Ain't No Use Clutchin' At The Butter


Or, if for once you want a title that makes sense, "Who Owns a Meme"?

I don't claim to have invented the "Positional Revolution". That would be the players who dared to do fifteen-hundred things at once, or the coaches subverting the conventions of their day. But I do know that I coined the phrase, started the conversation (on the internet) at least, and, have pursued it with some seriousness for the last 4.5 years, along with the help of brave souls like Tom Ziller. Unlike that batty "Liberated Fandom", which was formulaic, purposefully rude, and at some point gives way to common sense, I am relatively proud of the writing I've done about positionality in the NBA, and even the phrase "Positional Revolution" itself. When I was in OKC, I had a long conversation with Sam Presti about it and didn't feel the least bit self-conscious, something of a minor miracle for me.

Why am I bringing this up, on a near-defunct blog whose readers are well familiar with my snappy little phrases? Well, it appears the Positional Revolution has gone mainstream, and I've been left behind. There is a band that makes a perfect analogy here, but I'm blanking on their name. Last summer, the blogosphere suddenly flared up with new discussions of position, and quickly, the phrase "Positional Revolution" entered the picture. I thought this was neat, until it kept going, with no acknowledgment of, well, ME. Finally, I spoke out, and was accused of, basically, not understanding that online, everybody knows I made up that term and constant genuflection would be a waste of everybody's time. I posted something pissy that updated my thoughts and then went on with my life.

Well, it's back again, but this time, I genuinely worried from a "branding" and "marketplace of ideas" standpoint.

It doesn't really matter that Rob Mahoney and I disagree on some of the finer points of positionality and its discontents. If you want, when my back hurts less and I'm less generally angry, I can link up all the posts I've done, many of them with TZ, on the subject of structure in basketball. Basically, categories must wither and die, and instead you get heuristic groupings that vary depending on situations. The re-distribution of responsibilities takes place not only on the macro- level of a starting line-up, but also within the ebb and flow of any given possession. This is possible because of players who feel, and respond to, the game in this way; as I wrote in 2007, "the Positional Revolution becomes most radical when the inflamed individual is transubstantiated into a form of basketball logic." Certainly, it doesn't really get into defense, something Danny Leroux has dealt with.

The point is that, when the phrase "Positional Revolution" is written about at great length on the New York Times site without my receiving any credit, it upsets me. I can't assume that everyone reading Rob's piece there knows about what I've done in the past. Is that egotism? Maybe. But it's also a question of how much right I have to be identified with this conversation that sprang up from the web—especially when it's a phrase I coined myself. When I load up the NBA page of Business Insider, a site I write for, and find Adam Fusfeld crediting Rob with ushering in a new era of positions, I can't help but get frustrated and write in this tone.

I know, I have no right to complain about anything, my life is one big party, etc. But you try and spend hours and hours working through an idea—even coming up with a snappy name for it—only to find yourself more or less invisibly as it starts to find a wider audience. Or, to be perfectly blunt about it, this was my Revolution. Take it up if you want, just don't, in effect, pass it off as your own. And yes, at some point, omission is an insult, not proof that my ideas have become part of the ether.

On second though, I'll just trademark the term, and content myself with royalties. Since that's what this is really all about.

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At 1/25/2011 11:29 AM, Blogger Abfus said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 1/25/2011 11:31 AM, Blogger Abfus said...

Ah, Bethlehem, you nailed it: the online basketball community knows FreeDarko coined the phrase way back ....but we can't link our 2011 readers to a story whose hook is Shawn Marion, Amar'e Stoudemire, and Steve Nash circa 2007. Not when Gerald Wallace and LaMarcus Aldridge are talking about it right now. I fear repeating yourself in a new post is the easiest way to regain credit.

But the trademark idea? Well, you may be on to something. It worked for Pat Riley with "three-peat" and now he presides over the ultimate positionally dysfunctional team. We can only hope the same fate awaits you on the other side of your trademark.

At 1/25/2011 11:50 AM, Blogger Dustin Stevenson said...

What an astounding lack of faith/respect you seem to have in/for your 2011 readers Mr. Adam "No matter you're size, the answer's easy" Fusfeld.

