And the Sky Shall Rustle Its Own

The Suns were a movement, one that threatened to alter the face of the league. The Warriors of their moment, god bless their soul, got that one perfect chance to prove their credo sound. Theirs was a principle, a perspective, even an outlook, that stayed marginal but boogied its way into rational discourse. If only as a cautionary footnote.

Even J.R. Smith "going shot-for-shot with Kobe," which I fully believe and more or less predicted last week (why J.R. can talk shit to Bryant), is potential coming home to roost. Anyone who pays attention to the league knows that Smith can score at will, and could, given the right amount of guidance and freedom, lead the league in scoring. There is a certain amount of scientific rigor in my thinking on the J.R. question—talented, but troubled, player who will one day find his way into the light. Even if no one else knew it yet.

And then there's these Hawks wins, in which the known universe did an end-around on my wildest hopes and dreams. There's really no way to explain this expect by resorting to signs, miracles, and photos of the Six-Day War. Eff a Billups punchline post; I've spent the last several seasons watching this Atlanta team, often to the detriment of my well-being, waiting for something like this to unfold. For their long, up-tempo versatility to coalesce into a five-man front. For it to make sense when everyone jumped straight up on every single opponents' shot attempt. And, maybe even more unrealistically, for Joe Johnson or Josh Smith to just run shit in the half-court, step up in an orderly fashion that would cement their status as rising stars. Plus enjoy it a little.

It never, ever happened, until these last two games. Against a team that Shoefly described, with grudging reverence, as "the hammer." I really have no socio-political point of reference for this—it's not the American Revoluution, or even an untidy explosion of Black radicalism. These would've been Phoenix and Golden State. This is so unexpected, even to followers like myself, that it's like a leap of faith that even I was unwilling to make. I wanted Josh Smith to block KG once, or Joe Johnson to have one nationally-televised game that validated his All-Star status. Even that was hard to commit to—taking the Hawks that seriously risked tarnishing the realm of fantasy they've always inhabited.

But here we stand, with this team all grown-up in a span of days, and the strengths and weaknesses I've come to know so well suddenly figuring prominently in THE storyline of the post-season. I feel like a failure, for having so much trouble making this switch. For not having said all along that, "yes, the Hawks can." And, perhaps, for not having entertained the possibility that Atlanta could make an impact simply because I want them to. My basketball idealism is already so warped; why the trouble getting this utmost fringe to fit into a remotely responsible worldview?

And that's the problem. The Hawks transcend principle or philosophical systems. They are without precedent and supernatural in their arrival. To try and make sense of them, or to have viewed them as grist for match-up columns, would be to miss the point of this otherworldly occurrence. They have flourished not because basketball needed a savior, or because they were tailor-made for the job, but because sport is not politics, economics, or the academy. Nor should the NBA be a haven for college-style chisel jobs (sorry, Thaddeus). Even I can't convince myself I've known all along, or that this stands for anything other than itself.

For Smith blocking Garnett. Pachulia, so kind, getting up in KG's grill. Johnson's slow-mo isolations that hovered somewhere between smooth and drunken. The Hawks' negative ball movement in the fourth. Boston's seeming shock in the face of a team that had suddenly unlocked its infinite potential, and might never do so again. Anyone who believes past this week just doesn't know a whole lot about Atlanta Hawks basketball—which, of course, only makes the whole thing more overwhelming, and causes a crisis of faith in long-time fans. Like, have I been remiss in my goofy passions?

It's also damn hard for me to write about this objectively. The Hawks have been a weird fetish of mine for some time, an inside joke that suddenly shocked the world with the idealized version of them I'd always waited on. Hell, it would be a lot like if some mangy, turgid NBA blog with left-leaning politics and purple prose got a book deal.

So there you have it. The Hawks are FreeDarko. There's your State of the Union address, and why this series fills me with both ecstasy and dread.

UPDATE: Sporting News column on the surreal East, and yes, more Hawks. Also, please be reading my playoffs recaps at TSB.

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At 4/29/2008 12:10 PM, Blogger Joey said...

