Where Damon Stoudamire gets his pot.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Nostalgia, Pt. 2

The last entry really diverted from the intention of its initial aim: nostalgia for Tom Chambers based purely upon video footage (culled from YouTube) of a dunk in which he looks directly at the rim. Nostalgia is defined (and I’m paraphrasing here) as a longing for home or for the past, which is exactly why I’m dumbfounded by my undying love for this video and, to a slightly lesser extent, Tom Chambers. When I started seriously watching basketball (and I mean seriously in the loosest fan-boy, elementary school way) I was around nine years of age. My earliest memory was watching Michael Jordan return from his first retirement against the Indiana Pacers while I worked away on a bristol board presentation about Ancient Egypt. (I was gluing a photo of a decomposed King Tut as Jordan went up for his first post-baseball dunk, an awkward dunk of little elevation). Needless to say, when I first started watching, I knew nothing of Tom Chambers. As it stands I still know little about Chambers outside of his legendary dunk, his prolific scoring, height (6’10”!), and an All-Star game MVP.

But I do harbour intense nostalgia for Chambers and multiple other players of his generation. What’s getting me is whether one can have nostalgia for something they never saw the first time around? Basically the notion of home in the definition of nostalgia. I have no roots to basketball in the 1980s, so why would I like Chambers, Larry Bird, and Bernard King? How would my perception of Chambers change had I witnessed his career? There’s the possibility I wouldn’t have liked him at all. There are plenty of NBA players who, years from now, will look formidable on paper, yet, for whatever reasons, may not have possessed any likeability in the present. (Chances are that history will treat Gilbert Arenas splendidly, but from my own fan’s perspective I really don’t like his game. Call me a purist, but I have no interest in watching a point guard jack up unnecessary three-point attempts. That, and his personality.) But, to run with the parenthetical on Arenas, we have plenty of YouTube videos to show only a slice of his game – notably, his game-closing daggers from thirty-five feet out. You’d have to be a complete dick not to appreciate any athlete in a team sport with the nerve to make – or even attempt – such an exceedingly difficult play with victory in the balance, especially when deference (including the deference of blame) is an option. The only people who do this are overly-confident individuals and playground "chuckers." Likewise, with Chambers, we have the dunk footage where he launches himself off Mark Jackson’s sternum. But as formidable a highlight as that was, it’s only two points in a career of over 20,000. And I never witnessed any of those baskets.

Presumably YouTube will come to affect our perceptions of basketball history and its players, and most likely to a great extent. Without YouTube I wouldn’t have seen Chambers’ dunk on Jackson, Bernard King dropping 50 on consecutive nights, or Crispin Glover attempt to drop-kick David Letterman. YouTube has become a carrier for nostalgia. Your new favourite player could be older than your father or currently the assistant manager of a Wal-Mart in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The editing of an athlete’s career into four or five-minute video bytes (complete with backing music from the Red Hot Chili Peppers or Cam’Ron!) will largely dictate how future generations come to perceive their worth as athletes. One of the best examples of a basketball player who will always survive in the minds of fans based upon highlight-reel footage is Shawn Kemp. The guy didn’t have a long career, his numbers were merely good, and, with present perspective in mind, seems to be a poor man’s Amare Stoudemire. None of this really matters however, since, as in the case of Tom Chambers, his ability to invoke nostalgia is off the charts.

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