Momentary joys of being in the Moment

Through five games, everything was terrible and through six games it probably still is. A Lakers fan can’t visit any of their favorite NBA sites without facing ridicule and mean-spirited jokes ripping Kobe, Byron Scott, Carlos Boozer’s penchant for yelling “And one motherfucker!” no matter the score, the Buss family, and the Lakers unstoppable mudslide into the flesh-ripping craggy rocks of the Pacific. And even now, after the Lakers have won a game, they are a bad team in a mercilessly stacked conference. But for about two hours on an otherwise forgettable Sunday night in November, the Lakers delivered me from my numb escapism into world of feeling, a world of now.

The Lakers suck, but I haven’t watched many regular season games in recent memory with the same riveted fixation with which I watched that game against the Hornets. At 0-5, with Kobe trying harder to eke out otherwise meaningless wins in a lost season to the point that his usage rate is bordering on the insane and physically unsustainable, there shouldn’t be much beyond his Herculean efforts riding on these miserable games, but that couldn’t have been further from my experience. Instead of balling up into a cynical mass of unfeeling bitterness, I rode on a fragile precipice of caring: too much, too little, just right, just natural? What the fuck was I doing letting myself hope with a team already allowing themselves to be defined by an inability to compete in close games? Twice already on these dark fall nights the shorthanded and outmatched Lakers have fought and scrapped deep into the bowels of fourth quarters only to fall short, giving their objective and subjective detractors more fuel with which to throw on the funeral pyre of the 2014-15 Lakers.

On November 4th, the night the Republicans won all sorts of elections across this strange country while those same voters voted in favor of numerous liberal causes, I sat at an indoor picnic table at Dr. Jack’s at the Rose Quarter in Portland. It’s pretty much part of the Moda Center, but oddly enough not a single employee could tell me and my friend Zach whether or not they had League Pass. We fired up the iPhone and crowded our early-to-mid-30s shoulders around the little screen to watch the fourth quarter of the Suns at Lakers. All around us the Blazer-faithful flitted and laughed with their massive hipster beards and era-spanning jerseys, filled with the glee (and beer) of beating back the royal Cavs of Cleveland, basking in the return to all-star form of Damian Lillard. We sipped our IPAs and watched the seesaw Lakers while making pacts on possible outcomes: “OK, if the Lakers win, we’ll get wings and another beer.” The Suns lead grew as high as eight and our sails were windless, flopping emptily in the Portland night only to be resuscitated. Vintage Kobe buckets and Jeremy Lin free throws lifted us to hopeful feet. Our chicken wings were maybe some kind of reality, but we’re both grizzled men with years of NBA fandom under our ever-tightening belts. The Lakers pulled within one only to have Phoenix crank it back to five so we modified our arrangement: “If Kobe gets 40, we’ll get our wings.” We settled because in 2014, when a Lakers fan is bent on celebration sometimes the win that might grant release doesn’t come and when that happens, you still want your damn wings. Kobe didn’t get his 40, the Lakers didn’t win, but we still ordered those wings and then walked uphill to our hotel, buzzed, defeated (twice – thanks LeBron), no longer hungry, but not quite satisfied either.

With memories like those so close to the surface, I sat through halftime of the Hornets game with the Lakers down 51-42 shooting under 40% and 0-8 from three. Internally, I was unconsciously fighting about whether or not I could let myself feel something this Lakers second half. It was like two tiny oceans clashing in the core of my guts without any intent except forward force. Masters of the sea? Pfft. Before the game I had texted friends that I thought this was the night LA broke the winless streak and whether I wanted to be right or truly believed the Lakers would win, I stepped into that second half a scared man. But something happened on the way to the funeral. Instead of shooting 40% and missing every three attempted, the Lakers bounded out of the locker room breathing hope into my thirsty lungs. The comeback was focused like single-minded jump-first-ask-questions-later Jeremy Lin drives. The Lakers attack was a wave of Sunday white that I and we desperately needed. Four of five from deep while out-rebounding Charlotte 14 to five in the quarter? It reminded me of Julio Chavez Jr.’s legendary 12th round comeback against a dominant Sergio Martinez a couple years back, but Julio fell short despite uplifting an entire country and sport in the process. I don’t identify with any notion of a Laker nation, but this weird third quarter was micro-galvanizing and probably I’m overreacting, but it was a mini-scaled version of the Laker claw-back against Portland in the 2000 Western Conference Finals. Similar in the sense it was needed, fans were desperate to be rescued and the Lakers delivered. People may burn effigies of my body at that comparison (and I’d simultaneously be flattered and creeped the fuck out), but I can only write to what I feel and the other night of this hopeless gauntlet of a Lakers season, I was full of all the feelings.

If the Lakers won, an alcohol-themed celebration was in order, but a man who’s been hurt is desperate to avoid that feeling again. I tried to detach and hold feelings at an arm’s length, but anyone who has ever loved knows the heart wants what the heart wants. I was begrudging and giddy to accept my feelings, a man split down the middle like a seedless avocado with one half ready to be ground into creamy guacamole and the other half rotting and grayish brown awaiting a stinky destiny in the nearest trash can or compost bin if you float that way.

