Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Wayne Ellington, Human Sacrifice, and an Ill-Advised Manifesto

In March of 2009, I had a dream that, on a Mayan altar, Wayne Ellington sacrificed me to the gods. For the sake of historical context, let me clarify a few things:
  1. In March of 2009, Wayne Ellington was the starting shooting guard of the University of North Carolina men's basketball team.
  2. At the time, this basketball team was engaged in the NCAA basketball tournament, in pursuit of a championship which they did end up winning.
  3. By physical description and comparison to archaelogical findings, the altar was actually most likely an Aztec altar, but in my mind, I thought of it as a Mayan altar. To clarify, the altar was on top of a pyramid and done with a knife, which is more of an Aztec thing, while it seems that the Mayans preferred to throw their sacrifices down sacred sinkholes to appease the water god, Chaac.

Why am I telling you this? To emphasize two things. The first and most important is that I think about basketball a lot. Specifically, basketball played by the University of North Carolina men and women's teams as well as the kind played by the National Basketball Association has been a source of great joy for me. I love watching, talking, and thinking about basketball. It's on my mind so much that it's not that unusual for me to dream about the Tar Heels third scoring option, though the part where he sacrifices me on top of a pyramid is, admittedly, odd. In any case, if I'm thinking about basketball so much and I enjoy talking and thinking about it so much, I thought that I might also enjoy writing about it. Hopefully, you will enjoy reading about it too. Hence, this blog.

The second thing the anecdote about the dream illustrates is how I think about basketball. In short, I like to think of basketball mythologically. When I was young, when I watched basketball, I just saw ten guys running up and down the court, bouncing a ball. Even with the sophistication of understanding the game better, my enjoyment of the sport was still as dry as the boxscore or an AP recap. I didn't truly come to love the game until I started to see basketball in terms of Epic Narratives. Once you start looking at Epic Narratives, a whole new world opens up. A basketball game, taken bare, in a vacuum, is not an event of great moral significance. Carolina vs. Duke, on the other hand, does have moral significance on the planes of class, race, and philosophy. If you look at a player as simply an athlete, they are inherently not as interesting as when you look at that same player as the messianic, Chosen One. Basketball is just a silly game played by some incredible athletes, and while I appreciate that on some level, what makes it more interesting to me is the stories that we make up, the Epic Narratives we craft. In short, I like basketball because I like the mythology we devise to make it all make sense and to keep it fun.

So now, I hope to use this space to share with you some thoughts about basketball in all of its mythic glory. This isn't a new way of doing things and this kind of thinking about basketball has lots of antecedents which I will certainly be linking to as appropriate. A specific mention of FreeDarko is necessary, however: I'm quite sensitive to and agree with most FD sensibilities, be they philosophical, stylistic, or aesthetic and I'm sure that their particular approach will have a heavy impact on this blog. If FreeDarko is the modernist (post-modernist?) reaction to the realist approach of sports journalism, then hopefully this blog will help to more fully fill the niche of magical realism and surrealism. That looks really stupid seeing it in print, but hey, that's what everyone else wanted from basketball writing right?


  1. classic Mel Gibson Aztec-Mayan confusion. do your dreams also take on antisemitic tones?

    btw, thats 2 Mel Gibson references for this blog

  2. There were going to be even more when I was considering calling the blog The Passion of the Shaq.