Yesterday, Howard Beck published a fine profile of New York Knicks President Phil Jackson. Jackson, a former player (on the championship teams of the Knicks in 1970 and 1973) and coach (of 11 championship teams in Chicago and Los Angeles), is at least as well known for the string of popular books popular books blending autobiography, basketball strategy and tactics, and a mix of fundamentalist Christianity, Lakota Sioux religion, and Zen Buddhism; nuggets of wisdom from which he occasionally releases in interviews with the media. All this makes Jackson an extremely interesting figure to me combining as he does, in his approach to the game, a love of basketball, an interest in the nuts and bolts of the game, and an awareness of wider social, philosophical and psychological issues shaping and shaped by basketball. Read more
Category Archives: LeBron James
In a post yesterday, I appeared to strike a chord (and for some a nerve) when I supplied the history of the attitudes manifest in Marc Stein’s scolding LeBron James for his “unbecoming” behavior in “emasculating” Coach David Blatt. I concluded with a fantasy of my own: that LeBron would indeed become the coach of the Cavs.
This morning, Mike Foss of USA Today weighed in granting that LeBron may be good enough to LeBron “to call his shots, to draw up plays, maybe even draft a team. But he does lack one necessary ability required of a coach, and that’s managing personalities. Do you think LeBron wants to be the guy who tells Mike Miller he isn’t setting foot on the floor in Game 6 of the NBA Finals because he’s an old and tired shell of himself?” Foss concluded that Blatt plays a “thankless and necessary role.” It may be thankless, but I’m not so sure it’s necessary and I think it’s important not to assume that it is. And I don’t mean Blatt specifically, I mean the conventional way of thinking about what a coach does and, on that basis, what a “coach” should look like. Read more
Today, ESPN senior writer Marc Stein wrote a piece lambasting LeBron James for behavior Stein described as “unbecoming” and “unflattering.” Apparently, Stein witnessed
LeBron essentially calling timeouts and making substitutions. LeBron openly barking at Blatt after decisions he didn’t like. LeBron huddling frequently with Lue and so often looking at anyone other than Blatt.
Stein went on to contrast this “unpalatable behavior” to Spurs’ star Tim Duncan’s support for Gregg Popovich, even before the coach was “POP.” I think this is the worst kind of moralizing, patronizing, unconsciously racist reprimand, resting on a tower of unstated and unsavory assumptions with a long history in the culture of basketball. Please read carefully: those adjectives in the last sentence do not refer to Stein himself, but rather to his reprimand, to the assumptions it makes, and to the history of basketball. Read more
Besides being the name of a phenomenally exciting and innovative basketball player, “Steph Curry” is the name for a desire about the future of the NBA; a desire we express through consumption, which the media then chronicles and reflects back to and justifies for us. Around the time of the NBA All-Star game this past season, NPR’s Tom Goldman asked me for my thoughts about a couple of articles that had appeared noting Curry’s rising popularity among fans and marketers; a popularity, it was noted, was on the verge of eclipsing that of LeBron James. As it turns out, Curry won the regular season MVP award and now, with his Warriors leading beaten LeBron’s injury-riddled Cavaliers 3-2 in the best of seven NBA Finals series, he may well be poised to win the Finals MVP.
Let me get a couple things out of the way. First, Curry’s play thrills me. The smooth speed with which he moves himself and the ball on the court, and then the ball alone into the bottom of the net is pure fluid beauty. And, speaking now as a Cavs fan, the terror he inspires in me every time he gets the ball, even in the backcourt, is sublime. Second, though I think LeBron is more valuable to his team that Steph is to his team and should therefore have won the MVP award and should therefore win the Finals MVP award, I don’t think it’s insane to give it to Curry and, anyway, I’m not here going to make an argument about that.
Because this isn’t about Steph Curry the basketball player. It’s about “Steph Curry” the desire and I’m just here to explore the conditions of possibility and implications of that desire. Where does it come from? What nourishes it? Just what exactly are we wanting when we want “Steph Curry” so badly? Excellence and excitement no doubt, but if that were all there’d be no explanation for why collectively we want Curry so much more than other NBA superstars. Read more
Much has been written in recent days about the Cleveland Cavaliers improbable victories over the Golden State Warriors in Games 2 and 3 of the NBA Finals. The Warriors, the NBA’s best team during this year’s regular season and, according to several advanced metrics, one of the most dominating and efficient teams ever, were supposed to steamroll the Cavs, especially given injuries to Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, two of Cleveland’s big three stars. And yet, as we’ve seen and then read about, this is not the case. Observers have noted a number of reasons for this. Cleveland has slowed the pace of games by running down the shot clock, aggressively pursuing offensive rebounds (which prevents Golden State’s big men from releasing on fast breaks), and pressuring the ball in the back court. Golden State has thrived on playing a fast paced game and they’ve clearly been confounded by Cleveland’s tactics. Of course, a big factor in Cleveland’s ability to set the pace has been the play of LeBron James. Here, we read how James, whose career has been marked by efficient scoring and unselfishness, has reluctantly adapted to the conditions of this series by controlling the ball more on offense and putting up many more shots than usual. The story, to boil it down to oversimple terms, is that, contrary to predictions based on statistical analysis of the regular season (and even the longer career trajectories of key participants), inefficiency is beating efficiency.
I find this heartening for many reasons, but I want here to focus on just one. Read more
A poetic experiment, with apologies to Wallace Stevens
The cotton, nylon and spandex are blended
to provide superior softness, stretchy comfort
and to keep sweat out of your eyes,
so all you have to worry about is your game.
For eight dollars
you can own
your own NBA Logoman Headband®
that cost ten cents to produce.
Taut atop the 7’ frame
of the Big Dipper
the headband heightened
the threatened menace
Slick Watts first
used duct tape
as a headband.
Big Ben was benched and fined
for wearing his headband
in defiance of his coach’s prohibition.
the center circle,
and the headband are one
A laurel wreath,
and a headband are also one.
Caught in the hand of a young fan
a headband is a treasured relic,
preciously captured and made holy.
the headband prevents
awareness of our own effort
from blinding us.
sweat of your brow
the headband buys you time in Eden
Slipping ever higher, we conceal
the signs of time’s receding
with a headband.
On King James’ dunk,
the headband left him of its own accord,
knowing it was a redundant crown,
and that time could flow again.
I approach teaching Cultures of Basketball with the hope I can make the course and each class meeting more than just a forum for the kind of discussion a fan might have in a dorm room or sports bar with Bill Simmons. On the one hand, I want the passionate energy that kind of discussion contains and, after all, I am a fan too. But then I also want that kind of discussion to be something that students can step out of, and look at with a critical eye; I want them to come to see what sort of broader cultural purposes – often collective and unconscious — are served by particular positions in that discussion and even by the topic itself. Because this is when actual learning, self-understanding, and growth occur.
Yesterday was “LeBron Day” in class and it generated a great opportunity for this sort of thing. For, inevitably, within minutes the topic was raised: Is LeBron James the Greatest of All Time (the common acronym for non-hoops-nerds is GOAT). This question quickly narrowed to a single comparison: “LeBron vs Michael” (as in Jordan), which is when things got really animated. Read more