Friday, September 5, 2008

A Patriot Is Not a Weapon

I'm sorry I haven't been around at all, dear readers (if I had any). I did, in fact, write about Olympic basketball, a bit: a USA basketball player primer and a post about Team Spain. I also wrote about the WNBA brawl and made an analysis-free picture post. I've got a few more non-basketball posts at the Ladies... here. The offseason kills me bad. We're working on a NCAA preview, so I'll link to that once we get started.

Regarding this post, I can't seem to phrase what I'm trying to say correctly, but I'll work on it in future. I started writing it nearly a month ago and just finished it tonight.

A reporter on CNN held up Sarah Palin's high school basketball championship ball, and my heart dropped.

I'm generally happy with anything that brings basketball to the fore. But, in the way that a fan/player brawl does a league few favors, Palin's basketball experiences invite comparisons that I, personally, have no desire to hear.

I've read many people question why, if Palin was so good in high school, did she not play in college? This question, and this sudden interest in women's ball, reveal a lack of understanding of one of the largest and deepest disconnects between men and women in this country: athletics.

I'm not speaking in terms of play; a direct of comparison of men's and women's basketball is a subject for another post, but suffice it to say that the top levels of both can be comparable in skill and enjoyability. No: the difference lies not in the athletes themselves, apart from the obvious; the difference lies rather in how the two groups are treated.

A skilled female athlete, basketball or otherwise, can do well in high school. She can gain power over herself in a way few high school girls can, and power over others in a way few of those girls do: a high school's fans, after all, are guaranteed. And the most socially powerful girls in a high school generally are athletes in some form or another. But there is no prestige waiting in the higher levels for a moderately skilled female player, whether in soccer, softball or, more to the point, basketball. A woman that stars at the highest college level - UConn or Tennessee, still - will receive as much media coverage as a player for a small mid-major; if she's lucky, she may even get as much air time as a mid-level professional golfer.

Put simply, there is no reason for a woman to play college ball but for love of the game.

The pro prospects are poor. The odds of making it to the WNBA are, simply by virtue of the number of teams, a third of the tiny number that the NBA can offer. Once there, the women can aspire to reach the upper middle class, and perhaps have their games broadcast on national television two or three times a season. The only money and prestige to be had are in far-off lands, playing on the dimes of Turkish shipping magnates and Russian oil billionaires. Money is money, and there's lots of it for skilled women players overseas, but what American really wants to be a hero to little Russian girls everywhere? Basketball is America's sport, and that WNBA Logo is red, white, and blue. But it lacks the weight of its older brother, and there, then, lies the crux of the matter.

There are ways - not many, but several - for young women to gain power in this country. All of them are valid, and the means to gain power are always complex. For all but a few, perhaps three women at a time, that power does not and can not come through sports. That is the deepest difference, not talent or skill or drive or even watchability, between men's and women's sports in this country: fame. Fame, and the power it brings; fame, and the power to bring it to oneself, and the power to keep it.

No. If a woman is attractive, intelligent, and athletic, she is far more likely to use mostly the first route than the second or third to gain fame, and therefore power. And well within her rights to do so, and understandable; after all, as I said, women can only easily become powerful in a limited number of ways, and the power of attraction is the easiest of them all to gain.

Which brings us back to Sarah Palin, and the choice to play or not play basketball at the four colleges she attended to gain her BS degree in journalism. She is not, of course, an ideal example of this phenomenon; there was no WNBA then, and presumably even more stigma attached to being a female athlete, so her case isn't directly comparable to a modern player. It's also, presumably, difficult to maintain an athletic career during a tumultuous academic career. However, she is an excellent example of the beauty-intelligence-athleticism triptych (though the second may be in question, and the third is only partly verified). She initially chose beauty over intelligence, in her brief but seminal turn as an Alaskan beauty queen; it can be argued that, once she actually started a career, it played the largest role.

Famously, Michelle Robinson's brother Craig told her that a person's character could be judged by what kind of player they were. So, when she got serious with young Barack Obama, she asked her brother to play a game of pick-up ball with him, and the rest is history. A person's character can be revealed by how they play basketball - but a person's character is also revealed by the choices they make.

Any woman can be beautiful, or at least focused on her own appearance. It's a peculiar aspect of our current society: that women are allowed to be beautiful and sexual in a way that men generally aren't, yet, at the same time, they can not not be beautiful. To balance the two impulses - to desire and enjoy being pretty, while chafing at the societal need to be - is a daily fact of life for most American women. To be intelligent, to be talented, to be beautiful; all are valid, and matter. Yet all of us, man or woman, are people first, and attractive and sexual beings second - a fact that should not have to be stated.

But as we watch Sarah Palin flounder prettily in the national limelight, that long-ago choice to gain power via her skills of attraction, not her intelligence or her athletic skill, takes on new meaning. And as questions about her judgment justly arise, those early choices - to trade being an athlete for trying to become a sportscaster, to trade skill with a ball for hunting with an assault rifle and a helicopter - may reveal more about her character than they would for most young women.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Youth is Only the Past Putting a Leg Forward

I haven't been able to login, for various reasons, for the last month or so. The situation has been fixed, but don't worry, I still will not post very often.

I did, however, write "Michael Beasley Looks Better Horizontal", the only draft preview you need(ed), over at the Ladies. There will be a post-draft-thoughts post later today or tomorrow, and a WNBA post after that. I'll definitely be covering USA Basketball later in the summer, I know that.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Holding Open a Restive Door

The earlier mentioned post at the Ladies... is here. Enjoy.

I promise to be around more soon. Freedom is only a few days away, my friends.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Coughed, And Called It Fate




There'll be a Ladies-type post on Beasely-Rose and Chicago on Friday at the Ladies...

Chicago, man.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Where Are The Songs of Spring?

It's been a while, I know. I'm not dead, at least not all the way. Two reasons I haven't been here much - one, I've been outstandingly busy, moreso than I've been in my life; and two, I've sadly found little transcendence in this year's playoffs. The East has been a swirling nexus of suck, outside of - oddly enough - those Scrappy Pistons and Sixers. The Suns were bounced from the first round, but more importantly, they are not the Suns we knew. The Nuggets were nothing they were supposed to be, and now they may not be much of anything at all. The old order is failing, and the new is forming its own path; in the meantime, we have the Celtics and the Cavs going seven games, and unjustifiable first-round sweeps.

