring scandal.
Dr. LIC: "As a child, as a child I stuttered."
Shoals: Walton?
Shoals: Dude, he was told by his mom to kill people. Fuck Jim Webb. He doesn't win. He triumphs.
BR: Most people don't die from a nose-bleed, you pussy.
Shoals: Especially not in Scranton.

Dr. LIC: How long is the train from DC to Delaware? That seems like a prime drug route
Shoals: What are you insinuating?
Dr. LIC: I'm just saying. I bet that train has some action on it.
Shoals: I heard today that Biden is the poorest senator of them all.
Ziller: Mark Rypien?
Shoals: All he's ever done is write one book. I guess there are all sorts of other senatorial side-hustles I don't understand.
BR: "He has a net worth between $59,000 and $366,000."
Shoals: Where's that from, taxbrackets.com?

Ziller: Biden is better indoors, which means he might not hack it at Rucker.
Shoals: Biden needs to bust out the red meat.
Dr. LIC: This speech is giving a lot of inspiration to stutterers.
Shoals: K-mart=so Biden
Shoals: Too bad I already made the Walton comparison, which weaker minds will think is more apt, since both are verbose and white and good looking. But we all know what's really going on.

Shoals: "That's not change. That's the same." Bring on the Sesame Street.
BR: Isn't it more important that it's immoral than it's the status quo?
Ziller: Buchanan is going to explode. Physically. He's going to bite Rachel's arm.
Shoals: They touch a lot. He's never met a lesbian and thinks he can change her or something.

Shoals: Fuck accessible, I want EXCESSIVE health care!
Dr. LIC: I love how China and India are suddenly our enemies just because their economies are exploding. I miss having Russia as an enemy, though.
Shoals: Here's what Biden needs to break out. Dr. LIC, do you even remember the cold war?
Dr. LIC: I just found on MySpace the kid I was friends with in first grade from Ukraine who said he went to Ukraine and they burned American flags for fun. That was the cold war that I remember.

Dr. LIC: Holy shit, that was a fucking entrance! ALLOW ME TO RE-INTRODUCE MYSELF!!!!
Shoals: Obama is so cocky. He cannot wait to smoke everyone's speech tomorrow night.
Shoals: He said "rock the house" like he was imitating a white dude. "Right down to earth, in a languge you can understand."

Shoals: OMG Obama totally was into Living Colour!

Labels: , , ,



In the middle of the Olympics, it came to us. A thought bigger than LeBron in Russia, or Brooklyn, or even the mystical significance that 2010 has taken on. Thank you, Akron Beacon Journal, for tapping into the motherlode of idle basketball reflection, of lighting the way with a single observation that's the difference between bullshit Y2K and Revelations. The very simple principle, which remained hidden in plain sight like the wonder of the natural world, is as follows: The Cavs could not only re-sign LeBron, but also bring in Wade or Bosh. Or Amare, or Josh Howard, who are part of that 2010 free agent class. Cleveland has one star already, and of all the teams like that, only they will have the cap room to ink another.

Let's forget, for a second, the practical concerns of what this would do to the entire team. The Celtics worked around three gigantic contracts; I, for one, think it's just a matter of Ferry paying his usual kind of player less. Also, while you could make the argument that Boston had three grizzled, ego-less vets ready to get in line and win, thus making their situation totally different than two young superstars in their prime, don't shortchange LeBron. He only happens to be the most versatile player in the universe, and has only been reduced to a meager 30/7/7 machine by Mike Brown and his team's total paucity of everyone and anything resembling flexible talent. So fuck off, stop doubting, and return to the fold of those who believe that, with Bron in our midst, anything is possible. Like winning two championships at once while traveling back in time.

I would also like to promptly apologize to Amare and Josh Howard for not regularly including them in my assessment of the awesome force that is 2010. Howard's stock is crazy low right now, but pre-Kidd he was on the ascent. He has two seasons to get it together. I, for one, am optimistic. As for Amare, it's well-known that he can't play defense, and may never exactly regain his pre-surgery ability to instantaneous achieve lift-off. I stay up at night wondering if that's the case, and wishing the questions would stop tearing at my mind-space. Regardless, he's still an athletic as fuck big man who can score 200 ways around the hoop, and is good for some rebounds, at least on paper. Max deals have been signed for far less, and far less dominant—and more fractuous—individuals have been regarded as franchise saviors. Sidenote: The internet should erase everything anyone wrote about the Knicks after they got Randolph. It's the blogosphere's equivalent of eugenics.

What I want to do, and what I plan to do when my office gets gloomy and I wonder what it all means, is spend a lot of time thinking about how fucking awesome any of these pairings would be. Putting Bron and Wade together almost makes my brain shut down, especially after the Olympics. My meager grasp of X's and O's notwithstanding, the sheer amount of game that would harness, every night for several years without Coach K smirking on the margins, is almost overpowering. This may be faulty logic, but I've seen both of them single-handedly beat better teams many, many times, while also doing an admirable job of playing off of lesser teammates when necessary. LeBron still could become both Magic Johnson 2 and C-Webb's revenge without sacrificing his Jordan-esque opuses. Not to say that James needs to become a #2, but certainly having Wade—a more traditional SG who nonetheless knows how to involve others and boards like a motherfucker—would allow him to open up his game, instead of being forced to beg for a fastbreak, and then settle for an iso that likely ends in some Cav fumbling a pass.

James and Bosh is more orthodox, but deceptively so. It would give LeBron someone really skilled, and dynamic, to hit, feed, or set up near the basket, which would also obviate the King's much-noted lack of a post game. This is the kind of partnership that would instantly streamline, and take a lot of the rough, desperate edges off of James that have been interpreted as hubris or stagnation. The only problem, if this even is one, is that James is a one-man fastbreak, so Bosh's ability to run the floor wouldn't really matter much. Oh well. This team in the half-court would be like two tigers filled with dynamite, strapped to circling sharks, just waiting to explode and turn the sharks into ghost-sharks that would live forever and steal our daughters. I think that is a much more concrete dream for the Cavs than the Bron/James basketball orgasm whose name can barely be spoken.

