Post MUST Be Called "The No More Drama Club"

Major TSB grind today, includng an entertaining interview with Clyde Drexler and some Rookie/Sophomore thoughts. Stay tuned to there.

One of the reasons I hate our book now is that, as I've said several times already, it seems like this season has brought about a subtle-yet-dramatic shift in the NBA. Kobe suddenly became an elder statesman instead of a lightning rod; the 21st century draft classes now rule the roost; a number of younger players have taken their ever-improving games into the All-Star waiting area; and, as one commenter put it, "a generation of good-not-great players" has slipped into irrelevance, gracefully receded, or seen their stories wrapped up with little room for protest. I'm working on a revised table of contents for a (purely hypothetical) 2009-10 Almanac, and it pretty much involves a complete and total overhaul.

But underneath all this is another trend, one that while possibly accidental is certainly worth noting. When pressed to break up recent NBA history into epochs, I'd go with the 1980's/early 1990's Golden Age, then the post-Jordan era, which overlaps the beginning of the Iverson era and then lingers on through it like a ghost with tenure. I'd thought that the period FD has existed through was somehow post-Iverson, where style and identity co-existed with empirical results and make others feel safe. Like the equilibrium the dress code has settled into. In fact, that's the dualism that drives most of the book's profiles, the tension between swaggering inviduality and the need to fit into a viable, and marketable, version of basketball.

This season, it seems like we're entering a new era, one where the sky is patroled by utter professionals with a strong aversion to inner turmoil. We're not just seeing players with simple narratives take over; a lot of them seem way lacking in any kind of narrative, or personality-driven dynamism. In the book, Dr. LIC took Duncan's non-ness as the ultimate enigma; the Recluse found Joe Johnson compelling because he yielded so little that was distinct apart from his game, if even that. Compared to Johnson, Duncan—boring, mordant, mysterious, vacuous—might as well be Kobe Bryant. The new NBA is at peace, resolved, and if not muted, then certainly a place where the rhythms of craft tamp down man and his problems, instead of the latter animating the former. The game is becoming a Platonic ideal (you know I meant it if I make a fucking Plato reference), not a violent three-headed dialectic of self, world, and pastime.

Who are the names we recite this season? LeBron James, otherworldly but impenetrable; Dwyane Wade, a game possessed but a man forever at ease; Chris Paul, a nice guy with a mean streak in competition; Dwight Howard, the goofy big man whose excessive popularity has everything to do with him being one of the league's few fonts of personality, or personality/professionalism tension. Dirk and Chauncey, older dudes who have always been at odds with the NBA's culture of dissonance. Duncan, who in this context comes off as imperfect, and thus enthrailling, pre-history. The aforementioned Joe Johnson, the standard-beared for a new group that includes Brandon Roy, Danny Granger, Al Jefferson, Devin Harris, Jameer Nelson, and David Lee. Even the top rookies, Derrick Rose and O.J. Mayo, are in part being praised for their maturity and level-headedness. Professionalism may not have sublimated swagger, but it's certainly well on its way to sublimating it at the expense of—or perhaps in place of—the trials of the self.

There is perhaps no greater evidence of this unexpected shift than the rise of Kevin Durant. Durant's mild-mannered off the court, but on it has a phantasmic bloodlust that's equal parts sneaky, vicious, and just plain mysterious. He's also the best small forward the West and yes, I agree with Simmons that he's the league's most underrated player. Watch him over a couple days. Not only does he look every bit the force he was at UT; gone are those quarters of nebulousness or frustrated jump-shooting. Durant goes to the rim stronger, faster and more insistent than we'd thought possible, while retaining all the sleek, slippery qualities that define his movements on the court. He rebounds, sometimes with a force bordering on outrage, and sets up teammates with tough passes. And on defense, there's determination if not always results, and feats that use his length to its fullest. What's more, Durant's gaining power (figurative, dudes, so maybe it should be "powers") every day, such that the improvement over a couple weeks is noticeable.

