8.02.2008

Our Kind of Scraping



Were this a real blog, Josh Howard's drag-racing arrest would've hit this page immediately; we would've coined some half-hearted jokes about driving cars fast while blazed, which hopefully would've been recognized their own irony. And kaloo fucking kalay, another athlete fuck-up to generate page views for us.

We're not a real blog, and in fact, we're the sort of blog put in a decidedly awkward position by Howard's latest shenanigans. Nothing but positivity here, endless attempts to sculpt and reconstruct players' personas so they can resist being needlessly dragged through the mud.

We presume there to be some degree of complexity in every human being, and—not withstanding the fundamental unknowability of our subjects—professional athletes are no less contradictory than the rest of us. Otherwise, they would be supremely one-dimensional and boring, which is probably where my expectations (and preferences) differ from most other watchers of sports. It's like this Olympic thing: Sure, the All-Stars look sparkling together, but so Hollywood sex scenes. What does man learn of himself when everything falls effortlessly into place, smooth, gliding, and unblemished?

The case of Josh Howard, though, could very well underline the hypocrisy, or at least the fragility, of this site's conception. Some might say it's Kobe did us in. After all, I've tirelessly defended him against all attacks. On the other hand, I've always maintained that Bryant is flawed beyond belief—just that flaws are not the same as automatica damnation in all matters. Howard, though, seemed until last spring like an unassailable good dude. Devotion to family, to school, to surrogate, to the spirit of the game, to team, and cherished by his franchise. Then things started to unravel. After a torrential start, where people like me got caught up and called for him to supplant Dirk, Howard slumped. There were back problems, which may or may not have triggered the whole thing, and the death of the great-grandmother who had raised him.



We all know the rest real well. He smokes, everyone smokes, Josh Howard upstages the playoffs with infamy while he performs poorly. Handing out birthday party invites in the locker room before a critical contest. Suddenly, he becomes dispensable; I still don't know if he played into Avery's firing, or whether a new coach makes Howard more or less safe after a few months of non-stop shopping. Now, over a FanHouse, Matt captures to paradox that Howard has become: Doing wonderful things for his Winston-Salem community through basketball, then arrested that same night for drag-racing. To paraphrase Matt, it's a shame that Howard managed to rehab his image a little, only to immediately tear it down again.

I'm not here to excuse Howard's traffic violations, or his previous ratting out of the entire league. Nor are they even similar: One is youthful recklessness, the other out-of-control honesty. But what they do have in common is that, if you take the events of 7/30 as a whole, and looks at the entire pot explosion (not just the dagger), they show how hard it is to paint Howard as a good guy or a bad guy. And—what do you know—it's almost like he's thwacked harder, maybe gleefully, by the media for his having again ravaged his own credibility. Through no fault of his own, he's set a high bar for his behavior, since, you know, there's no way anyone could have traces of both angel and asshole within him. Certainly, the juxtaposition Matt cites is a better story than some random NBA player of questionable (or unknown morals) driving too fast.

So maybe I'm supposed to come on here today and be like, "oh, I'm so stupid for supporting Howard, he does bad things and deserves to be mocked. He has failed us." I guess. But really, I'm more concerned with us figuring out how to reconcile these two sides of Howard, something he'll have to do himself going forward.



You could argue that Melo's had to do something similar, without nearly the "good guy" rep to burden him. All Anthony had to do was prove that he wasn't as rough as Iverson. Howard, it's like if David Robinson woke up and found J.R. Rider living inside of him. That's a challenge for him, but also for all of us who like to think that there are values inherent in being a fan. If we owe athletes anything, we at least owe them the capacity to contain contradictions. Something that's a pretty basic right, and point of pride, for everyone from Christian fundamentalists to non-retarded socialists. Hell, it's this, and not his mealy-mouthed record, that's made Bill Clinton an icon.

Or, if you want, I can get some commenters riled up by bringing in Obama's "abandonment" of the netroots. . .

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16 Comments:

At 8/02/2008 3:40 PM, Blogger Michael said...

There's a lot of waffling here. It comes off at times as self-loathing. Don't let that happen. The things that are going on with Howard are not as bad as you're imagining them to be. He'll get through it. As far as how this relates to the site: it might betray some of the fragility (in your words) but I don't believe there's any true hypocrisy. People are flawed. That's a bottom-line argument. And, to be honest, it's something that I've always thought FD celebrated, in one way or another. If you give up all that celebration now and replace it with hand-wringing, well...you might turn this into just another blog.

