Most of this week, we'll be ceding the floor to our resident Dewey and allowing him to examine NBA storylines through the vise of the first piece in the series, Chekhov's Compassionate Comedy of the NBA. In today's Part III, Alex will examine the complex and Chekhovian narratives surrounding the exit of his favorite team, the San Antonio Spurs.
It's time to deal with the Spurs. It's Chekhov Week here, and I think now is the time to plumb the Western Conference Finals for Chekhov's compassionate, biting comedy -- comedy that brews like an oil well right beneath the surface of the blog. It's a take as hot as the sun and we've been waiting for our emotions to cool down a bit.
Anyway, let's recap: The San Antonio Spurs have had the smartest, most effective players in the league for a decade. They have had the best coach, the best franchise player, the best management, the best scouting, and the best system for a decade and a half -- all of this despite limited financial resources. The Spurs dynasty in the Tim Duncan era has been nothing short of amazing. And, like all great things in life, everything hinged on a couple strokes of luck and a group of people that took full advantage of their luck, with the players and staff bringing to the table clockwork consistency and organizational excellence. This is the Spurs as a franchise, minus a few crucial instances when their key players and their role players took their play yet another step up to take basketball excellence into basketball transcendence seemingly through sheer force of will.
Most of this week, we'll be ceding the floor to our resident Dewey and allowing him to examine NBA storylines through the vise of the first piece in the series, Chekhov's Compassionate Comedy of the NBA. In today's Part II, Alex will examine the complex and Chekhovian narratives surrounding one LeBron James.
To get you up to speed as quickly as possible: In Part I, I gave an overview of Chekhov's life and works, specifically his dual-author persona as both compassionate storyteller and surgical comedian. I used this duality to get at a description of Chekhovian comedy, which blends compassion and absurdity in equal measure to give us an impressionistic case history of its characters, a prognosis, and by-and-large an open ending plot-wise from which we can draw our own conclusions. Then I stated that - on just about every imaginable level - the NBA with its absurd narratives is more like a Chekhovian comedy than a Shakespearean comedy or tragedy. I'd like to expand on this statement by taking on some prominent narratives. Today: LeBron James. Continue reading
Russian author and playwright Anton Chekhov is one of the greatest dramatists to ever live. Born in 1860, Chekhov worked as a clerk in his father's store, absorbing stories and conversations from every segment of Russian culture. By the age of 20, the young medical student had established that he possessed all he necessary writer's talents: the gift of gab, an eye for detail, an ear for narrative, and a heart for compassion. A prolific author of tiny, clever humor pieces at first, Chekhov (on the advice of a noted writer of the time) began soon to focus more on quality over quantity. His stories grew organically into longer and more elaborate works until the day he died -- even his increasingly-less-frequent short stories became better, more potent, and ever more masterful in their craft. And by the end, the depth of his character studies required plays and novellas primarily. By the time he was struck down by a long bout of tuberculosis at the age of 44, Chekhov had given us an unfathomably long trail of personal letters, stories, and plays containing the framework for much of 20th century theater and short fiction.
In his most famous play "Uncle Vanya," Chekhov shows us Dr. Astrov, a compassionate and humanitarian doctor that knows no rest and whose only spare moments are consumed by an earnest attempt to preserve the forests of Russia for the people 100 years hence. Astrov harshly criticizes the other characters in the play as layabouts with a demon of destruction inside themselves that threaten one another's souls as surely as civilization threatens the forests. Dr. Astrov is basically Chekhov in all these senses. Get this: Chekhov was a fully-trained medical doctor that (as his prime as a writer was beginning) actually took an extended trip to the distant Sakhalin penal colony in the far east of Russia -- regions you'd only know from Risk -- to take a freaking census. This is Jordan-on-the-White-Sox stuff, except if Jordan were instead going to Pakistan to play cricket because he wanted to find a way to humanely apply an economics degree from UNC. Soon after this (by all accounts arduous and sorrowful) adventure into possibly the most miserable region of Russia, Chekhov went on to become a great and compassionate landlord in the waning years of his life.
