When language dares leak

As anyone familiar with the FreeDarko List of Names knows, Arenas and Amare are inescapable around these parts. It's not just that they've been this site's patron saints since the jump; between the two of them, they embody damn near everything we idealize about Associated basketball. Gilbert's glut of personality is inseparable from his All-Star play, while Amare's larger-than-life mythos has only been enhanced by his heartbreaking limbo. If we sometimes let Gil or STAT-related incidents pass without comment, it's because we recognize how easily we could dissolve into a hydra-headed fan page. Maybe it's best put like this: these two are in the background of each and every pronouncement we make 'round here, since without them we might never have started walking like we do.

That said, today I'm in the rare position of wanting to hold forth on both of our master builders, which almost makes me feel cheap. The webs hath delivered unto us important tidings in the realm of both men, the kind that threatens to shake up our central meme. And so in keeping with the FD policy of absolute, indiscrete intellectual disclosure, I bring you a glimpse into my utmost heart of basketball darkness. If in the process the limbs and wings of FreeDarko get swallowed up by discourse's shifty magma, so be it. We live not for the hunt, but for the fox's anger.

Appropriately, the whole world is abuzz over Tom Chiarella's Arenas profile set to run in November's Esquire. Part of me can't help but get possessive about Agent Zero, whose corner I've been in since his rookie season. When you're talking about professional athletics, however, the very notion of a cult star is more than a little absurd. Gerald Wallace or J.R. Smith can languish in those depths, for the simple fact that they remain marginal. All-Stars with proven playoff gusto need be known, and if it be otherwise the situation's cruelty far outweights its deliciousness. Sports are mainstream, populist institutions, and anyone making a serious mark therein deserves to be common knowledge.

In Arenas's case, his inscrutability has often been linked to his eccentricity, as if only a few could or would want to embrace an athlete bursting with quirks. Since last spring, however, there's been a mounting effort to make Old Weird Arenas into the man's principle selling point. Once considered too deviant to warrant attention, it's now a commodified version of Gilbert's mild lunacy that's feeding his popularity.

Problem is, after reading that Esquire piece I'm a little less convinced of Arenas's utter and total madness. In fact, over the last few weeks his most bombastic feats seem, for him, relatively explicable. The tent was excessive, but I found Caron's claim that he's now planning to build a hill in his backyard far more batty. The Pain/Gain tattoos ended up being pseudo-religious. And a lot of the details in Chiarella's psychological close reading just sounded like someone I'd know. I once thought Arenas was a bonafide nut case; increasingly, I wonder if he's just a non-standard athlete unafraid to admit this. Something like a more colorful, animated Adam Morrison, except that Arenas gets painted as a clown, not someone wandering outside of the NBA box.

(To his credit, Chiarella concludes by suggesting that a lot of Gilbert's strangeness boils down to honing his competitive edge.This is a third alternative, one which could be applied to tons of players but isn't. Has anyone ever called Jason Terry insane for sleeping in the opposing team's uniform the night before a big game?)

I'm not trying to downplay all that's chaotic and fascinating about my favorite player. If I could do that, he'd probably cease to be my favorite. But recognizing the distinctions between the truly warped and the mildly explicable seems key to actually doing the guy justice. There's been plenty of over-the-top Gilbertology over the years, a lot of which leaves these newer revelations in the dust. If he's indeed in position for a career year, let's hope that this leads to us understanding him better, not burying his humanity alive for the sake of a facile image.

Amare, less thunder to raise. . . I've been shying away from ESPN's running "will he live or will he die" coverage, mostly to avoid furthering my resident despair. While I do stand by everything I've ever said about Stoudemire-as-Enduring-Specter, this will be a tough one to stomach as it goes down.

That said, this Ian Whitell featurette offered some valuable insight in Amare, the person. Around the time of the Katrina relief efforts, I began to suspect that there might be more to Stoudemire than his leaps and bounds. I'm not trying to claim that he's Kobe or C-Webb, but this articles here shows that he's got depth of feeling and reflectiveness to go with the profundity of his former court presence. No one objectified his opponents like Amare, and ironically, this led to his being objectified by fans more than almost any player. Nice to see a little bit of subjectivity creep into his media profile, even if its at the expense of one of natural basketball's foremost wonders.


