Wednesday, March 20, 2013

the last book I ever read (The Big O by Oscar Robertson, excerpt ten)

from The Big O: My Life, My Times, My Game by Oscar Robertson:

A friend once told me a story about the great jazz bass player Charles Mingus. Mingus was known, among other things, for his improvisational skills and loosely structured bands. During the 1960s, he somehow got mixed up with the psychotropic guru Tim Leary. Leary was making a movie in Woodstock, New York, and Mingus agreed to act in it and score it. The first day of the shoot, they’re standing around with their scripts. Leary says, “To hell with the scripts. Let’s improv the whole thing.” Mingus shook his head. “Look, man,” he said, “The key to improv is having something concrete to go away from, and something to come back to.” I bring this up because basketball is not only about set plays. Part of the beauty is the improvisational moments, the brilliance that can explode from out of ashes and chaos.

The fact is, you do need one-on-one skills; you do need to be able to isolate your man and break him down. You need to be able to create enough space for yourself to take a tough jump shot, to hit shots with a high degree of difficulty, to drive and dish to the open man. Whatever I was called upon for, I did. When you watch Kobe Bryant play basketball, you see a great offensive player. But you also get the sense that he grew up and learned to play as if there was a television camera on him at all times. His style is something of an extension of Michael Jordan’s game, and Michael’s game not only had flair, it was the embodiment of flair. Both play a spectacular, highlight-oriented game, cherished by the cereal-box crowd and the marketing executives of corporate America. There’s nothing wrong with that.

But I had a different style—someone once suggested it might have been because I grew up in a time before television controlled everything. It wasn’t flashy. At the same time, if you watch Michael Jordan’s patented fadeaway jumper, or his back-to-the-basket fallaway, now that’s Oscar Robertson’s shot. If you pop in a videotape of Magic Johnson protecting the ball with his body as he runs a half-court offense, then isolating his man on one side of the basket, bulling and backing him down, and then spinning off his man, that’s Oscar Robertson. My play influenced them. And I did these things before they were around to watch them.

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