Holding out for a Hero

Published: January 20, 2012
Johnny Five

Jason is looking for a new favorite player.

Johnny Five

Where have all the good men gone?

Blee-bleep . . .

. . .

Hey Brittney . . .

Excuse me . . .

I wonder where Mrs. Janice is at . . . I hope she and Mr. Ray are doing ok . . . and not stuck on the bridge . . .

As I flop down into my seat, I begin the process of making myself at home in one of my homes away from home: I kick off my sandals off, pull my pants legs up to my knees, and prop my feet up on the seemingly permanently smudged clear plastic parapet reaching up from the dark concrete bulk of the Arena, leaning back, taking it all in. The smudges, mind you, are not imperfections so much as a reminder that the Arena is no artifact, but a tool to be used, an entity whose final cause is not to remain untouched by time and times, but to be consumed and digested.

This I relish. When I say that this is my home, it is not because it is where I receive subpoenas. I say this because I live here.

They saying goes, however, “You can never go home again.” How true. I sense das unheimliche.

So many things change each day, but we ignore them. Constancy is an illusion, a human, all too human, woobie. The world is ever-changing, and never in the same way. The question then becomes: Is this difference a difference that makes a difference? What is different in my home that makes it so unhomelike?

Players come and go, as they always have, but it’s more than that. Ticket-neighbors come and go, but it’s more than that. Sponsors, vendors, music, all different, all the same.

These are but things. These are but details.

To look at these is to look past Seurat’s little girl to Seurat’s little points. Like Cameron, jersey-clad, I look for the connection between me and the world that is about to created. For Cameron, it was something else, as he is looking back, or looking around, but for me it’s that appropriately big-bouncing universe existing for a just a few hours each week, each with its own constants and rules of physics, each hop different from the last.

With all the tumult, some spend tons of time in their search for barks of truth to stay afloat while they are carried into the future. These flotsam and jetsam take many forms: history, strategy, stats, `it’, star power, whatever. Anything to hold onto to say “This will happen tonight” in a world where one game in ten against bad teams separates a good team from a great team.

I am more content to just throw myself into the sea, waves, shoals, and sea monsters be what they will, so long as I have a friend with me. I join this friend in the battle that comprises the eternal history of the game, an Enkidu to my Gilgamesh, just as the Mesopotamian story goes, inspiring, humbling, challenging, a friend, and finally a hero, but not forever.

Enkidu had only a brief time with Gilgamesh in the grand scheme of it all, just as we all have but a relative instant to become who we are, but Gilgamesh was forever changed, and for the better.

My relationship with basketball was uneasy for a long time, but I really came to embrace the game largely due to one man: David West. My Enkidu, he wrestled me into submission and taught me that life is better with basketball than without, and since then, frankly, my life has only gotten better, even with the heartburn and heartbreaks.

‘ O my brother, so dear as you are to me, brother, yet they will take me from you.’ Again he said, ‘I must sit down on the threshold of the dead and never again will I see my dear brother with my eyes.’

The Epic of Gilgamesh

Why David West? I don’t know. My fondness of D is well-documented, but why him? And why do I need an Enkidu at all? Aren’t I enough by my lonesome?

I don’t know.

I’ve run through some theories that I’ve since discarded.

Simplicity: This was my first reaction. I followed one guy instead of 5 (or 10 if you count the bad guys . . . I don’t . . . keep ‘em).

Metonymy: To me, to a large extent, David West is basketball. He’s everything I think of when I think of a player. This could be a corollary to simplicity, but this involves distinguishing what he does from what others do, so it’s not as reliant on my stupidity.

Popularity: David West was popular, but not all that popular.

Conformity: Everyone else has a favorite player, so I should . . . yeah . . . that one finally took hold . . .

Sociology: Heroes serve many sociological and psychological functions. He’s not that kind of hero for me though. He’s not like Joseph Campbell’s “Hero with a Thousand Faces.”

Longevity: He was with the team for a long time. So were others . . .

Loyalty: He was with only the Hornets, if not the New Orleans Hornets, due to Katrina. So were others . . .

Familiarity: I know the most about him, so I root for him. Nah. That doesn’t explain why I would begin to like him.