Also, there's something apocalyptic and oddly delightful about reading old FD posts where all the photos have been replaced with "This photo is currently unavailable." It's like stumbling into Well's Palace of Green Porcelain.

At 1/25/2011 12:14 PM, Blogger Trevor said...

The notion that all entrants into a conversation need to pay homage to its seed strikes me as more than a little petty.

Maybe I just hold some hopelessly naive notion of meritocratic discourse (or something), but wouldn't a more fruitful essay involve reinserting yourself into the conversation, making use of your own novel insights and the time and mental space you've had to develop them?

At 1/25/2011 12:25 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Credit is very different from homage.

I don't think everyone needs to mention me every time. Mostly, it's about this phrase, audience, and context. And this past summer, I did write some new stuff. But my response to Rob's post is, well, stuff I've already written. I should reword and repeat it, so I can again establish myself as a valid participant?

At 1/25/2011 12:29 PM, Blogger B.B. said...

You will always be the Positional Revolutionary in my mind, Shoals, and I'm glad you're speaking truth to the borrowers without askers.

At 1/25/2011 1:12 PM, Blogger Trevor said...

Yeah, reading the Mahoney piece more carefully and going back over your prior a-positional stuff, I concede your point: all the appropriate elaborations are in shit you wrote many months ago.

The fact that I've never gained status as a valid participant in any elevated medium, or relied on said to pay bills, probably explains my reaction to this post. I still think you might be selling the idea of re-elaboration with incremental exploration a little short, but yeah, I see a legit slight.

At 1/25/2011 2:41 PM, Blogger walrusoflove said...

You own that meme in my mind shoals, but guess that doesn't put pork on the table. You have every right to vent, but I think it just distances you from the mainstream more. You gotta kiss more ass if you want to make there - its not a land where original ideas rule.

Your headspace will never be mass appeal while you're still attached to it - you're wired to ask new questions and seek new perspectives. But that's what cultivates a super loyal following. Instead of caring what other writers spout as their old media employers melt.... keep bringing it and building the FD empire. There's gold in them thar hills.

"Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth" (I stole that from somewhere recently but I can't remember where)

At 1/25/2011 2:44 PM, Blogger walrusoflove said...

For the last year there's been a lot of music comin out
The shit been weak, knowhatI'msayin?
A lot of niggaz trying to take hip-hop
And make that shit R&B, rap and bullshit yaknowhatI'msayin?
Or make that shit funk
Fuck that, this is MCin right here, this is hip-hop
Wu-Tang, Wu-Tang gonna bring it to you in the purest form
I got the GZA on my side, Killah Priest
Sunz of Man, Royal Fam, Killarmy, Gravediggaz, 12 O'Clock
Yo, we want to let y'all niggaz know somethin man
To my people all across the world; Japan, Europe -- knowhatI'msayin?
Canada, knowmean -- Austria, Germany, Sweden
Yo, this is true hip-hop you listenin to right here
In the pure form, this ain't no R&B with a wack nigga takin the loop
Be loopin that shit thinkin it's gonna be the sound of the culture
YaknowhatI'msayin? (That player bullshit)
YaknowhatI'msayin? All that player dressin up
On this shit, actin like this some kind of fashion show man
YaknowhatI'msayin? This is hip-hop right here
YaknowhatI'msayin? This is lyrics, MCin
And yo, to y'all niggaz who think you going to become an MC overnight
YaknowhatI'msayin? Better snap out that fuckin dream
Man it takes years for this you Cat in the Hat ass rappers
You Dr. Seuss, Mother Goose, simple minded
(Stop runnin up on niggaz with all that wack shit)
Word up man (I'm talking about you MC's)
You ain't no MC; niggaz ain't made for this yaknowhatI'msayin?
This shit was Only Built 4 Cuban Linx -- we told y'all niggaz back then
And then everybody wanted to change their motherfuckin name
YaknowhatI'msayin? We come out with a style
Now everybody wanna imitate our style and all you producers out there
YaknowhatI'msayin? It's all good to show love to a nigga
But stop bitin my shit, yaknowhatI'msayin?
Come from your own heart with this shit
And all y'all MC's, stop biting from my niggaz
We told ya'll niggaz on the fucking Cuban Linx album
Don't bite our shit, y'all niggaz keep biting
Yo, I'm going to tell y'all something man
It's time for the Wu revolution right here
To all my niggaz across the world
Raise your motherfucking fist in the air
And get ready for the Triumph
Cause the Gods is here to take over this shit
Word up, peace

At 1/25/2011 2:59 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

@Abfus I'm just not clear as to why it's on me to write a long, updated version of myself, with new examples, when someone could nod at my older work while choosing to talk about the current examples. This is a point about positions in general, not specific players.

