I’ve been thinking a lot about McGrady, Iverson, Odom, and their particular era of the NBA—you can read some of it here on the GQ website. But aside from the simple chronology of “the last beacons of a messy, charismatic era are falling away, let the New Bawses reign from up on high,” this is also a story about those of us who have been writing about the NBA is various unconventional ways since T-Mac, AI, and Odom truly mattered.
A friend on Twitter asked if the “era” I was referring to was “the FD era.” Any way you want to take that comment, it’s true. Everything I learned how to do with basketball, from a critical and creative standpoint, came out of this problematic, if endlessly fascinating, crop of players. Their basketball issues were also very human issues; their successes and failures could never be reduced to X’s and O’s. It’s worth noting, too, that when we wrote about them, we were also writing about ourselves, even as the athletes themselves existed on a plane we could barely grasp.
As people and performers, these were gods. And yet to dig into their narrative was about as messy and laden with hot entrails as anything in your local therapist’s office. Even when teams were the word, like with the Kings or Suns, there were very strong personalities guiding the way. Webber’s moods are the history of the Kings; between Nash and D’Antoni, the Suns were as much about eccentricities and they were new offensive systems. Hell, the first iteration of that squad was basically an exercise in aimless joie de vivre that happened to win big. If writing about sports always seemed to present itself as not only something bigger than wins and losses, but a theater where athletes could wow us with feats and then lose us in their countenances.
There’s also a highly technical and possibly uninteresting way for me to look at this era. My writing-about-sports career was launched by these players; as they started to fall away, I lost of lot of my heart and soul in the writing. There were notable exceptions, like with Russell Westbrook. But there was a marked shift away from soul-searching and on toward the theorizing and jargon-forming that, in particular, marked the work Tom Ziller and I did together.
Not to say that this stuff was leaden or humorless (probably applies more to my attempts at parsing the mysteries of human nature via T-Mac). I can safely say, though, that with these players the NBA was something it isn’t anymore. The local color is gone; long live the ideological formations.