Amare and Howard are, despite my doctrinary commitment to these two, lesser players. And it is not without irony that I not how cleanly this pair splits the euphoria outlined in those Wade and Bosh scenarios. From a style, swagger, and all-out ridiculousness perspective, Stoudemire and LeBron would be a joy to see together. If there's one thing James really lacks, it's a consistent sense of personality and, well, style, beyond that of history-making agent who both dutifully oversee and is in thrall to his own outsized importance in basketball. Amare, as we all know, is a one-way player, but could be a major influence—whether good or bad—when it came to unlocking a little more energy, and non-business-like vitality, in LeBron (some of which, it should be said, we saw in the Olympics). I'm not quite sure how to approch this from a basketball perspective: They are pretty similar physically; Amare has maybe an inch on LeBron, James's less svelte. But–and maybe this is my Amare fandom speaking—I can't imagine that James wouldn't welcome a chance to play with Stoudemire, who would detonate on command near the basket, as well as draw defenders from all over with his ability to slash like a forward (Note: he's better at that than Garnett ever was).

Josh Howard, recent difficulties aside, is three things: An offensive threat who, unless he's being meticulously placed by Jason Kidd, can score from all over, and a disruptive defensive presence who is kind of like Shawn Marion as a shooting guard. A more modest triumph than one of these other guys would be, and yet exactly the kind of player's player who LeBron knows the true value of. This doesn't conjure up images of a 2-on-5 stampede like the other combination do, but Howard might not bring max money, and, if there's one other decent, reasonably paid player on that roster (Mo Williams, maybe), would provide the Cavs with an excellent nucleus that wouldn't shackle LeBron or make us alternately feel bad for him and despise him for an awfully uninspired way of doing business. Good players make superstars better, usually, and Howard is one of those players. However, this one is getting way too caught up in the realm of the real, and forcing me to try and think of offensive schemes that aren't metaphors for AP Physics, so we'll stop this one here.

So let this be a celebration of basketball. Basketball that may never be, but that, on the heels of the Olympics, is a possible landing zone for the Redeem Team's staggering, but to me ultimately kind of wasted and meaningless, explosion of style, action, and consequence. Let us be as one, even if nothing comes of this and the Cavs move to Iraq. This is the new fantasy basketball, and I plan to be at its center. I love everyone.

Labels: , , , ,


FD Guest Lecture: Chucks and Balances

Tom Ziller, moved by the convention:

Of course sports fans love politics. It's all competitive drama. Winners and losers, strategy and second-guessing. Opinions, data. Sean Hannity, Joe Morgan. Isiah Thomas, Mark Penn. 50-state strategy, West Coast offense. Spike Lee wearing the UNDRCRWN Obama tee, Brad Miller holding up a bag of X-Box games and FD shirt. Same arenas, same goals, different uniforms.

But as we devoted basketball partisans know, all sports are not created equal. Following the NFL is an impossibly different task than being a fan of baseball or the NBA. It's the same with politics: there are distinct divisions between certain sectors.

Presidential politics: NBA

A league of stars and style. [Barack/LeBron, Carter/Wade, Monroe/Mikan] A history filled with very specific, seminal moments. Ebbs and flows during the campaign. Defined set of names that matter, with the occasional surprise uprising. The main character seeks specific complements [Kobe/Kidd, McCain/Lieberman]. Lots of spectacle. Obama at the convention in '04 : LeBron, Game 5; Hillary at the convention tonight : Kobe in the fourth against Spain. (Note: Olbermann's first words after the speech: "Grand slam." I would have went with "Dagger!" or "Bang!" or even "YES!" Damn, Keith.)

Congressional/Senate politics: NFL

It can all change every two years. No stability. Obsession necessary to understand depth of the game. [53-man roster, gerrymandered seats] Extremely localized. Salary cap, campaign finance. Heavyweights shatter all the time. [Shaun Alexander, Tom DeLay] Some just won't go away. [Favre, Helms] Plenty of unassailable elder statesmen [Troy Brown, Dianne Feinstein] and young eager pups [Jim Webb, Adrian Peterson].

State politics: College football

Brian Schweitzer is Darren McFadden!

Judicial politics: MLB

The casual observer doesn't care until someone blows [John Roberts, Tim Lincecum]. Minor players have tremendous impact [Dave Roberts, some cat in the Ninth Circuit]. Endless names in the system, on the bench. Full of red-asses at the highest level [Red Sox, SCOTUS]. Ingrained anger to new ideas. Obvious bias despite assertions to the contrary [non-partisan offices, strike zones]. Steeped in odd tradition. Totally anti-celebration.

Labels: , , ,

Each Day is a Lifetime, 8.26.08


For consistency's sake:

RIP Kevin Duckworth.

Shoals pays proper respects.


The holy grail.

The thoroughness on Gerald Wallace.


Core Values

It's true, last night the man who might be the First Brother-in-Law espoused some basic FD ideology from the DNC stage. That would be when Craig Robinson, drafted ahead of Manute Bol and recently hired as coach of Oregon State, reminded us all that when Michelle asked him to assess this new man in her life, Robinson hit the courts with Obama. Since, and I quote, "my sister had grown up hearing my father and me talk about how to judge a person's character by what type of sportsman they are."

