We knew that Graydon Gordian and Timothy Varner at 48 Minutes of Hell were good bloggers. Read it and you'll see: There's enough insight there to make even a Suns fan appreciate the Spurs just a little. But when we heard that a disgruntled Spurs fan set up a 48 Minutes of Hell "hate blog" because he was upset at Graydon and Tim's objective analysis of the team, we knew we had chosen well. We recently caught up with Graydon:
What are you doing with a sports blog?
I am trying to figure out a new way to talk about sports. Sports is a wonderfully vibrant and complex social phenomenon and yet we too often rely on the same old tropes, the same over-employed narratives, to talk about events that could be mined for far more significance. Although I often talk about the value of placing sports in a broader social and political context, that is not what I am referring to: My goal is to eventually discover a way to talk about each individual game as a wonderfully unique and expressive event in which two sets of craftsmen struggle to push their version of the story to the surface.
In other words, I am trying to figure out a way to forget all the extraneous stuff and just let the game speak.
What, to you, is the point of a sports blog?
To empower a multiplicity of voices. Sports is not some elite venture. We were all raised playing and watching sports. And although we may not possess the physical gifts to play at a professional level, many of us possess the mental gifts to analyze a game in an insightful manner. But the monopolized nature of sports media boxes us out. It is not that every sports blog is valuable; giving a voice to the masses inevitably brings some bad with the good. But the medium is miraculously meritocratic and allows for those of us with the ability to say something substantive to make our voices heard.
You've written a lot about basketball as a visual art, physical poetry, as a dance. What are you seeing that others might be missing?
I don't think I see anything that others miss. I think I am trying to articulate what we all know to be true. How often have you heard a play described as "beautiful?" And yet how often to we take the time to really consider the significance of such a statement?
I believe that all sports have the capacity for beauty but in basketball there is a unique relationship between the functional and self-expression. In other words, I believe movement to be fundamentally and inextricably communicative. The question is, what exactly are ten men, two hoops and a ball communicating?
For whatever reason, the Spurs have emerged as the black hat in the NBA's Spy vs. Spy game. If you weren't a native of central Texas, would you have any affinity for the Spurs?
I believe I would respect the Spurs, as they play such a disciplined, thoroughly-conceived style of basketball. And I have always felt a strong affinity for small-market teams so in games against the titans of either coast the Spurs would be sure to receive my support anyway.
But in some ways the wonderful thing about sports is the intellectual freedom blind partisanship grants. For the time being I am a staunch defender of defense-first, team-oriented play. But I may wake up a decade from now to discover San Antonio has become a paragon of run-and-gun ball. And I will love them still.
Some may call this being a shameless homer but I believe this is "liberated fandom" flipped on its head: The beauty of pledging one's allegiance to a franchise is the intellectual malleability it grants. I'll also note that I was raised a Knicks fan (my dad is from New York) but in my adolescence chose to throw in my lot with the arch-villains of the Association.
In that same spirit, you mounted an "ethical defense of Bruce Bowen" in 48 Minutes of Hell. Care to recapitulate your argument for the skeptical among us?
By the "skeptical among us" I believe you are referring to everyone.
My argument had several parts but the most directly "ethical" of them had to do with the nature of the court as an ethical space. In short, I argued that the court (or the field or the ring) is not subject to the same ethical laws as regular society. The most extreme example of this is the difference between punching someone in public and doing so inside the confines of a boxing ring. The idea is that an act (such as punching) has no inherent ethical value but can only be judged by the context in which it occurs. And this context is not arbitrarily determined.
A concrete organization (the National Basketball Association) decides which acts are acceptable on the court and which are not. It even has the ability to go back and review an action in order to determine whether it deserves further punishment. I guess what I am trying to say is that there really is no such thing as the ethical and the unethical in professional sports; there is only the legal and the illegal.
And given how infrequently Bruce Bowen is reprimanded by the league, it suggests to me that his actions are inside what they determine to be acceptable. Some would argue that there is a code beyond the law, an unwritten ethical code of the court. I would argue that, although this idea is not without merit (and certainly something I fully subscribe to when playing), such notions recede into the background when it is your professional responsibility to do everything within your power to win.
You worked on the recent presidential campaign. What can the NBA learn from politics? What can the political process learn from the NBA?
I think they can learn the exact same lesson from one another: There is no substitute for substance. Whether you enjoy the high-minded classicism of a Popovichian defense or the avant garde stylings of a D'Antoni led team, true, enduring fans are produced by good basketball. They are not produced by "kiss cams", t-shirt cannons and dance squads.
Similarly, any politician can have the gift of gab. Our new president is certainly blessed with a golden tongue. What makes him such a potent political force is the strength of his ideas and his unwavering focus on bringing about real, palpable change. In this instance, the medium is not the message. No political panache can replace a thoughtful and open approach to policy. You can put lipstick on a pig but it's still ... well, you know what I'm saying.