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 Ladies...post, 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 cheerleaders...it'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".