Then we heard the description of a game that, as I mentioned yesterday, Obama himself has compared to Tayshaun Prince. Factor in the swagger that inspires Jordan and Kennedy comparisons, which I guess makes for a bad president and no one wants to hear about right now, and you've got the candidate in a nutshell. Alternately fiery and cerebral, soaring and judicious. A lawyer who learned a rhetorical trick or two from the church, a guy whose idea of campaign stop banter consists of Socratic examinations of whether a barbeque-less barbeque can still be called a "barbeque," or must be referred to as a "cook-out."

You can call this an elaborate, inventive exercise in image management, an attempt to contrast the young(er), hip, athletic, authentic Obama with that aged heap of jowel that the other side's proffering. Or point out that, of course, this site would drool all over a candidate who points to basketball as profound force in his life, makes it a key part of his brand, and sometimes uses it as code for race. But bear in mind, whether or not this anecdote is being used as part of a campaign, it happened before this election, on the side of the relationship that wasn't already planning to run for office. That it holds true now is convenient, but it doesn't cheapen it. In fact, to my mind it's effective exactly because it's so ineluctable. Basketball is basketball, and, to completely twist and butcher a popular idiom, it can't lie. Give a realistic scouting report and it sketches the outline of a real personality, and vice-versa.

(See here for our most recent graphic representation of the matter.)

We've been saying this for years, and yet it's never seemed more relevant. All jokes about FBP aside, most players are as meticulously managed, or at least measured, with their image as politicians. It's only on the court where, between their actual play and the personality we see on display, they can't hide, control themselves, or really be controled in the way PR folks would like. Sadly, it would be absolutely impossible to keep Iverson from busting out the cross-over, even if you put him in a suit. In part this is because one's game predates fame and fortune, but also, basketball just works like that. To hear this trotted out as a way of validating a presidential candidate is refreshing, as is the notion this idea at least goes back a couple generations in Michelle Obama's family, which didn't have FD's pretenses and self-aggrandizing priorities.

Contrast this with Rod Benson's angst over "the athlete-blogger conundrum." What I found so perplexing about his concerns—if you missed it, or can't read, Benson worries that his blogging might have scared off potential NBA employers—was that the Internet is one big marketing tool. Blogs are platforms for self-creation, and reinvention, and everything else imaginary and brand-honing you could possibly imagine. Benson emphasizes that he's gotten less candid on BDL as he heard about more roster spots, and all along kept some material for his personal site due to its sensitive nature. But all this was a conscious choice to make a name for himself, which he did. It's made him an online presence the same way Arenas's blog made him "the first internet superstar." Last time I checked, professional athletes regularly speak to the media, and aren't exactly at a loss for public forums. Blogging is all about the illusion of intimiacy and informality; that goes for me, Rod Benson, and politicans alike.

Now, that's not to say that Benson is wrong. Plenty of teams might see him as a loose cannon who will say anything. However, if they want to see the measure of the man, what would actually come out if they brought him on board, they should pay more attention to what he does on the court. That's the part he can't so readily change, and isn't manufacturing because it helps his career. Blogging isn't unfettered truth-telling, but style sure is. If nothing else, that a lot of country was told this last night kind of makes my day.

Incidentally, if anyone's wondering, I am absolutely terrible at the game of basketball, and what little game I have bears little resemblance to FD ideals. I'm much more athletic than you'd think, but am so uncoordinated I can't use it for anything but blocking shots and lunging at steals. My touch is non-existent, so mostly I just play hard defense, get rebounds, and try and hit someone who might actually make a shot, preferably in a way that makes it look like I anticipated their movements. So allow me to revise Craig Robinson's point and say that it holds true only for people who play basketball well. I'd insist someone turn to my writing voice to find the real me, even though that falls victim to all my critiques of blogging-as-realism. Whatever, I hate you all anyway. God bless America.

Labels: , , ,


More America

Yes, I'm watching the convention, but if you get bored, here's HBO's ABA doc in three parts. Also, I have to think about whether "post-rational" or "post-politics" is a more lasting contribution to the cable news canon.

Labels: ,

Each Day Is a Lifetime, 8.25.08

I am experiencing what's either Olympic withdrawal or pre-Convention jitters. Regardless, I have chills and can't see, so this will be brief for now. Maybe I'll pull something real together for later.

-BOXIANA. FD loyalists know Shoefly, and might even remember his epic boxing post of 1.5 years ago. Well, after much preparation, he's launched a blog of his own. It's about boxing, but let me say: A true liberated fan need not be bound by what sports he supposedly likes or does not like. So read and rejoice. (BS)

-My final Portraits in Patriotism. Shows clear signs of illness. (BS)

-Good ole reliable Jim Souhan singles out Allen Iverson in the latest recapitulation of the "Team-USA-2004 really motivated this year's team to win gold...as though it was Iverson's fault for what happened that year (hmm, I seem to remember now-"redeemers" Dwyane Wade, Carlos Boozer, Carmelo Anthony, and LeBron James on that team as well). Regardless of this storyline's idiocy, two tremendous blows have been dealt to Allen Iverson's legacy over the past three months--neither of which have involved him. (1) is the Redeem Team narrative that simply tosses Iverson to the dogs as not-a-national-folk-hero-of-the-Steve-Smith-caliber.

The caricature of AI then gets used as the paper-doll foil for everything America does NOT represent (good thing for Marbury that he never grew cornrows. (2) Kevin Garnett wins a ring. I've wondered over these past two months...whose legacy does this affect more? KG's or the legacies of Iverson, Dirk, T-Mac, Jason Kidd, (and maybe LeBron?). Prior to this year's championship, we could always look at AI and KG as the two warriors who never won a ring. Now that he is stuck on a terribly coached team that isn't even getting out of the first round of the playoffs, the mystique of Iverson is beginning to dissipate...but it's NOT HIS FAULT. The sad thing is having to wonder whether these two events (which have inevitably motivated Iverson) will be counteracted by the wearing down of his body. (Dr. LIC)

Brown Recluse, Esq.: Iverson and Duncan were BY FAR the two best players in Athens. And Wade, Melo, and LeBron whenever Larry actually let them play. To assert that AI was in any way responsible for that team losing is just wrong.

