FreeDarko V-Day Spectacular

About a month ago, I posed the following question to a handful of media notables: how do your relationship and your sports coexist? Somewhere along the line and several inspired entries later, the theme had become a more abstract "love and basketball." And the rest, as they say, is the FreeDarko Emporium of Sluiced Feelings. Presented in no particular order.


Sam Rubenstein, SLAM: Damn, that truly might be the defining question in the never-ending battle of the sexes. This is the perfect year fpr you to ask such a question, because many of us will be heading out to Sin City and who knows what kind of criminal debauchery we could fall victim to. This Valentine's Day is kind of like a warrior's last feast before going off on a deadly quest.

With regards to obsessive viewing, in my experience, it's one of those times where you have to lie so as not to hurt your significant other. In the past I have tried honesty, and that simply does not cut it, at least in the regular season or the early rounds of the playoffs. If I absolutely have to watch a game, I can not even use the "it's for my job" excuse, cause that is still perceived as an insult.

At this time I would like to note that my girlfriend just moved in with me a week ago, so I'm now in uncharted territory and I have no idea how this is going to play out. I took her to a Nets game once, and as a player was readying to inbound the ball and the players on the court set screens and tried to get open, she noted "They're moving around like sperm." Needless to say, she is rarely allowed to watch games with me. So, the future is a wide open mystery, and I look forward to seeing what everyone else wrote, because I need guidance.


Henry Abbott, True Hoop: Anyone who saw me, as a sweaty 12-year-old, with homework waiting inside, doing the reverse-Mikan drill in the driveway, alone, in the dark, for untold hours, would know that I really love basketball. And in so many ways the two of us have a great relationship. But I can't shake the feeling that if basketball really loved me, if basketball loved me the way I love it, my arms would be four inches longer and my fingers would be yard-long skewers.

Will Leitch, Deadspin: I've had a difficult romantic life in recent months, which is to say, everything keeps screwing up, most of which is my fault. I suspect this is not unusual; I am 31 years old, single and have left a trail of failed relationships in my wake. Lots of carnage there. I haven't gotten much better at this. The problem is typically that I try too hard; I have difficulty being alone, and it tends to suffocate people, including myself.

I play basketball once a week for a rec league team here in New York City. I am not skilled at basketball, but I'm not out of shape and at least adequately athletic. Because I cannot shoot or dribble, my job is mostly to hustle for rebounds, stick on defense and pick up fouls. I do all three of these things well. But that's not the whole game, and, inevitably, there's a fast break and I'm the only one open. When I have the ball in the open court, I panic, and inevitably my hands turn to stone and I fumble the ball out of bounds or blow the layup. All the good my hustling and defense does is offset by my panic when I'm wide open. I hear footsteps that aren't even there.

There's a poetry to basketball, and romance, and the beauty of each is that they flow naturally, without work or strenuous effort. When both are working seamlessly, you don't even notice that they're happening; everything just does. My failure in both comes from grabbing too tightly at exactly the point that a light touch is required. Sometimes, you really can be too wide open.


Marcel Mutoni, SLAM: It's weird, now that I've started writing about basketball in less obscure milieus, I find that my sports viewing experience has changed dramatically. Whereas before I would watch the game just for the sake of watching (or because a team/player I like was involved), I now watch it with a much more critical eye. Always looking for a story. This allows me to tell wifey that I'm "working" when watching sports.

The minute she comes with the, "You're always watching the game, and hardly have any time for me", I hit her with the, "You want me to starve, woman?!" Win-Win!

Happy Valentine's Day, y'all!

"He's Just Not That Into U-donis"
Filed by Dan Shanoff

I'm not quite sure I can pinpoint exactly when I knew I WOULD marry my wife, but I'm quite sure I can pinpoint exactly when I knew I COULD:

The year: 2001
The setting: Our first date.
The place: West Village Italian restaurant
The context: 1.2 bottles of wine into dinner.
The topic on the table: The preeminent value of offensive rebounds in relation to (1) a basketball team's chances of success and (2) a basketball forward's worth as a player.

Let me clarify: My wife (then, the random woman I was on a first date with) was making that argument. I was pretending to engage in the discussion. I was nodding. I may have even been responding.

