11.19.2009

My Icing for a Cake

mefeathers

First, the podcast:



Dan sat down (enter the virtual sitting space?) with Kelly Dwyer, who needs no introduction. He also once penned (meta-finger carved?) this beyond-the-moon classic of an FD guest post. They discuss Kelly's hustle, his m.o., and naturally, the Bucks, the new official team of the podcast. Here is the most fair, honest, and useful assessment of Skiles as a coach you will ever get. Good stuff on what's missing from the Thunder this season.

Songs from the episode:

“I Like Everything About You” - Jimmy Hughes
“I Want to Take You Higher” - Sly and the Family Stone
“Eye Know” - De La Soul
“Heavy Makes You Happy” - The Staple Singers

-In other news, I have another Iverson column—longer than the last, making a case for him and the Knicks that a lot of people will hate.

-For discussion at a later date: Everyone reading knows of my single-minded devotion to the Hughes/Arenas back court of yore, or my belief that Mo/Delonte is a poor man's version of that. But what about this year's mounting trend of playing two "pure" PGs at once? Dallas, Milwaukee, Denver, Portland, Atlanta ... maybe David Kahn wasn't so crazy after all. I have no idea, are Sessions and Flynn sharing the court at all? Just wait till Rubio shows up!

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11.18.2009

That Old Weird Horizon

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Before I get serious, take a look at this list of records I'm too lazy to put on eBay just yet. And listen to the newest Disciples of Clyde-cast, featuring Kelly Dwyer. Will be posted here later in the week, but it's there for you, now. Thanks!

I have never felt a post as profoundly as the one I've labored over since Monday night. Various abortive attempts have included "I want to be free. The more we know, the more we want to tear it all down"; a discussion of whether the relationship between knowledge and ardor in sports was like or unlike that in sports; digging around for a Heidegger quote that worked out of context; a tangent on Cotto where I wrote just like Shoefly; and the question of elitism in non-snobby watching, i.e. "I get this shit so much better than everyone else around me."

But what I really should've done is listen to my heart, to pay attention to the largely sports-driven moods that have so thoroughly burnt, cleansed, and smushed me since Saturday. The long and short of it is this: I watch sports like an expert, even if I don't know what I'm talking about. I feel, but I also look for details and seek out analytic angles. We are all guilty (if that's the word) of this to some degree; no one is born into sports. Even those who don't know much are still, as highly-evolved cognitive beings observing an activity bound by rules and order, looking to make sense of it all. Greatness is always contextual, and if pushed to its logical extreme, at the distant horizon of Dr. Jack Ramsey we find either the grandest palaces of Jordan and Pippen, or the strike-team ambushes that strike heads from off of idols' shoulders.

Originally, I thought I'd come out of Manny/Jennings/John Wall/remembering Iverson blitz having hit on a new kind of fan experience. Call it innocence, call is blissful ignorance, throw out your favorite lines about the eyes of children or being on acid. As I watched Pacquiao/Cotto surrounded by a large extended family whose knowledge of boxing ranged from encyclopedic to nil, all of whom responded to Manny's space-and-time defying combos with the same oohs and aaahs (admittedly, unorthodox technique and cultural affinity played some role here), it dawned on me: There exists a type of athlete so crackling, inventive, and forceful, and elemental, that they become the great equalizer. It doesn't matter how intently you've followed their career, or a sport. When Pacquiao goes on the attack, Jennings launches into one of those trances where swagger, will, and basketball IQ find themselves in perfect harmony, John Wall hits a game-winner as if to say "enough, it's time to start this season", or Iverson's latest ugh-fest sends us all scurrying back to video of the young AI (funny how different those initials sound now as a nickname, almost like Roman numerals) . . . we find ourselves in a state of wonder that strips away all of our hours and hours of learning.

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That was the thesis. These players are ultra-accessible because they tap into a different part of our psyche, infectious and impossibly popular because of the wonderment they inspire. And for those of us who have seen it (and them) all before, each time it happens, it's like we're seeing it for the first time, like we may never even have seen the sport before. I don't want to reduce it to pure aesthetics, or the quote I read somewhere (anyone?) about basketball appealing most to casual fans because of the highlights and sheer poetry of movement. I still maintain that the narrative of a football game is easier to follow, but whatever. I think that one of the reasons it feels natural to include a boxer in here is that, if on some level basketball attracts us with its spectacle of dashing, cutting, and leaping, then boxing is a fist-fight—pretty basic human experience—potentially raised to the level of magic and mystery.

I don't want to say they transform the mundane, because that completely undermines the competitive and technical aspects. However, these athletes affect hit us right in the reptile brain, and send us reeling from there. I don't really think this describes the typical viewing experience of the fan who knows not to ask. My sense is that, for the most part, sports become easier to invest one's self in the more you know about them, and vice-versa. The trick is that this class of athlete short-circuits this relationship. They don't transcend the burden of understanding, they tear down the very parameters by which understanding is so strictly tied into spectatorship. Call it ecstatic viewing, performance without description, or the belief that some moments in sports can cause sports to fall away and just sit there in front of you, beaming, as if their power were inherent, their expressiveness final, and their ends, inevitable, if not irrelevant.

