Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Blanket Coverage

No particular reason for this, other than that it's beautiful. My friend Josh Herr reminded me -- with a link to this very nice cover of The Cure's "In Between Days" by Superchunk -- of The Onion AV Club's Undercover thing, in which they invited 25 bands to cover 25 different songs. I think Wye Oak chose well, obviously (I also think Jenn Wasner should stop calling me, because I am married and I don't care how appealing your voice and face and manner is -- leave me be, lady!), and I actually linked to Ted Leo's excellent Tears For Fears cover months ago as a sort of apology for this ambivalent and heavily qualified anti-appreciation of his work. Do I even need to add "ambivalent and heavily qualified" to links to my own stuff? Infer that. It is inferrable, by this point.

(Also, I know that Budweiser's brand is bulletproof -- it certainly has survived being attached to a not-that-great beer -- but the commercials that follow these performance videos are the saddest, sorest thumbs I've seen in a while. After an earnest expression of artistic enjoyment and enthusiasm, the "Guys like to do really obvious things... and drink Bud!" falsity of those ads is jarring and kind of weirdly sad. Okay, Budweiser: what you say people are like, they're like. Good thing they sometimes also do really good covers of nice songs, or what a boring and scared and predictable world this would be).

Sunday, July 25, 2010

I Like To Move It, Move It?

Shit just got real. Not for sure, yet, but my life -- but mostly my wife's life -- is about to get really interesting. I hope that the very qualified future leader at left has some good restaurant recommendations.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Spice Network/Stay Hungry: My Non-Sports Wall Street Journal Debut Is About Curry

You don't have to be a freelance writer to be the sort of person who moves personal goalposts to ensure a sort of Zeno's Paradoxical state of permanent unfulfillment -- plenty of people I know do this, and I assume it's one of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective But Permanently Scowling People. But man, does freelancing ever make it easy for those of us who choose to make things hard for ourselves. This post is going to get really Emo LiveJournal and squirmy, I should warn. All you really need to know is in the next paragraph; everything after that is blurt.

I'm not really able to detect the pitch of my own writing in this post thus far, but if it's coming off as a high whine, I apologize for it. I'm aware of how lucky I am to get as much work as I do, and of how fortunate I am to have been in the venues in which I've been (this would be a great place for a hilarious link to Dermatology Business Management Magazine, one of my first steady gigs, but that magazine has been out of business since like 2003 and the website was pretty Jukt Micronics when it actually existed). And, more to the point, a happy thing occasioned the writing of this post in the first place -- my piece about the nightmarish and inexplicably popular phaal curry at Brick Lane Curry House, and how that dish and its appearance on (nightmarish and inexplicably popular) Man Vs. Food helped rescue the restaurant, was on the front page of the Wall Street Journal's Greater New York Section on Thursday. (And was even in Gawker, which I'm sure my WSJ editors appreciated) It's a good thing! Not the curry, though: that tastes like scalding-hot sand, with bits of meat and a sad little devil's peen of dried chile floating in it.

I'm very proud of all those good things I just mentioned, of course, and I had a great time writing and reporting the piece; I'm excited to do another one for the GNY section, and to work with my editor there again, and all the rest. And yet here I am, knowing all this stuff a lot more than I'm actually feeling it, and thus missing the point of what is -- despite being a silly-ish and resolutely minor piece -- inarguably something of a career highlight. Or not that: I'm missing the point emotionally, which is made that much more poignant and unpleasant because I am fully aware of and pleased by the thing that is the point itself. That really cleared it up, didn't it.

The question, then, is what the true point here is -- the work or the pay for the work; the pride and the achievement or the reification and objectification of same. And this is where the self-defeating shittiness of the goalpost-moving tendency makes itself felt -- a couple of darlings got killed in edits, but by just about every metric the curry piece is a success, and so is this one and this one and this one and so on. And yet in terms of actually feeling accomplishment or pride or happiness about any of that, I'm honestly going to have to take your word for it.