All I know is that her voice was drowned out by the one in the back of my head:

Li'l Danny: "Are you listening to this? Are you listening?!"

Me: "Pipe down. She's trying to make a point about the pro potential of Udonis Haslem."

Li'l Danny: "The fat Florida center? He'll never make it!"

Me: "Shh!"

Li'l Danny: "But here is a woman who not only loves basketball, but appreciates it for its subtle pleasures!"

Me: "Which *I'm* trying to appreciate, save for your yammering!"

Li'l Danny: "I think I'm in love. Go on: Say something smart that will make her respect you for your basketball knowledge!"

Me: "OK...wait: I'm blanking! I'm blanking!! It's all too much pressure! I'm smitten!"

Li'l Danny: "Plus-minus! Plus-minus!"

Me: "What the hell is 'plus-minus?'" (Remember: It was 2001.)

Li'l Danny: "Nooooo! Damn your ignorance! You better switch topics to something more your speed... like pop culture."

Me: "So, uh, how about those...um...'Sex and the City' women?" (D'oh!)

Fast-forward nearly six years, one marriage and one kid later: Her enthusiastic argument on behalf of offensive rebounds remains THE most -- if not only -- vivid detail of our entire first date.

And as we sit in our NYC apartment today watching her favorite NBA player -- David Lee (yeah, she's a Gators fan) -- she's still talking about offensive rebounds. And knowing Lee's NBA-best offensive-rebounding numbers, I couldn't love her more for it.



Joey, Straight Bangin': Balancing a love of basketball and a healthy relationship is a tough task, one made all the more difficult by the paucity of women who seem to appreciate the unique brand of obsession that we basketball heads proudly pursue. Here's one cautionary tale:

In college, I dated a girl who fell into the basketball-watching category of "doesn't do it and doesn't like that I do." She was from Minnesota and wasn't sure if Kevin Garnett played for the Timberwolves or the Twins. In patronizing fashion, she thought it was "cute" that on any given day, there were a number of games I wanted to watch, and she would quickly retreat to her computer--pissed off that something else was commanding my attention--to look at pictures of tigers (don't ask) when I'd let the TV settle on TNT. I tried hard with her, even taking her to Crisler Arena to watch Jamal Crawford drop a 30 on Duke before his Michigan tenure was cut short, but she seemed most taken with just how ugly those third-color black-and-blue Duke uniforms were. That relationship was not long for this world, not least of all because her refusal to even try basketball necessarily forced me to act like someone who I wasn't. Compromise is one thing, but inauthentic overhaul is another, and the latter, as I've painfully learned, is not for me.

Dan Steinberg, DC Sports Bog: Well, I suppose there's a difference between love and fatherhood, but I'd argue they're related concepts. In the last nine days I skipped Gilbert Arenas vs. Kobe (for childbirth class and for driving to the suburbs to pick up a used stroller), and Gilbert Arenas vs. the Blazers (for a baby shower). I also canceled my trip to Las Vegas for the NBA All-Star game, because this pregnancy is progressing more quickly than expected.

Oh, and our first child is due on March 7. That's four days before Selection Sunday. If she happens to be four days late, there's a pretty good chance her middle name will be Pod. But either way I'll love her.


Matt Ufford, With Leather: In the dark of winter, after the NFL shutters its windows, I don’t have a dedicated love. I follow the NBA, but my fandom is a Shoalsian allegiance to style, not geography. It’s a season-to-season affair where my adoration shifts to whichever player or team lights a fire in my heart (last year Dwyane Wade and LeBron caught my attention; this year I’m smitten with the Suns and – inexplicably – the Bobcats).

My relationships – the non-sports ones – are doomed not because my heart belongs to an NBA team, but because my heart belongs to writing. One of the few rules I had when I started With Leather is that love interests would get no mention and no favor. The voice of With Leather – not the real Matt Ufford, I’m both sorry and relieved to say – is unhinged, horny, drunk, and depraved. And that’s who I am for 10-14 hours a day (hours which, ironically, I’m not actually drunk): “Sorry, honey. Not now. I need to try to win a date to the Super Bowl/dedicate my everlasting love to Scarlett Johansson/figure out which unrelated pictue of Marisa Miller best fits for this post slamming a Sports Illustrated columnist.” For the voice that rules With Leather and contributes to Kissing Suzy Kolber, there’s no room for a flesh-and-blood muse, only fantasies. There’s no room for compassion or humbleness or forgiveness or anything that might indicate this heart is capable of love.