This isn't Kobe ruthlessly working his way through the end of a game, but a wisp of a 20 year-old doing it all in one fluid motion, as if to come up for air would be to let in a host of distractions and contradictions for which neither he—nor we—need confront. Not during this window into a kind of sport beyond sport that never risks cheapening itself or its devotees. One that can't last forever and yet this past week, seems to have.

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11.17.2009

In This Hour of Totality

Manny still lingers, John Wall's debut is vague, if crackling, until the final exclamation point, Jennings with a positively fearsome second half and OT in a loss to the Mavs. They threw everything at him, including the war with Beaubois that was like watching photon particles at play, and the plays still happened. And looming over, under, or behind it all, this Iverson news that raises more questions than it settles.

Here's my magnum opus on Allen Iverson, right and now and forever, at least until his career's a decade in the ground. It sounds like this:

Allen Iverson was, and still is, heaven or the great below. He shakes basketball to its very foundations or, according to some, is foolish enough to think he can. He changed the game, though not necessarily for the better. We have been forced to take him at face value, and in the process awaken all sorts of even more inspirational, or degrading, feelings about race, culture, and the structure of American society. "Ambivalence" doesn't even fit. That was Kobe; Iverson is a player who exists in two different worlds.

Now go read the rest, so you won't be sore if this Manny/Jennings post waits another day. Oh, and speaking of Manny. . .



That's the trailer for his new film, and I like to think the crab represents Floyd. Via Sporting Blog, via Last Angry Fan and Film Drunk.

Final announcement, until I try and post late in the day: I've thrown caution, and looks, to the wind and just started throwing up out-of-print NBA classics in the Amazon widget. Profit motive aside, you people really need to read all of these.

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11.16.2009

Remorse Isn't Picky



Okay, so I didn't get around to getting anything longer about Jennings near finished. Partly because it was drawing parallels between that and Manny's performance, which is stupid unless you attach a bunch of qualifiers to it. Or are drunk. Luckily, my argument is primarily about spectatorship and aesthetics, as you'll see tomorrow. But still, I felt I needed a little more distance, as I don't want anyone to kill me. I don't know, what do you think?

Instead, some Jennings odds and ends, to go with the "what do you think":

-My Baseline piece on what 55 really means for Jennings as a player.

-Ty Keenan proposes another read participation acitivity: Who can come up with the best Jennings/Minutemen joke?

-Toward the "what exactly happened in Italy?" question, Sixers4guidos translates and sends along part of a column published today in the Italian daily Il Messaggero. Title: "Jennings, From Bust to Scoring Star."

"We talk again about Jennings, considered a spoiled and insecure kid here in Rome... now a star in the NBA....he shocked the League with a stunning show... he did well also in preseason now he got attention from mainstream media and gained trust from many... but in Rome he was little considered... they never had faith in him, (giving him) few minutes on the court (and he produced) obviously few points... to be honest, he never excited (people) in the few occasions he played, even shoving an attitude that could have been considered ornery/morose... sure, US bball is different from european, few defense and many chances to show (someone's) shooting ability... he was the first to jump from high school to Europe..."

He's saving some other choice excerpts for his own spot, so check back there later. Update: Here's the post.

-Why do I think that by watching Jennings again tonight, it'll sort of be like getting to see John Wall's debut?

WHAT DO YOU THINK?!?!?!!?!??!?

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11.13.2009

The Wall that Leapt and Followed

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You know our very own boxing correspondent Shoefly, who writes more regularly for The Rumble. You also likely know there's a huge fight this weekend. Here are his thoughts on the matter.

I’ve been developing this theory recently that for the truly great athletes there are two types of mentalities that allow them to achieve. I call them the secular and the religious but those names are just placeholders. For the secular athlete the competition is an act of will, a battle within oneself to drive out doubt and that awful divide between mind and body to force oneself to become an instrument of honed perfection. The best example of this is Muhammed Ali, who used his talking and bravado to create a psychic wall, a self-hypnosis that allowed him to go beyond pain and the constraints of the physical.

The level of narcissism necessary to reach this point borders on madness, and though it isn’t always accompanied by Ali’s talking and showmanship I think a key component is contempt. A bitter reckoning that the person opposite doesn’t deserve to be there, that they are beneath one’s dignity. It is a horrible pride, but I imagine it allows for a motivation and fullness of purpose unreachable to those with manifest doubts. This pressure, this belief, it brings to mind Flannery O’Connor’s Misfit, who said, “she would of been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.” It’s a way of convincing oneself that there is forever a pistol at one’s temple.

For the religious mentality there is no need for the contempt, for the pride. If the secular uses his will to compress the doubts and the divide between mind and body the religious athlete refuses to acknowledge that there is such a thing. I think this way of thinking is more rare, particularly in team sports, but on Saturday night we’ll get to see it in action. Manny Pacquiao, the little Filipino slugger, is attempting to make history by winning a welterweight title. If he is victorious in the 147-pound division it will be his seventh title, an all-time record. The audacity of the achievement is hard to comprehend, given that he won his first belt ten years ago in the flyweight division, 112 pounds.

