The State Of Basketblogging
2:36 PM EST on November 30, 2023
On a September episode of Zach Lowe's wildly popular eponymous podcast, recorded before the Milwaukee Bucks traded for Damian Lillard, Lowe and ESPN reporter Ramona Shelburne were discussing the idea of Giannis Antetokounmpo joining the Toronto Raptors. Lowe recalled the time Serge Ibaka asked Antetokounmpo a true-false question on his own podcast months earlier about whether he'd ever play for the Raptors. Antetokounmpo answered false, but per Lowe, "it was delivered kinda flip." The situation therefore bore continued monitoring.
To anyone not immersed in modern hoops media, it might seem faintly ridiculous to parse for clues the vocal intonations of a former MVP and champion with two years left on his contract talking to his buddy on a cooking show. What is Lowe, a hardcore first-generation blogger turned cross-platform ESPN star, doing speculating with a colleague on where the next cluster of superstars will assemble? Why is it up to as technically gifted a nuts-and-bolts basketball writer as Lowe to digest and explain those dynamics? What does this have to do with what Lowe has taught a generation of basketball fans really matters, like the spread pick-and-roll, Nikola Jokic’s passing genius, and chemistry?
Technical analysis, Xs-and-Os diagnostics, other forms of dancing about basketball’s architecture—the work I am describing is that of the basketblogger, a phylum of writer (this is a perhaps archaic characterization but the more accurate alternative is the poisonous "content creator," so, forgive me) responsible for metabolizing the intricate, large-scale mass of NBA regular season basketball—the news, the games themselves, the league's labor dynamics—and presenting it to readers in more digestible, discrete packages, like Instagram highlight reels, YouTube breakdowns, and, yes, even blogs. The basketblogger is not a news-breaker (though Lowe does occasionally break news), but an intermediary between that mass and a public whose members necessarily cannot watch every game and index every facet of the league in their minds. For this reason, the basketblogger is a critical figure, the first point of contact for millions of fans.
The degree of subjectivity afforded to such an interpolator, along with the NBA's relatively lax standards of copyright enforcement, has elevated the import of the basketblogger figure and made the evolution of the form particularly fascinating to watch as the league has changed over the past decade. If you want to understand the league, at the technical, cultural, or economic level, you should seek to understand its basketblogging corps, though even trying to define that term shows you how much trickier that is now than it would have been in 2013. Can you really make the case that Lowe and WorldWideWob are doing the same thing?
Then again, the Giannis conversation raises the question of just what Lowe is doing anymore. The basketblogger, it seems, is a figure in crisis. Profound shifts in consumptive modes and media dynamics have given rise to a wholly new class of basketbloggers, and along with them, entirely new knots of tension and conflict. The once-ascendant nerd wing of basketblogging finds itself in increasing conflict with newly empowered, fed-up revanchists. A climate of paranoiac cattiness pervades. Those who ball with one hand now blog with the other. Category collapse is upon us. What rough beast slouches towards Bristol, Conn.? Anyone can be a basketblogger; indeed, the veil between basketball-watcher and basketblogger has never been thinner, to the point that even defining the term as such is more a matter of sensibility and less one of productive capacity. How did we get here, and where are we going?
Our story begins in the mid-aughts, a time of great formal experimentation spurred on by a series of technological shifts. NBA League Pass started streaming games online in 2006, democratizing access by freeing the product from the shackles of broadcast television. The first generation of blogging websites came into maturity just as Twitter was establishing itself as a primary hub of real-time conversation; the bloggers were in a dialogue now, not just with each other but with members of the more traditional sports media, and League Pass was at the center of everything. The same year League Pass went digital, then-Rockets assistant GM Daryl Morey co-chaired the first annual Sloan Sports Analytics Conference at MIT. Bloggers flocked to Sloan, and it quickly became established within both the league and the blogging world as a bastion of a new way of seeing the game; less flesh and blood, more numbers on a spreadsheet. Everything felt new, ripe for disruption.
