The gift and curse of writing and thinking about sports are that they have absolutely no fixed meaning and can become a metaphor for pretty much anything you want them to. Players, organizations, fan bases, whatever, can be pretty much whatever you want them to be: characters in a moral player where winning is the apex of accomplishment, a case study for scientific inquiry, abstract expressions you can sift and reform into psychedelic constructions, anything. It makes them endlessly easy to consider and write about, but it keeps unvarnished, objective truth at an arm’s distance at all times.
Consider, for instance, the Jimmy Butler mess in Minnesota.
Considering the relative lack of objective knowledge we have about the inner workings of the Bulls, what you think Butler wants says significantly more about what you see in things than anything resembling the truth of anyone involved. If you’re prone to think about bodies, the problem is the workload Thibodeau is putting on his players. If you think about basketball as a job, you see the young Wolves and you assume the worst about their work ethic in the shadow of Butler’s more obsessive approach. If you’re into gossip, it’s the delicious but, ultimately, totally wild stories about Butler sleeping around with a teammate’s significant other.
I say this because, upon watching Luka Doncic looking like the most skilled 6-foot-8 player since, well, LeBron James, against, given, a Chinese league team, all I could think was: what are the teams that didn’t draft this dude seeing? What is important to them that when they see a dude who is already an accomplished professional at the age of 19, an MVP in the second-best basketball league in the world, an excellent player in international competition, they shrug their shoulders and bet on a raw college big man or a handful of dudes who were playing for a lottery team last year instead?
Doncic might not be in ideal shape, I suppose. Did they not think their organization couldn’t deal with that they couldn’t put him on an exercise regime? Or did they see his baby fat and presume sin underneath, that he was an incurable treat boy who could never be the face of a franchise as long as he was constantly knees deep in pies?
Was it the Europe thing? Are there REALLY scouts out there who are sticking to that particular strain of paranoia, even after Dirk went to two finals and changed the shape of the game forever?
I was listening to Givony or someone, I honestly don’t remember one hundred percent who, on Zach Lowe’s podcast the other day, an episode that was posted right before the draft. Givonoy-or-whoever basically said that every good organization thought Luka should go first or second (Ayton’s pure physical presence is kind of hard to deny, even if Doncic has the perfect skill portfolio of a modern player) and every bad team was low on him.
To what degree, I wonder, are organizations, in sports or wherever, succeeding or failing based purely on the stories they are telling themselves? Teams see weird stuff in players and act on it and shoot themselves in the foot.
How do you go about rewriting these stories? How can basketball teams and everyone else let go of whatever weird biases push them towards picking Marvin Bagley, Jr., both literally and metaphorically? When will we stretch out and snatch the Doncic that could take us to the next level?