Going Back to Our Roots



When Negative Dunkalectics was first conceived under a specific rubric of elitism and tradition (with some of the neoliberal era's top basketball blogging talent), the idea was to cross an Iverson crossover with an Adorno aphorism.

This might have been an odd thing for me to be excited by considering my previous armchair study of anti-humanist/anti-Frankfurt school thought pace Althusser, Balibar, or even in his own Lacanian way, Zizek. Or, frankly, my confounding foray into coaching football, as opposed to God’s game of hoops, which I was raised to love as my favorite. Regardless, a brief almost non-discussion of Darrell Griffith transforming into a Dr. Crunkenstein Monster for a new NBA era (taking over the torch from Kevin Duckworth?) as fictional passage in Negative Dialectics took on a life of its own – not unlike the original Dr. Frankenstein monster!

Since I’ve made zero entries til now, I can’t take any credit for the the blog's success. But I'll credit the blog for reigniting my love for the NBA in a way previously done only by the "We Believe" Warriors and other on-court flashes of brilliance.

In the days when ND was but a concept, I did a Google search for “Theodor Adorno basketball” and found one result: A Whole New Ball Game: An Interpretation of American Sports by Allen Guttmann, who I had never heard of before. We'll return to this!

Since then, Negative Dunkalectics has taken off even though my posts never came to pass. I envisioned a lot more “Where is Brad Lohaus?” type entries (funny, irreverent, but still awesome) and less “interviewing the greatest gambler in basketball” (authentically among the most interesting sports writing around right now). I can’t compete with the latter, so I won’t try.

But back to ND's roots:

The six founding members (consider them “the dream team,” if you will – or if you won’t since you as a reader don’t have any agency when reading ND entries, especially by those who once so stridently championed a flirtation with structuralism) of DC Comics' Justice League were:

• Superman
• Batman
• Wonder Woman
• Green Lantern
• Flash
• Martian Manhunter

These are generally your top level superheroes, though the amazingly powerful Martian Manhunter remains under appreciated in the same sort of way Charles Barkley’s dominance was in the 1992 Olympics was. Barkley was probably the best overall player in the course of those games, shooting 71%! from the field – though lacking an NBA championship ring the same way J'onn J'onzz generally lacks his own ongoing series in DC, stuck in the limelight behind Superman and the other bigs.

But putting that one exception aside, that superhero team seems basically unstoppable, like the 1992 US Olympic Squad (other than an occasional scare by a newly independent Croatia or Darkseid.) When Cuban national coach Miguel Calderon Gomez said "you can't cover the sun with your finger” after the Dream Team’s debut against his squad, he could have been quoting a frustrated Lex Luthor as much as speaking for his players ability to stop a team with Magic dishing to Michael on the secondary break for an easy bucket.

Indeed, the comic book character come-to-life motif has been a part of the NBA in my lifetime. Whether it’s the Shaq-Steel movie (somehow officially one of the 13 live action DC comic movies since Batman came out in 1988!); Dwight Howard changing into Superman in a phone booth or being defeated by a ridiculously stupid KryptoNate dunk; the Jordan (Superman) / Pippen (Batman) / Rodman (as himself) trio at the Bulls; Ronald “Popeye” Jones; or Xavier “X-Man” McDaniel; there has been a marriage of the bigger than life hero with the bigger than life NBA narrative. But what of the minor heroes that proliferated both in the Justice League and in the NBA? The “never carried a team to a championship but would love to” more minor heroes of the 2011 playoffs?

Elongated Man (Z-Bo – no need to leave his toes to pull down 20 boards!)
Red Tornado (Joe Johnson)
Hawkman! (Josh Smith)
Green Arrow (social conscious – Etan Thomas?)
Blue Beetle (Mike Conley)
Black Lightning (Ty Lawson)
The Human Flame (Joel Anthony -- but he's on team evil)
The Question (Objectivist/Randian version in the spirit of Ditko: Spencer Hawes?)
Birdman (as himself)

Inevitably other blogs apparently have already done the “Which Superhero is your favorite NBA player!” thing and of course there was the ESPN + Marvel comics team up to turn NBA players into Marvel superheroes, but I wanted to give a nod to the lesser appreciated “sixth men” of DC’s universe.

When -- not if! -- I do a WNBA entry, I will try to make sure I include useful comparisons for Black Canary (Sue Bird is too obvious as a pun), the Renee Montoya openly queer version of the Question, Zatanna the Magician/Houdini of the hardwood, etc. in the spirit of Title IX.

Back to A Whole New Ball Game, which is (according to my search engine gods) the most explicitly Adorno-influenced basketball book: the author summarizes some hallmarks of modern sports that separate them from more ancient games such as Afghan buzkashi (credit Guttmann, pp. 5-6, available on Google Books):
• secularism: despite their tendency to become more ritualized and to arouse the deepest passions, modern sports are not related – as primitive and ancient sports are – to some transcendent realm of the sacred;
• equality: modern sports require, at least in theory, that everyone be admitted to the game on the basis of his or her personal ability and the rules be the same for all contestants [unless you’re Derrick Rose];
• bureaucratization: local, regional, national, and international bureaucracies now administer every level of modern sports from the Little Leagues to the Olympic Games;
• specialization: many modern sports (rugby, soccer, and American football) have evolved from earlier, less differentiated games, and many (baseball, cricket, and football) have a gamut of specialized roles and playing positions;
• rationalization: the rules of modern sports are constantly scrutinized and frequently revised from a means-ends point of view; athletes train scientifically, employ technologically advanced equipment, and strive for the most efficient use of their skills;
• quantification: in modern sports, as in almost every other aspect of our lives, we live in a world of numbers;
• the obsession with records: the unsurpassed quantified achievement, which by what we mean “record” in this uniquely modern usage, is a constant challenge to all who hope to surpass it.”
This was published in 1988, perhaps written even earlier, but could have been written yesterday specifically about the NBA and I’d still consider it timely.

I hope Negative Dunkalectics will continue to explore the values of modern sport: secularism, equality, bureaucratization, specialization, rationalization, quantification, and the obsession with records until we reach a new paradigm and sublate Iverson and Adorno once and for all. The Obama presidency, for all its ups and downs, brought us our best basketball player in the oval office since Gerald Ford. Maybe our best ever! To paraphrase the Justice League's Hawkman, the Kennedy moon speech, or even the great David Thompson:

The sky is no limit.

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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dwyane Wade came into the league as Flash!

Chris Sampson said...

and he'll exit as slouch!

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