Sunday, August 12, 2012

We Can't All Be Supermen.

We Can't All Be Supermen.

"Physiologists should think before putting down the instinct of self-preservation as the cardinal instinct of an organic being.  A living thing seeks above all to discharge its strength -- life itself is will to power; self-preservation is only one of the most frequent results."- Friedrich Nietzche (c. 1886)
"No man needs a vacation so much as the man who has just had one."
- Elbert Hubbard (c. 1900)
So, I heard the news.  And I guess I need to say something about it.  But I don't really want to. There's so little I can do. For despite my best intentions, I am not Superman.


On July 15th, after officially accepting a new job in California, and deciding once and for all that I was going to leave Seattle and move (back) to the North Bay where I was born and raised, I decided to take two weeks off from The Diss.  I had been going at a pretty good clip for awhile, and with NBA news seemingly slowing to a trickle, it seemed like a natural time to take a small break from the humble little blog and hit the road for a few weeks.

I had a pretty good "vacation" planned.  True, there wasn't going to be much relaxing involved, but I felt that I needed to get some space from both the Association and The Diss to really immerse myself in a variety of "heres and nows".  So that's what I did.  After banging out a quick Bathroom Reader two Mondays ago, I handed the keys off to the able hands of Frank "Kevin" Mieuli and Jordan Durlester and hit the road.  I went to former Diss interviewee Adam Smith's wedding in Minnesota (and got to see former Diss guest contributor Greg Perryman), where I hit the sauce and the dance floor hard.  On Sunday, I returned to Seattle, where I hurriedly packed up my apartment, said goodbye to scores of adoring fans, and visited the Moon Temple twice.  On Tuesday, I hopped into my tiny little Honda, played a few last games of NBA 2K9 with Diss interviewee Jason Angeles, and zoomed off to California to begin life anew.

But not quite.  On my way to Santa Rosa -- where I am currently writing this soon-to-be rant -- I stopped off in Willits, California, to do a two-day work retreat deep in the woods of Mendocino county.  What I assumed was going to be a few days of intense discussions about behavior support plans, antecedents and zero baselines turned out to be anything but.  Instead, two days of relaxing, napping, libation-ing, and reflection ensued.  I got the opportunity to meet my wonderful new colleagues, get to understand my new agency's culture, and most of all, just chill the fuck out for a few days.  For all of Wednesday, Thursday, and this first part of this morning, I took in the beauty of Northern California, while idyllic ponds and majestic redwoods reminding me why I came back home.  And throughout it all, my cell phone remained off, and my laptop never left its bag.  Indeed, being so far out in the woods, there was no chance I was going to get reception, and certainly no chance that I was going to be able to wirelessly connect to the internet.

So, I let go.  And dare I say: basketball did not cross my mind.  Not really even once.  Sure, in quiet moments with a beer, I might have thought briefly about The Diss, and what I was going to talk about in the coming week.  But for the most part, my mind was focused not on what I had preoccupied myself with for the previous nine months -- namely, the NBA, my case aide jobs in Seattle, making rent, finding drow, procreation without procreating and a middling little basketball blog -- but rather what was about to come, and the sheer ridiculousness of the moment I found myself in.  A month ago, I was convinced my life was going to be spent in Seattle, my community-building project still incomplete.  Now, I was in southern Mendocino county, on the wildest work retreat of my life, taking in the beautiful California sun and marveling at the sight of a perfect blue sky.  The places life takes us are amazing, and there are moments that require us to stop and just take a deep breath.  Those deep breaths are so important, as we continually confront the things that try us and test our often delicate first-world compositions.

I dreaded the inevitablility of reality.  I always do.

Friday came.  There was nothing I could do to stop it.

As I drove out of the woods, made a sharp right onto Highway 101, and headed due South for Santa Rosa, I plugged my phone into my car charger, and waited for the small Apple icon to appear.  While the phone slowly worked its way up to 5% strength, I felt a strange sense of foreboding and anxiety building in my stomach.  We've all had that feeling with our phones, especially when they've been off for awhile.  In an age when an unanswered text produces legitimate panic and mania within our friends and loved ones, who no longer accept radio silence as a normal part of communication, I am always nervous to re-engage with the grid, and face the issues that seemingly require immediate resolution.  When the phone is off, or dead, or lost, there's nothing I can do about that.  Nothing.  People have to deal, and I am (at least in my mind) let off the hook in terms of maintaining nearly-constant lines of communication, and overseeing a vast social network.  When the phone comes back on, so too do the problems of the working life, as well as the not-always-leisurely life.  Commitments are renewed, and projects are resumed, whether we like it or not.  Time keeps on marching along, even as you plead for it to slow down.