-I spent almost two hours Sunday trying to write something on how, in the run-up to the first Obama/Biden appearance, the MSNBC compared DE's finest to Koufax, taking some time to get his gifts under control, and a boxer who punches a lot and lands enough of them. Obama was, in passing, likened to LeBron, with talent that immediately manifests itself. This had something to do with the whole Darwin's Athletes conundrum, since here a white politician was the more athleticized, and the possibility that Biden might be a more stereotypically "black" politician than Obama. Like really, who has more in common, style-wise, with Al Sharpton?

But then I got stuck on the issue of the Undrcrwn and Air Obama tees. Would those ever be made for a white, Latino, or Asian candidate with a similar cult of cool surrounding him? I'd say maybe, and yet it's hard to completely erase the issue of race, any more than I can unequivocally say that Obama's skin color is proof of a brave, new tomorrow, rather than—for some voters—proof of a desire for that. What makes it especially complicated is that, while Obama has made no secret of his love of hoops, branded himself the first basketball president, and expressed adulation for Dr. J, he's also, by his own admission, closest to Tayshaun Prince on the court. So as a speaker and a movement, he's MJ, or fiery Vince. But if you actually look at the man, on the court and in the finer points of his politial gamemanship (quoth his brother-in-law: "if you want to know about a man, play basketball with him"), that's only the tip of the iceberg, or maybe even an optical illusion.

So yeah. Biden has conventional style. Obama's is more complex, to the point of rupturing that corny, but indefatigable, connection between everything that can be interpreted as appreciating the value of style. I'm going back to sleep. (BS)



Profound, True, and Obvious

Some scattered Olympics thoughts. I know the game was earlier here, but now it's 3AM, so bear that in mind:

-Congrats, D-Wade, you are officially on my unmitigated list of unmitigated love. I know, you were always deft and hell-raising, but in these Games you played like you wanted to scare people on the way to getting results, and occasionally bask in the terrific afterglow of your own menace. You were pissed that the NBA had forgotten you, pissed about the USA's need to prove itself, and no longer shackled by domestic partnership. I don't want to say that your 2006 ring didn't have a sense of purpose to it, but there's a huge difference between numb teleology and delighting in each step of the journey.

-Now that we've won gold, I'll go back to believing that the USA's participation in international competition is really stupid. Basketball players are a natural resource here. It's like if Colombia entered a contest to see who kept the most coke in their apartment.

-Medal ceremony: I watched, and it was Kobe, Dwight Howard, and Wade singing, or at least mouthing, the national anthem. Michael Redd was talking to himself, LeBron was working on the anthem for his own country, which is already in the works. The country and the anthem, I mean. Please, try and tell me that's implausible. You know how when you really burn your hand, or feel extreme cold, you can't tell which one it is? That was the vibe I got from Kobe's gigantic grin and trance-like swaying toward the end—at once utter, "uncool" sincerity and PR-madness.

-Spain is my favorite non-USA team because they're weird. And that's how all national iterations of basketball should seem to outsiders. You would never expect any other team to play like America, and so it should be with style and other nations. Note: It doesn't count when they play a more "pure," or boring, or rudimentary, version. Let's see some national character! Pass around that DuBois essay where he takes Hegelian racism and turns it into a reason why we've all just got to be ourselves: Each country has a unique role to play in the destiny of the game. Or, if that's too domineering for you, national athletic identity is nothing if it makes such hardy reference to the game itself, rather than the people playing it.

-More medal ceremony: How awkward did everyone look? I know they were happy and had their guard down, and among other stars, no one really has to serve as pillar, lightning rod, and monolith. But if you'd told me that, in their moment of triumph, Bosh,Howard and Kobe would have the body language of 14 year-olds just adjusting to life with braces and a growth spurt, I'd have called you mad.

-I have no idea why Argentina thought jeans, jerseys and medals were a good look. Though you can tell a lot about a man from his choice in Olympic telecast denim.

-Was that the NBA game beating all, the NBA game adapted to FIBA, or evidence that there's no such thing as a prescribed NBA game anymore? I'm inclined to call this a win for the most lofty principles of style and fluidity, which left their stamp on these wins even with Coach K supposedly getting all West Point about defense and zone-busting, or something.

-What I really took away from this Olympics: Berni. Ziller says he spent a lot of the first Spain/USA game trying to determine if that was a first or last name. More importantly, Berni recently organized a summer course at the University of Malaga called "Basketball: A Social Phenomenon." His description: "Not a lot of people know how we live and only pay attention at what we do on court. This was a chance to see everything surrounding professional basketball and it was a fun, interesting thing to do."

-While we were toughing out that completely unprovoked Phelps flashback, my girl and I started thinking of colognes for various Olympic basketball participants. Berni's smells like a shuttle bus. Scola's, some sort of burnt cooking. Email me for more details or patents.

-Had to write this now so I could justify getting political tomorrow.

Labels: , , ,


Each Day is a Lifetime, 8.22.08

-Snoop in legal trouble, Mad Men—I mean, Wire—fans hold their breath. Such are the perils of "non-traditional actors." But don't forget, Anwar Glover (Slim Charles) beat a gun charge with the help of George Pelecanos, so things should be fine. (BS)

-American patriot Sam Adams thinks that Team USA's success in these Olympics is largely due to the teaching of "leader of men" Coach K. Personally, I would attribute their improvement more to the huge upgrade at guard from Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury, and rookie Dwyane Wade to Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, seasoned veteran Dwyane Wade, Deron Williams, Jason Kidd, and Michael Redd. Having a more experienced Carmelo and Lebron probably doesn't hurt either. Or the extra motivation that comes from their losses in Athens. But, yeah, it's probably all because of Coach K. (BR)

-Also, shit happens for a reason. J.R. back in Denver long-term. Somehow, he's seeming less disposable than either Melo or Iverson. (BS)

UPDATE: Deal is three years, which actually makes a lot more sense for both times. Some commitment, probably slightly generous, but everyone covers their ass.