He's also now better than Carmelo Anthony, who while he may be the most complete offensive player in the game, and a far more committed rebounder and defender this season, is always subject to his passions. What's more, our perception of Melo, and his life in public, are always a function of the complexities surrounding his person, or persona. Melo is the epitome of post-Iverson, a player undeniably hood but trying to synthesize that with good basketball. However, there's no separation there, much less sports overtaking the rest of the world. And while I hate to say it, Durant's partly a better player because he's less distracted, his development less loaded, and his style full of details that warrant purely aesthetic (or technical) critique, rather than the kind of all-encompassing blather this site specializes in.

I fully acknowledge that Durant has not turned out to be a force for utter change. But perhaps even the meta-discourse of revolution and renewal is moot, at least for a while. This is an age of reconciliation for the NBA, with itself and its audience. Now is not the time to thrust forth radicals or make us deal with the madness of others, but the period when we take stock of what came before, consolidate and digest it, and as I said the first time I got all worked up about this subject, appreciate it.

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At 1/29/2009 2:25 PM, Blogger Teddy said...

I kind of hope I'm not first here, because I truly and deeply do not want to politicize this thread. But it's tough not to see an Obama effect at work in all of this.

Obama's rise had shockingly little to do with the usual movement rhetoric of overcoming adversity and deprivation. Instead, it was based on two things: (1) enthusiasm based on the broad perception that this dude just had his sh-t together on all levels, and (2) a campaign organization that translated that enthusiasm into hardassed, pragmatic goal accomplishment. In a lot of ways, it skipped the movement narrative altogether.

Given the enormous cultural effect of Obama, it's not a shock that we're seeing a trickle-down to the League. If a person of great talent can accomplish he wants simply by focusing on getting sh-t done, messing around with personal fulfillment or systemic revolution seems at best unnecessary, and at worst affirmatively counterproductive.

Maybe that's the way to think about this--we've entered the era of getting sh-t done.

At 1/29/2009 3:30 PM, Blogger R. Lobstah said...

Obama has signed one piece of paper and given one interview and it's an era of "getting sh-t done"? It just might depend on how you emphasis the word sh-t. Just so it's clear, I'm not criticizing Obama but it might be a good idea to A) Let the press calm down a bit and see if reality does actually emerge transformed by their pens and B) if we let the programs that some imagine to be good ideas a chance to actually do the good it is being sold to us as. There is that possibility that all that money is actually just another massive power grab for the Executive branch.

Now it's up to the Thunder to surround Durant with the players he needs to give LeBron the foil he needs. I'm enjoying this Lakers/Celtics era with a strong helping of the Cavs thrown in but I see some Magic-Bird in the LeBron-Durant dynamic. Obviously both the players in the current era are more athletic then the older ones but we have a sweet shooting, rebounding master with the uncanny ability to make great passes and then you have the player with size at his position that has never been seen before, crazy court vision and making plays whose shock value is like an aftershock in the spectator's seat. We all rise up.

At 1/29/2009 3:41 PM, Blogger Big Rils said...

I don't want to put words in anyone's mouth, but I don't think Teddy was alluding to the "sh-t" that Obama has gotten done in his 10 days in office, but rather the fact that he got into office and was given such a clear electoral mandate because he sold himself as, and supporters believed him to be, someone who could "get sh-t done," especially in contrast to what came before.

Now, as far as a trickle down effect to the NBA, I'm not sure I see this connection. Surely the fact that the sport now has a very positive connection to the leader of our country will have its affect, but I'm not sure it's the same as what we're talking about here.

At 1/29/2009 3:45 PM, Blogger Joey said...

OH Rock Lobstah, youre my only friend.

i know Iverson has had a huge impact on the game.....but i think the era after Jordan and before LBJ (this is the first year of it) has to be the Duncan era. People talked a lot about Iverson but Duncan has been the leagues most consistent recipe for success for about 10 years now. culturally, the story of the NBA may have been "Iversoness" during that time, but basketballwise Duncan has mattered the most and won way more games.

At 1/29/2009 3:51 PM, Blogger The Till Show said...

