Bloggers on Bloggers: A Knicks’ Recaps Recap
USA Today Sports
This was a rather strange New York Knicks season, to say the least. After the team won 54 games and advanced to Round 2 of the playoffs last season, injuries, malaise, and general crappiness limited to the team to just 37 wins despite high expectations. On the basketball blogosphere, this Knicks season was marked by some of the most inspired writing we’ve seen from a single team in a long, long time. When the Knicks kept finding new ways to lose, bloggers found new ways to chronicle those failures. Seth Rosenthal of Posting and Toasting coined the term “FARTDOG” [Friendly Alliance of Really Terrible Defenders for Opposing Guards], introducing it in this recap of a Knicks loss to Cleveland, and clarifying it in this recap of a Knicks loss to the Lakers. After Metta World Peace was released, KnickerBlogger’s Jim Cavan decided to pen a few notes for World Peace to leave in his former teammates lockers in this recap of a Knicks loss to Dallas. Getting spanked on a Sunday afternoon meant writing fake bible passages to commemorate such a momentous failure in this recap of a Knicks loss to Boston. After the infamous game in which the Knicks suffered an inexcusable loss to end all inexcusable losses against the Wizards, KnickerBlogger’s Kevin McElroy didn’t even bother recapping the game, which led to this recap of a Knicks loss to Washington. When they lost to the Sixers a few weeks later, McElroy decided to sell the whole team on Craigslist in this recap of a Knicks loss to Philadelphia. After one of the more perplexing and painful losses of the season, Robert Silverman (also of KnickerBlogger) wrote a deeply personal and poignant summary in this recap of a Knicks loss to Boston. And when there was really nothing left to say, he chronicled his own (apparent) psychotic breakdown in this recap of a Knicks loss to the Lakers.
(You might notice a common thread through those eight recaps, which chronicle seven different games – they were all losses. More on this later.)
To discuss how this writing came to be, I assembled a roundtable of these four wonderful men and asked them the following questions:
(Full Disclosure: I also write for KnickerBlogger, and technically, Cavan, McElroy, and Silverman are my editors/bosses. It shouldn’t really matter because this is just these guys in their own words, completely unfiltered, but I figured I’d mention it anyway.)
(Oh, and also, their own words, completely unfiltered, runs for about 4,000 words. So strap in.)
1. How is writing about the Knicks different than writing about any other team, other than the obvious “well, they’re a different team” part?
Kevin McElroy: I’m hesitant to answer this one because I don’t want to undercut or disrespect anybody else’s fan experience. Like, for example, I don’t want to say “the Knicks are different than the Cavs because X” and then have Cavs fans read it and say “Wait a minute, X applies to us, too!” That said, and with apologies to anybody out there to whom this also applies, the thing that sets the Knicks apart is the constancy of it all. 10 years ago, I was 18 and less mature and I didn’t have any kind of an outlet through which to express my opinions and otherwise vent about the Knicks publicly. What I had were friends and fellow fans and my Dad and when I talked to those people about the team, the themes and arguments and frustrations that featured in our discussions were basically the same as the things I write about on KnickerBlogger now. I’d like to think they have a little less teen angst but, frankly, that would probably give me too much credit. And so when I sit down at the end of a game and write a recap, I don’t feel like I’m coming up with some new, ground-breaking piece of analysis. I’m usually not. I’m usually just giving a (written) voice to something that has bounced around in my head and been alluded to in my conversations for sometimes as much as a decade but was drawn out by whatever happened that night.
Seth Rosenthal: This isn’t an exclusively Knicks-y thing, but everything that happens on the court is (or at least has been?) embedded in the context of the team’s management and ownership and the reputation therein. Lots of owners and front offices have reputations, but the Knicks’ has a stanky flavor all its own. And it pervades.
Jim Cavan: They touched on all the pertinent points, I think. For me, there’s an element of sentimentality to it; your senses are just inherently more heightened when you’re writing about a team you’ve been rooting for over 20 years. But even from the perspective of a stake-less beat writer, the weird organizational paranoia and soap opera mystique make the Knicks perhaps the closest thing we have in the NBA to covering Congress or the Pentagon. Which can be both a good and a bad thing. Good in the sense that there is never any shortage of angles to tease out (due, perhaps in part, to the media’s own propensity for loudening the echo chamber); and bad in the sense that “Wait, this is sports, and sports are supposed to be fun, so why do I feel like I’m covering a third-world dictatorship?”
