How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Preseason Rankings
The title of this post is a lie. I haven’t stopped worrying, nor have I learned to love preseason rankings. But I guess I grudgingly understand why they’re there. Because following basketball closely — and I don’t mean your favorite team, but the whole thing — through its annual cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth is a lot like breaking up with a serious girlfriend every year. Like a five-year relationship compressed and injected into nine months.
It all begins with such promise in November and you don’t really know what’s going on or where it’s going but you just want to enjoy it. So you try to relax into it, thinking how all you’ve got is time. But then it starts getting serious. You stop taking it as it comes and start wondering where it’s going. And then, just like that, it’s over. This is June.
For a while, you’re actually okay with it. There are so many wonderful things to do in the world! You have all this free time! But eventually, your memory starts getting at you, needling you with reminders of the good times you had. This is August. But then even that goes away, replaced by a dull ache, the Horse Latitudes of autumn.
This is where we are right now and everyone is driving me absolutely fucking crazy with ranking teams and players and mascots and arenas and good God why do we have to think about everything all the time? And I ask that as someone who can’t seem to put the brakes on it either. Timberwolves Media Day was like a sip of sweet ambrosia that sent me reeling with thoughts of the season to come. It made me drive an hour and a half down to Mankato to talk to Nikola Pekovic and Terry Porter and J.J. Barea for a grand total of maybe fifteen minutes before turning around and driving an hour and a half back.
And I’m going to do it again today.
So this is not me asking you not to care, or asking writers not to write the stuff that A.) they need to write because it’s their job and B.) they need to write because NOT writing is not an option. We’re all — all of us — in the trough, becalmed within sight of shore. Maybe I’m one of the lucky ones because I don’t have to write up rankings or get yelled at for them by other people just as frustrated and cathected as I am. We’re trapped in the hold of a ship, eyeing each other up like cuts of meat, Looney Tunes-style.
I think this desire to put everything in order — and the resulting desire to rip up other people’s ways of putting everything in order — stems from a human impulse that says if we can get everything in the right place, things might turn out differently this time. It’s about the power of ritual, and our own sense of how the ritual is supposed to be done is what makes us lash out at people who do it differently. I mean, I realize I’m doing it right now. I’m not really all that different from the guy in the comments screaming in ALL CAPS about how the Knicks are underrated or how Derrick Rose should be rated higher than Russell Westbrook.
My desire for everyone to shut up about rankings comes from the same place as their desire to rank everything: the gnawing need to not stare down the fact that the season is still weeks away. And then guess what? Once it starts, it’s eventually going to end.
But maybe there’s hope, even on this wheel of suffering. Any good Buddhist will tell you that seeing the wheel is the first step to getting off the wheel. Rankings are a way to fix players and teams in a moment when change is the only constant. Change is not the enemy. Resistance to change is. So I misspoke when I said I understand why preseason rankings are there; I see them, and I’m trying to learn to love the wheel.