I love this website, its authors, its readers. But the mythology around J.R. Smith eludes me and always will, I think. Fuck a Denver Nuggets.

wv: bymmx--the ticker symbol for a Mexican teleco.

At 4/29/2008 12:18 PM, Blogger Tim Grimes said...

As a Boston fan it is very hard to rationalize last night - but you just made me feel better, by elucidating the vigorous potential ATL has momentarily actualized.

At 4/29/2008 1:26 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I really have no socio-political point of reference for this—it's not the American Revoluution, or even an untidy explosion of Black radicalism. These would've been Phoenix and Golden State. This is so unexpected, even to followers like myself, that it's like a leap of faith that even I was unwilling to make.

The Rodney King riots?

And I second Joey above - Eff a Denver Nugget.

As for the Hawks - yep, very few, but a few of us, could see the natural conflict that the Hawks' chaotic styling inflicts on the Celtic's rigid discipline. It's the perfect matchup for the sloppy, always-just-averting-disaster (except, of course, when they don't, and disaster occurs) Atlanta Hawks.

And so I take some pride in seeing this series materialize as I thought it would - with the Hawks giving the Celtics an unexpected run for their money, and in the process making them loss their cool. If they can keep messing with the Celt's cool, they have a chance. If the Hawks lose their attacking edge (particularly if Josh Smith the driving forward falls back into Osh Smith mode), they will have no chance.

And, like the Warriors last season, this is a one-shot deal. Win and become legends (who don't advance past the second round). Lose and maybe someone will remember you for being making it an exciting series.

At 4/29/2008 2:00 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

What does it mean that the Hawks have achieved this only after obtaining a legitimate big man and point guard?

Also, this description of JJ's game is perfect: "slow-mo isolations that hovered somewhere between smooth and drunken."

At 4/29/2008 2:45 PM, Blogger Leonardson Saratoga said...

i dont know if i attribute all of this, or even their playoff berth, to the acquisition of Bibby. I guess if anything it just added them another solid player, but not necessarily a PG to construct their revolution. And just because Horford is big, doesn't make him a "big man" in my opinion. Its not like we're dealing with the next Tim Duncan here.

At 4/29/2008 2:45 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Why's everyone so quick to motherfuck the Nuggets? They dropped 184 and lost once (it was a while ago, but still), isn't that FD enough for y'all?

At 4/29/2008 2:59 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

There might be something FD, I suppose, about having the defensive player of the year and the worst defense in the NBA, at the same time. I'm not the Judge.

Mike Bibby's acquisition (I also agree Leonardson, in that Horford is not a "big" - he's a mini-Al Jefferson, and barely taller than Josh Smith, really) has been weird to me. I fully expected Bibby to take the reigns, control the team, give them the on-court discipline and focus they lacked. You know, stuff like "Josh, why don't you let me bring it up on the fast break, while you fill the lane?" and "Josh, why don't you let me and Joe shoot the threes, as you are shooting 25% from here?"

Instead, Bibby has sort of passively embraced the chaos, choosing instead to shoot three-pointers at odd intervals, and let the young Hawks run wild. And, oddly, his handle seems off. Rondo has been stripping him with ease quite a bit during this series.

It's like instead of acquiring the much needed point guard, the Hawks acquired a short shooting guard who would be best suited to being their sixth man. I'm convinced the city of Atlanta, for reasons yet unknown, just can't substain a point guard, Billy Knight has known that for years, and we haven't yet found out why.

At 4/29/2008 3:25 PM, Blogger EL MIZ said...

the theory that atlanta simply can't handle a point guard is something worth considering. put CP3 on that team and i think you have a legitimate title contender.

thanks shoals.

At 4/29/2008 3:59 PM, Blogger Jason Gill said...

The emergence of ATL is the off chance that a proton accelerator produces a mini blackhole swallowing the world in a flurry of freak gravity. Add to that the fact that this involves the deconstruction of elementary particles into something much stranger yet fundamtally more elemental and you have an approximation of the big three being anti mattered in JJ, AH and JS

wv: 4xbnch-- a 5.5 man revolution

At 4/29/2008 10:33 PM, Blogger Tom Deal said...