Where, truly, is the inspiration? Where can one invoke the sublime where there is none? It is springs like this that reveal the lie of ascribing meaning to a game, a team, a player, a series. At least, that is what I am desperate to disbelieve. Perhaps I, and others as basketball fans, were spoiled by Golden State; maybe we were misled into expecting high creation, grand opera - Philip Glass, perhaps - at every basketball game. Maybe we were made to have our hearts broken by loss - Nash - and frustration - Melo. But, maybe next year's Rookie-Sophomore game will shake the word, metaphorically speaking. Maybe, or maybe undeniably, the future will answer every question and satisfy every need; the future will bring us new blood and new ways of seeing, maybe new ways of being. Yet, now, this year, my only hope resides in the New Orleans Hornets.

I have waited too long to write as much as should be written about this team. In 24 minutes of basketball, they will either be into an epic matchup with the Lakers, or out of the playoffs - and if it's the later, maybe so will I. But I believe. Despite it all, damnit, I believe.

My belief may have to wait. But in the meantime? Candace Parker had herself an epic game of historic proportions. Or maybe it was an historic game of epic proportions? Either way, it was an epic game, or at least an epic second half. And, even as just the opening game of the season, it was played with more desperation and desire to win than, say, six of those Celts/Cavs games. It was amazing. I'm glad I, at least, will have great basketball to watch this summer, even if most people will only see what they play in Beijing.

(As an addendum to this: oh, fuck you, Tony Kornheiser. I used to like watching PTI. But then, professional women's basketball is "a cute little summer league" and Parker's historic game was "nice". I can't even muster up anger over this, just sadness and disgust. No wonder people don't like you, Tony Kornheiser. My irritation has been building, but this caps it. You're a sad example of your generation. And you, Wilbon, if you like women's basketball so much, how about you stop talking about the "ugly uniforms", and start defending its validity as a sport against an old bag like Kornheiser? I think that question answers itself.)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Price Of Flight Is Weight And Size

I'm writing up a post about the Suns' and the Nuggets' defensive psychoses, but it won't be here until tomorrow. In the meantime, check out something I wrote in jubilation last year after the Warriors whupped up on the Mavericks. For old time's sake. (I'm crying inside.) This is barely readable, incidentally.

I took a class on the history of music in the 20th century last summer. It was taught by the smartest man I've ever met, and was the best class I've ever taken. Most of the classes in the program are full of in-jokes and bonding, memories and irreplicable moments - not this class. We never talked to each other. We were too fascinated by what we were learning to manufacture in-jokes and make deep, lasting friendships. In that, our class was unique among all the classes there. And what we learned was unique. We didn't learn about the evolution of rock and roll through blues and R&B. We learned about the evolution of Expressionism through reaction to Impressionism. We learned about the influence of Wagner on Slayer and of Edgard Varése on Frank Zappa. Louis Armstrong? No. Herbie Hancock. Not Elvis - bebop. Dada and musique concréte. Mainstream, classic? No. Reactionary and revolutionary. Everything in art is in reaction to something else, and art is what you make it. Art is expression - Der Bleu Reiter. Art is blank - Fountain. Art is what you say it is. What's important is what's different, audacious, what wants to change for the sake of change, for the sake of art itself.

Anyone can follow rules and make beautiful things. Anyone can lay their emotions along set patterns, their talents inside set paths. Those outside the lines, those who follow their own way - they are the only ones worth learning about, the only art that matters. Why play piano with your fingers when you can slam the keys with your fists, your forearms, your head, just to hear what it sounds like? Why play one song at a time when you can play four? Why play an instrument the way it's always been done, when you can use it in completely new and different ways? Why accept the limitations of modern technology recording when you can create it anew? That's truly the heart of it - there's no reason to accept limitations when you can create new ways. There's no reason to do something the way it's always been done, just because it's the way it's always been done. Play the piano's strings like it's a huge, horizontal harp. Play multiple tape loops at once, taking advantage of tape's mechanical flaws to create new music altogether. Play artillery as percussion. Play anything, any way - just play. React, or create something entirely new. That's what we learned.

Thus, the Golden State Warriors. Lost in the excitement of their upset of the greatest team in the NBA, masked by the fact that so few people in the wider basketball community have seen them play, is how completely unique they, as a team, are. Basketball players, when they're young, are taught how to play. Don't shoot over a taller defender. That's dumb. Don't shoot if there's nobody there for a rebound. That's dumb. Set plays, run your offense the way you've been taught. There are specific rules, specific roles, and that's the way the game is played. And yet, and yet. Golden State refuses to play that game.

They're all in the same height range, roughly, midsized, plus a skinny seven-foot Latvian kid. Rules and roles don't matter They shoot, shoot, shoot, run, run, run, and damn the consequences. They are helter-skelter beauty in basketball form. You can shoot seven-for-seven from three, or sixteen-for-thirty-five. GSW knows what will get you more points, even if other teams refuse to take that many chances. No one else would pull up on a fast break and shoot the three, with no one under the basket to catch the rebound. No one else would get the ball on a second pass of a possesion, with no play set, and run into four confused defenders for a spectacular dunk. This is revolution. Why wait until you're open to shoot when you're taller than your defender? Why fear taller defenders when you're faster than them? There's a way to play, but there's more than one way to win. You win on your superstars, or you win on the brilliance of your coaching, one of the two. No. You win on stifling defense, on clock management, on perfectly set and executed plays. No, fuck that. Fuck skill and coaching. Win on exuberance, and speed, and talent, and shooting, shooting, shooting.

The difference between Golden State and the Dallas Mavericks, between them and every team in the league, is that they just don't care. They don't care about who they're playing, where they're playing, or how they're supposed to play. They are Dada, without the self-conscious individualism. They are a teenaged Frank Zappa, listening to Ionisation over and over, not understanding why his friends don't understand or care. They are Patti Smith or the Stooges, and Dallas is Deep Purple. They are bebop jazz and the basketball establishment is Tie A Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Old Oak Tree. Golden State knows the price of flight, and it's weight and size. The revolution begins now.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Sweet Like Wanton Loves

You know how I have both a cerebral side and a, uh, little-cerebral side? You can see both on display in my first, my previews for the playoffs. Have you ever thought, Well, yeah, now I know who's going to win, but which team is ultimately hotter? I answer both questions for all eight first-round series on the other side of that link.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Straight Was a Path of Gold For Him, And The Need Of A World of Men For Me

For the first time in my life, I am a Lady. Or should I say, I am one of the Ladies...?

That's one reason I haven't been posting here. I'll be posting there mostly on Fridays - this week's will be my playoffs preview - so hopefully I'll be able to pick up the action a little here.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

"Any Girl Can Be Pretty. It Takes A Real Woman To Play Basketball."