Because... well, because my wife's getting ready to go to graduate school, which is going to double my financial responsibility, and because I can't possibly make enough money for the two of us to live writing fun articles I'm proud of as a freelancer. That's mostly it. It doesn't diminish my (abstract) pride in them, but stack all these lovely successes atop one another and you barely have a year's rent and utilities and Metrocards and periodic meals out. Unless we start going to one of those harbingers-of-The-Fall all-you-can-eat chains that I've seen advertising with ever greater frequency on TV. And I know Kate don't trust the sushi at CiCi's, you know? It's like, how long as that hamachi been under the heat lamps? And why is it even under the heat lamps in the first place? Sometimes I honestly think CiCi's doesn't even know what a tartare trio is.

Anyway, by the time I reached the old one, the goal line is in a different place. It was once my ambition to write a novel -- and I finally did that, and it's in the hands of my very awesome and very qualified agent, and I'm waiting to see what happens. But then it was my ambition to write pieces I want to write for magazines and websites that I respect and read myself -- and that's happening now, and has been happening for a couple years. But both those accomplishments have been superseded by another thing I haven't managed to accomplish yet -- which is making ends meet in a way that allows for something other than constant financial anxiety. And that last bit colors everything else I do. There is a way that this has always worked for me -- anxiety before a piece comes out, excitement immediately after, and then a crash of sorts accompanied by a taunting internal voice saying something like, "Don't spend all $250 of those dollars in one place, Diddy." And for whatever reason, the first stage is more intense, the second is briefer, and the voice is louder in the third.

This isn't all on me and my neuroses, of course -- living in New York City is both difficult and expensive, and circumstances in my life have changed and are changing still. But man would it ever be nice to be able to feel as proud of these things as I ought. For all the thrills of being a figure in the Elite Liberal Media apparatus that controls our nation (and keeps the bile ducts on pump in your more loathsome/paranoid monsterfaces) -- and I'm joking about the "thrills" part, there, but I'm also not -- sometimes all I really want is to relax. Someday, I suppose, I'll be able to rejoice in the coming-true of minorish but actual-not-making-fun dreams. That's my hope, at least. For now it's still kind of abstract. Being in the Wall Street Journal does seem pretty cool, when I think about it. I would love to better know what it feels like.

(And this is where I had a low-quality video of The Talking Heads play "Stay Hungry," because this much better video can't be embedded. But go here and watch it instead, please)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Ten Thousand Best Friends or, Fucking Festivals: How Do They Work?

Tom Bissell has a long essay in the most recent issue of Harper's that tries to unpack the discomfiting thing that is Tommy Wiseau and The Room. (It's subscriber-only, but the whole issue is pretty great and worth a newsstand buy) While the best parts of the article are mostly just Bissell struggling to describe Wiseau's brain-damaged-vampire personality and his baffling film, Bissell also comes surprisingly close to accomplishing the incredibly and obviously futile task of figuring out what, if anything, the whole deal means. "Surprisingly," because The Room's cult following is so manifestly the result of an idiot echo chamber that there is, ultimately, not really a whole lot there to write about besides how inexplicable Wiseau and his film are.

It's not that I don't find this stuff funny, and Bissell's descriptions of those two foundational weirdnesses (and of Wiseau's face) are very amusing; it's a good piece. But beyond the obvious point of The Room being resistant to criticism is the fact -- the ontological truth -- that the film exists at a level beyond and beneath any sort of analysis. The simultaneously simple and irreducibly complex fact of its existence is what's most interesting about it, and there's only so much than can be said about that.

All of which is kind of a long way of saying that Gallagher is performing at this year's Gathering of the Juggalos. AND I QUOTE:

Awesome Dre: Gallagher up in this bitch, though? Smashing watermelons with the sludge-o-matic (sic) and shit?

DJ Clay: (Medium-sized beat) Is that the real Gallagher?

