Wednesday, July 2, 2008

on freedarko.

FreeDarko has been, for most of the time that I've been reading about basketball on the Internet, one of the smartest sites that I've come across. It's always got something for me to think about. It's quintessentially philosophical, which makes me feel like I'd be friends with the guys who run it if I knew them in real life. (Side note: I was disappointed meeting some people the other day just because they'd been talked up so much to me, so I was expecting them to be super-smart. Is this going to be a problem for me?) There are things there that I'll never understand. There are plenty of things that I'll never agree with. But those are, like all other aspects of life, undeniable in just about everything. We don't get to choose who we fall in love with, and we don't get to cherry pick the qualities we like on people/things that we're interested in.

Just a little while ago, the NBA Finals happened. While the NBA Finals were occurring, Free Darko was in the middle of what I termed in the comments section at that time to be an implosion. Bethlehem Shoals, whom I consider to be the main author of the site, elaborates in the comments and said that a lot of that implosion was, in fact, planned and not authentic. While we could sit here for ages and debate whether or not that's the truth, I think there's something to be said for the comments section of the site in general and particularly during this time. To make a long story short, I think he was being honest...half-heartedly. It's always good to remember that a lot of truth is said in jest, and while he may think that there was nothing really going on there, and that all of the drama was manufactured, I don't believe that completely. I think there are complex feelings on the site, especially when it comes to the subject of Kevin Garnett abandoning his old persona (if you don't believe that happened that's a whole other conversation) to become a role-player in Boston. (And yeah, I know and agree that he was more than a quote-unquote role player. But he wasn't the same guy in Boston as he was in Minnesota. And that worked out for him. So goody for him.) I also think there's a lot going on with Free Darko's relationship with the Lakers, mainly because of Lamar Odom and Kobe Bryant, but they claim it has to do with Pau Gasol as well. (I definitely don't believe that part. Pau has never seemed a particularly FD player to me.)

So while this implosion was going on, I was watching with all the earnestness of passing a train wreck: it was something beautiful and horrifying at the same time that I couldn't take my eyes off of. The guys at Free Darko have always been super-careful to never back themselves into a corner, only releasing a one-time list of the players they considered (at that time) to be "FD" and they never qualified it or expanded upon that. (Speaking of, I'd love a new list from them, but I'm so afraid that I'd disagree with sooo many people on there and their placement that half of me thinks I'd rather just live in ignorant bliss.) I think a lot of this has to do with how comfortable you feel with post-modernity: if you think things can only have one answer, you're obviously going to feel uncomfortable with a "liberated fandom" (their term) that constantly changes bases, that shifts based on winning (which I interpret via FD to be semi-bad) and struggling (interpreted the same way to be totally great). If you're okay with things having more than one answer, you probably won't have an issue with taking multiple stances on an issue, sometimes shifting as radically as 180 degrees within a single night.

Complex things deserve complex thought. I've always thought of myself as a fan of basketball, the NBA and the Lakers, in that order. I think basketball and the NBA in particular deserves a little more love in the pop culture sphere of influence, beyond just talking about how the players are thugs or they fight, etc. (I've discussed this before and might include a link here to a previous entry if I can find it.) Basketball, to me, is worth thinking about seriously, and I've always been happy that Free Darko is out there to do so. However, I won't deny that I think the site has been preparing for a serious zeitgeist-y shift for a long while now. It seems like it might be tied to the book they're releasing (cop it now for a lower price!) but it might have been brewing for a longer time than that. There's something inherently wrong with coming to my blog and telling me, "You can't say that Pau Gasol's soft! You love the Lakers!" The opinions are mine and they're constantly changing; that's what good opinions do! True thoughts mean that sometimes things will change and I think that's what's happening over there. I have a lot of faith in the smart people that run the system over there to think that the changes will not destroy the system. But just in case it does...

Here's a link to my favorite piece on Free Darko ever. It's complicated, takes into account race, racism, the city of Chicago, the recent NBA Finals, the role of basketball in pop culture and some anti-hipster goodness that y'all know that I'd love. It was written during the Finals, but posted either just after they ended or near the tail-end. This, to me, is representative of what Free Darko is, in its essence, at its best. This is what I hope for: coming out of the car crash a bit stronger.

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