But boxing, is about records and championships less than any other sport, it is about men, and Pacquiao has managed to become the most captivating and rich figure in the sport’s recent years. He has a wild passionate style, so fully himself that he seems to reach through the screen. One is tempted to make a simplistic point about western versus eastern philosophy, that while Pacquiao may be a devout Catholic he has a Zen mind, a quiet mind. He is a happy warrior, a man with a fatalistic view of his sport and his place in it. I don’t know that it is even a faith or a view that everything will work out well, that he will be triumphant, as much as it is a feeling that it doesn’t even matter or isn’t worth thinking about.

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It is the faith and single mindedness of Abraham as he plunged the knife downward, of the Kamikaze pilot as he sang on his last flight, or of the little children of Hamelin as they marched untroubled towards their watery grave.

It’s amazing to watch him in the ring. For most people, myself included, there will never be a moment where we reach that level of fullness of being. Where we will be completely invested so fully and richly in something that it seems to burst through the skin. When Pacquiao waits in the ring he seems to bristle and radiate, to quiver with the thrill of the moment and the profound joy of being a human body so supremely trained and suited for the task at hand. It is electric, like watching a hound straining at his tethers to go after the rabbit. It’s like something wild is running through him. I imagine if you were to drink his sweat in those moments you would become intoxicated.

His opponent, Miguel Cotto is a clear contrast. Cotto, from Puerto Rico, was an Olympic medalist and can’t miss prospect slated for greatness before he ever had a professional fight. Cotto won belts in both the junior welterweight and welterweight divisions, and tore through opponents in a series of brutal and exciting fights culminating in a rousing victory over welterweight great, Shane Mosley.

Cotto’s run was stopped in a brutal defeat to Antonio Margarito, a Mexican slugger who managed to pound Cotto into submission despite inferior boxing skills. Cotto was a bloody mess by fight’s end and some wondered if he would ever recover. That fear was only compounded when it was discovered in Margarito’s next fight that he was attempting to use plaster in illegal hand wrappings. Many feel Cotto was the victim of one of the great tragedies of modern ring history, but in the two fights since his only loss Cotto has looked strong in victory.

Cotto is a terrific champion and a great fighter. He is bigger, stronger, and more technically sound. But he doesn’t have the unfettered exuberance, the wild thrill of being alive and dangerous and without a care in the world. That is Pacquiao’s gift to us, a rare glimpse of humanity at the very edge. Some people think his recent, dominating performances against Oscar De La Hoya and Ricky Hatton were the result of deficits in their ability rather than the culmination of Pacquiao’s, but I think it’s almost beside the point. Pacquiao may very well lose this fight, I don’t think he will but it wouldn’t be surprising, but he will show us his inner, that explosive near being that is so transporting.

In a sense this fight is prelude. If Pacquiao wins the economic forces of the sport will almost necessitate a match with Floyd Mayweather, his spiritual opposite. Like Ali, Mayweather has trapped himself in a cage of excellence, brushing right against the edge of technical brilliance and ring science. Floyd is a difference engine in the ring, a bloodless operator who never makes a foolish mood. The thought of his cool excellence versus Pacquiao’s explosive dynamism is almost too much to bear, a contrast and clash generations in the making.

But let us try, for a moment, to be like Pacquiao, to be fully in the moment and enjoy a man so righteously himself that he allows us to come along for the ride.

rising star 2008 - wc

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Moving Pictures

Old-radio

Consider it a podcast round-up. First, Joey Litman joins Dan to talk about the NBA, which for them means wailing about the Knicks and clinging to each other like it's 2012, not 2010. Good stuff.



Then, a recap of the only partly-staged feud between DoC and Dan Levy, step-by-step:

1. Dan and Dan discuss the way Bill Simmons is framing the NBA (vs. baseball) in his book promotion, among other things.

2. Ken, who was not on the recording, writes a post in defense of Simmons. I don't think anyone involved has read the book, for what it's worth.

3. On his own 'cast, Dan comments on Ken's commenting on his appearance after the fact, and extends his Simmons remarks.

4. I realize that I have opinions and corporate interests wrapped up in all this, so appear on Dan's next show for a brief segment. Along with Drew Magary unpacking a far more corrosive scandal. Separately.

Stay tuned as this all ends up on Deadspin.

Also, still no BBOBB for me, but Charlie Pierce's slaughter of Simmons was really good writing. Alas, it had nothing to do with Chris Bell, but anyone thinking I'm narcissistic, his "I Am the Cosmos" is the correct reference point.

Music from the latest show:

"Losing Out" - Black Milk
"White Elephant" - Volcano Suns
"You in Color" - The Black Angels
"The Color of Tempo" - Prefuse 73
"House of Flying Daggers" - Raekwon

Shut up and enjoy your weekend.

