Friday, July 29, 2011

0 comments Random Joe Johnson Thoughts

I'm not going to lie. I thought it was Joe Johnson's birthday - that's why I wrote this. It turns out that Basketball Reference was off by a month. Anyway...

Paul Rudd’s a funny guy – at least that’s the story his movie track record tells. 40-Year-Old Virgin, Anchorman, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Role Models, I Love You, Man. But what can we draw from all these movies? He’s never the star. He’s second fiddle. Sometimes even third, fourth or fifth. In the two movies he plays a leading role (I love You, Man and Role Models) he’s the soundboard. Jason Segel and Seann William Scott pull off their characters because Rudd steps away from the spotlight. He’s not the one making outrageous statements or committing acts of questionable social morality. He’s solid, consistent and relatable. (The names of coffee sizes at Starbucks bothers me too.) And there’s nothing wrong with that. He’s a great actor and he deserves to be applauded. But we can’t fault him for succumbing to his primitive appetite. Everyone wants to lead and make the big bucks; it’s why you venture to Hollywood in the first place. Yet he has chosen 1-B roles in A+ scripts, ultimately yielding to some other mighty comedic force. He may be the official lead, but he’s not drawing you to the theater or propelling your movie to the quotable stratosphere of Wedding Crashers or Old School. And because he’s satisfied, so are we. The stars can shine the quality movies keep coming.

Is Joe Johnson worth the five years and $107 million left on his contract? No chance. But he saw an opportunity and went for it. Because he had two choices, really. Write his own legacy or become a neglected part of someone else’s. So he chose the former, understandably so. Paul Rudd has the luxury of restrained ambition – he wants widespread acclaim, but he’s just fine with settling outside the realm of untouchable majesty. I’d imagine that Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Tom Hanks, to name a few, have a seat at that table. But this is where the analogy falls apart. We don’t tolerate satisfaction NBA circles. We vilify it. We berate it. We make it so intolerable that athletes are almost forced to go it on their own. That’s why Johnson continues to walk an isolated path. Either he craved the validation Dirk is now showered with or he feared the scorn or joining someone else’s crew.

The NBA has evolved to form two uniformly accepted characters. The star and the role player. Either you write the script, direct and act, or you get coffee for the assistant production manager. Because everyone needs their coffee. Sure, the glory is not to be had for the coffee artisan. But he’s filling a role, and there’s always some glimmer of pride in that. But then there’s Amar’e Stoudemire, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Joe Johnson, among others. The floaters, as I like to call them. Or lost puppies. Take your pick. They just want a home – acceptance really. Or even a hug. Someone to validate and love them. That’s not much to ask, I think. There’s just no room for them on the bookshelf. So they build a new one that feels prettier, shinier and newer. Modernity trampling ancient wisdom. Then the Mavs go ahead and win the title, upholding embattled truth and conventional wisdom. Proving that maybe one day J.J. can pull the Hawks out of basketball limbo and make them more then an annoying blip on the radar.

I’ve always admired Joe Johnson. He’s in a calamitous position, without a doubt. Leading a team perennially chained to the 3rd-6th seed, making too much money and generally cast off with a brush of the hand and an upturning of the nose. Overshadowed by better players doing more with less. But he’s also one of only a few NBA players that compels me to use words like “peaceful” and “beautiful.” NBA games are fast and hectic. Before you know it, someone’s dropped 25 points. With guys like Manu Ginobili dipping, ducking, diving and dodging their way to the basket, I’m usually slightly winded after the ball falls through the hoop. When Dwight Howard throws down a ferocious slam, it makes me want to run over to my Koosh Hoop and break the plastic rim with a windmill of my own. Joe Johnson eases my pain, melts away my worries and soothes my aching joints. For all the animosity thrown his way, take a moment and watch his highlights There’s just something about him. It’s picturesque – the way you teach your kids to glide with grace, rise up and fire, leaving a followed-through hand as the only evidence of basketball perfection.

It seems to me that some players simply don’t deserve a swish. Sometimes there’s too much imperfection – awkward ball rotation, elbows haphazardly flying every which way and a meek follow-through (Paul Pierce and Brandon Roy come to mind). It’s disloyal to the game, the way it’s meant to look and be played. Joe’s a lucky one. His game isn’t disingenuous. Instead it’s synonymous with basketball truth and beauty. It’s practice technique transported to live game action. Players like him remind me why I love the game, why I love writing about it. It may be devoid of academic prestige and it may not touch upon universal truth, but all truth is relative; anything that touches me in any way, that’s real and true. Joe Johnson just does it for me.

Basketball, to me, is an art form. As far as my jaw drops when player x barrels down the lane for a breathtaking slam, one fact continuously haunts my basketball nightmares: three of the NBA’s best players can’t shoot the ball. I’m looking right at you, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard. That, to me, is the purest signal of the changing of the guard that has befallen the NBA. Your power, quickness and basketball IQs are phenomenal, without question. But it’s your unmatched athleticism, and not overwhelming skill, that gets the ball in the hoop. This is why Johnson needs some love. He’s a supremely skilled guard trapped in the wrong era. But that’s why I’m here: to give credit where credit’s due and promote what should be a beloved basketball star.