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.