Thursday, March 5, 2015

DeAndre Jordan, and the NBA, got hacked tonight

Easier to watch than DJ at the line
So Portland stole a game from the Clips tonight in LA, with the prime strategy being to foul the notoriously poor free shooter DeAndre Jordan, which helped them get to overtime, where they wound up winning by five. Just another night in the Association, and while the game was fun and shown to a national audience, it's hardly going to get a lot of next day play when Russell Westbrook is bringing down his fourth straight triple double, and scoring 49 points while wearing a clear mask. Yeesh.

But that's neither here not there. The point is Portland won a game because they intentionally fouled, then made some shots, and that was that. And while some will say it's just a matter of Jordan practicing some free throws and that's all part of the game, well, um, bullsquat.

You can't intentionally foul, off the ball, in the last two minutes of the game. (Well, you can, but it doesn't help, because the fouled team shoots the free throws and still keeps the ball.) That, and instant replay reviews, are the only things that change in the final moments of the game, as if baskets are worth more points then, or that it makes sense to change the rules late.

There's no other sport that has something like this, really. You can't trip a guy in hockey or soccer who is terrible at penalty shots, and make him take it, then get back possession. You can't isolate and make a football player do a solitary thing (I don't know, kick extra points?) while everyone else watches. You can't pick a weak hitter from the other team and make sure he gets all of the at bats with the bases loaded, or pick a gas can from the bullpen and make him go against the platoon advantage when you are trailing late in a game. Only hoop, with its team and individual contributions constantly mixed, allows for this kind of eyesore weirdness.

And, well, it shouldn't.

I don't care if it works or not, and don't even care what this says about Jordan. Basketball isn't like any other sport, really, in that blowouts are unwatchable, no matter how much you might hate the other team. There's a reason why people still remember Bernard King and Andrew Toney and Mark Price and Larry Nance and Xavier McDaniel and Anthony Mason and literally hundreds of other names that I can rattle off without even trying all that hard, and bring a smile to the face of people who watched them play back in the day, whether or not it resulted in rings or parades or other stuff that is Not Game.

And it's simple, really.

Basketball is Art as much as it is Sport. Hell, maybe more.

Alex English scored an unfathomable amount of points for the Denver Nuggets back in the day; no one really remembers, because his game was smooth and persistent and unremarkable. Darryl Dawkins was a flawed man-child and unsound in lots of ways; he also broke backboards and was fun as hell, so people remember him. Roy Tarpley was tragedy personified, and Richard Dumas was tragedy writ dumber, and I could run that little exercise for hundreds of other names in all kinds of eras and laundry, and true hoop fans will remember them all, because Basketball is Art.

And for the most part, no even really remembers their numbers. Pete Rose hitting .300 or Drew Brees throwing for 5,000 yards or how many points Wayne Gretzky scored; these are numbers that matter to people, and things they might even remember without looking up online, though I don't know if we remember anything anymore. Computers make you dumb, because there isn't all that much reason to be smart in that way any more. But if I told you Dumas scored 25 points a game or 20, or that Tarpley grabbed 13 boards a game or 11, that doesn't really matter to your memory. Your mind has a picture or it doesn't, and the numbers are just details.

Here, I'll go further. Baseball Player A hit .320, stole 40 bases, hit 10 homers, drove in 60, scored 100. Player B hit .275, stole 5 bases, hit 30 homers, drove in 105, scored 90. Which one's older? Which one has a weight problem? Which one plays shortstop and hits leadoff, and which one plays left field and hit fourth? Which one plays in Colorado, and which one plays in Seattle? Which one is Dominican, and which one is Caucasian? Which one hunts in the off-season, and which one designed his own clothing line? (Answers? B, B, A, A, B, B, B, A, A, B, B, A. And I just made all of that up.)

You can't do that in hoop. If I put Toney's numbers in front of you (without the tell-tale injury issues), and then listed Jeff Malone right under him, you wouldn't know which guy was which, even though they were spectacularly different guys on the court. That's hoop; no park effects, no rigidly defined positions, subject to context and minutes played and pace and on and on and on. Art.

And fouling guys on purpose is Not Art, and barely even Sport, and it really is as simple as that. It makes the game terrible to watch, and if the game is terrible to watch, it does not matter if it "works", because things that make the game terrible to watch are not now, and should not ever be, tolerated.

There was a time when basketball did not have a shot clock. In 1950, a game was won with the final score of 19-18 (Pistons over Lakers), with the final quarter being a riveting 3-1 battle. The league could not survive with that product as Game, so it changed it.

It will also change this, and should.

And until it does, we'll hear from people who seem to think that the Status is always Quo, always will be Quo, always should be... and when the rules change, you will never hear from them again.

So can't we just skip to that better future already?

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