Archives For NBA basketball

Photo by Rudy Burckhardt

It’s not so much that the Wolves have, for the first time in over a decade, beaten the Spurs twice in one year, or that they’ve done the same to the defending champs, or that they’ve won five out of their last seven. This is all great. But what’s really fascinated me is that they’ve managed to win in such routine fashion. This Spurs game, the wins over Sacramento and Detroit; these were just unremarkable mid-season NBA games, games that both teams had solid chances to win and that were resolved not by any miracle comeback or mythic displays of heroism, but simply by slight margins in effort and execution.

I’m aware that this is just what basketball teams do; these anonymous, unobserved wins happen all the time. It’s just slightly miraculous and bewildering that they are actually falling in the Wolves’ favor. (By the way, am I the only one bothered by the lingering anxiety that this could all come crashing suddenly down? Like that the Kevin Love/O.J. Mayo trade will be somehow rescinded, or that Ricky Rubio will be deported for committing identity fraud, or that Rick Adelman will suddenly decide that he needs to spend some time with his family?)

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This lovable, golden-hearted sports agent is saying "Show me the money"

You have probably read that Michael Beasley is being sued by Joel Bell, his former agent, for failing to pay a 20% commission on an endorsement deal. Beasley, in turn, is suing Bell as well as, Curtis Malone, his former AAU coach and mentor. Beasley’s suit claims that Bell and Malone conspired to manipulate the teenaged Beasley and his family–with money and friendship–into signing with Bell. Here’s what it says in Beasley’s complaint:

In addition to funneling money to Beasley’s mother from [Bell], [Malone] received benefits for his D.C. Assault program and money from [Bell] “on the side” or “under the table” in exchange for [Malone] at least attempting to manipulate NBA prospects like Beasley, but typically far less talented than Beasley, into signing an agency agreement with [Bell].

Now I have no business assessing the validity of the particulars here. It could be that Beasley really was a victim or that he is simply countersuing for legal leverage. But the awful truth is that these claims are  unremarkable; even if they aren’t true in this specific case, they are true in legions of others. This is because the AAU circuit (and its kissing cousins in college and sports agency recruiting) is a system that runs on the exploitation of teenagers, many of whom, like the young Mike Beasley, are poor and/or sorely in need of stable, nurturing relationships. It is terrible.

There are lots of sad elements to this case: the revelation that as a kid, Beasley was “assessed as having special education needs” stemming from “conduct problems” and an inability to focus; the fact that he attended six high schools in five different states, which is really just a tremendous approach to serving those special ed needs; the fact that many of the most important adults in his young life seemed to view their relationship with him as a commodity.

Last week I made the point that the league has been semantically unclear as to whether its real aim is financial parity or competitive balance. So yesterday in the bullets Henry linked to a really excellent Wages of Wins piece by David Berri that digs very deeply (using like stats and research and stuff) into the relationship between the two.

Berri concludes first that “salary caps, payroll caps, luxury taxes, and revenue sharing don’t seem to have much impact on competitive balance.” But they do have the effect of driving down player salaries. And second, changes in the league’s popularity have been independent of changes in parity. As he puts it, “fans don’t seem to care much about competitive balance,” which reinforces what we’ve already begun to suspect. (As a corollary to these findings, he finds that market size does not have a significant impact on wins, something else I’ve been suspecting.)

Berri takes the same approach here as he does when discussing (accurately, I believe) the idea that scoring is overvalued and overcompensated by NBA teams. He implies that the owners have misunderstood the evidence, that they don’t understand that structural mechanisms like salary caps do not meaningfully effect competitive balance.

Let me suggest again, though, that this lack of clarity is not actually a misunderstanding, that financial parity is itself the key issue, and that talk of competitive balance is simply a rhetorical strategy.  I mean, do you really think the league is willing to waste a season to bring you a Memphis/Milwaukee final? The owners’ goal, it seems to me, is not making bad teams competitive, it’s making them profitable–no matter how poorly run they are.  And they mean to achieve this goal by using those mechanisms (the ones that supposedly induce competitive balance) to radically reduce salaries.

I’ll let Beckley Mason, righteously indignant at Hoopspeak, have the last word:

A part of me just wants to players to cave so we can have a season next year. Another part, the part that hopes the fantastically skilled and entertaining laborers can get a reasonable deal, wants a world governed by transparency and rationality. That part can just barely stomach the NBA owners leveraging all they have to get a revolutionary new deal, but not the misrepresentations about why they want it, or how they’re going about getting it.


