How many times have you read a game recap that didn't mention defense at all?
A lot of game stories could be roughly summarized as:
This guy had a lot of points. This other guy had fewer points, but not quite as many, and quite a few assists. That was just enough to overcome the barrage of scoring from the guy with the most points on the other team. Other people scored a bit less, and should be acknowledged. Somebody had a lot of rebounds, but as that guy didn't also score a lot of points, he'll only be mentioned lower down, if at all.
What you'll notice is that not one person in that synopsis did anything to make it hard for the other team to score.
And yet if you watch basketball, especially this time of year, you'll certainly notice that some people are fantastically good at doing just that. Defense is what players do half the game, and there's a reason coaches and wily veterans are obsessed with things like getting Dwight Howard in foul trouble and on the bench.
There's just a big difference in what matters, in the game, to coaches and players, and what shows up in the typical scoring-centric game story. A big part of that difference is defense.
It's no mystery why that is. Defense is a much tougher story to tell, and it's not nearly as interesting to most people. It doesn't come with all these handy, time-worn numbers like points scored and the like. (How hard was it to score on Andrew Bynum? Really hard, or really, really hard?) And the essential thing people like most about hoops is seeing the ball go in the bucket. Why dissect the opposite of that?
But defense decides plenty of games, if not all of them, in one way or another. It belongs in the story of how a game is remembered. Take that Thunder vs. Lakers series, for instance. The battle to control the paint -- waged generally without the ball, between people like Bynum, Nick Collison, Serge Ibaka and Pau Gasol -- is momentous, constant and underexplained.
So, here's my challenge, to anyone who reads this, be you a blogger, a professional writer, a grad student, a basketball player or anything else: Between now and the Finals, tell the story of an NBA playoff game without talking about scoring.
Just to see if it's possible.
I'd tip my cap to anyone who can even pull it off. If you can do a good job of it, that would be truly amazing and well worth celebrating.
This is no contest. There is no prize. Just encouragement to give this writing assignment a whirl, with a vague promise to link to and excerpt any such stories that stand out.
If you're interested, the process is simple: Publish it online somewhere, in whatever format -- the written word, podcast, video, whatever. And then e-mail me a link with the subject line "defensive writing challenge" -- my address is the name of this blog at gmail.com. I'm excited to see what we get!