When I heard the phone click on, and a series of chimes erupted from the damned machine that seemed to say Where the fuck have you been?! People have been trying to get ahold of you, you asshole!, I knew my vacation was nearing an end.  Eventually I'd have to check the phone.  Eventually I'd have to take a deep breath, face the real world, and end my vacation.  Respite is a fleeting pleasure.  Reality is a daily burden.

So I checked the texts.  I was relieved to see no panicked texts from old clients, wondering why I didn't come into work (sorry folks, I moved).  There were also no texts from my father or mother, wondering if I had flown off a cliff and was now sitting at the bottom of the Pacific (not this time, thank God).  So far so good.  Maybe this would be an easy transition back into the real world.

Not to be.  Not a chance.  I became nervous when I checked my texts and I saw a single text from my friend and The Diss' resident Lakers fan Joe Bernardo.  Within the body of that text was the symbol no one ever wants to see from a Lakers fan: a smiley emoticon.  A sinister ":)", it's innocent eyes and shit-eating grin looking up at me as I barrelled down 101.  Fuck.  I didn't even need to read the other texts from Jason, Franklin, or Symbol.  I knew what had happened.  I knew that while I was in the woods, the Dwightmare had resolved itself in the worst possible way.

Vacation over.  Back to this shitty reality.


Going out into the woods, leaving the grid, then coming back to find that Dwight Howard was a Laker was the basketball blogger's equivalent of going on vacation, coming back to your office, and finding that someone had taken a big, fat, steamy dump on your desk while you were gone.

For all of Friday after I got home, I grumped around.  Homecoming ruined, at least blog-wise.

I tried to think of legitimate basketball questions to ask about arguably the biggest blockbuster of all time (certainly the biggest since the wholly forgettable Melodrama of 2010-11), but for most of the day I was too disenchanted and disgusted to pose or ponder them properly.  The questions always seemed to pander to the obvious, or border on the ridiculous.  Will Dwight, Kobe, Pau and Nash be able to share the ball?  Who the fuck cares?  Will Steve Nash be anything more than a glorified Steve Blake, serving primarily as a limited ball distributor and spot-up shooter?  Again, who the fuck cares?  If he was worried about it, he shouldn't have requested a trade to the damn Lakers.  And the coaching questions.  Will Mike Brown win these guys respect?  I don't know.  Ask Stan Van Gundy.  And my new favorite.  Are the Lakers better than the Thunder or the Heat? Great question; let me get out my crystal ball so I can tell you that I DON'T HAVE A CRYSTAL BALL, AND I DON'T KNOW ANY BETTER THAN YOU.  SO STOP.  ASKING.  DUMB.  QUESTIONS. 

So I wasn't feeling too objective.  And I wasn't feeling too happy.

Instead, for once, I want to ask the questions.  Not good questions.  No, I wanted to ask the questions that were rooted purely in emotion rather than analysis.  Questions like: how do the Lakers get the best date at the dance time, and time, and time, and time, and time, and time again?  That's a question that I think is worth answering.  That's a question I'm really quite curious about.  Or, alternatively, how about a question that Lakers fans love to ask when things aren't going so hot for them for them: what's David Stern got against us? Is there some sort of conspiracy that keeps this team contending when they don't seem to have the pieces to really make it work?  Or how about this one: why do the Lakers never, ever have to rebuild their team like the other teams have to, and instead get to acquire top-shelf All-Stars for pennies on the dollar?  I wonder even about some of the bigger questions.  If star players can continue to determine their career paths with impunity, why did we have a lockout in the first place?  Or maybe even this no-brainer: will Lakers fans ever experience a hard day in their lives?  Ever?  Ever??

So I sat around in my childhood home, and stewed, and avoided ESPN all day.  I had already called Symbol earlier in the day, and shouted over and over again "this isn't fair.  This isn't fair."  To her credit, she agreed, despite the fact that she got a franchise center in the deal, while at the same time, saying goodbye to a versatile, loyal forward.  As the day went on, I birthed and aborted numerous Dwightmare rants, each one more vitriolic than the last.  None of them were decent.  All of them were hateful and crude, purely emotional.  And more frustratingly: all of them were bad.  The two weeks off had dulled my chops, and had made me cynical to the process of (at least striving for) objective analysis.  I was pissed.  Writing wasn't fun.

And you know what?  That's a shame.  That's a tragedy.  That's not how blockbuster trades should be received and discussed.  That's not how The Diss is supposed to be.  And that's not how I should feel about The Diss, and the NBA in general.

