September 7th, 2013

The New Yorker web item about Jack Kerouac and possible concussions is, on its face, an important melding of sports and literature. Football has always been part of Kerouac’s All-American backdrop. But we’re rarely given any reason to consider the difference between one sport and another, or acknowledge which one he excelled it and what that might mean. This line of inquiry belong to football and football alone. It also has the effect of extending Kerouac’s sports biography as something more than a symbolic echo. It gives it, um, resonance.

It also has the unlikely effect of deepening the divide. Beyond-the-grave CTE check-ups are inexact science but they are science nonetheless. The self-destructive literary genius is at best pop psychology; often it verges on mythology. Here, sports beat up literature and not only took its lunch money, it stripped away a key narrative and reduced it to a doctor’s visit. Body beats mind, reason screws Romance, life becomes a little less magical even in suffering. The most important thing here is a human life, so keeping score like this is kind of tacky. Then again, shouldn’t that be the case whether we’re talking about the nuts and bolts or sports or the inner workings of authors?

On some later date I am going to write a lot about the place of Romanticism in sports, specifically when it comes to injury (what up, long lost book proposal!) I’m not sure, though, if it’s indicative of a shift in the way we view creative heroes or just how resistant concussions have proven to poetry of sports injury.

August 28th, 2013

That’s History

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. 

August 15th, 2013

New Kevin Durant spot with Hannibal Buress and DJ Mustard! 

August 5th, 2013
Some might see Jennings as a bust or a tease; I prefer to think of him as, in true southpaw fashion, perplexing, imperfect, and at his fleeting best, an original. That’s the curse of the NBA lefty: They’re outsiders whose very presence sows chaos but who rarely rise to the level of self-definition. That same madness they can inflict upon others also infects their game. Yet there’s no angst to it. Jennings is a ghost who hasn’t quite figured out the meaning of death.
May 16th, 2013
I live with his decisions because he has a pure heart." The terrible thing about losing is that it makes you sentimental. Winning makes you sentimental, too, but mostly because it fills you with an exaggerated love for the people who helped you along the way. Losing makes you want to defend the people you love who’ve disappointed you. But you can’t say that stuff, because to the people who don’t feel the loss the way you feel it, you’ll sound like a moron, or worse, a mystic. When you lose, I thought as I joined the crawl toward the on-ramp, and you want to hold on to the past that you’re afraid is about to slip away from you, you have to say the opposite of what you mean. What Brooks should have told the media was not "Kevin Durant is pure of heart"; it was "sports is the worst and it sucks and I hate it.
May 15th, 2013

This post is simple and delightful: The Classical now has a magazine, courtesy of the folks at 29th Street Publishing (responsible for The Awl’s Weekend Companion and Maura Magazine). The Classical was generously Kickstarted into existence a year and a half ago. Those funds were meant to last a year; at that point, it would either thrive on its on two feet or disappear from the face of the Earth. Instead, this magazine happened. The Classical has evolved and has a real way forward; the website will go on in some form but surprise, that’s not the best business model. I’m happy for it. 

A note about me and The Classical, since you asked: I’m not actively involved in the day-to-day operations. I may have a byline sometime in the near future, but all writing in my life depends on how much the day job opens up that week. Regardless, I still feel a deep investment in The Classical; in a way, the further I’ve gotten from it, the more I’ve been able to appreciate the great work it showcases. This latest development makes me immensely happy, both as someone who was part of that original vision and always wanted to see it sustained, and as a reader who thinks The Classical is on the side of the light. Subscribe! 

May 7th, 2013
Any sane basketball fan should be mourning for the Thunder and for themselves. Not because they look shaky without Westbrook; what team doesn’t lose a bona fide superstar and then experience some aches and pains? Instead, we should allow ourselves to admit that Durant/Harden/Westbrook was a glorious thing and miss it profoundly.
Back on the block at GQ to get all emotional about the post-James Harden Thunder. 
May 1st, 2013
What if a perennial All-Star had come out? It would be about a quasi-celebrity, not a working stiff. The effect would be more localized and nearly impossible to react honestly to. Collins is a Basketball Everyman. The reaction to him is indicative of how players feel about each other and it would seem, how they would view a gay teammate.
March 31st, 2013

The Dress Code Shall Set You Free

Steve Marsh wrote a fantastic piece for GQ about fashion in the NBA these days. Rather than deal solely with the surface (meme-worthy press conferences and vanity glasses), Marsh gets into both the heavy specifics (who styles who; who goes to what fashion shows and why) and the roots of the movement. It’s the latter that makes the most provocative claim: that the dress code, rather than stifle identity politics in the NBA, instead laid the groundwork for a new era of image. Hip-hop wasn’t left in the dust; rather, basketball players undertook the same shift in paradigm that’s come to define Jay-Z or Kanye. Style of dress is shorthand for the way they make their way in the world, both professionally and personally.

Dressing like Iverson was a salute to the “real”; all too often, it was also indicative of an inability to adapt to the demands of the NBA life. The dress code, on paper, was to be the worst kind of assimilation. Instead, it forced players to confront maturity on their own terms. Stern wanted suits? Players discovered couture and the rekindled the grand tradition of looking fly. Stern wanted accountability and respectability? Today, players are more self-aware and serious than ever about their roles as businessmen and power brokers. It’s not just about fighting for the right to wear XXXXXXL. They’ve got bigger fish to fry. Ironically, the dress code may, in the long run, have made NBA players even more troublesome. It was the last stand of one era and, in the message it sent, a clear sign that players needed to start working on a stronger, savvier alternative to what they stood for.