Stretching The Pantheon Out #1: Spurs upon Spurs upon Spurs

For an explanation of what this is about and a full listing of the Pantheon thus far, go here.

We're updating The Pantheon today with eleven links. Fun times for all. An important note that we'd like to emphasize is that we are really, really open to suggestions (discovery-wise, the list is about 40% Aaron-40% Alex-20% later suggestions at the moment), even to your own pieces. Really, we don't mean to be biased or terribly exclusive: I mean, it *is* meant to be a textual highlight reel, yes, but as we're trying to exhaust the list of the very bets, we're realizing that it's essentially inexhaustible. When we want to include something on the basis of supreme quality, we can usually find room for it. Because of this, The Pantheon is becoming more and more of a library for great pieces than anything else. We're keeping the name, and the attitude of timelessness (because all the pieces are truly timeless, and the additions are no exceptions), but we recognize the subtle Borgesian shift from pantheon to great library. And we're cool with that.

I say this because we are quite aware that the additions are mostly Spurs pieces. We're called "The Gothic Ginobili" and this is what we're familiar with. Now, we're pretty confident that other fan bases are producing content every day as hilarious and brilliant as Popovich giving Vampire Beno Udrih a withering stare that causes Udrih to impale his own heart in shame while "Luke Walton's smile supernovas into escalating sobs". We just haven't seen it. Sorry. Tell us if you do see something great (especially one that speaks to you personally as a fan of one of the teams/players), preferably in the comments of The Pantheon. This is best because it saves us the trouble of adding it directly/filtering them/until an update while still allowing readers to check it out. If you'd prefer more privacy or a longer explanation than a post or a link dump? Then try droping us a line through our staff email. We'll read it, and probably even respond!

I realize there's something inherently normative about making a freaking Pantheon (and naming it that), and every time we update it I feel a certain (kind of obsessive) pressure against the normative, the biases, and the urge to promote based only on preference in subject matter. Why? Well, because sometimes that normative part is the ugly stuff of exclusion in selection of material and a cheap delineation of what is high art and what is not, and it's kind of endemic to the human mind to compartmentalize these sorts of things. But it's not our purpose, and we're aware of the problem. Note it. Thanks. New links after the jump.

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TABLE OF CONTENTS (for pieces in 1/20 update only)

• • •

The Riverwalk Conspiracy by Rand - Maybe I'm revealing my bias for fiction here, but I just love a hilarious, well-characterized thought experiment. This piece (written in the midst of the 2010 playoffs) captures a strange, mystical caricature of Spurs' Coach Gregg Popovich and his methods, mid-flight. Owner Peter Holt acts as the perfect comic foil. [Note: Owes a lot to another PTR piece of fiction, the longer Ginobili vs. Dracula. I didn't include it here because it's mostly too contextual for a general NBA fan to enjoy, but I love this chapter which I think holds up pretty well without context.]

• • •

The Pathology of Manu Ginobili by sungo - This is one of those pieces where the sentences get better and better and the focus becomes clearer and clearer as the piece goes on. By the end it's something to behold, and to hold on to. You could change the tenses and adapt some stuff and it could be a HOF introduction or an epitaph, but it could never be changed to suit anyone else. Why? Well, because there will never be another Manu Ginobili. And I don't know if there's a better description of Manu out there.

• • •

David Robinson was a Fine Role Player by Timothy Varner - This is one of the most accurate explorations of the strange, unselfish culture of the San Antonio Spurs over the last two decades. Tim Varner (of 48 Minutes of Hell) traces the Spurs' culture directly to the contributions of one David Maurice Robinson. With every playoff exit by teams he had carried at an MVP level, Robinson saw all that was missing and tried again and again to be those things the next year. But Robinson found out that he just couldn't be all the that his team needed, not with Jordan there, not with Hakeem lurking in Jordan's shadow with a great supporting cast and an otherworldly 15-month stretch. So, when Tim Duncan came along,  Robinson (with some early disdain and wounded pride) easily, unselfishly sacrificed his touches and his accolades in order to help the Spurs to win two championships and to create a great legacy and a long-lasting culture of character. And in doing so, the Admiral created the template for a different kind of legend: a different kind of star. Varner's title is ironic in the best sense and helms a piece that builds to an overarching narrative that anyone who has followed the Spurs to any degree will understand.

