5.02.2009

He Was Born in Hell



Everyone I talk to is worried about a anti-climactic contest tonight. Of course, after Thursday, Lazarus making hot chocolate at halftime would be an anti-climax. But even if all we get in a few hours is epilogue, and even if that epilogue is the (expected) Boston win, the convoluted history of this series tells tells us that there's no way it won't be eventful.

Before we all get completely consumed by pre-game hysteria, I wanted to briefly touch on the weird, weird Josh Smith scandal. Smith goes for the showtime dunk, on the break, during a blowout, and fails. He's lambasted for trying to show up or disrespect the Heat, personally apologizes to Coach Spoelstra (who publicly made many of these accusations) and explains that it was just to thank the fans. Confused? You also have Smith saying he'd do it again, and basically agreeing with Jalen Rose's analysis that the problem was the miss, not the attempt itself. Which is to say, he embarassed himself—had he made it, Smith would've had the whole world entranced. The Heat would've come off as petty whiners, or at very least, the dunk would've been so awesome as to insulate itself against criticism.

All this presumes that Smith needs to apologize for wanting to humilate the Heat, or that an insane dunk is purely self-indulgent. Last I checked, intimidation and making statements were really important in basketball, especially in the playoffs. Why, then, is Smith all of a sudden in "unsportsman-like" territory for trying to use a dunk to do just that? It was gratuitous when the Celtics ran up the score, and put on a show, to cap off last year's Finals victory, because in that case the series was over. But this one is still very much alive. Breakaway dunks can be momentum-changers in a game; why not think of this in the context of the series? While games have throat-slash moments, these events can pile up and carry over to the next one, too. The Heat had every right to take Smith's attempted dunk personally, and use it as motivation. That's because he was trying to punk them, put them in their place. That's about basketball, pride, and ego; there's absolutely no need for the finger-wagging and commenters dissecting the ethics of the situation.

It all comes back to this idea of there being "good" and "bad" forms of intimidation, or rather, "acceptable" and "tacky." Tough defense and physical play can throw off an opponent. As can talking. Or throwing down in traffic. Those are fair game in the pressure-cooker of the playoffs. But if Josh Smith goes for the showpiece dunk, it's him, not the Heat, who have some explaining to do? Isn't a long three in transition always outrageous and uncalled for? If I had a penny for every time someone old insisted that teams need to send a message with their defense, I'd be crushed to death. Why then, can't Josh Smith try and say to the Heat "fuck you, I can do whaetver I want against you." Isn't that his whole game? It's up to the other team to keep his one-man momentum bomb under wraps; as one of the studio guys observed in the pre-game last night, Miami immediately let Johnson get away with an uncontested dunk. Are there rules and regulations about when you're allowed to intimidate . . . or does that only apply to individual acts of offense? Because clearly, no one makes a fuss if a team lets up on defense once the outcome's decided. And running up the score can certainly be deployed selectively.

Smith's right—the problem is that he missed. That turned it into something frivolous, a sideshow subject to all sorts of bullshit moral high ground-grabbing. Smith is clueless, spoiled, disorganized, a disgrace to the game because he resorted to absurdity. Why was it absurd and excessive? It failed. If he'd pulled it off, it would be the Heat who would be feeling shame, no matter what the media decided to say about it.

If anyone wants to give him hell, they just focus on what a half-assed effort that was.The angle of approach was all wrong and Smith barely got off the ground. What a dick.

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29 Comments:

At 5/02/2009 6:28 PM, Blogger Jason said...

amen.

 
At 5/02/2009 6:49 PM, Blogger Michael Pfeffer said...

I'm more offended by Josh Smith's constant three point hoisting.

Please learn to shoot jumpers Joshua, for the sake of me seeing you destroy everyone.

As for the series, it's so awful that a stupid missed dunk is the only thing ESPN can think of talking about.

 
At 5/02/2009 7:26 PM, Blogger djturtleface said...

There is no better evidence than the fact that the announcer hyped him by saying, "Now watch this" literally as soon as he saw Smith was out on the break.

 
At 5/02/2009 7:57 PM, Blogger Ravi said...

So say we all.

 
At 5/02/2009 7:59 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

fyi will Twitter something resembling a live-blog.

 
At 5/02/2009 8:00 PM, Blogger Hapi said...

hello... hapi blogging... have a nice day! just visiting here....

 
At 5/03/2009 1:55 AM, Blogger Robert said...

That is ,without a doubt, the most spot on analysis of this shitstorm of media overindulgence in moral high ground I've read yet. It's the only one, but you've stolen the thoughts right out of my noggin. Go Hawks since '90

 
At 5/03/2009 3:21 AM, Blogger Mr. Six said...

Yes, and why are 99% of the idiots who commentate on the NBA offended by the idea of fun?

 
At 5/03/2009 5:01 AM, Blogger sophisticatedboomboom said...