Robert Silverman: There’s a good Passover zinger buried somewhere in here, but the thing is, it’s hard to say how it might be different than writing about any other team, because, like that hoary joke goes…wait. You want me to tell it? Okay. There are these two young fish swimming in the sea, and they happen to meet an older fish that’s heading in the opposite direction. The wise old fish nods at them and says, “Hey kids, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim nod back, smile and keep going. There’s an awkward silence, but finally one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?” [Rim shot]
I only know what the water’s like in this particularly brackish, possibly irradiated ocean. We Knicker-people can certainly see other, calendar art-blue bodies of water that it might be much more pleasant to navigate from here, but you just don’t know what that might be like till you know, you know?
For this year’s particular Knicks model, I really do think the only way to respond to the skull- and soul-rattling, brutally repetitive and yet laughable and utterly predictable ways that they lost, I think, was to let go of the strictures of what might be called a traditional recap. If what we wrote resonated, it’s because it was such a painful thing to have to endure, if you are going to write from a place of fandom.
2. What, in your opinion, is specific to this Knicks team that has produced so much great writing this season (and past seasons)?
McElroy: It’s not for me to say how good the writing has been on Knicks’ blogs compared to other teams’ blogs or even for the Knicks’ blogs represented in this conversation compared to all the other great Knicks writing on the Internet (and there’s plenty, from the blogosphere to the beat to the message boards). I think what the people you’re talking to right now have is a pretty well-honed ability to connect with the emotions of certain parts of the fan base. I used to go into writing a post and worry “Do other people NOT feel this way? Will they read this and think it’s stupid or not know where I’m coming from?” And what I’ve discovered is, consistently, the answer to those questions is “Some people.” Because Knicks fandom is large, containing multitudes. But even though I know some people will agree and some people will disagree, I know that — to use what I’m sure is a completely out-of-place medical analogy — the same synapses are going to be firing, just in ways that are different and nuanced and individualized beyond anything you could or should want to tailor a piece of writing to. Which is all a long way of saying that there are people who are better than we are at X’s and O’s, at understanding the salary cap, at analyzing large statistical data sets. We can all do those things enough to get by. But we sort of butter our bread in allowing ourselves to just emotionally and intellectually process the season in whatever way seems natural to us and trusting that it’s something that at least a portion of Knicks fans are going to care about.
Rosenthal: For a while there, the team provided pretty much nothing to write about. They just went out and got their asses beat, then went home and went to bed. So when you went to, say, recap a game, your stack of material to work with was pretty bare. So a recap could be nothing, or it could be absolutely anything you wanted. I think y’all KnickerBlogger guys in particular thrived in the department of WELL IF THE KNICKS AREN’T GONNA GIVE ME SHIT TO WRITE ABOUT I’M GONNA MAKE UP MY OWN SHIT.
Cavan: This might come off as overly coy, but I think we feed off of one another. Not like we literally gnaw each other’s faces, although I once ate one of Robert’s fingers. It was quite tart. When Robert and I first started doing KnickerBlogger recaps, they were pretty straight-laced and status quo. Without speaking for my KnickerBlogger colleagues, I think reading Seth’s stuff kind of flipped this mental switch like, “Hey, you can be absurd and irreverent and smart and observant all at once.”
From my perspective anyway, I approach recaps according to the following assumption: It’s 2014, and anyone who’s reading a recap on this website a) probably watched the game, and b) knows just as much about the game of basketball as I do. As such, I’m not necessarily going to tell them anything they don’t already know. So I fell in love pretty quickly with metaphor and analogy—historical, artistic, whatever—as a way of telling the story of the game in a different way, while trying always to use the various vehicles to make a point about the actual game and players.
So I don’t know if it’s the nature of the team itself (although its batshit constitution certainly helps/does not help at all) so much as the attendant voices. That is, the nature of the writing has more to do with our weirdly wonderful, psychically collaborative universe than the Knicks qua Knicks.
