The Ironic Athlete is coming

Sometime soon, there will be a true hipster basketball player. He will be a point guard from Brooklyn, and he’ll be one of the top 25 players in his class. His recruitment will be a national story. He will take visits to all the big schools. Kentucky, Kansas, Duke, etc. And he will take lots and lots of other visits to schools he has no interest in attending whatsoever. Miami, Seton Hall, Washington, etc.

And then, on signing day, he will have a “press conference” in the library at his high school. When it comes time to announce his decision, he will pull out a Nebraska letterman’s sweater.

Someone will ask him why he chose Nebraska.

“I just thought it would be hilarious,” he will say. “Like, me at Nebraska. It’s so funny to me.”

He will be the first player to choose a school for its ironical impact.

Athletes and irony do not (intentionally) mix well. Beginning in the latter stages of the Reagan administration, American culture started becoming ironic and hasn’t really stopped since. We are a highly ironical people.

But athletes are, generally speaking, the exception to this. It’s remarkable. Athletes and grandmas are the most earnest people in America. Just listen to how they talk. They are so serious. They are so tuned in. This thing they do is an Important Thing.

I could easily make fun of this, but I shouldn’t, because earnestness is a good quality and irony is a dead end. Irony only begets more irony. It’s a response, not a prescription. In this way, we should all be more like athletes. (Can you tell I’ve been reading David Foster Wallace?)

That said, I think that day is coming, and when it arrives I will love it.

A visual tour of the beautiful crumbling Astrodome

Yesterday the Astrodome opened its doors to some local media, who had to sign liability waivers before we walked in. Place is unsafe, they say. What I found was a place that, like a lot of things in Houston, was born in a very specific period, right as we were going to the moon and going to Vietnam, after the first oil boom but before the second, right as the Baby Boomers were hitting adulthood.

The Astrodome was finished 18 years before I was born, so I don’t know what it looked like then, but I got a strong impression not much has changed.

A tour:

The seats are quite comfortable for a building built in the 60s, but they're all cracked. Sitting in the Astrodome feels and smells like sitting in an old car that's been sitting in a dusty garage for many years.

The seats are quite comfortable for a building built in the 60s, but they're all cracked. Sitting in the Astrodome feels and smells like sitting in an old car that's been sitting in a dusty garage for many years.

The windows still let the light in. Soon after the dome was built, baseball players complained it was hard to find the ball against those windows, so there is a film over them now.

The windows still let the light in. Soon after the dome was built, baseball players complained it was hard to find the ball against those windows, so there is a film over them now.

Can't remember where this was, exactly. But I assume it to be an original 1965 sign.

Can't remember where this was, exactly. But I assume it to be an original 1965 sign.

Don't think these work anymore, but all these signs have little lights around them that light up like a marquee.

Don't think these work anymore, but all these signs have little lights around them that light up like a marquee.

When we say the Astrodome is crumbling, we mean that literally. Chunks of the building are falling off. It has been deemed unsafe for occupation.

When we say the Astrodome is crumbling, we mean that literally. Chunks of the building are falling off. It has been deemed unsafe for occupation.

Astroturf, you may know, was named for the Astrodome, and this is one of the last places on earth you can still find it.

Astroturf, you may know, was named for the Astrodome, and this is one of the last places on earth you can still find it.

This is the door to a dark room. You know, where they develop film on site. Remember film?

This is the door to a dark room. You know, where they develop film on site. Remember film? One older member of the media said he and somebody else used to come back here for a seventh-inning toke. I couldn't tell if he was 100 percent serious, but this was the 60s and 70s we're talking about.

The press box was actually not that dissimilar from the press box at Minute Maid Park. Older TVs. Otherwise, a press box is a press box is a press box. Except for the one at TCU. Man, that thing is garbage.

The press box was actually not that dissimilar from the press box at Minute Maid Park. Older TVs. Otherwise, a press box is a press box is a press box. Except for the one at TCU. Man, that thing is garbage.

"Welcome to The Show," it says.

"Welcome to The Show," it says.

Just one example of how so many things in the dome are stuck in a very specific period.

Just one example of how so many things in the dome are stuck in a very specific period.

I didn't ask, but those looked like they probably still worked.

I didn't ask, but those looked like they probably still worked.

Carter vs. Permian. Written on the walls in one of the locker rooms. I actually got chills when I first saw this, then realized that 1988 game was played in Austin. This was done for the Friday Night Lights movie in 2004. Nonetheless, it's pretty cool that's still there.

Carter vs. Permian. Written on the walls in one of the locker rooms. I actually got chills when I first saw this, then realized that 1988 game was played in Austin. This was done for the Friday Night Lights movie in 2004. Nonetheless, it's pretty cool that's still there.

There are limitations to my camera phone. Those signs say "Home of the Houston Oilers" and "Home of the Houston Astros."

There are limitations to my camera phone. Those signs say "Home of the Houston Oilers" and "Home of the Houston Astros."

A broken, discarded chair sitting in the tunnel that leads from the locker room to the field. Seemed poignant.

A broken, discarded chair sitting in the tunnel that leads from the locker room to the field. Seemed poignant. By the looks of the label, this was from the Don Draper era.