And I don’t know. Maybe that’s who I really am. Even when I do find myself in the fortunate situation to have a woman who tolerates the incessant email addiction, the non-stop score checking, the ever-present laptop in bed—even then Valentine’s Day is a charmless void, an appropriately-timed metaphor for the sports nadir that gapes open and black between the Super Bowl and the NBA All-Star Game.

So what’s the answer? Where do love and basketball find a happy medium? I guess there’s some typical bullshit about finding a balance between love and sports, between work and play, blah blah blah. And that’s exactly what it is: bullshit.

The real answer is this: whether you love a woman or the Toronto Raptors or chocolate-glazed donuts – or all of these things and more – there’s only one way to love, and that’s with every organ and cell and nerve in your body, with the marrow in your bones, with every synapse that fires in your tired head from the instant you wake every morning. You love like that, and there’s no balance necessary. Love like that, and there’s enough to go around.


Miss Gossip, Suns Gossip: He emails me sweet love notes and I respond with romantic messages like "Lakers-Cavs fourth quarter." In the last few days he's asked me several serious questions to which I've replied, "Take it to that hole, Jellybean!" Tonight he loves me from 3,000 miles away, while I celebrate Valentine's Day at the Warriors/Knicks singles-night game. I don't know how he puts up with me. I guess he must know that I love this game ... but I love him so much more. Happy All-Star Weekend, Quint!


Peter Schrager, FOXSports.com: My girlfriend and I broke up last year because of the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.

It’s true.

We’d been dating for three years on and off, and though the last six months of it, we’d both kinda checked out already—it all ended because of a meaningless LSU-Miami game.

It was a Friday night, and New York City was alive. Tourists from across the globe had descended upon the Big Apple to stand in line and watch a ball drop, see a Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, and ride on those creepy red double decker buses.

She had a grand vision for our night. We’d get dressed up, go to a fancy restaurant, end up at a club (that her girlfriend’s friend’s brother’s girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend’s deuschebag friend was “promoting”), drink expensive drinks, and dance to whatever Gwen Stefani/Nelly Furtado/Jessica Simpson/Britney Spears/Christina Aguilera/Beyonce/Styx/Reo Speedwagon/Mr. Mister/Journey song the kids were doing drugs and dancing to at the time.

I wanted to watch LSU play Miami. On my couch. In my boxers. With my hand in said boxers. And when the game was over, I was going to go to sleep. There'd be no dancing.

So we fought. And it wasn’t a cute “According to Jim”—“guy wants to drink beer and watch football/girl wants to dance to Destiny’s Child” ABC sitcom fight. No, it wasn’t “cute” at all. It actually got pretty heated. Insults were thrown from both sides. Dark secrets were revealed. All the shit that had been building up between us came spilling out in waves.

Three hours later, we were broken up.

I wasn’t upset. In fact, I was kinda relieved. It was long overdue.

But I was mad.

Because of our fight, I missed the Chik-fil-A-Peach Bowl.

I caught the highlights, though. On my couch. In my boxers. With my hand in said boxers.

Brown Recluse, Esquire, FreeDarko: At the risk of sounding incredibly boring and bourgeois, I'll say to the whole world that one of life's singular pleasures is lying on the couch watching television with the woman you love. Yet, determining that which is being televised is one of the ongoing struggles of living with a woman.

Someone new to this conundrum may subscribe to the faulty notion that a live sporting event is by its very live-ness inherently more important than a program or movie which could be watched at any time. However, when one considers there are games almost every night, the live quality turns out to be quite commonplace. Therefore, values must be applied to games. It is necessary to explain why certain games are more important than others: the nuances of rivalry games, Game 7 versus Game 3 in a playoff series, or the sheer exhilaration of seeing the Suns square off against the Wizards. Likewise, you must attempt to understand the importance of seeing that particular episode of Grey's Anatomy or Masterpiece Theater when it first airs. As with many other things in a relationship, it's about compromise.

To some, this may make me sound whipped, but I prefer to think of myself as Jordan once he learned to trust his teammates. Sure, his scoring average dropped, but that's when he started winning championships.