Silverman: It’s just been so profoundly odd. I mean, the 2011-12 season kept whipsawing back and forth between absolute joy and what might be deemed typical bleak Knicks dreariness, and if you wanted to stick a “Weirdest. ‘Bocker. Season. Evah.” label on that campaign, you’d have a more-than-solid argument. But this year, mang… I lost track of the number of times I said to myself (and wrote) something along the lines of, “Welp, this is what rock bottom looks like,” only to have J.R. develop a sneaker-specific foot fetish, or the D’Antoni Lakers rip off a 51 point quarter, or Chris Smith, or Beno Udrih bearing the weight of the world, or the absurdist prose poetry that was all of Mike Woodson’s pre- and post-game oratory, or the entire Andrea Bargnani experience and on and on and on and on, to the last syllable of recorded time.
Like Harry Lime/Orson Welles said in The Third Man:
“Don’t be so gloomy. After all it’s not that awful. You know what the fellow said – in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”
Not to compare our friggin’ recaps to Bernini’s The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, but still.
3. *IS* this Knicks team really *THAT* much different from other generally bad teams, or are they just higher-profile?
McElroy: “Successful franchises are all alike; every unsuccessful franchise is unsuccessful in its own way.” – Noted NBA Analyst L. Tolstoy.
Rosenthal: I think they’ve been more obviously mismanaged, more corrupt, and near-unique in the sense that they are bad without purpose (no draft pick) than other bad teams. But mostly just higher profile.
Cavan: That much different? No. But again, it comes back to the historical context: We’re talking about a franchise that boasts, like, ten different generations of [quite loyal] fans, all of which bring their own unique psychological baggage to the table. And it goes without saying that they’re higher profile. With so many more fans, you’re bound to get more writers. The more writers a team has, the more potential there is for that undercurrent of clandestine collaboration to work. And the more that happens, the weirder our shit gets. Typically for the better, I think.
Silverman: I think the Knicks are different, if only because there is a fairly consistent assumption–by the fans, the owners, and somehow embedded in the general perception of the team–that they should win. It’s confusing, because save for a stretch in the 90′s and another in the 70′s, they’ve been uniformly execrable. It’s partly a New York City ego thing—that this truly is the greatest city in the world and with basketball so deeply embedded in the culture, it’s assumed that said team would be a shiny object that is both a reflection of and flatters said greatness.
Of course, the fact that the economic demographics of the actual New York (as opposed to the myth) more closely resembles a tinpot Third World Oligarchy means that these Knicks–the bloated, overpaid, dysfunctional, paranoid and yet wildly profitable Knicks–are a better spirit animal than we’d like to admit.
But coming to grips with that reality might make one reconsider whether living here is really worth it, what with the indignities great and small that one suffers on the daily.
I’m digressing like a mofo here, but I think it there’s a frame that makes their wretchedness different. The actual losses and mismanagement aren’t dissimilar from that of any number of shitty organizations, but the larger questions of New York make it something else. I’d say, “more important” but that’s exactly the kind of narcissistic dreck that a New Yorker would say and makes the rest of the country loathe us so.
4. Is writing about losing and disappointment fundamentally more interesting/engaging than writing about winning and success?
McElroy: Neither is more interesting/engaging to me when I’m sitting down to write something. I think for the reader who is a Knicks fan, the game or games that affect them more are going to be the more interesting game or games to read about, whether they were affected positively or negatively. I think for the reader who is NOT a Knicks fan, yes, writing about losing and disappointment is more interesting. Because who wants to read 60 recaps a year about the Spurs systematically grinding their opponent into dust? There’s a reason they don’t make reality TV shows about happy, well-adjusted American families and that people didn’t pack the Roman Coliseum to watch Christians gently stroke the manes of a bunch of well-trained lions. The voyeurs are only here for the blood. Which is why you’re writing this now instead of 12 months ago.
Rosenthal: I don’t know, probably not.
Cavan: More interesting? Usually, yes. More enjoyable? Not really. I sometimes wish I had the capacity for objectivity, but I bid adieu to that idea a long time ago. To my mind, you can have an opinion — even be demonstrative about it — while still getting your facts straight. Or, in the case of our totally fictional recaps, get the underlying point straight. Or something. I don’t know. I smoked way too much weed in college.