That's what my neighbor said to his baby sister while we were watching the women's Final Four games two days ago. At fourteen, my neighbor, Bill, is 6'4" and averages fifteen and eight per. His sister, Sarah, is four, adorable, and clearly well on her way to breaking hearts in a few years. If the height of her mother, aunts and brother is any judge, she's also on her way to being over six feet tall. And there's nothing Bill wants more for her than to be the next Candace Parker.

Obviously, this kid Bill and I both love basketball - he's one of the few people I can watch, talk about, and play it with. His coach wants him to watch college ball, but we both prefer the pros, and we both love women's basketball. Though it would be tempting to say so, considering his age and maturity level, he doesn't actually like it for the cute tall girls (although I'm sure that's a part of it). Rather, he likes it for the same reasons I do: that it's like watching four guards and a small forward play, that at its best it's fast and lethal, that they beat the everloving crap out of each other with nary a foul to be called. In fact, we spent a lot of the summer watching WNBA games and telling Sarah about the players and the game. I love women's basketball, and the nearest teenaged boy to me loves it – so, I wondered, why do so many people not like it? Or, more often, not care?

The first impulse of a basketball fan, in this case, would be to wonder what the women's game lacks in terms of the men's. Well, dunks, obviously. Though a few college and pro women can dunk, one could count them in single digits – not a plus if one is a big fan of people smacking the rim with their hands. So yes, there's that. The women are shorter than the men – see the above bit about four guards and a forward – and generally a little less athletic, as it is in, you know, life. The rules aren't quite the same; the women's pro game is a bit shorter, the shot clock is longer, the ball's an inch (!) smaller. But other than that, what else is different? Ultimately, not much.

At the highest level, the shooting percentages between the men and the women are essentially the same. You'll see as many high-pressure threes, last second shots, beautiful fadeaways, and as much violent play – remember, no charge circle in women's ball. You'll see a lot less flopping, since there's not really a point to it; the refs rarely call fouls in most cases anyway. With fewer teams, there's harsher competition, with little difference in talent and skill between the team with the best record and the team in last place. No. There must be some other problem going on here.

Now, I am admittedly young, but I've had little occasion to worry about misogyny in my life. I never had to; I've always been the type that people dislike based on me, not on my genitalia. But as I get older and have more experience with people I don't know, a lot of things have come to disturb me about the perception and treatment of women in our world. Although the treatment of women is important to me, it's a topic for another day; instead, I will here concern myself with the perception of women, in media, culture and everyday life, in regards to basketball.

Most sports fans are, obviously, white males. Conveniently enough, most of my friends have been white males, and sports fans since I was about fourteen, so I have some experience with the general mentality we're talking about here. I hesitate to generalize about any group of people, particularly when they make up a lot of my potential audience; it's a habit I dislike in others, and not one I want to cultivate. So when I talk about sports fans from here on, please assume it to indicate the negative majority, the most but not all, if you will.

This is what I think is the main reason for such disproportionate disinterest in women's basketball: it's simply too difficult to develop interest in the game when a viewer is preoccupied with the fact that the players are girls. That's an oversimplification in terms, but it's what I think is true; the average sports fan watching is thinking not about the game the women are playing, but instead about their faces and hairstyles and tattoos, their femininity or lack thereof, their attractiveness or lack thereof, the probable lesbians in the stands, whether the players are lesbians, whether it makes him gay to think the players are hotter than the's no wonder the average viewer can't concentrate on the game.

Therefore, I think the problem lies not with the players, not with the game, and not even with the aforementioned average fans. Rather, I think the blame belongs with the usual targets in matters such as these - nebulous entities like mass media, cultural norms, and social and familial influences. Our entire lives, certain things are sublimated into our collective consciousness: what women should be like, what men should be like, what is important in life to both or either gender. These ideas and implications are easy to name. Men should be strong and hard-hearted, and funny, and simple minded. They must be single-minded, too – nothing is more important to a man than sex, am I right? Preferably with women. You don't want to appear at all feminine. No homo, man. There's not much worse than being girly. And women – there's nothing more important, more vital, to a woman than being pretty. For a lot of girls, it's their greatest goal in life. For most of the rest, it's something that hovers in the back of the mind, a worry that never quite goes away – do I look pretty? Do the people around me think I'm attractive? Girls are soft, sweet, and pretty, or they kind of fail at life. Yet, at the same time, femininity is still a negative for men, and masculinity a positive for women: She's got real balls. She thinks like a man. He's such a pussy. What a little bitch that guy is. As my friend succinctly and effectively put it: "It's good to love vagina. It's terrible to have one."

I should make it clear that I think these unfortunate "facts" of life are degrading and limiting for men and women both, and created as much by women as by men. I also think that they are the cause, directly or indirectly, for the general lack of interest in women's basketball, and women's sports in general. Think about it – what are the most popular women's sports? Yeah. Tennis and figure skating. The ones with miniskirts and make-up and, don't forget, white girls. Don't get me wrong, I like girls in miniskirts and make-up plenty – more so than the purely heterosexual among us, I'm sure. But before I go into a digression I'll regret, let me make my point: women that are strong and skilled and focused on something other than romance – masculine, in other words – are easier to digest when they are placed in a feminine and girlish context. It's easy to admire a girl's athleticism and speed when you have the opportunity – are invited – to also admire her legs and ass and upper chest. It's a bit more difficult to perform the necessary compartmentalization when the girls are dressed the same as the boys, and play the same game as the boys, and are strong, tall* and muscular and don't have flowing tresses and legs bare to the crotch. Without this compartmentalization, the average viewer can't watch the game; he, or she, can't separate the players from the game, because there is too much dissonance between the way the players as women should be and the way the players are.

All these pictures are of Candace Parker because one can't talk about the sport, and its relations to feminine ideals, without talking about Candace. Or rather, one could let pictures say their words instead. The WNBA draft is later today, and Candace will be picked first by the LA Sparks. Ask yourself: do the media, and maybe you, care about her so much because she's possibly the best to ever play the game? Or because she's that talented and also quite gorgeous? Maybe it's okay for a girl to play better than most men, but only as long as she's also prettier than most women.

I've been wanting to write this for a while, but was inspired to do so today because of the juxtaposition of two things that happened on Tuesday: the women's NCAA championship game, and this post over at Deadspin. I like basketbawful and Matt, and I know it's humor – but something about incredibly talented women playing basketball at the highest college level, combined with those five inexpensive young ladies as the only mention of women+basketball on Deadspin. . . well. It made me want to create the big teal deer you see before you. Hey, you know? Here's a hot basketball player.