So here’s what I came up with instead, and this has taken a while.

In January 2008, the Hornets were likely playing their best basketball of all time. There was a stretch of games where the margin of victory was like 15 pts, and that didn’t reflect the domination. Not even close. Everyone was all up on Chris. Me, however . . . I’m too impish to go with the crowd, and David West was having an All-Star season, so he was a safe pick. Now, I didn’t know he was having an All-Star season, and I really didn’t care, but I knew I liked what I saw. His game was quiet most of the time, then he’d back a guy down, turn on him, and score. Over and over. He called his shot, and they could do nothing about it.

I like that. There’s a certain archtypal “Man” quality that is just appealing to it. Respect. You must respect this man.

Then there was the face-tap.

Oh, the face-tap.

If you don’t know about the face-tap, go find out about the face-tap.

Yeah, I’m not going to lie . . . David West is one bad mamma jamma, and he looks it. Am I above image? Style? No. Not by a damned sight.

David was also like the Hornets at the time in many respects. He was underrated, surprising, and lethal.

There are other reasons, but the last I’ll bring up is that we went on that trip together. D was there when we won, when we lost, when I was talking to Mikey, when I was talking to Mike, when I was talking to Michael (yes, really; we have 3 Jasons at Saints games . . . makes it really easy on Ivan and Lenny, for sure). He was there when I brought family, friends, dates, coworkers. You get the picture.

So . . . now what?

Do I need a new favorite player? Can I replace Enkidu? Should I replace Enkidu?

Gilgamesh didn’t. After Enkidu died from an illness rather than in battle, Gilgamesh decided to seek immortality, but that didn’t work out so well, so I’ve decided that I need to evaluate the current crop, and the current 42, to see if there’s an Enkidu for me at this time. I don’t think I need a favorite player, but I think I need to be on the lookout, knowimsayin?

So what do I need right now? Where am I and where am I going?

To be frank, I’ve been writing this as if I’ve got this one perspective . . . as if I’m searching for this player, or these criteria a future player will need to meet. Rather, I’ve had my eye on a player for a while, and this post is born of me trying to figure out why-oh-why would I pick this player. Really! WHY!??!

Sorry for misleading you, but it’s a license I chose to take advantage of. Excuse me while I change gears. Clutch popping . . .

Looking at my ex post facto David West rationale, some of those reasons are just right out, leaving me with fewer criteria, thus, more freedom.

So what is the franchise doing? It’s discovering itself, to put it kindly. Actually, I think this is more true than humorous. I’ve had some discussion with folks close to the switches that make the arms move on the BigBigHugoRobot, and I really think there are fundamental changes to how this team is approaching all aspects of its existence, and it’s good.

Also, it may not be apparent to most, but my life is getting to one of those points where a few things will change very rapidly for me. One of these changes involves overcoming some odds in the face of naysayers, and there’s not much I love more than that. This likely reinforces it.

So, I need a bit of an underdog that’s going through some changes and some adversity, but with some upside. I also need a guy that has at least a hint of some hidden fire. Not the fire to win the game . . . the fire to do what he thinks is possible. The will to risk, the confidence to take chances, the courage to fail, the patience and humility to learn.

I’ve actually had my eye on this guy for a while, as he caught my eye on his prior team, and I clearly remember discussing him on a podcast nearly a year ago.

Who is it?

Al-Farouq Ajiede Aminu.

This is still a budding relationship, and, like all relationships, may not last. Another player may catch my eye, then steal my heart. But, for now, it’s Mr. Aminu with all his potential and all his faults. I don’t have the `eye’ of Mike or Ryan, but I know what I like. The guy is athletic and patient. Each time I see him play he has corrected an error from a previous game. He’s growing as a player and can get to the rim. He’ll never be a graceful handler, and he may never have that killer instinct, but he’s intriguing and will be fun to watch this season.

I’ve been laughed at for this, and I expect more to come, especially with Gustavo “El Titan” Ayon on the rise. I’ll follow my instincts here until they possibly arbitrarily lead me elsewhere.

In the meantime, I’m holding out for a hero.


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