Tuesday, February 22, 2011

You Can't Outrun Yourself

"Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man."
— Jesuit motto

“I love him who desires the impossible.”
— Johann Wolfgang van Goethe, Faust

We are all, in our multifaceted fandoms, captives of our own childhoods. I don't mean that what we liked and disliked at a young age limits limits our appreciation, but rather that the lenses through which we evaluate everything never totally outrun the posters you had on your wall in elementary school and your first favorite player(s). If you grew up idolizing the Bash Brothers, you'll always dig the long ball. Joe Posnanski will always pull for the Duane Kuipers of the world.1 The NBA is starting to get past finding Michael Jordan 2.0 because its youngest stars grew up with a league owned by AI, Shaq, Tim Duncan and Kobe. MJ was the crafty old guy on the Wizards, not the colossus standing astride the known world. Your sensibilities are molded by who you pretend to be in the backyard or driveway, who you first watch on television, and these days by who you play as on your PlayStation.
1: A large part of Posnanski's charm is that he pays as much attention to the losers as he does to the winners. I'm sure that's how he's wired anyway, but how perfect is it that he grew up in Cleveland?
I grew up in Cincinnati, so pro basketball never weighed heavily on my mind. My family was neutral in the UC/Xavier turf war that consumed the city's hoops consciousness, so I really only followed college hoops during March. I played in rec leagues and spent my fair share of time shooting at the rim behind our house, but there was never any player that burrowed into my consciousness. In baseball I was trying to be Barry Larkin, with a pinch of Chris Sabo because he wore glasses just like I did. I was never a big football fan, both because the violence of it didn't turn my crank and because the Bengals were so dreadful for most of my childhood that it was easier just to look away, and so I never played as a kid. What filled my mental void in basketball, it seems clear in retrospect, was the Harlem Globetrotters video game we had for our IBM 386.

This wasn't a good game. I poked around on the internet, trying to turn up a clip of gameplay or at least a screenshot, but the best I could find was this writeup from Golden Age of Games:
A very disappointing, sub-par basketball game based on the show basketball team Harlem Globetrotters. Well, even for 1990, I would say that this is a very poor simulation of the sport. Ugly graphics, hardly any sound, simple and boring gameplay. Just compare it with other basketball games of that time like TV Sports Basketball from Cinemaware. But what would you expect from Softie? Even EA’s 1986 One on One is more fun to play than this one. Blocky graphics, bad controls, and downright stupid gameplay with no ball physics whatsoever. Stay far from this Real Dog if you can, unless you somehow must play every single basketball game ever made.
Yikes. I haven't played this game since 1990 or so, but that seems about right. Players were pixelated and undifferentiated. Getting them to do what you wanted was at best a crapshoot, especially if you were seven like I was. It was in no way, shape or form well-made. It was terrible. But its trick shots stuck with me. For a seven year-old who didn't really watch the sport on tv, basketball was a sport of jammed fingers and clumped action. But on the computer, you could shoot three pointers, ride on your teammate's shoulders en route to an easy dunk2 or shoot that sassiest of shots, the bounce shot.
2: If this were legal, Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson would be kind of unstoppable, wouldn't they? At least with Yao Ming out indefinitely, I can't think of another big man who would be that good at playing NBA chickenfight. Of course, if this were legal, it would lead to the occasional truly horrific hard foul...

As I got older, longer-distance shooting became a reasonable option. Riding your teammate, sadly, is not and will never be legal. But the bounce shot is a thoroughly possible thing, limited only by its total uselessness. In a game, a bounce shot would be even more blockable than a granny shot. There's no way you could possibly get one off through even a mediocre defense. But that shot burrowed its way into my brain. I'll still try it if I play you in H.O.R.S.E. To me, it's the basketball version of a bird of paradise: it's too fragile and delicate to live in our world, but it makes me happy just to know that it's out there, somewhere.

You can probably guess where this is headed. Just one bounce highlight will send my heart aflutter, but there have been two different moments in the past month! To be a bounce basket enthusiast is to live the life of the camel, with long dry spells sandwiching blinding moments of joy, so this is truly an embarassment of riches.


Al-Farouq Aminu didn't plan to bounce shoot the ball, but when a bruiser like Kyle Lowry knocks you around, you have to roll with it. The basket didn't count in the game, but it did in my heart.


Obviously, an alley-oop is not a long-distance shot. John Wall only had to get it in the rim's zip code and the dunk monster they call Blake Griffin would take care of the rest. But who cares? He used a long-distance bounce to get his points, go-between be damned. It's as close to reasonable as the shot will ever get, and that's more than enough for me.

The bounce shot is stupid and useless. No player at any level could try it without getting yelled at by his or her coach, and rightfully so. But that's why I love it. It's foolish, it's strategically bankrupt, and I will love it forever for exactly those reasons. Sensible choices lean on logic, unreasonable ones love.

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