Believe me friends when I tell you that the Lakers didn’t give it away. Despite giving up 58% shooting and sending the Hornets to line 18 times in the final period, the Lakers shot an improbable 13-21 with assists on 11 of their 13 field goals, a testament more to un-Laker-like great shooting instead of good shots from cohesive ball movement. Eight Lakers scored in the final period and it was probably some kind of apropos that Kobe scored the least of them, just two points on one of five shooting.

I celebrated with two big cans of frothy, foamy Guinness while basking in a combination of what I hoped was my own relief and the disappointment of Laker haters around the world. It was a laid back celebration and my Guinness well-earned.

In the immortal words of Fight Club: “This kid from work, Ricky, couldn’t remember whether you ordered pens with blue ink or black. But Ricky was a god for 10 minutes when he trounced the maître d’ of a local food court.” Sunday night didn’t elevate the Lakers up the NBA food chain, but for that 24 minutes of 60%-plus shooting in the second half, they were gods worthy of their fans unconditional appreciation.

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GAMES OF THE WEEK: 8/10-8/17

Hey, how is everyone feeling about this NBA season? Good? Are your dreams coming true? Are you being surprised by good things and having other good things you believed confirmed? I certainly hope so, I hope all of those dreams are coming true for you. I hope your pleasures and complete and expanding. Unless you root for the Lakers, in which case I hope you suffer to the ends of the Earth to pay for years of excess. Winning is sinful, repent repent repent.

MONDAY, UTAH AT INDIANA, 7PM EAST, 4PM WEST, BANKERS LIFE FIELDHOUSE

Man, three bucks! Out here in Portland metro we’re spending 25 goddamn dollars for a live basketball experience! I say you hop on a train, or a motorcycle,  get on ol’ StubHub, and see what happens at this game between two weird lotteryish teams! Maybe no one on Utah can guard Hibbert and a 110-108 fire breaks out! Maybe this is “The Dante Exum Game!” Or, if you get REALLY lucky, you will be present at the game where Gordon Hayward’s tears heal a blind child! Anything can happen and you can be there for ONLY THREE DOLLARS!

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TUESDAY: SACRAMENTO AT DALLAS 8:30 EAST, 5:30 WEST

Look, the Kings lost to the busted-ass incarnation of the Thunder tonight, so who really knows. But god help us they might be the future and I’m not going to sit here on this website and tell you to turn your head away from the future! The Kings could lose EVERY game over the next two weeks and become deeply non-recommendable! At this moment in time, this precious moment, the Kings are hot and winning and you need to hang onto them until the moment they’re not, God forbid!

WEDNESDAY: INDIANA AT MIAMI, 7:30 EAST, 4:30 WEST, ESPN

If you watch this game hard enough, you can actually see Lebron and Paul George’s ghosts going one on one. Can you see it? Is it in your grasp? A past that might have been the future?

THURSDAY: SACRAMENTO AT MEMPHIS: 8 PM EAST, 5 PM WEST, LEAGUE PASS

I don’t even have a joke, honestly. You should watch this game, because these teams are wildly entertaining and overflowing with personality. There are no jokes to be made about ZBo tossing up a hook over Reggie Evans. It’s the most serious thing in the world and also the most serious. It is the “Three Colors: Blue” of basketball plays. Deeply serious, and also very moving.

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FRIDAY: MILWAUKEE AT ORLANDO, 7PM EAST, 4PM WEST, LEAGUE PASS

How deep if your thirst for knowledge? What would you do to find out the truth? A searcher’s question follows. The Milwaukee Bucks: are they bad, or average? Only one game contain the answer you seek: if they lose to the Magic on the road, they are almost certainly a bad team. BUT, if they VANQUISH Orlando’s finest sons, they are a step close to being regarded as “Pretty okay, maybe not a bad team. OJ is looking pretty good this year!” SEEK TRUTHS IN DARK CORNERS, AND YOU WILL FIND THE ENLIGHTENMENT YOU CRAVE.

SATURDAY: PHOENIX AT LA CLIPPERS, 7:30 WEST, 10:30

If the Clippers are the Grateful Dead, and they are, because everyone is the Grateful Dead on some level, Chris is Jerry and Blake is Bob Weir. Chris is a noodly genius who does better solos and does the stuff that the true heads revere. But Blake is more “Real world” charismatic, the kind of person who appeals to actual human beings and not just burned out basketheads. The Suns are probably more Allman Brothers-y, but I honestly couldn’t tell you who Duane is. I am not a music equivalence scientist, I had no desire to take the math to make it happen.

SUNDAY: DENVER AT KNICKS, 1 PM EAST, 10 PM WEST

I love early Sunday Knicks games. I remember once I watched half a Knicks/Sixers game in the train station in Olympia and I saw John Mcenroe sitting with his daughter and wearing gold chain and a shirt with three buttons undone. It was some peak-ass dad majesty, lemme tell you about it.

