the peach basket

poets on basketball

Quick Release

A story went up this morning on ESPN.com about Dirk Nowitzki’s experimenting this summer with a quicker release on his shot. On the surface, this seems normal, right? Dirk’s getting older. He’s never been the quickest guy on the court, and the fact that he’s seven feet tall is always going to give him an advantage when it comes to getting his shot off, but he’s 36 now, and he’s visibly slowing down. NBA defenses are more sophisticated than they’ve ever been, and Dirk is a gravitational force, an offensive system all by himself. He understands innately that he won’t be the same player next year that he was last year because time is a horrible, relentless force that is destroying him little by little every day. He understands that he needs to change in order to exist. At some point, he will stop playing basketball. That’s when he’ll stop working on his jump shot.

This got me thinking about poetry, which is a thing I care about. It got me thinking about art and about how we imagine ourselves. Dirk Nowitzki is a person who has been praised throughout his life for his ability to shoot a basketball. Dirk shooting a basketball is one of the truly iconic images in basketball, like Tim Hardaway crossing somebody over or Dennis Rodman grabbing a rebound in traffic with his elbows flying around like swords (oh my God, these references, I am a million years old). Imagine you have lived the first 36 years of your life, and over that time, you have become immensely famous all over the world for your ability to do one thing. Now imagine saying this to yourself, “I’m getting old; I’m going to start doing this thing faster.”

When you are praised for something, how do you respond? What do you internalize? In your life, in anything you do, when do you feel like you are done? In basketball, there is a clear goal. One imagines that Dirk’s main reason for working on a quicker release is actually to improve the odds that he will be able to keep winning basketball games. A quicker release has tangible outcomes on the game itself. It means more space for his teammates, more indecision by the players defending him. He may have personal reasons for doing it—in fact, I’m sure he does—but these can neatly be folded into established goals we all readily accept.

Why do I write poetry? I don’t exactly know the answer. I know that I am uneasy about praise. I feel like I notice other people writing the same poems over and over again, seeking the same sorts of praise with which they’ve grown familiar. It worries me that I might be blind to this in myself. In his Letters on Cézanne, Rilke wrote,

And someone told the old man in Aix that he was “famous.” He, however, knew better within himself and let the speaker continue. But standing in front of his work, one comes back to the thought that every recognition (with very rare, unmistakable exceptions) should make one mistrustful of one’s own work. Basically, if it is good, one can’t live to see it recognized: otherwise it’s just half good and not reckless enough …

What are we supposed to do with this? Sometimes I think I’m writing to attempt to communicate something, but will I ever be able to believe I am being heard? Or if I am only trying to understand myself, why do I have this impulse to share it? Why do I want to read the poems in front of an audience if, after it is over, I won’t be able to accept the idea that it might have meant something to them?


But wait. Look at the parenthetical there in what Rilke says. Consider the “very rare, unmistakable exceptions.” Think about Dirk’s jump shot, already as close to perfection as is possible. Think about the impulse to question that. To say into the uncertain void, “You know something, I think I can do better,” even though tinkering with it might fuck everything up. I am coming to a conclusion here that feels pretty obvious to me, which is that I write for the sake of the “unmistakable exceptions” in the hopes of being heard. It is worth fucking it up in order to know whether or not it is real.

— The Buzzard

What Sticks To The Real

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In one of his incredible letters to Federico Garcia Lorca in After Lorca, Jack Spicer insists that, “A really perfect poem has an infinitely small vocabulary.” I have always been moved to radical excitement by this idea, yet have never been completely sure of its application. That uncertainty ended this week with the Spurs demolition of the Heat in the Finals.

Everything that needs to be understood about the Spurs existed on the court during the last few games of the Finals, and no amount of outside coverage could further illuminate it. Their offense was a perfect poem of passing. Their defensive schemes were well-oiled machines not even human fallibility could corrupt. Their narrative, a subject which sports writers and the cultural conversation love to simultaneously project and dissect onto any sporting event, exists in its own fully-formed magnitude on the court. Even the most casual fans of the beautiful game are aware of this particular team’s arc: one unlucky bounce into the hands of the greatest shooter in history away from winning the 2013 Finals; forced to live with the pain of that shortcoming for a full calendar year, only to face the same exact team in what amounts to a perfect sequel. The doctrines of suffering, discipline and redemption are so wholly crystallized here so as to have no off-court analog. If this same story were delivered to us in a sports movie, we might roll our eyes, criticize its clean symmetry, question its authenticity to the real.

A lot has been written about what happened to the Heat, one of the greatest teams of the modern era, that caused the wheels to fall off. A lot has been written about LeBron’s performance, his drive, his minutes, his future. As an audience, we have learned to revel in his post-Decision failures. That perverse impulse is reflected, and generally compounded by the press. But in this situation, I think a stronger force is compelling the cultural conversation to veer towards Miami. The Heat didn’t run out of steam. They ran out of options. They ran into a team of which nothing can be said to complement what they’ve done. A discussion of the Spurs has an infinitely small vocabulary. They have closed in on the perfect poem.

