12.31.2008

Oceanic Christmas Lights



As the Bush era draws to a close, we have a chance to reexamine some of the filters through which we view sports (and everything else), and give some thought to how the framework we use to make sense of things could possibly be different going forward.

For the past 8 years it's felt like anytime you had a disagreement with someone, it was probably safe to assume that your opponent was morally bankrupt. There was so much built up political bitterness that the invective spilled over into almost every other aspect of our lives. Any tension or conflict unwittingly gained ideological connotations: a superhero movie couldn't help but become an allegory about US foreign policy; political subtext cropped up in otherwise innocuous love songs; and a wide range of television shows were convincingly read as referendums on our current administration's incompetence. Sports may not have been quite the breeding ground for political parable that books and movies were, but how we thought about and talked about power and conflict in athletics was necessarily clouded by how we dealt with those concepts during Bush's presidency.



The high-water mark of this tendency in basketball may have been last year's Lakers-Celtics Finals. Even though the series didn't lend itself to any obvious Red State/Blue State mapping, the tone with which allegiances were declared was as indicative of the political climate we've been living in as anything that happened between Bird and Magic two decades ago. You had to have an opinion and it damn well better not have been the wrong one. Granted, sports have always lent themselves to political undertones and to enthusiastically taking sides, but I'd still like to credit Bush for inspiring a particular flavor of venom that spilled over to how we discussed everything from Iraq to All Star selections. In other words, the fact that the Kobe-era of headline dominance coincided almost perfectly with Bush's two terms might not have been purely coincidental. That Obama's favorability ratings hover above 70% and no one views LeBron as a yes or no question is hopefully a sign of things to come.



While I don't think the League itself will actually be discernibly different when we wake up on January 21st, I'm hopeful that the way we perceive the game might already have begun to shift subtly. I'm not sure I envision exactly how this less-polarized, post-Bush era of basketball will look, but for some reason I picture Danny Granger playing a central role in decoding the new landscape. The world is ready for a more nuanced view of the game, one where Cleveland's ascendance doesn't take anything away from what Boston and LA have going on, where the Hawks can be both up-and-coming and taken seriously at the same time, and where Devin Harris doesn't need a counterpoint in Paul, Williams, or anyone else to be understood and appreciated. While columnists were forced to reluctantly shelve the LeBron v. Melo stories long ago, Wade's resurgence thankfully hasn't seemed to force too many battle lines to be drawn. Even with Oden finally on the floor, the fact that he went one slot ahead of Durant is little more than a footnote at this point. Kevin Love's irrelevance probably killed any potential for an ongoing Mayo-Love plotline, but even the contrast that would seem like it should have legs (the UCLA guard on close-by team who will play an equally essential role in overturning his team's current crappiness) isn't really cropping up yet. This isn't to say that rivalries will be (or should be) non-existent, but maybe we're reaching a point where we can stop viewing them as either/or propositions, where one player's dominance doesn't necessarily pose a threat to our appreciation of another's. Even if the sport is ultimately defined by wins and losses, we don't need to view every aspect of it as a zero-sum game.



While I'm probably overestimating both the transformative nature of Obama and the transformable nature of sports fans, I'm nevertheless optimistic that we can at least step away from some of the more forced indignation and oversimplified dichotomies that have dominated our conversations about sports recently. If this post-partisan (sorry) approach sounds an awful lot like the liberated fandom this site has espoused for so long, it's probably because it should. As we adjust to life without Bush-tinted glasses, it will hopefully get easier to eschew some of the knee-jerk thumbs up/thumbs down reactions and to move towards embracing the contradictions before us. Put another way, learning to root for a Larry Brown team might be good practice for accepting a ceremony prominently featuring Rick Warren.

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24 Comments:

At 12/31/2008 2:09 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I believe it. And am here to plug my 2008 awards.

 
At 12/31/2008 2:46 PM, Blogger John said...

wasn't the only right opinion in the 2008 finals rooting for a giant sink-hole to swallow the Staples Center?

 
At 12/31/2008 5:51 PM, Blogger El Presidente said...

Lovely pic with the Iranian photoshop job. Or was that one Hamas?

 
At 12/31/2008 8:13 PM, Blogger Joel Paris said...

Didn't care for the post, but got the book for Christmas and most of all enjoyed the statistical breakdowns and illustrations. Keep on keeping on. Happy New Years...

