When I was in grad school, as part of the coursework, in groups of about five to seven, each week we’d have to collaboratively create a short, 10-15 minute play that was in some way related to whatever it was we were studying.
There was no director and no script, which certainly made for some interesting and heated, artistic squabbles, especially when there were varying degrees of ability to speak French, but on Friday, come hell or high water, you’d present it in front of all the other students and our professors, and then receive feedback, notes, etc.
The really brutal aspect to this was that a singular principle of the pedagogy was that if a piece wasn’t working in the first minute, there was no way to get the audience back. So if the playlet stumbled out of the gate, they’d stop it, the head of the program raising his hand and issuing a curt, oh-so Gallic, sotto voce “bon.”
For eight grueling weeks in a row, the group I was in got stopped. The mini-plays deserved to be strangled in their crib, don’t get me wrong, but after an exhausting five days of rehearsal, fighting and frustration, all I wanted was to just show the whole damn thing, even if I knew it wasn’t very good.
As the theatrical losses mounted, the more I started to resent having to work with Actor X, and seethed at the way Actor Y, as good as he/she was, was cleverly sabotaging the proceedings to make him/herself look good in the midst of a shitstorm. I stomped my feet in rehearsal, or rolled my eyes, and spent many a night in the local café, pounding wine and unleashing buckets of bile.
The absolute nadir came in week eight. We’d made some dumb, twee scene that took place in a park, replete with shitty, stereotypical characters: a homeless person (or, as the French called them, “Un Sans Domicile Fixe” which translates to “Without Fixed Domicile.” Cute, right?), an old man feeding pigeons, a pair of love-struck youths, and so on.
They stopped us about thirty seconds in. I glared, and trudged to the lip of the stage to be told how and why we’d fucked up (again). The head of the program began recounting our litany of failures, when he turned to me and said, “And Robert, what were you doing back there? It was like a bad Charlie Chaplin imitation, but without the talent.”
I stood there, my jaw on the floor, frozen in stunned, abject humiliation. The professor stared right through me, with that particularly French combination of… not anger or disapproval; more boredom and weary resignation that he actually had to suffer through my so-called performance. After what seemed like an eternity, it dawned on me that the above line wasn’t just a particularly cutting rhetorical question; he actually wanted an answer.
So he turned to my colleagues and said, “You saw what Robert was doing. Why didn’t you stop him?”
At that moment, I would have given a limb if a massive chasm had opened up under my feet. I wanted nothing more than to have the world swallow me whole.
Which brings us to the Knicks, and the conclusion of a franchise-record sixteen game losing streak. I’ve never been on a pro team, to be sure, but I do know something about a soul crushing, enervating, godawful string of failure.
You may have noticed, but I haven’t written a recap in a while. It’s more that I’m occupied with other work than a conscious decision, but I’m sure, were the ‘Bockers even halfway decent or even interestingly terrible, like last season, I’d carve out the time to rage, rage against the dying of New York’s light.
This? No, not this. Why relive this? They’ve just been so, so sad. Anything I might write about the game would be redundant. There are no solutions to be had, even if we all know that losing is a good thing, what with bringing dreamy dreams of Okafors and Towns’s. Of course, things that are necessary and good for you are often not at all fun, and can feel like abject torture, especially for the cats that are wearing our fave laundry, many of who won’t be around to enjoy the (hopefully) bounteous end product of all this dumping of manure/purgative fire.
A few weeks ago, I was at the Tarrytown practice facility to write something about Giannis Antetokounmpo. I was listening to Fisher as he took questions from a smallish huddle of the press, and he’s saying all the right things, but it all rings so hollow. If you’ve watched him respond to the same bleak questions in the pre- and post-game show, you know that if nothing else, Fisher has already mastered the coaching art of saying absolutely nothing, and stringing together aphorisms and truisms that, yes, are correct, but bear little resemblance to the reality at hand.
“Our record is not where we’d like it to be for sure. But we’re in the process of restructuring and rebuilding the New York Knicks. We’re going to play a new brand of basketball and we’re going to represent this organization and this city in a different way,” he says with a charismatic but earnest and purposeful seriousness. “So we’ve had to remain diligent about their daily habits and more focusing on the process as opposed to the results. And if you focus on the process and the habits, the results will take care of themselves, and we believe we’re going to get there. We just have to keep working.”
You want to believe him, if only because he doesn’t have a choice. He’s already slung variations on the same theme hundreds of times already this season. There isn’t any time and space for doubt here, if he is ever going to succeed. You can see the pain and the frustration right behind his eyes, but Fisher is going to continue repeating these hoops mantras. To put it bluntly, he’s got to fake it before he and the Knickerbockers have a glimmer of hope of making it.
I’m sure the Knicks are tired of hearing all this right-minded talk as well. Even if they know that the dude holding the clipboard and stoically grinding his teeth down to the nubbin(s) is right, and believe what he’s saying, the interminable string of losses sit there, like an ugly, mocking, foul-smelling elephant in the middle of the court.
While listening to Fisher talk the talk, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my own grim, seemingly never ending slog in clown school, and how badly I needed a break, and was praying to all kinds of Gods and supernatural powers to please, by all that is holy and good, please just let this be the end. Today’s win was not particularly good for the tank, and the thought that they’re going to give gobs of playing time to Lance Thomas and Lou Admundson because they bring “energy” instead of letting Early, Wear, Acy and even Aldrich grow, is disheartening at best.
But for fuck’s sake, these guys needed this. I don’t know about you, but I was howling at the screen again as a double-digit lead began to wither like an over-cooked Shrinky Dink, with Galloway throwing up ill-considered heaves as the shot clock ran down, Melo ISO’d to his ISO-tastic heart’s content. Breen, who might as well have been a French Clowning Professor, excoriated Jason Smith for sagging off Ryan Anderson as the latter drained a three to cut it to 84-78, proffering the not-at-all-rhetorical question, “WHY IS HE SO FAR OFF HIM?”
When Melo finally plucked a wide-open Calderon in the corner for what proved to be the game-clinching shot, I gave this bungled and botched group of ‘Bockers a silent, Michael Jordan-ian fist pump.
And I scoured the interwebs for all the joyous, improbable little things—the moments that inevitably would be missed or washed away amidst the despair at yet another dull, rote defeat, like Galloway’s Shannon Brown-y put back dunk.
I hope the Knicks take a moment to breathe and smile and laugh. I hope Langston Galloway has the boxscore of career-best game laminated and mounted on his wall. I hope Melo’s heart burns with pride at playing The Right Way in the final minute. I hope Amar’e runs a replay of the ferocious pick and roll dunk he ran with Larkin over and over again. I hope Tim Hardaway grins at his moments of more-than-solid defense and deft passing. I hope Derek Fisher pats everyone on the back.
Good job, guys. Now get back to tanking and lose like the Dickens to Philly.