Tag Archives: Basketball

But What is Star Power?

An artist of the musical persuasion is just a singer, more of a musician, or truly a singer-songwriter depending on how they perform their art (and whom you ask).  An artist of the audio/visual ilk is just an entertainer, more of an actor/thespian, or truly a performer.  If their aesthetics align with what the average person would envision when hearing the words, “gorgeous,” “magnetic,” or “heavenly,” then you’d probably agree that they have “star power.”  They don’t just sing or play instruments well, they don’t just convincingly pretend to be people they aren’t — they inspire excitement, desire, and intense adoration, leading to voyeuristic devotion that is infinitely monetizable.

I’d never wondered what “star power” meant in relation to professional athletes until very recently as the result of conversations with two different friends.

Exhibit A:

Me (while watching the Miami Heat increase their lead against the Philadelphia 76ers): And you said the Miami Heat isn’t sexy enough. It’s the uniforms, right?  Too ketchup, sliver of mustard on the side, and napkins?
Friend 1: No, it’s the lack of star power.
Me: Ahh, ye old raw talent and skills but no rockstar lead singer with the hair and the leather pants and the mayhem that make the ladies and some gents go primal?

Exhibit B:

Me: Friend 1 clarified that the Miami Heat is not sexy b/c they don’t have star power.  I’m interpreting that to mean… a team can have lots of raw skills and talent but have no rockstar lead singer.  Nobody with the hair and leather pants to make the ladies and some gentlemen go wild.
Friend 2: That is 100% what the San Antonio Spurs are/were.  The Heat’s biggest star is Jimmy Butler.  They do not have a Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, James Harden, Steph Curry, etc.  You should ask Friend 1 who he considers a bigger star: Jimmy Butler or Trae Young.

Me: Hmmm, but isn’t basketball inherently much more of a collaborative sport than football?  Eg, in any NFL or college team, you could point to the quarterback or kicker as “responsible” for scoring.  Defense obviously has to be really good too, but.
Friend 2: Hmm… I think NBA is actually more about individual stars than the NFL is.
Me: Fascinating… and yet I see what you mean.
Friend 2: It is fascinating.

Me: Good basketball players play very well together like a jazz band.  Good football players that play well together…. just execute the plays well?
Friend 2: There are basketball purists who dislike how the NBA promotes players over teams, especially in marketing.  The Spurs were the definition of team basketball. team over individuals. but the NBA has become very individualistic.

Me: Meanwhile, baseball has always been individualistic, even when it takes good teamwork to take advantage of “bases loaded” situations.
Friend 2: The opening is on-point [voiced by] Magic Johnson.

So many times we promote the individual (Lebron, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant), but then we leave out something that is really unique and special, and that’s team and team basketball.  I sat and watched this team carve the Clippers up playing basic, fundamental basketball, and it was beautiful to watch.  It reminded me of my era, the way we used to play the Celtics — just smart and great basketball.”

~!~

If you’re an NBA fan, if you’re a Miami Heat fan, if you’re a Jimmy Butler fan, do you think he has star power?  Which NBA players deserve more love and could very well be the big hair band rockstar if only properly marketed?

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Original pic creds: lizcambabe (Michael Reeves), h00dsworld, nbyay, ballplayersxo

Drop the Net

Under a moon-less night, illuminated by one under-achieving street lamp, the net of the basketball hoop shone like a neon pink sign.

Hello and welcome, all who venture into this four-sided rectangular space.

The man with the bag of discarded fish heads pushed upon the gate surrounded the basketball court.  His eyes darted around, searching for surveillance cameras, other night-dwellers, and general signs that he should take his burden elsewhere.  But, he was alone, so he sat down on one of the moss-covered benches just outside of the street lamp’s light.  The bag hit the ground faster than his thighs reached the bench.

He wished he could throw it in the river or in a dumpster or anywhere that would swallow it up and let him forget he was being paid the price of a princess’s frivolous weekend to relocate a dozen fish heads.  Salmon, trout, sword, shark — he didn’t know and didn’t care.  He’d hauled worse smelling and heavier things before, but something about this particular delivery made him feel unexpectedly uneasy.

The man looked up at the basketball net and wondered what would be the worst that could happen if he hoisted the bag into the hoop.  He knew it wouldn’t fall through.  Was it worth it, though?  To risk being seen or leaving innocent day-dwellers to deal with a sack of steadily putrefying scales, eyes, and teeth.  The man remained on that bench and considered his illusory options.  He didn’t really have but one, which was to continue through the city until cement gave way to dirt and chuck the bag into a well.  He made a mental note to be more discerning with his next assignment.  No more transporting materials that can decompose and emit unpleasant aromas.

~!~

I have no idea what inspired this piece of writing… the mental image of an outdoor basketball court at night and a bag of fisheads manifested, and out came the rest of the words.

And Just Like That the Globe Split Open

Gunther shouldn’t have worn the light blue jeans, the only clean pair he could find in his room with only twelve minutes before Darlene would arrive at his house to take him to the only park in the neighborhood with an ungated basketball court.  The jeans were a couple inches too small about the waist and a couple inches too long at the ankles, but Darlene liked the way Gunther looked in them and none of his more appropriate athletic pants had been washed yet.