Awesome Dre: Man, the original Gallagher, man, not that fake-ass Gilligan motherfucker, neither.

Good thing it's The Real Original Gallagher, because he has really taken his act to some unique and terrible new places. Also, Ron Jeremy will be telling dick jokes and Afroman is performing and Tila Tequila will be onstage at Ladies Night (sic?) (and also went to high school with Sweet Sugar Slam?). The words "If you like midgets" are uttered in the video, and both Superfly Snuka and Todd Bridges will be wrestling. It's kind of corny that the profane-but-crypto-populist rhetoric of the last Juggalo video has been replaced here by some intra-demographic synergy for ICP's long-awaited greasepaint western, "Big Money Rustlas," but... anyway, the judgments don't matter. They aren't even really possible. There is nothing to say about any of this. There is nothing to do about it. It simply is, and the fact of its existence is challenging enough. The 11th Annual Gathering of the Juggalos is like humidity.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Training Days

For an astonishing eight years now, Brooklyn's mighty Buttermilk Bar has sponsored one of the great joys of my New York existence: beers on tap. Also, they have very nicely agreed to pick up the New York City Parks Department field-registration fee for a long-running and very friendly intramural softball league/game that we know as Buttermilk Softball, and which will begin its ninth season at Ball Field Five at Prospect Park on Sunday. We are so official (not really that official) that we have an Internet Website of our own, which I write with WNYC mega-star and power-hitting corner infielder Joel Meyer, and I'm sorry I forgot how this sentence was supposed to end because I am just so excited to do this thing that I am honestly freaking out right now okay hold on a second. Hold on. All right.

All right. So, yeah: the teams change every week, with each side comprised of a combination of old (both physically and in terms of time-knowing-each-other) friends, random Prospect Park passers-by, the occasional BK tweenager, the occasional weird and very fancy Latin dude who doesn't believe in evolution and talks to you about it, and a bunch of former randoms who have become friends with the previously existing group of friends through Buttermilk Softball. We have made t-shirts and we have a blog that details -- occasionally in very great detail -- the goings-on in Buttermilk Softball. We're basically better organized than the Can-Am League, and many of our players are just as good. Sadly, we don't have the powerful brand of Rich Gedman to get us the notoriety we deserve, and also many of our players have moved away or given up or were called up to professional softball leagues. The last part is also not true. I am having a hard time telling the truth about Buttermilk Softball or writing coherently because I am too excited by the fact that on Sunday, July 11, we will play our first game of the season at Prospect Park's Field Five. It will also be one of just two games we play this season, for all the reasons I mentioned above except for the one involving Rich Gedman.

In honor of the long-awaited return of Buttermilk Softball -- well, long-awaited by me, at least -- I present a video of Cleo, my parents' very excitable puppy, working on her lateral movement and agility:

These drills are very difficult for humans to do, given that we are short two legs and two hundred thousand units of puppy energy. They're even more difficult to take good first-person video of:

Steady Blair Witching on fools. Apologies for any nausea or disorientation from that last one. If it makes you feel any better, any discomfort you're currently experiencing is nothing compared to how I'll feel after playing softball for the first time in a year.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Memphis Bleak

So, figure I wrote probably 15 cards for Shawne Williams, and then one long blog post, and now a slightly longer essay adapted from said blog post in which he's the effective protagonist. I'm not really hunting for more writing work at the moment, but I think it's fair to say that if Shawne Williams is looking for a biographer, I'd probably have to be on the list.

Luckily for me, I imagine that's fairly low on the guy's list at the moment, what with the lean-related indictment and the Orlando Summer League and the Vegas Summer League and such. But if the essay that just went up at The Awl is the last thing I ever write about Shawne Williams, I can at least say that I went out on a pretty okay note. As ever, it was a pleasure to work with them, and I'm pretty happy with the way the piece turned out. It's pretty long, and drifts and loops a bit (although less so given the gentle-but-helpful edit it received) and of course it will seem pretty familiar to those who struggled through last weekend's blog post on essentially the same topic. But, yeah: this website's ostensible purpose, besides the Puppy Vids, is for me to big up stuff like this. So I'll stop giving you reasons not to read it, and let you get on to doing so, if you're so inclined.

