Friday, November 9, 2007

Hardpower and the Hardcourt

If you aren't reading FreeDarko, you aren't reading the best sports blog on the internet. If you are, then you've already seen Matthew Yglesias's guest post, Love, Basketball, and Imperialism.

The argument, while no doubt interesting, is too far from the mark to call insightful. Not only does the imposition of NFL Europa and the extensive U-Bahn advertising in Berlin for the Thunder challenge the isolationist label of football, (was this direct imperialism, perhaps?), but my friend in Serbia who plays linebacker for domestic clubs and does Serbian language television commentary for NCAA games would probably challenge any claim that the sport has yet to cross the pond. Though the fact that he backs the Cardinals does show they've got a lot to learn about it. And while Yglesias disregards soccer, this is perhaps excusable as football-as-politics similes have been played out by politicos, essayists, and journalists to a pathetic degree of predictability. Hockey is indeed painfully dystopian and Canadian, perhaps that is why I love it.

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Yglesias rests his analogy on the notion that our successes have come from alliances in the name of good, and basketball talent has similarly been attracted to the cause of excellence in the NBA. Just like Operation Enduring Freedom brought Australia into the fight to create a free and stable Afghanistan, Georgetown brought Dikembe Mutombo to a long and prolific career on the court. Perhaps coincidentally, both the War in Afghanistan and Mutombo started out great but now just can't seem to get the job done.

Beyond that soft case for America-as-rallying-point, he argues for basketball-as-multilateralism, which might be interesting if the whole point of FreeDarkoism weren't in complete contradiction to that argument. Which is what exactly?

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On Chicagoist, FreeDarko is described by two of the creators as such:

That being said, can you use FreeDarko as an adjective in a sentence?
BS: jewish wedding in new orleans zoo with dixieland band playing klezmer = totally Freedarko
DLIC: Freedarko to me symbolizes simultaneously unrealized and unfulfilled potential … lots of wild animals are freedarko

But perhaps a better description can be found circuitously, describing it by analogy. Matt Ufford of KSK guest lectured on the topic of Purple Jesus:
Somewhere in the archives of this website rests a discussion, or possibly discussions, of how FreeDarko’s soi-disant ideal of style can be applied to the NFL, wherein the authors and commenters -- if memory serves, which it often doesn’t -- came to a general consensus resembling this: The NFL has Stars, yes, but football’s dependence on highly specialized roles working together to accomplish success reduces the ability of a single individual to take over a game. But running backs, it was argued and largely agreed upon, displayed the FD tenets of style, substance, and imagination on the canvas of athleticism with the most regularity

If FreeDarko is the apotheosis of the talent above the team, why the hell is Yglesias talking about alliance building in an international system based on liberal internationalism. Rather, FreeDarko seems to be realism in its pure, unadulterated, Henry Kissinger worshipping, counterbalance Iran back to the stone age, amoral, "fuck the team, I'll carry the team" anti-glory.

Or perhaps it isn't. Perhaps FreeDarko isn't about the player and their ability to take control of a game and shape it to their will. Perhaps it's about what that player's control over the game does to us, and perhaps that's why Yglesias is writing about the right things in the right place for the wrong reason. It isn't just excellence, it's about potential. By that particular yardstick, America is the most FD country on earth. Where the French Revolution was the rejection of the old order to be replaced by the new, The American Revolution defined a nation of free peoples under a liberal democracy not by opposition to the ancien regime but in regard solely unto itself. We are not defined by our tradition, we are our own tradition. We are America (And So Can You!). It isn't that we are the bastion of freedom and the city on the hill, it's that we're still trying to be. America's story is ultimately one of recently or as yet unfulfilled potential, but that's what gives hope.


A search for "Be Like Mike" on Google just turned up over 170,000 hits. This was a line from an ad campaign that started in 1991, after Al Gore invented the internet but before he had time to advertise it real good, and this is why Yglesias was right. Alternatives to realism aren't at their strongest when bombing Serbia into liberalism, but when convincing Serbia to move towards liberalism on its own. Yglesias closes with a reference to that bombing, but what he doesn't address is how much the Serbs love basketball. Whether it's talking about Divac's contributions to his native land or gathering in the dining hall of a cheap hotel on a ski resort mountain to watch their countrymen take down the USA in the FIBA U-19 World Championship, they love this game.

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