Last week of the offseason. Soon I won’t have much time to take it easy.
20 Minutes at Rucker Park
One of the most common motifs in basketball longform is the story of the down-on-his-luck baller who seemingly has one last chance to make good on his talent, and reap the benefits of his God-given gift. Some of my favorite writers have turned in stellar entries to this crowded field of basketball analysis. However, at times, this story seems to be told too often; the miscreant ballers all blurring into a single archetype, and the stories becoming lock-and-step recitals of a few common themes, including poverty, luck, and opportunity. This story, however, is much different. It focuses on T.J. Webster, a talented street-baller who has given up everything for a chance to become a regular on an entertainment circuit in the heart of New York. Webster’s story doesn’t match the common archetype presented in these types of pieces. For one, he is white, from a dying agricultural community outside of Sacramento. His story matches that of working-class white people in the agricultural parts of Northern California; filled with pot-growing and alcohol use, and crafted around a largely nomadic lifestyle. He also isn’t a god among men: he doesn’t possess the other-worldly skills other unknown streetballers in similar tales seem to have. What emerges is a truly human story. It touches on a particular type of love for the game; one that focuses on the way people in a distant land filter out what’s unimportant to them about basketball and the NBA, thus leaving what truly matters in its wake. In that regard, his journey to New York is unique, and well worth the read. I definitely enjoyed this piece, from start to finish.
In Bhutan, a Bid to Turn Basketball from a Royal Sport to a National One
The New York Times
Way back when, when I was a graduate student in history, I studied the ways colonial powers used sport as a tool to exert imperial influence in various spots throughout their empires. I never came across studies focused on Bhutan, a mountainous country in South Asia with a population of around 750,000 people, most of whom are crazy about the game basketball. The problem, writes Gardiner Harris, is that basketball can only be played by a select group: the royal family. Throughout the years, basketball has been a sport enjoyed by the kings and queens of Bhutan, who play against other skilled individuals in the capitol city, and nowhere else. That all is about to change, now that the royal family has authorized a South Korean coach to begin developing a national program in the hopes of competing against other regional powerhouses. Harris does an excellent job setting the scene and telling a story; providing information about a place not often discussed in the media, regarding sports or otherwise. Definitely give it a look.
Kevin Durant, and Expertise
In the next few weeks, The Diss will be closely looking at the concept of “how we know what we know”, and along those lines, this piece by Ethan Sherwood-Strauss really caught my attention. Riffing off a tweet issued by Kevin Durant, which lambasted ESPN’s annual exercise in ranking all NBA players from 500 to 1, Sherwood-Strauss more closely examines why NBA players feel that neither the media nor the fans can really know exactly what the NBA players know. Sherwood-Strauss points out that much of this has to do with team and NBA protocol — the media is not allowed to take pictures of locker rooms and white board material — and the rules which prevent lay-people from accessing the knowledge that NBA players can. But the other part, Sherwood-Strauss explains, is actual experience and preparation. “We haven’t studied what he’s studied,” writes Sherwood-Strauss, “read the scouting he’s read, learned the schemes he’s learned. There’s a knowledge gap between us, and KD justifiably believes he’s more informed to make such choices.” It’s a piece that ably balances the frustration of not knowing, with the additional frustration of being barred from the knowlege by the gatekeepers themselves.