P.S. Contest closed, winner decided, he will speak once we work out some security clearance issues.

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11.12.2009

I Couldn't Help But Notice Your Pain. Share It with Me!



We're off and running with this season. Few truths have been settled upon, but among them are that the Knicks are horrible and the Warriors are dysfunctional. Again.

Ty Keenan and I decided to share our self-loathing as we embark upon the newest version of the same old suck. (Pause?)

Dear Joey...

I think it's important to establish a context for how depressing the Warriors are, so let's start at the top. Outside of the two-year apex of the We Believe era, Chris Cohan's tenure as owner has been extremely depressing. For the second half of the '90s and most of the '00s, seasons begin with no hope and little to get excited about. The organization once tried to sell acquiring an aged Mookie Blaylock (for a pick that became Jason Terry) as a move that could bring a playoff berth. The team has typically drafted towards the middle or end of the lottery, and the top picks they've earned have typically flamed out (see Mike Dunleavy and Joe Smith). Their best pick of the last 20 years, Gilbert Arenas, left because of an eccentricity in the collective bargaining agreement. To a certain extent, fans accept that things probably won't work out, and we adjust our expectations accordingly.

This has a few consequences. First, we never really get our hearts broken, because the expectations are never high enough to cause genuine frustration. The closest we've come was in 07-08, when they won 48 games and missed out on the playoffs. But then Baron left for the Clippers and they brought in Corey Maggette, and only the blind optimists expected much of anything from the team last season. This lack of expectations can be seen as either a positive or a negative -- we never experience highs, but we also don't feel much pain.

But that eternal expectation of failure means that the franchise has a toxic brand, the kind of thing you can only change with a new ownership group and the culture it brings with it. Cohan essentially torpedoes any chance the Warriors have of becoming a perennial success: even if a new coach or star rookie were to come in, bullshit business practices and backroom dealings would spell everyone's doom before long. Yes, James Dolan has his obvious problems, but the Knicks will always be the Knicks; the team can attract respected names like Donnie Walsh and Mike D'Antoni in a way that the Warriors can't. Maybe they'll fail too, but at least you live in the hope that things can better. That beats being perpetually downtrodden.



Dear Ty...

Of all the people I have never met and never will, John Wooden is by far the most influential. I talk about and think about him almost every day of my life. That's weird. Him and Tony Soprano. I internalized so many of his aphorism (Wooden, not Tony), in no small part because my dad always treated Wooden as some kind of deity. Among these enduring lessons is that you should never confuse activity for accomplishment. When they make a DVD about the Knicks over the past decade, the cover should have a picture of Dolan and the title should be "Look How Much We've Accomplished."

You're right that a total absence of hope is a unique sort of losing and misery which Knicks fans haven't experienced. Zealots, myself among them, may dramatically proclaim that all is lost, the team will never win, and numbness has set in as the ineptitude proceeds unabated. But to some extent, that's posturing. It is New York, New York does matter in a unique way (even though most people hate this idea), and there will always be the credible notion that things can turn around quickly. That brings me back to my original point: a Warriors fan will never appreciate the excruciating frustration that arises as a team with such vast resources and so much perverted self-awareness regularly makes grand gestures that only make things worse. I would argue that this brand of losing is far worse, because Knicks fans not only know what they're missing, but also know how often they've failed to recapture it.

The amount of money wasted on has-beens is embarrassing. (I typed that sentence eight times because I wanted to see if I could do so without cursing.) I am disgusted by it. The loose decisions and yearly radical realignments have reflected zero cohesion or ideology. The basic chemistry of basketball evades the organization as an institution. The Knicks are always--ALWAYS--a macabre amalgamation of spare parts. Never once in all of the modern rebuilding has any person with the authority to do so embarked upon a plan to assemble a true nucleus. The Knicks' draft history probably stands out as the single worst in the NBA. No one in the organization appears to understand what differentiates good decisions from bad ones. That may change with Donnie Walsh and Mike D'Antoni, but the former did anoint the latter despite D'Antoni's poorly masked contempt for defense. That's not a championship philosophy, so I am not sure SSOL is anything more than driving a Ferrari into a dead-end wall and creating a spectacular explosion. And this all happens in "The World's Most Famous Arena," underneath championship banners, and in front of fans and media who will never forget the model clubs that authored the Knick legacy which taunts the franchise as it simultaneously grows larger but recedes further away.

Being a Knicks fan has come to resemble illness. I have never had meningitis, but it's been described to me as an inflammation of the membranes that run along your brain and spinal cord. Other parts of my body have been inflamed. It can be awful--the pulsating pain, the swelling, the knowledge that something deep down is horribly wrong (at least for a moment). That's what it is like to be a Knicks fan--the anger and incredulity painfully gnaw away, and the root causes seem so remotely situated that you are left hopeless. You feel powerless to do anything which might alleviate the distress. And it just hurts so fucking much all the time.



Dear Joey...

