Clay Left Smoldering

New Shoals Unlimited on the linguistic lunacy that is the Most Improved Player award. Also, notice the new Amazon widget to the right: Same "you buy stuff by clicking through here, we benefit" idea, but new approach. We're going to be recommending books, music, movie, whatever we feel is worthy of FD's prized endorsement. If you click through there, feel free to buy whatever you want. But the point is to manipulate you.

Apologies if I've touched on this before, but when you have the same screamed phone conversation with multiple FreeDarko members, it warrants a post. It's agreed around headquarters that, simply put, Gerald Wallace is now scary. Not edgy, exhilarating, or overwhelmingly intense. When you watch him play now, fright nips at each and every fiber of your bones.

Part of it is his appearance. I will never cease to hammer home this "Gerald Wallace is the Predator" meme, because this is what a pop culture/sports analogy should be. Wallace is now a little older, thicker, and yet at the same time broken down and flecked with scars on his arms and shoulders. Gone is the sleek, statuesque specimen who was equally at home walking on air or slamming into the earth. Now, Gerald Wallace looks like the sum of all his heights and collisions—lofty, worn, tough, and always in a quiet frenzy. His dreads creep down the side of his head, where they occasionally come into contact with the plastic mouth guard that's always hanging out in the air.

This kind of adornment seems so out of character that we're taken aback by them. It's mysterious, like a vaguely sinister echo of his warped basketball philosophy and the moments that shaped it. We barely notice tattoos anymore—J.R. Smith and Larry Hughes are practically covered from waist to chin, but it's all in good fun. Wallace, though, exists at the intersection of style and grim reminders. Other useful pop culture references: Star Wars bounty hunters, those elegant tackle boxes with death sitting casually on their brains; every Vietnam movie where heroes get subsumed; eye-liner on radicals in the desert, and the chintzy portraits that follow directly from it.

No shock that this new vibe has manifested itself in—or stems directly from—Wallace's game these days. Gone are the eye-popping box scores of yore, the competition with Smith and Kirilenko to see who could most delight our mightily peripheral group of enthusiasts. Wallace scores less, attacks more sparingly, isn't as frequently streaking ahead on the break or leaping up for the put-back—even as he's continued to get more fluid and guard-like with each passing year. Part of this might be Larry Brown, which is fine, because it works. But it's most certainly not a reluctance to put himself or others at risk (though, it should be noted, usually only doing damage to his own person). Wallace is a lurching, semi-breathing basketball death wish.

Remember when Wade or Iverson embraced contact around to the basket to such an extent that it became an end in itself, and got kind of stupid? Wallace seems to have taken this same attitude toward open-ended, violent motion. And movement, if a difference exists there. He doesn't make plays as often, or sow the seeds of chaos (as said in our book.) Now, he's just kind of there to hit the floor like it was a dunk, go for blocks and steals like an agile wrecking ball, terrorize the court in a way that somehow evinces both more and less discipline. This isn't the hustle player reborn, but the blood and guts of what athleticism means at its best in the league. And it isn't necessarily pretty or inspiring, unless you think Icarus is really fucking cool coming and going.

That's because, while Wallace is by no means a dirty or petty player, the toll he's exacted upon himself is, for a basketball player, almost unprecedented. Four concussions to date, and an insistence on rushing back from a collapsed lung. The lung's actually become a running joke; most guys allude to their limitations with "I felt that in my leg," but for Wallace, the game catches up with him in his ribs and breathing apparatus. Forget the high-flown accounts of potential lost and imagined; in his combination of blazing ability, blatant disregard for his body, refusal to change one bit, and downright earnestness about the whole thing, Wallace is the second coming of Pistol Pete Reiser. As Big Baby Belafonte says, you can't watch him without worrying he's going to collapse or implode at any moment, even as he exudes strength.

I wish I could say that in Wallace, we see a simultaneous acknowledgment of mortality and embracing of life. Instead, he just makes my skin crawl.

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At 3/11/2009 2:27 PM, Blogger Kellen said...

