An Uncluttered Life
THIS IS A GUEST POST BY PARKER BROOKS.
We’ve been doing an awful lot of talking about talking lately; there are so many voices in my head Syd Barrett would feel right at home pulling up a beanbag chair and taking up residence in my frontal lobe. I’ll spare everyone the Gilbert allusions and the theory that Brandon Jennings had this whole new digital age thing all figured out and was in a position to be the first player to create his iconography without the assistance of the traditional press until he fell out of love with Twitter again. It’s a reminder that mastery over a medium that allows such open discourse is like trying to control air. Maybe some day. Dude’s still 19 years old and trying to work it out just like the rest of us, or maybe he's a step or two ahead and already on to the next thing.
Point is, almost everyone talks in the NBA and in many cases the why is more interesting than the actual conversation. Some use communication to build their profile, a la Gil and Brandon, while others speak only out of necessity. This isn't a star/grunt construct either. Several elite players have deepened their allure by being distant and mysterious, if not moody (Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett), and just as many journeymen have enhanced their careers by simply being good talkers. The vast majority is made up of players that range from nondescript to noble depending on their substance. Steve Nash, who has assumed a Bono-like role as the collective conscious of the league outside the context of the court, is an example of the latter.
Then there is Rasheed Wallace, who is one of the rare few whose words are as compelling as his motivation for speaking them. It received little play at the time, but Wallace essentially challenged the entire ecosystem of the NBA back in November. Long story short, Sheed remains convinced that Tim Dongahy wasn’t the only ref in on the con. Others have expressed doubt about the official version of events, but none have gone on the attack and with such complete matter-of-factness as Wallace. What takes this beyond the realm of outrageous outspokenness and into the realm of subtle genius is his rationale. In an interview he gave to the Boston Herald some weeks back, Wallace said, essentially: I’ll say whatever it is I want to say, cause fuck it, I can.
The money quote:
“You know, I say what’s on my mind, speaking my freedom, and I get fined for it. It’s a catch-22 with that (expletive), man. See, they think they can control people with money. Everybody don’t live like that.”
Sheed's invoking a blend of libertarianism mixed with some Marxian distrust of authoritarian institutions, common stuff to any third-year anarchist at Antioch, but by the conventions of the NBA, this is some revolutionary shit. It's tempting, then, to see Wallace as a political figure speaking truth to power, but that's not quite right because for all his bombast, he is essentially apolitical. For a politician there has to be some kind of rational benefit to challenging the status quo. Be it for power, a genuine desire to affect some kind of real change, or even megalomania, there’s a method behind it all. (Michael Steele may be the exception here). Wallace, however, seems far too cynical, or maybe wise, to believe that his words will ever resonate beyond that day’s news cycle.
He's not selling anything, not even his ideas. He has nothing to gain, and apparently also nothing to lose. If he’s right about everything he’ll shrug and go back to jacking 3’s. If he’s wrong, he’ll probably do the same. Either way he’s getting T’d up at the first sign of trouble. There is no end game here. This has caused some in Boston to question his sanity, if not his motives, but that’s the wrong read because he doesn’t seem to have one. A motive that is, beyond a strict moral code of the court that belongs to him alone.
Wallace leaves it up to everyone else to figure it out for themselves and for the scattered believers, Sheed is the true NBA iconoclast, questioning the league at every turn and referring to LeBron as The Golden Child. (Also Hedo Turkoglu as Turkododo. Nobody ever said he wasn’t funny as hell when he wants to be).
Quoting Mencken: “The iconoclast proves enough when he proves by his blasphemy that this or that idol is defectively convincing – that at least one visitor to the shrine is left full of doubts. The liberation of the human mind has been best furthered by gay fellows who heaved dead cats into sanctuaries and then went roistering down the highways of the world, proving to all men that doubt; after all was safe – that the god in the sanctuary was a fraud.”
It struck me as odd that David Stern would fine Wallace for criticizing officials, while allowing him to question the Donaghy madness without sanction. But by doing so, Stern would have inadvertently given credence to Sheed’s theories and opened them up to scrutiny, and by letting it go Stern relegates him to the role of the solitary man in the town square squawking about end times. He is easily dismissed, even banished from the realm.
But Sheed is not Sisyphus. He is not a prisoner of his rhetoric, and in fact, he has very little stake in the outcome. His latest contract will probably be his last and it’s not like he’s auditioning to replace Barkley on TNT. The truth about Donaghy, et al., will come out eventually. It almost always does and it might wind up setting some people free. But not Sheed. He’s already there, secure in his beliefs and without fear of real reprisal.