-Via Tirico Suave, the straight-from-China story of Kobe's love for graphic novels, especially "that dark shit." I know, he's a rapist prick egotist whose 81-point game actually sucked. But seriously, people who don't think Kobe's a fascinating personality are just stupid. Oh, I forgot, he probably saw The Dark Knight and only then picked up the hobby, after someone's dorky younger brother mentioned them to him and his marketing people sent him a text message. Fucking poseur. (BS)

-I've watched a lot of basketball in the last decade, and I have zero recollection of this born-to-be-obscure AmEx ad, with major stars Elden Campbell and Jamal Mashburn:

Notwithstanding the uncomfortable association of New Orleans with dark, abandoned houses, I fail to see how this was supposed to make me get a credit card or find solace in these two noble NBA athletes. If anything, it makes me want to stay the fuck away from the city, and voodoo, and basketball players who come off as the black guys about to die halfway through a horror movie. (BS)

-I hate Andrew Bogut. I hate his condescending attitude toward the NBA, his holier-than-thou pronouncements in the international about the beauty of life with the Boomers ("no one's playing for a contract"), and just generally, the fact that he talks shit in the off-season and then saunters back to the NBA each season like everyone shouldn't want to kick his ass. But more importantly, how is he not already doing what LeBron or Kobe shouldn't/couldn't/wouldn't do? As we know so well by now, Bogut is Austrailian, but he's also Croatian, and thus owes Europe his instinctive appreciation for all that is righteous and profound in sport. His heart belongs to Europe. And yet that NBA contract is just too juicy to pass up. Granted, he signed this $14 million a year deal before the Exodus began, and maybe some club in Kiev might have offered him a comparable rate. The point is, though, he's whoring himself out, living in exile, and defying his principles for the money, just like some people think American All-Stars never will. If he had any balls, he would've been that pioneer. (BS)

-Yeah, no shit we're late on the Jeezy/Nas joint. It's because we're not an mp3 blog, and I spend all day reading rumor pages. My two cents: I know the Obama campaign gets annoyed with shit like this, but I'm not even so sure this is about Obama. It almost seems to be a song in spite of Obama. He's in there, as is Bush, but only as references. When you're emailing Jesus and backhandedly forgiving the late Pimp C, bigger things are happening. You are also talking to someone who still had "What You Know" as his ringtone well into last year, if that's any indication of what moves me these days. (BS)

-DEATH OF A DYNASTY. Or wait, BIRTH OF A DYNASTY, since that would make the greatest swimmer ever. Fuck public relations, make babies. (BS)

-For the record, Bethlehem is a Jewish name.

-UPDATE: Really, could anything be more confusing and complicated for my view of the universe than Darius Miles joining today's KG in Boston? Especially if you click on the link to see the SI cover, which just might trump a certain SLAM cover in terms of breathless D-Miles optimism.



Each Day is a Lifetime, 8.21.08

- Everyone's still talking about Usain Bolt. Over at AZSportsHub.com, there's actually a poll based on my post asking who's the more impressive athlete--Usain or Amare? For the record, I voted for Usain Bolt. (BR)

- ESPN is going for the more conventional comparison of Phelps and Bolt. Relatively speaking, is this blue/red or is it black/white? Regardless, it's much more impressive to be the best sprinter in the world when there are at least ten times as many sprinters as swimmers gunning for it. (CB)

- Taking it back to the hardwood, Shoals makes the argument that Team USA's dominance in Beijing proves that all that talk about the NBA style not translating to the international game was bunk.

- While we're on the subject of the Olympics, economist Ian Ayres advocates more citizenship flexibility, which he assumes would lead to more Americans competing for other countries, and potentially some form of post-nationalist liberated fandom: "You could, of course, still root for the redeem team, but suddenly you might want to cheer for an Angolan team populated by N.B.A. players with dual citizenship." (BR)

- Settling the question once and for all of whether we should like Dorell Wright, Tom Ziller refers to him as "mystical swingman, Dorrell Wright". (Dr. LIC/BS)

- Shoals is geeked that Polvo is headed west in a couple weeks. Get familiar with this hilarious local television news piece on the famed Chapel Hill scene from the early 90s. Ultimate dude Dave Brylawski makes a number of brief appearances. (BR)

- If ProStars were done today, who'd be the third? LeBron/Tiger are gimmes, but who rounds it out: Jeter, Roddick, Peyton, or Earnhardt Jr? If you have any better suggestions, leave them in the comments. (CB)



Made Flesh

Frank Deford
was on NPR this morning talking about how stupid it was to try to compare Michael Phelps to competitors from other sports, and while he obviously has a legitimate point, I can't help but think of Amare Stoudemire when I watch Usain Bolt. It's the irrepressible swagger in the starting blocks, the preternatural cool under pressure, and more than anything, the sheer physical dominance over his opponents. Like Amare, Bolt manages to look like a man among boys, while at the same time seeming himself to still be a child. It's this rawness that prompted NBC announcer Ato Bolden to proclaim that, although he had just pulled off a astonishingly commanding victory in the 100 meters, Bolt had horrible technique. Or to lament to millions of viewers before the 200 final that Bolt was "still clownin."