Far from the philosophical long-form of his contemporaries Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, Chekhov wrote impressionistic stories about all classes and situations in Russian life. This was no accident: His universal treatment of human nature was deliberate, for it allowed Chekhov's characters, almost from the outset of his career, to speak in his tender humanitarian voice without pretense or prejudice. An imperfect healer of his character's conflicts, Chekhov could put the most soothing, noble words in the mouths of his idealists, even as these characters were bound to struggle to live up to their ideals. From peasants yearning for sustenance to aristocrats in a dying estate to the parties to a love affair clinging to a desperate hope, Chekhov's characters successfully testified to their hopes and failings.
Thus was Chekhov's compassion manifested in his life and works.
• • •
Here's the run, in my eyes. On game nights, I felt that I was vicariously solving some great problem through my Spurs. Every night, they solved some advanced geometry problem with methods the world has never seen. In the mornings, I'd get the glorious feeling of stillness and placidity that accompanies triumph. My favorite team has been fun, likable, and virtuous, at least in my view. I've been quite pleased with what this team has offered up in the previous 20 games. I don't know if any fan of the sport wouldn't be pleased with a run like this.
It probably helps that at the same time this was going on I - a mostly sedentary individual that has always seemed just a bit depressed and cynical and vaguely way-too-reserved - lost something like 25 pounds during the winning streak and developed hitherto unexplored levels of maturity and self-confidence, as well as the vague overtones of a workout routine. The Spurs have reinvented basketball less than I've reinvented my life, and that might not be obvious just talking to me. This blog is as successful as it has ever been, which probably has at least something to do with my editorial mind being as sharp and direct as ever. And I know as much as I ever have about basketball, because for me every other night has been a clinic in the sport, not just as it is today but as it shall be 5 years hence in some optimal future. Most of all, I finally have some mental picture of the end, the culmination, of all my recent work and struggles.
The timing is coincidental, of course. But it's also uncanny: I can't deny that the streak probably helped. Continue reading
Rajon Rondo sighed as the game reached its inevitable resting point. Down 4 points with 2.2 seconds left, the game was as good as done. As a rule, man's reach exceeds his grasp, Rajon thought, but tonight Rajon knew he had grasped something new. He simply couldn't wait to see how he'd tilted the balance. He walked in the other direction -- towards his locker -- after a half-hearted inbounds pass. Rajon paid no mind to the ball's trajectory, or the remote possibility of a win. The buzzer sounded. It was over. Continue reading
Nate Jones (@JonesOnTheNBA) recently made an argument against Tim Duncan's private, quiet approach to life in the NBA. It's one he's been making for a long time. The argument goes like this: basketball - regardless of the product's essence - is an entertainment business. Tim Duncan is an interesting person and an important basketball player. In the hands of the right writers and interviewers, Tim Duncan could be marketed as a fascinating public figure. Therefore, opening up to the media should increase Tim's brand recognition and that of his team. In Duncan's case, it would also be good for basketball in general (and the NBA in particular) if Tim did so, because he embodies rarefied, virtuous qualities on and off the court. There are templates for Duncan to follow such as Steve Nash, but regardless of how he does it, Tim Duncan should become a more public person, at the very least showing his interesting personality to the national media. In fact, one could argue (as Jones does), Tim Duncan's salary is paid precisely because more athletes don't follow his quiet path. Duncan may not like it, but morality appears to demand that he seek an active public profile for the benefit of the league. Continue reading
I've been itching to respond to Steve Kerr's recent Grantland piece arguing for raising the age limit because I find so much to disagree with. However, trawling the Internet for counterarguments, I found this podcast by Henry Abbott and Michael McCann, laying out almost every imaginable critique of Kerr's piece two months in advance of it being written. I find it more succinct, organized, and authoritative than anything I could put to text. Still, at the end of the podcast I felt like something crucial went unsaid. Kerr's piece ultimately had less to do with the age limit itself than with the larger problems Kerr uses the age limit to simultaneously attack: player maturity, development, and marketing. These are clearly critical problems to be solved, and in this two-part response, we're going to work on them.
