Is the War Over Now?

As Ziller explains, first the news came over email. As Tom succinctly put it, "no haircut could ever be more meaningful. In all of America." If I believed in titles that made sense, I'd go with "The Chop Heard 'Round the World." Nate Jones later posted photographic evidence, seen above. But before we knew exactly what was up, in those first few breathless moments of comprehension, Joey Litman and I tried to make sense of it all.

Bethlehem Shoals: Inside report: AI HAS CUT OFF HIS BRAIDS
Joey Litman: I hope he goes back to the mini-fro he had at Georgetown. There was something youthfully innocent about it, and I think it engendered optimism in me. I am also a nostalgist, though.
BS: I like that angle. Like before him being him was a burden.
JL: Exactly. Back when he was free to just play. To just be. To be a kid. His public persona, for better or worse, is kind of like a prison.
BS: There was always something defensive about the braids. Like "yeah, this is me where I feel safest. Now step the fuck back."

JL: Completely agree. And they may have allowed him to feel like he owned the way he was being portrayed. Even if it wasn't his choice, even if he didn't fully control it, choosing braids gave him at least the illusion of self-determination.
BS: Or more cynically, was like "if you're really going to fear me anyway, I'm going to drop all pretense of playing that game." Which sort of implies that Iverson was once ready to deal.
JL: I don't disagree with that, but I sometimes wonder about whether he was, or if that was just something we assumed as a result of the redemption narrative: out of jail, prodigious talent, father-figure coach who would help him see that potential and walk the righteous path. That imports a sense that he was ready, or willing, but maybe it was just easy to go along with things without any real certainty.
BS: Or, let's put it like this: He was at least somewhat humble, and realized it was a new venue, when he first hit the league. Not redemption per se, but pragmatic. Then when the backlash came, he retreated into an especially dark (yes, keep the pun) and reactionary form of Romanticism.
JL: Kind of like he threw up his hands and said "I tried to play by the rules, I tried to be nice, but fuck it. You don't seem to care, or get it, so i am just gonna do me." And oddly, doing him, rocking the braids, only reinforced what people were saying. It's like a weird Stockholm Syndrome in some way.

BS: But what about now, when everyone's saying he might fetch nothing on the open market, and has clearly receded into history as the league's major influence? Now it's just marketing, right? Was it just marketing for Melo, too?
JL: As you know (i think you know), I think Carmelo is like Common and like A-Rod--Carmelo seems like he's searching for something. I think that his period at Syracuse, when he was the man, and his talent allowed him to rule the game, was illusory. And I think his PR missteps as a pro, and the stigma that he can't win a playoff series, and the fact that his charm and thoughtfulness are often buried underneath the stereotypical trappings of someone in his position--to me, it all points to this directionless-ness. The braids were perhaps a part of cleaving to an archetypal identity that may or may not really be him, but gave him direction.

JL: Oddly, I think he's maybe coming out of it. This season feels different. I think winning at the Olympics helped him. I think doing more than only scoring has helped. He plays and comports himself with more self-possession this year.
BS: It's weird, people say he took a step back from other international competition, when he dominated. But yeah, his more focused, mature season is probably the result of the Olympics, too.
JL: That's kind of my read on it. and "mature" is a good word. I think he has grown up in some ways. Not to say a grown man, or a self-possessed man, can't have braids. But if the braids are part of a uniform, in effect, and not just a personal preference, they can mean something else. And in the league, thanks to AI, in particular, they can connote some lingering "otherness."
BS: Well, I've always thought of Melo as trying to mediate between being the NCAA champ "good son" or alt-Bron "new jack", and the really real heir to Iverson's street cred, since that's what differentiated him from Bron. Now he's proven he's still got street in him. But on some level, as a businessman—the post-Jay hustler archetype that's replaced the Scarface thing as the model of success—he's got to move on and market himself.

BS: In Iverson's case, he kind of preceded all that. For Iverson to, for lack of a better word, assimilate, doesn't have as clear a narrative to it. How does he justify dropping the ultimate symbol of his personal integrity? It really is all about not necessarily changing his image, but becoming less conspicuous. Is that a return to the beginning? Like "just let me play my game, and then sign me based on that."
JL: Like hitting the reset button. It's funny that it's so hard for him to do that. other players--players who weren't as singular, and as culturally significant--have been able to do that. But with Allen, it's like people don't even want him to.
BS: Well, Melo didn't hit reset per se. He moved on. And that's really the bottom line. At this point, can we even imagine what it means for Iverson to evolve, in terms of game, image, or meaning? Or is he at once an important piece of history and such, doomed in the present.

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At 2/14/2009 6:54 PM, Blogger Kaifa said...