Okay, it was two buttons. But spiritually, it was three.

My favorite thing about NBA crowds is that, for the most part, they don’t act like maniacs. The Sunday morning Knicks crowd lives this harder than any other crowd. “We’re just here to see a basketball game. We like basketball, no big deal. We’ll clap if something cool happens, WE GUESS.” I would watch ANY team play the Knicks on Sunday morning. The only thing that would make these things better is if they just gave everyone in the building pancakes to eat. You could probably get half the building sleeping in there, maximum relaximum.

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A Land Soaked in Blood

In the imagination of a person based on the West coast, the East is just a jumble of cities that you read about in your high school textbook; names you faintly remember from your Civil War unit, or that you recall were important during the War of Independence. In this way, true regional rivalries can be parsed out and solved, usually in the arena of professional sports. For a person out West, New York, Boston, Washington DC, Philadelphia and Cleveland are all on one magical highway, taking turns beating each other in sports, economics, and even in past wars, and in turn, losing to a more complete opponent a few time zones to the left. Even though simple geography contradicts this misplaced assertion, it’s a stereotype that persists in the minds of those living West of the continental divide; those of us placed in a part of the craggier part of the country, where the roads stretch endlessly towards nothing, and everything seems lonesome and forgotten, just as soon as you leave the comfort of the bright city lights.

In the West, there is a feeling that everything is on a land-locked island even if the ocean is clearly in view, a strange feeling of lonely exposure. It is both a blessing and a curse that one could hop in their car, drive in a random direction on any decently-paved road, and within an hour be in a place that feels primordial; almost as if no one has been there but you. In these hidden spaces, mountains rise from the landscape and remorselessly split the sky, creating strange wispy clouds and black, menacing thunderheads around unforgiving peaks. Trees of a thousand varieties, of all shapes, sizes, and colors, dot the landscape, and allow their leaves to become soft, soothing rattles as the wind blows through them. The weather fluctuates wildly, from cold and icy to hot and arid, and in many of these cases, humans are unable to survive. Indeed, there is a strange, hollow beauty to the West; a resplendent landscape that has been soaked with the blood of those who were on the wrong side of history, nature, science and religion. The West is our home, though there is a feeling that it would just as soon kill us, if we gave it even the faintest glimmer of a chance.

For at least myself, the murderous nature of the West informs my perception of the coastal bias of the NBA; why the East seems so foreign compared to the West. Whereas the East has the shared history of being first and foremost, our experience out West is that of a new-comer; not just to the country, but to the NBA landscape altogether. On the whole, the teams out West are the late-arrivers in the National Basketball Association; franchises that were procured when the NBA and ABA merged, and organizations who have undergone several facelifts and tummy-tucks to become what they are today. In the Oklahoma City Thunder, we see the furious ghosts of the Seattle SuperSonics, and in the Denver Nuggets, we can feel spirits from a much more iconic past, grumbling as their once-iconic franchise settles into a life of uninterrupted quasi-competitiveness. While the East can take some time to revel in the nobility of being an original franchise, the West has no time for such pleasantries. Unlike the Knicks, Celtics and Bulls, no Western team can proudly display the same jerseys in 2014 as they did in 1964, and unlike these teams, no one can look back to the Second World War to wax wistfully about some sort of “Golden Age.” There’s no time for any of that pomp and circumstance: those who don’t keep their guards up will be defeated. This is a message well-known to any Warriors fan; anyone who spent the last two decades being defeated on a nightly basis, and who now relishes every single win with a special sense of contentment reserved for those who must play all their games in this firing squad of a conference.

For this reason, the rise of the Sacramento Kings — standing 5-1 after two weeks, and coming off of the signature victory of the Vivek Era last night — must be met with a special feeling; one that can only occur out here in this beautiful, malicious land. Of course, the Kings are well-known to fans of Western conference basketball, there’s no need to rehash the competitive years the franchise enjoyed at the turn of the century. But this version of the Kings — and, really, this version of winning basketball — hasn’t been seen before, a team anchored by players who were roundly criticized (including by myself) and lead by a crew of basketball minds who, for the previous four months, looked like the least-informed men in the room. As fans of more established teams out West laughed deeply as the team let go of important starters, crowd sourced draft picks, those guffaws have all but disappeared as the Kings have established a particular style of winning basketball. Their fourth-ranked defense is a hawking, crack-commando sort of operation; using length, width and breadth to uproot opposing big men, and sending their enemy’s guards back beyond the three-point line, relegated to isolation and hastily-launched three-pointers. Their ninth-ranked offense — led ably by Rudy Gay, Darren Collison and DeMarcus Cousins — makes effective use of the extra pass, and uses both brain and brawn to overwhelm their opponent. Their style of basketball doesn’t resemble any other style of basketball in the West; an emergent force calloused by years of ineptitude, and hungry to prove every single doubter wrong. It is fantastic. It is magnificent. And above all, it must be stopped.

