Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Reflections on the Rise of a Rival

(Like the Southwestern Division wasn't tough enough already)

Today is Chris Paul's 23rd birthday and as some of you may know At The Hive is hosting Chris Paul Blog Day. Despite the thrashing the Hornets gave my Spurs last night, I am not so blindly partisan that I can't recognize great basketball, even when it comes at the expense of the team that I most deeply love. So, I give you, my reflections on the man who should have been MVP:

A Lion Needs No Reason to Feast:

I began watching Chris Paul play last year and was immediately impressed by the maturity and completeness of his game, but it was this season that I began noticing the intangibles that make him such a uniquely special player. Really it began one evening while watching Sportscenter. I don’t remember who the Hornets were playing, but it was one of the elite teams in the league. And Paul asked Byron Scott if he could play the full 48 minutes. Scott agreed, and Paul, in an impressive display of not only leadership but stamina, led the Hornets to a close victory by never once relinquishing his post. As a Spurs fan, I worship at the temple of time management, and have perennially been critical of teams who push their starters too hard during the regular season only to see them burn out in the playoffs.

But something about this particularly precocious act struck me as special. Obviously the dream of every NBA player is to win a ring, and this has created the broadly accepted impression that they show little competitiveness during the regular season. Although not a particularly talented athlete, my experience playing sports has always contradicted this assumption. The game naturally resists the mindless teleology of championships (and that’s coming from a Spurs fan, nonetheless), and few true competitors are willing to accept loss, even in its most minute form. It is during that brief highlight that I realized the depth of Paul’s competitiveness.

Memories of a Man’s Game:

I have been highly critical of the league’s steady movement away from a more physical style of play. It has given flight to Kobe, Wade, and the other marquee slashers around the league, but it has also robbed the game of a certain brutishness that, although style-less, spoke to the hunger in every player’s beating breast. My earliest memories of basketball include snapshot images of Laimbeer, McHale, Rambis, and Malone, making players regret having ever tried to get to the hoop. But endowed with a sadistic fearlessness, the preeminent guards of the day continued to attack the basket, undeterred by the boorish physicality that awaited them in the paint. I see this same fearlessness in Paul.

Despite his diminutive stature, he is made of pure toughness. Like many players, he brings attention to it, through chest pounding and cold-eyed stares, but that is not when it is at its most visible. It’s when he takes that first step toward the lane. There is still a hardened class of men in this league who are more than willing to put your safety on the line in order to prevent the easy basket, and his 6’0” frame is uniquely susceptible to the danger. There is little courage involved in receiving a hard foul. You didn't expect it and subsequently survive it as best you can. To openly invite one involves much courage.

I hope to be back this evening with further reflections on one of the men who is sure to define the coming era of professional basketball. If you haven't yet, feel free to take a look back at some very brief thoughts I had about Paul during the lead up to the playoffs.


steve said...

Hey Kid, great site. Looks like you need some company though. What do you think about starting Manu in game 3? I understand he is better coming off the bench or more so Finley does better starting, but the Spurs need something. They need to attack the paint more and Finley just doesn't do that. You live by the three and then you die by the three. All I know is that its a blessing they aren't playing until Thursday so the Spurs can heal and the Hornets can inflate their heads a little more.

Graydon said...

I'll cover this in a game 3 preview, but I couldn't agree more, the Spurs absolutely need to attack the basket more than they have been. Like I said, I'll go into it more, but I think the keys for game 3 are parkerl/manu getting to the hoop (and the team as a whole generally foregoing the outside shot for the drive), and putting Bowen on Stojakovic. As far as Manu starting, I think he has been hurt so its good to possibly start him so he doesn't tighten up sitting on the bench right after warm-ups, but I have been underwhelmed by Pargo and the Hornets backups, so I feel like it could be good to have him out there against their second squad. I'll think about it.

KBP said...

you would rather the game be played in the mud rather than the air? check out an essay by Dave Hickey called the "Heresy of Zone Defense", in his book called "Air Guitar". Being more interested in competitiveness than feats of athleticism and skill is like being in to sex just for the fluids, or to like driving because you get to fill up your car with gas. This is as much in response to your Bowen post.

Graydon said...

I know of Hickey, but I haven't read much of his stuff. I found a copy of his article. I'll read it and get back to you. I do completely disagree that I have forwarded a vision of the game which doesn't take into account athleticism or skill, or at least holds competitiveness above them. How could you argue that Bowen's style of play is not skillful? How could you argue Paul is not athletic? When Bowen couples his skillful defense with brutishness and Paul couples his athleticism with hard-heartedness it raises their games, not lowers them.