There are lots of ways to lose to the San Antonio Spurs. You know this already. Tim Duncan might hit a buzzer-beating three. Manu Ginobili might perform a series of increasingly uncanny bodily contortions,  each ending with a basketball feathering through the hoop. That legendary defense might incrementally, unobtrusively increase its constriction, leaving you, at games end, suddenly suffocated and dry. The Wolves are getting to know these facts intimately: you might be called for a phantom three-point foul; you might be massively out-coached in the games waning moments. The list is endless.

But in all their years of monolithic fourth-quarter domination, not to mention relentless, bug-eyed ref-baiting, I swear I have never seen the Spurs draw five technical fouls on their opponent in the span of 30 seconds. But this happened on Tuesday night, in a fairly crucial moment of the third quarter, the Wolves having just pared a double-digit Spurs lead to six. And the best part: through some trick of alchemy or cold fusion or psychedelic imagination, two of those techs were called on two different Timberwolves simultaneously. By the same official! It was as if every subatomic particle of Stern-ian behavior modification became concentrated in Ken Mauer’s whistle in one decisive moment. At this very instant, somewhere in between Kurt Rambis being ejected for arguing said act of visionary officiating and Kevin Love getting t’d for slapping his hands together, this game entered an altered zone. Ginobili hit four consecutive free-throws. Bill Laimbeer was suddenly an NBA head-coach. The smiling, fired up Wolves embarked on a run of brazen, occasionally inspired play.

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Photo by K Hardy

This year’s Golden State Warriors are no longer be the spectral vision of chaos that once troubled the sleep of the NBA’s elite. The days of Baron Davis, Captain Jack, 6’7″ centers, wantonly careless defense and constant, brazen shooting may be over. But this team, with their skinny, pale duo of Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry can still cause deep panic in a defense, particularly one as inexperienced and undisciplined as our Wolves.

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Photo by Luc De Leeuw

It really shouldn’t be surprising that the fourth pick in the NBA draft is playing well. I mean, there’s probably a reason people thought he was really good, right? But when it comes to the draft, we Wolves lovers have gotten used to taking solace in what other people take for granted. After all, we can still faintly hear the voices of Shaddy, and Randy Foye and Ndudi Ebi (and so many others) echoing through the halls.

And even for us, I guess it isn’t too much of a shock that Wes Johnson is hitting that gorgeous jumper of his. (In the past three games, Wes has hit 15 of his 25 shots and seven of his 15 threes.) I mean, have you watched him shoot this thing? His body is lithe and quiet; no motion is wasted; all is in balance. The ball passes through the basket with that clean, forceful snap common to natural shooters.

What has been pleasantly surprising has been Johnson’s composure and patience in adapting to this new level of play. Many rookies, such as Wes’ pal Jonny Flynn last year, attempt to compensate for their inexperience by incautiously forcing themselves on the game. But for the most part, Johnson has been energetic but under control, playing within the offense, allowing the game to come to him.

It’s true that Johnson’s offensive game is still fairly static; his ball-handling lags far behind his other skills and prevents him from being much more than a spot up shooter. But his court vision and intuition have been impressive. He’s made up for his one-dimensional scoring with a knack for the deft interior pass. One moment in Atlanta nearly encapsulated Johnson’s season so far. After a long rebound, Sebastian Telfair spotted Johnson gracefully bounding down the right wing and hit him with a chest pass. Wes bobbled it, gathered it in, bobbled it again and then calmly hit Michael Beasley flashing through the lane for an easy two. If Wes could have somehow topped it off with one of those pure, towering threes, the picture would have been complete.

It’s also clear that Wes is just learning to negotiate the complex web of switches, rotations and hedges that make NBA defense such a puzzle. He occasionally gets lost attempting to work around screens; he occasionally gets caught with his head turned; he’s occasionally late to close out on shooters. But the energy and nerve (not to mention that long, elastic body) he brought to the tasks of guarding the likes of Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant reveal a player willing to extend adult-level effort and unbowed by his new context.

So again we’ve got: a rookie with the skills and athletic ability to make elite NBA plays and the intelligence and patience to know his own limitations and find his niche in the game. Good enough for me.

Lost in the the euphoria over Kevin Love’s 31-31 game and the Wolves’ recent two-game winning streak, plus the carnival of horrors that preceded all of this has been the fact that the Wolves have been fairly well carved up by injuries. Because of mostly solid work by Sebastian Telfair, Luke Ridnour and Wesley Johnson, the absence of folks like Jonny Flynn and Martell Webster hasn’t had had an obvious impact. (Although, two things: first, this team is 30th in offensive efficiency and 23rd in defensive efficiency so it’s not like things have been humming along without a hitch. Second, I suspect we’ll only understand the full importance of Webster’s loss after he returns.) But the real impact of these injuries hasn’t been on the starting lineup; its been a huge loss of depth on the bench.