It certainly can be more interesting, if only because Holy shit, they continue to fuck up the same things over and over and over and over and over again — how am I supposed to talk about this in a way that’s fresh and new? Giving our audiences something to laugh at despite the pain and frustration is not just something I think we — and a ton of other non-Knicks blogs, for that matter — have done a good job with. I think it’s something actually worth striving for. It’s sports. Laugh.
Silverman: For me personally? No. For the people reading it? I think the fact that great writers like Seth, Jim, and Kevin are putting their hearts, souls, and minds into cobbling together words about this team is a great thing. I know I’ve read something they’ve written after a botched game and it’s made me feel better. I’d like to think that’s the case for a lot of folks. I don’t know if that makes the writing more interesting/engaging, but I do think after a loss, it serves a different purpose.
5. Is it easier to write about a win or a loss? Is it more fun to write about a win or a loss?
McElroy: It’s easier to write (by which I mean, just sit down and churn something out) about a win. It’s more fun to write about a win. But I feel a stronger need to write after a loss. Ultimately I think the quality of the writing is dependent on how much a given game — win or loss — actually says about the team and it’s members. An 89-82 win over Sacramento in the middle of a 9-7 January, for example, probably doesn’t say a ton about what the team is and where it’s going. But neither would an 89-82 loss in the same game. It’s easier to get writing that people are going to respond to out of a great win (like the 89-86 win over the Celtics to last year that broke the Knicks losing streak in Boston in the teams’ first matchup after KG’s Honey Nut Cheerios comment) or a devastating defeat (like the disastrous 102-101, Beno-on-Beal, no-timeout-necessary loss to Washington in December). And frankly, it should be. If you’re trying to hit the same emotional notes after a garden-variety day at the office that you are after a season-definer, you need to dial it back a notch.
Rosenthal: A win. A win. I really love the Knicks. I am happier and more effective not just to be writing about them but to be existing in the world when they are winning. This is a problem, I know.
Cavan: Writing about wins comes much easier, for sure. Chalk it up to the endorphins or whatever. Getting started writing about a loss is more difficult, because I’m usually so fucking pissed I can’t even see my screen straight, let alone formulate cogent thoughts. But once I get going with whatever theme I’m working on and laugh a few times, it becomes a process of catharsis — a healthy one, even, in that it helps me get over the actual loss much more quickly. But nothing will ever be better than writing about a really great win.
Silverman: It’s fun to write about the Knicks, period. I’m incredibly grateful that people dig my stuff. But yeah, it’s a different process. After a bad loss, I’ll fume and check Twitter and read other things and ruminate (often until obscene hours) before sitting down and actually trying to write something.
The thing is (for me at least), Pain is very specific. It hurts here. I can define the contours and the edges of the various kinds of misery that a loss inflicts and know exactly what parts of my stomach are being rendered asunder. That’s a terrain that I feel more comfortable After a win, well it can feel like you’re floating, like you’re escaping yourself.
There’s a violence to the process of articulation, by definition. You have to pick some words and eliminate others. And when you do that to a great, beautiful win, it can feel wrong somehow; like whatever you say will always fail to encompass everything that is/was that sacred, ecstatic moment.
To be clear, I don’t prefer losses to wins. I want this team to win, badly.
1. A few of you hinted at this but never said it outright – was this Knicks’ season so bad that writing and recapping almost became cathartic? Did you ever feel yourself thinking along the lines of “I need to write about this game and complain about the Knicks otherwise I might go on a four-county rampage”?
McElroy: I think “cathartic” is fair. Of course you can be cathartic on Twitter or just shout on the street like a crazy person also if you’re looking for catharsis. There was something about trying to have to actually make sense of at least one aspect of the games that was therapeutic.
Rosenthal: I guess when the losses got really weird and ridiculous, it was fun to just tape down the caps lock key and scream about Woodson and Bargnani and J.R. and whatever else. Most of the time, the losses were redundant and recapping felt a little forced. But then I’m not the most creative, so…
Cavan: Actually, a lot of times I found myself kind of dreading writing about the game. Hence the need to figure out some kind of vehicle by which to amuse myself. That said, there were certainly instances where I knew writing the recap would provide a kind of instant psychological relief.
Silverman: I never plotted murder, but I think this season was a really good palate for writing about what I know, and what I know is sad Knicks basketball. It was a pretty perfect convergence of content and style.