As a brilliant writer once said, "BOOBS. BOOBS! HOLY SHIT BOOBS." Lauren Jackson boobs, to clarify.

*Maria Sharapova is 6'2".

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Making Your Tuesday Better - First Of Many

The young man Making Your Tuesday Better this week is...Al Horford! Now, I was going to save him for a special occasion. But hey, the beginning of the tournament's this week - that's special, right? Therefore, in honor of it, here's Gator!Al.

Now, Al Horford is gorgeous. This is obvious.

I mean, the eyes, the lips, the bone structure...he's got it all.

Enough so that even pretty girls should probably not take pictures with him.

And he's, you know, okay from the neck down, too.

He has his flaws though! For one, he can look like an enormous fourth grader. (And we're going to leave the ears alone for now.)

It can be argued that the perception of his attractiveness is increased in relation to those he usually takes pictures with:

But now that he's gone to the NBA, it's clear that he can be hot with the best of them.

It was so sad when he and the other boys left. It was obvious how much they loved their team, UF, and each other. The press conference had its ups and downs:

Oh, God, Al. Me too. *tear*

Saturday, March 15, 2008

A Lion Born Lame, Held In Destiny's Hand

I find it hard to describe how much I love Sundiata Gaines. He's been, for years, one of the best players in the SEC - and one of the most underrated, within the conference and nationally. He's the "scrappy" kind of player that white people love, except that, oddly, he's not white. He's a great passer, not very athletic, and is hard-nosed, whatever that means - I think it means he fouls a lot. In fact, he may be the first player in tournament history to foul out of two games in one day, but we'll see. (Edit: Yep.) Apart from that, his biggest problem is that he plays for Georgia. And, frankly, Georgia is not all that good.

A common occurence, in Georgia games, is to see Sundiata drop a no-look, seemingly impossible, perfect pass to a teammate that has no idea what to do with it. The Bulldogs are just not very talented. It's probably a recruitment problem, but whatever the reason, they're not good. That's probably why Sundiata is so underrated; nobody pays attention to good players on bad teams, unless they're Michael Beasley. But in Sundiata's case, I think this deep run into the tournament - deepening as I type - may change that.

So, now that Florida's out and Tennessee got upset, I'm rooting for Georgia. Because, frankly, I dislike the rest of the SEC. I don't know why I like Tennessee and UGA, but despise Ole Miss, LSU, and Vanderbilt. (Well, no, I know why I hate Vanderbilt - they're a bunch of assholes, that's why.) I'm probably a bad fan in that way, that the teams I like after my favorite are my favorite's biggest rivals. I've liked Tennessee since the year before last, and watched them often. Bruce Pearl is a pimp and I like the way they wear their headbands. One of my favorite moments from last season was the UT/OSU game - watching Greg Oden guard Wayne Chism was like being witness to a humorous child molestation.

On a different note, one of the most interesting things about the postseason, I think, is the way minor players move themselves into the limelight. It happens at all stages of the game - Daniel Gibson, anyone? In this game, for example, Sundiata fouled out with more than seven minutes left in the game, and the other guard, Billy Humphrey, had to pick up the slack. I'm sure few people have ever heard of Billy Humphrey; I know I never have. But with UGA playing in the championship game as a six seed, and with Sundiata likely to foul his fouly self out foul again (foul) - kid's going to get national attention. I wonder why such things happen every year? It's a matter worthy of its own post. (That code for "I'm lazy".)

Did Vanderbilt get eliminated yet? I hope so. Jerks.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Through Variegated Lenses

I didn't come by my love of sports, and my particular love of basketball, in any regular way. I never played any sports - I'm tiny in all directions and unathletic. For that matter, so are most of my family; the last time a family member played organized sports was when my brother was in Little League, and my tallest relation is 5'8". Apart from football on Saturdays and sometimes Sundays - which I seldom paid attention to - my family didn't particularly watch sports, either. No, my love of sports didn't come from my family or my childhood, which is how I think most fans become fans. Rather than have it ingrained in me, it snuck up on me one afternoon and then never left.

One early spring day when I was about fifteen, I turned on the television and a game came on. I was bored. I watched. And pretty soon, I couldn't not watch. I couldn't turn away, even when my family came in and laughed at me; even though I didn't know the players and had probably never heard of at least one of the teams; even though I'd never watched a basketball game in my life. The game itself is what got me. I've posted before on how much, and vaguely why, I love it, so I won't do so now; I'll only say that the game well and truly grabbed me. So, I watched more games. I became more familiar with teams and players, I learned what the terms meant. And, since I didn't know any at my school and didn't know how to find and befriend them, I searched for other fans on the internets.

I found other girls online that were into sports, girls that were older than me, that were intelligent and excellent writers, and who knew a lot more about basketball than I did (or do). This was, in the interest of full disclosure, on livejournal - yes, I know, I'm a teenaged girl, I've had a livejournal since I was twelve. That kind of interaction influenced me in probably more ways than I can name. For one, I picked up their loyalties. My friend in Denver loved the Nuggets; I learned all about the Nuggets, about Eddie and Melo and JR and AI, from what she wrote. My friend in Phoenix loved the Suns; I couldn't help but see the light. My friend in Orlando loved Dwight; after reading her posts for a while, I did too. I got started on team loyalties that weren't my own, and progressed from there.

My closest of these friends, at UF by way of New York, could care less about professional basketball - she loves the Yankees, the Giants, and the Gators. But she writes for a paper (a published one! on paper!), and therefore has sports caché with me. (A real newspaper! She's only in college!) I followed the links on her page to, among others, Kissing Suzy Kolber. The first post I read was "Fuck It, I'm Throwing It Downfield"; that was my introduction to dedicated sports blogging. And, after following the link on KSK to FreeDarko, I thought: Oh my God. I have truly found my people.

In the midst of all this, I started watching the Gators play. Of course, my eye was first caught by the team's most hirsute player, but soon I fell in love with the team as a whole. And pretty soon after that, they won a national championship. And a year after that - a year I spent working concessions at the O'Dome and watching all the basketball I could - they won another. Now, this was the Gators. I was born in Gainesville. I've spent my life surrounded by people in orange and blue, and now the Gator team of my chosen favorite sport was making history. It was, needless to say, a pleasant way to get started as a basketball fan.