Deep Tracks

To wit: earlier in the year I speculated about this hypothetical second unit: Ridnour, Johnson, Corey Brewer, Anthony Tolliver and Nikola Pekovic. Doesn’t sound too bad, right? But because of the aforementioned injuries, plus bumps suffered by Ridnour, Pekovic and Wayne Ellington, the Wolves sported this illustrious fivesome in the first half of Sunday’s game in Atlanta: Brewer and Tolliver with Lazar Hayward, Sundiata Gaines and Kosta Koufos. Now, that would be a pretty wicked D-League starting five but it seemed like maybe not a coincidence that the Hawks managed a 21-8 run in the first half, while the Wolves’ starters rested.

The Wolves played energetic, competitive basketball for the rest of the game–they shot 47.4% and played committed defense–but  never really recovered from that first half swoon. And there’s a pretty solid reason why. A short while back I commented that when things were going well, the Wolves offense had a certain wild charm. But ok, to be honest, this wildness–a tendency to mishandle the ball, to make passes to nowhere–is mostly not charming at all. Mostly its just really aggravating. Telfair, Love and Michael Beasley had 15 turnovers between them and this carelessness repeatedly prevented the Wolves from making inroads into the Hawks’ lead.

Dark Night of the Soul

You know what else prevented that? The fact that Darko Milicic is still totally lost in the wilderness. It seems hardly possible that a 25-year-old athlete in perfect health could actually look haggard, but Darko does. His dreadful lack of confidence, his “disgust” with himself (his words), is written all over his wan face and embodied in his slumped shoulders and timid play. Darko’s line on Sunday is pretty bleak: 1-7 shooting for two points; two boards; three blocks; two assists; two turnovers.

Even the lone bright spot–those three blocks–belie the reality of the situation. Darko couldn’t stay with Al Horford who scored the majority of his 28 points (on 9-14 from the field, 10-10 from the line) against the big Serb. Darko couldn’t keep Horford away from the hoop when he faced the basket; he couldn’t recover quickly enough on pick-and-rolls to deter easy layups; he couldn’t keep Horford off of the glass or challenge Horford’s jumper.  Horford is the shorter guy by at least four inches but he got his shot pretty much whenever he wanted.

Even so, as those stats show, Darko’s real damage was on the offensive end. The profile for this 1-7 nightmare is pretty familiar. Darko performs epic low-post contortions in the service of terrible, awkward shots–an off-balance twelve-foot skyhook and a ginger baseline reverse (one bricked, the other rejected) are pretty typical–and then blows the easy looks he does get.

But this isn’t even the worst of it. Because the center is generally the fulcrum of the triangle, the offense tends to flow through Darko when he is on the floor. Entering the ball into the post is meant to ignite a flurry of passes and cuts, to set the offense in motion. But Darko’s play has been so labored and so indecisive that the Wolves’ offense seems to stagnate whenever he touches the ball, those two assists notwithstanding.

Kurt Rambis appears to recognize this. So in the third quarter he began running the offense through Kevin Love (who finished with only 22 points and 17 boards–weak) on the weakside post, leaving Darko to languish  out of the play. Finally, with 2:18 remaining in the third quarter he replaced Darko entirely, bringing in Anthony Tolliver and moving Love over to center, as he did against the Knicks on Friday. Love is certainly no natural “5”, but the offense suddenly began to hum and the defensive energy increased palpably. The Wolves put together their best stretch of play, outscoring the Hawks 39-30 the rest of the way.

Things could get better for Darko Milicic. His shot could start falling. And this could energize the rest of his game, give him the heart to pursue the ball and defend with some guts. But when, in his NBA career, has this ever happened? We have to begin wondering, 11 games into his four year deal, if these disastrous crises of confidence are not a definitive element of Darko’s on-court self.

