Mark vs Cancer

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Sweet Dish

There is nothing in basketball sweeter than a great assist: a perfect no-look pass that threads the needle, finds its target, and drops jaws. (A close runner-up would be me busting a three on some fool's head.)

What makes a sweet dish so thrilling? Other hoops skills are more purely athletic: shooting, dunking, dribbling, etc. But passing is first a cerebral and secondarily (but equally) an athletic skill.

However, it's not cerebral in a pre-meditated, logical way. Rather, it is cerebral in the sense of the "Blink" phenomenon: the brain's intuitive, instanenous assesment of a fluid and complex situation (nine other players and a ball all moving independently) that materializes into decisive, coordinated action.

The passer sees the floor, evaluates which teammate is in a position to receive the ball so as to score quickly, anticipates if there are any defenders likely to thwart the play, decides on whether the play is worth the risk, and then generates a rapid plan to move muscles and bones in such a way as to deliver the goods. Add to that complex thought process the no-look elements: trying to disguise the pass by looking away, or throwing in extra hand movements to disguise the ultimate direction of the pass, or coordinating more complex body movements such as taking the ball between the legs or behind the back, or passing to a player who is no longer in your field of vision based on where you think they will be from when you last saw them. Throw into that mix the higher elements of game strategy: should I take the risk or protect the ball? who is hot and how do I get them the ball? where are the mismatches or where will the double team come from?

And all of that must happen in a fraction of a fraction of a second, or else the great assist becomes the conspicuous turnover, and the coach sits you on the pine and screams at you to stop hot-dogging it. But then Judy Osse screams from the bleachers that it was a foul and that the refs stink, and you feel briefly better, but in an unsettling, unjust sort of way, for you know in fact that it was not a foul, and that in fact you were hotdogging it, and she has sadly been blinded by her rage.

Of course, this is not an individual effort. In order for a great pass to turn into an assist, another player must catch the ball and then put the proverbial biscuit in the proverbial basket. This frequent failure on the part of the other players is what led to the purely Foster statistical category of the "Would-Be Assist." After all, is it my fault if another player is too ungainly and uncoordinated to take my gift and complete the simple act of placing it through the hoop? Do not rob me of my glory through another's incompetence. Credit me, rather, with a Would-Be Assist.

That brings up the final element of passing that makes it so enthralling: it is ultimately an altruistic endeavor, sacrificing individual glory for the team's benefit, providing teammates with the opportunity to succeed and to taste of the ultimate success of the sport, namely scoring baskets.

Ah, scoring baskets. As I get older and my days of hoop viability dwindle, this final fact is why I no longer pass the ball. I must approach the game selfishly now, opting to shoot the rock until the lights turn out--teammates be darned--for the sun is fading and the opportunities for glory are precious and limited. Give me the dang ball, and let it rain.

In all honesty, I revel in making a great pass more than anything else in the sport. My greatest basketball heroes have been great passers: Magic, Larry, Michael (yes, MJ was a gifted passer), Stockton, Kidd, and now Steve Nash.

Enjoy this video mix that celebrates the sweet dish, set to a European soccer chant with a nice techno beat.

This is basketball at its most beautiful.


Jeff said...

I agree with your comments and the video was very cool, but I want to add a thought or two. For me, the cool thing about great passing players is not the around the back passes and the alley oops. While many of these are extremely impressive, the great playmakers are usually very unspectacular in how they get the job done(see mr John Stockton). Steve Nash makes spectacular passes for sure, but what makes him the best guard in the game is that he always makes the right pass, which 90% of the time is a boring, fundamentally sound play. A great passes controls the game in a very controlled, studied way that is often short on fireworks, but rich in beauty. That's why schoolyard basketball(ex. And-1 mix tape tour) is slightly interesting, but grows old after awhile. Dunks, swats and fancy ball handling is great, but it is the fundamental, solid-as-a-rock, playmaking game of "real" players like Nash, Stockton and Kidd that can be truly sublime.

Goose said...

The last one on the video was not really a great pass from Iverson because it was almost to tall for him, but it was an awesome dunk. To me the assist ain't nothing. All I like to do is put the ball where it belongs. I don't need no help (assist) with that.


Tyler said...

Like you said in your post, the ability to really "read" the floor and distribute the rock the way some of the greats do it is really an unteachable talent. You either got it or you don't.

I don't....

But someone has to put the biscuit in the basket to make it an assist, and I'm more than happy to help out where I can...

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