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The radius of love
Adam Silver's regrets, labyrinthitis, what better sports media means, and friendship.
I’ve been having bouts of dizziness lately, holdover symptoms of a cold I just got over. Well, the dizziness came before the cold, so the dizziness is the through-line. The thing that alerted me the cold was on the way and now, the thing stubbornly sticking around.
I’ve had labyrinthitis before (maybe I have it again), where the inner ear canal gets inflamed and so can the nerves in it, bringing on sensations of vertigo. That time, I’d get bouts of dizziness in the middle of the things I did every day. Riding my bike, sitting at my desk at work, talking to Greg in his room while he drew in the evenings. This time, the dizziness has come mainly when I’m already lying down. Reading in bed, rolling over, reaching for my phone on the night stand. A safer state of spinning out, but a stranger one. Like I’m discovering a new plane between awake and asleep, a disorienting cross section. For the few seconds my vision swims, it feels like I’ve suddenly dipped below whatever thoughts I was just having, whatever lines in the book I was reading or thing I was looking at on my phone. As they float above I tread underneath, thinking of nothing. Examining suspended thoughts like they were objects. Then, the room rights itself, my vision slips back to focus. Thoughts pick up where they left off.
If basketball is what’s most important, that that’s at the centre of these concentric circles of what we value
This is a stray part of something Adam Silver said on JJ Redick’s recent podcast. I listened to the episode first through featured selections the producers clipped, hoping for some sensational clicks (‘A Brutally Honest Conversation About Load Management’, ‘Adam Silver Opens Up About Banning Donald Sterling For Life’, ‘Adam Silver On How Sports Media Can Do Better’), and then all the way through in case I was missing anything. I listened to the episode because I was mostly interested in what Silver had to say about what sports media can do better, first as an entity that ebbs and flows to the NBA like the tide, a whole that Redick, just then, was operating outside of in order to talk about — which isn’t a critique on him, since everyone does this. Whether in sports media or elsewhere, we slip in and out of states that make us majority or individual, sometimes in the same breath of a sentence.
The second way I was interested in what Silver had to say about media would be to mark what media was to him. What constituted the thing he wanted to perform better. Did he mean the people who talk on the broadcast, before, during and after games? Did he mean peripheral media, writers, podcasters, radio, TV? I’m interested in this because I’m fascinated by the blanket of “media” as the term gets batted around social media, largely with disdain, and not just for sports media but the role, or job, or entity as a whole. Media as other, as more than just the amorphous bearer of news, as something like a sect.
Silver didn’t have an answer to either, at least for me.
The gist was that he’d like commentary around games to be more like football (the NFL came up a lot in the interview, which made me think back to Silver insisting he did not want to compete with that league a couple weeks ago). That in the NFL, coaches are lauded for their tactical adjustments and in the NBA, as the commentary could make you believe, a good coach is the person who is firing up their respective team that much more.
There are lots of takeaways. One is that some NBA head coaches, like I imagine is true of some NFL coaches, don’t actually do all that much coaching. In the sense that they leave a lot of the specific tactical panning to their assistant coaches, with their specializations in offence, defence, etc., who have been informed about upcoming opponents by the team’s scouting staff. The head coach takes a birds-eye view and during games are, theoretically, making adjustments depending on what’s working and what isn’t. There are probably some specific coaches who even that is a generous sequence for.
Another takeaway is that I don’t think people are as dumb as this episode might make you believe, nor is it fair to assume everyone watching basketball wants to be made to feel “smarter”. Making basketball commentary more tactically descriptive doesn’t make it more intelligent, it just assumes that everyone is interested in interpreting the game in one specific way. Framed another way, and this is more of the same gatekeeping sports and the conversations around it (who gets to have them, what makes an expert and who gets to be one) have always had. I think it’s cool that so much of what I see online of people’s fandom has come to embrace understanding, to the point of intellectualizing, rote mechanics of the body. Deconstructing plays down to their angles and timed executions. It’s way more prevalent than was given due credit in the conversation between Silver and Redick — and maybe that’s just the slice of what I’m seeing — but it’s also, still, just one way. There’s also the point that gets missed in all of this about the way we talk about bodies in abstract in sports, disconnected even from the person they’re attached to, and how much tactical analysis tends toward reinforcing that, but I digress.
To go all the way back to the fragmentary quote of Silver putting basketball at the centre of “these concentric circles of what we value”, because it was the most interesting part of the interview to me, what’s underneath his comments about wanting game commentary to be more technical, is saying quietly the thing we already knew: this man misses basketball. In the last six months, Silver’s had primarily non-basketball concerns pulling him away, jolting him off orbit of these concentric circles of value. Ja Morant, Miles Bridges, Kevin Porter Jr. James Harden, Damian Lillard, miffed executives. He said, referentially or the exact words “back to basketball” so many times that I felt a pang of sadness for the guy. I don’t mean that smugly, I really did.
The most illuminating thing to Silver — the Silver slipping his role, existing for glimpsing seconds between Silver as commissioner, Silver as executive, Silver as basketball fan — came when he talked about mistakes and regret. He said he marvelled at people who could straight-faced say they didn’t have any regrets, that he himself had so many. It was manifold, that mistakes and regrets were inevitable and it came down to what you did with them. The example given in the interview was the team selection for the All-Star Game going back to East vs. West, but for a second the soft core of what was being said was there, vulnerable, bright, dizzying.
