Abjection At The Speed Of Sound

Just listen to the music, man. It is kind of like Tony Conrad, but not, and also kind of like I thought Coltrane was when all I did was read about him. It's also reasonably pertinent to this quick bit of posting I have to take care of on these parts.

Because Twitter has gone altogether useless, and there's no such thing as having weighed in recently enough, or collective memory, or any kind of cleanser that doesn't involve a roof and flames, here are my weekend's Big Basketball Stories: Tracy McGrady and Derrick Rose. T-Mac, longtime FD favorite (for you, McGrady, I would throw Vince Carter under a thousand buses), and Derrick Rose, a player-in-process on a very good team. Oh, and once upon a time, I put forth a challenge to Rose, and now a city wants to burn me and throw me into brine because of it. At the Sloan Conference for Fighting Your Family, McGrady was unmasked by former GM Daryl Morey and coach Jeff Van Gundy as the equivalent of Sports Betting gone bad. You can read the low-down here, courtesy of Dan Devine, but I just had to jump in the mix (if I hadn't enough already, via more immediate forms of communication).

Dan ended his report from the panel with a WTF DUDEZ—as in, there seemed to be a certain amount of willful panel blindness to how great McGrady was when he was on. Zach Lowe also gave us a glimpse at just how advanced T-Mac could get when things were going his way. My problem? McGrady's career wasn't that of Stromile Swift or Tyrus Thomas; his injuries were of the more vague, debilitating variety; there was obviously a psychological aspect to his rise, fall, rise, fall, and fall fall again that defied an easy "he had it all and blew it" narrative. If McGrady was the NBA's Natural, we should not bemoan his lack of worth ethic or practice hours—lots of players are lazy-ish, and last I checked, Bill Russell was the king of hoops, and he hated to run around empty gyms—but acknowledge his career for what it was: an experience, for him and us, at once flawed and mystical. There was no reason for McGrady to have been as good as he was, as advanced, especially if he tried so little and failed to show the discipline of, say, Chuck Hayes or Shane Battier.

McGrady wasn't just bigger, stronger, faster, or more athletic. He felt and moved through the game like few before or since. You want to discard that because Gladwell told you to? In front of a bunch of writers? Fine, I guess. Just don't pretend that there's not a host of biases, or even limitations, brought in by the panelists, or that anyone (including McGrady) will ever be happy with how it all turned out. Malcolm Gladwell furnished a magic number, Jeff Van Gundy brought his own wildly particular views about how basketball, and basketball teams, should work to the table, and Morey also has an agenda—however secretive—that he brings to this kind of player assessment. Could McGrady have been better, played longer? Yes, but he paid dues in Toronto, and was effectively falling apart by the time he arrived in Houston. Was it all practice? I should stop asking so many questions before I get too many answers in return. To me, McGrady will remain a tragic figure, perhaps one of his own making. But to use him as a poster child for wasted potential is like lamenting ... fuck it, go see that Woodmans documentary. No, not the Kevin Bacon molesting kids one.

There's a way, though, to have both lived up to the hype while still falling victim to it. The holes are far less important than having gotten there at all; the ending seems all but inevitable, and not because there just wasn't enough elbow grease involved. For what it's worth, LeBron James seems far more worthy of these criticisms than McGrady. Already a far better player, to be sure, any way you want to measure it. And yet T-Mac always seemed fully comfortable in his own skin—that is, for those few seasons when everything was intact. LeBron still has way too many "if only" moments. That's the value of practice. McGrady? I don't know, would practice have exorcised his demons, cleaned up his injuries, and allowed him to get his head into the game again. Born to lose, I guess. Piece of shit, fabulous performer, both at once. If he need a book title, I will be spending all morning smashing those two phrases together in tight proximity.


If you would like me to compare Derrick Rose and T-Mac, do so yourself. Rose works his ass off, I will say this, and when a team forces him to show that aspect of his game—resourceful, indomitable, and fearless without sacrificing a bit of dynamism—all my previous criticisms fall away. I don't like it when the game is too easy for anyone. Otherwise, for the viewer without a particular-colored bit of cloth wrapped round his face, the game can stagnate. You may be familiar with that time I bemoaned, in order 1) the classification of Rose as a true point guard by the national media; 2) the unreasonable example he set for more limited scoring guards like [REDACTED] and [REDACTED] and some other thing that I probably didn't say but made people angry anyway. Oh, I said that I wanted Rose to turn into Dwyane Wade. Sunday's game made me happy, and sorry, I'm not jumping on the bandwagon. It was brilliant basketball, where a player was substantially challenged and thus had to fight for his comfort zone, or pull off nearly impossible feats of toughness and flight to get the two that usually comes so easy to him. Even that playmaking stuff ... Rose showed that, somewhere between trying to run an offense and dishing at the last-second, he can set the table for others without leaving them on pins and needles.

