Monday, October 11, 2010
By Henry Abbott
A while ago, I got an e-mail about a newish blog called HoopSpeak. There are a lot of new basketball blogs in this world. Most fit certain parameters. A writer loves this team, or that aspect of the sport, and feels called to update the world about that.
But this HoopSpeak one, by Beckley Mason, was different and ... maybe brilliant?
As soon as I linked to it the first time, Ethan Sherwood Strauss immediately e-mailed.
"I see," he wrote, "you've discovered Beckley."
When I read that line I can't help but picture Strauss sipping an Armagnac, with a nice wood fire humming gently in the background. The arch in his eyebrow saying "Now, we both know" as if HoopSpeak were the basement speakeasy Ethan didn't want too many people to know about.
It was significant that Strauss was the one in the know here: He too is a brilliant hypnotist hoops writing maniac. (In fact, as he's no small part of HoopSpeak, and someone I have been linking to regularly from TrueHoop the last several weeks, it's worth introducing Strauss, too.) Mostly Ethan works for Salon, but his work at WarriorsWorld is not to be ignored. I call him a hypnotist, because he writes things that make no sense, but, thanks to the beguiling force of his work, my brain accepts as entirely logical.
That very day Strauss e-mailed he had published some thoughts about how the Warriors' innovative media day was like a flying raccoon.
"Do I kill it?" he wondered. "Do I pet it? Should I be angry at it? Is it cool?"
I found myself wondering similar things about Mason's blog. It's not anything I know, and I'm a little scared. But I think it might be totally awesome.
Eventually I read enough to be sure, and Kevin Arnovitz met with Beckley in the flesh, and Mason proved to be hell-bent on destroying boring approaches to sports, but not other things. Which was nice. It's also cool that he played in college, until he got hurt, and now is the J.V. coach at the ritziest of D.C. schools. So we signed the man up to be the TrueHoop Network's ambassador to clever crazytown. And as good as I felt about that decision at the time, I felt even better when Strauss and Mason combined on a crackerjack post on Friday, as part of their ongoing "Mama there goes that meme" series.
It's about being "the man," or a second banana. With actual photos of bananas. But my favorite part is an exchange about combining superstars. Mason writes:
Combining superstars usually backfires because either both players are primarily scorers who add value to a club by hoisting (see: Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson), or because of unforeseen personality clashes (See: Barkley and Pippen). Well, we knew that neither issue would be a problem for LeBron and Wade. The near BFFs personally engineered the chance to play together, and both take pride in impacting the game through passing, rebounding and defending.
The obsessive “who owns the team” meme seems to trace back to Michael Jordan’s ever-present mythology, which asks us to accept that “hey, sometimes a superstar is going to punch a teammate in the face during practice.” Jordan’s outburst only proved what he was willing to do to win, and how dominant his personality had become. MJ’s internal struggle towards greatness connected with the NBA audience because we knew he would torture himself and those around him to be victorious.
With LeBron and Dwyane, it’s too easy, too action-comedy buddy cop spectacular. We want vice, jealousy, hubris. We want blood.
To which Ethan responds:
When you say that LBJ and Wade “engineered to play with each other” because they impact the game “through passing, rebounding and defending,” you’re really crediting their productivity, not their jigsaw fit. These guys have enough skills to produce sans ball in hand. And this is what fascinates me: Perhaps two transcendent perimeter players help each other better than a great small and a great big.
I recall the Bill Simmons argument that two Miami perimeter stars doesn’t make as much sense as Paul plus Howard. While I understand the logic, I also question it. The game is evolving, Stockton-to-Malone doesn’t have to be the archetypal attack. And I wonder, does Paul-Howard make sense in part because that combination erases deficiencies? Paul can create for Howard who can’t. Paul can’t shoot over some defenders, but Howard draws the D back. Such an arrangement is as much a solution to a problem as it is domination. But Wade-James isn’t a solution to a problem -- it’s inexorable destruction. These dudes don’t really have flaws -- they can just augment awesome with more awesome. Forget synergy, these are two raptors, ripping all hunters limb from foot.
The punchy prose is fantastic, but at the heart of this analogy buffet is some really solid basketball analysis. Good stuff.
So, welcome aboard Beckley, Ethan and HoopSpeak.
After the jump: Short biographies of Beckley and Ethan. They're only four paragraphs total, but somehow Sir Mix-a-Lot, oversized squirrels, and Mike Bibby's attitude all appear.
I grew up playing hoops and worshiping Gary Payton in Seattle. In my writing, I like to use the fact that I am a Sonics survivor to make people feel sorry for me and remind everyone that my sports-related pain matters more than theirs. Though I try not to dwell on it, every once in a while I sit in a dark room and listen to The Presidents of the United States of America's "Supersonics, Oh yea" and Sir Mix-A-Lot's "Not In Our House" on repeat for a few hours.
Since my playing "career" ended (think a slower, shorter, friendlier Mike Bibby), I've run my own basketball clinics and currently coach high school boys hoops at Sidwell Friends in Washington, DC. In fact, I started HoopSpeak to counter basketball withdrawal at the close of our last season. Like most poor English majors, I'd love to some day earn money writing about hoops and other topics. Right now, I'm irresponsibly stoked to add my two cents on the Game as a part of the TrueHoop Network.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss
I grew up in San Diego where I honed a monotone voice to cool my father's Knicks-fueled rants. Loved everything about John Starks back then, even copied his heart pound. Reggie Miller pushed Greg Anthony, it needs to be mentioned here. I fell for the Warriors while attending U.C. Berkeley -- because I had poor judgment in those days. Eventually, I became obsessed with the Bay's unique hoop culture, and I'm honored to take part.
I currently work for Salon.com, and write for Warriorsworld.net. I'm a former employee of the NBA P.R. department, where I doomed Ricky Rubio's career. Beckley lured me to the HoopSpeak dream with fluttering eye lashes, flattery, and the opportunity to indulge in pop sociology. We're decent at breaking down sportswriting narratives, which speaks to time well wasted. I credit my former P.R. experience for enhancing this superpower, don't know how Beckley got so good at it. (Get a hobby, dude!) I'd love to write a book within the next two years, but I need to sharpen my TrueHoop talons before I chase the big squirrel.