I'm not going to argue that the Knicks have been put together with a plan beyond "LeBron probably likes tall buildings," or that the sins of Isiah are somehow comparable to those of other failing teams. That's a unique sort of pain that Warriors fans will never experience.

But there's also something unique about the experience of watching a team with legitimate young pieces and knowing it will never work out. Discounting the ownership situations, there's not that much separating the Warriors from the Nets -- both teams have solid young cores worth building around, and the Nets' far superior cap situation isn't a huge advantage when you consider both teams have histories of failure and roughly equal chances at nabbing a quality pick. The contexts are wildly different, though: the Warriors have Chris Cohan and Robert Rowell, and the Nets have a Russian oligarch and Jay-Z, one of the most recognizable faces on the planet. There is a sense of continual progress.

Monta Ellis, Anthony Randolph, Andris Biedrins, Anthony Morrow, and Stephen Curry (yes, Shoals, I mentioned his name in a positive context) are nice young pieces with skills that contribute to winning teams. But any joy I take in their game happens almost entirely within the moment, which isn't terribly different from the way I watch a great dunk or block or fastbreak from a team I don't root for. In fact, it's almost more enjoyable to watch someone like Kevin Durant play well, because I allow myself to see a brighter future for him. With the Warriors, I know Monta will continue to resent the management, or Randolph will be back on the bench in two minutes, or Biedrins plays for a coach who will never fully appreciate him.

This is no way to live. Positives deserve to be considered positives, not illusory highs on the way to more disappointment. If rooting for the Knicks leads to anger, then being a Warriors fan is something like the stereotype of depression: I know failure is right around the corner and would rather sleep all day.



Dear Ty...

Sorry, but you queued up a true dork for this one: Rooting for the Knicks leads to anger; anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering. That's the path to the Dark Side. Maybe that should be the title of my proposed Knicks retrospective DVD.

You're right that Knicks fans have no idea what it's like to watch a team with promising young pieces. The Warriors have, and have had, enough talent for a legitimate NBA starting lineup. The Knicks have not. The Knicks' best young player is on the Rockets, and his name is Trevor Ariza. Maybe you also could consider LaMarcus Aldridge and Jo Noah Knicks, as each was chosen with a Knicks draft pick after the Brickers decided that they just had to have Eddy Curry. Utah will enjoy a similar privilege this coming year because the Marbury trade was so good that the Knicks continue to be haunted by it. Their other best recent draft pick is the starting center for the Nuggets. He, of course, was traded for Antonio McDyess before Antonio became an amiable, productive elder statesman and was still just a walking knee problem. Look at this drafting!

New York's best homegrown players of recent years are David Lee, Nate Robinson, and Wilson Chandler. Lee is either an ideal companion for a dominant center or a perfect leader for a team's second unit. Robinson is a carnival attraction. Chandler, like Lee, should be a star on a second unit or the final starter on a loaded team. Instead, those three, Danny G, Jordan Hill, and Toney Douglas comprise the closest thing the Knicks have had to a young nucleus since, like, 1985. Pardon me for my restrained enthusiasm. Some Knicks fans like to make a big show about Douglas's potential or Danny's shooting, but let's be real--these aren't players whose presence and production augur for real contention in the future. Unless LeBron and Chris Bosh show up in July.

(Don't even get me started on how dumb that plan seems given the lowering salary cap and the paucity of attractive prospective teammates.)

What this Knicks fan shares with you, though, is that empty, episodic excitement. Like when you're hopped up on caffeine but otherwise running on empty. When the Knicks manage to successfully come back from one of their usual twenty-point deficits, I am, as you wrote, excited in the moment. I cheer for Al Harrington's black-hole routine or Danny's quest to make more threes than two because it can be cool when it works. These glimpses of functional basketball are fun but perpetually undercut by the knowledge that the success is fake, though. The team never builds toward anything. One comeback is followed by another string of blowouts or dooming first-half lethargy. My briefly felt joy also immediately summons my resentment as I have the meta experience of knowing that the happiness I am feeling will inevitably be replaced by the usual cocktail of frustration and disillusionment.

And yet, I soldier on. You wonder, why do we keep rooting for these teams if they're so flawed, and if the experience feels like an affliction. For me, some of it is stubbornness. I've already invested so much for so long that I don't want to walk away now. Much like waiting on Michigan football's resurrection, hoping for a Knicks revival carries along the promise of elation amplified by the suffering I've committed to the franchise. Some of it is my worship of routine. Rooting for (while loathing) the Knicks is just what I do. Liberated fandom has taken on new tangibility in an era of League Pass and internets. I could easily ride with Oklahoma City (Russy!) or New Orleans (Julian!) or New Jersey (CDR!) In some respect, I do. I follow those teams closely. Same with Portland, which has the man I discovered, Brandon Roy. And yet, the Knicks are my constant. They are a piece of my constitution.

