Will Bore Gentiles For Food
Consider this the preamble to the preamble, which is always an apology of sorts. I have been way out of touch with the NBA these last few weeks. Limited cable access, little time to sneak off and watch a game of my choosing, and time spent (thankfully) with people who don't want to spend a Thursday at home with Barkley and Kenny. I've also been talking non-stop about some of the more axiomatic features of the league, which sort of dries out your appetite for day-to-day trainspotting.
I also have this weird feeling that everything in the league has been destroyed except for the Thunder, though that's probably just some unconscious way of guilt-tripping myself for going slack.
But I feel fully armed and ready to do what I do best—take something I said once already and more forcefully, desperately, throw it in the face of those who would doubt me. Yesterday, I put up a post that inquired into exactly what "the Jewish athlete" meant today. Some commenters, and at least one blog with a bigger readership than mine, took me to task as either questioning Farmar's Judaism (different from Jewish-nes, I think), or being guilty of the worst kind of self-stereotyping.
First off, Farmar's Judaism is unimpeachable, insofar as he takes it seriously, attends services, and was raised by two Israelis. That's more than I can claim. The whole "he's half-black, and plays a blacker game" had some awkward elements of racialized biology that no one really called me on, but the point mainly was that, for whatever reason, when he steps on the floor he's able to embody the basketball mainstream. Apparently, there are still American Jews out there who believe strongly in the imperative of, or at least the right to, assimilation. My Greenberg allusion was meant to date this attitude as something that, in theory, we've moved past. Jews now can assert the ways in which they are different from "white people" without endangering themselves professionally or personally. We won.
But the funny thing about Jews as an ethnic group: Except for the construction of Israeli identity, or going all-out religious, it's hard to pin down exactly what Jewish "authenticity"—the idea I was trying to nail down in my plea for a "Jew-y" player—would be, other than a bunch of semi-embarrassing stereotypes. That's why I was ridiculed for suggesting that I'd like to see such a player; it's regarded as self-satire, as opposed to alive and kickin' identity politics. I'm not content with today's criteria-based, near-polarizing system of classification, which is why personally, the "he attends shul" proof doesn't do it for me. Nor do I want a repeat of the Jewish Jordan fiasco. I want an athlete whose game I can identify with.
Someone suggested that my seach for a "Jew-y" player would ultimately be detrimental to the league in the same way "blacker" players have been. Ummm, okay. Allen Iverson's not perfect, but he's changed the game forever. As someone who, however foolhardily, takes the idea of a "cultural Judaism" seriously, it would mean a lot to me if—at a time when I'm increasingly asked to either shut up and accept my whiteness or ante up and pay membership dues at my local synagogue—there were a player that did something to work toward a contemporary version of this term. I threw out Woody Allen as an example; he was dismissed as "of the past," but while he may need updating (as would, say, Serch), that's the kind of figure I'd like to see reflected in sports, just as Iverson was to hip-hop.
(Sidenote: If anyone super-influential is reading this, please send me that lost footage from Annie Hall where the Knicks—the real Knicks—take on a team of famous philosophers)
So while it may have been unfair of me to single out Farmar, or accidentally turn him into a figurehead, the fact remains that sports are fucking huge in America, and insofar as I have spent a lot of time in this life of mine looking at so-called secular variations on Jewish identity, I would like to see this borne out in basketball. I don't know what I'm looking for, but I know it's not just a guy who self-identifies as Jewish but otherwise bears no stylistic markers. Or a monolithic, and largely implausible, version of what it means to project "Jewish-ness" for all the world to see. The internal tensions and external negotiations of culture are never an easy thing to pin down, and there's over a century of art, music, and literature that attest to this within the Jewish experience. With sports as central to America as they now are, why can't I ask for an athlete who uses this medium to continue in the critical, often confusing, tradition?
Fine, shove this right back at me as "allusive," guilty of reductionism, keeping the people down, and getting in the way of a more transparent, or flexible, definition of "Jew." Maybe I am living in the past, or preoccupied with my own personality quirks. But I'm not done wrestling with the meaning of secular Jewish identity, nor am I entirely comfortable dismissing an inherently unstable history and canon just because we can't give an easy account of where they stand today. That's the sort of work culture does, and big surprise here, but I think sports, and the power of style, are clearly capable of doing some of that work. They have for everyone else, in every other sport.
Imagine a cross between Rudy Fernandez, Shane Battier, and early Joe Johnson. Also, Stephen Jackson sometimes strikes me as really Jewish. Is Doug Moe the one that got away?
If you want to keep going down this path, I'd suggest consulting our NBA Race War, and its sequel.
I'm fucking exhausted. Don't call me Sarah Silverman or ask for a syllabus.