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A Macrophenomenal Look at Gilbert Arenas

Macrophenomenal swag. And Antonio Daniels. (By Jonathan Newton - TWP)

By now, you've no doubt heard of FreeDarko Presents...The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac, a kind of NBA compendium for people who like Gilbert Arenas. The back of the book--by the cerebral and sometimes incomprehensible FreeDarko collective--very clearly states that "pro basketball is not 22 pts, 6 reb, 4 ast.," which is a pretty simple way to sum up the philosophy. And the foreword--by Gilbert, of course--makes that very case, repeatedly and persuasively.

Truthfully, when fans go to a game all they want is entertainment. They want to see somebody playing their heart out, and for the guy who's playing his heart out to have fun doing it. All it takes is for him to throw a smile, raise the roof, do something. That's all they're waiting for. You pay all this money to sit up close, believe it or not, you want to get hit with a ball and get your drink knocked over. You want to leave with something to talk about. You want Shaw Shaq to fall on you and get drenched in his sweaty-sweat-sweat. That's all part of the game. It's just a big show.

Anyhow, the book is a sweaty-sweat-sweat dream. If I could own one and only book about the NBA, this would be the one, at least until Gilbert comes out with his autobiographical book of cartoons, quotes and sweaty-sweat-sweat casseroles. It's also amazingly pretty to look at. And there's an amazingly pretty Web site.

Ok, with the sucking up out of the way, let me present a brief, Wiz-centric Q&A with the book's lead author, Bethlehem Shoals, who's smarter, or at least more inscrutable, than both you and I.

Why would you rather root for an unpredictable weirdo (or what you might call an Uncanny Peacock) than just a normal athlete person? Can you at least mildly sympathize with the growing chorus of Wizards fans who say they'd rather have a boring team that wins more games?

Isn't the real problem that the Wizards have been the same weird, and had the same idiosyncratic players on the court, for what seems like forever? That's what I like about Blatche--he could inject a whole new degree of strangeness into that team's play, while giving it new tools to work with. And of course, too much weird makes it seem normal, and too much of the same weird, regardless of what's going on around it, eventually becomes familiar (and normal-seeming).

Let's put it this way: I think it's possible that the Wizards could both get interesting again and win more. The problem is that they've stagnated in both departments.

2) If you ran into Gilbert Arenas in the cereal aisle of the local supermarket and could only ask him one question, not having to do with cereal, what would you ask? And what answer would you hope to hear?

I really wonder what Gil's relationship to the Supreme Being is. I would like to find out that he's a secret Muslim, like Shaq.

3) In your book, you call Gilbert "the NBA's answer to Thelonius Monk." While that thought never occurred to me, the first jazz album I ever owned was Thelonius Monk. (Monk's Dream). And so I ask: how much does it disappoint you that Gilbert's Rhapsody playlist is all about Beyonce and Jay-Z and Lil Wayne and not the Blue Note crew?

Let me clarify that one: I hate basketball/jazz comparisons. Basketball is like jazz only insofar as style, voice, and individuality-through-creativity are important to both. But you could say
that about a zillion other American cultural forms. I used to say that funk or hip-hop made more sense, but really, does that actually get you any closer to explaining the way the game works? Maybe jazz captures the process, hip-hop the outlook, and funk the actual form of it.

A friend of mine who is a totally distinguished music critic says that to him, jazz most resembled baseball, since everyone steps up and takes a turn, front and center.

(Seeing as you remembered me confusing DeShawn and DeMarr Johnson, I thought you might've remembered that year-long crusade of mine!)

It doesn't bug me at all. Would someone who likes FreeDarko because it's "deep" be disappointed that I don't read philosophy? There can be relationships between people and history that are bigger, and broader, than we as individuals have the ability to affect.

4) When people ask me what "swag" means, I say "swagger," but that's not quite right. Can you define swag?

"Swagger" to me indicates some kind of motion, like if not actual "swaggering," then doing something else with "swagger." But "swag" is both more psychological, and so confident it doesn't even need an extra syllable or a physical act to make its point. It's a state of mind, not a
public performance.

4a) Can I ask one follow up, because I'm actually curious? With swag being a state of mind and not a public performance, do you think Gilbert still leads the Wizards in swag, even from the bench in street clothes?

I would say yes, he does. In fact, he has nothing to do but focus on his swag--provided it hasn't been diminished by anxiety over his comeback--which makes him like one of those aged gurus who can't stand up. Of course, whether other players or us fans take that swag seriously is another matter altogether. Because sports fans tend to care about how these things show up
in the context of sports, I think.

I mean, don't you think Gil is handling this injury thing with swag? He's at once totally dismissive and frighteningly determined about it.

4b) Yeah, but at some point you have to feel pity for him, which is something you'd never direct toward swag. So I'm not sure.

Agreed, pity and swag don't fit in the same boat. That said, I think a player can stave off pity with swag--of course, that drawback is that, when there is a counter-reaction, it's usually something negative and angry. Like, how dare you fool me with your mind games when really, I wanted to see you play again. How could I have so stupidly mistaken your aura for your jumper?

5) What would be the closest approximation an office wage slave could make to Gilbert's refusal to shoot during an entire game?

Well, that would depend on if office wage slaves are ever accused of "selfishness." From my personal experience, that would involve being scolded for long lunches, doing other work on the job, and napping on the clock--and answering by starving myself while trying to be a model employee.

And maybe also kicking the crap out of some of my fellow wage slaves so I can handle their tasks for them.

6) Is it possible to like the NBA without hating Major League Baseball?

Yes, you can completely forget about it. I lived in and around Philly for eight years, and [Wednesday] night didn't realize the Phillies had won a World Series until friends starting asking how excited I was. To my credit, I knew they were in it, but the first real night of NBA action just blotted it out of my mind.

By Dan Steinberg  |  October 31, 2008; 10:29 AM ET
Categories:  Media , Wizards  
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I... I... what?

Posted by: NateinthePDX | October 31, 2008 10:50 AM | Report abuse

Umm... yeah. I'll buy the idea that "pro basketball is not 22 pts, 6 reb, 4 ast.," but I'm not ready to buy that it's quite this stuff either.

This conversation, at least, strikes me as the opposite of "sweaty-sweat-sweat," or at least the opposite of the real sweat that "sweaty-sweat-sweat" is meant to signify and transmute.

Play ball.

Posted by: SSFSCoWA | October 31, 2008 11:47 AM | Report abuse

re: Pro basketball is not 22 pts, 6 reb, 4 ast.

It's not 0,0, and 0 either.

STFU about Gilbert Arenas. Please.

And, I didn't know that what the $250-a-seat people really wanted was to touch large sweaty men. Maybe they should hold a contest at Vz Center - winner gets to clean up the locker room?

Posted by: Sweetback | October 31, 2008 12:24 PM | Report abuse

The FreeDarko website is poorly written. Why should I buy a whole book of that?

Posted by: Lindemann777 | October 31, 2008 3:03 PM | Report abuse

FreeDarko is (usually) really well written. You might not appreciate it aesthetically, which is fine, but you need to learn the difference between things you don't like and things that are bad.

I agree with the comment that enjoying FreeDarko is really different from enjoying the NBA in the way Gil describes, though. For me, at least, the fact that it adds something so different is what makes it great. If you love ball, you are relatively cerebral, and enjoy that kind of writing and humor, FreeDarko brings together your diverse interests in a pretty amazing way.

Posted by: jb14 | October 31, 2008 4:33 PM | Report abuse

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