Had Josh completed that dunk it would have instantly become legend. Those same ESPN idiots would be explaining its brilliance on some lame show in 10 years. Dammit, Josh.

 
At 5/03/2009 11:47 AM, Blogger Jeff Cykiert said...

"If anyone wants to give him hell, they just focus on what a half-assed effort that was.The angle of approach was all wrong and Smith barely got off the ground. What a dick."

Genius. Sure, maybe he is arrogant for trying such a dunk, but arrogance is commonplace in this leage, and it probably helps the players who exude it more than it hurts them. The real problem was how awful the attempt was, in itself. If he makes it some people talk shit, but it ends up helping the team and making SC top ten.

 
At 5/03/2009 11:59 AM, Blogger js said...

Mr. Six is right: Josh was just having fun. Good god, it's basketball, not a corporate board meeting.

I love that he missed it even more than if he had made it. And I love it even more that the sports establishment is getting all worked up about it.

The sequence was a fitting metaphor for Josh: awkwardly striving for greatness and just missing it.

 
At 5/03/2009 1:01 PM, Blogger joseph said...

Posts like this reassure me that there are other fans within my same universe.

I'm not so sure JS making the dunk would have been enough to satisfy the Tim Leglers of the world. Certainly there are legitimate and illegitimate forms of intimidation but how plays get categorized seems to depend on things beyond success.

One thing this illustrates is how schizophrenic the sports media are in their notion of basketball. When it comes to hard defense, bad fouls by "good" players, etc. it is a game in which signals matter. The game has a level of meaning that is significant. At other times, when bad players do undisciplined things, we are reminded a basket is a basket and meanings are an insignificant waste of time.

This is complicated by the fact that this morally corrupt basketball still sells. If reactionary basketball fans were given exactly what they wanted, the league would fail. The solution is to provide the right combination of corruption (360s, cross-overs, etc.) to keep people excited and puritanical critique to remind the average fan they are morally superior. It is basically the Jerry Springer model applied to sports.

 
At 5/03/2009 3:46 PM, Blogger djturtleface said...

Entire discussion voided by the fact that the final image of the Hawks victory montage was Smoove's trash time dunk that ended up as a shot-clock violation? Or is it just an example of banking on public ignorance?

 
At 5/03/2009 3:53 PM, Blogger Bhel Atlantic said...

I didn't see much, or any, glad-handing and good cheer between the two sides (Atlanta and Miami) after Game 7 finished. ABC showed Dwyane Wade almost immediately walking down the tunnel towards the locker room. This stood in contrast to everything I've seen when other series ended, even the heated CHI-BOS series. Is it just immaturity among the young Beasleys and Horfords? Or do these guys really, really loathe each other?

 
At 5/03/2009 4:28 PM, Blogger Bhel Atlantic said...

On television I saw a sign in the crowd in Philips Arena saying: "2 > 3" (referencing Joe Johnson and Wade). I took this to be clearly inspired by the Freedarko 24>23 T-shirts. Am I crazy, or are these numerical inequalities a common trope in fandom?

 
At 5/03/2009 5:01 PM, Blogger spanish bombs said...

The difference between a fancy dunk on a breakaway and throwing down hard in traffic, talking trash, or physical intimidation is that these 360-between-the-legs-self-alley-oop dunks make it much less likely that the shot will go in (case in point: Josh Smith). In contrast, throwing down hard in traffic is the only way to dunk in traffic. Physical intimidation helps you get rebounds, play defense, etc. Talking trash doesn't help you necessarily, but it is hard to see how it concretely harms your performance.

That is why teams would get pissed over such "showboating". It says that they don't even have to try at basketball to win. It can also offend crotchety people who are simply fans of basketball because it represents them not playing at maximum efficiency. (But honestly, does a solo breakaway really have the potential to be a beautiful basketball play in the first place?)

Anyway, that is the difference. Mostly it is indeed disrespect. I don't really understand why football showboating is bad, since I cannot fathom how high-stepping materially harms one's ability to perform.

 
At 5/03/2009 6:32 PM, Blogger Aaron said...

Given how much else in basketball is non-functional in character, it's unconvincing to say that the only reason Smith's dunk was offensive was because it was nonfunctional.

 
At 5/03/2009 6:35 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I'd take it even further: It wasn't non-functional. It would've had a clear effect on the Heat, the Hawks, the crowd, and the series. Football celebrations are pure preening. This kind of dunk is mind games, just not the kind that anyone other than the player would like to legitimate.

[Insert longer discussion about dumb shit some coaches do. . .]

 
At 5/03/2009 6:37 PM, Blogger salt_bagel said...

@spanish: Shouldn't winning then be the final measure of effectiveness? The argument in the defense of Right Way is that the big picture (winning and losing) is the only important thing. Deploy efficiency in the name of anything but winning, and it's no better than playing pretty for the sake of pretty. Style to win and Efficiency to win are equally tenable or untenable, depending on the results.