When I say I fell in love with the team, I mean it. I went to every game I could, and watched every other game from start to finish on television - I think I only missed one in the whole season between the first championship and the second. I not only rooted for them to win, I was afraid that they would lose. In the tournament, this became terror; I just knew they would throw away a game, and then it would all be over. But they were unstoppable - with five exceptions - and I knew that that was true, deep down. It still hurt me when they lost, and it still scared me when they played it close.

It hurt, to care that much. But after they won the second one, I relaxed; and after Corey, Taurean, Joakim and Al declared, and after C-Rich and Lee graduated, I promised myself I'd never care that much about a single team again. But that team, and that kind of team loyalty, were the foundations of my emotional attachment to basketball - and that kind of emotional attachment is an integral part of the way I view sports.

I don't, really, know that much about basketball. After all, it took me a year to even figure out what a pick and roll is. I will tell you now that I am not good at basketball analysis, and that there are many other bloggers and writers better at it than me. I've only been watching sports for a relatively short time, and my viewpoint is relatively limited. But that viewpoint is what makes me unique in what I write about: as a female, as an intellectually-inclined person, as a relative outsider, as a fan. After all, how many tiny, teenaged white girls do you know that write about basketball in a bi-equal split between contemplative philosophy and girlish squealing?

Please don't answer that.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Making Your Tuesday Better - Le Suisse, J'y Adore

This week's attractive young basketballer is...Thabo Sefolosha! Why? Why not?

The man known to some as "Swiss Mister" is actually one of my favorite players. I have a soft spot for skinny point-forwards (See: Barnes, Matt), and also for, well, pretty young men. Observe:

Maybe he should be the one played by the dude from Prison Break, eh, Barnes?

He was drafted at the same time as another attractive young man, Tyrus Thomas.

Photographer: Closer, I say!
Thabo: Uh...*shuffles* Like this?
Tyrus: grumblegrumblegrumble. *shuffles*
Thabo: How is-
Photographer: *click*
Tyrus: Gay.

Back to the topic at hand, Thabo is pretty.

I think the best part of being a Bull, for Thabo at least, has got to be the knowledge that he will always be the prettiest one there.

I mean, no offense to Tyrus, but he's got a bad case of the Gangsta-Face. Yeah, Tyrus. You're tough. We get it.

Tyrus: Man, I'm going to get Frenchy-cooties on me.
Thabo: Swedish-cooties.
Wait. Cooties?
Tyrus: Whatever.

Lest you think Thabo's only got it going in the face, voici:

Ohhhh-la-la, Thabo! J'approuve.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Thought Is Degraded Action

I first watched this Stanford team last year, in a game with Washington State. I was watching Washington State because I was in love with Derrick Low. I forget, now, why I first watched Wazzu - I think it was when they were playing Vanderbilt. Whatever reason, they quickly became one of my favorite teams. And, later, Stanford became another.

I like teams because of their players, mostly, with a few exceptions. I like Virginia Tech because of Deron Washington. I like Stanford because of the Lopez twins. And, at first, I liked Washington State because of Derrick Low. But then I watched them play, and became engrossed with the team as a whole. Kyle Weaver. Robbie Cowgill. Taylor Rochestie. Their coach, Tony Bennet. The little backup point that looks like Snoop from The Wire. Even big, foul-y Aron Baynes. My Gator Boys were still playing, so they weren't my favorite team, but they were close. And now that they're gone, Wazzu has taken their place, as my emotional favorite team, if not the one I'd always root for.

But I can't underplay how much I dig Stanford, either. I was taken with Brook and Robin - not what they looked like, or how they played, at least not at first, but by their very existence. Seven foot tall Puerto Rican twins with girls' names? How awesome is that? But then I realized that they, and Derrick Low, were being hyped all over the place. So I figured I might as well check out how they played. And, well, damn. They deserved the hype.

Right now, though, Washington State is playing Stanford, and Stanford just cut the lead from 13 to 2. They are, of course, doing so on the backs of Brook and Robin. As far as I can tell, Brook is the stronger of the two, basketball-wise. He has better numbers and plays more minutes. But if I were the coach of Stanford, I'd be really ugly. No, I mean, if I were the coach of Stanford, I'd play them at the same time as often as I could. And not just because I enjoy watching them play volleyball with the basketball - because with that much size, I see no reason why Stanford can't be at least a Sweet Sixteen team. If all you need is size and skill, then Stanford has it in spades, no matter what the rest of the team looks like. And the rest of the team looks pretty good.

On the flip side is Washington State. Wazzu is not a big team. They've got two big white guys, Baynes stiff and Cowgill not, and Kyle Weaver, who is not very big at all. Yet, with Derrick Low doing his best Steve Nash impression, they don't really need the size. What they need is to not be in the PAC-10, because this is some ACC shit right here. As I'm watching them lose, though, I think they also need more mental toughness. Because they missed ten straight field goals in the last seven minutes, and that's just pretty much reprehensible. All that Stanford did to win that game was to play.

And the Gators lost to Mississippi State. Is it tournament time yet?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Against the Dying of the Light

Devin Harris is now allowed to become a man.

I was not a fan of this trade, on Dallas' part. I just didn't think two years of Jason Kidd was worth ten years of Devin Harris. Now, I'm not that good at analyzing basketball - I leave that to those that actually know what they're talking about - but I was pretty sure about this one.

Nothing wrong with Jason Kidd. He is, as has been proven year in and year out for more than fifteen years, composed purely of amazing. But Devin Harris is, in his own quiet way, pretty damned good - and ten years younger. All this has been gone over. You know this already. But why, I wonder, did nobody ever talk about Devin Harris? Or the Nets, for that matter?

I don't pretend to be unbiased, or objective. Therefore I will not pretend that I watched much of the Nets, lately. They sucked; they were ugly; Jason Kidd and Vince and RJ were allegedly good, but ultimately weren't really; that's all I needed to know. But now I think I'm going to have to, because a free Devin Harris is one I want to see. Avery Johnson is slightly fascistic, as far as I can tell, but Devin Harris always showed flashes - of brilliance, of potential, whatever - that were squashed a bit by Avery's Napoleon complex. That is, of course, blatant unfounded conjecture. Just because he's short and squeaky doesn't mean he's Napoleonic. He may just be a cartoon character. But I digress.

The one constant in the trades this year was that those going West were old and proven, and those sent back East in their place were young and full of potential. It seems the trend now is to mortgage a team's future for the sake of the present - I suppose because it's much easier than actually building a good team. All it's doing, though, is making the West super-competitive now, while making the East young, sucky, and secretly exciting. The exceptions are the Lakers, who manage to be both young/exciting and competitive, and the Celtics.