Also, my deep cynicism has yet to extinguish the flickering flame of hope. Though I am deeply ambivalent about Mike D'Antoni, I appreciate his professionalism. I appreciate his sense of humor. I have witnessed the kind of exciting basketball he can cultivate when given the right players. Even if he, as the head man, can't deliver a championship, he can nonetheless implement a new culture to be inherited by a successor coach. Guided by this optimism, no matter how weak it is, I embrace the Danny G experiment and wish for the best. I convince myself that a real point guard is just one lucky trade or draft away. (Why they didn't take Ty Lawson last year I'll never know.) I regard Jordan Hill as a second-rate Amar'e in training. Generally, I just talk myself into it. That might be the essence of sports fandom, and it might be the most reverent and traditional part of my NBA experience. No matter how much the Knicks abuse me, I'm wedded to them, and I can never fully avoid thinking that tomorrow could always be better.

(That might be an offensive analogy. Sorry if it is. I don't support domestic violence.)



Dear Joey...

I love that you are upset about their drafting Hill over Lawson but don't even mention Brandon Jennings. A telltale sign of the broken fan: you get upset about your team passing over competency and don't even deal with the lost star.

I'm surprised you're even able to get excited about comebacks. I was talking more about single plays, the kind of moments that, in a sane world, would show promise for the future. But the Warriors are so bad at the end of games that I assume any moderately close game will result in a loss. I've never seen a worse halfcourt offense in my life, and the sad thing is that it'll only get worse if/when they trade S-Jax.

I'm unable to talk myself into anything GSW does, likely because 1) I've seen so little success over the years that it seems like a waste of time and 2) the team's strategies and goals are so unclear that I don't even know what I'd be talking myself into. So what could possibly keep me watching? I suppose the familiarity is comforting in itself, but were it not for the Mavs series, I could definitely have seen myself becoming less and less interested in the team and treating them like the Thunder or Hawks. I'd almost say that whatever liberated fandom I have arose from my Warriors fandom -- they were so boring for so long that I had to find the good in other teams if I wanted to keep watching the sport. (Incidentally, it's not a coincidence that Bob Fitzgerald and Jim Barnett are generally considered one of the best broadcast teams in the league. Years of wretched teams in Oakland have turned giving credit to the other team into a habit.)

But any time I feel like leaving them behind, I remember what it felt like to be in the arena during Game 4 against the Mavs. There aren't many other circumstances in which I'd hug random people and feel genuine euphoria without being self-conscious about it. There are other kinds of makeshift communities in my life -- synagogue, crowds at shows, blogospheres -- but I don't think any is quite as welcoming as a sports team. Maybe this would all be easier if I were more religious.

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11.08.2009

Celebrate the New Dark Age



The New York Times recently ran an interesting article checking in on Jeremy Tyler, the 6-11 eighteen year old who one upped Brandon Jennings by not only bypassing college, but also his senior year of high school, to play professionally overseas. Tyler landed in Israel, where his experience has made Jennings's time in Italy look like a vacation by comparison. Indeed, the most striking thing about the article is how Jennings, now five games into his NBA career, is already perceived as a success story. Much was made last year about Jennings struggling with the transition and playing sparingly for Lottomatica Roma, but everything’s changed now that he's locked down the starting point guard job for the Bucks, while averaging 18.4 ppg, 4.4 apg, and 4.4 rpg and looking like the early favorite for Rookie of the Year.

The moral of the story seems to be that, if you're willing to suck it up and adhere to European basketball's bizarre notions of team play for a year (or in Tyler's case, two years), then NBA stardom awaits. Sonny Vaccaro, the evil genius behind both players' decisions, stated the matter more bluntly by praising Jennings's willingness to "shut up and learn." Tyler, by contrast, has reportedly demonstrated the kind of immaturity and whiny entitlement that most people seem to expect from today's teenager. If Tyler fails, it may jeopardize Vaccaro's plans and those of his partner in crime Jeffrey H. Rosen. Rosen has great plans for turning his Israeli pro team Maccabi Haifa into "the preferred destination for American prodigies who want to skip college" and ultimately "a global media presence." Shades of Saperstein.



Last week, Latavious Williams added a new wrinkle to the discussion by becoming the first high schooler to be drafted by the NBDL. Williams had already done several other things you do when you're a high school basketball star with bad grades and low test scores: go to prep school for a year, commit to Memphis, and explore the option of playing overseas. It turns out no foreign team was interested in the raw combo forward whom Scout.com rated the 52nd best player in the class of 2008, so the DL and its $19,000/year contract was the only option left. Since it's unlikely Williams will ever play in the NBA, he is more of a sad anomaly than a legit test case.

Current college freshmen John Wall and Renardo Sidney are better examples, since both have the skill, size, and athleticism that the NBA actually wants. Wall was rumored to be exploring the option of going overseas, but ultimately decided to play for Kentucky, which under Calipari is kind of like playing professionally while getting to stay in the country. (Lexington is also the likely destination of Michael Gilchrist, currently a high school junior and widely considered to be the best player in the nation. Oh, and he happens to be a close family friend of Worldwide Wes.) Sidney also selected an SEC school, Mississippi State, after most every other school backed away, out of concern about Sidney's amateur status possibly being compromised. Unsurprisingly, Sidney has still not been cleared to play this season by the NCAA, and Wall's status is similarly muddy.