For out here in the West, there’s little room for fraternity. To Warriors fans, the potential rise of the Kings presents a situation that we have not confronted before; a true regional rival. All other opponents in the conference were from foreign lands; metropolises in giant states whose shapes reflect the vast, sweeping nature of Western expansion. The average Bay Area resident can’t tell you much about Portland, Salt Lake City, Denver, or even Los Angeles. But in a Sacramento Kings fan, there are resemblances, certain shared traits that cause both parties to smile reluctantly at one another. Ample numbers of Warriors fans moonlighted as Kings fans in the early part of the 2000′s, and a commiserate number of Kings fans have done the same for the Warriors within the last few years. Unlike in other spots in the West, our respective polities are separated only by a minimal stretch of highway; a road most of us have taken hundreds of times as we travel between the Bay and the heart of the Central Valley. There isn’t the luxury of distance. There isn’t the convenient excuse of civilizational dissonance. In confronting the Kings — and the truly disruptive force they seem to represent — there is the unsettling realization that the league is always changing, always creating new challengers for your preferred team to mitigate. The West is a land of heartbreak, and once again, a team has arrived ready to cause pain and suffering; distinctly unmoved by the prospects of ruining your night.

Of course, 5-1 may turn to 5-5, which may turn to 5-10. At that point, this piece will seem comically outdated. But even if that occurs, the message remains the same: in this far-flung land, where metropolises are separated by huge expanses of land, soaked with a history of conflict and conquest, it is hard to conceive of anything in the West as friendly and forgiving. Perhaps the Kings realize this, and like anyone who rises to the top out here, has learned to use the landscape to their own advantage, and to turn it against others, with little remorse, and even less regret.

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Are Thunder Fans Going To Stop Showing Up, And Does That Make Them Bad Fans?

Oklahoma City Thunder fans are universally considered some of the “best” in basketball. They show up, selling out nearly every game, and while they’re there they scream their heads off. “Welcome to Loud City” is an incredibly lame moniker, but it’s not exactly inaccurate. When players are asked which opposing arenas are the loudest, Chesapeake Energy Arena comes up frequently.

Of course, Thunder fans don’t know much about rooting for a bad basketball team. They went 22–59 in their debut season, but fans were contented by a new team, new arena, and rooting for an exciting young core anchored by the previous season’s Rookie of the Year. Since then they’ve won at least 50 games (not counting the lockout) each season, and made several deep playoff runs. As only the Thunder, they are tied with the Lakers for highest franchise winning percentage in NBA history.

This season, however, the Thunder might actually be bad, or at least not good. They’re 1–4 and face a rough month without Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook. Practically every other player in the roster is banged up in some way, and they still have Kendrick Perkins and a coach who can’t really design an offense. In a Western Conference where 50 wins might be the minimum to get into the playoffs, the Thunder are in real danger of missing out.

The Thunder also don’t have the brightest of futures. They continue to refuse going into the luxury tax, hampering their options. The haul of picks they got back in the ill-conceived trade of James Harden haven’t yielded even a borderline star. There are also the rumblings (perhaps just fantasy) that Durant wants to return home to DC in 2016. It’s not inconceivable to think we might be witnessing the decline of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

If that does happen, what will the Thunder fans do? Everybody likes to judge and make pronouncements about which fanbases are “good” or not, but are they really doing anything other than simply pointing at fans of successful franchises? We have numerous examples of “good” fanbases deserting their team, and “bad” ones showing up in great numbers.

The Trail Blazers sold out a million games in a row, and then dropped to near-bottom of the league in attendance for a while in the mid-2000s following the Jail Blazers debacle. Throughout most of the 1990s the “best fans in the NBA” title was given to Charlotte Hornets fans, and things got so bad there the team had to move, and things still haven’t really recovered. The previously loud-as-hell Arco Arena has been silent since 2008.

On the flipside, do Warriors fans really deserve the “best” moniker? Sure, they showed up more than expected given a decade of terrible play, but it’s not like they were selling out the arena, intimidating opponents, and travelling well. Are Knicks fans really that passionate, or is it just that approximately a billion people live in New York City and occasionally a couple of them go to a basketball game?

The bigger question here is how we define a “good” fan whether it even matters. Does a “good fan” just need to show up? Are fanbases measuredly solely by attendance? Does engagement matter? Some fanbases are regarded as “smarter” than others, does it make them better than the others? Is it fair to ding Angelenos for going to the beach instead of a game when, say, Bucks fans (sorry) have nothing better to do in February? Raptors fans are known to bombard writers of pieces they find overly critical; is this the behavior of a good fanbase or a bad one?

Talking about fanbases is usually just a circle-jerk of people claiming worthless superiority, most prominently (in my experience) in English football. A Manchester United fan gets caught shouting racist abuse and everybody says United fans are the worst. United fans then point to the Chelsea Headhunters “fan” group, heavily-linked to white supremacist organizations. Chelsea fans then point to Liverpool fans toppling retaining walls at Heysel Stadium and killing a number of people. Someone then comes in and say all of those fans are just “bad apples” that don’t represent a fanbase, and nothing is learned.

