Periodically, I love professional basketball: the Knicks of the early 1970s, the Celtics some of those same years, LA now and again, the Bulls of Jordan & Pippen … other teams and their stars to a lesser extent: Detroit, San Antonio, Utah, Indiana …
I never played much as a kid. Not only was I skinny, weak in the upper body, but I was also a loner, a misfit. I didn’t believe in “taking one for the team,” I didn’t believe in turning a blind eye to your own team’s cheating. I was for the golfer calling a penalty on himself when no one else saw his ball move at address in the woods; I was against the first baseman picking up the runner, turning his hold on the runner out of the umpire’s sight, and madly tagging the opponent till the umpire sees the tag: sees the tag but not the foul. The runner was safe, the runner is called out: cheating prevails: in team sports, in this culture.
But Pearl Monroe, Clyde Frasier, John Lucas … John Havelecheck, Russell … Wilt … excited me some part of the extent to which they excited regular fans and school yard players … and businessmen with a corporate box.
Professional Sports, Spectator Sports, Sports for Profit
Here’s what I want to talk about: This 2011 NBA players have rejected the new deals offered by owners and management. David Stern, a marketing giant who nevertheless sees reality at his own self-serving convenience, has been trying, and failing I’m glad to say, to bully the players into accepting deals. Now the season, already compromised, is endangered. I’d be pleased if David Stern and the NBA just evaporated and blew away.
Some players are involved in organizing exhibition games. Kobe had ben talking about playing in Italy: his other home town, home country.
But never mind that: anyone can play basketball any where, any time they find a court available, with light available. There are basketball courts, just as there are baseball diamonds, all over the place: schools, municipal parks, private clubs … I can go onto the municipal court if it’s unoccupied: at noon, at midnight, in sun, in fog. I can shoot free throws, dribble. So can you. So can Shaq. We can form teams. We can arrive as teams, the teams already rostered. We can have a tournament. We can give prizes.
The NBA doesn’t control me. I hope the NBA doesn’t control you.
In 1971 I ran the Free Learning Exchange from my apartment on Riverside Drive @ 103rd St. I regularly carried my tennis racket down into Riverside Park to hit against a wall marked with a net level. Just behind me were basketball courts. The basketball courts were routinely occupied, in all weathers. Not just kids playing: men too, pros too. The Knicks’ Willis Reed. So too my sister-in-law’s friend Lloyd. Other Knicks, other pros, would routinely be there. They played, hard, hour after hour. Seldom did their loose ball wander onto my hitting zone; when my missed ball crossed onto their ground they ignored it, kept playing. My hitting was talented amateur; their playing was sensational: mixed amateur.
Their game had other excellences: I never saw play halt for a beer commercial!
And I never heard anyone call the score! As far as I could tell no one kept score!
There were no referees. Sometimes a foul would be admitted, peacefully. The ball just changed side, and play went on.
I never saw a fight. Big guys, a majority black: strong, in shape, sweating. I never saw a fight. On the streets of the lower east side, on the streets of Harlem, I saw fights all the time: sabotages, assaults … intimidations … but never on the city basketball court.
I don’t say there were none, zero, just none I ever saw, or heard. I’ve argued myself, plenty, on public tennis courts; but again, only when score was being kept: not my preferred way to play.
That’s one thing I love about skiing, running, fishing (alone, my preference): you skied, you’re still alive, upright, in one piece: bravo. And look at those tracks you left, perfect figure 8s, in the powder snow!
pk Unsuited for Team Sports
I didn’t like being dragged to school for kindergarden, I didn’t like being assembled in the playground for baseball when I was the least experienced kid there. Once at church camp I hit the ball, ran to first, ran on to second. Safe. The outfielder threw the ball to the kid covering second after I’d arrived. The kid said to me, “Don’t stand on the bag, stand just off it.” I did. The kid tagged me. “You’re out,” he screamed. Then all the other team kids screamed at me to go back to the sidelines. “You’re out! You’re out!” The counselors who’d trapped me into this humiliation did nothing. They didn’t see it, they weren’t paying attentino: young ministers and their wives: you know, Christians. No, I wasn’t a good team member.
