The Color of Pigeons

I've never paid much attention in therapy, so I don't know the official six stages of grief. But I suspect that I could guess them by looking at my moods since last night: maybe shock, denial, glibness, rationalization, repression, and finally today, outright misery. I know that there are problems with the Rockets, and criticisms that can be made of T-Mac without slapping on the tar and feathers. The world seems to have one colossal soft spot for the guy, so I don't anticipate him catching the kind of hell Kobe, or even Garnett, does. And I really, really think we're all underestimating the Utah Jazz, who are stuffed with talent and muted personality. There are many ways to dampen the tragedy of T-Mac, but none of them can wish it away. After all is said and done, and no matter what people make of it, he still tried, tried, and has nothing to show for it.

We generally value athletes for what they symbolize. Sports aren't important, they remind us of things that are. Allen Iverson is the indomitable human spirit, Kobe Bryant the Faustian pursuit of perfection, Tim Duncan modesty in brilliance. It's our everyday experience with these themes that make these players so evocative. They stylize, or streamline, these ideals like art or fiction. In the end, though, they are only as meaningful as we need them to be. Marveling at moves and basketball IQ, or rooting for your team, only explains half of why these figures loom so large in public consciousness.

Here's why McGrady is different: at this point, his story is just plain sad. The injuries, the numerous lost loved ones, the depression, and the playoff woes—all of it together will get you down even if you're not looking for it. While Iverson or Garnett certainly take losing seriously, to some degree they leave that angst on the court. With McGrady, though, there's no separation between what we know of his personal life and the miserable cliche his career has become. In fact, his "can't get out the first round" tag is so heavy, so stark, that it alone would probably tug at the non-sports heartstrings.

I've been mildly obsessed with the Warriors' accessibility. They play basketball that can be understood by anyone, and as individuals sparkle with comforting imperfection. THE WARRIORS ARE ORNETTE COLEMAN, but they've actually managed to transcend basketball (Coleman couldn't do the same with jazz). McGrady is the dismal mirror image of this: the emptiness and pain of his career are much bigger than quibbles over his game or teammates. If there's no reassurance to be found, it's because the ballad of Tracy McGrady is immune to sports. See him on the streets, and you'd probably try to hug him. And on some level, I'm sure he'd appreciate it.

Yes, I wrote this during the first half of Suns/Spurs. I know that goes against everything FreeDarko believes about watching basketball, but these are dire circumstances.


At 5/06/2007 5:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

KG for Dirk.
McGrady for Joe Johnson and J-Smoov.
Rashard (my friends and I call him the Bartender) playing for the Magic?!

I hope there is a lot of movement and over-reaching by GMs this summer.

At 5/06/2007 5:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Part of T-Mac looking the way he does is the fact that he is kinda depressing even when he's rolling. For the most part I think you need a more even personality to win a championship and that's what T-Mac is and probably will always be missing.
Love his game but I think this is it for him as a premier player in the nba.

At 5/06/2007 6:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's "The Bartender"?

At 5/06/2007 6:24 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

you've got to be impressed with a team that wins on a fluke pool of blood, a flop, and mark jackson telling us 1,000000 times that the spurs play the right way.

At 5/06/2007 6:33 PM, Blogger salt_bagel said...

You beat me to it.

Jackson: "That was not a foul.... Tony Parker flopped."

They must have applied the additional electroshock immediately after that.

At 5/06/2007 6:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

nothing like Mark Jackson's glib analysis and abuse of cliches to suck the life out of watching a game.

At 5/06/2007 7:10 PM, Anonymous Ben said...

I mean, if you want to boil the entire game down to that one call, be my guest, but there were a lot of clearly questionable calls both ways and the Spurs WERE ahead - it's not like that call with Parker gave them the game.

That being said, the whole Nash thing was too bad - we were robbed of witnessing potential greatness, because there's little doubt in my mind he would have nailed a big shot.

At 5/06/2007 7:18 PM, Blogger salt_bagel said...

I don't think anybody was really boiling it down to the one call, as you say. Nash missing several possessions was bigger. Without him, it was just Barbosa putting up tough shots.

That being said, small things can swing close games.

They should've just sutured him.

At 5/06/2007 7:19 PM, Blogger Niamh said...

TWO flops. that was a crime when duncan took down amare, and amare got called for the foul.

At 5/06/2007 8:21 PM, Anonymous Sean said...

Someone needs to take down the Spurs. If only we had a time machine, so we could bring the Showtime Lakers to the present and let them run all over these efficient, heartless bastards.

At 5/06/2007 8:58 PM, Anonymous padraig said...