@ Joey: If you are to call the post-MJ and pre-Lebron period the Timmy era, then one must include Shaq, as least as Timmy's bombastic alternate universe.

As far as Mr. Durant goes, he and Big Al fight for most underrated in the West. I won't argue too much against Durant, mainly because he's from my hometown.

Also, is Durant/Granger 'Melo/Lebron but on a lesser plane?

At 1/29/2009 4:14 PM, Blogger John said...

I think this could definetly be more of a hip-hop thing than a political thing.

The Iverson/Gangsta rap era being supplanted by a Lebron/Jay-Z era.

Popular rap culture shifting from being about or from the streets to "hustlers" "getting money" and "businessmen."

At 1/29/2009 5:05 PM, Blogger spanish bombs said...

But John, Jay-Z height of popularity and, excluding Reasonable Doubt (preceded this period), peak of his powers, came during Iverson's heyday. If Lebron's rise coincides with any rapper of long-term significance, I would have to say that it is Lil Wayne or possibly Kanye West (T-Pain's robot voice began to gain ground with LBJ, but I doubt he'll stick around). However, LBJ is good at the game of basketball...

This was a good post. Y'all are doing well this week!

At 1/29/2009 5:08 PM, Blogger Teddy said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 1/29/2009 5:10 PM, Blogger Teddy said...

Just to be clear, my getting sh-t done point was directed to the tenor of his campaign. Governance issues are beyond the scope, and not really what we're talking about here. After all, we're talking about players who are trying to reach the mountaintop, not subdivide it into residential lots once they're there.


At 1/29/2009 6:11 PM, Blogger John said...

spanish bombs,

your point is completely valid, but perhaps I should have made mine more clearly.

the prototypical male in rap has shifted greatly, sometime around 03' 04' if had to pick a date. And Reasonable Doubt certainly marks Jay's greatest success if you're a rap fan, ie. his best work, but it's his current persona, as a quasi-retired millionaire in which he is most revered. Mentioning him in a discussion with Pac and BIG as a possible GOAT makes bile rise in my throat, which is a semi-recent development, at least to my memory. Even 50, the ultimate ¨thug¨ persona is citing the millions he made endorsing water as the reason he no longer needs to act hard or battle rappers. Who wouldn't have got ran out of the game in 92' saying they don't need to defend themselves as a man or a ¨thug¨ because they were wealthy and lived in the suburbs.

Whether you think it's a good ting or a bad thing, I say good, I think it's hard to deny that the changes in rap culture over the last 4 years probably has more effect on NBA players than the political changes of the last 6 months.

And Lil Wayne is somewhere between Josh Smith and Tyrus Thomas. And sooo FreeDarko if I'm allowed to use that term as a very recent commentor.

At 1/29/2009 6:52 PM, Blogger FunWithLogic said...

For some reason, Wallace having his ribs broken and lung collapse after being hit by Bynum on a non-malicious play during a close/compelling LA-CHA game sums up the season pretty well.

Get well, Gerald. Come back, subtext.

At 1/29/2009 7:24 PM, Blogger wondahbap said...


I think you're way off with the analogies, and your comments on Jay Z and 50.

Like him or not, 50 star reached far greater than Jay's ever did, in the hood and commercially. Jay's claims are valid , though, but they fall on deaf ears.

I'll explain more when I get back. In a rush.

At 1/29/2009 7:41 PM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

Yeah, I'm surprised Gerald Wallace hasn't illicited a post yet. Another season, another bizarre, football-esqe injury. The man will likely be remembered as the only NBA player who needed to suit up in full pads and a helmet in order to play....

At 1/29/2009 7:46 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Not to sound cold, but at this point, it's Gerald being Gerald. He really might be the NBA's Pete Reiser.

At 1/29/2009 8:42 PM, Blogger El Presidente said...

Thought I might point out:
In the first half of the Cavs/Orlando twist, Jameer Nelson had a horrible lay-up/assist off the glass to Dwight. I think it was actually the latter. Long live the oop revolution.

