Every underbelly deserves its own underbelly
You might say DLIC did the definitive FreeDarko ax-sloshing of college ball last week, but the Final Four brought on in me a whole new wave of bitterness. Hence, tomorrow I will present without qualms my contribution to the effort, the one McSweeney’s joint I’ve thus far written that comes off as deranged (and uneven) as this blog can sometimes get.
I did leave out one simple, solid point in my version of the anti-college onslaught, one so inflammatory and desperate it makes sense only in the heated environment that is the last gasp of March Media rhetoric: LeBron. Say what you will about the values of the NCAA game, the profligacy of the pros, or what sport in America means to you. But on a strictly technical level, no individual has ever been as tailor-made for the game of basketball, in any one of its many forms, as King James. His skill set, physique, athleticism, and attitude pretty much ensure that, no matter where in history you were to set him down, LeBron would dominate basketball as he found it. And last time I checked, this walking incarnation of all that is timeless, and acontextual, about the sport spends his days up at the NBA level. As in, if you actually care about basketball in its purest form—as opposed to any one perspective’s heavily-biased purism—you should tend toward the setting in which its human corollary most adequately practices his craft. LeBron is the single best argument against college ball: whatever it is, it’s not a state-of-the-art realization of Naismith’s original thirteen in their most perfectly theoretical form.
If I am paying any attention to what’s left of the field of sixty-four, it’s because of the entropic influence they exert on everyone’s Draft projections. Generally, this is looked at as a frantic plus for would-be pros; nothing falls as softly on an underclassman’s ears as the news that, due to his irrationally over-valued performance in a handful of widely-viewed games, he is now projected to make millions more than he was during an entire season’s worth of output. I’ve joked for some time, though, that a prospect might carefully monitor his stock with an eye toward not getting selected by a god-foresaken team that will waste the best years of his life. Of course, the profuse amounts of money involved make this an unlikely scenario, but peep this insight into the mind of Joakim Noah (Palm Beach Post, by way of Inside Hoops).
The last NBA game Joakim Noah saw in person could be his last one for some time. The Florida Gators 6-foot-11 sophomore star said Tuesday he plans to return to Gainesville next season, despite his rapid ascension up NBA Draft boards. A trip to the Final Four to face George Mason this weekend, coupled with a visit to Madison Square Garden last season to see the Knicks and New Jersey Nets, make the decision a no-brainer for Noah.
"I left in the middle of the game; it was boring," Noah recalled of the Knicks-Nets game. "It's a joke almost. Everything is slowed down — they play 85 or 82 games or whatever. "College is just so fun." Noah, 21, is in no rush to leave the college game behind, even if he could be drafted among the top five picks and lock up a guaranteed two-year contract worth more than $5 million.
I’m sure some less important people out there will be quick to trumpet the triumph of uncompensated college fun, with its emotional geysers and indelible sense of rightness, over the “just a job” mentality of the NBA. Look between the lines, though, and you’ll notice the detail that supplieth the serpent: he was at a fucking Knicks game. This possible #1 overall didn’t just witness some typically deflated pro basketball; he had to visit its frostiest seat of lowliness, and take in a team crowded with talented, mis-coached into oblivion, and forever mocked by the long shadow of its hair-brained GM. In short, Noah saw every reason why you wouldn’t want to go the NBA right away, fast money or no fast money.
Granted, dude’s set financially thanks to his tennis-pro-turned-reggae-star dad, but from a strictly economic point of view, ending up on the Knicks (yes, I know the Bulls get their #1 overall) or Hawks hardly puts someone in a position to cash in come 2010. The Bobcats are victims of unimaginable pain, the Raptors on the way up, and the Hornets have Chris Paul. But Portland? Minnesota? Utah? For assorted reasons, hardly destinations that will offer the utmost in personal and/or professional fulfillment. Yes, lottery teams are rarely ideal situations, but you can see why going to a disorganized, poorly-run franchise lacking in fan support and likely to dampen one’s future might not be worth the premature payday? This is a league of stars, and landing on a team capable of positioning you to be one is a major part of that. Otherwise, it can set you back several years in development and acclaim.
I will now conclude this most shrieky of companion posts (the sins of the McSweeney’s column shall revisit it twenty-fold. . .) with what I spent all weekend trying to write before I realized there wasn’t much to it. In fact, it is nothing more than a pet peeve of mine that seems like there must be some authority behind it: can we please, as a community of over-intellectualized NBA fans, foreswear the deadly jazz/ball comparisons? Yes, both are distinctly Afro-American. Both reflect common themes of improvisation, spontaneous collective dynamics, identity-through-action, and the primacy of voice/style in any gesture; as metaphors for each other, they're a cute couple every five years or so. But basketball’s arrival as a sport of great expressive, symbolic power pretty much coincided with jazz’s ultimate withdrawl from mainstream civilization; there are any number of seventies cultural touchstones that better mirror the ABA era, and today’s hip-hop epoch has as little to do with jazz in any real way as, well, hip-hop.
It's not just that there are more apt metaphors for the style-laden NBA, or ones that bear a more comprehensive family resemblance. When it comes to linking the NBA to black cultural traditions, there are forms of music (and dance) that you can actually perceive in the rhythms and cadence of the past thirty years of Association(s). Today, Ray Allen is the only guy in the league whose game makes sense juxtaposed against the contours of classic Blue Note, largely due to Spike's commercial; for any other individual, or any contest as a whole, Hot 97 or that latest mix-tape is the real musical key to the aesthetics, aims, and even creative ethics of the NBA as we know it.
Honestly, it seems like jazz's high/low credibility is merely an invaluable tool for redeeming what many perceive as a long-term decline in the game. Saying that basketball has assimilated funk, disco, boogie, and two decades of hip-hop doesn't sound nearly as majestic—or as defiantly contrary—as insisting that it's merely gotten more jazzy, with this trend coming to head at exactly the same time as, according to the Association's detractors, the hip-hop element has destroyed the game once and for all. Not surprisingly, this discourse is often in league with attempts to locate the hidden jazz in hip-hop. If you ask me, the whole thing smacks of essentialism; why aren't these same minds spending their days and nights dissecting the Bill Evans-influenced on-field exploits of a certain unemployed amateur pianist?
Oh, and if anyone can send me a video of that TNT spot from a few years back in which Vince, Webber, Ray Ray, and one other All-Star were playing as a jazz combo in someone's living room, consider yourself the proud owner of a free shirt. That's the single best evidence of the imperative I've been pushing for the last three paragraphs.