— Frank Basket

THE BODYJOY

Every morning I get up and watch a video of Future Islands performing on Letterman. Sometimes I keep watching it, sporadically throughout the day. At night I fall sleep to a recording of Ashbery’s "The Skaters". I listen into sleep, but every morning I only remember two questions, always only the same two questions. And I get up and watch the Future Islands perform on Letterman. This is my routine.

In the video, the Future Islands frontman, Samuel T. Herring, slaloms back and forth, his head bobbing autonomously, his face set in the demands of the song. There is a sense that his movements preceded the song, that Herring’s body is a cloud that, when it moves, produces a storm of haunting noise.

He pounds his chest like he is tapping into that other thing, the way athletes do when they find the bodyjoy. His weird growls are like a different other thing tapping into him. He mesmerizes me with the weird soul of his voice and the weird voice of his movements harmonizing.

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Earlier in the year the Pacers were the NBA definition of bodyjoy. Lance Stephenson played like a version of Wile E. Coyote unhinged enough to avoid most traps. Paul George moved like wind moves a feather. Roy Hibbert played as the perfectly vertical obstruction. And David West infused the whole team with a bully’s swagger.

And now they are not that team. On the court they yell at each other and shake their heads in disgust. Hibbert slumps over like grief folds up the day. They raise their palms skyward in disbelief. George’s heroics are a cup of fresh water dropped in a mutinous sea. In postgame press conferences they sulk and don’t make eye contact, like adolescents experiencing their first real disappointment. Their complaints about the referees sound like a foot-stomping child shouting “But it’s not fair!” The bodyjoy has completely abandoned them.

During game 5, Bethlehem Shoals tweeted: “Pacers unraveling somehow holds no interest for me. It’s like a theater set collapsing not a city burning”, and he was right. Unlike other vastly talented teams who have fallen apart in front of our eyes, the Pacers are no longer a combustible compound. They are fizzling in a light rain.

They may, and probably will, win tomorrow night’s game, and so will win their first round series. But what loss has already taken place not even Larry Bird can fix.

At the end of the song David Letterman comes up and shakes Samuel T. Herring’s hand and says enthusiastically, “I’ll take all of that you’ve got.” But he was watching what I watch every morning and so he knows as well as anyone that it was all up there already on the stage. Nothing was left over. 

The bodyjoy is made up of elements of serious mystery. It comes and goes and we don’t know if it will come back and this is a mystery we all must live through. ”But how much survives? How much of any one of us survives?” and this is a mystery we all must live through.

— Frank Basket (transcribed by Phantom Cam Jansen)

Basketball Players I Remember Wishing the Celtics Would Have Drafted Instead of the Guys They Did Ultimately Draft

Tim Hardaway, Cliff Robinson, Oliver Miller, Lee Mayberry, Latrell Sprewell, Chris Mills, Sam Cassell, Corie Blount, Malcolm Mackey, Eric Riley, Nick Van Exel, Adonis Jordan, Eddie Jones, Jalen Rose, Yinka Dare, Cliff Rozier, Charlie Ward, Dontonio Wingfield, Bobby Sura, Randolph Childress, Travis Best, Lawrence Moten, Etan Thomas, Zach Randolph, Jamaal Tinsley, Tony Parker, Gilbert Arenas, Jeff Trepagnier, Reece Gaines, Boris Diaw, Maciej Lampe, Jason Kapono, Dijon Thompson, Nick Fazekas, Stephane Lasme, JamesOn Curry, D.J. Strawberry, DeAndre Jordan, Quincy Pondexter, Willie Warren, Derrick Caracter, Isaiah Thomas, Tony Wroten, Perry Jones, Marquis Teague, Festus Ezeli, Bernard James, Jae Crowder, Drawymond Green, Quincy Acy, Doron Lamb, Robbie Hummel.

—The Buzzard

Celtics About Whom I Have Gotten at Least a Little Excited Since I Became Conscious of Basketball Sometime Around 1987

