Last night, the Celtics/Knicks game on ESPN literally turned the world into a carnival for three hours, and as clowns and trapeze artists descended on a three-family apartment building off the MBTA subway system, I ate some cotton candy stuffed into my face by a carnie, and saw a performance immersed in the most classic drama, the high art lowered onto a basketball court. And with that, I was given a bow of appreciation. What Paul Pierce was delivering when he bowed to the crowd at Madison Square Garden was not necessarily a curtain call, but an acknowledgment of the very transparent nature of professional basketball.
Recently, I attended my first professional basketball game worth giving a fuck about – the Nuggets/Celtics game last Wednesday in Boston – and with it, I had a particularly good seat (thanks, B). I don’t mean to sound bigheaded, but as somebody used to horrible vantage points of professional sporting events, it was interesting to actually see an event from a value practically approximate to where I had been viewing the sport since I was a child - the television set. And through the hundred TV timeouts that ESPN allowed the home crowd to enjoy, I became just slightly more aware of the performativity being exhibited. Just a little.
After likely his best performance of the season last night, Pierce made it apparent through his audacious bow that he was more than willing to admit the clutchness displayed was, as Butler put it, "an identity instituted through a stylized repetition of acts."1 But whereas Butler referred to the formation of gender identity, Pierce was illustrating that his own common showmanship - his aforementioned "clutchness" to hit a last second shot - signifies nothing more to him than a series of deliberate postures in order to satisfy the television viewer's preconceived notions of Paul Pierce.
So while his initial move wowed the audience at home and shocked the audience at the Garden, the secondary gesture - the one that addressed the very Realness of what they were seeing, and I guess broke through the "fourth wall" of performance - is the one that has pissed everybody off.
The reaction from spectators on Twitter from this arguably audacious move by Pierce is remarkably uniform:
- “So pierce wanna take a bow in front of the fans at the garden huh? Sum1 tell that turtle to eat a dick.” - iS1NCERE
- “Pierce took a bow @ center court after the game. I wish I was there so I could've threw my cell phone at him. It would be worth it.” - SHANK23
- “SMH at pierce doing a bow to the NY fans... someone needs to knock his ass to the ground #whatareyoudoing” - KillahKev
1 This is from somewhere in the essay “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution.”