Still unpredictable, and still not quite cohesive, the Bobcats are becoming a mean team. Scarred, underestimated, discarded pieces, hungry and vicious. Okafor still plays with his quiet confidence, but Wallace IS the predator, Diaw and Bell are hungry to show that they were never really on their way out, that the system was never broken, Felton's hurting to show that he really was supposed to be drafted between Chris Paul and Deron Williams, and the rest of the team has the steely cool of mercenaries. Vets, role players, freaks, they know they are ugly and they don't care. A Frankenstein of spare parts and resolve. Wallace has swag, but the guiding spirit of the Bobcats now is an icy assasin with a chip on his shoulder. They can do chaos. This can do style. But don't you dare call it fun.

At 3/11/2009 3:47 PM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

with the plastic mouth guard that's always hanging out in the air

Word the f*ck up. I can't stop staring at that during Bobcats games now. Wallace gets fouled, mouth guard hangs out vertically, and then I spend the next two minutes waiting to see if it's going to fall out (yuck), or if he's going to touch it with his dirty hands (which have been in contact with the ball, which has been in contact repeated with the ground and Raja Bell's grimy hands, not sure which is worse). Then the camera cuts away for a second, and by the time Wallace has inbounded the ball, it's back in his mouth.

And yes, he does shoot free throws with that thing hanging out of his mouth. Gerald Wallace's next injury will be gingivitis....

At 3/11/2009 4:38 PM, Blogger Evan said...

There are some catagories you can put guys in for this. Its easiest in football.

There are always guys like Terrel Davis or Barry Sanders who just never take a clean hit. They never fall down looking like it hurts. But then there are guys who just take contact all wrong.

Mike Vick was one of those guys. You'd seem him run out of bounds and then trip and crash and burn and hope he was still breathing at the end of it. This would happen 4 or 5 times a game. Its like they don't know how to slow down.

You get the same thing in basketball. A guy like Chauncy Billups seems to never take a nasty fall. Is always in control and takes contact beautifully (if thats possible). Paul Pierce does this well as well.

Somehow though, Corey Maggette (who has a similarly large physique) takes some bad spills all the time. And then you have the Dwades and Gerald Wallace's who crash and burn all the god damn time.

I don't know if this is a coordination issue, an awareness issue, or some effed psychological issue.

At 3/11/2009 8:05 PM, Blogger The Till Show said...

@Evan: I think Wade and Wallace's violent crashing is due to them overtapping into their powers, and then not worrying about the consequences. If they fall, so be it.

At 3/11/2009 8:06 PM, Blogger Louie Bones said...

Gerald Wallace: Praying Mantis in a league of hornets? Hammerhead in a league of Orca?

At 3/11/2009 8:29 PM, Blogger ronald james davis said...

Gerald Wallace = Darren McFadden?

both can explode in any direction with a transcendent display of athletic ability instantly. and both look like they are getting completely annihilated whenever they get hit.

and I was expecting so much more based on the title of this video.


At 3/11/2009 10:27 PM, Blogger Michael said...

Nothing to do with this article. But too awesome to not post a link to: http://www.theonion.com/content/news/stephon_marbury_embroils_celtics?utm_source=a-section

At 3/11/2009 11:30 PM, Blogger Joel said...


whoaa? i don't even know how to take that.

At 3/12/2009 8:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Paul Pierce has been stabbed, and even he looks scarred when being guarded by Wallace.

Any talk of Steph makes me think Gabe Pruitt belongs in the NBA. Dang Steph, score a fucking point.

At 3/12/2009 12:27 PM, Blogger bugjackblue said...

And all the while Alexis Ajinca is quietly studying under Gerald's tutelage.

When the Gallic Gladiator comes into camp next year with dreads and tats and forty additional lbs of gristle and bone grafted onto his upper body, and starts throwing himself at the rim (or perhaps the clock atop the backboard) at full speed on every play, we'll have Crash to thank. I hope the Cats have budgeted for hiring additional medical staff.

At 3/19/2009 11:49 AM, Blogger MC Welk said...


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