Oh, and my 500-page speculative nonfiction book about Shelden Williams comes out in September. Do that pre-order work!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Spitballing: Ideas on How the LeBron James Show Could Justify Its One-Hour Length

I've been fascinated, of late, by the long-form commercials for the DVD set containing The Best of The Dean Martin Variety Show (feel free to apply tone quotes where needed, as needed). It's not like I've ever seen one of these not-available-in-stores DVD sets that has ever made me want to call in, and I imagine that the rest of my life will probably go by like that, unless and until The Best of Mad TV: The Artie Lange Years comes out. At which point my life will end, because I will leap from something.

But upon researching the Dean Martin Show (read: looking the entry up on Wikipedia), the commercials started to seem even weirder. The maniacally stilted laughing-gas vibe of the variety show is, for generational reasons, as foreign to me as vaudeville, so the commercials are already pretty jarring. Hearing the crowd go apeshit when Michael Landon shows up at Dino's "door" -- a title announces who it is under his name, the crowd flies into Double Rainbow-grade ecstatic-tears like OH MY GOD IT'S MICHAEL LANDON HOLY SHIT I CAN'T BELIEVE IT'S REALLY MICHAEL LANDON -- or watching Martin lip-synch through a weird dance routine with Florence Henderson is already baffling enough to me. But that those hoary-from-the-jump shows could've been delivering their Hiroshima-grade hokiness payloads while Watergate was going on -- and that the show was on the air for nine freaking years! -- is even weirder. People are strange, obviously, and life moves quickly, but it's weird to think that something that's just five or so years older than me, and which was popular with regular American humans, basically looks like this to me now:

Anyway, given that the idea of spending an hour watching LeBron James get interviewed about where he will become a billionaire is roughly as impossible for me to imagine as sitting through a bunch of Dean Martin Variety Show episodes, I guess it was natural that the variety show format occurred to me as an easy -- and perhaps the only -- way for LeBron to make tonight's ESPN special watchable. I did some brainstorming with some friends -- thank you, Ryan Genovese and Brendan Flynn -- and I did some deep-dive conceptualizing myself. And while I know that it's probably too late for all but a few of these ideas to actually make it into tonight's show, here's what I'm most looking forward to from The LeBron James Variety Hour.

  • A song and dance medley dedicated to the cities LeBron is considering, featuring musical and athletic ambassadors from each city. These would include LeBron performing "Crossroads" with Bone Thugz and Bernie Kosar, "If You Believe In Having Sex" with Luther Campbell and Edgerrin James, "500 Miles and Runnin" with MC Ren, Ice Cube and Loy Vaught and "Endless Summer Nights" with Richard Marx and Will Perdue. I know the last one seems out of place but 1) Common has an Old Navy photoshoot he has to be at and 2) Global Icons need diversified brands.

  • Avant-garde moments, such as a mostly silent 15-minute segment in which LeBron paints an oil painting of Art Modell, screams a profanity, and then the show abruptly cuts to commercial. In another, a brief nature documentary about beavers plays, with dubbed narration in an imaginary language.

  • LeBron is interviewed by a 12oz bottle of Powerade.

  • In an earnest and surprisingly informative conversation with Charlie Rose, LeBron lays out his proposal for reforming the electoral college.

  • A bewigged and very enthusiastic James performs Broadway classics with the cast of Glee, finally bringing down the house with a rollicking version of "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair." Then he signs with the Heat.

  • A visibly nervous LeBron performs last night's Jay Leno monologue word for word, with uncomfortably long pauses for laughs after each Lindsay Lohan joke. He concludes with, "We've got a great show for you tonight, Reba McEntire is here, and I'm signing with the Clippers" and ESPN displays a test pattern for the next 56 minutes.

