Juwan a Blog? #5: I Go Hard Now

Posted on Sat 17 December 2011 in Juwan a Blog? by Alex Dewey

"Review forthcoming. Not a joke."
__ -- Me, December 4, to I Go Hard Now.

Well, I wasn't joking, but I may as well have been! Starting today, I'll be giving points out for effort here at Juwan a Blog? (but only for me), and, in this new paradigm, I'm going to go ahead and award myself an "A" for this entry, despite having just 40 or so words so far. See, these 40 words were preceded by at minimum 10000 others, in dozens of edits. My eight-day quest to write this is nothing short of heroic: Since starting this review, I've read about 50 basketball drills, probably 200 other blog entries, the entirety of "A Season on the Brink," and about a quarter of that one hockey memoir. I also found time to save a lot of people from various fires. All of this in an attempt to understand this one neat NBA blog centered around the Cavs. (To that end, I read their last 5 months of content as well.) But all my heroism counts for practically nothing without results: Most of the people I saved died from smoke inhalation, and after 8 days I still only have about 200 words and an endless graveyard of GG drafts within and without this review.

Long story short, it's a tough world we're living in. A tough world... rather like the Cavaliers are living in right now!* And I Go Hard Now is a blog about this tough NBA world. Named after Christian Eyenga's terse summary of everything, I Go Hard Now is a slightly longer summary of slightly fewer things. Fewer things like...the NBA! The Cavs! The experience of sports fandom, especially towards a troubled small-market team like the Cavs! MSPaint drawings of Micky Arison doin' stuff with a steak! Really sad, important stuff!

* Transition brought to you by impromptu speeches from Alex, age 8.

• • •

So, that's a summary of IGHN. But is it any good?

Well, you'll have to work that one out for yourself. I can't tell you what to like. There's no accounting for taste. On my part, I liked most of what I read of IGHN, and I read quite a lot of it. It's usually pretty funny and well-written. There's little in the way of pretense, and while they have newsposts they don't seem to have much filler. During the lockout they had kind of a crunch for content, and they did suffer, but it's an NBA blog and you can't get blood from a stone, so this is kind of a quibble. Overall the blog is quite good in ways that I'm not always primed to appreciate in an Internet community that simultaneously moves very quickly and - apart from that - seems to take moving very quickly as a central goal and virtue. Personally, I can't keep up with any of that shit. I haven't moved any of my furniture in weeks. I haven't found a new band I really like in a long time, and I just heard dubstep for the first time last week (and downtempo is where it's really at). What I listen to is as likely to be from any year between '28 and '08. I've never mixed energy drink with a tasty alcohol. I barely leave my apartment. I'm not a man about town, so to speak. I'm just a fan that thinks a lot about the NBA and writes a lot about what I see and what I think about it. And in that sense, IGHN is right there with me. They do the fan experience well. I don't have to be an NBA blogger or junkie or focusing on what to write about next when I'm reading them. It is what it is.

Part of what I like about IGHN is just that they write with a voice that isn't generally "writerly", if you get me, and one that I can relate to in my own writing. It might sound like a backhanded compliment to say that, but for contrast I look at someone like Aaron or (even better) Kelly Dwyer and I realize that they write in a uniform, highly professional voice which is ready-made for expressing authoritative, highly well-thought-out opinions about...almost anything. I am convinced that when Aaron was three days old he already had a complex, well-formulated opinion about the fall of Communism and scribbled it out in 800-word position papers on spare menus in his parents' house. When he edits something I write, I can spot the edits immediately by the kinds of words and transitions he uses. It's in the dictionary for "distinctive" as far as I'm concerned.

Me? Shit, I'm still not convinced I have the qualifications to review this other blog. To my detriment, I don't fix on a writerly voice. I don't know if it's that I can't, or if I simply haven't read enough, or if my mind is just too cluttered or what. Usually I have to read a lot in the short-term before I can write anything worth reading, shamelessly and unconsciously appropriating my targets' style like some sort of Markovian Joe Posnanski Machine. My style is so improvisational, so new to me at any given time, that I feel that on any given sitting I could be the one to write the next "Frank Sinatra Has A Cold" or find myself unable to describe an introduction to a blog entry about another blog. If I don't have the right amount of coffee, or time, or space uncluttered, my ceiling is mere banal competence. It's a sickness, I say, but just stick around here and I'll show you the ceiling, God willing. And then I'll talk some more about Richard Jefferson.

I think the difference - at its core - is that Aaron usually has things figured out before he writes or converses about them, and I'm constantly reacting to these things as if they were new and otherwise catching up. Aaron has more archetypes, domain knowledge, and contacts, and tailors his style and content to convey (asymptotically well) what he already knows and is trying to say. Thinking about unfamiliar players, he has a few workaday processes and memories to draw from to make them familiar and then he starts to draw on that familiarity to write something. On the other hand, thinking about unfamiliar things, I'm always like a kid thrust on stage at a jazz concert: I hear all these instruments bleating the truth loud and obviously to a well-listened ear, but I don't know the standards or the conventions or even the basic musical forms. But I have to say something, because I have no patience. And so I start out trying to sing my one little melody when the other instruments get quiet, and I end up either reinventing downtempo or pouring that acid from Breaking Bad into the piano in sheer frustration.