Unlike the others within a five-mile radius of Slonder Heights, this park didn’t have enclosed basketball courts or skateboard ramps.  The owners believed that mischief-makers were more likely to get a thrill out of being obnoxious than nocturnally athletic, so they didn’t see a point in keeping access to the court or the ramps to a schedule.  Remote surveillance technicians could administer an array of environmental agitations (via touchscreen and other controls) should any late-night visitor display criminal intent.  Hidden speakers and fragrance misters could unleash a barrage of airhorns, cougar screeching, and parfum du durian if necessary.

It was nearly 11:30 pm at night when they’d arrived at the park.  Darlene stayed in her pale grey convertible as Gunther practiced free throws.  He was trying to get back on the basketball team after taking a year off to recover from muscular injuries sustained while startling a bear during a camping trip.  He didn’t even want to go on that trip but Darlene begged him to take her to somewhere sufficiently north to see stars and Gunther was in love with her.  No, he wasn’t, not her.  Gunther was in love with the effect she had on him.  One glance, one casual hand on the back, one well-timed sigh and he felt as though he were unbreakable.

For someone who grew up chronically sick with ear infections, stomach viruses, and a sprained ankle every other year, Gunther couldn’t get enough of how Darlene made him feel.  So what if he had to sit out all of his sophomore year and a third of junior year not only for physical therapy but also to catch up on school work.  It was a minor setback.  He would persevere.  It didn’t matter to him that he wasn’t in the top three free throw shooters among his teammates.  He just wanted to do what he loved doing in front of very loud spectators.

Gunther shouldn’t have worn the light blue jeans because they were much tighter than the last time he wore them.  He stretched his arms in front of his chest and massaged his calves.  He picked up the ball from where he had set it down on the center of the three-point line, spread his feet apart just so, bent his knees, brought the ball up to his chin, and took a deep breath.  Before he could complete the preparation to launch the ball to the hoop, an odd scent wafted up to his nose from his hands.  He put the ball back on the ground and smelled his hands.  The odor was there but faint.  He retrieved the ball and smelled it.  There it was again…salt, sweat, head cheese, and wet dog.

Gunther squeezed the ball.  Instead of that rock-solid sensation he was expecting, the ball softened against the force of his hands and then stiffened again.  He dribbled it a few times in front of his body and between his legs.  The ball behaved no differently than a normal basketball would, but it still smelled.  Gunther slammed it against the ground and it rolled toward the bottom of a bench.  He collected the ball and walked back to Darlene’s car.  He asked her if she still had that apple knife she occasionally kept in the glove compartment.  She produced the knife and Gunther plunged it into the basketball.  He drew the blade downward six inches.  A dark red, thick syrup squirted through the slashed skin.  The scent of barn and abbatoir smothered Gunther, who started coughing like his lungs were sparkling with fairies in a frenzy.  Darlene sneezed and slapped herself across the backs of her hands.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.  She admonished herself for failing yet again at one task.  The basketball wasn’t supposed to smell like anything but a basketball.  None of Darlene’s dealings with Gunther progressed the way they were supposed to — not the camping trip, not how long it took for him to heal, not how quickly he surrendered to her whims, and not this foul-smelling ball.  Gunther was supposed to exercise a certain degree of self-restraint so that he would be so much more delicious when he finally offered up his will to her on a silver plate.  Darlene patted Gunther’s back as his coughing fit quieted and ceased.  She asked him if he wanted her to take him home.  He nodded.  She gave him a disinfectant wipe for his hands, instructed him to leave the remnants of the ball outside, and reassured him that everything would be all right.  He just needed to take a hot shower and go to sleep.

Audrey Tautou - En noir et blanc

Love & Basketball — The Criterion Edition

The Criterion Edition of Love & Basketball (Gina Prince-Bythewood, 2000) came out last year, and though I’ve had the DVD within spitting distance for a few months, I didn’t really feel like watching it until tonight.

LoveBaskCRT

I really liked this film the first time I watched it and I like it just as much now.  My previous analysis still holds and for this viewing, I have a few additional musings:

~ I forgot Alfre Woodard plays Sanaa Lathan‘s mom.
~ Monica (Lathan) and Quincy’s (Omar Epps) friendship is borne out of humility, friendly competition, and strong opinions.
~ Sanaa Lathan is so good.  She’s incredible at conveying discomfort around others and self-disappointment.
~ The film delves into many layers and does so very well: dynamics between friends, parents and kids, dealing with insecurity, and rivalry.
~ Why would Quincy treat Monica that way?  Is it because he’s afraid to let her down where it truly matters so he’d rather she hated him for being a jerk or short-sighted than for anything resembling vulnerability?  Or did he perceive her priority, her reasonable priority of basketball over him as abandonment?  He wouldn’t walk her back to her dorm, is he justified in being so upset (or could they both have come up with a better solution in the moment)?
~ I completely forgot Tyra Banks was in this movie.
~ I don’t remember getting teary-eyed in that scene in the kitchen between Monica and her mom…the one where they talk about basketball and the spring dance.
~ Would a person who doesn’t like sports movies or basketball enjoy the non-sports components of Love & Basketball?  I doubt it.  Although the film deftly explores Monica and Quincy as people, but mostly Monica, basketball is so integral to the themes and storyline that if you actively dislike the depiction of game-play or conversations about being an athlete, then maybe you could still have a good time if you’re die-hard fans of Sanaa Lathan, Omar Epps, or want to watch a movie directed by a woman and in which there are zero cell phones.