Friends we have a lot to discuss. I’ve only been going to NBA games for a few years now, but Friday night’s 112-103 Wolves’ win was probably the most amazing basketball thing I’ve seen in person. It’s startling to ponder that the Wolves came back from 21 points down in the third quarter, put together a 49-19 second-half run, and no one is really even mentioning it. Its just an ancillary tidbit to the stupefying exhibition put on by Mike Beasley and, of course, Kevin Love. (It’s also startling to ponder the fact that this game wasn’t on local TV. Oops)

Standing on Shoulders

There are lots of ways to parse this thing: the first 30-rebound game since Black Moses (this video has swears, fyi) in ’82; a 15-board third quarter (one quarter!), only three shy of Nate Thurmond’s 35-year-old NBA record; a 25-point, 22-rebound second half. As Kurt Rambis remarked, “those numbers are just stupid numbers”. (By the way, you’ll notice that all of the top 100 or so rebounding games in NBA history came in the ’50’s and ’60’s and were all pretty much notched by Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. In terms of pace of play, sheer number of misses and the disparity between the great players and the field, this era is essentially impossible to compare with our own. When you consider this, Love’s feat is even more remarkable.)

But those are just facts and figures. And the farther away we get from a moment like this, the more the intensity and thrill get diluted and compressed, diffused into the ether of factuality. What was really stunning for me was watching Love in the third quarter as his heavy energy began to surge and his reddening face assumed a certain fixed, manic glow. He was on such a different plane of desire and purpose than anyone else (especially any Knick) that he almost seemed to be all alone on the floor, bathed in some strange light. Look at the highlights. Watch him hold off three Knicks at once and pull the ball down with one hand; watch him ferociously pursue every carom and tip; watch him out-jump Amar’e Stoudemire; watch him grab every single rebound.

There were lots of stranger elements to this too. Love’s career-high 31 points was a mess of errant jump-hooks and blown layups. Even in his 9-18 second half (plus 6-8 from the line), the epic focus required to chase down all of those balls didn’t seem to extend to his touch around the rim. Even though he confessed to the strategy of “throw it up there and get the rebound like Moses Malone,” (he then added that it “always worked in high school”) he also admitted to rushing his shots at the hoop.

Love also found himself checking Stoudemire, probably the most fearsome face-the-basket big man in the league, and a player so explosive and quick and with such supple touch that it would seem like a nightmare matchup for the undersized, heavy footed Love. But there was Love all fourth quarter, getting into Stoudemire’s body, forcing him into the swarming help defense, even spiking one of his jump hooks 30 feet down the floor. It defies credulity: how could Amar’e possibly miss five of eight shots while being guarded by Kevin Love?

Greatest Misses

Speaking of defense, the Wolves’ defensive turnaround in this game was pretty remarkable. In the first half, the Wolves learned some hard lessons about three-point shooters. Their pick-and-roll coverage was a little imprecise, their closeouts and rotations a little slow. Ray Felton and Danilo Gallinari took advantage of the extra space and hit seven of their 11 threes. Rambis explained: “Whenever a team collapses your defense and they also have outside shooters, everybody’s gotta do the right thing at the right time and be ready to fire out to get to shooters…we explained to them, however close you are, that’s not close enough.”

Surprisingly though, the Wolves actually managed to learn this lesson within the course of the game. If the enduring image of the first half was Gallinari hitting one of his buttery threes over a desperately outstretched hand, Corey Brewer provided the second half counterpoint. As Felton drove into the paint, Gallinari had floated over to the left wing and readied himself to receive the kickout; but by the time Gallo received the ball (and not a moment later), Brewer had already invaded his shooting space. Corey was balanced, under control and sitting on the young Italian’s right hand.  Forced to go left, Gallinari awkwardly pushed off of Brewer’s chest and took an offensive foul.

The Wolves did their part on Friday to expose what looks to be a weakness of the Mike D’Antoni offensive system. D’Antoni’s Phoenix teams of  Steve Nash, Amar’e and a host of cold-eyed three-point shooters presented opponents with an impossible task: protect the rim from Stoudemire’s terrifying finishes, pressure Nash enough to deter him from shooting and close out on the outside shooters. But, in Felton, the Knicks don’t a magical, unreasonably beautiful playmaker and scorer at the helm, just an average one. And it turns out that accomplishing two of those three things–collapsing on Stoudemire inside and also protecting the three-point line–while not easy is certainly doable. And in the third quarter, when the Wolves were finally able to prevent the machine from humming smoothly along, the Knicks totally lost it (Amar’e’s foul trouble certainly didn’t help), missing a staggering 31 of their 43 second half shots. That, combined with their callow effort on the boards, is gonna lose you some ballgames.

