“Clichés about individuals versus teams are not, in fact, contrasts between upstarts and the company. That equivocation, which verges on deadly, misses the point here: athletes always have more in common with each other than they do with their organizations, and the “team” in “team player” is a sub-community of peers, under the leadership of a coach who has earned their respect. In other words, the franchise is always external, watching, hoping, waiting, and leaping at any opportunity to take credit for athletes’ success. Obviously, bad contracts and decisions can sink a team, or insert an undesirable element into the equation. Yet the wholesome community here isn’t the largely invisible mega-business, but the levelheaded players in the middle between spoiled, useless max deals and owners who plead poverty in order to grind the Players Association into the dirt.”—Me, for Good Men Project.
“There’s this book called ‘Voices of Baseball’—I don’t know if it’s in print anymore. It’s a book I got when I was a kid; I think it came out in the Eighties. It’s not an oral history of baseball, but it’s basically a book made out of quotes pulled from all different kinds of sources and then arranged by subject, including teams, cities, players, eras, race, drugs, sex, and the history of the game. Sometimes I think my whole idea of poetry was shaped more by books like that than by poetry books.”—Anselm Berrigan, in my interview with him for the Poetry Foundation.
The draft is bad television we’ve all secretly agreed to enjoy as theater, camp, and a collection of possibly iconic moments that never really get too big or too small. That’s why it’s so hard to turn up an image, or clip, that we haven’t seen a thousand times before—no matter how insignificant or boring it may be. Even the Hawks’ 1987 pick of Dallas Comegys is part of the canon, whether or not you could have told me anything about it off the top of your head. It’s not just that, quite wisely, NBA-TV plays past drafts on loop in the week leading up to this year’s edition. This thing was meme before meme degenerated into what it means today. This state of hyper-familiarity is only heightened by the informal, even mysterious, state of the draft before broadcast tore into it. It used to be a buffet, hunches, and eight million rounds. Actually, there were still lots and lots of extra rounds as late as 1988. What grail is holier, the future Hall of Famers selected casually, sloppily, with an indelicacy that would make your fantasy league blanche? Or those later picks made in the rubble of the telecast? The former need no gleam. They are lean and inevitable in way that even 1984 can’t match. In our minds, the later rounds of the eighties catch the reflection of spectacle, but deformed and forgotten, probably have suits and reaction shots that are the NBA equivalent of outsider art.
“For most NBA fans, Dirk is neither white, nor specifically German, but the guy who finally asserted the value of the European Other. Luke O’Brien’s piece stresses that Nowitzki has made us accept him, albeit only after realizing that neither Don Nelson (the libertine) nor Avery Johnson (the taskmaster) had used him correctly thus far. Only Dirk could perfect Dirk, and if his off-season of wandering and thinking sounds straight out of Herzog—a slightly loopier version of the kind of masculinity post-war Germany learned to project—it was Rick Carlisle, as much as this introspection, that allowed Dirk to find himself. The Triumph of Soft is not about making people learn to love Germans, but fitting Germany into a larger, maligned sports category, and then turning that on its head.”—From my latest “Three Seconds” column at SportsFeat.
"Then the Heat had to go and screw everything up by making the Finals. Had they just put up a good fight in the next-to-last round, but then lost in respectable fashion, we would’ve been forced to grudgingly acknowledge their progress and perhaps concede that a title this year was a bit of a reach. Heat hate had become less tenable, with all the team had done to establish a rhythm and a passable reputation, mostly through its play. That team was pure basketball, and it would slip right through your fingers. Then came the Finals, which meant a chance to throw all that away. Because that’s the way sports works."
“I have long admired your publication” becomes “I love the stuff you guys are doing”; I use capitalization, and labor over word choice, in a chat about people who are dicks. I find myself replacing the stately italics with all-caps in a for-pay piece of writing. Exclamation points and emoticons crop up where there’s no guarantee the audience will get the irony behind them. We’ve all had the experience of typing in the wrong window; instead of mechanical errors, though, these are instances of bringing the wrong person to the window.”—"Personality Seepage", a very modern problem that I diagnose on The Awl today.
“James had passed to Bosh. Wade had been the fourth-quarter warrior, all but unstoppable, and James more of a facilitator (watch the tape). Bosh, despite that last shot, continued to stink. Who was the man? Was Bosh worth it? Was the manly, assertive Wade being forced to take a backseat to a passive-by-nature James? What is a superstar? Where lies Truth? Won’t this tension lead to utter disaster in Game 4? How can these players not be as freaked out, or unnerved, as we want them to be?”—At GQ.com, I get annoyed at the way people talk about this series, specifically the Miami team. Whatever happened to reality? When I say that, you know we’re all in trouble.
1. The last GQ.com NBA Playoffs Kibitz with David Roth. There will likely be one more, but Roth won’t be here for it. So consider this half of me, or us, saying goodbye. That explains the tone:
Shoals: You are a kind and decent person who understands the instructive value of sports. I root for the devil, both because he is the devil but because he has the best laser shows and most impressive collection of severed heads. Am I weak and ugly and looking to over-compensate? So what if sports are aspirational. I don’t want to relate to things.
That was the end. Click to see how we got to there.
There is no dark side, only varying degrees of risk. To say otherwise is to pretend that “dirty” isn’t relative, or that—again, returning to PEDs—going too far isn’t the greatest sin imaginable. To say otherwise ignores how much money, and what kind of egos, exist at the tip-top of college football or international soccer. Business is dirty. Why would the backrooms of sports be any different? Anecdotally, we acknowledge this. Yet the unspoken double-standard, and feigned shock at high-level scandal, sticks with us out of some combination of hope and fear.
I hope that keeps you from sleeping, or otherwise feelings good about yourself.