Wall and Sidney's situation is a reminder that Jennings was also scheduled to play collegiately (at Arizona) before the NCAA flagged his test scores, thus setting into motion Vaccaro’s machinations. It’s worth mentioning here that KG was also planning to attend college (at Michigan or maybe UNC, depending on whom you talk to) before test scores derailed his plans and made him the next gen Moses (Malone), leading a generation of high schoolers into the promised land. Remember, also, that according to the NCAA record books, Derrick Rose never played in the national championship game, because someone else took his SATs for him. To a man, these players were willing (and even wanted) to go to college, but were prevented from doing so by either low test scores or, in the case of Wall and Sidney, unsavory associations. If Garnett or Jennings had been allowed to go to college, it’s not difficult to imagine them extolling the experience and continuing to take classes the way Durant and Oden have. So, when we talk about these issues, we need to reconsider whether players are going overseas to chase the money or because the NCAA forced them out. The answer, in most cases, is probably both.

So whither Wall and Sidney? If they are ultimately cleared by the NCAA, they play a year of college basketball, increase their brand awareness, and enter next year’s NBA Draft as known commodities. But, if they aren’t, then what? Since I assume they’ve been accepted as students by their universities, they could continue to take classes and work out individually, but that seems unlikely. A last minute pro contract overseas, a stint in the NBDL buoyed by sneaker money, or maybe an agent-sponsored residency at somewhere like the IMG Academy is more like it. Maybe the humiliation of being effectively kicked out of school would give them the motivation to succeed where Tyler has thus far failed. And if it works out for them, who could blame the next hoops prodigy for wanting to follow in their footsteps and stay clear of all the NCAA drama?

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11.06.2009

Lettuce Vibrations, 1 and 2



Put your special listening glasses on, because we have an extraordinary double episode of FreeDarko Presents the Disciples of Clyde podcast! In the first half, Dan is joined by ThinkProgress blogger and Friend of FD Matthew Yglesias. The fellas talk economics, politics, and basketball. Donald Sterling, Rush Limbaugh, and state tax rates all get mentioned. Shoals is also in on the conversation, until his Skype connection dies.

In the second half, Shoals makes a triumphant return to talk about his new obsession Brandon Jennings and the proper time it takes to evaluate players and teams, as well as some preferences about NBA broadcasting.

It all adds up to a solid hour and 25 minutes, and if you want to skip ahead to the Brandon Jennings part, Part 2 starts around the 44 minute mark.




Songs from the episode:

"Rainy Dayz" - Re-up Gang
"New Frontier" - Antipop Consortium
"Taxman Dub" - Israel Vibration
"Getting Smart" - Schema
"The Youth" - MGMT
"If Everything Fell Quiet" - The Reindeer Section
"Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey)" - De La Soul

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11.05.2009

The Cauldron Spits Back



I love my wife. See, here I am checking my mail right before our wedding ceremony (j/k, I was turning the Blackberry off). But on some level, I will never forgive her, or anyone she's related to, for causing me to miss the game above. This was Gil, full-throttle, trying a one-man takedown against a Suns team that was running away with games by like twenty points. Except I was at her parents' house for a certain pagan festival where some dead guys dies again and comes back to life every year, so I didn't see it.

I rip off the scabs in the name of a contest to award one of you a FREE BROADBAND ACCOUNT, courtesy of the NBA itself. All you have to do is offer up a similar anecdote of a game you were forced to miss due to League Pass-denial, or one you watched and thought "thank heavens for League Pass." Do this in the comments section.

Actually, to be perfectly honest, I had Broadband at the time, but this was an NBA-TV game. And themarkpike actually sent me a VHS of the game after the fact. Still, watching that Gamecast on my laptop has to be one of the three or four most agonizing sports-related experiences of my life. Share you sadness, and your glory, and I will judge whose is most worthy.

Nationally and locally televised games are subject to blackout and are therefore not available via NBA LEAGUE PASS BROADBAND (regardless of whether team is home or away). This contest is for US participants only.

By entering the sweepstakes you agree to release Sponsor, the NBA Entities, FreeDarko and their respective affiliates and agencies from any and all liabilities for injuries, damages or losses of any kind to in connection with the sweepstakes, prize or any prize-related activity.

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11.04.2009

Which Mirror Now?

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I highly suggest you turn your eyes to this lengthy post by Vince Grzegorek of Cleveland Scene, on the touchy subject of how the fuck a beat writer covers Delonte West. Vince and I had talked about this a few times prior; he felt the team was trying to make like this was a non-issue, and had decided, for political reasons, to pretend this wasn't an incredibly important topic to pursue. But then he changed his mind, got some quotes, and has started the conversation.

