Sic transit gloria basketball mundi

The weird frog pointed to observations from Peter Vecsey written after a foreshadowing Game 2 ugliness, but prior to yesterday’s destined finish to the least watchable season of Laker basketball in living memory:

This might very well have been the final live look at their homeys . . . and Jackson. You’d think some fan appreciation might be in order? In spite of the lousy result, you’d think the crowd, all of it, would’ve stayed to the end and applauded the Lakers long and loud for what they’ve accomplished over the last four seasons.

It’s time to switch franchises and move back to Minneapolis . . . give L.A. fans what they deserve, a heavy, prolonged dose of the Timberwolves.

Yes, that would be justice, except that the Timberwolves -- a team with nowhere to go but up and one of basketball’s unique young talents in Kevin Love -- would probably be more interesting to follow than an all-star team playing like the 2010-11 L.A. Lakers.

The fans were responding to what they were shown, but their failure to root, root, root for the home team also confirms that psychological exhaustion had infected the entire “Laker nation.”  I noted in earlier discussion how the Staples crowd had failed to put on a patriotic show when TNT broadcast the national anthem prior to that same Game 2.  It was May 2 -- unofficial nationwide Ding Dong OBL Is Dead Day -- and the producers had apparently expected to get the same kind of flag-crazy demonstrations seen earlier in Chicago and at baseball games.

Both patriotism and team-fandom express symbolic belonging to a defined community in a world that otherwise seems random and anomic.  Team, like nation-state (or tribe, or religion, or any spectacle) is a vehicle for communal mediation between the individual and all the greater things and even greater non-things beyond. Athletic spectacle constitutes the great symbolic collective, open to all and opening to the all, and this opening outward is or should be in the highest sense erotic and supremely inclusive.  The striving toward championship ought to represent the striving toward infinitude and transcendence, with those defeated also brought progressively into the all-encompassing circle of love and victory, but, instead of agglomerating the fan ideal into the national-family ideal and the very ideal of ideals, the Staplers just sat and watched a precocious 14-year-old do a professional-quality rendition of a song.

The L.A. fans had turned back, or had been turned back, into what they always have had a greater tendency to be -- the pampered passive consumers of entertainment product.  They don’t really need new success, or, if they do need it, they didn’t see it represented in this team achieving a mere additional championship.  Now, Mr. Miller may have thought the Anthem Fail was Laker fandom’s proudest moment. But he’s a Clipper fan. (We’ll see, perhaps, how much trouble he has coping with another team like the ‘Wolves, a perennial loser and laughingstock, with even more potential actually to have a season worth caring about next year or whenever the NBA solves its labor problems.) 

As for Phil Jackson, we’ve learned over the years that fish don’t really rot from the head, but basketball teams and other human enterprises do often take on the character of their leaders.  It goes without saying that Phil Jackson had a great career, but in this last exhausted run into the ground, his “Zen Mastery” finally took the form of passivity and disinvestment.  It worked before as a negation of whatever spot-lit glaring high-stakes, big-money, strong-personality overpressure, and its conversion into the background hum of the game played as an end in itself, toward perfection. By this season, the resistance it needed had disappeared, and the attitude instead stripped away the last appearances of will to win, to the unwanted and laming revelation of the game’s banal absurdity:  Winning at all was a bit beneath Phil, and there was no one on the team who was both good enough and driven enough to reverse “Phil-osophy” dynamically, and turn it into a formula for victory.  This game didn’t really matter, that game didn’t really matter, showing up for the big Christmas match against the Heat was just a pain, the whole thing was just a tired joke all year -- a “last stand” for someone who didn’t care one way or the other about anyone’s last true measure of athletic devotion. 

The Game 4 debacle was in some ways the most satisfying ending possible to the long season’s journey into totally don’t care -- not just embarrassing and depressing, but, by way of the cheap shot from Andrew Bynum on Jose Borrea, well into shameful.  I like Bynum, but I think he should spend some time in jail -- the real jail, not just the suspension doghouse -- for such out and out thuggery.  I’ll now mind a lot less if his disappearance is part of turning the franchise around, which to my mind doesn’t mean getting back to the Finals next year, but putting something on the court that is beautiful, both an end in itself and a model of human excellence and the creation of meaning.


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12 comments on “Sic transit gloria basketball mundi

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  1. Well, I didn’t say he should be there for a long time – maybe just pending arraignment and input from the assault victim as to whether to press charges.

    You’re the one who said it was “exercise yard” stuff.

  2. @ CK MacLeod:

    yeah, I did and sending him to prison will just give him the opportunity to refine his technique. Bynum hit the guy above the center of gravity and on the side of the ribs rather than in the center and just underneath.
    suburbanite mistakes.