At 10/13/2006 4:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The more I think about it, the harder it becomes to imagine a player who I more anxiously anticipate seeing and knowing better this season than GA.

There is a basic somberness of tone dripping from every syllable of the Amare story. Really, in our hearts we do wish him fulfillment of all those promises that we've made of one another in our relative roles: those of the Untamed Elemental and the Environment he personifies/destroys with every act. We want to let him be the force of nature that we named him to be since we came out of the caves and into the light of the modern era of the game.

But in the back of my mind I've never shaken the idea that it can't happen now- that it was too improbable that he'd ever be as much as we thought he could, and that such a success would be one of the more truly unbelievable feats in the timeline of the Association as we know it.

With Gilbert, we see the still incalculable potential, unencumbered by the weight of actual, physical barriers to achievement. Where some see the dispelling of what may previously have been revelled in as his apparent mania, I am ever-more intrigued by his humanization.

I percieve now only the developement of the semi-realistic, an identifiable start to the tall-tale that we all want to tell of the Man, because now he can actually BE a man. And I believe that just those groundings in reality will be from where he'll leap to new heights, up and over the ocean around him and finally beyond the horizon.

At 10/13/2006 5:12 PM, Blogger Josh said...

See, I don't read the Esquire piece quite as a clown-painting. I think he comes off as thoroughly likeable -- a little off, yes, but in an endearing way that makes you want to root for him. Like a quirky cousin, not like a guy who's going to get shot by off-duty officers while frothing at the mouth.

And as a Mavs fan, I can assure you that a lot of people think Jason Terry is kinda crazy too. But lovably so!

At 10/13/2006 5:42 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i don't think the piece paints him as a clown, but until the end it certainly downplays the logic of arenas's actions.

At 10/13/2006 5:43 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i meant more that in general he's made out to be one.

At 10/13/2006 6:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As someone who has found Gilbert incredibly irritating (and not all that fascinating), I'm enjoying the freedarko perspective, and developing a more nuanced view.

Still, I can't help but have my strongest memory of Arenas being in 2005 when he predicted that he would be MVP of the allstar game . He ended the first half with zero points, having missed all his shots. 2006? 0-4 from the field.

And remember this one: "My problem is I like to follow the ball so, if my man back cuts me, he's always open because I'm always looking at the ball the whole time. I defend when I have to. I'm more of a gambler."

Watching Gilbert play basketball is a bit like watching a really hot six year old soccer player. You marvel at the skills and enthusiasm, but at the end of the day it's just not that mentally stimulating.

Off the court though, I'm coming round.

At 10/13/2006 6:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

While we're on the topic of 2 of FreeDarko's chief rallying points, why not mention this (http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20061013/SPORTS03/610130412/1051/SPORTS) also? Hearing KG decry this rule is one thing, but seeing that Flip agrees and backs his chief warrior's thought process, if not all of his zeal, is enough warmth and fuzziness to make me curl up in my custom made FreeDarko wool blanket in front of the fire place all season.

At 10/13/2006 8:31 PM, Blogger jon faith said...

One could surmise a rumble in the brush when coupling Arenas' perceived madness alongside salivating salutations of The Wire and whatever hip-hop has been hand-delivered at dawn's early rise to the suburbs: hmm. . . some kind of fever - tropical or otherwise.

At 10/13/2006 11:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 10/14/2006 1:10 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i'm assuming that wasn't directed at me.

anyway, for anyone worried that i'm ruining the fun: check out the ESPN mag piece. all i have to say is BACK ON TOP!!!!!

-owns 100 ties, even though he can't tie one himself

-favorite movie is bambi

-was the life of the party in all things team USA-related

-may or may not pretend to know the meaning of the word "eccentric?"

like i said up top, there's always going to be enough of this to go around. let's just not go making his whole being into one big flotsam joke

At 10/14/2006 4:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've always thought that "freedarko" makes a lot of sense as a perspective, and perhaps most as a rallying cry, but the last few articles (and especially the top 50 list) have made me think that talking about freedarko-ness as a characteristic of individual players is more or less nonsense.