For anyone who thinks I'm insulting Bolt--already one of the greatest sprinters of all time--by comparing him to a mere three-time All-Star who's never advanced past the Western Conference Finals, remember back to the 2005 playoffs. At the age of 22 (the age Bolt turns tomorrow), Amare was clearly the best player in a Suns-Spurs series that featured two former MVPs still in their prime. Bolt is that Amare Stoudemire, the pre-injury Amare for whom the sky was literally the limit. He put together STAT lines like 42 points, 16 rebounds, and 4 blocks, and seemed like he was only scratching the surface of what he could be. Even Lebron has failed to exhibit that kind of almost casual supremacy, and despite his youth, King James has always seemed much older and wiser than his years (see Wednesday's tie picture).

And don't even think about mentioning the name Jordan. For today's sports fan, Michael Jordan is the standard to which we hold all other athletes. Tiger Woods is the "Michael Jordan of golf" or Roger Federer is the "Michael Jordan of tennis." It's gotten ridiculous. Deford is tearing his hair out. And, anyway, the "Michael Jordan of track" is clearly Carl Lewis: the greatest of his generation, transcendent all-around talent, loved by all, but who hung around a little too long. While he may yet scale the same heights as Jordan, Usain Bolt is something different.

Bolt, like Amare before the microfracture, has the kind of talent and presence that make a non-believer like me want to get religion. I'm reluctant to suggest in any way that Bolt doesn't train as hard as Phelps or anyone else, but there is something about him that makes me want to use words like "blessed" or "predestined." Or, better still, Bolt is beatific.

Labels: , , ,

Each Day is a Lifetime, 8.20.08

Just a quick thing or to from me today...I hate August.

Trouble seems to follow Antoine Walker everywhere he goes. Even to R. Kelly's favorite spot, the Rock N' Roll McDonald's.

Labels: ,


Each Day is a Lifetime, 8.19.08

Don't neglect Joey's banner of belonging!

-Ta-Nehisi Coates has been doing excellent work since he took over from our dude Matthew Yglesias over at The Atlantic.com. Yesterday, he posted his (intentionally lame?) list of candidates to be spokesperson for the white race--a sort of counterpart to Al Sharpton--featuring such luminaries as Tamir Goodman, Leona Helmsley, and Princess Leia. Were there to be an actual spokesperson for the white race, I would nominate Bob Costas, who in his role as staunch defender of the purity of sports, kinda already is. (BR)

-The new Game album has jokes: "Black war mafia, new millenium Genovese/ Got a million dollars says LeBron don't win a ring." (Dr. LIC)

-I really, really hope we've mentioned The Black Fives Blog before, because it's one of the better basketball-related sites in existence and always a great read. But if not, here's Claude Johnson pointing out correcting some of the history and questioning the premise of a piece I wrote for Spin about basketball, the Olympics, and music. In all fairness to myself, I don't think my thing was entirely serious, but Claude's post is, and helps the whole "basketball is not jazz" cause that I sort of betrayed with my article. (BS)

-My TSB colleague Large gets a giant FD gold star for including a Richard Thompson video in this post. That song reliably makes me tear up all the time, and always has. But my question: Would it be irredeemably un-PC to nickname the sprinter Richard "Black Lightning" Thompson? The colonial twist notwithstanding. . . (BS)

-So a few weeks back, Ben Golliver and I engaged in a long discussion about the relationship between blogging and New Journalism. I was skeptical and said the same shit I always do. He had a vision. Now, Ben's brought it to fruitition, and I feel like a moron for having ever doubted him. This is some calling card shit right here. (BS)

-John Lewis to McCain: KEEP MY NAME OUT YOUR MOUTH. SIlverbird and I joked that Lewis is so obscure to right-wingers (something McCain didn't exactly help with his ultra-obscure account of Lewis's legacy, which seemed to involve a bridge and honor), this could lead to a major spike in Modern Jazz Quartet sales. (BS)

-Mutoni sent along this pic:

Quoth Marcel: "After seeing this, I'm even more convinced now that LBJ thinks of himself as everyone's dad, regardless of age." (BS)

-Feast your eyes upon the buffet of feeling that is Nick Anderson's (latest?) wedding. (BS)

-I've become enthralled with this Maurice Jones-Drew Madden commercial...

...because until he cracks the joke about being on the cover, I seriously thought this was one of those "Joe Average plays Madden" spots like this one. I cannot get over how FREAKING SHORT HIS ARMS ARE. This all got me thinking, Maurice Jones-Drew would be the worst basketball player ever. And then I thought to ask you all, what other REALLY GOOD other sport athletes would make the worst basketball players? (Dr. LIC)



FD Guest Lecture: We Holds These Dunks to Be Self-Evident

Ladies and gentlemen, Joey Litman.

A cynic might suggest that to be an effective basketball commissioner, one merely must pray for good fortune and possess only a basic professional competency. After all, how hard could it have been to preside over Basketball’s prosperity during a time when a player like Michael Jordan flourished on the court and a marketing machine led by multinational companies, such as Nike, extended the domain of the hero and his sport? That, surely, required little advanced training or extraordinary ability; Michael Jordan received no help from National Basketball Association Commissioner David Stern while performing those signature dunks or fade-away jump shots. And it was not Stern whose artistic creativity was manifest in the exhortation for everyone to “Be Like Mike.” Being commissioner does not seem so difficult, it could be argued.

This thesis is a simple one, of course. It neglects the myriad complications that could otherwise impede the growth of a sport and its icons were an able commissioner failing to execute his responsibilities. Upon consideration of what is required to preside over a sports league, most serious observers likely would be quick to point out this flaw. But in committing such an egregious error of omission, the theory paradoxically offers a strong case for a commissioner needing to apply a rigorous, robust education to the complicated legal and business challenges that confront an organization such as the NBA. Given the substance of the NBA commissioner’s job—issues ranging from labor law to international commercial transactions to intellectual property and so much more—ceding the spotlight to the sport and its athletes while keeping the mechanics of league operation beyond the public’s view is perhaps ultimate affirmation of an exemplary executive.