CP3 triple double, boom.

no turnovers ho.

when can we start saying best point of the generation?

wv noxid: the secret NOLA offense byron scott is saving for the spurs.

At 4/29/2008 10:43 PM, Blogger T. said...

rebar - while I agree with you on the elevation of CP3, I think he'll have to stop throwing up 3-14, 6 point, 4 turnover stinkers against Deron Williams for the title to be unified.

Or is it:

Chris Paul:Deron Williams::Hakeem Olajuwon:Mark Eaton?

At 4/30/2008 12:04 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

@SML- An interesting theory, especially considering how Georgia Tech used to be Point Guard University. Kenny Anderson, Mark Price, Critterdon, et. al.

I've spent very little time in Atlanta- can anyone tell me what the relationship between the city and GaTech hoops was, back in its heyday? Perhaps they were never "ATL" enough to count.

Josh Smith is a free agent this summer, right? So there's at least a minimal chance we could see him paired up with Chris Paul yet?

wv: wowjj. Sometimes these bad boys just write themselves. Did Shoals do this, or am I being called back to The Island?

At 4/30/2008 12:22 AM, Blogger Tom Deal said...

dwill is definitely going to be a better player than mark eaton, but i think the comparison is valid. he just happens to be some sort of devilish anti-crispaul talisman.

i will say though, dwill is [now] facing tougher defense since rafer > kidd/terry. i think the true test will be what he does against (most likely) the spurs. although that game 5 is going down to the wire.

At 4/30/2008 12:51 AM, Blogger wreakjavik said...

If you're going to say fuck anything, then fuck Greg Popovich and 48 minutes of Hack-a-Shaq. As egregious as the Suns' treachery against the gods of Style and Fun were this year, saying they're just as bad as the Spurs is like comparing Sonic Youth post major label signing to Maximilian fucking Robespierre. Any willful perversion of the game to intentionally make it less beautiful or interesting isn't just a sin, it's goddamn evil incarnate. Also, Popovich looks like a Bond villain. Just throwing that out there.

Bruce Bowen's rings are proof that karma does not exist and that there is no god. Unless he gets mauled by a bus sometime in the next few days. Preferably before he knocks CP3 into a coma this next series.

At 4/30/2008 12:58 AM, Blogger wreakjavik said...

Actually, Sonic Youth is probably a bad example. Hüsker Du is probably more appropriate. Or Against Me!

At 4/30/2008 1:00 AM, Blogger Hypothetical Self said...

The Western Conference is dead, long live the Western Conference

At 4/30/2008 1:25 AM, Blogger The Hypnotoad said...

I said it last year, but i'm going to say it again.

The Spurs got to fall. They GOT to. Right?

At 4/30/2008 1:25 AM, Blogger T. said...

rebar - I think each of the great players had some sort of kryptonite. Jordan struggled with Mad Max and Ron Harper (clippers version). Hakeem just couldn't fake out Eaton.

But I think the issue with CP3 and his being dominated by Deron Williams is that Williams is the OTHER contender for "Best Point Guard of His Generation" - so it's not just a style conflict, its being met head-on by your very competition. Mad Max and Harp weren't challenging Jordan's title as GOAT. Eaton wasn't challenging the Dream's dominance. But Williams just might.

At 4/30/2008 1:44 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

i havent been on this site in ages, but i never got and still don't get why the spurs aren't the most freedarko team of all. tony parker is not a basketball player. he is only someone who can mover really really fast while dribbling a basketball. by every traditional basketball measure, he should be absurdly easy to stop, and yet, 20 points in the first half tonight. he also has an excellent tradition of alternately dominating and disappearing, as though the results. this ties in perfectly to his lack of traditional basketball ability--his skill set being only incidentally related to basketball, the results are only incidentally reflected on the scoreboard. ginobili is an absolute freak too. he's a lefty, for christsakes. lefties are the opposite of basketball. if you've ever played against one, you know how it turns the entire experience into a weird through-the-looking glass event. lefties invert the traditional symmtery of offense and defense and if that isn't freedarko, then maybe i've missed the point. and, oh yeah, timmy. isn't positional defiance in the freedarko constitution? no other great player in the history of the game has been able to resist categorization as a 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5. only timmy, the hybrid 4/5 three-point shot maker. the spurs have been freedarko all along and none of you can see it. also, the suns stopped being freedarko ages ago, but the shaq trade was the absolute tossing-in of the towel. there should be no mourning of the suns on this blog. certainly not tonight.