So, I went to bed.  There was nothing left to do.


When I awoke on Saturday -- today, that is -- Dwight Howard was still a Laker, and I was still in California.  But I was much more calm.  Maybe even a bit more objective.  And perhaps more ready to accept the things that I could not change.
No, the NBA isn't always fair.  It's not always worth repeating, but it is sometimes worth the reminder.  Since the NBA-ABA merger, seven franchises have won over 85% of the championships.  The team with the highest percentage of regular season and playoff wins, of course, is the Lakers, who for years have prioritized splashy trades and dominant pivot play as a way to maintain a stranglehold over the Western conference.  The times that the Lakers have been a middling team have come when they did not have a dominant center (or at the very least, a competent tandem of big men that could effectively switch between the 4 and the 5) to anchor their offense and defense.  So the fact that they worked tirelessly to acquire an All Star center that could do that shouldn't come as a big surprise.

Furthermore, we must remember that the only reason that Dwight Howard is on the Lakers because of poor player and franchise management on the part of the Magic.  Though every sign pointed to Howard leaving as a free agent this summer, he inexplicably exercised the final year of his contract with the Magic, which barred him from leaving Orlando on his own volition.  Meanwhile, the Magic sat on their hands, and kept Howard, incompetent former GM Otis Smith and disgruntled former coach Stan Van Gundy around the organization far too long to make a few changes, and magically convince Howard to resign.  By the time the finals were over, and the Magic still hadn't hired a new GM or coach, it was clear that the franchise was going to be cleaning house, and needed the time and space to do the terrible deed properly.  The Magic's mistakes provided new opportunities for the other 29 teams, and Mitch Kupchak, one of the finest GMs in the league, worked tirelessly to take advantage of the transgressions of the DeVos family and Magic CEO Alex Martins.  The Lakers are not to blame for poor management in Orlando.  That was the case in 1996, and it remains the case today.

Indeed, it seems as if the Basketball Apocalypse is upon us.  But it's not the first time.  And it's not going to be the last.  When the Lakers trot out a lineup that features Dwight and Stevie Nash, and still takes advantage of the services of Pau and Kobe, the going will be tough.  But a number of truths about the game still remain.  The Lakers bench is still pathetically weak, and will again rely on the efforts of declining bottom-shelf vets like Matt Barnes and Steve Blake to carry the load.  There are a number of different egos and agendas on this team -- based on the silliness of Dwight's introductory news conference, one wonders how serious he is about winning a championship at this critical stage of his career --  and Mike Brown sometimes shown that personality management isn't his strong suit.  
And, most importantly, remember this: this type of stuff rarely works out, at least in the first year.  Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler/Scottie Pippen and Charles Barkley learned this while playing for the Rockets in 1999.  Karl Malone and Gary Payton couldn't rely on the Lakers to deliver rings in 2004.  The Celtics' Big 3 of Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett got theirs in 2008, but have gone fishin' every season since then.  And it took the Heat a season to put it all together, and even this year's run was never guaranteed.  The modern NBA is an imperfect science, not a scripted sitcom, despite transactions (like this one) that seem to imply otherwise.  You have to play the games to know what's going to happen.
The hardest part, of course, is not knowing what's going to happen.
At the end of the first Superman movie, our beloved blue-tressed hero flies really fast around the Earth, and goes back in time to save Lois Lane.  Of course, he defeats the properties of science, as well as Lex Luthor, and saves both the girl and the day.
If I were Superman, and I could do the exact same thing, I'd be the worst superhero ever.  I'd just fly around the Earth and go back to a time when I didn't have to worry about new jobs, new homes, new friends, and new Superteams.  My focus would be purely on myself, and rectifying the ways the world has wronged me.
Perhaps it's a good thing that I can't do this.  Disappointments -- especially the relative ones -- help me appreciate the moments of reverie and respite, where the world stops, and the things you don't want to happen simply don't happen.  It's those moments that refresh, renew and recharge, and allow me to face new challenges head on, with a full head of steam, and if nothing else, a vision of what I want to occur.  It also allows me to deal with the things I can't change, and must simply wait to see if they will work out.
This has to be the way we all live.  And for NBA fans, this has to be the way we view the "end" of the Dwightmare.  There's nothing we can do to change what the NBA has become.  All we can do is continue to hope that the variables that have confounded "best laid plans" since time immemorial -- that is, the inescapable effectiveness of Murphy's Law -- confound these ones as well.

Because, in the end, we can't all be Supermen.

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