I begin law school next week with the goal of applying my legal education precisely in this capacity. I am gunning for that number-one spot. Bring on the complicated insurance issues, the arduous collective-bargaining process, the troubling bouts of player misbehavior. I’ve seen my future, and it looks a lot like David Stern.

For five post-college years, I worked at jobs that were stimulating, that taught me a great deal, and that brought me into contact with wonderful people who have irrevocably changed me for the better. And during all of that time, despite those many strengths, I never once went home knowing that I was pursuing my passion. I liked my work. I respected my work. But I never loved it.

What I love is the NBA. I grew up in a household where basketball was the religion practiced most regularly; where Julius (Erving) was next to godliness; where the maxims of my early childhood were to work hard in school, read more books, save money by eating at home, and develop a good left. The NBA has always been the arena in which interests that forever drive my enthusiasm and occupy my mind—race, the American socioeconomic system, hip-hop, sneaker culture—have played out. It is inextricably linked to my experience, my identity.

Another way I think about it: life is largely organized by institutions that also give individuals identities. As a child, your family is the organizing institution that provides purpose and a sense of self. Your rules, your restrictions, your education, your time, your values, your ideas are all dictated by family. It’s a constant, though it ultimately gives way to school, which by adolescence becomes the institution that so many people use to augment an identity and find direction. Your friends, your allocation of time, your responsibilities, your activities, your social education, your cultural understanding, your mores—all driven by school, with your family serving as a second institutional influence. This persists through college. You come out of it as many things. Among my identities, I am a New Yorker, a liberal, a Michigan Wolverine, a hip-hop fan, and so forth. As an adult, your job, your marriage, and some other experiences play a similar role in helping to construct identity.

“NBA Lover” is an inalienable part of my identity. As I just described, the Lig is an institution that has given my life shape, has given my person contour. It has influenced my values and my perception of the world. For this, and for the NBA entertainment that has been a catalyst for all forms of relationships in my life, I am forever indebted and deeply invested. I wrote last week that I consider myself to be a citizen of the Lig above anything else.

I was only being a little sarcastic.

Citizenship implies ownership and endorsement. To be a citizen is to participate in a society while espousing its values and acknowledging that you are of those people. At least, to some basic, shared extent. Citizenship can become a challenging concept when the institution to which you are tethered has violated your compact in a way such that you are no longer comfortable countenancing its values and practices. On the U.S.’s citizenship exam, for example, applicants are asked which of the rights ensured in the United States is the most important. The answer is the right to vote, something that seems appropriate for a country that was born amidst concerns about tyranny and government that did not reflect the will of the people. In effect, to be a U.S. citizen is to adopt this perspective, and to disagree with it would likely encourage disaffection.

Devoid of a constitution or foundational documents that articulate not just rights but ideology and common values, the NBA may be an institution whose citizens cannot as easily identify the shared tenets that unite them. I’d imagine that appreciating the Lig’s prevailing styles of basketball and the attendant culture—the celebrity, the cultural overlap with music and fashion, etc.— that accompanies the NBA in America and abroad would be fairly basic requirements. However, I am wary of writing anything too rigid because there is a certain attitude that is ineffable but very much apparent among seemingly everyone who would describe themselves as NBA citizens.

The notion of citizenship has been particularly salient as I’ve watched the current Olympics, an event that has provided a theater for my own national angst. A vocal polemicist during these last eight Bush Administration years, I do not fit the profile of your stereotypical American patriot. And beyond partisan politics and this particular regime, I find America’s persistent racial and economic divisions, and the ever more blissfully ignorant mainstream culture, to be so distressing that they often make me resent the United States even while I remain keenly thankful for the constitutional rights that come with living here. There are few days when I’d quickly answer in the affirmative when asked if I loved the United States of America.

Thus, you would think that I’d happily watch the Alicia Sacramones of the world fall on their asses, some kind of karmic punishment for America’s wayward policies. But my disappointment and indignation have recently run into even stronger feelings: fear and powerlessness. The ongoing economic downturn, the changing global power dynamics, and the macroeconomic factors that argue for America’s continued slide have aroused a certain kind of petulance and frustration that has led me to vocally cheer for athletes like Jason Lezak and Lauryn Williams. Further, and uglier, I’ve found myself indulging my worst xenophobia and resenting the success of the others from foreign nations, such as China, that suddenly appear to be challenging the United States’ well-being (even if we have done a lot of this to ourselves). Rising global prosperity may not have to sum out at zero, but it has certainly felt that way as news is now dominated by concerns over resource availability and the sluggish American economy. Almost out of desperation, I have been cheering loudly for the American athletes. It’s taken on a symbolic significance, as it is both cathartic and, when considering the large-scale factors, hopeful.

I’ve reveled in no success as I’ve reveled in Team USA’s (or “the Redeem Team” if you’re into that. I’m not.) However, my emerging anxiety over the health of America and my subsequent Olympic rooting interest are wholly distinct from the excitement I’ve experienced while watching basketball. This is something different.

Seeing Dwyane Wade throw off-balance alley-oops to Kobe, or watching LeBron conquer a gauntlet of defenders for a layup, or looking on as Chris Paul has made it impossible to put the ball on the floor near him has exclusively appealed to my pride as an NBA citizen. Unlike my national ambivalence, I experience no pangs of loathing or deep resentment when I consider the NBA. Instead, I have affectionately looked on as the only team comprised solely of NBA personnel has dominated by playing the NBA brand of basketball, our brand. For a league that has often endured reputational punishments that exceed the severity of its crimes—with international basketball often serving as a catalyst for the excessive consternation—this has, thus far, been sweet vindication.