These new tools spurred significant shifts in the way fans consumed the game, and a thousand websites bloomed. While the nascent analytics movement was slowly reshaping how some writers and fans saw the NBA, technological leaps of the early- and mid-aughts were doing away with the last vestiges of strict regionalism. There was still a place for local coverage. Team-specific blogs, like those hosted on SB Nation and ESPN, thrived in this early era, with highly regarded writers like Tom Ziller, Mike Prada, and Lowe getting their starts locally before widening their focus to the entire league. But to be a serious NBA fan beyond, say, 2007 meant having a working understanding of the whole league. I started reading basketblogs around this time, exposing myself to a parasitic pathogen that eventually forced me to write basketblogs, a process that got me here.
In the early days, the variety of styles was exceptional. Coeval schools of basketblogging thought—the loving pretentiousness of FreeDarko, the zaniness of The Basketball Jones, the skeptical curiosity of TrueHoop, to name three—sprung up alongside more straightforwardly nerdy stuff. Legacy media took notice, and some of the writers involved got more lucrative jobs at bigger outlets; anonymous corgi-avatar-having Knicks poster Jason Concepcion tweeted himself all the way into a job at Grantland and later went on to win an Emmy. The NBA was also paying attention, and Dylan Murphy, a former blogmate of mine, is now the coach of the Orlando Magic’s G-League team. While the legacy of those sites and others in their cohort is undeniable (Henry Abbott, now on Substack, ran ESPN.com's NBA desk for a few years) it is mostly one of style, not lasting institutions. For that we have the death of the blog era and brutal contraction of traditional digital media to thank.
The latter factor is a well-understood and clear-cut phenomenon—in the time I’ve spent writing this story, Vice, Conde Nast, and the Washington Post have each laid off segments of their workforce—while the former is less straightforward. Sure, Hipster Runoff doesn’t exist anymore, but "death" is not quite the right term to use here. Basketblogging as an art form did not die when so many Blogspots went dark; if anything, it flourishes more now, though in an undeniably different form. Aside from shrinkage, the most operative shift in media over the past decade has been the slide from words on a page to posts (again, defined loosely, though 80 percent of what I mean here is "videos") on a screen. As basketblogging is necessarily interpretive, it stands to reason that the shorter the distance between subject and translator, the clearer the work.
The odd thing to consider about the efflorescence of second-wave basketblogging is that the core product of the NBA, live television broadcasts, is an aging, wheezing mode of media. It's worth zooming out from year-by-year TV ratings and considering the tensions here. Live TV is increasingly irrelevant (especially among the youngest Americans) and even the tottering financial state of some of the biggest streamers in the world will not reverse the larger-order rise of on-demand entertainment over stuff you have to sit down and watch at a specific time. While the NFL has largely restricted access to secondary content to re-centralize its live product, the NBA is attempting a symbiotic fusion of sorts with its remoras. You basically don't need to watch the NBA, in the classical sense of sitting in front of a TV to view games in their entirety, to follow the NBA. You can just watch highlights on TikTok or listen to the right podcasts and still have an advanced working understanding of the state of the league. Something is certainly lost as context collapses—herein lurks the protean state of that eternal basketblogging golem: the casual—though that has necessarily always been the case for anyone who doesn't watch every single game and talk to every single player.
I'm still a luddite basketblogging bibliophile at heart, yet democratization of access has undeniably created a proliferation of novel, interesting (again, sorry) content; the Thinking Basketball YouTube channel publishes video essays that are simply classic basketblogs in a different format, and on the other end of the spectrum, the guilty pleasure of slanderous AI rig-ups has opened a new frontier in hating. Any time I come across the “#1 ranked snitch ref” posting a video of some NBA player getting away with something, I’ll watch it. There's still a place for written pieces, though there's also now space for everything else, often where form and function more cleanly align. Why sit down to crack open a long blog post about the trade deadline when you can listen to a podcast at 2x speed on your commute? (I know of a writer at a prestige magazine who listens to the sped-up Bill Simmons Podcast while he works.) Why read 2,000 words about the Timberwolves' pick-and-roll defense when it's much simpler to be shown videos? (I asked a staffer's teenage hooper son how he consumes basketball and he said he's always watching YouTube.)