One time some neighbor’s young daughter’s husband was pitching to kids in a back yard. He invited me to take a swing. I did. Crack! The ball rocketed to the right and got tangled in junk behind the garage. Wow, the guy said. he called everybody in the neighborhood to witness another one. Several adults stood there, impatient, uninterested, as I proceeded to miss every additional pitch, swinging gracelessly, weakly, waiting for this ordeal to be over: like the guys in the army who’d learned early: if they tell you to sweep the floor, break the broom, and sit there, saying nothing, till you’re sent to the Px. Those are the guys who’d made corporal, then sergeant, rapidly; while my fellow college grad draftees and I did all the work, and remained at the lowest pay grades.
Here’s another old memory: I didn’t like to be on the gym class basketball court anymore than I liked being one of the dozen leftover outfielders, those who batted twelfth or thirteenth: the butter-fingers, the pussies. But: one strange day my ride was late. Having a spare second, I drank a glass of milk, shoved a cornflake or two into my mouth. That morning on the court some fool threw me the ball. I didn’t know what to do with it. “Shoot,” encouraged the gym teacher, obviously ignorant of what I was. I shot. Swish! How did that happen? When the ball came back my way — now they did pass to me, and I heard “shoot” again — again I shot: swish!
It had never occurred to me: food may have something to do with athletic competence! I had obviously never occurred to my family or friends either, or the school. They assumed I was fed at home. I was: sometimes: when there was leisure to feed me. But not ordinarily.
2017 03 22 Oversleeping, sleeping till the last second, sleeping past the last second is a Knatz family tradition. My mother’s boss picked her up around 8 AM, brought her back home, who knows, 10 PM, 9 … She often worked Saturdays as well as Monday to Friday … When was she supposed to feed me? or herself? My mother failed at getting our father to feed us or to pay the utilities bill. The courts pretended they’d help, but they did Not. I could have fed myself: there was some kind of food in the house, my sister could cook, so could I. But Beth also slept past the last second. and I had to too, especially since I was up every night till 1 AM to see what Jazz musician Steve Allen would feature in the final slot. So was was regularly promptly in bet at 1 AM: but then I started reading my science fiction books. You get I wasn’t ready to hear the alarm when it turned the radio on at 7 AM. Damn right I wasn’t ready to handle a pass or make a shot or get a hit in gym class.
Spike the Giant
2017 03 27 I like the idea of “equality” as a political ideal: simultaneously I love inequality as a biological fact. Basketball is the team sport where giants rule: Wilt, Kareem … So: set a pattern, then contradict it. Bob Cousy was the great “little” “big man”. Pearl Monroe took ball handling to an even higher level. Nowadays Steph wows us even further: he desn’t just score from halfcourt; he handles the ball like a wizzard. I adore adoring the “little” guy among the big guys.
But I propose that we contemplate another basketball hero, a major figure in the sport: the shrimp, the nebbish: Spike Lee! I declare I do not like Spike’s feature films, the racist moron, bullying the world about racism; but I love his basketball hero-worshipping ads. In the 1990s Spike would say to Michael Jordan, “What makes you the greatest player on the planet? Is it the shoes?” No, answers Jordan.
“It’s gotta be the shoes,” Spike repeats moronically.
Paraphrase if not quote.
Sold a lot of Nikes, made a lt of fans. Now, a quarter century later, Spike casts himself to hang out with Charles Barkley and Samuel L. Jackson. Barkley’s prodigious appetites are mocked. Sam has always been a marvelous presence, now Chuck is too. And there’s Spike, right in the middle of them: the nebbish as super hero.
A current ad inserts characters who are female as well as “black”: a pop singer. Wonderful, I love it. But consider this too: Spike has made himself an icon for basketball for decades via his familiarity at Knicks’ courtside. We see Spike the way we used to see Walt, or Holzman.
One of the greatest moves ever made by the Laker organization, Mrs. Buss, Jerry’s widow, gave season courtside tickets to Jack Nickolson: because he reminded her of her the late Mr. Buss. Fabulous. Old and boosey Jack became part of the face of the Lakers: like West, like Kareem, like Magic, Kobe … But now here’s Spike, on the other coast: as the visual center of Madison Square Garden! Bravo.
I also really love Spike’s current feminism: pop singers appearing at the edge of Sam / Chuck. Yes, Spike will survive, however egregious his larger-culture leadership.