- John Piper
I know I said before I wasn't going to post any more excerpts from Chuck Klosterman's essay collection Se[cks], Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs here, but that was about a month ago and none of y'all remember that anyway. From a selection titled "8 33," here is Klosterman on why NBA basketball is the greatest pro sport going.
This is what sets the NBA apart from every other team sport in North America: Everyone who loves pro basketball assumes it's a little fixed. We all think the annual draft lottery is probably rigged, we all accept that the league aggressively wants big market teams to advance deep into the playoffs, and we all concede that certain marquee players are going to get preferential treatment for no valid reason. The outcomes of games aren't predetermined or scripted, but there are definitely dark forces who play with our reality. There are faceless puppet masters who pull strings and manipulate the purity of justice. It's not necessarily a full-on conspiracy, but it's certainly not fair. And that's why the NBA remains the only game that matters: Pro basketball is exactly like life.
To say the 1980s rivalry between the Celtics and Lakers represents American's racial anguish is actually a short-sighted understatement. As I have grown older, it's become clear that the Lakers-Celtics rivalry represents absolutely everything: race, religion, politics, mathematics, the reason I'm still not married, the Challenger explosion, Man vs. Beast, and everything else. There is no relationship that isn't a Celtics-Lakers relationship.
"We had to get over the psychological element of the Celtic mystique," Lakers coach Pat Riley insisted. "After we choked in '84, I had to teach my guys exactly who the Celtics were in a historical sense. I mean, the Celts were a cult who did sinister things in secret places. That's where I took it. I had to teach them who their opponent was originally, because that's exactly who they were playing in 1987. I don't know if the Celtic players knew about Celt history, but that's how those guys played."
This is probably true, although a bit comical (I like to imagine Riley handing out scouting reports that included such insights as, "Dennis Johnson: no range beyond twenty-one feet, initiates contact on drives to the hole, may have aspirations to sack Iberia"). But it proves that Riley understood that sport (or at least transcendent moments of sport) has almost nothing to do with the concept of a game. Scrabble is a game. Popomatic Trouble is a game. Major League Baseball is a game. But any situation where Bird is boxing out Magic for a rebound that matters is not. That is a conflict that dwarfs Dante. That is the crouching tiger and and the hidden dragon.
But just so you don't think Klosterman thinks the NBA is critique-proof, here is his analysis of modern NBA play:
Guys like Allen Iverson and Vince Carter are mechanically awesome, but they don't represent anything beyond themselves. They're nothing more than good basketball players, and that's depressing. Watching modern pro basketball reminds me of watching my roommate play Nintendo in college. In order to remedy this aesthetic decline, the league decided to let teams play zone defense, which has got to be the least logical step ever taken to increase excitement. This is like trying to combat teen pregnancy by lowering the drinking age.
Read my post at Mysterium Tremendum: Klosterman on why soccer is stupid..