There's a video up on nba.com where AI has just arrived at the locker room and causes a stir with the new haircut. Mo Williams says it's "crossing up MJ" style.

Also, a little dissapointed by the HORSE competition. The guys are too shy, they'd need to talk more trash and also be a little more creative. Rasheed should have gotten in.

They made a few great shots but also missed some pretty easy ones. A strange feeling to see them so mortal.

At 2/14/2009 7:02 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

If you were expecting non-stop trash talking, those weren't exactly the right guys. But they did a little, it was funny to hear, and I liked the whole informal, we're mortal, but some shit will be transcendent, vibe to it. Mostly I like that it was three stars just fucking around, occasionally getting serious, and showing why this contest's a good showcase for scorers. Though Durant could've dunked in any of his lay-ups, which—as Kevin Pelton just suggested to me—makes you wonder why he's not in every event this weekend.

I don't see how the Dunk Contest will match that. Nate Robinson is weak. Rudy's bullshit. Maybe Dwight brings something extra-theatrical, but personally, I'd like to see him actually try and the kind of thing that scares you coming from a big man, like Amare's high school contest. J.R.'s going to get robbed.

At 2/14/2009 7:18 PM, Blogger Kaifa said...

Here's Iverson saying a few words about the new haircut:


The thing about the HORSE competition was, they didn't really capitalize on their athleticism - these were mostly shots that a regular ballplayer has a solid chance on making. They did impress with the really long range shots though, another aspect where they have all of us beat in distance and accuracy.

But what I see sceptically in the dunk contest - the whole prop thing and trying totally outrageous moves that you are bound to miss - is exactly what makes HORSE fun. Use two balls, use the ball rack, bounce it without looking, throw it off the shot clock, try a soccer header, throw a baby hook from 3 etc. And if you then incorporate the athleticism - jump from one side of the key, finish reverse on the other side of the rim or something like that, then you have me watching.

Maybe the set-up was also not ideal. They probably should have had a litte more than a half court to go at it. I expected something like the T-Mac/Arenas duel in the Katrina game, not a bunch of Bruce Bowen corner threes. But I'm a HORSE enthusiast, so maybe my expectations were too high.

At 2/14/2009 7:45 PM, Blogger W2 said...

Me: AI is hip-hop. This is some clean cut Barak Obama America type shit.

Wife: Don't put AI in a box.

Me: The Pistons need help, maybe this helps.

Wife: It is only basketball.

Me: The NBA is awesome yet kind of boring this year. This seems extreme by current standards.

At 2/14/2009 10:00 PM, Blogger wdm305 said...

I love AI.

At 2/14/2009 10:46 PM, Blogger Jon L said...

So who's the new boogeyman for "NBA hairstyles?" Rip Hamilton?

On HORSE, I'm pretty sure those guys woke up no more than two hours beforehand. Also, that trophy looked like someone went to the toy store yesterday and slapped a GEICO sticker on it. You could see the twist-ties in the back.

At 2/14/2009 11:28 PM, Blogger Carlos Destrroyo said...

Rudy's backboard dunk was difficult, JR Smith got some shitty passes, Dwight's reach-back was nice, Nat-Rob's kryptonite was fun... but is it possible that the best dunk tonight was Derrick Rose's?

At 2/15/2009 12:07 AM, Blogger goathair said...

Iverson cutting his braids off is like Jordan showing up wearing that green jacket and Mom jeans. It totally betrays my sense of style associated with them and bums me out. People have been getting rid of their braids for years (Sheed, Rip, Lue, etc.), it was bound to happen sooner or later, but I never thought it actually would.

And it was Victor Page that had the mini-fro at Georgetown. Iverson had a fade back then. He got the little fro back when the Sixers still wore red and blue.

At 2/15/2009 1:04 AM, Blogger Robert said...

JR Definitely got robbed. But not really. Dwight just got inflated. At least the best dunk won.

The first 3 sections of the post were fascinating. Did you ever see 'My Blue Heaven'? When Steve Martin is all like "Sometimes, you gotta change from the Outside - In." For some reason the statement in a Brooklyn accent has more street cred - common sense delivered in a believable way.

It was like that. Good stuff.

At 2/15/2009 1:10 AM, Blogger Robert said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 2/15/2009 2:17 AM, Blogger StreakShooter McFloorburn said...