The "Fuck You Bethlehem Shoals" game against the Spurs was fun, but Chicago's win over those pussy-dicked Heat weasels was everything I had ever hoped to see from Rose. I could care less whether you think I'm back-pedaling, or should have been here all along. Players met with obstacles are either spurred to new heights or fall flat. Practice hours aside, and for now, ignoring the "loser" tag, what made McGrady great and infuriating is that he was either in that zone, or practically moribund. For Rose, it's a next gear, or a plateau, or some other cliche having to do with man-sports and engines. Given the way this season, and his career, are going, I fully expect Rose to look much different in 2011-12 than in this MVP candidate campaign. That's a wowzer, isn't it?

Really, what I want someone to do is bury me for viewing Rose through a lens of pure aesthetics. Why no attack, or at least conclusions about, his personality, motivations, etc? The Rose-as-robot trope is nothing new in Chicago, nor is it particularly interesting. It doesn't seem to have warped him like it did Kobe, in large part because Kobe was a stormy individual who decided that inhumanity was the way to go, like Buddhist retreats for pill heads. Maybe I'm just not ready to read deeper, or between the lines, with Rose. But with that, though, comes an understanding that I'm still expecting him to go higher and higher as a basketball player. Is that grouchy and mean to a city in need? I guess. But I remember Tracy McGrady. It's the very least that this young Bulls guard, and a team seemingly built for long-term success, could do for us all.


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At 3/07/2011 10:58 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Kindly do not use the word "recant" with this one. I wouldn't have posted this, or tweeted like a fool during Sunday's game, if I thought this were inconsistent with my GQ piece. I'm not above admitting I was wrong, but I don't like to make a show of it -- at least not with dumb shit like sports.

At 3/07/2011 11:32 AM, Blogger Admiral Jameson Sax said...

I don't trust technology.

At 3/08/2011 12:20 AM, Blogger dickey simpkins said...

Maybe it's just me but I got the feeling everyone on that panel was just using McGrady as a means to rip on Lebron James.

At 3/08/2011 12:58 PM, Blogger Tom Deal said...

that mcgrady stuff was bullshit. he should be championed in my opinion for a few reasons:

1. that orlando stuff was kinky
2. making the game look easy is part of the reason i value the nba. the game is hard for me. i'm bad at shooting, dribbling, etc. i watch the nba because i want those guys to do the thing i know i could never do - 13 pts in 30 seconds.
3. his personality and depth was boss. my main gripe with d rose is that i just can't identify or get behind a poor public speaking, timid cliche spouting, meek personality type. it's not me and it's not what i identify with. d rose just seems like a boring but talented and hardworking dude. admittedly, i watched him dagger the spurs recently and was impressed, but i just don't get any vibe from him
4. the definition of earning it to me is not hard work and practice. anyone can work hard. the definition is overcoming personal struggle. typically that's internal, not external. i just don't buy the externalist theory of motivation. tmac fits, drose doesn't.
5.tmac's bitter what if should be the injuries and his teams. everyone on that panel 100% underestimates chronic back problems. THE MAN PLAYED WITH THESE FOR YEARS.
6. why does jvg get a free pass on not developing his players more?

ya in the end i know i'm a minority in the dislike drose camp but at least i know my position is primarily for personal reasons of taste and my own quirks. drose is not like mcgrady, i sincerely hope that their narratives are not compared and conflated. it would be a mistake to judge mcgrady like that and an insult to his uniqueness as well as i grudgingly suppose an insult to drose's potential. i guess i have to face that he's going to be that boring guy that hits shots at the buzzer on the teams that i like.

At 3/08/2011 1:24 PM, Blogger Codysseus said...

So, just to clarify, do you feel that you found/find Rose's game a bit boring because he's shown a ridiculous ability to master his game? He seems comfortable taking any sort of shot from pretty much anywhere on the court (okay not really the post but you get the idea), regardless of awkward angles. Combine this with tremendous body control and balance and it seems like he's always in complete control. He has too many weapons at his disposal for him to really be shaken, which only makes it more rare to see something raw, whether it's improvisational or emotional.

Then he runs into other elite athletes, players, and teams. They push him, making his standard spectacular feats seem even greater. I think the break he had 1 on 2 against Wade and Lebron may have been the perfect example of this. Trapped between two of the best athletes in the world, the fastbreak that usually is a showcase for his speed, grace, and assortment of layups becomes a collision of will and improvisation. It was also one of those moments where you can see a player out-thinking his opposition on the fly. Like Rondo's no-look pass to escape Lebron's chase down in last year's playoffs.

I'm just trying to get a good understanding of your reasoning and to maybe reach some common ground. Sports fandom is filled with opinions and biases that don't really need to be logical or even explained. After all, it's basketball, it ultimately does not matter. However, it's a whole hell of a lot more fun to figure this shit out.

At 3/08/2011 1:59 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

That pretty much says it all.

