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N(ot) B(ad) A(dvice): Finding Joy In This Season And Escaping The Cycle Of NBA Discourse

I gotta say, the quality of questions that came in for this edition of N(ot) B(ad) A(dvice) are extremely interested in turning the mirror around on the game and how we participate in it. Very our shot clocks, ourselves. And in a season that’s been oscillating between jarring and oblivious, it’s not a bad thing to be doing. Questions about where to look for joy in basketball if you aren’t finding it in the current season and how to escape the never-ending, M.C. Escher-eque experience of online NBA discourse. There’s also a little breather about the ESPN scorebug in there as a buffer for your brain, enjoy!

If you have NBA questions you want answered in the future, email them to annlandryfields@gmail.com.

Hey Katie,

I’ve loved the NBA for the entirety of my adult life. It’s brought me more collective happiness than almost anything else over the last several years, but right now I just cannot be bothered to watch games. Whenever I turn on one, I almost always end up reading or doing something else so that the game is transformed into background noise. I’m still keeping up with the season enough to be conversant and to hide my general disinterest but I’m tired of feeling this way. I’m sure a big part of this is due to my belief that games shouldn’t be happening right now, but it also feels like I’ve lost the ability to find the same joy I used to. What would you recommend?

– Ambivalent in Akron

As someone who is right there, listlessly drifting beside you, I get it. Can I say I feel a certain amount of relief when I hear another person is feeling the same things as I am this season? Because I do. And that’s probably where I’ll start as far as recommendations.

Commiseration can be soothing. How many times this year have you wanted to complain about something this past year but felt like it was too small or selfish or obvious? Like the fact that you wear the same thing every day, or it’s time for bed when you remember waking up, like, two hours ago? But every time I complain about these exact things to friends or family there’s always a little jolt of “YES!” because for a minute we’re out of our own loop. Even if all our loops are the same, and we know all our loops are the same, it feels like a break.

So, find some comfort in complaining about the season. Feel relief when you realize other people are feeling what you are. It’s so weird we all continue to talk about our little stats and have debates around All-Star snubs when attempting to keep up with the season, it’s like we’re keeping a little dream of the past alive in our hearts for the sake of what, continuity? Habit? The past is dead, ambivalent, and in a lot of ways, so is basketball Before This.

Like everything we were doing a little over a year ago, we’re never getting back there. The hope is that we move forward to a better place, but at some point we have to realize that a year spent in stasis was a year gone by, it just didn’t have any of its normal markers, there’s no rhythm or finality to that time passing. This season the NBA has been like that, too. I think that’s why it’s so easy to drift, whether watching a game or in feigning interest. We know how little is at stake when there’s so much more to reckon with. A big part of me thinks the NBA should just call this season and start up next fall, because going through the motions to salvage something sure seems like taking a jackhammer to the whole facade in fast forward.

Anyway, I know I’m not giving you much tangible stuff to make you feel good about basketball again so here are some sure things: Klay Thompson’s Instagram, old Dunk Contests, any Spurs HEB commercial compilation, this YouTube search.

And if you find yourself drifting during a game, picking up your phone or a book, wandering to different rooms as if searching for a former version of yourself, maybe turn the game off. Break your own loop.

Hey Katie,

What’s the deal with the ESPN scorebug? Why does it take up so much space! I thought we were trying to get rid of the letterbox format.

Gotta be honest, I never knew it was called that. Certainly a more effective title than “big score window” or “lower half info graphic.” But you’re not alone, there are whole Reddit threads dedicated to finding the answer and helpful comparative graphics.

I’m guessing it has something to do with our attention spans eroding through the years with the advent of smart phones and the constant churn of information going into our brains, plus all the squinting at screens, and the decline of eyesight in the mean age of ESPN’s viewership? But mostly advertising.

Hi Katie,

Here’s my question:

I have mostly been enjoying watching games this season but I have become totally overwhelmed by The Discourse. Whether it’s relatively insignificant things like debates about Shaq’s role as an analyst or genuinely significant stuff like wondering why the league is holding an All-Star Game during an ongoing pandemic, I feel worn out reading and discussing this stuff. And I’m not dismissing the people who are still wholeheartedly engaged in The Discourse. But, in this particular place in my life, I can’t really manage to participate in it. Is there a way to still follow the league and enjoy watching the games without getting drawn into The Discourse? Or are these things inextricable from one another?

Sincerely,

Run Down in Rockridge

This weirdly feels like a full-circle from the first question, doesn’t it? And this is kind of a twisted chicken and egg thing. Does NBA Twitter run on the NBA or is it a self-cannibalizing chicken with a bunch of burner egg accounts? It’s hard to tell anymore.

The Discourse is tricky. It’s something that started because people love to talk about what they love and really stretch it out in ways that don’t always make sense. It’s also created some needed channels for underrepresented voices in sports media to talk, react, and connect with people. It can build some rare bridges, too, between people who never considered that there was another way to talk about basketball than how it always has been and even if things got messy, you could still come away feeling like you’d learned or contributed something.

And that was in good times. Tie into that the fact that everyone right now is pretty messed up, lonely, has a strange and new kind of fear-PTSD-grief-malaise melange feeling fallout that even modern science can’t really get a handle on yet, and The Discourse has mutated or final-formed on us. We’re all just freaked out and yelling at each other about what market has what energy, who’s a nerd (all of us, we all are) and, like, shot selection? It’s at the point where The Discourse is mainly about The Discourse, and not even about the root thing of basketball. My general rule, if I feel the little Discourse demon on my shoulder dig its claws in and urge me to get into some is to think, “Do I actually care about this and is this going to make me feel worse?” I’d say 80 percent of the time the answer is no, I don’t, and yes, it is, and I disengage.

My natural inclination is to think that more people will begin to extract themselves like you have, Run Down, and either watch games unencumbered or text with their friends if they need a place to put a stray riff. We’re all sort of screwed for that now, the feeling of existing without constant observation, but it’s probably still good to examine that urge from time to time. You said you feel worn out even reading and attempting to discuss and I say you’re already tired enough, you don’t need to try any harder to relax.

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