The affective cul-de-sacs and endemic style tics of this newish mode of basketblogging lend themselves to irrationality and can tip all the way over into stan culture; something like a completely earnest, completely defiant, single-issue account dedicated to defending Ben Simmons's honor against the real and imagined haters only makes sense in the modern context. Poke as many holes in a sentence like “Ben is the reincarnation of Dennis Rodman” as you want—there’s something about its purity (of heart and stupidity) that is charming simply because it defies any of the careerist strains in early basketblogging, the prose in which too often ached with its author's wish to be well thought of. Through the great creative destruction of the form of basketblogging, making a career out of basketblogging has never been harder, but it's never been easier to basketblog. Just about anyone can download any video of any play from NBA.com and put a bunch of them on YouTube and draw little circles around any player they like and make any point they want.
If there is any unifier in this space it is NBA Reddit, the de facto hub of modern basketblogging. The site's mix of highlights, gossipy tidbits from podcasts, and larger-order discussions of the game form an uncannily accurate simulacrum of the sort of stories you would find on a first-generation website. The reality-show-shaped player drama stuff pops on Reddit, as do the particularly instructive highlights; the hypothetical basketball fan reared on nothing but /r/NBA would be someone as versed in the semiotics of superstars removing team branding from their Twitter bios as they would be in ghost screens and zoom actions. Its nominally decentralized nature and discursive focus make it a reasonable, if crude, stand-in for the state of the basketball fandom hivemind, to the degree that if you read /r/NBA alongside latter-day basketball writing, you can identify a clear two-way relationship between the two. Kevin O'Connor, Twitter power user, pretty clearly is writing for the /r/NBA audience, and the site functions very loosely as a sort of collective public editor for a certain sort of blogger.
But this decentralization is an incomplete one. If the middle class of basketball writers has found itself obviated by Reddit and YouTube, there still exists a core of good basketball writing jobs, mostly at TV-adjacent outlets, other legacy publications, and The Athletic. Those who have stuck around for decades and made a career of it have tended to be from the nerd lineage. Lowe is a star at ESPN, while others in his cohort got jobs with NBA teams, like John Hollinger with the Grizzlies, Kirk Goldsberry with the Spurs, Sebastian Pruiti with the Thunder, and Seth Partnow with the Bucks. These five figures are a non-representative sample of the broadly defined and chronically misunderstood analytics movement, which has its adherents and haters across the spectrum of basketball media. All the funnier, then, that nobody can really agree what they mean when they talk about it.
Let's return to Zach Lowe. He is almost certainly the most famous and well-regarded basketball writer, a term which I am no longer deploying as a catchall. In almost every sense, he is the ur-basketblogger, the ideal of the form. Lowe worked as a high school teacher, then a local reporter, then began writing for free for CelticsHub.com during the earliest days of basketblogging. He wrote himself into full-time jobs, at Sports Illustrated then at Grantland, and into the forefront of the movement by using data and tape to break down the game from a different angle than his non-analytically inclined competitors. When Grantland folded, he stayed on at ESPN, where he still writes when he’s not going on TV. Like the art form generally, he’s evolved into a media behemoth, dividing his well-compensated time between TV spots, podcasts, and columns.
Works like The Dunker Spot, Hollinger and Partnow's writing at The Athletic, and Mo Dakhil's breakdowns are so popular because, across the forms of podcast, blog post, and short video, they allow the listener/reader/viewer to understand basketball at a granular level. Everyone necessarily uses data to support their arguments. Here’s the Dunker Spot’s Nekias Duncan on the Orlando Magic’s offense:
I watch this Orlando group on offense, and I don’t feel like this is a poor spacing group. They generally know where they want to be on the floor. If they’re clearing a side for Paolo, or Franz, if they’re running a pick-and-roll on the wing, they do a pretty good job of maximizing whatever space they need. They lift with purpose, they relocate, they mirror their movements with the drivers, they do a good job of straining space. But there are just obvious limits to that because of the shooting talent on the roster. They’re bottom three in three-point percentage, low in attempts in terms of the percentage of shots they take from three. It’s not a good three-point shooting team, but they do everything they can to maximize that. I just wonder what happens when some of these guys just make shots?