Bethlehem Shoals, FreeDarko: As you might have guessed, I had my reasons for organizing this plush fiasco. I'm currently embroiled in my longest, most serious relationship to date. At the same time, my "professional" responsibilities and declining social aptitude have me umbilically connected to sports like never before. I reached out to all the names you see above with a single split-tongued purpose: I wanted to find out either that they were all liars or they they held 'neath their eyelids the secret to free time management. I have no idea how to watch one NBA game per night, get in the writing I need to do, and make my significant other believe I still give a damn about her. Here, I'd hoped to find an easy answer to my logjam.

Judging from the range of answers—even the range of ways my first email got interpreted—I now understand that the question of love and sports is as individual a matter as love itself. While the "leave me alone, it's Sunday" model is accepted in many American households, it also smacks of the unexceptional. I like to think that both my relationship and fandom demand more subtle, and sensitive, solutions. It would be no less boorish for me to place love over sports, since a human being without distractions exerts no pull in a couple. Without this tension, two become one, algae grows on the pool's surface, and your life is subsumed by nothingness.

Love gets hard when you can't follow formulas, but that's also the exact point at which it becomes your own. When it steps out of the channels of ritual and forebearance, that's when you really have to start paying attention. In a way, I'd say that this is what FreeDarko's always tried to do with basketball. I guess I need to start applying these same principles to that other major thing in my life.


At 2/14/2007 12:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a great and entertaining post, especially the internal dialogue from Dan Shanoff. Love the puppies!

At 2/14/2007 2:19 AM, Blogger Captain Caveman said...

Bravo, everyone.

(Shoals, you didn't disappoint, btw.)

At 2/14/2007 2:29 AM, Blogger Joey said...

It's an honor to have been considered among such an otherwise august group. And these were all great reads. Nice idea, Shoals, and thanks to all the contributors. If there were ever an affirmation of the human capacity for greatness, the internets are it. So many talented, engaging writers.

At 2/14/2007 2:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ditto to everything Joey said. That was mad deep. I'm in awe. Thank you for putting this together.

At 2/14/2007 4:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, that was an excellent read. Matt's words made me wonder if the addiction to email and the siren song of writing that we've all succumbed to is more of a driving force than the sports themselves.

If we were all born 100 years ago would we exchanging letters with like-minded strangers and driving any significant other mad with our devotion to wordplay?

wv: erburit - Nelly leads the group hug

At 2/14/2007 4:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Leitch's entry made me grab for the box of tissues. This is the last time I come to FD without my emotional guard firmly in place.

At 2/14/2007 5:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

BS, the FD move to consider aspects such as "style", traditionally feminized and excluded from the white lexicon of sports, indicates the desire of FD writers to open their imaginations to the other, including their respective or potential partners? In other words, at some level, FD is dead sexy.

At 2/14/2007 8:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

that's probably the best thing I've ever read from Shanoff.

I can sympathize with Joey, but those Dook unis ARE ugly.

as for me, I live with a girl who often says "is there any basketball on tonight?" and who takes great pride in her ability to name 4 of the 5 starting Suns (her favorite team). suffice to say, I'm marrying her.

At 2/14/2007 8:28 AM, Blogger Rob I said...

The relationship thoughts make me wistful but the puppies make me nauseous. And of course, Ufford has to out-write everyone.

At 2/14/2007 9:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i need a beb
i need my beb

At 2/14/2007 10:21 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

A traffic jam when you're already late
A no-smoking sign on your cigarette break
It's like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife
It's like telling Shoals I’ll write my love and ball piece
And then not to spend time with my wife . . .

. . . er, girlfriend

Um, is any of that ironic? I have no idea.

Great read, guys.

At 2/14/2007 10:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was really excellent.

At 2/14/2007 11:04 AM, Blogger Jordi said...

Awesome post. Great idea. It sure does beat the monster truck-date idea article I wrote for my college newspaper years ago.
BTW, thanks to Will Leitch I now know I am doomed. I am near 30, single, and the best player on my rec league team told me he wants me to be like Jerome Williams and be a defensive 6th man off the bench. Great. There goes my love life.

At 2/14/2007 11:23 AM, Blogger Adam said...

I thought Will was enganged...did I miss something?

