They Can't All Be Winners, Part 4: Los Angeles Lakers

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The Lakers are dumb. That’s what the big, roaring, gleeful paragraphs dumped on their heads say, in so many words: the offense is retrograde; the coach is a blinkered bozo; the star player is Napoleon dying on Saint Helena, hallucinating that he’s tearing through Asturias. They’re an object of fun, something to snicker at, to feel superior about.

This storm of smugness that has battered the Lakers these past couple of seasons is particularly strong because if there’s something NBA media folk who fancy themselves enlightened enjoy more than mocking the foibles of athletes, coaches, and executives, it’s bagging on the league’s glitziest franchise. The baroque haplessness of the Jimmy Buss Era has set the atmospheric conditions just so, but this sort of thing happens all the time, at a lesser ferocity, in basketball circles and beyond: whenever someone fucks up in sportsworld—a coach mismanages his timeouts, a player takes a low-percentage buzzer-beater, a general manager makes a howler of a trade—it draws a crowd of disapproving critics, licking their pens and tilting their jaws upward, quick to explain what should have happened instead.

An oft-used column conceit of the analytically-minded sportswriter—the kind who obsesses over value in the free agent market and efficiency on the field; smart is a word that circles their head like a halo, or a fly with a nose full of shit-smell—is to point out the stupidity of others, using numbers (or now-established dogma derived from numbers) to delineate at length how wrong someone is, and in the process, to flatter their dear reader, who is presumably nodding along with each sentence, because they, too, are smart. They know the coach should have gone for it on fourth down. They know the midrange jumper is dead. They know what a first-round draft pick is worth, and they’re appalled that the general manager doesn’t.

Curiously, readers want to have these truths repeated to them, and they want the people who don’t heed the truths to be admonished, over and over again. A couple years ago, Grantland’s Bill Barnwell wrote a regular, 3,000-word feature called Thank You For Not Coaching that was essentially a longish weekly wanking motion at John Fox’s irrational conservatism and Andy Reid’s lack of clock management acumen. Those articles did well, from what I understand. People took to Barnwell’s windy opprobrium. The market wants what it wants; there’s a lot of stuff out there in that vein. It’s not all nasty. A lot of the writers doing it aren’t nice enough with words to be truly cutting, but it’s all evaluative. Here’s Phil Jackson Doesn’t Know What He’s Talking About. Here’s What The Hell Are The Kings Doing? Variations on a theme, slapping a pass/fail sticker on the cosmos.

When you’ve made your living inventing adverbs and comparing point guards to butterflies, it puts you in a strange position re: questioning the utility of anyone else’s job, but the pervasive idea that this joyless and quite popular school of sportswriting produces fine and laudable work drives me to despair. The troglodyte local columnist who called any pitcher who ever gave up a ninth-inning home run a choker has been rushed to the guillotines and replaced by the self-satisfied dweeb who confuses knowledge with intelligence and a sound argument with a compelling one. He evokes no reaction other than disagreement or concurrence. (Smart take!) He strives to be right, to the detriment of fun and endeavor.

His writing is dull because, Christ, can you think of a human being more boring than one who conceives of sports as a way to peddle their own correctness? I’ve published more than a few And Now, I Will Offer A Demagogic Opinion articles in my day, along with plenty of pieces that took what most readers probably already knew and presented it to them with a fresh coat of adjectives. But that’s not proud work; it’s the stuff I wrote when my deadline was ticking down and I lacked the imagination to take a more interesting angle. (The freelance life involves churning out way more essays and blog posts than you can possibly make good.) Undaring shit like that just keeps the lights on; it’s not what I set out to do. I don’t write to be agreed with, or to educate. On my best days, I express something only I can express.

So much sportswriting expresses nothing. It indicates: it points at something obviously dumb and calls it dumb. It self-negates: it designates Draft Day Winners And Losers while granting the fatuousness of the very concept. It traffics in cheap point-scoring: it reiterates conclusions any right-thinking fan arrived at months or years ago. It narrows the spectrum of things we talk about when we talk about sports, to the point that we’re hunkered down in a boardroom, parsing utility and optimization and value and efficiency and judgement, as if sports aren’t richer than the inner workings of a fucking hedge fund. It’s small-minded, and circumspect, and tedious. It’s an echo chamber for the jejune. It assumes the reader is a moron, or wants to be pandered to.

Shit, maybe he does. Maybe all most folks want from sportswriting is to see their own banal thoughts transcribed, copy-edited, and pasted beneath a name that isn’t theirs, so they know someone with a byline agrees with them. I write through the sunrise some nights because I hate these people, however many of them are out there, and I hate the writers who write for them. I want to be what they are not, write in a strange, wild way that mirrors the strange wildness of the games I watch.

But I fail many times over. Often, I’m more angry than inspired. The sun comes up, and I’ve raged myself nowhere at all. So this column ends where it starts. The Lakers are hilariously incompetent. I don’t have much to say about it. Neither does anyone else.

Previously on TCABW: Charlotte Hornets Philadelphia 76ers | Houston Rockets

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