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.