But this doesn’t mean that all fanbases are equal, or not worth studying. A sociology student should do their thesis on the reasons why the Atlanta Hawks have struggled to connect with Atlantans. Fans of the pretty bad Utah Jazz are still mostly sticking around, is this because there are no other big four sports in Salt Lake City, or something else? Black and white fans support the hometown team in different percentages, surely impacting certain fanbases. There is a wealth of interesting data and observations to make—things that can help us better understand regions and society in general—that usually gets flattened to support a “good fan” or “bad fan” argument.

Call me a bandwagoner or liberated fan, but there should be no shame in not showing up to watch a terrible team. Your money is hard earned, and you shouldn’t feel obligated to spend it on what is ultimately an unsatisfying entertainment experience. If your favorite team is owned by an asshole like Donald Sterling, you don’t deserve abuse for not supporting him. If you prefer to enjoy games by quietly sitting and observing instead of screaming, you should do you.

At some point, Thunder fans are going to stop showing up. Pretty much all fanbases do. And when they stop, they’ll probably have a pretty good reason for doing so. It won’t be because they’re a good fanbase or a bad fanbase, but because a lot of individual people made similar decisions not to go to a basketball game, and that’s ok.

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GAMES OF THE WEEK: 9/3-9/9

MONDAY: PELICANS AT MEMPHIS, 8 PM EAST, 5PM WEST, LEAGUE PASS

After a week, the NBA is worried about you. You smell like garbage, you’ve sworn off feeling human relationships, you’re starting to think about voiding all responsibilities and voyaging from arena to arena, in a sick neo-religious ritual. They think you need a night off. So they programmed this slate:

But you’ll show them! New Orleans at Memphis! Anthony Davis and Zach Randolph, answering the question “Just how different can two players be?” Jrue Holiday vs. Mike Conley: the fated battle of the West’s two great very-solid-but-juuuuuust-under-an-all-star point guards! Marc Gasol! Omer Asik! They’re both from Europe! You can do this! Show the NBA that NO SCHEDULE can stop you from zoning out in front of the tube and taking what is your, basketball stimulation!

TUESDAY: CLEVELAND CAVALIERS AT TRAIL BLAZERS,  7 PM WEST, 10 PM EAST, ESPN

AN EXCERPT FROM MY MEMOIR, “A LIFE DOMINATED BY VICTORY”

“I was so grateful that someone out there loved my writing for thediss.com SO MUCH that they just GAVE me a ticket for this game! I will be that person’s friends forever. I will even marry their sister, and be a better than average in-law, if they want that. And, hey, if they’re all ‘Hands off my sister’ I will think there is a weird kind of patriarchy-protection thing going on there, but I can respect that. Anyway, thank you for giving me a ticket to that game. I had a good time watching everyone play basketball.”

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WEDNESDAY: SPIN THE DIAL!

There’s 12 games on! 24 teams, IN ACTION! And I say: WATCH EM’ ALL! Start off with Miami at Charlotte (PLAYOFF REMATCH!) and whenever it goes to a commercial, SPIN THE DIAL! Pull up a Random Number Generator, pick a number between one and fourteen, and go WHERE THE WHIMS OF FATE WILL TAKE YOU! Commerical? SPIN THE DIAL! Get bored? SPIN THE DIAL! If you’re PARTICULARLY adventurous, you might SPIN THE DIAL! every time a whistle gets blown! Why should you have to put up with stoppages in play!? Soccer ain’t got no stoppages in play! Pretend the shards are all one seven hour game, then piece it together in your dreams!

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THURSDAY: SPURS AT ROCKETS, 8 PM EAST, 5 PM WEST, TNT

This battle between Southwest Division Powers is your mind being played out in front of you on a television screen. On one side: the Houston Rockets containing all of your neurosis and neediness, angling for free agents and better friends, making unfunny jokes to try and fit in at parties, incessantly promoting yourself so you will be famous and loved. On the other side, the San Antonio Spurs, obsessed with work, keeping a low profile so everyone will leave you alone, a productive member of society, but cold. WHO WILL WIN: THE FIRES OF NEUROTIC FRUSTRATION OR THE ICES OF PRODUCTIVITY!?

FRIDAY: WASHINGTON AT TORONTO 7 PM EAST, 4 PM WEST, LEAGUE PASS

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SATURDAY: GOLDEN STATE AT HOUSTON 8PM EAST, 5PM WEST

Klay Thompson has begun this season on a upward trajectory. Will it continue in this matchup against James Harden and the Rockets? Or will he have already left the NBA to peruse space travel and lunar domination? Where will it end? Can Klay Thompson harness the power of the vibrating strings that make up particles at the lowest level of existence? Or will he regress and have basically have the same season he did last year?

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SUNDAY: CHARLOTTE AT LAKERS 6:30 WEST, 9:30 EAST, LEAGUE PASS

Is watching a team just to see them get embarrassingly beat, over and over, in poor taste? Apparently I either don’t think so or don’t care, because I just recommended this game!