Although I would argue that Rose remains relatively limited because he can be. His speed, strength, explosiveness, and ability to use angles allows him to flourish without really having to, as you say, really show off his will and improvisation. Pre-injuries Wade really is the best comparison.

LeBron is just as unstoppable, but his game is non-stop, large-scale invention. You have no idea what's coming next. Kobe at his best makes you think he could miss until the second he makes it. Maybe I just need to accept Rose for what he is, and realize that I'm only going to enjoy watching him when he's pushed to that next level. It is, though, all about aesthetics.

I've never once suggested that Rose sucks because he's not a pure PG. Just that we need to acknowledge him on his own terms. It just so happens that I hope he's not done progressing yet.

At 3/09/2011 11:30 AM, Blogger ds said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 3/09/2011 11:33 AM, Blogger ds said...

Gladwell’s argument assumes the end goal is production. He claims TMac’s basketball career was diminished due to the opportunity cost he left on the table (assuming his game could have been improved if he had practiced more, which is iffy). To Gladwell basketball players have a moral duty to help the game reach its maximum utility in terms of production, and detracting from this utility is a moral failure. There's obviously something to this (see Tim Duncan).

It is not the whole story, though. The Big Fundamental is not as popular as he would be if production were the only criteria. That's where aesthetics comes in, and championing aesthetics, which has been largely ignored, seems to me like the whole point of Free Darko.

To Bethlehem the end goal is, at least in part, aesthetics. Rose makes the game predictable, and as Shoals argues, kills the aesthetic, which from this perspective would be a moral failure.

It’s understandable why people from both coasts do not connect with Rose’s aesthetics, which is like the thrash metal of basketball. Chicago is the city of “big shoulders,” and the city of linebackers. Chicagoans connect with his aesthetic, which explains the huge backlash, like my New York college roommate was shocked when someone from Detroit told him he thought Justin Timberlake was not cool.

At 3/09/2011 12:43 PM, Blogger Tree Frog said...

Isn't McGrady's career in Orlando, Houston, New York and subsequent mini-revival in Detroit a walking advertisement for having a truly excellent medical/strength & conditioning staff?

Chronic back injuries are the worst, although they can be alleviated with some work on core and stabilizing muscles - which the med/s&c staff would diagnose and work on.

I bring this up because to get to a point where artistry and aesthetics are possible on the public basketball stage - or that of any high level physical pursuit, an insane amount of backstage hard work has to go into mastering skills to a sufficient degree.

I have fallen head over heels for Brazilian jiu-jitsu and I see the same aesthetics vs. utility debate going on in the battles of Cobrinha and Rafael Mendes. Cobrinha, as befitting his nickname, is the aesthetic shizz. Nobody is more exciting or crazy than he is. Mendes plays a very slow, incrementalist type game that's hard to truly crack open and defeat. Both guys have wins against the other, but Mendes has been beating Cobrinha on the big stages of late.

And the high level jiu-jitsu world essentially hates Mendes for his style of winning, despite taking elements of his game for themselves.

At 3/10/2011 10:13 PM, Blogger Don said...

Damn, Shawn Kemp and Horace Grant were on the 2002-2003 Orlando Magic team. I wish I could go back and rewatch all their games.

The first NBA game I ever went to live was an Orlando game, and McGrady was awesome.

At 3/12/2011 4:05 PM, Blogger Tom Deal said...


I basically concede your above points, because there is no contradiction between my position and them. my position is that drose has not shown me a personality/internal force that i'm into on a taste level. he's just not to my taste. i'll watch him, and def be impressed, but i would need to see a dark period and phoenix rebirth to really get into him. maybe like feuds with thibs next year, demands trade to philadelphia. becomes the 2nd coming of the boston stranger, becomes a real chris paul middle finger attitude motherfucker. that sounds nice. but i'm definitely psyched to tacitly root for him against the celtics. here's the thing though, i like atlanta, orlando, new york, and philly better than chicago. so ultimately drose is going to be that really awesome guy who murders the teams i like. that's ok too, but his ascendancy in my opinion comes at the cost of cooler bros.

At 3/20/2011 7:08 PM, Blogger walrusoflove said...

This year's Bulls squad is a f'ing sweet collection. Thick as a brick in talent and personality. (thats ignoring all the recent bandwagoning, i've been on them since they won the lebron sweepstakes and got boozed instead). So fine that you don't connect with DRose as an individual... i totally get it. But how can you not love him as the righteous leader of that bulls crew?

Bulls/Celtics series this year will be l-e-g-e-n-d.

Anyone who hates on TMac is sad and petty. Him and Webber should open a cabana bar called "Cocktails & Dreams".

At 5/17/2013 4:19 PM, Blogger Jim Philips said...

Well, Twitter isn't like it used to be but it is because pr has taken actions against players and other figure to avoid controversy and we miss this at Sportsbook community.

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