You're Promised the Honker
The following is not intended as a defense of Jay Caspian Kang's post on Kevin Garnett. Mr. Kang is a quite able-bodied young man and can speak for himself, in these parts or elsewhere if he should so choose, whenever he so pleases. Nor is it any sort of attack on the man they call Rough Justice, who has contributed to FD in the past and is, at There Are No Fours, a writer you should digest on a regular basis.
That said, I would like to take some of this quality 6AM airplane time to address RJ’s post from yesterday, where he lashed out at Jay’s Kevin Garnett post and raised some broader critiques of the FreeDarko way of life. Let it first be said that my feelings on Garnett-Villanueva are uncharacteristically murky. In a purely ethnographic manner, I dismissed CV’s tweet-borne outrage as “just not the way things are done.”
I wasn’t only the writer to say, in not so many words, “come on Charlie V., WE PLAYIN’ BASKETBALL!” Rather than take a moral position, I was content to relativize, or romanticize, or whatever, and say that sports are awesome and athletes, subject to more special rules than the rest of us, even when it comes to the expectation of half-decent conduct. I heard from readers who wondered why the near-rampant homophobia of sports wasn’t somehow entering this discussion; in talking with Jay, I started to think that here, Garnett was the exception that proved the rule.
There’s a lot that can be empirically, and affirmatively, chalked up to the culture of the sport. When is trangression transgressed? When, as in this case, the speech-act is both resoundingly dull and just plan mean (as in petty). The common currency, or rules of engagement, is all about drive, rancor and wit. Going too far and not going far enough are strangely intertwined.
As for Garnett himself, to call his intensity performative is by no means to discount it. If KG is one-hundred percent authentic – which, mind you, is different from sincere – out on the court, he would be almost alone in sports. Part of playing the game is playing the game, playing mind games, and any other such cliché you can call up to register the duality that is the competitive self. If you hate that sentence, just say “nature and nurture” three times fast. Garnett, like pretty much any other person looking to topple others in his field, is closed loop with no beginning or end. He wouldn’t be driven to so fastidiously project the character he does if he weren’t, on some level, really that hell-bent on succeeding. Yet as the Recluse suggests, KG’s allowing himself to be so swayed by lawless emotion is easily attribute to Jordan-era basketball socialization. From there, though, we’re right back at “but it takes the right kind to so totally embrace, and even further amplify, the lessons of MJ’s persona”.
I can quite artificially pick and choose what Garnett traits to admire, or at least enjoy -- cussing at no one in particular, banging his head on the padded goalpost, needlessly blocking shots after the whistle, barking like a dog, and slapping the floor on defense for no other reason than to fire himself up further. That John Thompson interview, the “loading up the clip” sound bite, and that dolorous adidas commercial with the stand-up comedy section, these are all pure gold to me. Yet that’s a false dichotomy. These are part and parcel with the bullying, dirty play, and complete and total loss of perspective while on the court that increasingly, have become the hallmark of Garnett’s on-court demeanor. Part of it is the move from Minny to Boston, which got Garnett out from under that all-consuming cloud of pathos and made him less eternally sympathetic and – since he was suddenly playing on a real team – eccentric. Going from feel-good super-team to brooding contenders further concretized Garnett. You just couldn’t look at him any more as a powerful, twisted curiosity. He was out on center stage, and then after 2008, a professional who didn’t care to leave room for our indulgences. Getting older didn’t help, either.
That’s to say, I neither quite agree with Jay, nor with the part of me that could once be brought to tears by a 2002 shot of Garnett guarding Webber. Before, Garnett was an extreme version of competition with no object. Once he got a taste of its applications – the only role that would ever make sense for him, long-term – he changed, but our perception changed, too. The KG of Minnesota was a parable, a folk hero, a creative act that drew in athlete and fan alike to create mythology. He was perfect for the purposes of this website, but I can’t pretend he wasn’t kind of a dick all along, or that the way he looks in this second act somehow stands apart from the earlier KG. What I’m learning now is that I’m stuck with both, and that they’re actually one and the same.
Much of Rough Justice’s post was directed at Jay; I may have indirectly addressed them, but the point here isn’t to rush to the aid of the last thing published on this site. What really interests me is RJ’s assertion that liberated fandom and team faithfulness are not mutually exclusive. To this I say, duh. To be perfectly honest about it, the “manifesto” in our first book did the concept of liberated fandom a great disservice. I was only barely responsible for it; it was put together by forces beyond my control, and I was too busy to complain that it tacked way too extreme for my part. Plus, I heard it would help sell books.
On this blog, I have never suggested that liberated fandom meant players over teams, or that pure aesthetics are all that is to be gleaned from basketball. What excites me about basketball is that, at its best, a team is not only the sum of individuals – it has nearly the same amount of personality. Furthermore, winning is always a question of aesthetics, and aesthetics employed primarily in the service of winning. It’s the interplay between these two poles that, to me, exemplifies the NBA. And while I’ve always scoffed at being chained to a single team, especially when players shift around so much, I’ve always taken it as license to have a rooting interesting in a bunch, with one or two sometimes elevating themselves above all others. Granted, oftentimes my more casual interest in a team is a function of a player or two, but for what it’s worth, I’ve always been known to turn my back on individual players. In short, liberated fandom is more like free love than a weird fetish, or unlimited free porn downloads.
That’s all I have to say on the subject for now. There is precious little rock in my iTunes. I have some thoughts on legacy that I’ve been meaning to get up for a while now, so let’s so how bored I get on this next flight. The television isn’t working on here but I wasn’t expecting it in the first place.