 
At 8/02/2008 3:45 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I meant it would be hypocrisy if we kept on saying "this is nothing, Howard is a good dude" every time something went down. It's not waffling, it's saying—as you point out—that flaws and contradictions are more normal than trying to burnish monoliths.

Also, caveat: I write these Saturday morning posts quickly and off the top, so they're more ragged than usual. I don't really feel like spending too long on "work" on the weekend.

 
At 8/02/2008 7:57 PM, Blogger T. said...

The really tough thing about drag racing is how much car crashes have contributed (in a negative way) to what shapes the league today. Whether racing (Bobby Phills) or non-racing (Eddie Griffin, Malik Sealy, Bobby Hurley, Drazen Petrovic) the role of the auto in NBA tragedy is huge.

I have something more to add, but I'm headed down to the USAB game vs. Russia. So I need to stop here. The above is an imcomplete thought.

 
At 8/02/2008 8:43 PM, Blogger El Presidente said...

Fascinating. Also, something about "...the duality of man."

 
At 8/02/2008 8:56 PM, Blogger oliver said...

Or there is always the possibility that Shoals is projecting his own hopes and fears and desires onto a person about whom he knows nothing. Which is what I like about FreeDarko, but usually it is at least done with a sense of humor. Seldom have I seen it done with such hand-wringing earnestness and self-importance.

You know what: Josh Howard got in trouble for speeding. That's what we know. For once, I'll be happy sticking with the ESPN verison.

 
At 8/02/2008 9:22 PM, Blogger R. Lobstah said...

Josh Howard smokes pot. Woop dee freaking doo-doo. Josh Howard drives too fast, okay, it might have harmed others so that does speak to a recklessness. I only sped 3 or 4 times today, so again, whoop dee freakin doo-doo. If he was drunk, that might be a different story but again, I don't care seeing that I'm not interested in hearing about all the other people who've been pulled over for speeding yesterday either.

"the fundamental unknowability of our subjects"... That is why I don't care much about their extracurricular life.

Obama.

 
At 8/02/2008 10:35 PM, Blogger Graydon said...

First of all, I don't find this post to be self-important, or uniquely revealing of the fact that we impart psychology and meaning onto people who we actually don't know at all. If you are reading this site, you should probably be open to the idea that the actions and identities of NBA players can be mined for significance beyond the mere facts. To get all high and mighty about how we look at celebrities, or athletes, or politicians or whoever and see reflections of ourselves is disingenuous. Blessedly FD does it with some insight and bravado, as opposed to the mindlessly tropes offered up by ESPN.

But more importantly, I just think Howard's whole unraveling is fascinating in relationship to the state of his play on the court. Oftentimes the story goes that a player screws up off the court, and it begins to seep into their play. But in this instance it seemed as if his backslide was foreshadowed by his mediocre play. It just flips a lot of traditional narratives about what brings about the demise of a player on its head.

That being said, Howard is gonna probably bounce back this season, and I think 6 months from now, or 2 years from now this whole marijuana/speeding span will seem like a footnote in what is a reasonably decent storyline.

 
At 8/03/2008 3:02 AM, Blogger knowing is maxo said...

two lines in this renewed (not like it needed to be) my belief in FD:

first: If we owe athletes anything, we at least owe them the capacity to contain contradictions.

because it completely reinforces my decision to buy a Stephen Jackson Pacers jersey off ebay and second:

What does man learn of himself when everything falls effortlessly into place, smooth, gliding, and unblemished?

because thats so true and poetic at the same time that i feel like it doesn't belong on a sports blog, and is only strengthened because that's where it is

 
At 8/03/2008 7:46 PM, Blogger Justin Prz said...

One of the announcers from last night's 3 am game vs Russia exclaimed on more than one occasion [after a made jumpshot from USA that was well contested by Andrei Kirilanko]: "Right in AK-47's face!"

It is this type of world view that is so destructive. Because the man played good defense he deserves to be ridiculed?

"Melo hits it, right in his FACE!"
"Melo hits it, with a hand in his face!"

The difference between being complemented or chastised lies solely in the [*perception] of some demented blowhard.

And I actually thought the announcers did a pretty nice job. For sure, our world needs help.

In your FACE!

 
At 8/03/2008 10:43 PM, Blogger MC Welk said...

It's "complimented." I got a $300 ticket for running a red light in Vegas this weekend.

 
At 8/04/2008 7:55 AM, Blogger Notorious D.I.G. said...