To me, the tricky part is that West's is a medical situation that can't be discussed, for fear of aggravating it. It would be like if asking a guy about his back sent shooting pains up and down it. Hopefully, at some point that won't be the case. But then what? Can West ever be asked about his brain, or is that the equivalent of trying to take a photo of a healing knee with a bunch of rocks? And do we attribute anything that goes wrong with him, on or off the court, to some sort of relapse? Over at my other place of employment, some asshole commenter lit into the BREAKING item about Delonte's charges with the typical "millionaires shouldn't complain stupid thug excuses". That's part of why I'd prefer to broach these issues on FD, but at the same time, can we ever blame West again (say, in the airport incident), or assign him typical human responsibility? If not,that would suck for both those out to skewer athletes and for the man himself. Does this mean the media has to giggle nervously whenever West says anything the least bit odd or funny?

Also, off of Vince's piece, there's the question of covering sports vs. covering the person. We saw this already with Kobe's trial. It's hard to tell exactly where the line is between "this guy affects the team" and "this guy has a mess of other stuff going on." I wonder, though, why this is suddenly such a problem, when the press routinely doesn't ask athletes shit about their personal life, and keeps plenty of skeletons in the closet. I think it has to do less with the weapons incident than the fact that, presumably, West's issues enter the exact space at which he interacts with the media. This story is as much about the media, their individual relationships with West, and the awkward position both parties are in, as "how to objectively cover an athlete." The arrests are off-court, and we know how to deal with those; basketball-wise, he's just fine. It's really a matter of everyone learning to trust each other, of finding a comfort zone where learning to read Delonte, and being polite, tactful, or tolerant, eventually leads to him fitting into coverage in a logical way. The same way you walk around a seven-foot guy who's always stretching out his bum knee in the middle of the locker room.

Addendum: When I ran this by Vince, he raised the further point of "the team dealing with someone who they very well probably don't want speaking on the record in front of microphones right now." Which, if you think about it, might explain why West was held out of preseason games.

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11.02.2009

Scream All Day

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This will totally shock all of you: The still-untitled FreeDarko Book 2 will at one point address some "could've been" players. I had called them "what if's," but not only does that encompass much more, it also overlaps with the Simmons tome—one of my great anxieties about the project. The last thing I want to do is look like I'm ripping off another colorful NBA history book that came out one year before ours.

Last night, as I inexplicably watched the World Series over Lakers/Hawks, I struggled to come up with the perfect characterization of that kind of player. Then it turned into a model, so I decided to scrap it and make it a blog post, not in the least because it could use some copious reader input. I think they call it open source, or cheating. First, though, some glimmers from the NBA I caught last night: I fear the Lakers will win it all with Bynum as rampaging dinosaur and Artest and Odom used as unimaginatively as possible. The Blazers really bum me out, especially Aldridge. Blatche is the original Anthony Randolph. Stop comparing Oscar Robertson to LeBron, Robertson was a better mid-period Kidd with scoring genes (that was all Ziller). Ozzie Guillen's pre-game commentary shows you why Kevin Garnett will never be part of a studio crew.

But back to the problem that really bugged me. We all know that there exist players we say "if only" about. For one, there's two kind: Those that drive us insane when they're around, and assume the glow of exceptionalism once they've retired. That's due in large part to the fact that 99.99999% of these players have problems with injuries, which we've learned to hate the victim for, or fuck up personally, which just gets really old really fast (at least if you're trying to argue for their hypothetical place among the game's elite). Beyond that, there's the more complicated matter of what kind of legacy we're going off of. What I haven't figure out yet is whether, in the end, we view all these types the same way—many paths to the same honorary status—or the kind of career a player manages to have in fact decides how real, extravagant, or wishful our projections for them end up being. I also really want someone to tell me if certain of these scenarios are more common to one sport, or position, than others.

After much handwringing and chatting, I arrived at the following four categories, which for now lack snappy names:

1. Guys who, when all is said and done, somehow convince us they'd had an actual career. This one is startlingly subjective: Sandy Koufax, Gale Sayers, and Bill Walton all belong here even though each had a very different arc as a player. Maybe "non-player" is more appropriate. This is kind who make the Hall of Fame without anyone making a fuss.

2. One step below that, we have players who strung together several seasons of stardom, but either not to a degree, or without enough distinction, to elevate them to the top category. Sometimes, it's just a matter of us being unable to get over how incomplete their place in history seems; they're a strange mix of conjecture and actuality that's its own kind of purgatory. I put Pete Reiser and Maurice Stokes here; Stokes is HOF but it's largely sentimental.

3. Total flashes-in-the-pan, one-year wonders who sustain nothing but suggest multitudes. Herb Score goes here, as does Mark Prior. These are the real darlings of the "could've been" fetishists, at least those with the most preposterously Romantic streaks; that because Category #2 is generally classified as "tragic."

4. Pure potential. Never really got a chance for those initial assessments to be proven wrong. Len Bias is the obvious, and most extreme, example here. Ernie Davis. Shaun Livingston probably fits, as well.

With that, I open up the floor for discussion. Add names, critique the framework, give a sport-specific analysis. It's like a Wiki with the head cut off. Or the tail, maybe.

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