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On the NBA: Mythos vs. Measurement

Derrick Rose jumped back into the happiest part of our imagination last night, reeling off a vintage performance against LeBron and the new-look Cavs. All of the non-play and paltry statistics of his last two years faded away for an evening; he’s back, we thought, and that’s all that matters. No collection of basketball metrics can account for what this blur of a man does to our hearts when he’s at his best. Whether or not he can bring such fire to the court regularly, and make the Bulls a real rival of the daunting Cleveland battleship, is almost moot. It’d be nice to see something resembling competition in the Eastern Conference Finals, of course—but either way, we’ll always have the Paris of Rose helping us believe for a year, a night, a week, an instant, that the league could be a different place. Perception is miles away from reality, which is frequently just what we go to sports to escape.

The same flowery perspective (the favorite scope of most fans) can be taken on today’s favorite NBA legend whipping boy, Kobe Bryant. On the eve of Bryant setting the record for most missed shots in professional history—and having perhaps the least efficient offensive season of all time—there’s still something alluring about his hubris, even if it’s the front train leading a once-proud franchise into the chasms of mediocrity. Bryant passed out of the realm of Earth a long time ago. Criticisms of his game are easy to make—he’s selfish, he destroys offensive playbooks, and he hasn’t defended well in years. But Bryant’s top job, these days, is as a character, not a baller. For all the detractors, there are still plenty more lovers of what this man’s singular moxie brings to the world. Something about his cocksure way is indelibly appealing.

And who’s to say what’s more important: cultural impression, or positive, consistent court impact? Noxious as the over-coverage of non-players like Rose and Bryant (who played a combined 16 games last year) and football counterparts Tim Tebow and Johnny Manziel is, it’s *what the people want*. A malaise-struck audience, tired of the circadian assimilation of everyday life, turns to these icons to see a break in the constant expectation of company productivity. One man’s myth, even if it takes down everything around it, is still the favorite storyline of much of the world. And as long as we look toward more analytical, more calculating and reasonable ways of measuring these men, we’re embarking on something of a rebellion against the thrust of the zeitgeist.

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