Writing about stuff that doesn’t matter all that much as if it matters quite a bit is a privilege for those with the energy to do so. But there’s a workaround of that privilege, and it comes in the form of a subject that inspires the energy out of you to write about it with a particularly indulgent flair for crafting unnecessarily decadent sentences like you’re trying to impress someone you wanted to have sex with when you were a junior in college. This is what bloggers do, usually about music, but sometimes about basketball. Lately about Luka Doncic and Zion Williamson.
Basketball blogs don’t exist in the capacity they once did, but remnants of their peak mid-aughts stylings can be found in a lot of modern basketball writing, perhaps because the legacies of those bloggers were just that lasting. What’s more likely is basketball played at the highest level displays a sort of wrangling of chaos by supremely talented athletes that resonates with a certain type of creative who does not have that same amount of talent but does have the Internet.
Football doesn’t quite spark this feeling. Its resonance consists mostly at the intersection of tribalism, the binary-based game of chance that’s also produced by flipping a coin, and a fascination with violence. It takes immense talent, no doubt. It also requires teamwork, but not the type of teamwork the spectator can really feel. It’s more the sort of start/stop capitalistic “synergy” required to get to the end of a play without letting your quarterback suffer a concussion. Writing about football is mostly analyzing who will win or passionately evaluating what is wrong with football through writing. Writing about baseball is something I assume one does to earn their father’s love. Softball is more exciting and probably has better blogging potential but is still handicapped by a lot of general stillness.
Basketball bloggers were always happy to write about the tragedy of perfect individual style and personality failing to match up with actual success---Darius Miles and Lamar Odom warranted every word blogged about them. But for anyone who writes like a blogger---that is, fairly pretentiously--having a point is secondary to feeling validated by what you’re writing about. You can always find a point along the way. A player who manages to leverage the unpredictability of the game they play into success over and over again? That’s special. Anybody who’s better at writing than people who are bad at writing wants to be good at it in that particular way. Anybody who is good at anything wants their success to look like that--different every time but still possessing some sort of signature quality. It’s what Allen Iverson did. It’s what young LeBron James did (and what current LeBron still mostly does). It’s the contrast between Steve Nash’s pick-and-pop with Dirk Nowitzki and his pick-and-roll with Amar’e Stoudemire and the common factor being “fun!”
It’s tricky to romanticize these blogs while social media and increased platforms confront us with the fact that these basketball players (in the NBA and WNBA) live in the same America that any other American does--one that values its lives selectively. Those aren’t sentences that need to be dressed up. They need to be laid out, as clearly as possible and only editorialized by someone whose perspective highlights the gravity of it all.
Give a blogger something to be nostalgic about and they’ll put on a pot of coffee and convince you it’s Important, rather than admit its nostalgia is really just a respite from the fatigue of things that have real consequences. There’s a general corniness to a blogger elevating the Steve Francis/Cuttino Mobley tandem in a personal essay the same way it’s grating to read about some **** Music Writer’s experience at a Strokes show in 2000 and explaining why it Mattered. It reads like a quest to relieve an itch that isn’t being scratched by NBA Twitter, which is largely made up of once-were, would-be, and kinda-still-are NBA bloggers half-watching a game, whispering “Do a meme” at their favorite players.
But you can’t call what Luka and Zion make basketball fans feel “nostalgia” because a lot of them aren’t old enough to have felt anything like it before. They are franchise cornerstones, sure. They create a new set of X’s and O’s that are real and true, but what it really looks like is a complete mastery of not knowing what’s going to happen next. They repeatedly and willingly walk the edge of situations with high variance and consistently walk away with success. They seemingly have only a little bit better sense of what it’s going to look like than you do. It’s premeditated in the sense that they knew they wanted to be in that situation. It all happens in a few seconds (sometimes less than that for Zion). Then they do it a bunch more times.
Luka scores about as easily as any player in the NBA. So much so, that he doesn’t really have a visual tell when he’s got a hot-hand---a sign that he knows you’ve seen him be good and right now he feels like he’s better than that. The sign usually comes after a no-look pass. He always holds his arm in the direction of the pass--- like a shooter holding his form---until his teammate makes the shot. It’s a little reminder that none of this is mechanical. Nothing he’s doing is unstoppable; it just looks that way. He’s rolling the dice every time. He seems generally exhilarated by the possibilities, good or bad, every time he touches the ball.
You could set a highlight reel of Zion’s offensive rebounds to Chopin piano solos, and it would feel like the perfect representation of how peaceful physical power can look. He can react quicker, jump higher, move faster, and push harder than the most athletic people in the world. And that means thriving in moments that take place inside moments that were already fairly time-sensitive. It’s like he decided that if his general genetic gifts can help him find those moments he might as well seek them out and do something outrageously cool within them.
What these two players do is something that’s not typically encouraged in life if you’re not one of the most talented people in the world: They repeatedly put themselves in positions where they have to stick the landing. It’s only poetic with more success than not. But it is poetic, and basketball creates environments for different forms of this more than anything I can think of. People like watching it. And bloggers like writing about it. And some people like reading it. Writing normally requires a ton of structure. I rarely write a blog anymore, and all the editors and readers at the places where I normally write to make a living would justifiably not be okay with this kind of rambling nonsense. I assume it will come as no surprise to you that I didn’t outline this before I wrote it. Sometimes people want to see if they can stick the landing, and get more of a thrill from not knowing than they do from accomplishing it.
Luka and Zion are very young and that is obviously very impressive. But what it means is that they plan on stacking these split-second bouts with chaos on top of each other for years and years, and they’re all going to add up to some unknown thing. It’s easy to roll your eyes at that **** Music Writer, but then you remember that you saw Tracy McGrady score 13 points in 33 seconds. And you saw Baron Davis dunk over Andrei Kirilenko. And these moments didn’t mean anything. But they felt like something, and they stack on top of each other and then they do actually add up to something. And maybe that Music Writer wasn’t an ****, after all. They were just there when some people tried to stick a landing, and it worked, and they felt something, and it’s hard to know what to do with that feeling, but writing about is a fair enough option because it’s a feeling a lot of people can put their finger on.
Don’t let a writer convince you that Luka and Zion seem like something other than people. For a couple seconds they do seem like something more than people. And celebrating that is okay and good. You can project onto guys like Luka Doncic or Zion Williamson. It’d be hard not to. You just have to accept them as regular people at the next dead ball. It will blow your mind even more.