I'd just like to note that Charley Rosen, of all people, wrote an article declaring Jazz/Warriors to be a battle for the future of basketball. Not that it hadn't already been proclaimed far and wide, but doesn't that seem especially crazy given that for the last 3 yrs and up until a couple of weeks ago the combatants in that fight were Spurs/Suns? Have the Suns really been that thorougly assimilated?

I know that BS touched on this in the series preview but it seems like the Suns have become, I don't know, tame and almost formulaic. Maybe I'm just reaching for straws. Also while I understand why many hate the Spurs style I think viewing them solely as mechanically precise, heartless robots is a little bit excessive. Personally I've never been as bored to tears by Duncan, who at least manages to be kind of ruefully graceful, as I was by Shaq's lazy dominance through sheer power. The Spurs aren't the Bad Boys or Riley's Knicks. They don't mug people to bring the game to a crawl, they just play efficiently.

At 5/06/2007 9:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shoals, your T-Mac analysis is dead-on. His post-game interview was really depressing.

Not as depressing, however, as a Jazz-Spurs conference finals. If that happens, I'll poke my eyes out.

At 5/06/2007 9:41 PM, Anonymous Sean said...

I don't know if I necessarily find the Spurs "boring" . . . it's just that they're a little too methodical for me. I like a little life to my basketball teams, if that makes any sense.

At 5/06/2007 11:28 PM, Blogger spanish bombs said...

I kind of like the Spurs. My only real complaint is all the flopping, which is pretty major, and the fact that they are too good to even bother hoping for entertaining games in the reg season, but they are fun in the playoffs, a good villain.

I am shocked that the Spurs managed to let themselves be caught in a position where Jacque Vaughn plays minutes.

At 5/06/2007 11:43 PM, Blogger spanish bombs said...

I kind of like the Spurs. My only real complaint is all the flopping, which is pretty major, and the fact that they are too good to even bother hoping for entertaining games in the reg season, but they are fun in the playoffs, a good villain.

I am shocked that the Spurs managed to let themselves be caught in a position where Jacque Vaughn plays minutes.

Oh yeah, also, T-Mac leaving in the press conference could possibly have been in response to the question about whether the team needs another real player (really, they only have three). Especially because this happened so soon after Kobe rightfully trashed his own team, it is definitely feasible that T-Mac is just too much of a nice guy and refused to acknowledge the question.

At 5/07/2007 12:21 AM, Anonymous grover's dad said...

the nash gash.
the wiz swag.
these are the days of our lives,
And I'm sorry to the fans
but the crackers weren't playing fair jive.

At 5/07/2007 2:04 AM, Anonymous Torgo said...

My issue with the Spurs is their economy. Duncan's numbers this season are down, almost 2 points, a board and a half. No one's saying he's lost a step, it's that Pop keeps him on the bench a full three minutes more than last year. The team plays well together, and they never sweat more than they have to. That's why I can't stand them. Look at Duncan's numbers, 33, 16, and 3 blocks. He's capable of that pretty much every night, as is Parker (going for 32 and 8, with an Udrihnian 6 turnovers), but in the regular season, we almost never see it. I don't watch the game for efficiency (although, yes, I'm both a Bulls fan and a Pistons fan), I want to be wowed by a dominant performance. They can beat the other teams, and handily, but Pop will pull back on the reins before any real beatdowns occur. It's like Einstein getting an A in Elementary Algebra instead of going after Relativity.
It's like Indiana shooting the guy with sword, only there's no surprise, no humor. Just choosing the pistol because it would be too flashy to beat the man down using the whip. Minus, of course, the dysentery.

WV: newopfzr After the operation, Marcus Fizer will be unstoppable.

At 5/07/2007 2:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think what makes Warriors more significant than the Suns is not that they're a better team but the fact that there isnt going to be another steve nash for a while. If teams can just assemble a bunch of d lig players and solid vets and do what golden state is doing then the thinking is going to be that it can be duplicated.

At 5/07/2007 4:06 AM, Anonymous Petey said...

"you've got to be impressed with a team that wins on a fluke pool of blood"

Was that fucking surreal, or what?

I mean, seriously. It was half an hour of perfectly brilliant theater.


I think the Suns are the better team, and I think the Spurs will ride that bloody nose to a series win.

That's what impresses me.

At 5/07/2007 10:35 AM, Blogger Joey said...

On the flip side, can't you argue that Nash or no Nash, the Spurs should have just hit some free throws and removed whatever remaining doubt there was?

Lots of people seem to have concluded that the Suns are the better team, despite the loss, but you wonder, given how resilient the Spurs are and how they always just do what it takes, whether they can play better if the Suns do so, as well.

Great writing, Shoals. You really have a strong command of the McGrady-as-tragedy essence. I find it thoroughly disspiriting; TMac is probably my second most favorite player ever, behind only Scottie.

At 5/07/2007 11:05 AM, Blogger Black Crow Screaming said...