But in five years, who will be good? Think of how much of the old guard will be gone. The Suns of 2013 will be the Heat of 2007. The Spurs will be in the regenerative phase of the championship machine. Melo may be smiling a little less. Yao will look like Shaq does now, unless he goes the Mutombo route. Dirk will be half-heartedly chucking it from outside...oh, wait. But the other teams, the young and sucky ones? The East, in other words? Think about it.

The Atlanta Hawks have Acie Law IV and Al Horford. They have Josh Smith and Other Josh and Marvin; they have Joe Johnson. Could they draft another guard? Could they ever get a decent coach? Would they get to be great? If they did, would anyone care?

The Chicago Bulls have the Big Three of the future in Noah, Thomas, and Sefolosha - assuming one doesn't get traded, which is probable. In the "Crappy lately, but still somewhat good" column they have Luol Deeeeeeng, Ben Gordon, and Kirk Heinrich, not to mention Nocioni. Noche does something I used to see Taurean do - "Aren't you guys going to play? Fuck it, do I have to win this game all by myself?" Scrappy, is the word, for the lot of them. We'll have to see if scrappy=good.

The Heat can not keep going in the way that they're going. Not that they must not, or they should not - it is, I'm fairly sure, impossible for a team this talented to suck this badly for very much longer. They're not young. But give them a few years of lottery picks, and they will be. And any team with D-Wade and Shawn Marion on it is okay with me.

And the Nets. The Nets have Devin Harris. Maybe RJ and Vince could get their acts together. Who knows what'll happen after that? They'll go to Brooklyn, maybe get LeBron. It's impossible to tell. But I know I'll actually be watching them play, this time around.

It's a cycle, I suppose - this shift in power, the old and the new, the wise trades and the bad ones. The young eventually outstrip the old, and every generation is better (maybe). But, eh. It's impossible to tell - all one can do is pray.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The World Is Too Much With Us

I'm way too new to this whole blog thing - not new to writing on the internet, you understand, just new to sports blogging - to get all meta about it. Nobody wants to read about the writer, I know, so I'll save my introduction of myself and my perspective for another day. For now, though, I'd like to share the planned programming schedule with you.

This will probably start with some regularity next week:

Mondays - Notes On A Game
Tuesdays - Making Your Tuesday Better
Wednesday - Srs Bzns
Thursdays - Totally Up Each Other
Fridays - This Week In Basquetbaal

Expect this to change, depending on events and what I feel like writing; expect mini-TWIBs whenever I feel like it, including weekends; expect everything to go out the window come playoff time.

As it is, though: Notes On A Game is self-explanatory. Making Your Tuesday Better will focus on whatever handsome young basketballer catches my eye that week. Srs Bzns is also self-explanatory - expect blatant Free Darko-style histrionics, philosophic analysation of basketball via metaphor, meta, and general wank. Totally Up Each Other will highlight certain pairs of players that make careers out of taking humorously gay pictures together (examples: Dirk and Steve, LeBron and Varejao). And This Week In Basquetbaal is my bulleted, pointless observations on whatever basketball events of note that I feel like pointlessly observing. As I get more time to do this, other posts will be made as well - as it is, I'm just trying to make sure that I actually update this thing.

If those few of you reading have gotten the impression that I am a sober, srs bzns kind of person, I apologize for misrepresenting myself. I am, after all, new at this; if I were you, I'd set the bar low, so that you can be pleasantly surprised in future.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

But World Enough, And Time

I hadn't known there was a game on this evening. I flipped past, then to it, delighted - the Rockets, hosting the post-trade Bulls. The same Bulls, the announcers informed me, that were now the youngest team in the league. They lost - of course they did - but they made me happy just the same; there was a certain absurdity to them, a kind of hopeful incompetency, that was in many ways exhilarating.

What struck me about the game, what made me want to sit and watch, was the Bulls' new starting lineup - Kirk and, I believe, Duh in the frontcourt, and Noah at center, Thomas at power forward, and Sefolosha at small forward. Was it real? Were they just fucking with me? I couldn't believe that they would really start Tyrus, Thabo and Joakim - especially not all at the same time. It just made too much sense to do so and, as we are all aware, a certain kind of coach is known to not see that kind of sense. But I suppose circumstances forced the hands involved, and the three most talented players played. It was, truly, a water-shed moment.

The Bulls were young and exciting last year too, as I recall. Working late, bored at my job in the evenings, I would watch whatever game was on - I even watched baseball in the summer - and I fell in love, a little bit, with those scrappy, homely Bulls. To watch them now reminds me of how it felt to watch them then, before the horrific start to the season, before the ludicrously undermet expectations, before the spreading cancer in the locker room and on the floor. No - they played, at least at the beginning, as if they were happy. As if, maybe, they enjoyed the game of basketball; as if they felt like what they were, a bunch of freakishly talented kids getting paid to play a game. The fact that their talent arises directly from their youth only exacerbates the excitement; one can feel the expectation returning.

They lost to the burning-hot Rockets. They're a young team and they made young mistakes, and no one, least of all me, expected them to win. But their play made me feel that hope may yet return in Chicago - and made me certain that my predictions will hold true. They're not world-burners, yet. They may not win anything of note, but they will be better than they are; they will even, indeed, be good. They may be great one day. Their youth inspires, and, suddenly, being a Chicago Bulls fan doesn't feel like such a humiliating proposition anymore.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

This Week In Basquetbaal: Can I Kick It? Yes You Can

This is a feature I do on my journal entitled This Week In Basquetbaal. I only have the patience to do it once a week, is why.

Each of the thirty teams in the NBA plays eighty-two games a season. Even a basketball freak does not have to watch every one. Sometimes, though, there are days at a time with games one simply must watch, one after another, unmissable. Sometimes, all the NBA news happens at once. It's lucky that it only happens a few times a season, because it's tiring. Wonderful, but tiring.
So that's the way this past week was. On Thursday was the previously mentioned Phoenix/Dubs game; then the All-Star Weekend; then the debut of Shaq, and Lakers/Suns; and the trade deadline was earlier today. They're lucky I'm not fond of sleep, or schoolwork.

-People say the All-Star Weekend doesn't matter anymore. They say it's boring, does not serve the fans, all of that. To which, I say: fuck you, you don't know what you're missing.

-I've heard they're thinking of having the weekend in New Orleans every year. This seems to me like a great idea - it's one of the few cities that would always welcome a massive party, it has the infrastructure for it, the weekend was good for its economy and morale, et cetera. Great idea all around. (I'm totally not saying this because my friend is maybe going to Tulane, and I could visit him in Februaries and see if I spot anyone tall, well-dressedtr and tattooed.)