It’s So Eazy

Finally, Michael Beasley. Given his intemperate emotions and distractible mind, I would never have predicted that he would put together a second consecutive game of such poise and judgment. But there he was again on Friday, sizing up the defense, reading the space on the floor, moving the ball. It must be said that Beasley has been doing this prolific scoring (he’s hit 33 of 60 in the past two games) against some fairly lame defenses (the Knicks have the 14th best defensive efficiency in the league; the Kings have the worst).

For his part, Gallinari looks pretty quick with the ball in his hands but in the first half  he accomplished the impressive feat of giving Beasley space to shoot his jumper while also being unable to prevent him from getting into the paint. Although they were less apt to be utterly torched off the dribble, both Wilson Chandler and Landry Fields also curiously gave Beasley room to shoot, just as the Kings did on Wednesday. (B-Eazy himself was unmoved by the big-numbers-against-soft-defenders argument. “I’m a monster and every day is Halloween,” was his only reply. That’s cool.)

Even so, its interesting to note the changes in Beasley’s demeanor and carriage over the past two games. Its been nice to see him ecstatic and smiling but even nicer to observe the calm that he’s shown with the ball. Before this week, his jumper had been erratic in both form and result. He was impatient; his feet were jittery and unbalanced; his body position was wildly inconsistent. But recently, each time he’s risen to shoot, he’s shown the same, compact, unhurried stroke. Is this going to be a consistent thing? Wouldn’t that be amazing?

Ok, let’s take a deep breath. The Timberwolves are not going to start the season with an 84 game losing streak. They are not going to lose every game by 50. They are actually a real basketball team. And lets also take note of the fact that the past week’s blowouts came at the hands of some serious basketball teams. Miami, Orlando, Atlanta, the Lakers, even the Grizz and the Rockets (their strange record notwithstanding): pretty nasty. In any case, over the past two nights it’s been nice to watch the Wolves play two nicely competitive games and even (am I really about to say this?) pick up a road win for the first time in nine months. Observe me observing:

  • I would be remiss not to lead off with Michael Beasley’s visit from the Cannot Miss a Jumper Wizard. Considering what one might expect a 42-point game from Michael Beasley to look like, this one was relatively free of ball-stopping and heat checks (at least in comparison with his typical 4-17 performance–Beasley is that rare bird who takes more difficult shots the worse he’s shooting). He was aided by Omri Casspi’s generous on-ball defense and Sacto’s generally sluggish pick-and-roll coverage which gave him ample space to shoot, particularly in his tranced-out 18-point first-quarter. But Beasley also made good decisions, particularly when running the Wolves three-man weave. And he shrewdly adapted his game by taking the ball to the basket when the Kings began guarding him more tightly in the second half. He really played an awfully nice game.
  • One final Beasley observation: it’s remarkable how much more energy he plays with, how much greater presence-of-mind he shows, how much more purposefully he defends when he’s hitting his shot.
  • Darko looked sharp with that mouthful of blood. It was a nice counterpoint to the gentle way he feathers the ball at the basket. I wanted to compliment him on his second straight merely mediocre game after that string of nightmares last week. And yes, his on-ball defense against Samuel D’alembert and Pau was definitely an improvement. But the guy has still missed 14 of his last 23 shots, most of them from within five feet. Barely mediocre.
  • Games like this cause me to succumb to pleasant, summery daydreams imagining that Sebastian Telfair is a capable NBA shooter and thus, a viable NBA backup point guard. (This would be especially amazing considering that Mo Ager looks distinctly unsuited to the task.) Didn’t Bassie  look composed and fluid hitting those calm step-back jumpers, like it was some kind of routine occurrence? One thing that helped: being guarded by Beno Udrih.
  • The Wolves bring a certain edge-of-panic wildness to the task of running a half-court offense, like they’re playing a step-and-a-half faster than they’re really able. (This is particularly true when Corey Brewer or Bassie or Beasley are on the floor). When they’re not hitting shots this produces a nauseating turnover-ridden disaster, a total mess of traveling calls, ill-conceived jump passes and carelessly heaved cross-court giveaways . But when, like tonight, they are getting bailed out by supreme shot-making its actually kind of charming. To wit: Brewer’s awkward, falling-over fourth quarter floater; the play that ended the first half, in which Ager spent many seconds aimlessly wandering the backcourt before sort of fumbling the ball to Nikola Pekovic, who softly dropped it through the net as time expired. It’s ok to laugh now since they won, but really: have you ever seen so many ridiculous backcourt violations in your life?

Photo by Kevin Dooley

Over the past week, the T-Wolves have been tremendously bad, probably the worst team in the NBA. They can’t hit a shot. They can’t prevent opponents from doing same. They’ve been outscored by 130 points over five games. Luckily (?) for us, this punishing awfulness has not gone unnoticed.