  • After regretfully announcing that he won't be resigning with the Cavaliers, LeBron attempts to make it right with Clevelanders by punching Drew Carey in the face.

  • Instead of discussing basketball, James delivers a teary and mostly incoherent 60-minute monologue on "Creeping Monarchic Fascism, In The Woodrow Wilson Tradition" in front of a dry-erase board on which he circles and recircles the word "Liberty." He concludes the show by yelling, "Wake up, Sheeple!" into the camera and pulling on a Miami Heat jersey.

  • In a series of inspirational vignettes, LeBron visits overweight people across the country and helps them lose weight... and rediscover themselves.

To say that the possibilities are endless is obviously not true. To say that the end of this ridiculous and ridiculously tone-deaf orgy of poorly orchestrated hype is something I am seriously looking forward to is, however, very true. Start the countdown, and someone tell Michael Landon that he's on in five.


I feel bad for Annie Leibowitz and her crippling personal debt, but it bears saying that most Americans losing their homes have not taken photos anywhere near this stupid and symbolically questionable.

So, the LeBron thing. You know, LeBron James the basketball player? It's a big deal in the way that sports things can be a big deal, and also in the sense that it is currently totally dominating the sportsy discourse, to the point that no one is even talking about Daniel Orton's amazing showing in the NBA Summer League. But The LeBrocalypse is most significant, I think, in the way that it is blazing barfy new trails in effectively unsourced sports journalism and, through Thursday night's one-hour (!) LeBron Selection Special on ESPN, pioneering a new and odious method of brand synergy. Oh, and it's also making most of the sports media freak the fuck out in what are generally some kind of embarrassing ways. The fact that LeBron could remake the NBA for the notably suckier if he actually does go to Miami -- which is what those squishily sourced "reports" are reporting -- is of some interest to me, too, but I'm more fascinated by the meta- and epiphenomena surrounding this goofily grandiose spectacle than I am by what it might do to, say, the Eastern Conference. Because frankly: whatever to the Eastern Conference.

Because it is my job and because I am habitually reckless with my carpal tunnels, I've been writing a ton about LeBron and what swirls around him of late. I rarely link to my Daily Fixes -- they really are only good for a few hours -- but I'll flatter myself to say that pretty much everything you should read about L'Affaire L'Bron is in this morning's Daily Fix. And I wrote about the click-chasing demi-bullshit scoops that have defined free agent coverage at Can't Stop the Bleeding yesterday, and I have a piece about the aforementioned media epiphenomena at CSTB today. If you'd rather read something not written by me on this topic, which is totally a good idea, the two best pieces I've read on it are this one from the blog Straight Bangin', and this one by Dave D'Alessandro, who is the best guy writing about the NBA for a newspaper, and does so for a newspaper in New Jersey.

Oh, and there will hopefully be a cleaned-up version of the Shawne Williams/Summer League post -- that is, one that might make sense/be enjoyable to those I'm not already dear friends with -- running in The Awl sometime over the next few days. You know, once everyone goes back to talking about the NBA Summer League and forgets about this silly hubbub about the greatest player of his generation changing teams and possibly cruelly breaking up with his hometown on live TV so he can move someplace warmer that offers lower taxes and better strip clubs. For a guy who is so palpably/unpleasantly concerned with his personal brand, you'd think that particular dick move would jump out as a dick move, but... well, anyway, you'd think that. You would, but you don't think like the best player of your generation, and that's because you are not the best basketball player of your generation. Daniel Orton is.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Darius Miles and Shawne Williams Walk Into A Bar...