In Lowe’s case, his latter-day columns are not all that different from his earlier work: Here are some clips, here are the relevant stats, and here is the argument. Questions of style matter though they are subsumed under the framework of efficiency. Take this recent bit about LaMelo Ball, for example:
Ball is shooting a hideous 45% at the basket, and I barely care because he's getting there more—the crucial next step for both Ball and the Charlotte Hornets' half-court offense. About 32% of Ball's shots have come in the restricted area, the highest share since his rookie year—and up from a too-low 23% last season. The worst thing would be for Ball to grow discouraged at his issues finishing and revert to lofting floaters or kicking to shooters before really sucking in the defense. Keep prodding, and results will follow: layups and free throws for Ball, easier shots for Ball's teammates—open 3s for shooters, and dunks galore for breakout second-year center Mark Williams.
Lowe supports his argument with a pair of video clips and three stats, each of which is only “analytical” to the extent that it triangulates frequency and accuracy with spatial data—and what’s more, he mounts an argument against those numbers, because there’s a basketball logic that supersedes their warnings.
The critique, oft-leveled by midrange evangelists and former players, is that an actuarial, prescriptive vision of basketball mounted by people who never played the game at a high level runs against the soul of the game, and has, by its popularity among decision makers, ruined it. Certainly, NBA basketball in 2023 looks completely different than NBA basketball in 2013—the team that shot the fewest threes per game last year shot as many as the team that shot the most threes a decade ago, and only one team was slower last year than the fastest-paced team in 2013—and the offensive revolution has hit beloved midrange specialists more-or-less like Chicxulub.
Call this the stylistic countermovement in basketball discourse. It is entirely rational to regard the NBA’s gleefully technocratic turn over the past decade with contempt, to reject the gleaming Terminator skull of data capitalism turning its gaze onto something as beautiful as basketball. The analytics movement has traditionally skewed white and male, and the dynamics of that vanguard crafting prescriptions and missives for a mostly black labor force to follow in such a way that they alienate segments of said labor force are, at best, uncomfortable. While that movement didn’t seize the means of basketball production—even if it did, we run up against the counterargument, which would go something like Teams only ever do anything because they want to win basketball games, which they are—its power to shape discursive consensus is significant. The holy truth of the new school is efficiency, an intensely hierarchical vision of basketball expressed chiefly through the cold language of management cost optimization, language that has the power to shape how coaches, players, and ways of playing are perceived, and therefore, paid.
I am broadly sympathetic to the stylistic argument, even if I find it hard at some level to take seriously the notion that someone who found NBA basketball pretty to watch in the Obama era would be repulsed by the turbo-charged version we have today. The deification of a player’s numerically determined value at the expense of immeasurable qualities like creativity or competitiveness asks fans to look at the game like fake front office guys, to regard something like the aerial virtuosity of Kyrie Irving’s finishing as, at best, a secondary or tertiary concern.
You will notice, in that example I used, that neither Lowe nor Duncan's numbers are themselves the arguments; indeed, I was struck, upon listening to a recent Lowe Post episode with Duncan, how few stats the pair even mentioned. The tone is still geeky, though it's less The Lakers' halfcourt offensive rating is X when they do Y and more Taurean Prince doesn't hesitate to pull it like Rui Hachimura does, and doesn't that help the Lakers' spacing, even though Hachimura has more juice as a secondary creator? While statistical measurements of basketball on the floor are a core part of this mode of basketblogging, the limits of relying solely on data have made themselves apparent; even the hardened numbers warriors over at Dunc'd On, whose tone is as prescriptive as it possibly gets, will mantle their data with observations about players' specific on-court tendencies.
Is it odd then that Lowe, the prophet of a certain way of seeing the league, has been spending an increasing amount of space on his podcast and in his TV appearances parsing interpersonal dynamics between players, speculating on rumors, and conducting vibe assays? Not really. His focus on Giannis Antetokounmpo's tone may have been odd in the micro sense, but never before have the feelings of superstar players and their relationships with each other been more important. Weeks after Lowe parsed the verbal data, the Bucks traded for Damian Lillard and Antetokounmpo signed an extension, completing clearly the most important arc of the offseason.