 
At 12/31/2008 8:24 PM, Blogger Michael said...

Wow. If someone asks me what blind optimism looks like, I might point them this way. That's not to say that I disagree, just that...well...I wouldn't be counting any of those chickens yet. You might want to check ESPN's headline-pushing on how Wade smacked LeBron around on his birthday.

 
At 12/31/2008 8:37 PM, Blogger Bill Zink said...

I don't think it's necessarily the transformative nature of Obama, but rather that Obama himself is a sign that people just want to turn the damn page already. We want to believe that our government has a capacity for good (or at least the capacity to avoid egregious harm) just as we want to appreciate the Pacers again, win or lose. Granger is Obama before the Iowa caucuses, earnest and somewhat inscrutable . . . and, while he doesn't seem quite ready to take a lead role in the League, did we really think back then that Obama could win it all?

 
At 12/31/2008 10:13 PM, OpenID tredecimal said...

fun post, even if only as a heartfelt assessment of post-Bush politics.
also, since I'm willing to bet Warriors vs. Not-Sonics has a high FD rating, anyone notice why the Not-Sonics* don't have any shooting guards? They're seriously all on the Warriors. Biedrins is the only guy out there who isn't a natural 2 guard. Soooo far from the days of "That dude has 8 power forwards and J-Rich. Come see me when you're playing in May, Cock-Knocker."

*or any team light at the two, for that matter

 
At 1/01/2009 9:08 AM, OpenID pacificloons said...

everything I have hated about sports journalism over the past decade summed up nicely in a single post. I disagree that the change will come from the obama administration though. it will come from people like you who write these blogs.

 
At 1/01/2009 7:26 PM, Blogger W2 said...

Shoals...no Celtics love on your year end best. Not even a little shout out for Paul Pierce finding defense. There were more times in2008 when LeBron need to play better D when it matter than not. Shit does that sentence even make sense.

Granted the boys in Green lose three out of four out west and it is hard to remember that 2008 belongs to the Celts. Even in a word according to Darko.

PS Free Amir? The knew chant is free Joe Smith.

 
At 1/01/2009 8:39 PM, Blogger Bhel Atlantic said...

The Photoshopped smoke plumes were produced by a photographer affiliated with / sympathetic to Hizballah in the 2006 war. See here.

Anywayz, why should we feel bad about appreciating rivalries? I just watched "Adaptation" last night and Charlie Kaufman's doctrinal screenwriting guru is right: without conflict, you bore your audience to tears. Besides, the players are often just as responsible for ginning up feuds as the media. See LeBron's silliness with DeShawn Stevenson, Raja Bell clotheslining Kobe, or Robert Horry cross-checking Nash. These are competitive guys. To deny that they target particular foes is folly.

 
At 1/02/2009 4:59 PM, Blogger MC Welk said...

I'm into CB!

 
At 1/02/2009 7:39 PM, Blogger americanmidwestsamurai said...

Sometimes, blind optimism ain't such a bad thing.

I think more than anything, though the Obama sports paradigm will be most noted by a redefinition of the black athlete--and the world athlete.

There have always been Dikembe Mutombos and Bill Waltons--but now the Gilbert Arenas, Amare Stodamire's, Chris Paul's and even Rudy Fernandez' of the world exist in a post-Bush, post-Civil Rights context.

Finally, we have leadership OF THE PEOPLE and of the athletes.

I don't see sports media shifting anytime soon. That would probably take an even greater economic depression than any of us can imagine.

 
At 1/03/2009 4:34 PM, Blogger Eriol said...

What I'm looking forward to is the end of basketball player as thug. George Bush never said it, but all eight years (and a couple before then) it seemed like the mantra of the times and of the powerful, and so we had the blue/red (Democratic/Republican, Crips/Bloods)match-ups of Melo and LeBron (among others) that were hyped as if the players were concealing switchblades in their over-sized shorts. One week W. gets re-elected (the zenith of antagonism and fear) and the next week the Malice in the Palace (the apotheosis of player=thug). But now all of the leagues Black Presidents have brought joy back into the game and my Blazers have dropped the J from their name, while an Old Boys' game is revealed for being more corrupt than basketball could ever had been.

 
At 1/03/2009 10:25 PM, OpenID exquisitecourts said...

americanmidwestsamurai, blind optimism is one of the truly great human qualities that i'm not afraid to show anymore now that this nation has a future.