At 1/29/2009 8:53 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

YouTube of last night's Durant/Westbrook backboard oop is up. Linked to it on the Twitter. Questionable.

At 1/29/2009 11:55 PM, Blogger spanish bombs said...

Actually, why doesn't Gerald wear pads. He should talk to whoever designs Dwight Howard's superhero outfits that he apparently wears underneath everything.

At 1/30/2009 12:15 AM, Blogger R. Lobstah said...

Fair enough but I think most campaigns are run on promises. The winner tends to be the guy who looks better in a blue tie.

Gerald "They called me Mr. Crash" Wallace has my prayers and more. Dude has been snake bit the last few months and a collapsed lung is the least of his puncture wounds.

At 1/30/2009 4:05 AM, Blogger Siddharth said...

Hey Beth,

Writing to you all the way from India! Thoroughly enjoying your book and I think you hit the nail on the coffin with your chapter on G-Force and Josh Smith. Does their consistent play off late also fall into your perceived shift in power and personality in the NBA this season? Nice post though.

P.S - Hoping Gerald recovers soon; that collision looked mad!

At 1/30/2009 1:08 PM, Blogger Christopher said...

Wondahbap: 50s star reached higher in the hood? What hood is that? I think you might mean the radio. And commerically, 50 had one enormous album with one enormous single. Thats it. If his success could be based on anything it was how well he played with white girls in the club. "We gon party like its ya birthday."

At 1/30/2009 1:49 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

Maybe it's the Carolina blue blinders, but this seems relevant to me. When he was being recruited by UNC, there was a rumor that Carmelo Anthony didn't want to have to play in a "system," that he wanted a coach who would basically let him do whatever he wanted on the court. I also heard this about Tim Thomas, who claimed at the time that Carolina had ruined Vince Carter.

By contrast, Durant wanted to play at UNC and would have, had his grades been in order. It's a bit of a stretch, but there's something here about being willing to take instruction and willing to be a team player. Sometimes you hurt yourself by being selfish.

At 1/30/2009 3:38 PM, Blogger wondahbap said...


Name any hood.

I don't know how familiar you are with mixed tapes, but I used to own a couple of stores that sold them. I did business with just about every major DJ there was, and I can tell you without a doubt, that Jay Z NEVER reached the heights that 50 did. We couldn't keep any G-Unit series in stock. This held true in Providence, Boston, Connecticut, the South, and especially New York. I can't peak for the West, but I would assume that 50 had more appeal there as well. Never mind that commercially, 50 also out sold Jay's top selling CD by miles.

My comment had nothing to do with who I think is better, but Jay never reached that peak. It's really that simple.


Regarding your comments. Jay Z isn't out of his mind saying he is the GOAT. He's probably had the greatest career of any rapper. Only it's almost blasphemous to say this because he's battling ghosts. The legends of Big and Pac. I would even go as far to say that Reasonable Doubt was better than Ready to Die (or any Pac CD) and would stand up over time better. A lot of Biggie's aura was created by Puffy. Not to say he wasn't as great as advertised, or loved, but an early death cemented his legacy. Truthfully, he didn't put out that much material. (Also, Jay Z and DMX had a big hand in ushering the heavily rotated commercial hardcore rap circa '98.)

The problems with jay's claims, while valid, are that he was never "anointed" King of Rap. He "assumed" it when Biggie died, went after Nas to make sure of it, then, 50 came along and took it from him, and along the way, you have others making their claims, blah, blah, blah. Through it all Jay has been the most consistent. Now, I this whole argument only deals with these artists on somewhat commercial levels (I'd take Ghostface over any of them), but Jay will never be thought of as the greatest because the people don't want him to be, they were always looking for someone else. He seems like a front runner and is too eager to hop on with the hottest rapper and/or producer. Everything he does seems contrived (Mash-ups, songs with Coldplay). Jay has to work for us to recognize his greatness. Even fake retire. He's judged with an unfair measuring stick.

Now think about Kobe. Jay is stuck in the middle, just like Kobe is stuck between Jordan and LeBron.