But in the framework of these larger problems, Kerr's proposal to change the age limit by one year seems at best absurdly limited and unsuitable for these problems. Kerr's argument, to me, reads somewhat like that of a high school student who writes an essay arguing something trivial like that a first-time drug possession fine should change by $50, in order to ameliorate crime, increase revenue for the state, or advance political liberty by a few ticks at the end of the fiscal year, using a bunch of ad hoc, heterodox arguments. "It will ameliorate crime because... it will increase revenue because... it will advance political liberty because..." Perhaps, Steve, perhaps. Crime, fiscal policy, and liberty are enormous problems, though, requiring a broader vision than a rhetorical, cherry-picked take whose prime directive appears to be "stay on message." Continue reading
To bring our playoff coverage up, we’re bringing our formerly retired series of daily vignettes — titled “The Outlet” — back for the playoffs. “Don’t call it a comeback.” Though, you can call it series 2, as we are in the title. Every day (or, rather, every day we aren’t doing a larger and grander piece), we’ll try to share two or three short vignettes from our collective of writers ruminating on the previous day’s events. Should be a fun time. Today’s Outlet has one of the longest pieces we've used for this series in a while, with Alex ruminating on the Nuggets' elimination to the tune of Sorkin's ultimate masterpiece, "Two Cathedrals."
- "Brothers in Arms." by Alex Dewey.
Click the jump for today’s take. Continue reading
As advertised in our Prognosti-ranking series, we’re bringing our formerly retired series of daily vignettes — titled “The Outlet” — back for the playoffs. “Don’t call it a comeback.” Though, you can call it series 2, as we are in the title. Every day (or, rather, every day we aren't doing a larger and grander piece), we’ll try to share two or three short vignettes from our collective of writers ruminating on the previous day’s events. In this case, the previous few days. Should be a fun time. Today’s Outlet covers the depressing blowout of the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday as well as JaVale McGee's brilliant game against the Lakers on Friday.
- "Only at Nightfall: a Dirge for the Dallas Mavericks." by Alex Dewey.
- "JaVale McGee and the Imagination of the Imperfect." by Aaron McGuire.
Click the jump for the two pieces. Continue reading
Hey, Gothers, what's up? Last time we met I had a long anti-HoopIdea piece. Judging from the feedback, I'd say the frustrations I expressed were quite real and quite prevalent in the NBA blogosphere (even if my piece itself wasn't exactly flawless). Now, all that said, I have always appreciated deeply the writing at TrueHoop blog in general. Their coverage of the Sloan conference has been superb, among the many, many other things that they've done quite well. Whether I agree with them or not, they do tend to be one of the more thought-provoking NBA blogs on the web. For example...
In my HoopIdea piece, maturity was the name of the game. A couple days ago at TrueHoop, after the miraculous Clippers' comeback in Memphis, Kevin Arnovitz found Gilbert Arenas to meditate on the elusive conscience, or lack thereof, of the NBA's great tradition of chokers and closers. The piece is quite good. I want to call attention to one of the things Arenas says, because it strikes me as being poignantly half-true. Check it out:
His creativity lets him do that. It's a shot he thinks he can make. Just like Kobe. If you think about the best players in the world, they have no conscience. They try anything. They do anything. Brett Favre -- he threw any pass he thought he could throw. That's his creativity. That's what he's like. He's going to fail and he's also going to win.
But a guy with a conscience won't pull that trigger.
Arnovitz, voicing the natural response, counters "that Kevin Garnett has a conscience, that he exercises an uncommon discipline and has still been one of the best players of his time." But Arenas responds immediately with the hilarious rejoinder: "And that's why he doesn't get the ball in the fourth quarter." The dichotomy Gilbert paints is stark, but not uncommon in NBA culture. Overall, Arenas is giving us an exceedingly-well-expressed take on conventional wisdom, with a dose of Arenas's own creative flair. Continue reading