Friday, October 17, 2008

10/17/08 - Where Awesome Happens

So, a plug; here we are deep in football season, with the Fall Classic about to kick off, and the NBA season approaches with great stealth. I'm not sure when exactly NBA basketball became such a niche sport, more on par with the NHL than the NFL, but my purely anecdotal experience suggests that NBA fandom is narrow. The diehards are just as enthusiastic as those found for any other sport, but the vast casual middle seems much smaller.

Take another look, I urge you. Why? Two lines of argument - athletic/aesthetic and metatextual.

1. Athletic/aesthetic - Basketball played at its highest level is most often compared to jazz, and though the cliche is hackneyed (I don't really like jazz personally), there is an element of truth to it; namely, collaborative improvisation holds sway in basketball like in none of the other major U.S. sports. Football, which I do love watching, is military and industrialized - success is so often dependent on the industrial virtues of parts working together in harmony; pistons cranking to turn out a chassis, etc. There are great improvisational moments in football, for sure - the acrobatic TD catches, the scrambles away from pressure, the cutback runs, but a great deal of football plays consist of many discrete parts operating in harmonic concert. Baseball is almost anti-collaborative; a series of discrete 1-on-1 battles (interesting that basketball is accused often of being just that, when no hitter in trouble can ever pass to the corner for an open three, or whatever the equivalent would be). Baseball is a game played in many individual steps, with many pauses, and units of the game measured to within an inch of its life - strikes become outs become innings.

Basketball is fluid, closer to soccer, another game that has caught on as something to play but not watch in the U.S. in large part. Plays are called, plans are laid, to be sure, but there is an element of improvisatory danger in every possession, for every team. Zach Randolph airballing a three pointer for the Knicks last year is so batshit insane that it could a) only have happened on the Isiah Thomas Knicks and b) in a game of basketball. It would be like the Raiders attempting a FG but instead of kicking it Janikowski decides "screw this, I'm throwing a long bomb to my long snapper". Crazy on a basketball court, but it ACTUALLY HAPPENED. Absolutely inconceivable to even consider the equivalent in other sports.

The game is beautiful, athletic, and compelling. A common complaint holds that you only need to watch the last 2 minutes, that the rest is irrelevant, but any watcher of basketball knows how much the preceding minutes inform those final 2. Often everything that happens toward the endgame is foreshadowed and hinted at during the beginning and middle. The All-Star game, sure, only the end matters, but contrast that with the steady viselike effect of the ticking clock from the first minute of any regular season or (especially) playoff game - the game builds to those final 2 minutes. Sure, you could just watch the climax of an action movie, but you are missing the texture that gives that climax such force and power.

2. Metatextual. More than any other sport, NBA basketball has prompted the absolute best sports writing in the form of blogging of any major sport, no holds barred. The work of the cream of the crop of the NBA bloggers is so well-written and well-researched that the games themselves are elevated. Seek out the following and be awed. - the worst of pro ball. Vicious, endearing comedy. - get your Ph.D in NBA studies here. This year they didn't preview NBA teams, they previewed EVERY SINGLE GAME OF THE SEASON, in pithy, haiku-like snippets of glory. - Just solid analysis, in-depth and smart. - a daily podcast on the NBA during the season. Don't miss it. - Edited by the incomparable J.E. Skeets, of the Basketball Jones. Unique in the blogosphere, Skeets is hilarious AND inclusive.

Start there, but it's merely the tip of the iceberg. Enjoy the series, enjoy fall football, but if you love sports try re-introducing yourself to the NBA.

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