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Exchanging Blood for Profits

I think the first time I ever came across the word “fatigue” was playing some sports video game. I don’t know if it was from the Lakers vs. Celtics franchise, NBA Live or Coach K, but there it was: fatigue. Over the years it alternated with stamina, energy, or even health, but whatever the name it meant the same thing: how much gas a player or character has left in the tank. Now after years of video game-playing conditioning, I’ve occasionally found myself fantasizing about real life energy bars with easy-to-understand green/yellow/red coding that indicates if Dwyane Wade is running on empty or experiencing a burst of fourth quarter energy. After reading this piece from Pablo S. Torre and Tom Haberstroh in ESPN the Magazine, I’m starting to think some form of this childhood fantasy could become a reality.

The title of the piece is New biometric tests invade the NBA and its subject is how the NBA is at the forefront of a “biometric revolution,” but simultaneously how bioethics and technoethics need to be of equal concerns as the boundaries between employee and private citizen become more blurred.

So what’re we talking about here? How about everything from sleep habits and dieting to drawing blood and eventually “sequencing and understanding the genome … and how that relates to pro athletes on an injury basis” as Sacramento Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro put it. The range of invasiveness is as simple as wearing something on your wrist like a FitBit to monitor your sleep quality and track your physical activity throughout the day to something “Injectable (that) stays in the body for a year or two. No fuss.” as described by Dr. Leslie Saxon, executive director of the Center for Body Computing at the University of Southern California.

The benefits to these types of testing is pretty damn significant and, not surprising, economically driven. The piece references a study from fantasy sports outlet, Rotowire that determined “the average NBA team hemorrhages about $10 million in guaranteed salary from games missed due to injury alone. This makes fatigue, which directly relates to the twin dangers of overexertion of soft-tissue damage, a chief threat to playoff chances and literal fortunes.”

Teams can turn to insurance to protect themselves against athlete injuries, but as the Economist wrote in January of 2013, “sports teams that offer guaranteed contracts face huge losses if stars are injured, even only temporarily.” Consider the Oklahoma City Thunder. In the span of a month, they have lost Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to foot and hand injuries. The next four to six weeks without either player promises to negatively impact ticket both at home and on the road in addition to reducing the number of viewers tuning in for national TV games. When the Thunder lost Westbrook to injury during the 2013 playoffs, there was a direct correlation to the price of tickets post-injury which has been established with other injuries as well. The NBA uses a “league-wide insurance plan” where each team assumes limited risk that, as of 2013, “costs a modest 4% of salaries” while only being required for “a club’s top five players.” But even insurance can be problematic as we saw with Darius Miles and Portland in 2009. Miles sustained an injury and if he retired due to medical reasons the Blazers would’ve been able to avoid his $18 million cap hit. It was in the team’s best interest for Miles to retire and they even went as far as threatening to sue any team that signed him with “the purpose of adversely impacting the … Blazers salary cap.” Miles came back and played 34 games for the Memphis Grizzlies. He wasn’t the same player, but he was more than capable of playing and Portland ate the $18 million.

Given the high cost of injuries and the potential challenges and costs of insurance, it’s easy to understand the concerns of owners who, as D’Alessandro says, “need to be able to have an impact on these players in their private time.” With the upcoming rise in salary cap and the likelihood of player salaries increasing alongside the cap, it’s no surprise that owners want more control over what they see as an asset or investment.

In various ways, this has already begun. We’ve long heard stories of players being put on diets and training programs to increase their on-court or on-field production. Just a few weeks ago Dallas Mavs coach Rick Carlisle got in hot water for referring to his lean, six-pack toting small forward and multi-million dollar investment Chandler Parsons as “a little heavier than he’s ever been.” As part of the Philadelphia 76ers’ reimagining, the team is putting a greater emphasis on player-specific nutrition and dieting plans. And curfews have been part of the team-control mechanism for years. Most of us are familiar with the myth that athletes should avoid sex before big games and most of us accept that teams are going to be partnering with their players to some degree to ensure their off-court lifestyle doesn’t negatively impact their on-court performance. The big question NBA teams and the Player’s Association will face is how much should the team be involved?

When we’re talking about players eating burgers and having beers the night before games, it’s easy to laugh off, but what about when something called “the patch” is used to measure how much booze a player has had “on account of alcohol’s observable effect on heartbeat?” Or how about the implants I referenced above? Random drug testing suddenly morphs into 24/7 internal surveillance. There are real questions that need to be addressed around the commodification of human beings. Just because a team pays an athlete wild amounts of money does not give them open access to the inner workings of their body or keys to the compass of their off-court existence – unless the players and their representatives allow that. While it appears some organizations already view players as more asset than person, the paradox comes when an organization gets to know its players even more intimately – their biorhythms, their genetic treats, their weaknesses – which results in potential forms of dehumanization because teams make decisions based exclusively on economics and profits.