ShamelessPlug: Check out my brand new (and I mean brand new) basketball blog, Exquisite Courts. I just started it and am trying to get it up and flying.

exquisitecourts.wordpress.com

 
At 1/04/2009 4:44 AM, Blogger Crabbie said...

You forgot the best basketball related sentence of 8:

J.R. Smith went golfing by himself on a public course in Denver, and chest-bumped a stranger who hit a hole-in-one.

That may be the perfect sentence, actually, in that all of the words, when taken together, convey huge amounts of intrigue, joy, and surprise. I mean I'm smiling just thinking about it. This was perhaps the most FD moment of the year, and its fitting to me that it happened in about the least likely venue imaginable.

 
At 1/04/2009 5:28 PM, Blogger GHOSTS said...

nobody blamed jimmy carter.

in 2009 i'm no longer interested in nba teams, i watch to unify theory.

nuance. nuance.

 
At 1/05/2009 5:00 AM, Blogger Carter Blanchard said...

I can't believe I didn't remember this until just now, from my every game preview:

"Dec 22 Portland@Denver: McMillan continues trying doggedly to slip a 6th man onto the court after every dead ball, but never succeeds for more than a few possessions at a time."

Nate reads FreeDarko?

 
At 1/05/2009 10:11 AM, Blogger W2 said...

Celts looked like they needed that sixth man last night on defense.

I knew Wilson Chandlers game was improving, but last night the dude looked like MJ. Did anyone see this game. He was slick.

I have not seen Spike Lee so happy since he made a good movie (Inside Man). Did anyone see Miracle at Santa Anna? I got sick during the preview.

Is it unfair to say that his fued with Clint Eastwood and his war movies felt a little hollow after his War flick dropped to jeers?

Losing to the Knicks sucks. The celtics went into some anti-Ben Button time warp when they went out west. Kg looks like a wounded dog (must be playing hurt right?). Watching Pierce try to take Harrington off the dribble and falling down is just sad, despite dropping four back to back jumpers in Q Richs face.

Should be a fun one on Tuesday vs G Wallace and the crew. If the Celts lose again it could get ugly in Beantown.

Somewhere Sasha is smiling.

 
At 1/05/2009 6:08 PM, Blogger The Secretary said...

Okay, but can we discuss Donovan McNabb's basketball career?

 
At 1/05/2009 7:25 PM, Blogger Claude said...

I expect basketball fandom to increase as well as improve. More guys will be going to the Y to play ball at noon. That means more guys getting together to talk sh--, which means more talk about teams and players and hoops. Especially come March Madness and Playoffs. What will Obama's picks look like now that he's not campaigning in North Carolina? Will he lean Georgetown? Or Illini? Will Obama-esque lunchtime players watch more TV, or play more, or both? There'll be several months worth of hand-wringing about the White House indoor court alone. Who was the architect? Who was the builder? Why wasn't it completed on time for April? Which NCAA or NBA team or player will get first dibs? One thing for sure is that basketball is on the rise. It sucked while Bush was president. All of a sudden it's great again.

 
At 1/05/2009 8:08 PM, Blogger JRF said...

I'm not sure yet, but here's my evidence that there may be such a shift occurring. My best friend's Dad, who just turned 80, HATES the Association vehemently, and has stated so for a long time. ("I wouldn't watch the Cavs if they played in my condo parking lot!") But...he's beginning to watch a bit. He's oversaturated with LBJ, so we're trying to introduce him to Brandon Roy, Chris Paul...I think we'll try Danny G next.

I was worried that everyone would get meaner as we all were going broke, but that doesn't seem to be happening. Post Jan. 21 expectations are frighteningly high...jeez, if Oregon State wins a basketball game, people will REALLY start wondering what's going on. Oh, wait a minute...

 
At 1/06/2009 8:12 PM, Blogger ItTakesAThiefToCatchAThief said...

....Come on, been like a week now...

Where's the Marbury on the Celtics analysis? It's gonna be like the '96 Rookie/Sophomore game, if there was one, which there wasn't.

 
At 1/06/2009 10:39 PM, Blogger Colonel D. Williams (Ret.) said...

The Bush Years saw a parallel decline in American supremacy along with NBA supremacy...but that's another post.

 
At 4/13/2009 1:42 AM, Blogger 平平 said...

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