Thursday, March 24, 2011

College Bound and Down (Bx3 #15)

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As primarily an NBA fan I will still admit to watching and enjoying the NCAA tournament. I don’t watch just to evaluate pro-draft stock, and I am not one of those NBA-fans that will grumble on and on about low talent levels or lack of execution.  These arguments I assume are really just counterstrikes against the “playing the game the right way” and “love-of the sport amateur purity” attacks lobbed at the pro game every year at this time.  There are arguments along these lines to be made on both sides I’m sure, but they are not to be tackled here.  Basically I watch the tourney because I find it entertaining.

Simple enough it seems, but with the necessary caveat that when it comes to sports I am easily amused.  I have been late getting back to work from my lunch-break at the Indian buffet because of a televised cricket match (which I know very little about).  If I happen across people playing sports I will stop and wait to see if the kid makes contact with the pitch or if the dude laying out for the frisbee makes the grab before carrying on with my life.  This sports watching behavior comes from a lifetime of watching and playing sports myself, but also I assume from a simple natural curiosity that wants to know how any action, once taken, results.  (The only sport that doesn’t seem to grab me is lacrosse- I just don’t get it. Maybe if they were riding skateboards or something…)

As someone that’s dabbled in cultural circles where sports aren’t always appreciated- music, art, Satan worship- I developed a rote defense for my own sports-fandom to the non-believers around me:  I like sports because they provide unscripted drama.  Sure, I like movies, well produced TV shows, novels, a good goat sacrifice, but if that is all I partake in culturally that means all my culture intake is basically scripted (trust me, Satan does not take kindly to ad-libbing off of his goat-sacrifice script).   All would be the product of someone else’s imagination, not the elements of complex competing interests and chance that drive drama in real life.  Drama I would argue can only reach certain heights without the presence of true chance and spontaneity.  (…also this is why real life drama-queens (and kings) are so tiresome, we all know it’s rehearsed).    

It’s true that a good dramatic narrative benefits from a good plot, but I would also say that just because something is unscripted doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s no plot to follow.  With sports, instead of a preconceived plot determining the actions the plot gets written through the actions as they are happening. The simple act of a frisbee being thrown creates some (tepid) narrative drama, whether the dude wearing nothing but an ironic sunvisor and worn-out Chuck’s catches it completes that story (Pulitzer worthy, I know).

 In this way sports, which basketball is one of, create a narrative- which can then be read or interpreted just like a novel or book.  Shakespeare has engendered generations of serious scholarship and debate, basketball has Stephen A. Smith and the dude from Cold Pizza that hates on Lebron.  Anyways, let’s not go off on a tangent that’s going to hurt my argument- my point is more about sports’ innate ability to create both a plot and drama where the outcome is truly undecided.  This is where my preference for the NBA over college basketball comes in. 

With the NBA the ‘plot’ as previously described develops with the game results, but also with the career development of the players themselves, the trades that are made, the relationships that develop between the players and how the characters of the evolving teams play against each other, and even in the fan’s reactions to all of this.  This unfolds over seasons and careers.  The same thing of course happens to some degree in college, but it starts over so often you lose the thread right when it’s about to take hold.  If the NBA is a long-running TV drama where we can follow the story from year to year, college is like ‘reality’ show where the entire cast is replaced every year or two.

It’s the unscripted randomness and spontaneity of a game’s unknown outcome, unfolding on top of the plot created by all the preceding events that give the game its ultimate dramatic weight.  This is true of all sports (expect for ice-skating- where the drama is created by making you believe the skaters are naked till you see them up close and realize they’re covered in weird body colored stockings and sequins). The level of drama in a game is determined not only by the events on the field of play, but also the aforementioned ‘plot’ leading up to them. In this way, the NCAA tournament gets it drama from a sheer onslaught of meaningful on court drama, but can’t compete with the NBA on depth of the plot- which makes the final result more dramatic in turn.  As evidence of this, I would argue the NCAA tournament actually becomes less dramatic the closer you get to the end (like your life if you die of old age), whereas the NBA playoffs build to a dramatic crescendo (like Young Guns 2).   I invest my time and find interest in all the proceeding less compelling moments- an 82 game season with a lot of meaningless games- in anticipation of that ultimate dramatic culmination.  In other words, with the NBA I’m willing to slog through the slower parts of the plot knowing they’ll add to the greater dramatic payoff in the end. 

Some postscripts:
-Another metaphor I tried but failed to work in: The NCAA tournament is like a battle-royale where we’ve barely heard of any of the wrestlers, the NBA finals is like a career defining championship match between Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant.  This is especially true when Tim Donaghy is officiating (see what I did there?).

-Yes, I do like Jazz in real life, and as a metaphor for professional basketball in how improvisation and a level of mastery can come together to create beautiful spontaneity.  But no, I don’t like jam-bands.  Just don’t get it.  Is it possible that people that like Lacrosse also listen to jam-bands?  Can someone confirm this for me?

-The well-roundedness (for lack of a better term) of the online basketball community really speaks to how most people are more multi-dimensional than just fitting into some archetype of ‘sports fan’, ‘artist’, ‘music fan’, math-geek’, ‘jock’, etc... It’s thanks to this realization that I no longer really feel a need to ever defend my love of sports, and also why I decided to do a basketball themed comic-strip.  Something I think some might be dismissed as a medium without an audience.  I still have no audience, but that’s not a problem of demographics.