The Mavs have already instituted a blood testing program that should be raising flags within the NBPA. Their athletic-performance director Jeremy Hosopple told Haberstroh and Torres, “I tell them that nobody sees the data (of sensitive testing) but me and the people directly on staff that work for me.” Meanwhile, Mavs guard Devin Harris says, “I don’t know what they do with it once they have it, but they definitely take it (blood).”

It’s somewhat surprising that agents and the NBPA aren’t stepping in to request Dallas clarify how it is using Harris’s blood or at least to explain to the player how it is and isn’t being used. Habestroh and Torres write:

No complaints have been filed to the National Basketball Players Association as of yet. But it is worth noting that these partnerships have developed so quietly that the union had not even developed a position on the concept until ESPN requested comment in August. “If the league and teams want to discuss potentially invasive testing procedures that relate to performance, they’re free to start that dialogue and we’ll be glad to weigh the benefits against the risks,” says longtime NBPA counsel Ron Klempner.

You have to wonder where the Dallas’s player rep is at during the testing and why they haven’t raised the issue to the union. This lack of oversight or awareness should not have been surfaced by the writers here, but rather internally by the players.

Meanwhile, teams like Dallas and the Spurs are moving forward with testing their players behind a cloak of secrecy. While watching ESPN’s season preview show, Tim Legler expressed serious concerns about biometric testing being used against players in contract negotiations and while Haberstroh countered on set, and in the ESPN the Magazine piece, that teams are pushing for more of a partnership to improve player performance (and team economics no doubt), it’s a very legitimate concern. Not to extrapolate what appears to a be well-intentioned program into the world of science fiction, but I can’t help but think of Philip K. Dick’s short story The Minority Report where he creates the idea of “precrime” where people are arrested for crimes they would have committed in the future. Not surprisingly, we find out it’s an inexact science with the potential for mistakes, but imagine a future where a player’s blood test reveals he has a high probability for knee injuries or arthritis and is offered less money, or no money, as a result. Or just look at a situation like Tyson Chandler where the Thunder traded for the big man, gave him a physical, saw the potential for a long-term injury to his big toe and decided the risk was too great, thus rejecting the trade. While experiencing niggling injuries after the OKC rejection, Chandler was a key component on the Mavs 2011 title team and was an all-star for the Knicks in 2012.

To be clear, what happened with Chandler is not the same as using genetics in hiring or signing decisions. Haberstroh and Torres expertly go deeper on the genetic aspect:

In 2005, Alan Milstein (a bioethics and sports attorney) represented Eddy Curry against the Bulls, whose management wanted the center to submit to genetic screening because of an irregular heartbeat. (Curry was eventually traded to the Knicks, bypassing the issue.) The core objection then, as now, was that genetic markers are not actual proof of alcoholism, or Alzheimer’s, or cancer; they just signal greater odds of developing those conditions. In fact, as of the 2008 passing of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, it is illegal for employers to discriminate based on genetic information for that very reason. Choosing to privilege reality over probability in that way, Milstein notes, “was one of the few situations where Congress was actually unanimous.”

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It’s refreshing to see the presence of someone like Milstein involved in this issue and protecting NBA players, but I can’t overlook the NBPA’s inaction on this front. While the organization has had a full docket in replacing its executive director and spouting off sound bites concerning the league’s new TV deal, players like Harris have been giving blood without understanding why. Further, given the Miles situation referenced above, Curry’s situation in Chicago, and many owners’ penchant for greed (as evidenced by their attempts to break the union and continue taking a greater slice of the BRI pie), it’s understandable for people (Shane Battier and Legler) to be skeptical about how this information will potentially be used.

The treasure chest awaiting a franchise’s ability to optimize against health is great enough that this revolution will happen in some form, mostly likely gradual, but inevitable. There are too many ways to improve on how athletes maintain and finely tune their bodies to ignore this overwhelmingly big data, but the risks of data misuse are also great and frightening even without a wild imagination led astray by Philip K. Dick. While my dream of being able to analyze my own fatigue meter (really, how much do I have left?) is probably closer than I realize, hopefully someone out there is the banging drum of privacy for me, you and the NBA players, encouraging all of us to slow down and consider the risks before we willingly give our blood in ignorance.

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My Predictions.

I predict that, beginning this evening, once I drop my backpack on my desk chair, and heave a heavy sigh to an empty, chilly apartment, my life will be based around a ratty second hand couch that I got for free from a friend. My butt will slide easily into the grooves embedded deep within the behemoth’s plush, springy cushions, happy to be reunited with a partner that cradles and comforts with gentle, caring ease. From there, I will fall into autopilot, cranking up three different games on three different screens arrayed about my living room. I predict that, for an average of two hours a night — minimum — my head will slowly swivel between these three glowing planes of light, watching exceptionally gifted human beings hard-charge, like boulders rolling eternally down a hill. The sounds of squeaking sneakers will become a ubiquitous presence in my modest suburban shit-hole, and the discordant creaks of cries of League Pass music will provide my nightly aria. I predict that I will spend an average of 10 hours a week watching basketball; an average of 40 hours a month watching basketball; an average of 320 hours over eight months watching basketball. I predict my life will be distinctly average.