-Dwight Howard is Jesus. A flying, giant, happy-go-lucky Jesus with disturbingly broad shoulders. And be "disturbing" I mean...well, you know me; you know what I mean. I'm ruining my succinctness, so let me repeat: Dwight Howard Is Our Savior.

-GERALD GREEN IS FREE. (See below.) Unsung hero, poor guy. But one good dunk does not a winner make. Which brings up the question: if Dwight Howard is Jesus, what does that make everyone else? Jameer Nelson is John, definitely. Hedo Turkoglu would be Peter, except that I'm sure he pulls more tail. Gerald Green...not Pilate, because he didn't win, not even close. I don't know. A Pharisee? Whatever. Birthday cake.

-Steve didn't really do much this Weekend. Still: STEEEVE! I enjoyed the fact that, everytime they sang "O Canada", they'd make sure to get a good shot of our resident Canadian looking patriotic. Could have called that one. Way to go, TNT.

-No, really, way to go, TNT. TNT always have the best NBA coverage, and I love the studio crew. It was kind of genius to have Kenny, Ernie and Chuck call the Rookie-Soph game, and in some ways I wish they'd called the ASG itself. Not really, though, because they weren't good announcers, exactly. Just very entertaining.

-Speaking of the JV game: AL. Oh, God, Al. He makes me feel all funny inside. He's just so special. I love that Charles loves him. He can be on my team. Er, I'll stop with the homerism now - I never pretended to be unobjective! - but let me just say: watching him run the floor with Mike Conley was kind of inspiring, and I can't wait to see him play with an actual point guard again. (See below.)

-The skills competition, except for the dunk contest, was a little bit meh. Jason Kapono's a shooter. Dirk and Steve could care less. Seven-footers (Tim Duncan and his Best Friend Forever, David Robinson) make threes and half-court shots. Deron Williams is amazing. Chris Paul is cuddly. D-Wade and J-Kidd may or may not have completely sucked. The end.

-The game, mistake-riddled as it was, was actually kind of good. It reminded me of Team USA, actually, which lately is a very good thing. They played like All-Stars, which is I guess all you can ask for after last year's fiasco. Watching Dwight Howard and LeBron alley-oop each other for several straight possessions was both humorous and satisfying, and I'm glad, in a way, that the East won - they may be in an entirely different league (D-League, maybe) than the Western conference, but at least they won the All Star Game, right?

-Did I mention Dwight Howard's dunks? I did? Okay. Just checking. Truly, I think Dwight Howard and Chris Paul can heal all the league's woes. Children - rookies and young guys, in this case - are our future, and the future of the NBA looks bright.

-Shaq did not exactly perform Shaq-fu, but he didn't look bad, either. Indeed, he looked like he cared, which is all that matters.

-I really think the biggest impact will be less about gaining Shaq, and more about losing Marion. I love Shawn Marion, but there was clearly something else going on there, and he wasn't the fit for the team that he should have been. He's happier being number two in shitty Miami than number three in blazing Phoenix. Which, whatever, his choice, but it still seems a bit odd.

-Whatever the reason, the Suns seem to be playing better without him. I would have loved for them to win against the Lakers - fickin' Lakers - but on reflection, it was kind of amazing for them to keep it so close.

-There are two elements to this thought of mine - that the Lakers are absurdly good, and that the Suns did not play that well last night. Steve played well, but not great. Leandro and Raja did not do well at all, going shit-for-something from behind the arc, and Raja - defender of Kobe - got knocked the fuck out by Shaq's meaty, head-level elbow. I was so worried for him, I swear, I made girly fearful noises. Really, it was only a surprise that it was that close.

-Maybe the media thinks that Kobe and Shaq is the story, but really: it's all about Kobe and Raja. Sometimes Raja wins, and Kobe goes 2-for-17; sometimes Kobe wins, and Raja gets no points at all. Either way, it's violent, hateful and always entertaining.

-Why, oh why would God let the Lakers have a dynasty again? Because, excepting divine intervention, that's what's going to happen. Kobe's getting older, but he's by no means falling apart - and in the meantime, they have a deep rotation of great young players, AND Pau Gasol, AND, soon, Andrew Bynum. God. Just...why. I mean...Farmar's young and good, they have Derek Fisher's cold-blooded ass, Sasha and Vladrad and Luke Walton play well, I, just...Fuckin' Lakers, man. Did you know, when Young Drew gets back they're going to have the tallest frontcourt in history? No words.

-Trades that happened that got press: Shaq to Suns, JKidd to Mavs, Gasol to Lakers. Trades that got less press: Mike Bibby to Atlanta, Kurt Thomas to Spurs. Trades that got no press: Gerald Green to Houston, TAUREAN GREEN to DENVER. Trades that happened today: a bunch of crap gets exchanged between Chicago, Seattle and Cleveland, Hornets trade somebody for somebody and Bonzi Wells. That's the important stuff.

-You know my feelings about Shaq to the Suns; Gasol to Lakers was an undeniable grand theft. JKidd to Mavs, though. Poor Dallas. This will not end well. Devin Harris is going to be the star young guard when the Nets move to Brooklyn, and play with LeBron James in a few years - and meanwhile, the Mavs, like the Suns and the Celtics, are in automatic WIN THIS YEAR HOLY CRAP mode. You can't split a championship between three teams, guys. Sorry. And now, I think, unless JKidd really gets his feet back under him (in an offense completely unlike anything he's ever run), they're not even going to sniff the Finals.

-Mike Bibby to Atlanta: YAY! A POINT GUARD! We'll see how he does, but come on. It's the East. A couple of weeks ago they were well under five hundred, and were the sixth seed in the playoffs. At this point, it's just a learning experience for the young, secretly talented Hawks - which, actually, applies to most of the East - and it's good for them to have Mike Bibby to play with while Acie Law IV matures into the great guard he's going to be.

-Good for Gerald Green. Maybe he'll get some actual PT. Whether he does or not, I'm sure he's glad to be out of Minnesota (wouldn't anyone be? Poor Corey. Poor C-Rich.) and back in his hometown of Houston. I mean, you see the tattoo of the Houston skyline he's got? That tattoo struck me as odd, for a couple of reasons: one, there's a small section of tall buildings in Houston, and the rest is flat; it's an uninspiring skyline overall; and that's where the rich white people live and work anyway. Odd. Cool, but a bit strange and unexpected. Hey - like Gerald Green! Vote Obama, G.