At 4/30/2008 1:53 AM, Blogger T. said...


no other great player in the history of the game has been able to resist categorization as a 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5.

Andres, let me introduce to a man named Oscar Robertson. And then a second one named Magic Johnson.
Tim Duncan is far far far more attached to his role than Magic (my favorite LA Times subheadline from his 42 point game in the finals - Magic Jumps Center and plays forward and guard on his way to the MVP)

At 4/30/2008 2:03 AM, Blogger wreakjavik said...

Not that I'm a long-time true believer or anything, but it seems to me that FD is about more than just incongruities, abnormalities, and weird little tidbits. It's also more than examining a basketball game as the stylistic coalescence of individual personalities into a group ideology to be battered against another in a battle of Hegelian dialectics. It's about actively rooting for the concept or construct which is more pleasurable or enjoyable to watch -- rooting for beauty and freedom over predictability and sterility.

At 4/30/2008 2:40 AM, Blogger Mr. Six said...

Definitely. Fuck. The. Spurs. for their seemingly unending ruination of this beautiful game.

This time, especially fuck Pop. Dude is an obvious apostle of slave morality.

At 4/30/2008 3:15 AM, Blogger Abe said...

Shaq is Johnny Marr. The Spurs... REM? Coldplay? Fallout Boy?

At 4/30/2008 3:38 AM, Blogger Brian Burke said...

Watching Boris Diaw post up on every possession doesn't say much about the aesthetic potential of the NBA, either. To me, the Suns-Spurs series was a wash. Other than Amare's six ridiculous dunks per game, they are both at least equally boring teams.

Didn't Don Nelson invent the hack-a-shaq?

At 4/30/2008 3:44 AM, Blogger T. said...

Brian Burke - indeed he did. With the somewhat FreeDarko predecessors Nowtizki Mavs (early years)

On another note, the 7 seconds or less revolution is dead - si.com is reporting that D'Antoni is not returning to the Suns.

At 4/30/2008 3:49 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Steve Kerr killed the Phoenix Suns.

At 4/30/2008 9:43 AM, Blogger Tom Deal said...

moments of silence all around.

yeah, except dwill seems to me like one of those guys who will be around forever and hugely valuable to his team, but the stats don't necessarily point to him as the best point guard of the generation. i was going to make a stockton comparison, but i couldn't think of anyone else from that same time period who'd be considered a better point. maybe i'm just being a moron.

also, even when dwill has like 23 and 15 games, he never inspires me the way cp3 does. cp3 is forceful in a very similar way that lebron is. like lebron got split in half, most into cp3 and part into julian wright. together they're one hell of a passing half court offense.

At 4/30/2008 12:22 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

T. -- i'm not talking about ability to play multiple positions. i'm talking about the fact that the way timmy plays resists positional categorization. magic johnson is, was, and forever will be a point guard. same for oscar.

steve s. -- it's not "incongruities, abnormalities, and weird little tidbits." it's a revolution. the question is whether that revolution has a credo. at the very least and by definition, the revolution challenges the established and traditional ways of basketball. the spurs, i contend, have a claim at least to that. whether they aim to replace basketball with a utopian anarchist collective or with a totalitarian dictatorship may be unclear (or may, in fact, point to the root of this site's distaste for the spurs--is this just a marxist fanbase afraid of having its ideals crushed by a lenin/stalin implementation??). in any event, you say it's about beauty and freedom. freedom from what?

abe -- your favorite band listened to murmur, reckoning, and life's rich paegant nonstop.