As a teaching example, both Aaron and I watched Eric Gordon last summer at FIBA, and both of us (thanks to League Pass Gravity's resident Black Hole, Blake Griffin) have seen him play a number of times. But Aaron was a little more tuned in, had a little more thought from FIBA to tune into this guy, had a little more of a takeaway from Gordon's defense. So now Aaron has a sophisticated opinion on Gordon and I'm just trying to keep up. This dichotomy is a bit stark, a bit unfair, even: A lot of the difference is probably just a gap in experience with subject matter. Hell, two of Aaron's best pieces on here (two of the best pieces on the Internet for my money) were improvisational and impressionistic, and weren't the same going in as they were starting out. Every tweak to the structure or content he made was out of the spirit of figuring out what it is he had to say. But there's something to this dichotomy. Just about everything I write has a highly open-ended (and cluttered) feel of process, of becoming, even when I know what I want to say about the topic. Book reviews, reflections on games, fiction: These things don't have any inherent structure going in, and I have to create structure and content at the same time that I'm reacting to the structure and content before me. What schema, what basic conclusion, what central conclusion could I have started with that would have produced this very piece?

The only possible answer is that I've thought about IGHN a lot, and I wanted to say something about them, and thought whatever it is had something to do with me. Everything follows from that. The endless drafts, the obsession with getting a good intro/context, the dozens of related dichotomies I thought up just to solve the problem of this piece. I wanted to say something, plain and simple, and looked for everything in my arsenal of experiences and prior reading to figure out how to place it. And almost everything about IGHN follows from that same impulse, that same line of thinking. They have something to say, but most of all, they've thought about the Cavs and the NBA a lot and their own place as fans, and they're trying to put it all together by starting conversations or putting arguments into words about their subjects, and at the end, hopefully, they have something worth sharing. Writing is the means for their understanding, not a bureaucratic afterthought of understanding. They don't know the answer going in, but they did know something needed to be said.

"When you get the blues in the night
Take my word, the mockingbird'll sing the saddest kind o' song
He knows things are wrong, and he's right"

Ella Fitzgerald's version of "Blues in the Night"

They see something Bill Simmons wrote and they know there's something wrong about it, something fundamentally and systematically rotten or short-sighted that is far more condescending and patronizing to their own status as fans than an ordinary reader could possibly have gleaned. And so they break it down, examine the underlying assumptions and find the rotten core. And then they tell us how they got there. They love to watch the way certain players play and they feel they have to say something about that, in and apart from context. They feel something is wrong with the occasional sentiment from and towards Cleveland, and they have to put the conversation into their own words for our perusal. And they're right on target pretty often with perspectives that few were in a position to see. My favorite time period from IGHN of what I read was when LeBron was in the Finals. IGHN produced a lot of introspective (though worldly) thought on Cleveland and their own fandom and really got at the meat of what was really happening with the "haters" that LeBron went so far as to address as his main takeaway quote from 2011. And in doing so IGHN really hit on something that I hadn't really realized.

To wit, the ESPN commentariat (as Aaron puts it) doesn't just do an injustice to post-July-2010 Cleveland by reducing them to haters doing little more reacting to economic decline, being spurned by LeBron, etc. It does an injustice to all of us by looking at the problem through traditional sports narrative as if the city were a "guy who is bitter about getting dumped that just needs to get over it". Maybe for the case of Dan Gilbert (who is actually a self-interested crazy person and everyone knows it), but in general? No. That's a narrative that implies that there will be new heroes, a new positive vibe, a new hope in the future. And that misses the whole point. The questions - the real questions - about sports fandom still remain for us to deal with.

My feeling (gleaned from Cavs fans mostly, and very little from the non-stop coverage on ESPN) is that LeBron tore at the fabric of sports fandom in the first place, and Cleveland was just in the meltdown radius (and "The Decision" was just a startling demystification that showed to the whole country what exactly he was doing). If you liked LeBron and any coherent thing he claimed to stand for, you didn't (just) have your heart broken, you questioned whether even your most generously basic and contextual respect for LeBron was ever real, and you suddenly doubted whether LeBron had reciprocated or understood any of that respect in the first place. And then you worried that LeBron was probably not a singular exception in the annals of sports, but rather an accidental look (like the MJ HOF induction) behind the ugly, heavy curtain of personal branding. Finally, you gained a sort of sociopathic distance from athletes, always in the back of your mind wondering if they weren't just cynically playing you for respect or Q rating. Cleveland was just a little closer, and feels the distance and the frustration a little more strongly. The media doesn't get that there's no getting over LeBron, there's no turning back the clock, and there's no active bitterness: There's just a fog of coldness, blunt feeling, and vague, inexpressible disgust that runs all through sports.*

*For my part, I know that Game 2 against the Magic really rekindled my love of the NBA and really got me highly invested in the Cavs in LeBron's final year. I watched as people that loved the Cavaliers felt hopeful apprehension as one of the best teams in basketball made grand statement after grand statement as the old standards seemed to be failing. And it just never happened, and the way it went down was not just crushing but disheartening. You have to think even the Celtics, on their way to the Finals, must've felt a little bit dirty those last 52 seconds. It was just surreal, the kind of game that makes you wonder if you're watching something in real time.

I don't know how true or justifiable any of that is, but I do know this: Reducing (as most of sports media seems to do) all of it to "haterade" (always the blind, unexplainable kind, almost as if they never tried to explain it) and confining it to a city that needs to "get over it" only serve to make rebuilding sports as a credible myth-maker and source of admiration more difficult. Having five-minute conversations with people who are actually living through these feelings or that actually have a history with the Cavs is infinitely better than listening to 100 hours of talking heads.

I Go Hard Now is a collection of those conversations, and it does it well. Go give them a try.