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.