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Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Dennis Johnson, Danny Ainge, Jerry Sichting, Bill Walton, Darren Daye, Rick Carlisle, Scott Wedman, Artis Gilmore, Reggie Lewis, Dirk Minniefield, Jim Paxson, Kevin Gamble, Ed Pinckney, Kelvin Upshaw, John Bagley, Dee Brown, Brian Shaw, Stojko Vrankovic, Sherman Douglas, Rick Fox, Alaa Abdelnaby, Xavier McDaniel, Chris Corchiani, Acie Earl, Jimmy Oliver, Dino Radja, Blue Edwards, Pervis Ellison, Jay Humphries, Greg Minor, Eric Montross, Derek Strong, David Wesley, Dominique Wilkins, Dana Barros, Junior Burrough, Todd Day, Eric Williams, Antoine Walker, Kenny Anderson, Chauncey Billups, Bruce Bowen, Andrew DeClercq, Tyus Edney, Dontae’ Jones, Walter McCarty, Ron Mercer, Tony Battie, Popeye Jones, Paul Pierce, Vitaly Potapenko, Eric Riley, Calbert Cheaney, Danny Fortson, Adrian Griffin, Wayne Turner, Jerome Moiso, Milt Palacio, Bryant Stith, Kedrick Brown, Tony Delk, Joseph Forte, Joe Johnson, Rodney Rogers, Erick Strickland, Vin Baker, Mark Blount, J.R. Bremer, Mikki Moore, Shammond Williams, Ruben Wolkowyski, Chucky Atkins, Marcus Banks, Ricky Davis, Mike James, Jumaine Jones, Raef LaFrentz, Kendrick Perkins, Jiri Welsch, Tom Gugliotta, Al Jefferson, Gary Payton, Justin Reed, Delonte West, Tony Allen, Dan Dickau, Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Orien Greene, Michael Olowokandi, Wally Szczerbiak, Leon Powe, Theo Ratliff, Sebastian Telfair, Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, P.J. Brown, Sam Cassell, Glen Davis, Kevin Garnett, Eddie House, Scot Pollard, James Posey, Gabe Pruitt, J.R. Giddens, Stephon Marbury, Bill Walker, Marquis Daniels, Michael Finley, Nate Robinson, Rasheed Wallace, Shelden Williams, Carlos Arroyo, Avery Bradley, Semih Erden, Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic, Troy Murphy, Shaquille O’Neal, Von Wafer, Brandon Bass, JaJuan Johnson, E’Twaun Moore, Mickael Pietrus, Greg Stiemsma, Chris Wilcox, Sean Williams, Leandro Barbosa, Jordan Crawford, Courtney Lee, Darko Milicic, Shavlik Randolph, Jared Sullinger, Jason Terry, Terrence Williams, Chris Babb, Vitor Faverani, Kris Humphries, Chris Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Phil Pressey. 

—The Buzzard

Anything is Plausible

  What’s that croaking sound? Choke, choke. 

What’s the opposite of nihilism? Is it hope?

I used to root pretty hard for the Agent Zero-era Wizards. I was an apologist, a misguided evangelist. Had I known how fully those Wizards teams would embody the Meme-Team before the Internet was equipped to handle them, I would have used that to my argumentative advantage, too. They were a fundamentally flawed, mostly-infuriating basketball team. They were lovable but irritating, a team whose successes you felt somehow guilty for reveling in. They had no hope.

They were never going to beat LeBron’s Cavs, much as I wished they would. Their ceiling was id-driven pandemonium. Pretty much, they were Robot House.

Sometimes its helpful to think about whether you’d want to play with a certain player, or a certain basketball team. When you leave aside the masturbatory fantasy of you actually playing with professional basketball player(s), and the dog-whistle-y dichotomy of “playing the right way” vs “showboating,” that thought experiment can be instructive. You would want to play for Pop’s Spurs (whatever vintage). You’d want to play for LeBron’s Heat, provided you were not Mario Chalmers. Ditto for Walton’s Blazers, Magic’s Lakers, Webber’s Kings, etc.

You would not want to play for the early 2000’s Wizards. Arenas would jack 25 a game, yell catchphrases and then poop in your shoes. He might even yell a catchphrase while pooping in your shoes. Gilbert Arenas’ mindset w/r/t to shooting started at “Heat Check!” That was the ground floor. It probably proceeded to “Yep,” “The Fuck Not?” and “Hahahahaha.”(Sometimes it was awesome: I was there for this). If you rooted for the Wizards in those days, you rooted for a basketball team that was a naked affront to good basketball. You rooted for nothing.

This Wizards team, though, this is something else: when they’re on, they’re really on. They move the ball inside and out. Nene, when healthy, is terrifying. John Wall is the new demi-god of finding corner threes, Trevor Ariza is his dutiful chalice-bearer. And what else can we say about Bradley Beal?

There are still some problems. We still have to beat a Bulls team, and I know better to ever count out Thibs and Noah (R.I.P. Kirk Hinrich’s mojo, though; yikes). Randy Wittman has the jawline of M. Bison and the coaching mind of Blanka. We’re probably going to give Marcin Gortat too much money. Nene’s joints could burst into flames at any minute. Ernie Grunfeld gets his own sentence: Ernie Grunfeld.

For a very long time, being a Wizards fan meant you had to be prepared for anything, and that ‘anything’ was mostly bad. Hence #SoWizards. We were going to step on garden rakes forever.

But these last two victories have given me—it’s not hope, exactly. Hope isn’t the opposite of nihilism. When you hope, you believe in one thing. With the Wizards, I’m finally prepared to believe in everything, good and bad. That’s the opposite of nihilism. Anything is plausible. Go Wizards. 

— The Dream Shake