Monday, April 9, 2012

An Introduction to FreeDarko Week. (No Forward Written by Gilbert Arenas)

As we all suspected, there is no true answer to the oft-asked question: "What the fuck is FreeDarko?" When the blog barred its doors a year ago, the last post was a collection of ruminations on what FreeDarko meant to its huge cast of contributors. Fittingly, they make much more sense as a whole. This introduction to FreeDarko is what we would have written in that blog's conclusion, and serves as our starting point this week.

When FreeDarko started in 2005, it presented itself as a strange specimen in an Internet dominated by the hegemony of Marc Stein and his usurping Daily Dime. It entered my consciousness in 2007, as the Warriors made their bittersweet run to the second round of the playoffs. No one expressed the joy and exuberance of that run like FreeDarko did. Their prose was especially meaningful as I grappled with bandwagon fans in a far off outpost (I was attending undergrad in Minnesota, far away from my beloved Bay). Liberated Fandom and FreeDarko's unabashed love of Baron enthralled me; their discovery of Nellie's almost postmodern positional revolution and their glee when describing Captain Jack's inappropriate relationship to pressure, and everything that pressure entailed. At that point, I knew that FreeDarko—whatever it was—was for me.

FreeDarko could be obtuse. I watch a lot of basketball, have a college degree, and love FreeDarko, but sometimes a line, paragraph, or entire post made me question my intelligence. But as always, FreeDarko made the most sense from a macro perspective. It was about redefining how we love basketball, and how basketball can be used to view other aspects of our life. And on that journey, it was okay if sometimes you got lost along the way. FreeDarko never tried to appeal to the lowest common denominator, nor did it join the cult of the new. All of the great FreeDarko pieces remain so today (though their love for Anthony Randolph's potential is hilariously dated). The target audience was always hoop diehards, but it also spoke to jazz enthusiasts, history buffs, experts of Greek antiquity, and Jewish males. FreeDarko made no apologies if that meant that 95% of the basketball watching audience was never going to get it. Instead, their unapologetic analysis—brash comparisons between NBA role players and the Greek pantheon, or dense ethnographies of Filipino basketball—drove you to join that elite 5% that could understand and agree that Gerald Wallace, as a supra-human, was the closest thing the NBA had to Achilles. Or, that Gilbert Arenas' cultural importance rested in his ability "to subvert, invert, or ignore the standard definition of 'serious.'" To engage with FreeDarko, you had to operate at a certain level, and I happily shirked all other matters of purported importance to become a disciple.

On the one hand, FreeDarko was mysterious and foreboding, yet on the other refreshing and liberating. I could vaguely tell that the blog was a collaborative project, but the contributors' aliases provided no additional clues about their true identities. Yet, these shadowy figures, obviously versed in the arts, literature, science, and the Torah, were warping my fanhood into something I never thought was possible. When I thought of something that could adequately represent "tragedy," I no longer thought of natural catastrophes, illegal wars, or abject poverty. Instead, I thought of Tracy McGrady's unsteady career that symbolized little besides sadness and psychological weaknesses—the things present in all of us. Suddenly, basketball was helping the world make sense. FreeDarko had lit the way. These guys made sense—beatniks that had somehow obfuscated the truth of the point of nirvana. I converted and left Marc Stein, Peter Vescey, and those other squares behind.

There are concepts (the Positional Revolution and Liberated Fandom) that are quintessentially FreeDarko, but FreeDarko's most compelling rallying cry was in its assertion that the most important relationship in basketball was between the player and the fan. In FreeDarko Presents: The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History, Pasha Malla eviscerates the NBA's "Where Will Amazing Happen This Year?" ad campaign:
"We bring to professional basketball, and project upon its athletes, our own hopes, desires, fears, anxieties, and (sure, failed) dreams. For the league to try and tell us which moments are definitive and epochal seems not only counterintuitive but ignorant of the two-part engine, far beyond the NBA executive, that drives the game in the first place: players and fans."
The collective personality of FreeDarko was immeasurably cerebral, frothing at the mouth only to defend fandom. I was reminded a couple of weeks ago, in the aftermath of the Outcry at Oracle, as the national media tripped over their high horses in a rush to lecture Warriors fans about proper decorum, of how much I missed FreeDarko. Had the Outcry occurred a year ago, I know I would have sat on hitting refresh, awaiting some sweet signal of confirmation. FreeDarko's gone, however, I can derive solace in the words of Pasha Malla:
"YouTube renders meaningless the whole 'this broadcast may not be retransmitted' legalese, a fitting demonstration of the limits of the league's jurisdiction over personalized experience, as well as how backward it is for a corporation to claim our game as their property."

FreeDarko served, and continues to serve, as the main inspiration for The Diss. It is our spiritual forefather of sorts. We are not trying to emulate FreeDarko; this is a fruitless endeavor for many reasons, nor lay any claim to lineage or succession. But, like FreeDarko, we are seeking to use basketball as a lens; as a way to better understand the world around us. As Eric Nusbum said in FreeDarko's farewell post: "[FreeDarko] isn't about the facts you learn or the texts you read, it's about learning how to think." Indeed, FreeDarko taught us how to think. Without FreeDarko, these thoughts, everything that is The Diss, wouldn't have been planted in our heads. The Diss would not be here.

And thus, we kick off "FreeDarko Week" here at The Diss. Original, we know. The lineup looks something like this:

  • Monday: An Introduction to FreeDarko Week
  • Tuesday: FreeDarko Presents: The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History Book Review
  • Wednesday: A Microphenomenal Look at a Macrophenomenal Monolith: A Long-form Article Review of FreeDarko
  • Thursday: A Look Back at the Positionality Revolution
  • Friday: An Interview (well, email exchange) with Bethlehem Shoals, Founder of FreeDarko

Besides the great writing, the next best thing about FreeDarko was the comments section. It was as if the writing was just a starting point for the hive mind to consider and construct new ideas and arguments. This is something The Diss hopes to emulate someday. We would love to hear your thoughts on what FreeDarko's ending meant for you. Or, if you are just seeing FreeDarko for the first time, what do you think?

Indeed, Darko may now be free. But he is hardly forgotten.

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