Iverson's Obama comment while talking to David Aldridge was the one thing he said jokingly, but it seems to reflect a great deal about what Obama means culturally, that AI chose this time to cut his hair. Geico the Horse was cool enough for it being the first time in many years, and will be the best Saturday event next year if they bring it back, and probably was this year, now that I reflect on it. The three point contest was the worst in years. The skills challenge featured Rose's dunk but little else to get excited about. Shooting Stars...is there anything that can be done to make this better? The dunk contest is a joke right now, and I don't know why I expect anything different, but the way it's judged, going first is the kiss of death. I was way more disappointed last year when it was Jamario Moon getting shafted by going first, but the judges treat whoever it is as a warm-up act for Dwight Howard. You just can't get better than low 40's there unless your dunk is life-changing. Rudy (who I was prepared to be completely embarrassed by) proved, as his highlight reel alley-oops already have, that while his hops (and hand size) are woefully inadequate for the dunk contest, his mid-air agility is up there with the best in the league, and his dunks, if not his execution of them, were the second best overall of the first round. J.R. Smith barely deserves mention, but certainly didn't embarrass himself given the circumstances. I'm glad Nate won, even though the jump off Wilson Chandler was one of the dumbest things, due to being pointlessly risky for both guys, that I've ever seen in the contest, because watching a guy that size successfully complete any decent dunk is consistently thrilling. Dwight spent way too much time on setup and way too little on execution, the 12' hoop was awesome until he did it easier than me on an 8' hoop. And how sad was it to see him do a completely no-frills free throw line dunk for his final attempt? We need two new rules: a player who wants to throw out his score on a successful attempt can have one additional go, didn't it seem like he could have even done a 360 on that rim? And, any player who does a basic free-throw line dunk is immediately disqualified, unless Dr. J is on his death bed and personally requests it. Is anyone gonna try and tell me that Dwight couldn't at least do Karl Malone's pretty boy/special delivery dunk from there? Add something, sheeeeit.

At 2/15/2009 2:33 AM, Blogger Jon L said...

Apologies if this is a double-post. Reading through the above again, another (admittedly somewhat surface) music comparison that comes to mind is Ludacris, who somewhat famously also changed his hairstyle a few years ago in advance of/to coincide with the release of his "adult" album. It also preceded his taking more movie roles that didn't involve playing a rapper/criminal, but I think the marketing stuff plays less of a role with Iverson. Who's the oldest player with a massive shoe contract? Kobe?

I also wonder to what extent the Rodney Stuckey stuff played a role. Pretty much everyone was calling for Iverson to go to the bench, with no one really taking "his side." Rip Hamilton's also apparently not taking to his new role all that well, and Iverson has to watch that as well.

Finally, I wonder if it's significant that this happened during a weekend that's become a celebration of Kevin Durant.

At 2/15/2009 2:49 AM, Blogger tray said...

It's worth mentioning that that "adult" album (and for that matter, everything Luda's done since) sucked. See also Busta's haircut during the run-up to The Big Bang's release.

At 2/15/2009 9:03 AM, Blogger sharky h. towers said...

Iverson cutting his hair at this stage of his career is sort of the marketing inverse of Clyde Drexler losing his hair at the end of his career.

Horse wasn't bad for a 1st effort. The dunk contest is over. There needs to be a new format. Maybe a horse/dunk hybrid or something. There just isn't anything else to do. Ced Ceballos -> Dee Brown gimmickry is sometimes mixed with MJ/'Nique transcendence, but those moments are just too few and far between.

There are so many good developments in the league though... Webber (and to a lesser extent GP) as a broadcaster/ambassador/personality, the major brands becoming powerhouses again (Celts, Lakers) with the small-market teams going to more uptempo play (Golden State, Toronto), major young talent that have incredibly unique skills/game (Durant, LBJ, CP3). The NBA is just in great shape. It doesn't even matter how fixed it all is. The talent and storylines are just too compelling to turn away.

In the face of such rich pageantry the dunk contest is a yawn and belittles the league. It's stale and forced. The Horse game was flawed, but was pleasantly sincere and accessible (especially the open mics). Stick Kobe, Durant and Nowitski (and maybe Rasheed, Peja and Baron Davis) in it next year and with a few tweaks it would trump the dunk contest easy.

At 2/15/2009 5:48 PM, Blogger Logan said...

Gotta say, I don't think the dunk contest is dead. I think this is just another year where it struggled with the same stuff it always has.
Stern and the rest of the NBA know that their current marketing scheme - hyping the new personalities - is working, insofar as the last couple years have been good to the league. And the Dunk contest helped that. So I wasn't surprised when the two finalists were who they were. Dunk comp has always struggled with best dunkers vs. best personalities, and the league is promoting personalities right now. I'm no expert, but I thought this site was into that sort of thing.

@Robert Best dunk didn't win. If they're going to score Nate higher for doing an easier version of JR's after a miss, then Rudy's dunk should have scored higher. It was pretty difficult.


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