At 1/25/2011 5:36 PM, Blogger Abfus said...

@Bethlehem Shoals: I went back and carefully re-read both your 2007 post and Mahoney's and I have to admit the similarities are a lot more jarring than memory served.

I guess the difficulty is that I'm conditioned to give credit to the source that inspired me to write a post on the topic – even if that source is not the originator of that idea.

That is, if I'm linking back to a multi-source discussion (as this certainly is), do I serve a reader better by pointing them to the person who began the discussion, or the person who compelled me to enter the discussion?

(That only slightly applies in this case: I was actually inspired by some Gerald Wallace quotes I came across last Friday, and remembered the Mahoney post from that morning – but I digress.)

The truth is, I don't know. My instinct is to go to the person who inspired me, because usually that person links back to another part of the discussion, and the reader can follow along. Obviously, Mahoney didn't link, so my reasoning is all fuzzy.

But the point remains: should I have linked to your posts which undoubtedly played a subconscious role in my fascination with the subject, or the story I had just read that morning and played a direct role in my journey into the pf/center specifics?

(P.S. The "updated version" suggestion was in jest – guess that didn't come across as I intended it to.)

At 1/25/2011 7:52 PM, Blogger Benjamin said...

All hail Shoals.

In all seriousness, the idea that an idea, fully formed and completely conceived by another, a good idea that accurately captures a cultural moment has made its way into the quasi-mainstream yet hasn't been properly credited is a clear infringement on the author's intellectual property rights. Plus what RZA said in the intro to Triumph.

What kind of not cool person assumes ownership of an idea they know isn't theirs? How'd Clyde Smith put it at the end of Supreme Clientele? "You f****d up, Fiddy."

I'm definitely a Shoals homer.

At 1/26/2011 1:13 AM, Blogger Henry Bemis said...

One of the things that I came to think about concerning your post is the most affecting (ostensibly) 'revolution' to our culture in the past century, the various events around the world that are usually lumped together as ' the events of 1968'.

While considering revolutionary moments, in this case the evolution of the dynamic relations that determine team success, I see this through the commentary of Chris Marker's film-essay "Le Fond de l'air est rouge (A Grin Without a Cat)". He puts forth the concept that it wasn't '68 that was indicative of the change that was to come, but that it was '66-'67 when these new and revolutionary ideas were being developed, being fomented. 1968 was merely the recognition, which by its existence, also signaled its coming decline and dissolve into the staid place of the status quo.

What does this have to do with what is being said here? That is my second thought. When this commentary was limited to the advanced guard of the guerilla's analysis it remains fluid, dynamic. I am worried less that you get credit than I am that your initial reasoning is forsaken in lieu of a catchy (and misapplied) phrasing. Am I the only one who sees the danger in this becoming the stuffs of bonehead fandom? Seeing teams that try to adjust solely based upon statistical analysis?
I know I am being just a bit hyperbolic, but to what length?
The beauty in revolutionary thought, both in the general sense but also vary much in this particular sense, is the lack of concrete parameters, the dynamic nature of the thought.
When I think of "Positional Revolution" in the terms of FreeDarko I think of a bounding and advancing idea.
When I see it in the ink of the NYT i feel as if it is a hair's distance from being a how-to manual on beating the house odds in blackjack, or a 3am infomercial course in making a million dollars flipping foreclosed homes.

If anything, I offer allegiance. Positional Revolution is a great idea, but you will think around and beyond those that have co-opted it; I can't wait to see how.

At 1/26/2011 2:26 AM, Blogger Mr. Six said...

I sent an e-mail to The Times's Public Editor.

Mostly because I just think it's bad manners.