At 4/30/2008 1:00 PM, Blogger Joey said...

@ Six--fuck the spurs for an unending ruination of this beautiful game? If you don't enjoy seeing them house motherfuckers with their expert execution of the pick-and-roll, or the god-body one-man zone of Tim Duncan, than I don't really get why you like basketball.

A team like Phoenix has been such a jolt to the prevailing system because it stylishly executed elements of the game that are unchanging. You need to be able to shoot a jumper. You need to be able to penetrate and distribute. The ball moves faster when passed than when dribbled. A behind-the-back pass isn't really "fancy" if it is the most efficient way to seize an advantage. And so forth.

Obviously the Suns' style is not that of the Spurs, but the latter does have a style, and I'd say it's pretty fucking good at executing basketball's basics. If you can't at least appreciate it, then again, what are you watching for?

wv: himgpy--Leandro Barbosa talking about Steve Nash's balky back. "Him gimpy."

At 4/30/2008 1:22 PM, Blogger Jason Gill said...

Why is San Antonio not FD?

Hack-a-Shaq, Game 1 2nd quarter.

At 4/30/2008 2:32 PM, Blogger Wild Yams said...

The Spurs are gonna fall soon enough, if not this year then definitely next year. The Lakers with a healthy Bynum next year to go with Kobe, Gasol & Odom are simply going to overwhelm them (along with everyone else outside of Portland, most likely).

At 4/30/2008 10:47 PM, Blogger Abe said...


I guess I was going for old, boring, and predictable with the REM thing, nothing against their relevant stuff a couple decades ago. Shit, I bought plenty of their tapes, nothing on more recent formats. Don't tell me your spinning their new joint? FWIW, my favorite bands listened to Can, Neu!, Stockhausen, Partch, VU, Morricone.

At 5/01/2008 2:40 AM, Blogger Unknown said...


fair enough. it seemed an odd grouping--rem, coldplay, and fall out boy don't seem to have much in common. i figured you were one of the (unfortunate) many who only know rem through their post-out of time work (not all bad, i'll say, new adventures is grossly underrated even if a bit bloated; and yes, i have listened to accelerate a couple of times, and it's average, which means it's many many times better than *shudder* around the sun). in any event, i'm curious as to who your favorite bands are if they were listening to can, etc.?

At 5/01/2008 8:40 PM, Blogger Mr. Six said...

@ Joey:

Enjoy and appreciate are two different things.

I appreciate the way that pile driver relentlessly and efficiently executes the same action repetitiously. It's highly effective. It does exactly what it's supposed to do. It "defeats" the piles every time.

But I take no joy from watching a pile driver. Indeed, if I found that to be a source of pleasure; if it inspired me; if I thought it representative of human excellence and achievement and self-overcoming; if I found it beautiful ... well, I might wonder about the purpose of drawing my next breath, or I might undertake to transvalue my values.

I prefer the world of the NBA to be more sunlit and less weighed down by gravity than the Spurs' aesthetic would make one believe it has to be to win.

(And since, when I've written here similarly, people have said or implied that they don't know what the hell I'm trying to say, I just threw down shitload of Nietzsche-isms as shorthand so that I could get that out in a few paragraphs.)

wv: qmqqzglx--quivering moon, quetzalcoatl quixotically zooming around the galaxy

At 5/01/2008 9:06 PM, Blogger Abe said...

Coldplay and FOBoy for the "way more successful than I wish they were" tip, plus is it Pete Wentz, Chris Martin, Robert Horry or Tony Parker that's dating the tabloid MILF/skank this year? Lazy association, I just hate 'em all equally.

but, to answer: Stars of the Lid, Matmos, The Books, A Silver Mount Zion, Valley Of The Giants and most Kranky records shit, the Tomahawk "anonymous" album, (a bit surprisingly) the new Portishead, Old Time Relijun, Subtle, Russian Circles, Panda Bear, Black Dice, Liars. Stoked on seeing Dark Meat in Seattle on Sunday.


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