• • •

John Wooden and the Culture of Ought and On Johnny “Red” Kerr by Timothy Varner -  You know, looking over the Pantheon so far, I notice that the criteria that seem to dominate our selections are depth of insight, passion, journalism, and imagination. But at the end of the day, it's probably Tim Duncan - along with his subtle virtues of integrity, intelligence, and competition for its own sake - that I'm tuned in to watch every night.  It's our deep respect and admiration for Tim Duncan that motivated the existence of the Gothic Ginobili more than anything else (if you want to know second place, just look up at the banner/name). The same is true of sportswriting. We look first for writing that dazzles our imaginations, then for writing that expands our minds, then - without exception - we look for writing that stirs our souls and affirms our values. If you understand all of that, then the inclusion of Varner's pieces is obvious.

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The City’s Advanced Stats Primer and EZPM: Yet Another Model for Player Evaluation by EvanZ - Math recognize math. I don't know enough about basketball statistics to really give you an unbiased, objective opinion on which stats and approaches are best. If ezPM is the best single-number statistical APBRmetric on the Internet I have no idea, and if it's hopelessly dated, well, I don't know that, either. I'm not a big stats guy. What I do know (from decades learning math and from reading about some of these statistics over the past few years) is that ezPM is a fine metric, and takes Dave Berri's already decent but flawed (no, really, it is) "Wins Produced" metric to yet another level of insight.

But more than anything pertaining to the ezPM stat itself, I'm mostly linking to this pair of pieces for the mental process behind them, the story told by EvanZ in the "Primer" of finding an abundance of these already-decent metrics like WP, building something a bit better in ezPM, and - in the scientist's dismal, grinding, purposeful way - in the end still not being totally satisfied with the outcome. After all, every scientist worth their salt understands intuitively and concretely that there are always more avenues for improvement, and there are always thoughts that can be re-thought, as history (and math especially!) suggests. It's a story that for the most part Berri frustratingly and oddly omits from his own work, and that we'd love to hear. Because (speaking not as a scientist but as a happy consumer of its products) the honest stories of science not only bring cultural exchange (as in the "Primer") but also tangible improvements in the science itself (as in ezPM).

• • •

Regarding Moses by Matt Moore - On the blogosphere, we talk so much about upsides, breakout stars, and devastating disappointments. Most of all, we talk about the nebulous, dynamic legacies of our stars, young and old. Our era has more upsides than it has downsides, and I'm not really complaining. But it was so refreshing when Matt Moore took an afternoon to do some research and reflect on Moses Malone. Moore comes away with a simple portrait of Malone, who knew he was great, had a lot of fun, and then got on with his life. Set against a modern pace of sports media constantly massaging and shaping legacies with each game, the article is well-done and neat. While the prospect of a book about Mo would be nice, this article is a fitting send-off in its own right - simple, enjoyable, important without being heavy. Strawberry soda pop.

• • •

Tracy McGrady, 'freakish' talent and the peril of ease by Dan Devine - When someone makes a good argument that carries with it the sketches for a much broader frontier of understanding, then they've "stretched the game out," quite literally. In Devine's piece, we get a stern deconstruction of the expectations that coaches, fans, and management place on their stars and the laments that follow when those expectations aren't met. And, as a result, we learn to undervalue what we have and overvalue what we could have but never might. On some level much of sports fandom is predicated on the hope that our teams and our players will do unreasonable things: Performance - even to the crustiest statistician or historian - is not the whole story. The missed shots, the skills that inexplicably don't take to a player, the rotations that could have been made: these expectations all matter, of course. But it's worth taking a step back, and that's exactly what Devine's thoughtful piece does.

• • •

Two last additions: to our description of Traveling West Finds Cleveland by David Campbell, we're adding the following two articles which give additional background and broader context about Delonte to Campbell's piece. They're The Real Mr. West by Tzvi Twersky and A Teachable Moment by Angelo Benedetti, and they're both fantastic and worth reading in their own right.

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