What I learned from the making-of featurette:
~ The director, Gina Prince-Bythewood, was a shy child but playing basketball gave her an outlet to be more confident.  Her parents encouraged her and her sister to play sports.  She also always liked writing and telling stories; becoming a filmmaker made sense.
~ The Sundance Labs liked the script for the film and then invited Gina to do the director’s lab.
~ Sanaa Lathan did not give the director the best first impression…but nailed it in the reading to a full audience.  Apparently, people with theatre training do a “reading” for more mechanical reasons, unlike someone with a film/TV background who would put much more heart into it.  Hence, the initial not-great impression.
~ Omar Epps had played athletic characters four times before Love & Basketball, so he was apprehensive about being in this film at first, but he loved the script.
~ The director wanted to cast a ball-player who could act but kept Sanaa “on hold” because her auditions were so good.  She was given a trainer to help her become a basketball player in more than athletic abilities.  Colleen Matsuhara was the basketball advisor.  It took about four or five months of Gina trying to finalize casting before Sanaa got the part.  She realized that her movie was about love first and then basketball second.  After all, “you can fake a jump shot, you can’t fake a close-up.”
~ The WNBA did not exist when the director started writing the film.  By the time she was in production, there was a WNBA.

If you like this movie and haven’t gotten your hands on the Criterion version, do it, and watch all the special features.

How did I not pay attention to the music in this movie before?  Je ne sais pas.

Pic creds: Criterion Collection

Finding The Way Back

In the typical sports film, the narrative begins with the protagonist about to hit or already hitting rock bottom, and must then spend the entire movie reaching a better outcome in the form of athletic success and personal evolution.  The Way Back (Gavin O’Connor, 2019) is not a typical sports film.  The central figure of the story doesn’t hit rock bottom until three-fourths of the way through the movie.  Furthermore, halfway through the nearly two hour-long film, I question whether or not The Way Back is a conventional basketball film since the storyline and character development of the very reluctant hero, Jack (Ben Affleck), are more concerned with his unapologetic self-noncare than the signification of basketball as more than a competitive team sport.

WayB

Directed by the same man who helmed Miracle (2004), The Way Back opens by introducing Jack to the viewer as a construction worker and loner who has a routine: work, the bar, home, wake up with a beer in the shower and repeat — all set to downbeat, mid-tempo piano music.  The next sequence sets up the basketball element: Father Edward Devine (John Aylward) from Bishop Hayes High School is in need of a new basketball coach.  Is Jack, the former Bishop Hayes High School basketball star, interested?  The film might devote a whole scene to Jack practicing saying “no” on the phone, but it never actually shows a phonecall as the following sequence has him at the high school meeting assistant coach Dan (Al Madrigal) and all the players.  Our reluctant hero has accepted the offer, so his new daily routine consists of construction working and basketball practice/games.

The Way Back presents the weaknesses of its protagonist in such a way that the viewer is more invested in why he’s got a drinking problem and seemingly hates himself.  The film eventually provides his entire backstory but only after his team has started to win a bunch of games.  The movie doesn’t bask in basketball or general sports inspirational tropes too heavily until the moment that Jack decides to stop binge-drinking at the bar.  It is at this point where the viewer starts to care if his players make it to playoffs or not — and if the team captain’s dad will show up to watch him play.  In the final fifteen minutes of the film, The Way Back starts to lose its way in the narrative and thematic structure departments.  Is it trying to cover too many motifs by whisking a grieving parent’s drama with a basketball film?

I appreciated the momentum and mise-en-scene of the basketball aspect of the plot, but honestly, I was much more curious about Jack the drunk making peace with the tragedies of his past than Jack the drunk finding meaning in inspiring a group of really under-performing young men into much better athletes (yes, I know that the basketball facilitates the mental journey that Jack has to undertake in order to get his life back on track).  I maintain that The Way Back is an incidental basketball film that wouldn’t quite work as well with a different team sport.  The aesthetic qualities of football would detract from the movie being about Jack; baseball would be too slow-paced; futbol too fast-paced; hockey…too much equipment.

My only substantial gripe with this film is that there is too much movie score going on — there does not need to be a predominantly piano instrumental track every time something meaningful is happening on screen!  Can we get more ambient noise?  Why does every minimal dialogue scene have to look like a car commercial set to music like this?

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I finished reading Ghostland and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes reading about and learning more on haunted spaces, American architecture, and American cultural history.  If ever there were a book that exemplies what a degree in American Studies can produce, it would be Ghostland.

Pic cred: Amazon