What I’d want to ask would be where the more substantial regrets are. Not that it’s boring or whatever to watch adult men pick each other to respective teams in a process that takes way too long, but what he’s got wrong in the league’s most callous examples of stubbornly insisting basketball, as its centre, is all that’s ever mattered. But of course the reason there wouldn’t, couldn’t, be an answer, is because to admit those mistakes would be admitting that they weren’t aberrations at all. They were essential to basketball, to what we value.
What is it doing to our brains when the pattern of a social stream on any given day in the last four weeks goes: James Harden, the video of a lifeless body covered in concrete dust being lowered by ropes straining in the hands of people up several stories in a building with its front blown off to people perched and reaching from a pile of rubble below ready to receive it, a story on why the Bucks are bad, a report that Anthony Davis has been updated to probable, a report of another Gazan hospital being bombed in broad daylight, videos of children covered in concrete dust so traumatized by relentless bombing they can’t stop shaking, an NBA injury report for that night’s game, photos of children covered in concrete dust lined up and still in a neat row on a hospital floor.
I can feel my brain skipping like a stone over things meant to sink it. Things that it feels vital and necessary to staying an intact, compassionate person to be sunk by. Skimming over things that should stop me cold, over photos and stories that, in their capacity to rend the human brain and heart to the same sort of rubble they’re set against, are instead turning as ubiquitous as the rubble.
The National Gallery in Ottawa got a new director this summer, Jean-Francois Bélisle. Though I did used to work in the arts, I just learned about this when a friend shared a story about Bélisle saying he didn’t care about decolonization. Beyond what a boneheaded thing to say, made all the more ignorant given the timing and current global political climate, I got stuck on something else.
In a longer answer about decolonization, Bélisle said, “I’m not even sure I’m interested in thinking about it.”
I read that and thought, wow. What must that be like? Not the process of refusing to mentally engage with an institution’s colonial history, but the process of deciding to not think. What a power move, I replied to my friend, if taken out of the original shitty context.
I’m not even sure I’m interested in thinking about it.
I rolled the words over in my head, thinking about them. Wondering, do I even know how to do that? How much time would this save me? Do I have the capacity to start down the cognitive road toward something and then, suddenly, stop? But then, what he’s saying is he’s not even interested in thinking, so the thought, sparked by interest, hasn’t started yet.
Of course, it’s a contradiction. Impossible. In this example and any you might try. Cognitive clean slates come through trauma and deterioration, not by flicking a blasé hand in your brain. But still, what a sequence.
I’m not even sure I’m interested in thinking about it.
On our way to the Keith Haring show Greg and I both admit to the sensation of feeling out of body about the other’s life. I had felt it intensely, earlier, as he left me in his office to take a call. It had come on as he toured me around the giant and very old Legislative building that I had never toured as a kid on a class trip, never set foot in before. Peering down four floors through the marble atrium, following behind him like a shy stranger to the other atrium, our every step creaking on the wood under foot. This was the wing that didn’t burn down, he tells me.
While he’s on the phone, I water a dying plant on his desk. Water floods out the bottom and picking up the pot, I slice the top of my finger open on a chip in the clay. I suck on my finger to stop the blood and mop up the water, trying to place him here for the last five years of his life. He’s him, of course, and the same person I’ve seen outside of here, but pacing around the corridors of the adjoining halls, hearing his voice and steps echo, watching him come back and glance at me and make an apologetic face, I’m struck by how far the lives of the people closest to us can get without our ever meaning it to happen.
Cutting down McCaul, slipping in front and behind the other to pass people coming up the narrow sidewalk the other way, Greg says for him it’s been in picturing me, talking to professional athletes, how routine.
Could you have pictured this? He asks, meaning for the both of us. Not the how, not like it was abrupt for us both, but the time. Like me, he’s folded it to connect the past to now.
In the gallery, trailing Greg around, time snaps back like an elastic. Watching him get close to the canvases to study the materials Haring used and remembering times I spent in Greg’s old studio in the Market, watching him tidy after he finished painting, curling my toes in my shoes on the cold concrete floor and waiting to go home together or go drink somewhere. He talks about reading Haring’s journals, how it made him feel like he knew him. What I know he means: that he could have known him, how regular, how like anyone we know. He laughs quietly, politely, at typos in the labels the gallery has up beside multiple pieces, waits for me to come over and points them out with a tilt of his head and a little smirk. I think how much of our friendship has been building and protecting an interior life of interlocking jokes that go back, now, decades, how we laugh as hard at a word, a sound, a gesture that conjures them back as we did the first time we invented them. Crammed in at a tiny table over dumplings in Chinatown after, he begins to drowse as we go over the show. Living with Greg, or whenever he came to any of my apartments after we did, would be to find him napping in his clothes, regal as a mummy.
Knowing people is to constantly be shifting one composite of them in for another. Your brain refreshing your relationship to them with every hang, each conversation, any stray memory called up. The centre refining or blurring based on the present, but the centre, defined. Another way: two people with a shared centre but at any given point one is closer to it, has a better understanding of it, than the other. Another way: the radius of love.
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