2. Seth and Jim specifically mentioned how recaps, this year especially, have taken a turn for the irreverent, off-the-wall, even macabre. Did any of you ever read someone else’s recap, and then the next time you went to write, think “[Jim/Bob/Seth/Kevin] went really weird with his recap – maybe I’ll take this one more seriously,” or “fuck it, I’m going even weirder,” or perhaps even both?
McElroy: I don’t think that was really the case. If there’s one rule with these things it’s just that you should try to let the game come to you and then talk about why it mattered (to the fans, team, yourself, etc).
Rosenthal: Nah, not really.
Cavan: Yeah, I’ll admit it: At a certain point it became as much about “what kind of weird shit can we do next?” as it was any kind of cathartic analysis. I would even throw ideas out to my wife. She’d think most of them were dumb as hell, of course, but it got to a point around the middle of the season where I looked forward to writing the recaps for the sheer excitement of trying something new.
Silverman: Oh sure. I think, even if it was never something that we talked about or planned, that all four we were in a kind of dialogue. Like I said, I gobbled up everything these guys wrote (and I’d probably do that even if I wasn’t a Knicks fan), but I was definitely inspired by the stylistic and creative avenues that Seth/Jim/Kevin took.
3. How much of a sense of one-upsmanship did you feel this season based on Blogger X’s last post/recap?
McElroy: No one-upsmanship for me. Those guys are awesome, I just tried to do my best when it was my turn.
Rosenthal: None at all.
Cavan: Not one-upsmanship, per se. Again, it was more about this need to keep pushing the envelope, because we were all doing it and it was producing some genuinely original stuff. That’s what the creative process is all about. Again, some will argue basketball recaps ought to be kept in the domain of objectivity. But you can read straight, linear recaps anywhere. Why be “anywhere”?
Silverman: It’s not about one-upping anything anyone wrote. It wasn’t competitive, but it was inspiring. We tried to find other ways to talk about basketball that at times was only tangentially pinned to any specific game.. Sometimes, we (or at least I) failed. Any ongoing artistic (Can I say that? Too late; i already did.) experiment will have as many moments where you crash and burn in a spectacular heap as often as you succeed.
Jim’s right.There are a lot of great writers doing what might be called ‘straight’ recaps or recaps mixed with statistical analysis–and this is where I give a big shout out to Chris Herring of the Wall Street Journal–but I think there’s room out there for all kinds of ways to talk about #SPORPS.
4. Regardless of fandom, purely from a writing standpoint (although as all of you said, it might be impossible to divorce the two), would you do this season over again if you could?
McElroy: It’s probably impossible to divorce the two but even if I could my answer is still no. By the end of the year it was pretty hard to put together readable recaps that weren’t just rehashing the same themes. If next year was just like this year (shudder) I’d run out of ideas fast. Luckily, every year is ridiculous in its own way. Good or bad, Phil and Co. will cook up some stuff next year that we couldn’t even guess yet. Looking…forward to it? I guess?
Rosenthal: Absolutely not! I mean, I guess I can’t divorce my fandom from my writing standpoint, but still…hell, no. This season was miserable.
Cavan: Absolutely not. For as much fun as I had getting weird with the writing, doing so takes a lot of energy. As I mentioned earlier, there’s nothing better than writing about a really great win. Which you can also make weird, of course, but the process is just much more pleasant and speaks much more directly to the poetry of the game I think we all appreciate on some level. We root for the Knicks, in part anyway, because of their distinctly Hogarthian quality. But shit that dark can only be had in small doses. I could go a few more years without a syringe that full.
Silverman: No. No. No. I think we’ve all had our fill of of writing about crappy basketball. I’m excited about Phil Jackson and whatever (Kerr, cough. Steve Kerr, cough, cough) coach he might bring in to revive his sanctified geometric shape-based system. I want to write about a competently run team, instead of a twisted, abstract expressionist paradigm of everything that’s wrong with late-period US capitalism. (Okay, I kinda do kinda/sorta like scribbling about that.) It’ll probably all collapse upon itself in a silly, internecine drama peppered with tabloid, soap opera-ish tabloid headlines and power plays and backstabbing fuckery, but for the moment, there’s a smidgen of hope. And that’s what I’m hanging my hat on. I can write on that (I think).