Sports Nut

Rasheed Wallace Is a Toaster

Presenting the NBA’s Periodic Table of Style.

FreeDarko is the Web’s leading destination for the obsessive, overliterate, free-thinking NBA fan. The basketball collective’s new print extravaganza, The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac, mines all of FreeDarko’s obsessions. There are incisive profiles of players, from LeBron James to Leandro Barbosa; unique statistics (the dunk-to-layup ratio among NBA big men); and—perhaps the book’s most startling innovation—the Periodic Table of Style. Below, Nathaniel Friedman explains the table’s genesis and meaning. Once you’ve read his introduction, take in a slide-show essay featuring Style Guide depictions of Gilbert Arenas and Rasheed Wallace as well as excerpts from the Arenas and Wallace essays in The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac. (Read more book excerpts here and buy the book from Amazon.)

High-school coaches try to drill into us that basketball is a game of X’s and O’s, but anyone who’s watched or played the game knows that’s not true. Driving to the hoop, finding your man in traffic, making a wide-open three—these aren’t straightforward propositions. Everything you do on the basketball court requires some level of problem-solving, something each player does in his own way, based on his strengths, weaknesses, and even his personality. With this in mind, FreeDarko created the Style Guide. The Style Guide exists at the nexus of generic description and high-def motion capture, representing players’ games as a composite of descriptive text and symbols—what we call the Periodic Table of Style. Kobe Bryant, maneuvering between defenders, isn’t just driving toward the basket; he’s exemplifying the practice of “lock and key.” Carmelo Anthony doesn’t display excellent footwork; he dances the salsa, takes baby steps, and bounds like a deer.

This is the vast vocabulary of style, and how each player pieces these components together to make the court their own is, in effect, who they are. NBA players have bodies, minds, and histories that factor into everything they do on the court. But the basic building blocks of style, basketball’s instantaneous language, is certainly within our reach as students of the game. All is contained in the Periodic Table of Style, and from there, all men will be spoken for.

At this point, the FreeDarko Style Guide can be applied only in retrospect, through a second-by-second breakdown of film. Hopefully, though, someday networks the world over will build computers that map out replays in these terms and maybe even provide scripts to radio broadcasters. It may sound like a return to Morse Code or a government frequency devoted to UFO secrets, but to NBA enthusiasts, “sand dollar … rocket … sea gull … mystery novel … drain” will be the future of communication.

Click here for a slide-show essay on FreeDarko’s Periodic Table of Style.