That ‘Ol Thing Back or New Blood Pt. 1

I like rap for a lot of the same reasons that I like basketball: there’s a lot of young talent always coming down the wire; there’s a generational clash between doing things the “right way” and blowing up to cop that mansion; there’s old coastal associations about style that define how dudes rap or cross over. Right now professional basketball teems with talented players as the last of the straight-from-high-school guys like Andrew Bynum and Josh Smith look to dominate or complement on their teams. Rap has suffered from the opposite, old hat pro’s like Nas, Andre 3000 and Jay-Z refusing to relinquish power until its absolutely wrenched from their hands. There’s an advantage linked to tradition: it’s a signifier of qualities that make something remarkable. It represents the unchanging but necessary factors that epitomize a form of music or a sport. The head fake in basketball is an institution of skill, an instilled lesson never to be overlooked. The simile in a rap verse can provide the crux of still larger ideas.

But what makes tradition valid can also make it the point of deviation. Bob Pettit was crossing over the basketball in his time, but not quite like Allen Iverson does now or as exaggerated as Jamal Crawford. Run DMC and The Treacherous Three were no strangers to metaphor, but Rakim and Big Pun probably took those rudiments to make their own more complex forms. So there has to be friction between how something was created and how it grows. This NBA season has notably evidenced that friction in the Celtics tale and the dominance of “new players.” The 1996 Draft yielded some of the league’s most precious stars with Allen Iverson, Ray Allen, Marcus Camby, Grant Hill, Kobe Bryant Steve Nash, Jermaine O’Neal and Stephon Marbury all making their debut that year. It is, even existing just a decade ago, the birth of one era of basketball: post-Jordan/Shaq-Tim if you will. Between the championship circulating between three big men, there were sensational guards looking to make hay of “tradition” by bringing their teams to unimaginable heights, if not rings (see: Ray Ray, AI, Paul Pierce, Vince, Nash). They were not perennial winners like Russell or Magic but they played with the zeal of champions. Iverson stepping over Tyronn Lue in the 2001 Finals still sends shivers through me though he didn’t win another game after. Those players are now veterans with their own unrealized dreams to complete. Danny Ainge did a few of them a favor by lumping together to make a super-squad of the Celtics. “Go define your era,” he offers.

But just as these players come into their own in different roles (KG and Ray with the Celtics; Allen Iverson with the Nuggets; Steve Nash with the Suns) the new era players of the 2003 draft (Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Josh Howard) have strolled into the playoffs, and at times, the Finals with panache and a seeming defiance of all that’s come before. It’s not as if those guys are actively thinking “fuck the ’96 class,” hallowed as it is, but they won’t wait for KG to live out his fairy tale before they start addressing their story arcs. Howard, James and Wade have all been to the finals, a stage that has eluded Garnett, Nash, Allen, Pierce, Hill and the rest. When the Celtics played the Pistons on Wednesday night, it was as if the tradition-seekers breathed a sigh of relief that franchise histories were being restored in one (meaningless) regular season contest. The specters of Bird, Parish and McHale were present and smirking. The scheduling cleverness continued the next night as Jordan II played Jordan III in Lakers-Cavaliers. Could the new new school trump the new school?

New Era players work in video game time, five-minute bursts of scoring and three-point shots rather than deliberate game planning. In effect, hip-hop must take this same approach to enter its next age. Part II explains…


1 Response to “That ‘Ol Thing Back or New Blood Pt. 1”

  1. 1 Pia December 22, 2007 at 4:40 am

    1996 was the best year of my life, so I remember many things that happened that year. That year, Slam magazine came out with the Hottest Rookies of the Year issue (I still have it, if you want proof), with all the hottest young talent in the league, like Kobe, Ray Allen, Marbury, Iverson, etc. Jason Kidd and Grant Hill were co-Rookies of the Year in 1995. I believe that Kobe, and his generation are in a leaguge of their own. As hard of a Jason Kidd-dick rider that I am, I must say that he is the last to truly embody true and pure bball selflessness. He is undeniably the Assist Man of our time, just like Stockton and Bird. We now live in a world where performance-enhancing drugs are commonplace, so these new “superheroes,” i.e. Duane Wade, and whoever, don’t really mean as much. What would you do if you found out Jordan was hopped up on steriods throughout most of his stellar career?

    Honestly, I don’t know what point I’m trying to make, but I feel you (on some level).

    But yo, check out for more interesting thoughts on life. We are kindred spirits.

    Let’s expand our vocab together. SAT prep all the way!

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