-TAUREAN IS IN DENVER. I mean, it's not usually a good sign to get traded so early in one's career - see Green, Gerald - but if a player can find a good situation, it's only a good thing. He may not get much minutes in Denver, I don't know. But he was going to get no minutes in Portland, what with Brandon R.O.Y and the glut of good young point guards they've got, so it has to be better for him in Denver. Plus: I'm a big homer for Melo and AI, and I've got a big soft spot for Kleiza and Najera. After the Warriors, they're probably my favorite team, so I'm glad I've got another excuse to watch their games.

-Ben Wallace is out of Chicago, hurrah! Maybe now Tyrus, Joakim and Thabo can actually play, which is good considering they're much, much better than Ben Wallace at this point. It doesn't even matter who else got traded. Big Ben is gone, and the Bulls have the young bigs, Kirk, Little Ben - I guess he can just be "Ben" now - and Deng, and they are going to be better than they are now. Which couldn't be hard, but really - they're going to hit their stride, I can feel it.

-Ultimately, there was good news for all my Gator Boys except for Corey and C-Rich. Al got a point guard; Joakim got freedom; Taurean got sent to Denver. Meanwhile, Corey and C-Rich are cold, lonely losers. I just want to hug them, seriously. At least they can go parka-shopping together.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Phoenix-Red Simplicity, Enshrined In That Not Extinguished Fire

The problem with describing basketball is that to be specific is to rob the description of its meaning. The stories of basketball are universal, eternal; to describe this hard-luck story, this single mother raising her tall skinny son to stay away from drugs and gangs, this nice boy from across the cornfields, is to take away that part of its power. But here I will be specific, and detail the most beautiful game I've seen in a very long time: the game between Phoenix and the Warriors.

It seems that Golden State is involved in a lot of these pretty games. And it's not hard to see why - if basketball is about speed, and skill, and shooting, and .0001 percent of humanity athleticism, then Phoenix is the epitome of basketball. And if that is so, then Golden State is the epitome of Suns basketball. (Plus a large helping of absurdity, an insane fanbase, and some of the best stories/tattoos in the league.) The Warriors are basketball in its purest form, and the Suns are close behind; and this was, therefore, the best game of the season, without a doubt.

When the Warriors are on, they are on. They're so on that they burn. When Stephen Jackson is pulling up threes in opponent's faces - when Baron Davis is hitting every shot he tries - when Monta Ellis is too fast to see, and Matt Barnes is making saves that seemed impossible - when Boom and Stack Jack and Matt Barnes are all getting technicals, not to mention Nelly - when Kelenna and the rooks are being exciting, and when Andris Biedrins is pulling in rebounds - rebounds! - it's every tired cliche possible to make. It's a circus, it's a choreographed dance, it's ridiculousness in basketball form, it's basketball the way it was always meant to be played. And the Suns, well. They're pretty good too.

There were times, in that game, when there wasn't a single player on the floor over six foot eight. In the same way that being separated from a lover will let one realize that one wasn't much in love to begin with, it's games like this that cause a spectator to think - Well, what's so great about big men anyway? Imagining Chris Webber (much as I adore him) and Shaq in that game - perhaps waiting under opposite baskets as the other players race by, glowering at each other from across the court and waiting for their turns to rebound and block shots - gave me, honestly, chills. No, this wasn't the National Basketball Association: this was basketball. This was five guys against five guys and see who scores more points. This was short-shorts and Julius Erving and only the showiest kind of D. This was perfect.

As interesting as the show the clicking, churning Warriors put on, as they always do, was the ongoing flux of the Suns. Are they, perhaps - heretical as it may be - better without Shawn Marion? Shaq will not, ultimately, make them much better, at least as far as basketball goes. But they played some of their best ball without Amare, and maybe they'll play better without the Matrix. Maybe Boris will remember that he's good at basketball, and try shooting sometimes; maybe Grant Hill will find his old glory; maybe Steve Nash's back will stay in one piece for that last half of the season. Maybe Brian Skinner will grow some hair and dye it purple, to go with that beard of his. Who knows? I want Steve to get his ring. And I hope that he gets it this year, while he can still stand up - even if it means that Iverson doesn't get it, or Jason Kidd, or Dirk, or any of the numerous others who should but don't. Maybe the Big Cactus, the Big Gaseous Body, the Big Knee Injury Waiting To Happen, can get Steve that ring. Or maybe the absence of Shawn will do it.

But that's half a season away; all one can pray for now is a playoff series between the Suns and the Warriors. The implications of that thought are, truly, goose-bump inducing.

Our Personal Weather

There are two places I love: basketball courts, and bookstores. The bookstores - or libraries, for that matter - are easy to understand. They're stories, stories on top of stories, boxes full of stories for a dollar, shelves and shelves worth of stories. Every one by a different author, each with his or her own story; every character in every book with its own story stacked within its larger story. Even the books themselves have stories, which is why I especially love used bookstores - ragged sci-fi novels from the fifties, single-printing vanity press books, shiny brand-new New York Times Best Sellers unexplainably going for a buck fifty, all of them passing through unknowable hands and being read by uncountable eyes before ending up with all the others on that shelf or in that box. Being in a bookstore is like being in the middle of a teeming, screaming crowd of people, if you know how to listen. And that's why I love basketball too.

It seems like few people know how to find the stories in basketball - indeed, if you read the articles, it seems that most have quite a dim view of the Association. But to watch basketball and see what it truly is, one must be able to read its stories. Basketball and books are the same in this way - they are perfect microcosms of the world; they encompass and distill to what is most important and what is most beautiful. To watch basketball and see its stories is to see humanity at its finest, its truest, its realest - at, in its way, its most beautiful.

There's a famous phrase by a certain playwright, about the world being a stage. Here, now, the people are the players, and the basketball gods can write a story like no playwright ever could.

In football, anything can happen on any given Sunday. In basketball, it's more like any given day. There is no protection, no padding for a basketball player, literally or figuratively. He is what you see; he is more than you could ever see, not in forty-eight minutes on a hardwood floor, not in eighty-two games, not in four rounds of seven. Not, ever, in a stat line. Yet, what you see in all those is as much of what he is as what you do not see; and that's the beauty of it.

To watch a game and know what you see - to see a player and know his game, to also know his story and every other story tied to it - is better than a book, realer than a movie or play. It's why we love this game, whether we know it or not. It, more than the innate beauty in speed and skill, more than the poetic ramifications of perfection of motion, is why I love this game. It's humanity. And it's the best game in the world.