But also because of what Henry Bemis wrote. Part of the point of citation/attribution is to allow a reader to go back to the source to discern how one writer has developed another's ideas. It also forces the borrowing writer, if working in good faith, to properly represent the ideas of the writer borrowed from. Failing to attribute the idea of Positional Revolution is likely correlated with not accurately representing the idea. And dilution of the idea would actually be a loss to the developing NBA internet dialog.

wv:miczap--what RZA did to biters at the beginning of "Triumph"

At 1/26/2011 11:37 AM, Blogger Benjamin said...

Could someone explain the wv: *odd name here* *definition* thing to me? I feel like I'm the only person not laughing at a really funny joke.

At 1/26/2011 2:25 PM, Blogger Asher said...

I predict that one day people will be really nostalgic for extremely clear-cut positions, in sort of the same way that people are nostalgic for the studio system and the Production Code. Partly because deviations from norms are a whole lot more interesting and subversive when there actually are norms, partly because there's just a whole lot of positional lore and tradition and heritage that gets lost in an apositional world, and partly because the positional revolution may end up being more of an homogenizing force than its, um, discoverers hoped for. For every sui generis player that the positional revolution has created, you get tons of big men developing guard skills, point guards who play more like shooting guards, and the near extinction of previously integral types of players, like the true center, the slow, lumbering anything, and the Mark Jackson-style point guard. (And also, less explicably, the bat-shit insane selfish gunner. Everybody's getting less coarsely utilitarian, but also less extravagantly useless, or threatening, resulting in a homogeneous sense of purposeful family-appropriate fun.) There's a great deal of individual diversity, but such blurred notions of positionality that comparisons between players - which less than ten years ago were the principal heuristic through which people understood and debated the basketball world - have become attenuated and absurd. Rendering all sorts of mythologies and hierarchies obsolete. Even on the high school level, I was home in Philly for the holidays and went to watch my old team a couple times and was struck by how time-honored staples like "the hard-nosed Philly guard" and "the brutish, somewhat overweight big man" are being replaced by concoctions like the rail-thin, 6'8, not-very-hardnosed-at-all, kid with so-so guard skills (a big-time prospect, apparently) or the slender 6'10 guy with the mohawk who doesn't do much of anything but runs and jumps so well he's already projected to go in the top ten of the 2012 draft. The high school basketball I'd remembered, sport as urban trench warfare fought by players whose roles were as sharply delineated as the pieces on a Stratego board (or the kids in a high school), had turned into an incubation hatchery for the apathetic Odoms of tomorrow.

At 1/27/2011 3:35 AM, Blogger Tom Doggett said...

I can see where the nostalgia comes in. But truly unique players have always stretched the limitations. I see no reason to lament the fact that categories are crumbling.

Great players will still sometimes fit into these molds, because the positions, especially point guard and center, still have relevant ideal functions on the basketball court. But I think someone like Lebron James makes the notion of position obsolete, at least for his moment.

I have no problem with the diminishing significance of players like Mark Jackson. I agree that players of his type probably deserve more place in the NBA game today. But Nate Robinson and Lou Williams are backup point guards now, and anything is possible. Mark Jackson wasn't an archetype, he was just a good point guard. Rondo and Rose are archetypes for something entirely new going forward.

It's worth it to note, also, that there are plenty of those hard-nosed players left in the league. The difference is that they are often terrifically talented as well. Some rise out of the D-League, some get stolen from Europe. Some make rosters out of camp. But the baseline of talent is astronomical.

Sure, indifferent talent talent makes money in the NBA nowadays. BUt Odom isn't indifferent. He just had a wacky learning curve. And ten years ago, someone like Renardo Sidney would already be in the NBA. So it's not all bad.

At 1/27/2011 8:45 AM, Blogger Henry Bemis said...

Verily, the world doth change yet not so great as our perceptions of it.
I think that is Nicholas of Cusa (and I think I totally butchered it).

Maybe I am incorrect in my reading of it, but Positional Revolution is most likely better read as a revolutionary view of Relational Aesthetics (to steal a term from contemporary art). It isn't so much as the positions have changed, but that the recognition of the importance of relational effectiveness has become more apparent.

