Like a Pancake That Lands on the Ceiling
With some words on the Hawks, their city, and their parallel progress, here's Avery Lemacorn. He's been here before, and also writes the music and lit blog DeckFight.
“The uncanny is that class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar”—Freud
Uncanny yes that the Hawks were facing another Game 7 for the second year in a row in the first round of the playoffs. Uncanny yes that they had never won a game seven and that a group of pretty much the same players were in the same predicament. Uncanny yes that Atlanta’s game 7 blunders have haunted them.
For these Hawks, this was a long road back, but one done with quiet fortitude with little fanfare from the masses or the mass media. This is a team dizzied by its own potential, a team that says Joe Johnson should be in the conversation about the top of the league, a team that says Josh Smith should not be so mercurial, a team that says Al Horford is too small to be a starting center. A team doubted because of its conference, a team overshadowed by another Atlantan in another city, even.
The fact is that Atlanta is a haunted city. Not by ghosts, not by voodoo, not by old gangsters, founding fathers, or star-struck starlets. It is haunted by the dismantling of its own success. Sherman burned Atlanta down as a symbol against the excesses of Southern pride. The former penal colony turned Confederate powerhouse turned powder. And approximately 100 years later when the city thought they had all this figured out, that they and the world had an uneasy comfort with “their” view on things, a man with famous initials moved to town to launch a national movement bringing unrecognized sins to light. Struck down again.
Not to say that those changes in the city were not for the better, but granted, there were wounded egos. Hence, the flight out. Yes, that pale-colored flight.
In a way that no court could ever order, Atlanta began to change. In 1965, the Falcons came. In 1966, the Braves moved to Atlanta. Then the Hawks. In '73, the first black mayor of the city was elected then Hank Aaron had his historic run. But not many were there to see the Hawks get ever so close. Slowly, sports began to make the majority comfortable in the skin of the city again. The Braves won first in 1991, then big in 1995 drawing those on the outside back into the city core. The Falcons made their own run with the Dirty Bird to the Super Bowl in 1998. Atlanta elected its first African-American female mayor in 2001, the same year that the great uniter for the most beloved sport in all of Georgia would come: Michael Vick. Vick would electrify crowds of any color, of any persuasion. Staid ol’ UGA never played ball this way, not since Herschel, the Walker on air. But now this was happening in Atlanta, the ATL, to all and for all.
But Vick only brought them so far before his own uncanny downfall. Now it's time for the Hawks. City streets and landscapes are changing. New downtown condos, new “refabbed” neighborhoods are guaranteed to make white people comfortable. Here comes IKEA. From 2007-2008, for the first time in forty years the city proper took in more residents than it lost. No matter what happened to Vick, the momentum has swung. The city has changed.
Atlanta was ready for this, ready to win a Game 7. Ready to show how everything has changed. With their past, Atlanta was simultaneously ahead and behind the nation in racial politics. The success of the Hawks is directly related to this moment in time, a Southern city being comfortable on a large scale with its president of color, its own nuances of color, its music, its game. A place where the Cartoon Network and crunk can reside side by side.
Think all of this is too much? The players don’t think so.
From Mark Bradley at the Atlanta Journal Constitution:
“It feels good,” said Josh Smith, the Atlantan who scored 21 points and took nine rebounds in Game 7. “It feels like the monkey’s off Atlanta’s back, not just this team’s.”Despite all of the missteps in years past by the Hawks' management, Joe Johnson and the Hawks are still playing while the Suns, the Jazz, the Hornets and the Blazers are at home.. Their moment is easily calculable--going past this point will be truly unexpected. They made it to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro only to discover that Mt. Everest exists. But no one expects them to climb Everest, only to show that they can climb at all.
Said Al Horford, who worked 32 1/2 minutes on a sprained right ankle: “It’s big. People are really starting to look at Atlanta and consider us a basketball city.
But there can be dreams of what may have been. Maybe it's the constant "lack" of the point guard that has plagued this team. Pete Maravich and Dominique then Steve Smith and Jason Terry and Joe Johnson—all more reliable wing scorers than anything else. Though I appreciate the Hornets, I firmly believe that Chris Paul was supposed to be in Atlanta, with Josh Smith the perfect receiver for anything and everything Chris Paul could launch. Instead, everything we are seeing is something played out in an alternate universe, and the rest of us are the Oceanic 6 trying to figure out just how this time travel thing works to somehow correct it. And as New Orleans threatens to dismantle, isn’t there a way to spin the wheel in the proper direction to make these annoying flashes of frustration stop?
Mike Bibby and David West are the same. Both are serviceable like Mrs. Robinson in "The Graduate": not what you would openly wish for, but exactly what you need. But who are we kidding? Paul "needs" a Josh Smith, like the Hawks "need" a Chris Paul for fulfillment. Though both are satisfied, neither are exactly ecstatic. This will always be the Achilles Heel for both.
In a lot of ways, the Hawks are a parody and lesser version of the Cavs. The point guards complete, but there is still an over-reliance on the wings for stability. LeBron by himself is essentially the ultimate culmination of Josh Smith/Joe Johnson. Cunning with his ballhandling and creative with his shot, LeBron is Joe Johnson while also being explosive, dynamic, competitive, expressive in style and action like Josh Smith. This series then is the battle of the two-headed monster of the Hawks against the monstrous leviathan of the Cavs with Bibby and Mo feeding and reeling the beasts.
Is the transformation of the city of Atlanta or the Hawks to champions fully complete? No, not yet. Not by any means. But maybe they have escaped that which has always been old and long familiar.