Hide the Giant Shaking Bird

(Can someone please devise a FreeDarko style guide so I can stop fretting over title capitalization?)

So if you thought my new gig was keeping me from speaking truth on the subject of the two-skulled lawsuit, no way. I mostly didn't have any thoughts in order, which might be an indication of how slick Hunter has played this. I'm not the first person to suggest that these are qualitatively different kinds of debates, but to me it's obvious that eliding this was a shrewd manuever on Billy's part.

The Dress Code wars died on their own shores because they were, in essence, a cultural question. There's a fine line between "culture of this organization" and "cultural issues foisted upon the NBA," but both are losing prospects for the players. If its interpreted as a workplace squabble, the bosses can assert their right to govern those whom they reward handsomely. Cast it as a black/white thang, or even a generational clash, and the will of the American mainstream is eventually enacted. And while conservatism can work in tandem with the professionalism angle, being pro-hip-hop or pro-blacknusss doesn't necessarily mean you reject all that is fresh and clean.

With the Dress Code, the "disgruntled workers" spin became an easy way to avoid debate over whose sport it is, anyway. Obviously the league belongs to American dollars, but the groundswell of young black men claiming cultural repression was a definite attention-grabber. While playing the race card may be risky, it's damn near impossible to gloss over; if race gains traction in the discussion, even in defeat there are bold statements to be made. The easy way around this, then, is for the opposition to preempt the introduction of this country's most irresistible snare. Claiming professionalism and politely asking that difference be checked at the door makes the opposition seem like trigger-happy activists; this confirms many people's worst fears about identity politics, and in the process tramples the credibility of the outraged.

Here, the Players' Association has snuck culture in under the cover of functionality. Even before Chris Sheridan told us that the new ball slices up human palms, anyone could tell that the new ball was a disaster. It was implemented sloppily, suspiciously, and secretively, and Simmons's "it's rigged to bounce kindly" is the one back-handed compliment anyone's given it. Regardless of who plays the game, or why they play it the way they do, or whose culture it reflects and prioritizes, the new ball has emphatically stopped the flow. If the new ball had some clear cultural imperative—like it prevented dunking, or made it impossible to execute a crossover—it would be a loaded issue. But its defenders say only "change happens," and anyone watching can tell it's had an effect on the quality of the NBA product. That, of course, is the one thing both sides can agree on: regardless of what kind of product they favor, or what criteria they hold it to, it cannot and should not be comically flawed.

Early on, I remember a few players claiming the zero tolerance policy had some discriminatory overtones. By combining it with the ball problem, these same concerns take on a far less ominous connotation. Instead of there being a race or demographic that values emotion and expressiveness, now the sport of basketball needs them the same way it does friendly equipment. What's so brilliant about this is that it asserts ownership over the NBA without ever even posing the question. If the NBA knows what's good for it, it will give the players back the ball of tradition. And if they acknowledge that the players might know what's best for the game in this respect, it's then hard to argue that they don't also have some senes of when the court is being over-policed. When the institution is choking the life out of a game that will always, in some ways, be beyond its formalized systems of control.

Mind you, I'm not in favor of non-stop kvetching, and refs probably should feel like they're in control of the environment. Nor do I think it makes much sense to get caught up in a battle over how black the NBA is or isn't. Yet a game is more than its rules; athletes who are able to see past rote execution and synthesize possibility are what make sports worth watching. This is the part of basketball that starts outside of the NBA arena and, even when placed in the middle of it, remains its own sanctum. This doesn't just belong to the players; without them, it ceases to exist. And if the Commissioner's Office isn't willing to acknowledge their stewardship, to admit that THIS IS A LEAGUE OF PLAYERS, then everyday might as well be New Ball Day.


At 12/02/2006 10:29 PM, Blogger Mr. Six said...

My perhaps overstrategerized thinking about this is that it's exactly what Stern wants. (I concede the stench of conspiracy theory.) It results in the players and their union focusing on attire, technicals, and the ball, rather than on revenue and freedom of movement. From my pro-labor perspective, that's cause for concern.

To wit, the union seems to have been on the defensive for the last couple rounds of negotiations over the CBA. The result has been a series of agreements that have allowed for an age minimum, a limit on salaries for players in their first years, and increased ability of teams to hold onto stars, even when they can't attract equal talents to build championship teams. Thus, we get the squandered careers of AI and KG.

I'd like to see the union go into the next series of negotiations making demands for things like team contraction, increased ability for statistical stars on losing teams to move on to greener pastures, and challenges to the salary cap that inhibits player movement. Instead, they'll probably be arguing about dress codes, the ball, and how many T's are too many.

And on a related note, I caught "The Run: LeBron" on NBA TV this afternoon. One thing that struck me is that one upside of the dress code is that the players have been forced to figure out how to bring a little flavor when then strap on that sport coat and tie. I appreciate it. Nevertheless, I don't think the dress code itself is anything other than a thin veiled highly racialized effort to make black kids dress to white tastes. The way in which many of them have decided to comply is a wonderful undermining of the rule, but the rule remains Old South regressive, as far as I'm concerned.

