Style vs. Fundamentals

ESPN.com's Eric Neel opines on style vs. fundamentals:

I come not to bury fundamentals, but to praise style, if you know what I mean. My text is our collective devotion to the pure value of "good fundamental basketball" and our sometimes knee-jerk damnation of anything that has that little bit extra. There's something a little too buttoned-down about our fascination with fundamentals, I think. They can appeal in the same way robotics do: perfect execution. But they can repulse in the same way robotics do, too: cold, heartless performance.

If you're a head coach hoping to control everything that goes down on the court, maybe the fundamentals, from basic skills to well-run sets, are all that you preach, pray for, and cling to. But for anyone else, for fans and players, style is a big part of what connects us to the game.

Think about the guys you carry around in your head and your heart. Doc, Bird, Magic, MJ, Dominique … they all had a little mustard on the hot dog. It was their flavor that captivated.

Sure, style can be showy, even cocky; but before any of that, it's fun. The bits of creativity and flash players add to what they do are about play, about the game being a game. There's an infectious sort of joy about them. When players enjoy themselves, we enjoy them. And when that sense of fun loosens them up enough to try something spectacular, we're right there with them, exhilarated, amped, hungry for more.

And stylish play isn't as reckless and non-traditional as some folks make it out to be, either. There's a sense of history in it. Think of the way Josh Smith donned the Dominique jersey at the All-Star Slam Dunk contest. Improvisors are in the tradition; they tend to acknowledge and riff off each other. They build on what's come before. J-Kidd is a descendant of Magic, who was a descendant of Clyde, who'd followed on the heels of Cousy.

. . .

The flourishes and funky elements distinguish guys, lend them expression. You hear a lot of "No 'I' in team" talk about the value of anonymity and self-sacrifice. That's all true and all good. But hoops, more than any other sport, is the place where that idea doesn't have to come at the expense of individuality. Hoops, more than any other sport, is where a player can be both an integrated part of the collective and a unique presence, recognizable for his signature approach, for his style.

That's what I love about basketball. I love the collaboration, grounded in the fundamentals. But even more, I love the spectacular achievement of the player, the artist, grounded in some inherent will to create and some crazy courage to do it right out there in front of God and everybody.

Notes on Videogame Simulacra

Brenda Laurel, at the recent Game Developers' Conference:

I want to talk about the spectacle. The meanings created by images that hold us in webs. My thesis is that we are contributing to the damage that the spectacle does to human beings by suggesting the interactivity of a joystick is real agency. We entrain people to understand that imitation has personal power. The spectacle trains us to be consumers. We are urged to keep the economy healthy, pay our bills. Did you ever notice there's not place for the earth on the bottom line? We cancelled the Voyager mission for less than the cost of a video game! The dream of space appropriated by George W Bush? How can we stand for this?

. . .

GTA [Grand Theft Auto]. I talked to 22 little boys in LA, all of them wanted to see that game. With only one exception, the thing that they wanted to see was to be able to drive by their house. They weren't interested in stealing cars. Or the criminals. Or the back-story. They weren't interested in that, they wanted the simulation of driving by the house.

(from Wonderland, via Scott Rosenberg)

Re: Play

We have seen that instant replay has become an integral part of professional sport, not only of the game's representation, but of the actual game itself, which has led to a non-linear experience of time during the contest. Now, Rogers Wireless is using this idea in a new commercial to hawk videocamera-enabled cell phones.

A bunch of guys are temporarily at a pause during a game of road hockey, when all of sudden the impartial third-party observer dramatically comes out after consultation with his buddies, holds out his Rogers phone, and invokes what is now becoming an old chestnut in sports: "Upon further review, the goal has been … DISALLOWED!" As the commercial closes, cheers and groans are heard in the background while we see the indisputable evidence on the screen — the goalie kept the ball out.

So what is the problem with this spot (besides the fact that it's further proof the only way advertisers can sell a product to men in Canada is through hockey)? The problem is that it normalizes the use of instant replay technologies during our non-structured play. Instead of the beauty of creative and unscripted shinny with its messy rules and rule interpretations, we are taught that participation in the surveillance society is the only legitimate path to truth. And that Rogers can bring this complicity to your local neighbourhood.

A Spectator's Rule of Thumb

I have noted earlier that simply by attending a professional sporting event, a spectator waives all legal rights to the reproduction of their image or voice — without receiving any financial compensation or even having to give authorization.

While it is true that many want to be on the Jumbotron, or make the 11pm highlight reel on SportsCentre/er, this obscures the fact that it normalizes a society, via the ludic, where cameras are surveilling us from everywhere. Is there room for resistance to the gaze?

One possible solution is not to go to the game. This is not true resistance, however, but non-engagement — I still want to see the game. So when the Jumbotron camera points my way, I make the socially unacceptable choice to stick a digit or two up my nose. A rule of thumb? I would say rule of finger …

Amateurism and the Manufacture of Identities

As ESPN.com's Darren Rovell reports, the NCAA is planning to clarify rules regarding the marketing and merchandising of its student-athletes. Legislation is being proposed that would prohibit an institution, conference or the NCAA from using the name or likeness of an individual student-athlete on retail products such as jerseys and video games.

Schools currently sell jerseys of specific athletes by featuring their numbers only, as the NCAA has maintained that the numbers are technically interchangeable and are property of the school. In video games, athletes appear at their appropriate positions in college football and basketball games but are known only by number and don't include names or the look of the athletes.

"We draw the line at facial features or names on jerseys," NCAA president Myles Brand said recently.

. . .

Video game makers, which have previously agreed not to use names, have a greater issue than the jersey manufacturers since the piece of legislation will prohibit them from using names and facial features of players in the future. Because they can't do so, their games are less realistic than games in other professional sports. In recent years, producers of games have done all they can to get closer by including mascots and cheerleaders and even signing deals with college coaches.

"We talk to these athletes and they are all playing our game," said Chip Lange, vice president of marketing for EA Sports. "They want to be featured in the game. That's part of the fun factor of being a successful athlete. But the NCAA is looking at it from a standpoint of protecting the image or status of their athletes and that's something that they hold as one of their pillars."

. . .

"My biggest concern is strictly from a technology perspective," Battle said. "The best features in today's games center around facial features and if the collegiate market doesn't match their pro counterparts in this area, the disparity in the quality of the games will continue to increase."

Modern Sport vs. Parkour: A Preliminary Comparison

MODERN SPORT PARKOUR
Unit of Group Identity team crew/clan
Group Size fixed by sport variable
Attire uniform/functional variable, based on style code
Gender male-dominated male-dominated
Space enclosed, surveillance permeable, sousveillance