Know Thy Mirrors
New Shoals Unlimited, on the subject of the NBA Financial Apocalypse in its form most pure. Oh, and as I try to figure out this new revenue streams thing, I may go a little heavy-handed at times. Like reminding you that it's decidedly un-weird to own the FreeDarko tote bag, or linking to commercial pages from out of posts. . . remember, I want to admit all this up-front so we trust each other.
In the latest ESPN mag, Bill Simmons eats breakfast with Baron Davis and tries to get to the heart of what's eating the former pride of the Warriors. For one, it's Simmons giving a fuck, which is to say, reminding us why he's so beloved and feared as a basketball writer [insert Freudian father figure, anxiety of influence tangent here]. But there's one truly unprecedented moment where, to paraphrase, Bill and Baron discuss Davis's lack of vitality on the court, conclude that it has to do with a lack of inspiration, and decide he needs to channel the "Boom-Dizzle" demi-god that rose out of the 2006-07 Warriors campaign.
Let's rewind that one, in case you missed how many fourth walls got violated therein: Davis opens up to a member of the media as if Simmons were there to help, a valued consultant instead of a thorn in his side. Then, he welcomes advice about his attitude on the court, even though the Sports Guy is not one of those wise ex-jocks who occasionally—and with great public fanfare—send messages to current players. To top it all off, or come full-circle, Simmons drifts over to the realm of fandom, drawing on his non-expert expertise to offer up a solution. Journalist and athlete meet in the middle, only to retreat to their respective sides of a gulf exactly because it's the source of the power, the mystique, that allowed Davis to thrive in the Bay. In short, it's Davis admitting that some of his swagger comes from a larger-than-life self that's both reinforced and reinvented by adoring fans. You can also imagine a more cynical version that involves sneaker companies and marketing entities.
In a way, this makes me understand why some people think Simmons is the only person alive who could realistically write another Breaks of the Game, likely the finest basketball book ever written. But this being a very different era, this new Breaks wouldn't just be expert reportage with an ear for the novelistic. Instead, it would go deep into one of Halberstam's recurring themes: what players mean to fans, or cities as a whole, and what impact this has on the actual person inside the jersey. Except, in a turn so benignly postmodern that I am contractually bound to type "postmodern," Simmons's authority comes from his willingness to intelligently embrace this fan-tastic aspect of the athlete. That, above all else, is how he's influenced FD.
However, instead of the players in Breaks of the Game, who come off as either staunch professionals troubled by this unpredictable realm of meaning, or egomaniacs who refuse to acknowledge what really fuels their stardom, you get today's NBA players. Davis may be exceptionally self-aware, but it's worth noting that popular players drowning in love feel it, feed off of it, and reflect it in their play. The concern isn't over why the public can't see them for who they are—either they could care less about everyone seeing "the real me", or such a thing no longer exists—it's about getting back to that place where they felt best and played like it. That's got everything to do with a version of themselves that has everything to do with perception, or consulting an expert on attitudes in the stands. Simmons remains the foremost chronicler of these voices, and if you want to understand why blogs matter, it's because—no matter how crappy they're treated by the league—fans matter like never before.