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Hope on the Hardwood

How FreeDarko Saved the Sport of Basketball

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First there was the blog named FreeDarko. Titled in honor of the seven feet of Serbian sadness that is NBA draft bust Darko Milicic, the collective of FreeDarko writers gleefully dismantled the rigid parameters of sports journalism with absurdist observations and superior statistical analysis. Once you witness FreeDarko's astute observations on basketball, all other coverage seems as bland and expendable as a week-old box score.

But what followed was even more incredible: a book entitled FreeDarko Presents the Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac: Styles, Stats, and Stars in Today's Game. This majestic shot across the bow of sports journalism focuses on the NBA as a rotating galaxy built to house the various personalities that exist within. Throughout Macrophenomenal, the players—ranging from household institutions Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, to those possessing intriguing skill sets, like the speed of Leandro Barbosa or the height of Yao Ming—are masterfully examined and re-presented with a textbook clarity. Their abstract glimpses into the sport of basketball are just what casual NBA fans need to re-associate themselves with what is happening on the hardwood; for us longtime fans, beaten down from years of empty coverage from local hack sports columnists and the useless buffoonery of sports talk radio, The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac is reason to believe once more.

The head of the FreeDarko collective, Bethlehem Shoals (the ridiculous nom de plume of Seattle resident Nathaniel Friedman), took time to discuss turning a blog into a book and the long-lost record collection of former Blazers/Sonics player—and flattop enthusiast—Detlef Schrempf.

Nathaniel Friedman will read from The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac at Powell's City of Books (1005 W Burnside) on Monday, February 9, at 7:30 pm.

MERCURY: Were you concerned that transferring something as free flowing as the blog into a book would lead to a lot of compromising?

BETHLEHEM SHOALS: There were so many steps, so many discrete chapters, that by the time we got someone to buy the book we had absorbed things we'd been told by other writers and by our agent: We would have to compromise and not do the weirdest possible thing on every page. But then when we actually sold the book, our editor said, "We just want you to do your thing, just like the blog."

When I read some of the essays now, I cringe, because a lot of it is exposition; the blog is written as if every person who is reading it knows every single thing about the NBA. I think it's because that's where my brain is most of the time, but it's also very deliberate how insider-y we can be. Basketball books, they don't sell very well, so the worst thing we could do—on top of this being a weird book—would be to make the book hard to get into. So we had to figure out how we could do what we wanted to, and still make it accessible to other people who wouldn't necessarily care about basketball. We try to talk it up as a book for people who are really into sports, or not into sports at all. There's so much information in the book that's presented in such a way: here's what you need to know, why it is, and here is a wacky drawing.

What's your take on media access? Does sticking a mic in the locker room grant you any additional knowledge you couldn't just get from watching the game at home?

It's a necessary form of journalism—but it's true that it's really hard to get good material from the players. The thing about basketball is that a lot depends on what kind of mood the players are in. I mean, a lot of the players are really stupid, but it's not like they don't think about basketball, or about their team. It's really just about them liking you.

Let's talk about the most important subject ever: The long-lost LP collection of Detlef Schrempf. You know where it's located?

This reminds me of the time I mentioned that [Orlando Magic guard] J.J. Redick had a water sports fetish [which was a joke]. I mentioned that offhand without realizing it was exactly the kind of thing that everyone in the world would want to know.

There's a goofy model and hobby place sort of near the University [of Washington]—his records are located there. There are dozens of records; German pressings of folk rock and really campy, self-aware, German hard rock, I really should go back and buy some of it. I can't imagine this being stuff he would have listened to recently or anything.

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