At 12/03/2006 12:47 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

six--i kind of like the dress code for the reasons you give above. that's what i was going for, somewhat sarcastically, with the kanye photo.

as long as nba players can have six year guaranteed contracts, the union will never truly be "on the defensive." plus the league is fairly fucking healthy right now, and some of the measures you're proposing could jeopardize its current position.

also, now that the nba is successful again, the race-culture stuff is even more important to the players. in the nineties, it was "will hip-hop destroy the sport?" now it's "will hip-hop be allowed to take a seat at the table of success?"

At 12/03/2006 1:36 AM, Blogger Mr. Six said...

The players are definitely getting paid, and you're right, that as long as that's true, the fundamental purpose of the union is fulfilled. But the players, I think now as much as ever, realize that it's they're league too--they're really partners with management and have a significant stake in its continued success.

I don't necessarily think that everything that I proposed would further that success or that the union shouldn't put other things on the table. Rather, I would like to see the union come up with proposals intended to further not just the financial success of the league, but the success of teams and players. Restructuring proposals would also put management somewhat on their heels, which I don't think they have been for years.

And that gets to one of the motivators for my first post: the league has been financially successful recently, and so have many teams and players. But many teams haven't been successful at the game, and a generation players who should have had more successful careers are facing ending them. Not that they all had to go the finals or win championships, but they should at least be getting to the playoffs and competing in them.

Stern et al. seem to be taking a very laissez faire approach to this problem. I think it falls to the players and their representatives, then, to start arguing that it is an actual problem, that money isn't enough, and that changes need to be made.

In fact, I think your "hip-hop at the table" point is related to mine. Take Bron as the example of the hip-hop CEO player of the future that he is setting himself up to be. Shouldn't he, as an executive, be trying to make the League make changes to make this crew (i.e. other players) successful at the game (artistically) and financially? Isn't that part of what it would mean for hip-hop to get that seat?

wv: igsbpu--igoudala's british petroleum unit

At 12/03/2006 7:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lobbying for a contraction is the equivalent of lobbying for jobs to be cut, I would be pretty surprised if the nbapa ever lobbies for that, players being easier to keep on a team promotes stability in the leasue.

The NBA players union has done a great job. They have a higher cut of league profits than ever before and all they had to give up was the dress code clause. They got a D league so that players who are drafted as "projects" get to play against burn-outs and still collect nba skrilla. Even the rule about giving players 6 yr deals instead of 7 yr deals is a small thing When you consider how many players were actually in line for those "max" contracts.

I personally hope the nbapa wins with the new ball. The Vince Carter shot this year was all the evidence i need that the new ball isn't ready.

At 12/03/2006 9:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The Vince Carter shot this year was all the evidence i need that the new ball isn't ready."

was that the one at the end of the miami game or was there another one?

At 12/03/2006 2:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


This is Exhibit A in the VC ball discussion.
The announcer on YES refers to Marv Albert as Marvin and encourages VC to talk trash because he deserves it. Meanwhile, Gilbert walks off in disgust and is confident that his comrades here at FD will be having this exact discussion.

This youtube-age is the Zapruder film for the NBAPA.

At 12/03/2006 3:37 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I will add personally, as someone who doesn't depend on the ball for one's livlihood - I totally prefer it to the leather balls.

Seriously. It plays better for weekend warriors. Easier to shoot - yeah it slicks up with moisture, but NBA teams have more towels hanging around than we do.

At 12/03/2006 8:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The ball isn't ready


At 12/04/2006 12:14 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

The new ball? Still orange. Still round.


At 12/04/2006 1:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess because shane "madd buckets" battier says it's good it must be. plus he got a co sign from a few of the generic bench players.

At 12/04/2006 12:35 PM, Blogger seezmeezy said...

"was that the one at the end of the miami game or was there another one?"

o, there was another one.

even ties several points about the lig's new rules together.

the vc shot i am referring to was against the wiz. the nets were given AT LEAST 7 SECONDS TO INBOUND THE BALL before vc made the catch and shoot that tied the game sending it to overtime.

no mention on sportscenter. no mention in write-ups. a few peeps from players that sound like whining without the proper context.
man just writing this is getting me vexed.

o, and save the "one play doesn't make the game" cliche bullshit. this was, definitively, the LAST play of the game. the nets lose as a result of this one single play if not for the ref's assistance.

so say what you want about the new ball or the dress code or the zero tolerance, everything would be much easier if the refs weren't so incompetent. as i asked in the comments of another piece: if stern wants to swing the pendulum on poor player behavior, what is he willing to do for obscenely awful officiating?

At 12/05/2006 4:17 PM, Blogger Pooh said...

Re: New ball, my regular Thursday night game uses it. I guess the positive spin is that it has encouraged me to shoot bank shots again. Definite increase in "bricks that went in" and the like.

The thing takes off like a greased pig when wet - I think it's because of the fewer - the moisture doesn't get wicked onto the seems as fast, and there are bigger areas of greasiness.

I feel like I've gotten rug burns a couple of times I've tipped passes...

(That said, I do like the general feel of the material, I just don't think it's ready at all.)


Post a Comment

<< Home