It is less that a singular player plays a specific role in some traditional form of doing so, but that he plays a series of tasks that are not being fully represented on the rest of the team. I would go one further and state that it extends beyond just on court statistics. Andre Igoudala has show pretty decent skill but clearly doesn't flourish in a leadership role. Or at least in a leadership role with those guys.
A few years ago, there were two players, highly regarded as talented, that were as a stone weight drowning otherwise average teams. Iverson on the Nuggets and Pistons, and Marbury on my Knicks. (This is where I am required to express my loathing of Isaiah). According to LeBron James, he wants Ilgauskas on every team, solely for his leadership.

There have always been role players, but it seems that the roles have just become more expansive. High rebounding ones; fours that can play capable center. It was thirty years ago that a single player filled all five roles in a single game in the finals.

Retrospect is a beautiful and completely useless thing, as my brother says. The more players would expand their abilities the more it requires (or needn't require) other skills from other players. Positional Revolution merely described the relations of players in total.

The past only appears solid, it is more likely that it is merely the accepted description and thus our analysis of that history. My fear is that this idea will soon be understood less as dynamic analysis of structural interplay and more as a prescriptive method of how a team looks to shop for in a trade; as in "we have everything except a 7-footer who rebound great on offensive, handles the ball, speaks Italian, and can bake Madelines".

This form of analysis should be descriptive not prescriptive. Statistics should be used to support comments, theories, and positions in argument, not as some form of market analysis. I saw this as a recognition of the beauty of the the interplay of various systems of the teams, styles, and the exciting way in which the players develop their skills in an endless series of variance.

@ Benjamin - those are near-words from the verification and then the humorous definition of them.
WV - rantox = a rehab center for Tea Party douches

At 1/27/2011 10:17 AM, Blogger Joe said...

Consider getting over your bad self.


At 1/27/2011 10:17 AM, Blogger Joe said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 1/28/2011 11:01 AM, Blogger walrusoflove said...

and back to the topic at hand...

Nothing embodies the positional revolution for me like Al Jefferson & Elton Brand. Those guys are surefire HOFers... if they played in the 90s. Now nearly everyone is scratching their heads; they do everything they are supposed to do, the box score is stacked, the team looks great on paper... what gives?

The positional revolution giveth and taketh away. This game changed the way I think about how teams win in the NBA (playoff ball included)...

Maybe a good teaser on where you stand in the positional revolution is; do you take JaVale McGee or Kevin Love as your cornerstone big?

(Griffin + DeAndre Jordan... welcome to the frontcourt of the future)

At 1/28/2011 12:14 PM, Blogger Henry Bemis said...

@ Walrus :
Does this mean that Al Jefferson or Elton Brand aren't capable of redemption on a team with a mixture more suited to their style of play and skill sets (as well as personality and ability to adapt)?

As a secondary question to that, according to the spirit of positional revolution, wouldn't the choice of Love or McGee depend on the rest of your teams skill sets and style of play?
I think Love could clean up on a half-court team that shot a lot of threes, and maybe had a swing big. Dallas?

McGee would be great on a team like Portland right now. Or Houston. Scrappers that need athleticism, shot blocking, someone to pick and clear the lane when needed, or post and bang when needed. He would also bring that added that charisma / excitement that those teams need; that same energy that would be disruptive and shadowing on some other teams.

I am most likely incorrect but what this whole thing means to me is that the more that the individual players extend their skill sets, the more their actual success is contingent on the other pieces of a team (and how they acclimate to that team).

At 1/29/2011 2:20 AM, Blogger David Murphy said...

Tray - I much agree and was thinking somewhat along the same lines ealier, while visiting another blog where the art of flopping came up. There just isn't the same studio system in basketball today.

More specific to the post, while a lot of the above dialogue simply sails over my head, being ripped off is plain uncool. Sometimes you just gotta catch the other guy and punch him in the throat. So to speak. Good luck, Mr. Shoals.

At 2/04/2011 2:20 PM, Blogger walrusoflove said...

@Harry Bemis. its all relational, but the arc of the game also moves forward. to me, kevin love is the best example of living in the present but evaluating based on the past. i'm not hating - i'm very interested to see how his career plays out. but personally, all tings being equal, i'd take mcgee. caveat: i'd take noah as my cornerstone big over anyone in the league.

question: where would love fit into the lakers or celtics front court rotations? probably not pulling off his warmups until after big baby and lamar.

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