The Layman's Guide to Following a Terrible Team

How do you follow a truly dismal team in your favorite sport? Like grieving the dead, everyone handles a 20-win team differently: Some prefer irrational optimism. Others would rather verbally abuse everyone in and around their awful squad, especially the optimistic folks. Others still simply switch teams, because they can't handle watching their favorite franchise mire in the cellar. There's no one right answer. But there are a few ways you can make your life-as-the-cellar fandom a little bit easier. And for today's post, I'm going to share just that. This is my general guide to following a terrible team. Keep in mind that the majority of this post was conceived in 2011 when the Cavs were going through "The Streak." You might not think this applies to you, but remember: For every great team there will always be a terrible team. And to fans of that poor franchise, advice like this will always be timely. And today's two seed might be tomorrow's lottery-bound trogdolytes. You never know, with the NBA. (Unless you're a Laker fan. Then you can stop reading this post.) In any case, I hope it helps. Let's get on with it.

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...And The Machine is Bleeding to Death

All of which, I think, is as it should be. Why should we ask Kobe to change? It seems manifestly clear to me that he’s not nearly as interested in winning as he is being perceived as somebody who is only interested in winning; he understand that immortality is really about perception. To which I say: Good. Bravo. Encore. Because there’s room in the league for this. Jackson Pollock produced very few accurate bowls of fruit. There’s room in the league for somebody whose ultimate goal is to use basketball, because it makes the basketball more compelling.

--Danny Nowell, Kobe Doesn’t Care About Winning, and That’s Okay

Interesting, Mr. Nowell. Please consider with me the grand triumvirate of the Western Conference, retired in 2022:

  • In 2022, Steve Nash heads up Canadian basketball and several charity groups. The archetypal representative of Canadian Basketball, Nash may not have gotten a ring, but he'd had a long, illustrious career worthy of the Hall of Fame. Today, he teaches children how to run a pick and roll at a basketball camp. His characteristic high cheekbones are now set in middle age by grayer hair and slower knees, such that he looks like a latter-day D'Antoni. The familiar squeak of his sneakers across the gym makes a bird's rising staccato - a sound somewhere in the center of the triangle whose points are laughter, support, and affirmation - a wordless, worldly half-chuckle punctuated by dribbles and education.
  • In 2022, Tim Duncan is tubing and waterskiing with his family. It's a bit ridiculous to see a seven-footer ride a jet-ski designed for a child, but it's relatively safe and Duncan demonstrates that it is quite possible. Steering with his feet, Duncan's standing navigation on the tiny jet-ski is not only possible but also amusingly precarious. Craftily avoiding the inevitable tumble before a small wave, Duncan sits down and signals his family's boat to stop for a bit to wait for him to catch his breath. He switches jet-skis, this time drinking the can of soda he'd won from the endlessly amusing bet. Absolutely nobody knows that he does this with his time.
  • In 2022, Dirk Nowitzki demonstrates his encyclopedic knowledge of jazz and Kraftwerk to his stunned mentor Holger Geschwinder as they re-invent the musical phrase the same way they - in past years - had reinvented the basketball shot. Mad scientists on the shores of the Elbe, their songs are as much about the calculus of variation and the pressure of their hands upon the keyboards as about the workings of the soul, but - with the Teutonic eventuality of the verb completing a sentence - the soul does enter into the equation at last. As night draws forth, allowing for rest, they go their separate ways in the reflected moonlight on the Elbe at Dresden, absconding silently with keyboards and keytars in hand, laughing through peaceful paths that wind through adjacent forests, sounds of perfect music rattling through their ears.

The gist of Nowell's fine piece is that Kobe's re-appropriation of basketball for his own ends - whether or not those ends are conducive to winning - is inherently compelling in the mythology of the NBA. I agree that Kobe is quite compelling - the winner who set his own terms. But the constant attempts to fuse perception and reality - the staged rituals, the laughably predictable media bickering, etc. - have always fallen flat with me. Continue reading

Yet Another Bobcats Blowout (or: I want to believe)

Everyone give a warm welcome to Jake Harmon, one of our two newest contributors. Jake will be contributing odd fictional tales and reflections of an NBA fan living in the depths of the United States, also known as Alabama. It's tough out there for an NBA fan. He's a political science major who'd much rather major in "deep thoughts about basketball." We enjoy those thoughts, so we'll endeavor to give him the platform to do that. Have at his first piece, an excellent muse on a dreamlike Bobcats game, and the last part in our trilogy of independently written Jordan posts that were -- somehow -- happened to all be connected anyway.

Sometimes I fall asleep at night, and I dream about watching a Bobcats game. And they're just getting blown out, the camera cutting around looking for the perpetually visibly frustrated Jordan. The camera finds him and fixates on him, and he just looks livid, wringing his hands, tongue out a little bit, eyes intent. The Bobcats turn the ball over and get dunked on again. The crowd is silent, the only noise in the stadium the low murmur of disinterested small talk between the odd fans scattered around the arena's stands and the squeaking shoes, the pounding of leather on the hardwood. There's no talk between the beaten Bobcats, they shuffle up and down the court seeming mentally checked out. Going through the motions. Another botched possession, fastbreak, dunk. Bobcats down 30 in the third. And just then, Jordan knows he can't take it. The camera maintains its focus on him, seemingly for an inordinate amount of time. As though the cameraman senses the man in the stands will be more significant to this game's outcome than anything currently taking place on the floor. As I sit and become transfixed by the prolonged shot, that surreal mixture of timing, imagery, and silence, something magnificent happens. And somehow, much like the cameraman, I watch it unfold and question if I ever really thought it wouldn't happen. Jordan is overwhelmed, he stands up from his seat; not in anger or exasperation, but with an intense focus and steely gaze that, while different cast upon his now aged visage, seems somehow intrinsically right. As true and compelling as phases of the moon, not a mask of indifference but a revelation of passion that millions and millions of people around the world forever have burned into their memory. Continue reading

Supplanting Jordan: a Reflection on All-Time Greatness

Someday, we'll have to acknowledge that Michael Jordan is not the Greatest of All Time.

Michael Jordan is in all likelihood the best player to have ever played in the NBA and the game of basketball as a whole. But there’s a subtle implication to the phrase “Greatest of All Time” that says much more. It says “greatest ever and forever and ever”, literally the time behind us and the time ahead of us. After all, it’s not like time takes a break every nanosecond to extend itself. "All Time" is the same in 1950 as it is in 2050. This might be a cute semantic argument ("Greatest So Far" and "Greatest, Past and Present" don't lend well to acronyms), except that in the case of Jordan, it belies a serious belief that most of us share. Let's examine. Continue reading

Fording the Jordan with Apostle James

As part of a oddly connected three part Gothic Ginobili set of Jordan-related posts, we present the opening salvo; a muse on Jordan's greatness by Alex Arnon, one of our newest contributors. Alex is a New York Knicks fan living in Vegas. He's an excellent writer and a better person. Go follow him on twitter at @alex_arnon. Then come back to read this post, because it's a good one.

It's been not but a few hours since LeBron James and the Heat had their nine-game winning streak broken. Already the media, bloggissists, and basketball Twitterati are beating the drum of their favorite narrative – you know, the one that says LeBron James just isn’t “clutch”. Never mind that no one can truly define clutch or when it occurs (last quarter? last minute? last 24 seconds?), people just know it when they see it – and they see that it’s a trait LeBron just doesn’t have. But what people don’t seem to see, and perhaps don’t want to see, is that it might not be not LeBron’s fault that we don’t think he’s clutch. Maybe it’s ours. Continue reading

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