  3. I do see it from a completely different perspective. I think team sports can help us transcend the bonds that separate us (family vs family, community vs community, nation vs nation). I’ve been on teams and seen teams filled with guys who just love the sport they’re playing and while there’s always some exorcising of demons, and some recognizing of some of our baser stuff, the playing together could connect with what’s really always there and more eternal: the love of playing. I used to play with people who were ardent fans of other teams and we could get along great while playing the game ourselves because the love of the playing was there first and foremost and shared. Some of my friends wouldn’t watch pro sports at all because “money had ruined the love.” They were right. It’s no wonder that people think victory can “create a circle of love” watching people who’s love has been lost through materialism. Nothing unique there. And victory has never created a circle of love. Anyone who has ever played on a lot of sports teams knows that in their hearts. If you’re on a team without love, no amount of winning helps. Victory doesn’t create it and losing doesn’t make it go away. Winning some games helps people who might otherwise have issues get along for awhile, but victory, as in championships does nothing there. Obviously. What did it do for the Lakers? Two rings in a row and no circle of love. It was a circle of ugliness. And even if victory did work in the way CK believes, to maintain that circle you’d have to keep winning championships and the whole time you’re winning, all the other teams would not be in the circle. CK is expecting the vanquishing of an opponent to somehow end up taking us to the promise land. That is not just “possibly insane,” it’s “will to power” level straight-up insanity. Granted, it’s an insanity being expressed commonly these days. Whole countries have been known to go insane that way with Germany being the primary example. If the Germans had won would that have created a circle of love? Victory does not bring us into “a circle of love.” Having ideas like the one about victory bringing us into a circle of love brings us into the nuthouse. Playing a sport we love is what brings us into a circle of love. Even Phil knows that. Healthy people can exorcise demons constructively, a bit here and a bit there, and healthy people with open hearts can play sports in a way that connects with a circle of love. Magic Johnson in his playing days is an example. It would not have mattered what people did with the anthem during his playing days. He was going to express the best of human nature when he played no matter what because he loved the game so much. He exorcised some demons sometimes, but he also always remained connected to something beautiful. He’s lost his way a bit since, possibly because he can no longer play the game he loved so much in the way he used to. That’s hard.
    It’s also hard to keep sane when you’re super smart like CK. The “slippery slope” Fuster mentioned goes for CK’s whole perspective here. The lock-em up mentality is fitting within the post. It outs the whole point of view for what it is. I can only hope CK is just presently exorcising some demons and that he will come back off the ledge.

  4. What Bynum did was as low as it gets. That was strike three on him in respect to steroids. 1) went from soft to superman muscles in one year even though he doesn’t seem like the type to dedicate himself to weight lifting 2) gets weird injuries and has a hard time coming back from them 3) has rage moments that are totally inconsistent with his usual way of being.

  5. @ Scott Miller:
    Mr. Miller misunderstands completely. As I stated, it’s not that the Lakers lost, it’s how they lost, and the “point” – the created meaning – that I discussed wasn’t merely to win, but, as I said, to embrace the game as “an end in itself” and as a “model of excellence,” and to “put… something on the court that is beautiful.”

    I recognized and indeed emphasized these multiple perspectives and in different ways, from beginning to end, but Miller is so caught up with an idea about me that he’s fetishized, that he no longer is reading the words before his eyes. In his first sentence he essentially repeats my theme in somewhat different words, but asserts them as though they’re an opposing point of view: “I think team sports can help us transcend the bonds that separate us (family vs family, community vs community, nation vs nation),” he writes, as though I hadn’t said the same thing when I suggested that the team, like the nation-state, tribe, or religion, was a vehicle for connecting us to “greater things and non-things,” symbolic “infinitude and transcendence,” etc.

    It is not victory itself that brings one into, his phrase, a circle of love, and I nowhere suggested that it could or would. The championship, like the victory, like the successful play, like the successful shot, like managing to dribble the ball down the court without losing control or falling on your face, is meaningless except as invested with meaning. Each kind of victory constructs and organizes the activity in time, over the milliseconds of a move, the seconds of a possession, or the couple hours of a game or the year of a championship run, and each victory is made up of all of the constituent victories. Even the player doing nothing but play is dribbling the ball, not dropping it out of bounds, aiming for the basket, passing to an open not a covered team-mate, etc., and all of these smaller actions are constructed in terms of immediate and intermediate objectives. That’s what makes it “play” rather than mere random movement. Even the simplest forms of exercise are goal-seeking activities.

  6. @ Scott Miller:

    don’t think so. Bynum is simply maturing physically, still has his baby fat on top. still has teen-aged macho posturing and petulance in face of failure.

    fouls from him copy-catting idiocy of older guys Odom and Artest. Idiot Odom was trying to elbow that little guy just before Artest cheap-shotted him at end of earlier game.

    for my money, Bynum stays, O and A gotta go.
    they should get a decent return for Odom if his contract is reasonable.

  7. @ fuster:
    Everyone’s contract is unreasonable in one way or another. Odom is locked in at less than then-market value long-term, and still in his prime. Artest is dispensable and coming off a terrible year and a playoff blow-up, but I believe he’s playing for peanuts in basketball terms (mid-level exception or something).

    I heard Kurt Rambis analyze the team strictly in basketball terms, no philosophizing or psychologizing, mostly the obvious stuff – lack of outside shooting, perimeter speed, and so on – while also pointing out that blowing up the team or even making significant changes at all is always easier said than done.

    They’ve got a lot to figure out, starting with a new coach, and then they have to see what’s really available.

  8. I meant reasonable in that it would, in market terms, to possible to envision it as paying out less than Odom’s value to a team.

    Without Jax’s triangle, their prime need will be @ 1 guard and Odom should return a first-round pick and change.

    There’s this kid Ian Miller playing in Florida….very young…but might be just right to fit under Kobe’s wing.

  9. @ fuster:
    I don’t have a read on Kobe’s interest in a legacy other than a personal one of having caught and possibly surpassed MJ in # championships, and even that may be more something other people are interested in than he is. Undoubtedly part of what the Busstrust will look at is whether they think they can put together another championship run, or need instead to go long-term/re-build.

    They could keep the triangle if they hire one of Jackson’s assistants to replace him.

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