I'm going to be honest with you: the Shawne Williams Topps Finest rookie auto card at left is not the most valuable basketball card I ever wrote. But I did write it, and I did even meet Shawne Williams when I was at the NBA Rookie Shoot back in 2006, during my time at Topps. (About which time you'll find more here). Williams was, like everyone I met at that event with the exception of Tyrus Thomas (so immature as to be kind of nervous-making) and Jordan Farmar (so cocky as to be a cock), seemingly a nice enough kid. Williams wasn't as self-possessed as your Dee Browns or Shelden Williams' or J.J. Redicks or Randy Foyes -- by the way, what a freaking terrible draft -- but I remember him being pleasant, if a little shell-shocked by the admittedly shell-shocky experience of being photographed a few thousand times during the AM hours at a gym in White Plains.

Williams, at the time of our 10 minutes of conversation, was 20 years old, and the Indiana Pacers had just made him the 17th pick of the 2006 NBA Draft. In so doing, they made him a millionaire. In a conversation I'm having with a good friend right now on The Gmail Chat -- because it's the future and such a thing is possible, and also because I'm the picture of bloggy dedication -- I was just asked if we can say, at this point, that Shawne Williams "wasn't that good." I don't know what to say to that, except that he was clearly a dazzling basketball player at some point in his young life. Williams was the best player on a Laurinburg Prep team that finished its '04-05 season at 40-0 and ranked ahead of an Oak Hill Academy team that featured Kevin Durant, Ty Lawson and Jamont Gordon (and Eric Devendorf, although that's not totally their fault). He then spent a year not being coached by John Calipari at Memphis, and then spent three years making a lot of money for not playing in the NBA and presumably dealing with the non-stop death-stare of villainous legend-who-looks-like-an-old-lesbian/Pacers GM Larry Bird. His stats are certainly not very good. But so much is presumed in cases like this, because we know so little.

What we know about Shawne Williams is that he bombed out in Indiana, was traded to the Mavericks and never played, then was traded to the Nets in a cost-cutting move and was more or less told not to show up; he didn't play in an organized basketball game in 2009-10. That's the transaction line. Williams' blotter is a bit more memorable: had a host of run-ins with the law that track pretty well with the sort of trouble that you'd imagine a suddenly very rich kid with limited life skills getting into. There are some differences -- most 21-year-olds pulled over for dumb traffic violations can't proffer their basketball card as a form of ID, and it's hard to justify not showing up for a court date whether you're an athletic wing who was once MVP of a national champion prep team or Lindsay Lohan or whoever. In January of 2010, after the New Jersey Nets bought out Williams -- more money as negative reinforcement, here -- he got into some much more serious trouble, this time for alleged codeine-related demi-kingpinnery. He was indicted, and -- having secured a signature success in the anti-sizzurp campaign dubbed "Operation Lockdown" -- the Memphis Police Department presumably took a moment to congratulate itself on ridding the city of crime for good.

In his mug shot, Williams looks tired and heavy. He hadn't played in a NBA game for over a year, but that didn't seem to explain it. Of all the failures in that 2006 Draft -- this would be a good spot to remind readers that Adam Freaking Morrison was the third overall pick -- here was the one that looked the most serious and most sad. You'd have to work pretty hard to project this recognition onto Williams' scared/sad face, but at some level Shawne Williams probably knew that this was the end for him, in a sense. Even before the arrest and indictment, Williams was on a deep dive towards the disdain-tinged anonymity from which his talent and long arms and athleticism might have rescued him. The sort of sports fans who wonder what happens to athletes once they stop being the most special people in the room know how this goes. Which is to say that we were about to hear the last from Shawne Williams. When the promise is dispelled, the narrative trail goes dead. There are exceptions to that, if the failure to deliver on past promise is dramatic enough -- here, for instance, is what Ed O'Bannon is up to these days -- but, for the most part, "Where Are They Now" is a rhetorical question.

