Yeah, there's this small e-chap press called Deckfight Press that is splattered with my mind detritus. So I recruited the most excellent Mel Bosworth to discuss the new release, Everything That Dunks Must Converge with the author Bryan Harvey. Bryan is one of the founders of the Lawn Chair Boys, a sports and humor website, and regularly contributes to The Faster Times.
Everything That Dunks Must Converge is a book of 'complex literary fan fiction' with features on a few NBA players past and present such as Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo, Blake Griffin, Isiah Thomas, Amare Stoudemire and Hakeem among others. Just in time for the NBA playoffs.
Mel Bosworth: In your first story Isiah Thomas, The Unrepentant, you paint a very bleak picture of the 12-time NBA All-Star. First off, what inspired this story, and secondly, what the hell happened to Isiah?
The Isiah story was actually the last one I wrote. I wrote an earlier version of the Amar'e story as a blog preview for this NBA season, but it felt like it needed something still, which got me to thinking that Amar'e might not be in New York if Isiah hadn't been such a terrible GM. And while Amar'e went to New York as a free agent of his own free will, it feels like he's kind of there by accident, because he was never the top choice for the Knicks as the future cornerstone of their franchise.
As to what happened with Isiah, I'm not sure. Bill Simmons could probably explain it better. I just remember my Dad being a huge Michael Jordan and UNC fan and not liking the Bad Boy Pistons or Isiah (a former Hoosier), but in middle school, I had a teacher who showed us a made for TV movie about Isiah Thomas, which made me think this guy can't be all bad—he rode a train to school and studied vocabulary by way of post-its on his bathroom mirror. I wanted to do that if it would make me better at basketball and so, secretly, I thought Isiah was a role model.
And he wasn't really that bad of a GM with the Raptors and his involvement with the Pacers wasn't terrible, but his behavior with the Knicks has shown him to be anything but a role model. I guess it just made sense to start the book with a paradoxical figure who is awesomely bad at most of the things he does.
As a longtime fan of the Celtics, I was very pleased to find a story starring some of my favorite men in green. Rajon Rondo, The Astronaut is about Rondo readying himself to pilot a shuttle to the moon with his seasoned teammates in tow, but as an allegory it’s about the pressures with which a young stud plopped into an NBA leadership role must contend. It’s a funny story but it also says a lot about our expectations of players as fans and their expectations of themselves. In your opinion, do you think the budding stars of the NBA are criticized/scrutinized too much or not enough? Also, why is Paul Pierce so angry all the time?
I'm not sure how much young stars should be scrutinized. When I was younger, I would have said yes because I thought everyone older was more mature. Now that I'm older, at age twenty-seven, I realize how young twenty-two and twenty-four are and that a lot of people don't have things figured out at that age or maybe any age. I also look at my own career—I'm a teacher—and realize that it took me until my third or fourth year to really be consistently good. The best thing for Rondo is that he came into a team with three Hall of Fame mentors, but that those mentors couldn't neglect him because they needed him just as much as he needed them. I don't know how often that situation happens.
If we criticize these guys as athletes, that's one thing, but if we criticize them as people, well, they're a product of our schools, our neighborhoods, and our values.
Paul Pierce is angry because he got drafted low; because Kobe, T-Mac, and Vince Carter were always more popular; because he got stabbed; because he watches a lot of Mart Scorcese films—I have no idea. I just know that even when he's smiling he looks mad at something or someone. It's like he didn't listen to his mom when she said if you keep making that face….
I really dug the Blake Griffin story. In Blake Griffin, The Magician you draw some great parallels to professional athletes as coming from a long line of showmen like Houdini. The image of Griffin wrapped in chains was pure radness, as was the tension you built in such a small space. Well done, sir. Could you expand a bit on your idea of pro athlete as showman, and also, what do pro athletes have to offer us, if anything, other than entertainment?
Sports are for show, if you're watching. If you've ever played them, then maybe you learn something about perseverance. But just because you learn to persevere on the court doesn't mean you've learned to apply that knowledge elsewhere. It's like when I have students who can find irony in something when I tell them it's there, but when I don't tell them to look for it, they don't always see it.
I watch basketball and see everything dramatically that I see in Shakespeare. Guys like the great Ricky Davis, who shoots on his own basket, should be hanging out with Falstaff and Prince Hal, but a lot of people who love Shakespeare don't like basketball and vice versa. If you want your sports to be compartmentalized, they will be. If you want them to render heartbreaking morals, they can do that too.
I guess what I'm saying is that our athletes are as serious or silly as we expect them to be. If an athlete is in a teacher's classroom and that teacher never expects the athlete to be an academic, then there's no motivation to be one. Of course, that athlete has to also want to be something more than just a pep rally prop.
In Hakeem, The Butcher, The Dream is a merciless meat cutter but he’s also very calm, meditative even. Have you ever found yourself considering the chicken while in a butcher shop? And nice work on having Kenny “jet” out the door. Do you worry that some of the humor in your ebook will be lost on readers who aren’t NBA fans?
I'll be honest, chicken may have been the worst butcher shop meat to choose from. I don't know a lot about butcher shops, but I feel like that's probably the weakest of meats in the eye of a butcher, like ordering a Bud Light at a microbrewery.
I'm glad you picked up on the Kenny “the Jet” bit. A lot of people probably won't. I guess I'm not worried if non-NBA fans miss out on a joke like that, and to justify it, I just tell myself that Lost was a very successful show despite most people not getting it. (Takes a deep breath) I hope people get it.
Will Bill Walton ever be cool?
The fact that Bill Walton is so uncool is what makes him so cool, and I'm clearly saying this having never met the man. But when you think about his life, it just reeks of things that are typically not cool: stutter check, red hair check, bad knees check. And the stuff that made him cool—being a Dead Head etc—are now things that are punchlines for people who didn't live through that time period. All in all, though, this combines to make Bill very cool. Have you seen his new Guinness commercial? It made me want to go out and celebrate a belated St. Patrick's Day.
Who do you see in the NBA Finals this year?
I'm a big Spurs fan, but I don't think they have a deep enough frontline. Tiago Splitter is not the hope we were promised. I also think the Thunder are still one year away. It pains me but the Lakers will come out of the West. In the East, I'm not sure. It'll come down to the seedings. All year I thought it would be Boston, but they're really struggling right now. The Heat are a wildcard, and I think the Bulls are the new Cavs—not enough offensive help for Rose. If one of the O'Neals (Shaq preferably) comes back and contributes, then I'll say we have a rematch of last year's Finals between LA and Boston. But part of me really wants to say Miami, especially if the O'Neals don't cut it.
Lastly, what’s next for Bryan Harvey?
I've probably got a few more acts of Everything that Dunks to write, interweaving the stories more and focusing on the new CBA (collective bargaining agreement). I've got a novel I started last summer that I hope turns out well—it's too early to tell now if it will and I've never written one before, so I'll see how that goes. It's also not basketball related at all. Some more rejection letters from prestigious poetry journals, my students' AP tests in May, and I'm getting married in 2012, if John Cusack can't stop the apocalypse.