And We All Got Married Forever
First, the bad news. For those of those alien to Twitter, or undisposed toward general interest sports blog, FanHouse is no more. Actually, let me pause with the hysterics: It will live on, just with an almost entirely new staff, and under the direction of the Sporting News. Also, this transformation doesn't go down until March 1st, so you get another month and change of pedal-to-the-metal output.
Why is this all happening? As best as I can tell, AOL decided that its experiment -- hiring "national voice" columnists and sending out reporters with generous travel budgets, all in hopes of becoming a first-order content generator -- wasn't working out. There had always been some risk involved, but as I understood it, the plan was to be patient, and wait before passing judgment. Apparently, though, it was proving just too hairy a financial proposition. So rather than re-design the site so that more than two or three articles got traffic, or cut ties with some of the over-paid, under-performing "names" who ate up much of the payroll, AOL decided to cut their losses. They sold the reputable brand name, and the real estate, to a company in need of both.
So that's that. The Works will officially be no more, and Eric and myself will have a lot of time on our hands. Don't hesitate to get in touch if you know of any writing or editing work!
Speaking of which, I do have a few things lined up already. For one, I've begun contributing daily to Business Insider, writing about stuff like free agent strategy and branding. Crunching numbers has never been my strength, but everybody knows these things are much about quality as quantity, even if we're talking about the distribution of contracts.
Okay, the good news. Fast friend Yago Colás, whose Go Yago! is one of the rightful heirs to this long-in-the-tooth blog, has -- as some of you may have read elsewhere -- been using The Undisputed Guide as the primary textbook for his Cultures of Basketball course at Michigan. I'm hoping to make it out there some time this semester, but in the meantime, I'm limited to the fascinating, and somehow intrusive, practice of commenting on his posts about how The Undisputed Guide works in the classroom. I know I don't want to give too much unwelcome behind-the-scenes detail (or defense) of why the book is the way it is; nor do I think it's wholly constructive for me to, after the fact, drop in on Yago's classroom discussions like I know best.
For example, Yago explained to True Hoop that he liked the book's breakdown of historical periods. The funny thing is, Jacob and I came up with this schema and a compromise between the decades (works well enough, suits common sense) and an incredibly arcane system that had some epochs lasting only two or three years. So while I would like to claim some credit for this model, it's really just decades, but with enough tweaks thrown in to justify all the time we spent poring over these parameters. So, Yago, don't tell the kids that.
In his post on Day Two of class, Yago has the students read both Naismith's account of how he came up with basketball's rules, and FD's chapter on the game's invention. Naismith walks the reader through the reasoning that led to his original rules. In my chapter -- which owes a major, major assist to my agent Chris Parris-Lamb -- I tried to look at the different kinds of creation myths we can attribute to that reasoning. It was prompted by Jacob's observation that basketball was, unlike other sports, invented rather than evolved out of folkways. At the same time, what it means for a sport to come about in this way depends on what kind of meaning we wish to imbue it with.
Comparing Naismith to Moses, Martin Luther, the Founding Fathers, logical positivism, and Romanticism was over-the-top. But, in addition to giving some sense of the peculiar historical and cultural juncture at which this sport came into being, it also lent a framework to all the basketball history that would follow. Perhaps it's too much to think of Naismith as a visionary, but certainly, the rules he created carried within them the seed of all that followed. Basketball's history is not one of appropriation or strident interpretation. It evolved quickly, and there have certain been moments that qualify as revolutions. But one thing that always trips me up when I try and talk about the book, usually on the radio, is that basketball history is full of near-constant reinvention and repetition. You can say this over and over again, and it will never get any less true, or cringe-worthy: baseball may be the national pastime, but basketball is America.
Enough about me. Here's Yago:
At this point, I somehow forgot all about Naismith and the point of this whole comparative exercise, and, caught up in the testimony, just blurted out: “in what ways is basketball like or unlike a religion for you?” Here's where I should acknowledge that Shoals’ argument really goes from the mythico-religious (Moses) to the historico-religious (Martin Luther) to the secular (the Founding Fathers) and concludes that Naismith bears more of a resemblance to a founding father. So really the question should have been: "in what ways is basketball like a country to you?"Ah, the perils of this exercise: I wish I could say I had this progression in mind, but really, i was thinking in terms of the different ways our culture has for accounting for revelation, true originality, or inspiration. All of these were present, and relevant, in the time of Naismith, can be read into basketball, and can be found in the sport today -- just as they can still found be discerned in culture. The discussion in his classroom of how basketball is or isn't like religion, and whether basketball deserves that level of fervor, leads back to the question not of how important basketball is. That's why it's instructive that, in his post, Yago suggests substituting "country" for religion. Religion, or the religious impulse (like there's only one kind; I included two modalities) is part of what we understand as America. If basketball contains one, or both of these -- and indeed, can be said to matter in all the ways that America grounds meaning -- than as far as sports go, it's kicking some serious ass.
By the time most of you read this, it will be MLK Day. There are NBA games on all day, even more than on Christmas, and I might hit up a regional high school tournament later in the evening. It's also low-hanging fruit for any columnists looking to approximate solemnity without exerting himself too much. The day is important, black people do more than play sports, etc. I have yet to see anyone attempt the more gymnastic opposite: that really, there is no more appropriate way to celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. than to play and watch basketball. I suppose, based on what I wrote above, I could be persuaded, but it sounds way too much like something a rightie shock jock might say for all the wrong reasons.
I will say this: on the local level, where basketball can work as a proxy for, or an extension of, community, I don't see what's wrong with it. The problem seems to come when the NBA, which traffics in blatant consumerism, tries to get in on the spirit. Then again, this is a league that makes teams play on Christmas and New Year's Eve. It's a federal and state holiday, which means people of all colors and creeds will have the day off, and be looking for things to do. Now, would the world be a better place if everyone -- after all, MLK Day isn't just about African-Americans doing right by themselves -- took the day off to volunteer, go to speeches and rallies, and otherwise carry on the tradition of the man whose name the date bears? Obviously. The truth is, though, that it's hard to get people to spend their day off doing things like that, no matter who they are. They want leisure, and the NBA gives them more product than usual to kick back with, or attend in person.
The pitfall comes in making an obligatory nod to the holiday. But that's nothing more than good corporate manners. That the NBA has to acknowledge MLK Day doesn't mean we have to accuse them of equating Civil Rights with today's pro sports leagues. Instead, we should blame ourselves for creating the demand, or at least the audience. No one's forcing us to watch basketball instead of going out and making the world a better place. If you do so on a regular basis, well, you deserve a day off.