Monday, December 15, 2008

HHR's Macrophenomenal Q&A with FreeDarko's Bethlehem Shoals

Packaged in what looks to be a cross between an elementary school textbook and an art deco studio, FreeDarko's Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac is as creative as it is informative.

Not to be confused with a Dennis Miller MNF commentary, while peppered with high-brow philosophical references, the text is smooth, relevant and understandable, describing players in plain language and looking at their duality as ballers and entertainers in relation to the state, intracacies and antics that come with today's National Basketball Association.

Prior to receiving a copy, I chose to ignore printed reviews and interviews with the author(s). I anticipated something "different" and wanted to expereince it tabula rasa.

Upon opening up the package and looking at the book in hand, I felt the same dreaded feeling I encountered throughout my 18 years of formal education.


Broken into chapters like the outdated history books of my yesteryear, at first I was overwhelmed.

In a good way.

Once I cracked into it, the book proved nothing short of a visual, literary and information-laden orgy.

Mixing humor with flat statistics, objectivity with subjectivity, FreeDarko's High Council, collectively the standardbearers of today's pro basketball commentary, put out one of the most creative and entertaining things Ive read in some time, one that even the most casual of hoops fans can appreciate.

In the middle of the book's obligatory author's tour, I was fortunate to exchange a quick question and answer with FreeDarko founder Bethlehem Shoals about Macro.


You are quite clear that the game, and more specifically the NBA, is about entertainment, and it's components - the stars and fan fare - are what makes it what it is. What, if anything, is the difference between showboating and entertainment?

Showboating is entertainment without any sense of its audience. Entertainment is when a player or team proves the same points, sends the same message, but does so in a way that doesn't make them come off as total dicks.

Macro makes the distinction of separating the old league from the new league. How much is the new league an extension of the old league - an evolution of what came before it? And how exclusive, if at all, are the two?

The two aren't mutually exclusive at all. This is part of a tradition that goes back decades. It's more about allowing these ideas to come to prominence. That and distancing ourselves from certain dark, dark periods of the Eastern Conference.

The book is chock full of historical and literary references. Where does this perspective come from?

That's part of who we are as people. Why wouldn't we bring it to bear on being sports fans?

How did the High Council go about conceptualizing the layout and content of the book? Combining said conceptualization and the aforementioned historical and literary references, how were the seemingly far-fetched (yet brilliantly relevant and entertaining) comparisons (ie Duncan/Fibonacci; Smith/Wallace turnover/takeaway) imagined?

We tried to come up with an aspect of the player that we wanted to highlight, and then just batted around ideas until we hit on something that made us happy. With the stats, there was the added test of whether or not the numbers worked out the way we wanted them to.

The book is heavy on both statistics as well as commentary and observation. What were the main sources for the statistical breakdowns, and how research-intensive was the work?

Silverbird5000 did all of that, using a high-powered stats lab and a bunch of play-by-play data.

Are you suprised given today's pressure, scrutiny and criticism both on and off the court, that more players (if not most) don't exibit similar mental states that VC, 'Melo and Starbury in some capacity do?

I think it's a testament to how talented those three are that they've been able to remain fairly prominent despite their issues (or in Melo's case, be allowed to grow out of it). Otherwise, they would've been weeded out much earlier.

As players like Kobe and LBJ carry the mantle as being among the game's elite individual superstars, do they need to lead their respective teams to multiple championships (Kobe without Shaq) to truly be considered in the same revolutionary pantheon as Jordan, Magic and Bird? Moreover, how much a factor is team success to player legacy?

It helps their case, certainly, but I think discerning basketball fans base their judgments on more subtle criteria than just whether someone has a ring. As for team success, it depends on whether there's a question of how much they help their team. On the other hand, you could flip that, and say that someone like Steve Nash can be judged by that standard a lot more strictly than a more individual player.

What is the top negative and positive effect that the Commissioner's tenure has had on the game?

I love David Stern, but that Sonics business stunk to high hell. I like the current state of the dress code, where players have to come up with inventive ways to skirt the line between semi-formal and casual so they aren't fined. I like that Stern's allowed it to get there, since it's more fun for the fans, and expressive for the players, than either suits all the time or sweatsuits.

Five years down the line, which subject, as defined by your categorizations in the book's respective chapters, do you see most likely to make a complete 180? Say, could a young star like Chris Paul or Derron Williams end up the next Marbury?

I think Kobe Bryant will have inhabited every category by the time his career is done.

Any mention of corrupt former Newark Mayor/NJ State Senator Sharpe James is golden in our book. What player, past or present, would you compare "The Real Deal" to? (side note: Did you see Marshal Curry's "Street Fight?"

"Street Fight" is amazing. Is Vernon Maxwell too obvious a comparison?

Any objection to HHR stealing "A Paper Trail Revelry" as an ongoing feature?

No problem, as long as you link to the book's Amazon page every single time and acknowledge where it came from.