So what’s Milicic done so far this season? Basically, he’s been the league’s worst rotation player. Although Sunday night’s seven-point, three-rebound “outburst” kept his PER above zero, his defense has been as bad his offense, and only two players have played at least 100 minutes with a worse PER.

I can’t possibly contest any of these points. Darko is shooting 23% from the field. His defense has, indeed “been as bad as his offense”. He’s played with absurdly low energy. He has been really terrible. Right now, those four years (to be fair: three, plus an option year) are looking like a really bad deal. Still, Darko’s game has been so off that it can only seem like some strange aberration. I mean, he can’t possibly shoot 23% all year, right? I’m not saying he’s going to prove to be a steal, but I’m also not ready to call a move un-defensible after just seven games.

  • Dave Berri is tremendously confident in his own ability to understand professional basketball using math. That he seems to believe that the value of his metrics are self-evident (“as you can plainly see from so-and-so’s WinsProduced/48, so-and-so is bad at basketball” is a favored rhetorical device) and that he has a particularly clinical and bloodless view of the game  should not blind us to the essential truth that he’s helped uncover: basketball players tend to be judged mostly on the volume of points they pour in, but it’s things like rebounding, turnovers, shooting efficiency that actually produce wins (defense is notably absent from the discussion). So its interesting to note Berri’s take on the Kevin Love/Kurt Rambis soap opera. Berri observes (with many a chart and some cheap pop-psychology) that in his level of production, Love bears a striking resemblance to one Kurt Rambis, circa 1982. And most interestingly, that Rambis  seems to undervalue Love for the same reasons that Rambis himself was undervalued as a player:

Rambis, though, was a very productive non-scorer. And when we look at Kevin Love, we see a somewhat similar story. Love does take many more shots than Rambis. But Love’s low level of shooting efficiency means that few people are going to confuse Love with some of the game’s most productive scorers. Despite this inability to be an outstanding scorer, Love still produces wins because he is an amazing rebounder. Yes, much like his head coach – who also was a very good rebounder – Love can produce wins without being a prolific scorer.

Yup that is interesting (although, again, defense is not factored into the analysis). Here’s what I have to say right now about this fiasco.

First: I agree that Kevin Love is currently the Wolves best player and should be playing more (though he is currently tied for the team lead in minutes played). And that nurturing Love into a confident, committed pro should be among the team’s primary goals.

Second: the Wolves lost to Miami by 32. They lost to Orlando by 42 (million). Memphis by 20. Houston by 26. Would playing Kevin Love an extra five minutes a game really have altered any of these outcomes?

Third: Love got benched in the third quarter of the Atlanta game because he was playing listless, self-pitying basketball. He does that sometimes.

  • On the surface, this last thing has very little to do with the Timberwolves. But its some utterly righteous writing and has to do with Randy Moss and so should interest us. David Roth, a friend of this blog, writes about the professional football for the Awl. And when I say “writes about the professional football” I mean: embarks on dazzling, tangential voyages of cultural/political consciousness that end in fairly inaccurate NFL game predictions. Example: “the desperate narcissism and self-defeating vainglory that has degraded Moss from one of the NFL’s supreme talents into one of the NFL’s most toxic assets reflects the same anxiety that leads some Gadsden-Flag goof to slap a Hitler mustachio on a picture of Nancy Pelosi.” Right!? Here’s David this week (and you should really read this whole thing), on the strange tension between fabulous individual expression and communal self-sacrifice that make the NFL really compelling (this, by the way, has everything to do with the NBA):

What succeeding under these circumstances requires, finally, is less virtuosity than the humility and patience and, one more time, grace to trust in others and then the generosity to make one’s own brilliance more broadly valuable. Randy Moss, since he was very young, has been the fastest and most physically graceful human on the football field—it’s saying something about how fast and graceful he is that the statement is still true at age 33, after 13 seasons in the NFL. The problem—the thing that has made him this beautiful and despised vagabond, that has him heading to his fourth team in five years in something like disgrace—is partly that he seemingly cannot or will not trust in others, and mostly that he seemingly cannot fully comprehend the importance of a cause greater than himself.

This is a common enough thing. Trusting in and caring about other people is tough and scary and frankly weird given that we—Randy and the rest of us—are taught that it somehow makes you weak. But it is what being an adult demands, and the important thing is that you either do it or you don’t. You either believe in something bigger than yourself or you can’t.