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.

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