At 2/14/2007 11:24 AM, Blogger Adam said...


At 2/14/2007 11:49 AM, Blogger R.G. said...

Good stuff. It's appropriate that on Valentine's Day I will doing what I love the most, cooking a frozen pizza, watching the Wiz light up the Sixers and to quote Schrager, have my hands down said boxers.

At 2/14/2007 11:51 AM, Blogger TheHype said...

Only FD can bring out the A-game in V-Day that many sports fans dismiss.

Hey, Schrager's was added on later no? Or am I having peyote visions.. well just wanted to add a 'head nod' to your story

But seriously, this whole gathering was a great read and cool experiment!

At 2/14/2007 11:57 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

yeah, peter's was a late addition. i meant to leave this comment much earlier; sorry for any cognitive disruption the change might have cost you.

At 2/14/2007 12:10 PM, Blogger MDG said...

You mean Ufford is not like that all the time???

Color me shocked!

At 2/14/2007 1:31 PM, Blogger american glasser said...

Sadly, reading this post has already made today my best Valentine's Day ever. Leitch's and Shanoff's entries were particularly fantastic.

At 2/14/2007 1:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let me lay some wisdom on my poor, soul-sick brothers in arms.

the solution is one of perfect symmetry: two tvs.

seriously, you know where that tv sits, right in front of your couch? put another tv right next to it. with this addition and a deft hand on the closed-captioning button, all your amorous anxiety will be a thing of the past.

once you go to two tvs, you will never go back. and dealing with the fairer sex is only the beginning-how often are there two things you kind of want to watch, or do you struggle to decide between madden vs. the real nfl? i think at this point i have developed a mutation in my corpus callosum that allows me to, cock-eyed like a gecko, effortlessly seperate the competing audio and visual signals

At 2/14/2007 1:54 PM, Blogger Signal to Noise said...

Two TVs are nice, but being able to share the viewing of Agent Zero or Steve Nash with the one you love is better.

Damn, great entry, everyone.

At 2/14/2007 2:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, Leitch's entry was superb.

This line from Brown Recluse, however ... Someone new to this conundrum may subscribe to the faulty notion that a live sporting event is by its very live-ness inherently more important than a program or movie which could be watched at any time. ... I would say, less is more.

At 2/14/2007 2:36 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

sorry nobody, english isn't my first language.

At 2/14/2007 2:47 PM, Blogger stantonandorchard said...

he's just not that into U-donis

now that's funny. amazing post everyone, thank you for a great read

At 2/14/2007 2:58 PM, Blogger Seth said...

Fantastic post all around. Although, as someone younger than you guys, some of it scares the shit outta me.

At 2/14/2007 3:56 PM, Blogger Jock Jarrelson said...

That was some beautiful, moving writing...by everyone.

Growing up in Indiana I developed quite a love affair for basketball and my beloved Indiana Hoosiers. Nothing like shoveling snow for two hours in freezing weather just so you can pretend to play Indiana-Purdue in your driveway with then-Purdue assistant coach Bruce Weber looking on. It's hard to shoot with gloves and a winter coat on, but you find a way to Purdue, no matter what.

Too bad Weber wasn't coaching for Illinois then. He could have walked outside in his flourescent orange blazer and melted the snow for me.

At 2/14/2007 4:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fantastic stuff, everyone. Waaaaay better than Caple's ode to baseball on Page2 today.

Will, I especially feel you on the court and in life.

And now: the heavy drinking!

At 2/14/2007 9:20 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

in case anyone was wondering, my first language is KICKING ASS.

At 2/14/2007 9:20 PM, Blogger SportsBog said...

Dang, no one told me we were supposed to be all literary and [edited]. Plus I thought we had strict word counts.

Anyhow, hopefully I redeemed myself by coming to Philly on VDay night to interview some fat guys called the Broad Street Beefcakes who were wearing shirts that said Stupid Cupids while passing out candy.

At 2/15/2007 7:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

B.R., Esq., I assume your second language is used solely in the interest of name-taking, then.

At 2/16/2007 6:00 PM, Blogger C-los said...

NBA league pass ruined my relationship...went from watching movies spending quality time with my girl to spending quality time with Ray Allens jumpshot

At 1/31/2018 11:21 PM, Blogger Damoms said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

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