Funny thing is, there were a lot of copycat stadiums after the Astrodome went up in 1965. SkyDome, Three Rivers, Riverfront, etc. When they started tearing them all down in the late 90s, early 2000s, everybody said they were cookie cutter stadiums. But look at this place. Unmistakable for any other.

Funny thing is, there were a lot of copycat stadiums after the Astrodome went up in 1965. SkyDome, Three Rivers, Riverfront, etc. When they started tearing them all down in the late 90s, early 2000s, everybody said they were cookie cutter stadiums. But look at this place. Unmistakable for any other.

There I am, standing on about the 20-yard line. I can't imagine playing football on that turf. There's nothing to it.

There I am, standing on about the 20-yard line. I can't imagine playing football on that turf. There's nothing to it.

These are the lockers in the Oilers locker room. I was told quarterbacks and running backs would have been in this row. Earl Campbell, Warren Moon. Don't they look ... dumpy?

These are the lockers in the Oilers locker room. I was told quarterbacks and running backs would have been in this row. Earl Campbell, Warren Moon. Don't they look ... dumpy?

Tyshawn Taylor’s messy thrilling beautiful masterpiece

I remember the first time I met Tyshawn Taylor, which is unusual. I don’t remember meeting anybody else on that team. It was 2008, and he had just arrived on Kansas’ campus for summer school. He was wearing a white v-neck shirt. That look would become pretty popular over the next year or so, but Tyshawn was the first person I saw in it. He looked cool. I wrote earlier this week that sports are not cool, even though there are cool people in them. Tyshawn is one of those people. Tyshawn is cool. He just is. He has style and charisma. He’s his own man.

I don’t know exactly why I bring that up, but for whatever reason that has always seemed significant to me. I don’t know much about Tyshawn’s aptitude outside of basketball, but I have always assumed he is the kind of person who would thrive in a creative field. He has always seemed so sharply aware of the world and his place within it. He sometimes seems tormented by perception. His own and that of others. Tyshawn has always worn his emotions on the outside. He is a beautiful basketball player to watch, in part because he plays brilliantly, but also because watching him play basketball makes it feel like you know him. No other game is as intimate. In basketball arenas, the fans are right there. Close enough to read the tattoos. The players don’t wear helmets or hats. And basketball is not played behind the wall of structure and design the way football is. Basketball is naked and free. It is played at 5,000 RPM with no seatbelt, and Tyshawn Taylor plays it so honestly. His face always lets you in. His shoulders tell a story. Most players aren’t like that. Most players play covered in the pretenses of Intensity, Unflappability and Invulnerability. Tough guys. Tyshawn isn’t like that. Tyshawn always seems a little vulnerable, and a lot human. The beauty is in that honesty. It can sometimes feel like you’re watching an artist.

When Kansas played at Kansas State recently, and Tyshawn was messing up at the end of the game, and his shoulders started talking and his face started beaming out his insides and he missed the free throws and turned it over, I wrote on Twitter that it looked like Tyshawn was about to paint a masterpiece and cut off his ear. When I say watching Tyshawn play is like watching an artist, I don’t mean he is such a great player he transcends sports, I mean he makes it feel like you’re watching someone express themselves in the most imperfect, crazy, honest way they’re capable of doing it.

You can say many things about Tyshawn, and everybody seems to have something  to say about him. But whatever you say, say this too: Tyshawn Taylor is unforgettable.

If that wasn’t true before, I don’t think anybody at Kansas will ever forget about him now. I do believe Tyshawn became a Kansas legend on Saturday, when he played 44 minutes at an intensity and under a pressure most people will never know. He made one turnover. He scored 24 points. He scored nine points in overtime. Twice, he answered a huge Missouri play with one of his own, and when it came time to decide the game, it was Taylor on the foul line, with that face and those shoulders. He made them both, and Kansas won.

Jason King of ESPN.com got a great anecdote about that moment. Tyshawn’s mom, Jeannell, covered her eyes when her boy stepped to the line. She peaked through her fingers to see her son come through in the clutch, to see her son become a hero. “I broke down and cried,” she told Jason. “That’s my baby.”

Jeannell is such a big part of Tyshawn’s story. That sounds stupid, because considering she is the one who gave him birth, she is pretty much the biggest part of Tyshawn’s story. But there is more to it. It is difficult to explain without getting into vagueness and conjecture, and I don’t think it’s responsible to do that, but it is fair and accurate to say Tyshawn carries a heavy burden in his family, a greater one, even, than most kids from tough backgrounds. A greater one than someone his age should have to. I don’t know much, and I don’t mean to imply I do, but I know enough to know some of the valleys in the rolling hills of his career have not been his fault.

And yet there he was. Here he is. He has been on a peak for two months, mostly. He might be the Big 12 player of the year. He might end up on the All-America team, and if he does for the rest of time you’ll look up into the rafters at Allen Fieldhouse and see it: Taylor 10. Right up there with Chamberlain, Manning and Pierce. Can you imagine that?

What is the point of all this? I don’t know, really. That’s the good thing about having a blog. I don’t need a nut graph. I just found myself thinking about him last night and today, this incandescent kid from New Jersey who loves clothes and Jay-Z quotes and is at his best when he is right up on the rails, skating on the razor blade that separates control and chaos, the kid who can make basketball feel like something ethereal.

And I think we might have seen his masterpiece.