It seems to me that a list of the top 50 most freedarko players is, obviously, just a list of b. shoals favorite 50 players. in other words, saying "we like player x because he is very freedarko" is just a roundabout way of saying "we like player x because he is [[very much liked by us]]." This, of course, is not very useful, and a little too cute.

more importantly, in changing freedarko from an internal philosophy adhered to by the fan to an external characteristic of the player, we rob it of all of its power and most of its allure. its either the all-star ballots of a small clique, or its just another stat to look up in the box score.

so i refuse to believe that freedarkoness has any meaning in this context. but, i am willing to be proven wrong, and so i offer a challenge to shoals or anyone else who wants to chime in: prove to me that freedarkoness has some true meaning as a characteristic. here's the challenge:

1) Name one player who is very freedarko who you do not like.
2) Inversely, name one player who you really like, who is not freedarko at all.

At 10/14/2006 9:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i thought freedarko was just recognition of basketball as style, and that we should all have our own toplist based on individual appreciation of expression. i was surprised to see an actual, official composite list of FD players. wouldn't a top 10 from each writer better fit the bill?

At 10/14/2006 11:18 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i cant stand iverson, but am willing to admit that he belongs somewhere in the pantheon. important, important man.

have a longstanding sentimental attachment to vince carter, but i think i had him at like #48 on my personal list.

and even if "freedarko" does often translate into my favorite players, why is that such a bad thing? wouldn't most of castro's top 50 politicians be communists? i'm not quite getting the internal/external distinction; this is about a certain lens for liking and valuing the NBA, and some public figures more readily lend themselves to those priorities.

calling it "nonsense" seems a little strong, since we've rather explicitly spelled out in the past what our four or five central tenents are. the main problem for us has generally been figuring out a hierarchy, hence the need to intuitively rank players rather than do a more formal survey of our treasured characteristics.

At 10/14/2006 1:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I king of have to agree with WPDK. Creating a list of top 50 Freedarko players seems a bit like rating the top 50 UN diplomats based on how they have sex with their husbands/wives. Of course, that didn't stop me from chiming in about it when the list first came out...

At 10/14/2006 2:17 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

2) Inversely, name one player who you really like, who is not freedarko at all.

Dwayne Wade.

Of course, FreeDarko isn't my site.

At 10/15/2006 5:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How Musselman and Artest get along (From Stein's ESPN article):

Artest already has Musselman working to update his playbook, after Muss discovered that his lockdown defender has some point forward in his game. From afar, Musselman figured Artest would be at his best setting screens for Bibby and slipping into the paint to post up little guards on pick-and-roll switches. Don't be surprised to see Artest keeping the ball on pick-and-rolls to let Bibby -- Sacramento's best shooter -- roam for shooting opportunities.

"We're going to have to adjust a little bit, because he's a lot better handling the ball than I ever imagined," Musselman said. "It's a good example of how you never know guys until you coach 'em.

"We understand it's only training camp, but we've worked to develop a rapport with him. [Artest's participation in] summer league was great. We got to sit with him by the pool at The Palms in a casual atmosphere.

"I haven't talked a lot of basketball with Ron. We talk a lot about family, rap stuff. ... Hopefully, in time, he and I will really form a bond and a trust. If we already had it, that wouldn't be good, either, because it would be fake. With anybody, it takes time."

Musselman talking about "rap stuff"?

At 10/16/2006 3:31 PM, Blogger Brian said...

At the risk of being blasted from the freedarko cannons, I must say that Ive never noticed anything even peculiar about Arenas. What eccentricities? The tent thing was nice, but I dont see how its not normal. He's an athlete that wants to be at the top of his game. Basically, Ive never been interested in Arenas because I thought of him as boring. Lacking in personality. A grey face pasted on a grey wall. Maybe I just havent been exposed to it, since I really dont pay a lot of attention to east coast teams. So, fill me in, tell me why Arenas is so interesting and so eccentric.... cuz currently I dont get it.

At 10/16/2006 3:59 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i have no idea how to respond to this, other than to provide two links and suggest you google "gilbert arenas"
or "gibertology." actually, i'm glad that you're seeing that he's not all whimsy. . . that said, about 46% of his public life has had its fair share of it

Wizznutzz reprint

ESPN poker item

At 10/17/2006 3:43 PM, Blogger Brian said...

Thanks for the links! Gilbert is more interesting than I realized, though if he's eccentric, I'd hate to know what people thought of me lol. He obviously has some obsessive/compulsive in him. Actually, other than the prankster part of him, i think I can rather relate to the mindset.


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