I would say the "prototypical male in rap" has changed because the a lot of the teenagers that grew up during height of rap's reign are maturing or already have. I used to love Mobb Deep in high school. I feel silly listening to them now.

At 1/30/2009 5:04 PM, Blogger GCDSA said...

Though they're fun to talk about, Jay-Z and 50 Cent haven't really resonated in hip-hop in years. Lil Wayne and Young Jeezy are far more relevant and interesting in 2009.

At 1/30/2009 6:16 PM, Blogger John said...

well I was never trying to be too specific about my rapper references, perhaps I should have said Iverson/Timberland Boot, White Tee, Wave Cap LeBron/Louis Vitton Loafer, Button Down. Or something else. My point is shit done changed.
I probably confused my own point in insulting Jay, but somehow I can't mention that self-grandizing, rhyme-biting, mediocre camel without sliding in a dig or two.
As far as your other point, if you were a store owner around the time fif had mixtape heat (I have never heard anyone say mixed tapes ) you were going through your post-mobb deep maturation around the same time the players we're talking about were going through puberty. Not sure that really translates.

Good call on pretty toney though. My personal GOAT list:


At 1/30/2009 9:28 PM, Blogger wondahbap said...

Haha. I was just trying to be grammatically correct.

I'm not even sure what my point was anymore. Guess I was babbling. I too like taking my shots at Jay sometimes. I like him, there's just something so corny about him sometimes.

My list in no particular order:

Redman (1st 4 albums)
Black Thought
Tek/Steele/Sean P

and I was 24 when LBJ entered the NBA.

At 1/30/2009 10:32 PM, Blogger John said...

ah, what began as a disagreement...

no one makes a top 4 list, my idea for the fivespot was going to be redman, blackthought, common or pun. I thought I'd get ripped up for any of those picks.

sorry for the age dig too, it was just strange. as a 24 year old non-college graduate from an urban area in nj I made a statement simultaneously referencing hip hop, politics, basketball, and the concept of freedarko. and the only subject I get questioned on is my knowledge of hip hop and urban youth culture.

I'm just glad everyone can ignore my grammar

At 1/31/2009 7:22 AM, Blogger Mister Periphery said...

I think that the dress code, infantilizing nature of some of the league's reason changes, and the sociological underpinnings of the Millenial generation has simply normalized good behavior.

I believe we may have seen the last of the Jamaal Tinsley era, rest his Pacers soul.

P.S. Since there's no specific place to leave simple fanboy comments, I'll just spot real quick that I appreciate all the work you guys put into the Web site.

I will have to get my fix of Updikean prose and self-analysis here for the time being.

At 1/31/2009 2:44 PM, Blogger ericL said...

I think what you called the J. Tinsley era is a nice way of putting it. What I see is a run off from the Iveson movement. Instead of the kind of guys with the talent that makes you forgive some of their faults, we have guys like Jamal Tinsley/Quintel Woods/Starbury fucking up. Iverson light/ Iverson Pretenders. At the same time you have GM's mailing these guys a check and keeping them away from their team. That has to bring about a certain level of good behavior.

At 1/31/2009 4:37 PM, Blogger maxmillian said...

I could be wrong, but a lot of what you talk about in this post seems to be a response to what I posted a few days ago as an idea for what to write about. If so, I'm flattered. But either way, this really was a good post and I think this is a topic that is somehow being ignored despite it's obvious huge importance. Has Stern finally succeeded in changing the culture of the game here? Are we now standing at an era where all great players proclaim themselves "just part of the team" instead of imprinting their personality on the game? It might be good for the game, I dunno. But it's bad for sports writing. That's probably why Stephon Marbury is one of the biggest storylines this year. I mean, he's a hasbeen player on a mediocre team - but the guy is the last stormy personality in basketball, so espn can't help itself. Other than him, everything just seems hunky dory in the NBA. Of course, if things on the surface seem calm, one should dive deeper...

At 2/02/2009 2:27 AM, Blogger Brendan K said...

The book serves as the apotheosis of FD, Vol. 1. Thus begins the next FD...


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