TrueHoop: FreeDarko

Macrophenomenal

October, 28, 2008
10/28/08
12:58
PM ET

FreeDarko.

If you're in a hurry, it's not the site for you.

Too many days, I am in a hurry, and skim. And you can miss all the good stuff by skimming. The blog FreeDarko is basketball through the lens of manifesto, academic essay, and irreverence.

All that said: I love the site. If somebody loves the NBA more, writes about the NBA with a keener sense of fun, or flat-out works harder to find a fresh take on things basketball, then I don't know who it is.

There is gold in them there hills.

So it was with great enthusiasm that I opened a non-descript manila envelope that contained, it turned out, the new book by the FreeDarko crew (ringleader Bethlehem Shoals, illustrator Big Baby Belafonte, Brown Recluse Esq., Dr. Lawyer IndianChief, and Silverbird5000): "The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac."

You can see and read a lot of the book on the official book website. You should. In fact, I insist you go, and spend time. You will see what I have seen: This book is stunningly beautiful. Page through it, and you can't help but marvel at the skills of Big Baby Belafonte. It's a hard-cover that makes good use of some serious paper stock. There is artwork everywhere, enhancing and not distracting from the main message.

And every darned thing -- from getting Gilbert Arenas to write the foreword, to a little chart showing Rasheed Wallace's production before and after a technical foul (he's better after) -- just screams clever.

(There is a ton of amazing writing. A more meaningful real TrueHoop review of this book is in the pipeline.)

Tracy McGrady
FreeDarko teaches serious lessons. For instance: Tracy McGrady really needs his sleep.
Art by Jacob Weinstein, reprinted from "THe Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac" with permission of the FreeDarko High Council.

The whole thing makes me think, mainly, "this was a lot of work. My hat is off to FreeDarko."

Now, I proceed with a couple of caveats. The first is just that the FreeDarko writing style is intentionally somewhat impenetrable. It's not for everyone. FreeDarko walks a line: Between the finest sportswriting out there, and the needless application of an academic voice where straight talk would suffice.

For instance, in the hot-off-the-presses book, FreeDarko says: "The League is strengthened by its most compelling Personalities, including: Players with inscrutable Superstitions; Players with improbable Body Types; Players whose emotional baggage is visible during Play."

I get it. This is aping a legal document. They talk a certain way and that is fun.

But a little voice in inside me jumps up and down, wondering: Why (ever in life, in any endeavor) make something complicated that could be simple? In the foreword to that very same book, Gilbert Arenas gets a very similar point across in the plainest English: "You pay all this money to sit up close, believe it or not, you want to get hit with a ball and get your drink knocked over. You want to leave with something to talk about. You want Shaq to fall on you and get drenched in his sweaty-sweat-sweat. That's all part of the game."

My other hang-up concerns the medium of the essay itself. If FreeDarko is going to make history as the de facto essayists of an NBA generation, their information had better be on the money. The medium itself -- the long-form essay -- exists to express a more nuanced version of the truth than can fit in a simple article or blog post. But if your knowledge, the truth you are intent on expressing, is not itself more granular and subtle, then what is the point of using that medium?

In other words, if you're telling me something in passing, then I'm not going to nitpick the details. But if you're casting yourself as a long-form expert (even a tongue-in-cheek one) then your information-gathering and fact-checking had better be tight.

And it usually is. But the truth is that young blogger/essayists don't get killer NBA access these days, and once in a while that shows. So, you can get yourself deep into this book's chapter about say, Ron Artest, and find the line: "Never aspiring to be the alpha dog on any of his teams, he nonetheless maintains a high scoring average."

I almost spit my coffee on that one. Run this by GMs, scouts, and anyone who watched the Kings closely last year. For stretches of many games, Artest more than aspired to be alpha  ... he flat-out ballhogged his way through possession after possession, breaking plays to call his own number time and again. I have seen it with my own eyes, and I have heard it from all manner of basketball people who have seen it too.

But that beef is small. As you'll see by reading the book yourself, "The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac" is just thick with stuff that you won't get anywhere else. 

For instance, one of my favorite little charts ever. (It'll be on the book's website in a few days, I hear.) Remember back when Tracy McGrady was new to the NBA, and there were a lot of mentions that he happened to be one of those guys who needs a ton of sleep? FreeDarko cites Darrell Armstrong, a former teammate, saying "He sleeps all the time. He sleeps when we come in from shootaround, in the locker room, on the plane. ALL the time."

McGrady had his first child in 2003. Anyone have little kids? You know that if you're at all an involved parent, that'll mess with your sleep like nothing else.

You have to see this amazing chart on page 99 of the FreeDarko book: Tracy McGrady's field goal percentage in games with short rest. From 1997-2002, when he was childless, his field goal percentage was essentially the same, no matter how much rest the team had between games. Since his first child, the shorter his rest, the worse his field goal percentage. Without kids, he made better than 45% of his shots on the second night of back-to-backs. As a parent,  he's mired at 40%. Is it the sleep? Just age? I don't know. But it's sure something clever to think about, and that kind of insight is more than reason enough to love this book.

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