And just like that: FreeDarko has come to an end after six years of tantalizing posts, essays, theories, rants, jokes, graphs, random jpegs, and two incredible books (with beautiful artwork/prints to boot).
I regret not having had the time or the energy this past week to contribute to FD’s swan song post, but I feel compelled at the very least to write some words here. I’ll be honest: the end of FD saddens me deeply, even if the current incarnation of the site itself has been a slow burn for a while now. Of course it’s just a place, a geographical location, and surely the impact of what “FreeDarko” means to everyone, that spirit, will carry on. It’s like that Brian Eno quote. If everyone who bought the first Velvet Underground record started a band, everyone who read FreeDarko started a basketball blog.
My sole contribution to the site involved poring over Hakeem Olajuwon’s game logs, Ramadan calendars, and making line graphs to debunk the popular myth that The Dream actually played better when he was fasting. This of course, isn’t true. See for yourself, here. I bring this up not to stroke my ego, but to point out that the post is representative of what FD did so well: challenge the status quo. To dig deeper. To be weird. To not just accept the traditional storyline or lazy observations, to make the game bigger, more interesting, or more relatable than W’s and L’s. Basically, they saw the NBA for what it was: People. And extraterrestrials. And far reaching biblical analogies. Sure, sometimes they were a bit esoteric and elliptical, but it couldn’t have been any other way. Or else Anthony Randolph’s heart would stop beating.
The truly remarkable thing about FreeDarko and its appeal, as others have already noted in the final post, is how comforting and revelatory it was to discover a place that confirmed and expounded upon many already unformed thoughts going on inside my own head. Stumbling onto FD initially was spellbinding and shocking, like finding an alternate universe of best friends who care incessantly about the exact same (and ridiculous) things you do. It was like the best inside joke, except it was a basketball blog, and it somehow kind of made sense to people outside of itself (I am now remembering the unbelievable excitement some friends and I had seeing a dude at one of our DJ nights wearing the Amar’e style guide t-shirt). FD didn’t invent or pioneer the synthesis between arts/culture and hoops, but it wasn’t like their favorite movie was The Shawshank Redemption (cough) either. They found and preached beauty in the individual. The maligned, rogue, outsiders; all were all welcome, if not preferred. They saw the game of basketball hardly as a game at all, but as a microcosm of life itself. They found humor everywhere. It was truly next level shit, in every regard.
At the risk (and endorsement) of hyperbole, FreeDarko was revolutionary. As both a sports obsessive and cinephile, I like to think that discovering FD was like seeing Godard’s Breathless for the first time in 1960 (just replace Jean Seberg with Lamar Odom and jump-cuts with liberated fandom, or something). Going even further, FD carried the torch and represented a cultural shift in basketball fandom and writing that not only resonated but ruptured the stale state of affairs that so much sports writing had become and continues to be. I’ve always somewhat harbored my true feelings that film auteurism and FreeDarko were essentially playing ball on the same court so to speak, and this was a major point of understanding. Shoals & Co. dissected the game and found not winners and losers or MVPs, but people and their delicate personalities and styles, just as the Cahiers critics, Andrew Sarris, et al., found the same in film projected at 24 frames a second.
If there’s to be any solace in the end of FreeDarko, it’s that the end is just an illusion. Just as they wrote about the humanity of our athletic heroes, they too are human (all too human). I’m sure the many upstanding gentlemen of FD will continue to do what they do, whether it’s writing, psychoanalyzing, or making giant billboards of Blake Griffin being shot out of a cannon. LBJ took his talents to South Beach and we all lived, right? If we can survive that, we can survive anything! But of course, it’s more than that. FreeDarko may be “dead”, but “FreeDarko” will live on. It will live on any time JR Smith does anything. It will live on in our memories of Gilbert Arenas. It will live on in any dimly lit apartment full of pot smoke that erupts in otherworldly screams after a JaVale McGee dunk. It will live on inside the ghostly bones of Anthony Randolph. It will live on when I, a Bulls fan, argue against Derrick Rose as MVP. It will live on when a poor college student buys League Pass for the first time, even though he can’t really afford it. It will live on every time Rondo defers on a wide open layup. Most importantly, FreeDarko will live on in the spirit and soul of all those who were believers. We’ll never look at basketball (or any sport) the same. And for that we’re eternally grateful.