Of course, the person who is also the player goes on doing whatever it was he did before the world started and stopped caring. He goes to jail for associating with the sort of visionaries who see a way to get high in a bottle of Triaminic or he goes to Europe and makes a bunch of money and learns a foreign language. Maybe he signs with a pro team in Iran, makes some money, writes a blog, and grows up into an interesting man or maybe he opens a barber shop or coaches or finds God or loses God or looks back and laughs or ferments in all that curdled narcissism into the meanest and most righteous sort of depressive. But all that happens off-camera, and to a certain extent the moral to Shawne Williams' story, and that story's ending, are already written, regardless of how the middle chapters fill in. The ending is yours to pick, not his: he's another knucklehead not ready for the spotlight or unready for failure or an incautiously pampered kid who has never previously been required not to be lazy or a nice kid surrounded by bad influences or a helpless/hapless product of a rotten environment or whatever you choose.

I can't say that I'm pulling for Shawne Williams any more or less than I'm pulling for anyone who has fucked up and should stop fucking up -- I met him once for 10 minutes and we talked about breakfast cereal and Jim O'Brien's emphasis on defense, I have no real emotional stake in this. The quote Williams gave me that day, which I used on the back of his Topps Big Game Picture Perfect Rookie Auto-Relic, is this: "I never thought about leaving college, never until the last game. The confidence (to do it) came from me and from God." We connected about as much as that quote suggests.

But, but: I was happy, in a way that had not too terribly much to do with Shawne Williams, when I saw that he was on the Charlotte Bobcats absolute monster of a NBA Summer League roster. I doubt that Williams makes the Bobcats -- he was indicted and got fat, and in most cases just one of those is enough to keep someone off a team's roster. (Usually) But what makes me so happy about the NBA Summer League -- happy enough that I wrote a feature about it for Slate that still stands as one of my favorite published journalistic attempts, and happy enough that I still get psyched when the Summer League rosters arrive -- is that it provides a home for the NBA's homeless, if only for a little while and if only in semi-watchable pickup-style games. But if it seems like there's a whimsy to these Summer League rosters -- and basketball dorks should know that Charlotte's roster, which also features ur-washout Darius Miles, among other refugees from the Island of Lost Wing Players -- I think it's because the residual joy of a basketball game overwhelms all the other bleak stuff I just spent all those words going over. The Summer League's ostensible purpose is to evaluate talent, and I suppose that it does that; players do get jobs off their Summer League showings, although those jobs are more frequently in Italy or Greece or Spain than in Indianapolis or Milwaukee or Oklahoma City. (Note: somehow, the latter are deemed preferable destinations) But more than that, if only by including your Shawne Williams' and Darius Miles' and Ndudi Ebi's, the Summer League celebrates talent more than it evaluates it. No one's putting Ndudi Ebi on the floor in a NBA game this year, I promise, but whoever brought him in to play for Orlando's Summer League team evidently did want to see him play. In that sense, the nameless talent evaluator -- the guy who will eventually stop returning phone calls from the agents of all these players -- was thinking like a sentimental basketball fan.

And Summer League games are different. There are coaches there, but for the most part the players just play -- it's really as close to watching these guys in a playground game (albeit an exceedingly self-conscious one) as most fans will ever get, and generally worth the $14.95 it costs to watch them online. Given his personal and professional struggles, given the fact that he seemingly never quite grew up into anything but an object lesson in the weaknesses of the NBA's Rookie Transition Program, letting Shawne Williams get out there and play this summer, if he can even find the floor, is both the least and the kindest thing the NBA can do for him. Shawne Williams will be paying for the mistakes he made as a dumb and not-ready kid for the rest of his life, either in jail or just by walking around with ubermenschy mega-success stories like me feeling comfortable deeming him a failure, full stop. I don't know enough about him to know whether things will work out for Shawne Williams, as a player or otherwise. But I liked him well enough all those years ago to be glad that someone in the game of basketball saw it fit to give him him an opportunity to get out there and play the game of basketball, and maybe see if there's any fun left in it. There's some real worth in that. Isn't that right, Darius Miles?

"Oh, indeed."