This leads to a convo me and my main pot buddies have all the time...

How come pro athletes aren't lining up to play in Cali where you can smoke pot legally! I mean seriously. You pay roughly $150 a year for your "prescription" and then you're legal to smoke, carry, and grow.

It's no coincidence that Ricky Williams spent his two years off in a Ca. city called Grass Valley. How bad do you think that guy wants to be a Raider (or 9er or Charger for that matter).

Back to Josh. Straight up trade, Josh for Lamar. Let the man smoke in piece.

 
At 8/04/2008 7:56 AM, Blogger Notorious D.I.G. said...

or peace...

 
At 8/04/2008 9:32 AM, Blogger avery said...

@T--guess we could add Jay Williams in there w/ the motorcycle wreck, which completely ruined his career.

To me Howard's drag racing is like Jordan or Barkley's gambling--their competitive edge is so much higher than the rest of us, it's probably hard for normal people to fathom.
I was flipping through and watching the X games on ABC and the rally car race was on. There's Dave Mirra, the BMX rider, in the front seat, looking for another thrill. Same thing.

 
At 8/04/2008 1:57 PM, Blogger Zeke said...

Josh is a good guy, just not terribly bright.

 
At 8/05/2008 12:09 AM, OpenID angrysamoan6802 said...

Other than two incidents, what else has Josh Howard done to provoke such accusations of a downward spiral, Graydon? Give me a break. He spoke out against the war in Iraq in college, which was, believe it or not, one of the reasons his draft scouting report was flagged with "questionable character" concerns. I believe that he said the whole deal was a ploy for Iraqi oil...

This leads me to my next point.

He graduated from Wake Forest University with a degree in Religion. Not communications. Not sociology, but something semi-respectable. He may have lapses of judgement (two incidents: admission of marijuana use in the midst of a slump in the playoffs and racing on the highway). He's a sharp guy and don't underestimate what Josh and CP have done for Winston-Salem. It's remarkable. They're celebrities and do great things in the community both large and small-scale. Read the interview in the Chronicle for more on Josh in Winston.

How is he no longer "an unassailable good dude?" What did he do to change that? A speeding ticket?

All of those bringing up Bobby Phills forget that Phills was drag racing in a 45 mile-an-hour side road, not Silas Creek Parkway (look it up). I'm not saying what Howard did was right, but that's a cheap comparison, completely different in the degrees of irresponsibility, and most importantly, everyone is talking about this incident as if their level of morality is greatly superior. Dismount, gentlemen!

And, the rest of you, Shoals included: how much Josh Howard have you watched? He slumped last year because Kidd arriving completely changed the way that Dallas played, which was a tremendous benefit to Dirk, but not to a player like Josh who is at his best when he's slashing, not spot-shooting.

Look at his pre-All Star break numbers. It's Josh's team when Dirk takes a semester off to sit in his room, listen to David Hasselhoff, and cry about he is about as clutch as a 17 year old virgin in the sack when it comes to playoff basketball. I mean, he did get "shut down" by Stephen Jackson (I mean it was a team effort, but Jackson disturbed the MVP far more than Stephen Jackson should)...

With a league that has at some point been filled with the likes of Josh Smith, J.R. Smith, Qyntel Woods, Stephen Jackson, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Zach Randolph, Gerald Green, etc etc, how is Josh Howard the epitome of "the hypocrisy, or at least the fragility, of this site's conception."

How is he "flawed beyond belief?" Worse than Kobe? Jesus. Show me a record to confirm that?

Here's a quote from me:

Is it just me or is this site experience a Darko-like fall from exotic potential into drowning in its own insecurities about failing to meet its own expectations so it turns soft, accusatory, and last but not least, completely unrelated to Mr. Milicic, narrowly missing (we're talking eighths of an inch) jumping on the the Skip Bayless bandwagon of predictably irresponsible sports editorializing.

Bravo, Free Darko. Bravo.

 
At 8/05/2008 12:47 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Here's a quote from me: I never said Howard was "flawed beyond belief." I wrote a post explaining how, unlike J.R. Smith, there's a clear separation of good and questionable in his actions. The whole "fragility" thing wasn't meant in earnest—it was a way of saying "hey, usually you whitewash fuck-ups, now here's a case where someone really registers with both extremes in a way that's hard to make sense of."

Drag racing isn't a speeding ticket. That pot public statement, while frank, was weird.

Soft and accusatory, that's me. Fuck off.

 

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