 
At 5/03/2009 8:42 PM, Blogger mark said...

what about LeBron's monster windmill vs the pistons? if he missed that would he cop grief?
somehow I suspect not.

 
At 5/03/2009 9:04 PM, Blogger spanish bombs said...

@salty: I am saying that the argument is indeed pretty for the sake of pretty. I think that, of all people, people that read FD would appreciate pretty basketball without victory.

@shoals: I agree that the goal is probably to make a statement on the series as a whole, but my point is that his method of doing this is to say, "Haha, I don't even have to do the most I can to ensure two points to beat you/blow you out!" When a player attempts a play such as this, he is 1) taking his trash talk public, and, more importantly, 2) taking humiliation beyond even running up the score.

I am more inclined to agree with you, that if we are not to criticize Lebron for spooking Arenas into missing two free throws or the Celtics for blowing the Lakers out, just for fun, then it is silly to criticize other mental gamesmanship. However, I don't think that it should be all that big of a mystery where this other position comes from. Smith was pooping on both pureness and the opposing players.

 
At 5/03/2009 9:05 PM, Blogger spanish bombs said...

I decided double-post was less bad than overly long post...

WHY ARE NOT THE NUGGETS A BIGGER FUCKING DEAL ON THIS SITE?

 
At 5/03/2009 10:55 PM, Blogger chris said...

@mark - Good call on that. There seems to exist in the mind of announcers "good" guys and "bad" guys, and their actions are judged accordingly. I'd go further than the post and say that even if Smith had made it he may have taken some shit.

Gedanken experiment - switch Josh Smith for Rajon Rondo in these recent series. Josh commits a maybe flagrant against Miller and follows up by throwing Hinrich into a table the following game. Rajon misses a fancy dunk in a (mostly) decided game. Are the respective commentaries still the same?

Something tells me no.

 
At 5/03/2009 10:55 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I wrote a Shoals Unlimited on them last week. And a pretty long thing on what Billups did for them around the All-Star Break. I, for one, am positively crazy about them.

I think Joey's doing something on them for tomorrow.

 
At 5/03/2009 11:08 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

@spanish bombs: Sorry, Shoals Unlimited was two weeks ago. Other post had a lot about Monta, as well.

 
At 5/03/2009 11:18 PM, Blogger ChrisD said...

I'm having trouble with the idea that it was gratuitous for the Celtics to "run up the score" against the Lakers in game 6 of the Finals last year. Wasn't that the same series in which both teams came back from 20+ point deficits on their opponents court in the 4th Quarter? I understand that you guys have little use for the Celtics on this blog, but how about a little perspective on the series. Trust me, as a Celtics fan I wasn't comfortable with that game until the middle of the 4th Quarter. Personally I thought it was more gratuitous that the Lakers quit, when you consider those factors.

Either way, I agree that this Josh Smith thing is a farce. I loved the dunk attempt. He got his comeuppance when he missed it, his humiliation is visible. At least he didn't get T'd up for unsportsmanlike conduct or taunting. I love bombastic players and over the top celebrations. I love it when my team does it, I love to get pissed when someone does it to my team. If I want to watch players who are "workmanlike" and "play the game the right way" I'll turn on the snoozefest that is Major League Baseball nowadays.

 
At 5/04/2009 12:40 AM, Blogger salt_bagel said...

@spanish: I think that Pretty For the Sake of Pretty is the first level of understanding, but Style is Integral is another step up. It has meaning and it drives what happens in the game. I think that it's a very superficial understanding of FD to raise up Style By Itself.

 
At 5/04/2009 9:36 AM, Blogger Michael said...

Spot on. Had he hit it, he'd be legend. Kobe and Vince Carter 360 breakaway dunks are still on highlight films to this day. LeBron's windmill is a perfect example.

And even though I'm a Lakers fan, I couldn't believe the BS criticizing the Celtics for running up the score in Game 6 of the Finals. The travesty was the way the Lakers quit, not the Celtics celebrating winning the effing FINALS.

wv: mistiqua - green bottled water sold at the old Boston Garden

 
At 5/04/2009 11:28 AM, Blogger Aaron said...

The thing about MLB is that the players who represent the most revolutionary eruptions of style, the most drastic challenges to orthodoxy, include the players that in basketball terms would be dismissed as 'right way players'.

Baseball's paradigmatic normal is the 'smart player', the Ted Williams prototype who is a student of the game, who is a model of orthodox baseball efficiency, not the 'right way' player who exceeds his native ability through hustle and desire.

David Eckstein and Ichiro are arguably among the most stylish players to play the game, and they define themselves through 'scrappiness', through beating out infield hits and challenging the fundamental laziness that characterizes most MLB players. And Eckstein is a free swinger with a relatively low batting average.

In the '90s, Omar Vizquel produced style through pure defensive perfection.

I don't think workmanlike is what we're going after here. Adherence to normativity is more like it.

 

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