Sunday, February 17, 2008

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.

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