This season, I predict that I will be cut by both sides of the sword of inactivity. Some fall days will be perfect; tucked into a vaguely-ripe blanket as a low light creeps through the window, faceless announcers braying on about who is hitting their shots, and who needs to get their heads in the game. Some winter days — a term used loosely in California — will be magical in their own right; bright, cool Christmas days stuffed to the brim with sleeved jerseys in pastel colors an roll-your-eyes moments with the Turner crew. But I predict the dark side will be there too. I predict a waning in exercise; self-conscious poking at expanding bellies, chests heaving desperately as cardiovascular capabilities wane over time. I predict fantastic game time feasts — luscious lasagna, piping-hot pizza, endless iterations of cheesy, gooey, salty and sweet — will pass through my abode. I predict loud, inebriated nights, the sounds of clinking bottles intermingling with those squeaking sneakers as an herby haze settles about the room. Yet, when the revelry has ceased, I predict a wake of destruction: empty fast food bags, ash-covered tables, annual weight gain and artificially dark rooms; a disheartening headache on an otherwise brilliant Spring day. I predict I will feel both warm comfort, and sublime shame as I sit on the ratty second hand couch. As for which emotion I feel, I suppose it will depend on how my day went.

I predict that, despite my best efforts, the NBA will continue to stand as a non-functional replacement for real human interaction. When friends text about getting together after a hard day of work, I will find a way to watch basketball instead. When the opportunity to meet new people in my hometown arises, I will gravitate towards basketball instead. When people ask me if I’ve made any new friends lately, I will think about the faceless avatars chirping away on social media, equally frightened to stray too far away from the NBA, and talk about them instead. When the overtures for social interaction just end altogether, and my phone remains silent, I will swallow my hurt feelings, and just focus on the games instead. I will stare hard at the little players, my little men; squeaking in their sneakers, slapping hands and patting butts, all for me, on my three screens. This is what I have done forever. This is what I have done always. And though I predict I will continue to think about the opportunities I missed — boisterous happy hours, far-too infrequent family moments, late-afternoon hikes, competitive pick up games, or even just the opportunity to totally unplug from our fucked-up world — I also predict that the NBA season will smile warmly, smooth my hair, and tell me to just sit down, to watch my little men play basketball, and to try not to think about it.

I predict that, against all odds, my relationship will survive yet another NBA season. And what a prediction to make. After all, I’m the one who becomes incommunicado as soon as games start, once-wordy texts slimmed down to one-word dispatches like “yeah” and “okay”. I’m the one who becomes dark when the Warriors have lost three of five, or moody after Steph Curry turns an ankle. I’m the one who gets mad at the bar, who snaps and snarls in petulant anger when things don’t go his team’s way. She’s the one who will put me in my place; who will tell me that it’s just a game, and to lighten the fuck up. She’s the one who tells me “good job!” when the Warriors win, as if it was I who was moving brilliantly off of screens and splashing wide-open corner threes. She’s the one who named Jarrett Jack “LL Cool JJ”, has been to the last five Warriors games I’ve been to (including a playoff game) and has made an NBA “Boning Roster” with a depth-chart deeper than the Cavaliers. In a reversal of an age-old adage, it’s not me, it’s her. I predict I will feel very lucky. I predict there will be a moment after a big three from Steph that I will look into her face, and my feelings will get all mixed up.

I predict we will have the same arguments this year as we had the year before, and the year before, and the year before. I predict we will call Dwight Howard a child based on small personality snapshots, laughing like juveniles as we make up fart jokes about him, then remounting our high horses as gravely we call him immature. I predict we will wonder if Derrick Rose is really “back”, despite the fact that he will be in a uniform, playing basketball with our peers. I predict that there will be no pleasing us in the end, with each NBA event and activity couched in language of lacking; armchair analysts attempting to fix everything through heavy, haughty words, and motivated by the beguiling buzz of a social media notification. No voter will be right. No opinion will go unchallenged. I predict I will roll my eyes deeply, yet jump into the tired fray of antagonism, time and time again.

I cannot predict who will win tonight. I cannot predict who will win tomorrow. I cannot predict who will soar to new heights, finally unshackled, free from the chains of mediocrity, and no longer held to standards that others made for him. I cannot predict who will falter and fail; who will watch their averages drop precipitously, who will fail to see playing time by the time 2015 rolls around. I cannot predict who will prosper in good health, and who will crumple to the floor, clutching acutely damaged appendages, screaming at the top of their lungs. I cannot know what I have not seen yet. I cannot fathom what simply has not occurred yet. All of these are conjectures, stabs in the dark; deeply flawed exercises in understanding and projecting.

I cannot predict what I don’t know about them. All I can predict is what I know about myself. And I can predict that all I wrote about will come true.

(And I can predict the Warriors will win the West.)

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