If you are reading this, they are gone. The website FreeDarko shut down operations and one last note has been left and it might as well have been titled “Croatoan.” The last writers dispersing and assimilating into the more atavistic forms of sports journalism in the blogosphere.
I found myself reeling in the shut down, even as it has happened almost a month ago. I bought a few things from the store and I found myself already missing the homebase on the internet, even though many of the founding and/or contributing writers continue to cover the NBA. Sometimes the entries wouldn’t make sense to a traditional, literalist sports fan. This was, after all, “that weird quadrant where science and pirates mercifully coexists.” And the post from which that quote came clearly elucidates the distinction between FreeDarko and other blogs. Bethlehem Shoals, the preeminent Darkoist, argued not against Dwyane Wade being a great player, that’s inconceivable, but he argued about story and aesthetic. He believed that “[Wade’s] dominance is awe-inspiring the way mountains and whales can be, which is to say, both calm and sinister. As usual, I come not to question Dwyane Wade’s aptitude or annihilate his humanity. Yet when it comes to the game of basketball, I prefer majesty that exerts more than high-flying inertia.” Shoals said it, but the whole site embodied a sports criticism, an extensively thought out process of the beauty in basketball, or, more crudely put, whatever they liked.
If you read with the standard sports mindset, valuing winning above all else, you would likely come away baffled or angry even. I remember many times, especially when Shoals would post on sites other than FreeDarko like (the now defunct) NBAFanhouse or even in his own FreeDarko posts this year, commentors would be downright apoplectic (a word I learned from FreeDarko) with Shoals or any writer who dared to dislike Wade or, this year, Rose on such a caprice as the beauty of play and the personal resonance as a fan with that particular beauty. After all, who has a right to say they don’t like Wade (or Rose) just because they don’t like the style of his play?
But those people would have missed the point, which I can only explain by referencing William Carlos Williams’ poem “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower” when WCW says:
“It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
of what is found there.”
The site was about sharing a broader definition of enjoyment to basketball fans, but doing so in a serious and trenchant and goofball way. Even their titles of their books, The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac and The Undisputed History to Pro Basketball History, had a silly grandiloquence that made you want to laugh with them while you read their incredibly insightful essays on basketball. The collective that was spearheaded by Bethlehem Shoals but included Big Baby Belafonte and his illustrations, Ziller and his wacky Venn Diagrams, Silverbird5000’s stats and the brilliance of writers (in no particular order and there are more even) like John Krolik, Dr. Lawyer Indian Chief, Brown Recluse Esq., Shoefly, Eric Freeman, Joey LItman, and Billups. What that definition is or was, or whatever the reader wanted “FreeDarko” the adjective to mean, was hard to pin down by any of the writers (they even put their entire final post on it), but what it seemed to manifest from was something that I heard (MacAurthur Genius Grant Winning Author) Yiyun Li say. She said that there was no difference between character and people (or, obviously, NBA players), everyone just wants to be understood, and that’s what also helps deepen and strengthen story. That simple tenet allowed FreeDarko to humanize and illuminate the players in the NBA, and forge more nuanced story by evaluating Rasheed Wallace’s productivity after a technical, by championing amazingly fun if unsuccessful teams (like these Clippers) and to make Darko Milicic a logo for potential as much as Jerry West is the logo for the NBA.
And while they had nowhere near the readership of Bill Simmons (who does in sports?), their influence on the writers in the basketball blogosphere is much further reaching. Some of the best work on this blog has been heavily influenced by the writers of FreeDarko, and by no means is ClipperBlog alone. FreeDarko challenged all of us to think in a way that would make Norman Mailer proud, by frequently questioning the standards and accepted truisms of the sport and allowed us to have a fluid definition of the evaluations and the enjoyment of this game we so love. And while that realization won’t be soon forgotten, by me or any of their fans, the cyber home that they created through countless hours of diligent whimsy and the writing will be missed.
I wish them all way more than luck.