11.24.08

MPLS’ City Pages’ Polk On the Post-Martyrdom Garnett, CSTB’s Roth (Pretentiously) On Quasi-Martyrdom

Posted in Basketball, Sports Journalism at 12:51 am by

On Friday night, the very not-good Minnesota Timberwolves played terribly at home in a loss to the Celtics; today, they played brilliantly and blew out the Pistons in Detroit. There’s nothing terribly notable or even worth reading, beyond basic factuality and baseline journalistic competence, in the recaps on the other side of those links. The first is bylined to AP sportswriter Jon Krawczynski, and begins with the, um, paragraph, “Kevin Garnett has moved on.” The second, which bears no byline at present, begins with another Krawcyznskian one-sentence paragraph: “Randy Foye got the message.”

I have absolutely no beef with Krawczynski, who (provided he’s covering the Wolves) is walking a shitty beat for a struggling but invaluable company. But reading those sorts of workaday recaps kind of brings home just how very good the Wolves game recaps by Benjamin Polk (who, in disclosure, I should mention is a good friend of mine) in the Minneapolis City Pages are. Of course, the AP is about facts, and Ben is more about earning his nominal pay five or six times over by treating each of his home-game recaps as if it’s some sort of David Foster Wallace-ian socio-literary mission from God. Or maybe that intensity is just extra-evident when he’s writing about Kevin Garnett plays his first game at the Target Center since being traded last year. At any rate:


Every athlete or artist brings aspects of herself to the stage/pitch/court, I think it’s on us to try and separate the private person from the performer. I don’t know Kevin Garnett at all (though I am, admittedly, totally willing to be charmed by his sincerity) but there did seem, in those sad last Wolves years, to be a whiff of intentional martyrdom in his stubborn loyalty. But I can tell you that, as a player, the guy just radiates authenticity. By that I mean that, as with Bird and Magic, his abilities cohere almost perfectly with his efforts; when he plays, he gives himself fully, humbly to the game.

That said, KG is an unconventional superstar. He is rarely able (or willing) to take over games with his offense. He does not possess Jordan’s perimeter scoring ability, nor Tim Duncan’s flawless low-post technique, nor Magic’s ballhandling and preternatural court vision…

Let us be clear, though: Kevin Garnett is a beautiful, extraordinary basketball player. He is one of the greatest rebounders and most versatile, disruptive defenders in the game’s history (the fact that last year was his first defensive player of the year award is both ludicrous and a testament to how difficult it is to actually measure an individual player’s defense). Even in a profession full of bewilderingly tall, athletic men, KG’s physical gifts are astounding; it’s really just ridiculous that a guy so incredibly long could be so graceful and fluid. His avian, towering baseline fadeaway jumper is still one of the more astonishing things I’ve ever seen a human do. Like Bird and Jordan, he is psychotically competitive. But unlike those two KG gives off, though his ferocious play and his embracing passion, a palpable sense of joy, a desire to reach out to his audience. He is an athletic version of that great Springsteenian maxim: the greatest performances are the ones in which the audience wishes they were on the stage and the performers wish they were in the audience. Anything is possible.

I’d obviously recommend clicking the link and reading the five or so paragraphs I didn’t just excerpt, if only for a last image that’s actually kind of moving. Or certainly, at least, as moving as any sentence involving people bellowing at each other can be. I’d also like to add one last thing. The headline might give away that it’s a bit more on the pseudo-smarty-pants tip.

At the risk of blowing up my homeboy’s spot, I know Ben’s not getting paid very much for these previews, and (thus?) could pretty much send in whatever he wanted. I have a similar situation going on with the football previews I do for Athlon — links to pretty much all of them, and assorted other NFL BS, is here — so I can relate somewhat. And of course I don’t get paid here, although GC asks so little of (both in terms of frequency of- and restraint-evident-in the posting-by) the supporting cast here that I’ve never once felt bad about that.

Anyway, my point is that making a living by writing is difficult: you can write what you want for what people are willing to pay, or write what people want to publish for something more like what you want to get paid. Either way, obviously, there are trade-offs; at some point, I imagine I’ll have to trade it in entirely and get a real job. But seeing how hard Ben is willing to work and think for his money is a nice reminder of what’s to be gained from hanging out on the margins, at least in terms of the opportunity and independence to go deep. What I tell myself, personally, is that while big readership would be awesome, certain things are true at any price point (or whatever other gross term you prefer). That is: the work is finally, fundamentally only as serious as you take it, and worth only as much as the reader gets out of it. Done right, then, it all pays for itself. This is what I tell myself while biting my lip shopping for engagement rings (or, like, going out to dinner). Sometimes it seems more clearly true than others, but I still do my best to believe it.

One Response to “MPLS’ City Pages’ Polk On the Post-Martyrdom Garnett, CSTB’s Roth (Pretentiously) On Quasi-Martyrdom”

  1. Hova says:

    Well *this* reader gets a darn lot of satisfaction out of it. So buy your rings and foods with my pleasure, gents.

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