Anonyomous wrote:
KG for Dirk."

One wonders if Avery and KG's combined intensity would assure their mutual destruction... or if they would ascend to a higher plane.

Perhaps both.

At 5/07/2007 11:09 AM, Blogger Black Crow Screaming said...

Usually I find myself in agreement with Shoals.

In this case, however, I am not sure I am on board with his chosen symbols for Kobe, AI, and Duncan.

Of course, that just might be part of the subjectivity of sports symbolism that I do not yet understand.

At 5/07/2007 12:53 PM, Anonymous Brickowski said...

FACT: The Spurs have now won 22 of their last 26 games against the Suns.

But of course the Suns are still the better team and any Spurs win is mere fluke.

The pre-inbounds call was questionable, but the Spurs were already ahead at the time, and it just made up for the offensive foul called on Parker with 51 seconds when Bell's feet were inside the circle.

At 5/07/2007 12:57 PM, Blogger Mr. Six said...

Random thoughts in the lull before hyphy-jazz fusion hits the SLC:

Yesterday I saw something that has left me in a fugue. Bron played 20 seconds of amazing defense that likely won the game. Should I consider this evidence of progress on his path to self-overcoming? Or is this another hint that Mike Brown is slowly destroying his soul? I could live with Mike Brown as an assistant working with LBJ to turn him into a Master of Everything. But as a stifling and unimaginative head coach who inflicts a singular talent with a singularly improper pace, he makes me glad that Bron signed such a short extension.

DLIC on Deadspin: "The mystic predicts that LeBron James will advance to the conference finals, pitting the individual vs. the collective in a way that your bullshit Western Philosophy 101 Hobbes-vs.-Rousseau curriculum could only dream of. If the Bulls advance, they must face he that is greatness personified, which in essence constitutes every player facing the innermost potential in themselves." That is a first-class piece of insight. Tip of the hat, sir.

More on FD at Deadspin: Pants Off Dance Off allusions? You guys cover a lot of ground.

At 5/07/2007 2:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Spurs fan here. This was a great game. I would have liked to have seen Nash in there for the final 51 seconds, but the Suns got pretty good looks as it was - Barbosa missed an open 3, and Amare missed a 7 footer, a 9 footer and two tip-ins. I remember TSG's article from 2 years ago, about how whether you'd want Amare for the next 10 years, or Timmy for the next 5. These games almost always come down to execution down the stretch, and that's where Timmy is invaluable. On the other hand, if my boys were really *that* efficient, then they would have done better than 5 of 9 from the line in the last 32 seconds of the game. It's always an adventure.

As for foul calls, the Suns had 27 ft attempts to the Spurs' 26 until the intentional fouls started. That's more even than I'm used to seeing in an away game, and way more even than anytime we played the Lakers (still involuntarily grit my teeth and swear during any Kobe drive in the 4th quarter, regardless of who he's playing). It'll probably be more weighted towards the Suns for Game 2, and I don't know if my boys can hit as many mid-range jumpers as they did yesterday. Can't wait to find out!

At 5/07/2007 3:33 PM, Anonymous MaxwellDemon said...

I think T-Mac as tragic figure is premature. If he retired today, maybe; otherwise, we may look back on this view like the "will he ever win the big one?" speculation about pre-'07 Peyton Manning or pre-'91 Jordan. He's a lot closer to the promised land than KG, anyway. Also, he should ask Karl Malone about the joy of getting past round 1.

Looking forward to GSW-UJ inspiring more National Basketball Free Association. E.G.--Nelson is a Mac, Sloan is a PC.

At 5/07/2007 3:53 PM, Anonymous randyduck said...

"Allen Iverson is the indomitable human spirit, Kobe Bryant the Faustian pursuit of perfection, Tim Duncan modesty in brilliance."

That shit is genius, but it doesn't go far enough. You need an FD all-icon team, so we can use the NBA for "which Beatle are you?" conversations.

And relax, W's fans, and remember TMC vs. Utah in the first round. Nellie owns Jerry Sloan's ass; Larry Miller has sent him a rent check every month since 88 or whenever.

At 5/07/2007 4:01 PM, Anonymous Sean said...

Mr. Six: If 2005-2006 was LeBron's "Blood on the Tracks", 2006-2007 is his "Desire".

At 5/09/2007 10:21 PM, Blogger Hippie Jesus said...

I think the best part to this post, which Bethlehem only touches on is the following:

"Sports aren't important, they remind us of things that are. Allen Iverson is the indomitable human spirit, Kobe Bryant the Faustian pursuit of perfection, Tim Duncan modesty in brilliance. It's our everyday experience with these themes that make these players so evocative. They stylize, or streamline, these ideals like art or fiction."

It's not possible state more clearly what is great about sports. Well done.

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