To be an NBA citizen and watch this team is to share in the swelling joy. Team USA’s run has validated a deep-seeded part of my identity, as riding with the NBA again seems cool and worthwhile, just as it would be personally fulfilling for the United States to use its defining characteristics in a manner that bred success. In that regard, having committed to the Lig and having been counted among its citizens for some time, Team USA’s success is directly connected to my own happiness and pride. It legitimizes all the hours spent watching the games, defending the Association, championing its code and culture. It has uplifted its citizens.

Labels: , , ,

Each Day Is a Lifetime, 8.18.08

-LA Times reminds us that manners, not winning, are what the Redeem Team is all about.(BS)

-Simmons once said that David West was so underrated, he was soon going to be overrated. Does this mean that FOX feels Shane Battier is such a divinely modest role player that he's actually a spoiled superstar? (BS)

-I'm not exactly an expert in African-American male grooming practices, but I've got to say, some members of Team USA were looking conspicuously unkempt in the hair department this weekend. We're talking about a sport where, because of the uniform, players want to look fresh and clean whenever they take the court. Plenty of them get daily cuts, and/or employ their own personal barbers—to say nothing of the braid-maintenance necessary to be Carmelo Anthony or Allen Iverson. So why, in front of the biggest audience imaginable, does Chris Paul have an uneven, frizzy hairline and a mustache that resembles my "three weeks and it's all I've got" efforts? Deron Williams's cowlick-ed hair, and scrawny beard-strip thing that's totally 7-11? And that Tayshaun Prince reminds me of one of those farmer's market acquisitions you can't make sense of when you find it in the fridge two days later. I wouldn't be surprised if no one in China knows how to cut black hair, but it's kind of fucked up that the Olympic Village seems incapable of furnishing this simple courtesy. I've decided that Wade's shaved head was a preemptive strike against these difficulties, not a BACK statement like Vince's 2000 mini-fro. (BS)

UPDATE: Ziller says Tayshaun got a haircut.

-Can someone explain to me why lush, sensual FanHouse Fantasy Football is running ads on TPM? (BS)

-You know who really loves style? The U.S. Army:

Seriously, I have no idea how that makes any sense as a recruiting pitch. Maybe for one of those Third World militias where everyone gets to dress funny. (BS)

-Blah blah blah, Ben Gordon has played his last game as a Bull. I just don't get why people care about this guy. Fine, his shot is nice, and he can go bonkers in the fourth. But he's a very good second-tier player, not a limited star. He's got "Knicks" written all over him, and I'd take Jamal Crawford over him any day of the week. (BS)

-To me, this is a microcosm of what's so fucked up about race and patriotism. This shows how it comes out in Team USA (where's Iverson at?), and of course, this election is rife with it. I think we all know that, for Americans who have at various times felt somewhat alienated from their country, coming to love it is a struggle, or at very least a complicated process. Shouldn't that make it more authentic than someone born into it, for whom there's never been any question, or possibility of disjuncture? Especially when, with Bush and McCain, the process of going from a fuck-up to a responsible adult (whether through God or torture) strengthens their narrative. It's like Collinsworth, whom I actually like, is trying to bait Kobe into admitting that patriotism is a costume he's trying on, an old-fashioned, hokey one that doesn't jive with him. Like the very act of discovering how much you love this country, which has been part of the Redeem Team's energy, cheapens patriotism. Certainly, it can't measure up to the unflinching, immanent goodness of those who have always been close to the bosom of the Homeland. And yet Obama's lifetime of success has nothing on politicians who need to be shocked into becoming adults. (BS)

Carter Blanchard: Maybe I'm just being too much of an apologist for the other side lately (I just spent a couple days trying to convince my dad that the vast majority of McCain's gaffes are completely benign), but I really don't take this as a shot at Kobe. I mean with the "historically" bit there's clearly the suggestion that not being raised here means your love of country has to be proven before we can be 100% you're not a spy, but that has way more to do with his international-ness than his skin color I think. And the part that people seem to be going to arms over, the "cool" line, reads to me much more like a shot at young anti-Bushites that inexplicably don't have flags sticking out of their ears and asses rather than anything aimed at Kobe specifically. There's obviously fucked-upness embedded in it, but I'm not sure it's quite as bad as you and others have been suggesting.

BS: I don't think it's a shot at Kobe per se, but it does sound a lot like Collinsworth is trying to find a fissure, even welcoming one. Like "come on man, you can't be serious, this is so square." It has as much to do with his needs and expectations as it does Kobe's actual feelings. And really, do you see Michael Phelps getting asked questions like this? It's that whole question of what it means that America's highest-profile athletes, aside from Phelps, are black people who, in this country, some large amount of the population still links with hip-hop and thugs.

Brown Recluse: Maybe I'm just paranoid, but I get the sick feeling he's using Kobe as a proxy for Obama--he spent his formative years overseas, he's well-spoken, he's black, he's cool, he inspires mass adulation, etc. Actually, do people of Collinsworth's generation hold family, faith, and fidelity dear? He grew up in the 70s, which I guess could be post-hippie nihilistic or Silent/Moral Majority, depending on who you are. That he was a football player from Florida (Go Astronaut High!) probably cuts in favor of the latter, so maybe you're right.

CB: I think you'd get a similar response if a youngish person was going on about how important family, faith, or fidelity was to him. As in, this is much more about Cris's generation gap and assuming automatically that anyone below the age of 40 pisses on the the things his wizened generation holds dear. Although I suppose I have to concede that the surprise would only be increased if the young person also happened to black, which I guess proves your point that there's definitely a racial component to it too.

BS: And incidentally, how is it that playing for Team USA (whether you're Chris Kaman or a no-show) and not playing for Team USA can both call your patriotism into question?

CB: Now that I've had some driving to think about it, you guys are totally right, that question is completely: "Wait a second, I thought Michelle never felt pride and Barrack wouldn't say the pledge. When did flag-waving become hip again?"

BS: Fuck the police.