Gossip reporting is meaningful to understanding the NBA at a macro level, as is a mechanical grasp of something like how the Nuggets attack zone defenses. The relevant time period here overlaps neatly with the era of player empowerment and the superteam, making the personal lives of players and their dynamics with each other extremely relevant to questions of team-building. It’s unscientific, but it matters; the league’s two most recent dynasties were built on banana boats and at a mansion in the Hamptons. Adrian Wojnarowksi and his linguistically ambitious former protege Shams Charania are not basketbloggers in the formal sense (there’s precious little analysis to their work), though they are the NBA’s foremost news breakers and likely the two most famous NBA writers specifically because of their brokering of league gossip.
One interesting thing to note in Lowe's case is how years of writing about the league and talking to coaches, players, and management types has refreshed, as read in his work, classically old-school notions about the psychological value of getting offensive rebounds, or the necessity of a Dawg in the playoffs. In other words, the abstraction involved in summarizing hundreds of flesh-and-blood basketball plays with numbers and theory has shown itself to have limits. There's something faintly beautiful here; even at its most precise, basketblogging has to, at some point, account for the messy human element. Math eventually bows to man.
In this particular way, Lowe is horseshoe-theorying his way around to another novel, extremely popular form of basketblogging: player podcasts. Four of the 10 most popular NBA podcasts are hosted, respectively, by JJ Redick, Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes, Jeff Teague, and Paul George; Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett's Showtime show, when coherent, is also worthwhile. Just as the shift from blogs to posts shortened the metabolic process of basketblogging, the mass turn to podcasting by former and even active players makes direct something that used to be one degree of articulation away. No more interpolators telling you stories about intra-team dynamics, just Jeff Teague and Jordan Crawford laughing about their time competing for minutes against each other.
Watch one clip of Karl-Anthony Towns glitching out on Patrick Beverley's podcast and it becomes obvious that not everyone is built for this. Carrying an hour of a podcast is tough work, and it’s clear that the player-pods are designed with modularity in mind. The point is to generate discrete clips that can then be digested on social media, not really to build a long argument or present novel insights. At their worst, the player-pods are off-putting and propagandistic; at their best, they bring listeners in at a granular level unachievable via conventional basketblogging methods (e.g., Draymond Green hitting the mic hours after a Finals loss in 2022 to talk about how he failed Steph Curry and how the Warriors needed to run out and contest Celtics shooters) and are stuffed with both juicy anecdotes that players would only be comfortable telling each other and craft-as-craft stuff. My favorite example this year was Cam Johnson and Redick breaking down right-handers shooting on the run at the subatomic level:
It’s the squaring of shoulders. So any time you’re going left, it’s just so easy to turn that shoulder, but when you’re going right, the arm that’s shooting the ball is actively away from the hoop, so then you have to rotate to square with the hoop while maintaining speed. Something that I think you mastered, I’m sure you’re very conscious of this, you allowed the process to happen. So you go right, and you’re not like Let me stop my body, square my body, and then shoot. You do it as one continuous motion, so it’s left foot, right foot plant, elevate, and rotate. You jump without your shoulders being square to the hoop and catch the square mid-jump.
Perhaps the most interesting facet of the player-pods (though this tendency arises everywhere) is the difference between the way they talk about the process of basketball and how the most wised-up media knowers talk about it. You necessarily have to be a smart basketball player to play in 2023, which makes the difference all the more interesting. It's one thing to watch the Thunder's ornate out-of-bounds plays and pick the movements apart with forceps like a surgeon, though to the player throwing a killer pass or destroying someone with a devastating crossover, they're simply hooping. It's not surgery, it's something closer to magic. Call it the SLOB Wizard Paradox.
This dissonance, such that it exists, is an instructive one and it points to what I see as the operative tension in basketblogging. If you are someone who finds the Lowes and Hollingers of the world to be anti-basketball number-crunching nerds, surely you would find solace in the players themselves talking about the game in a different way. You would rally to Udonis Haslem's banner after hearing him scoff at "assalytics." You would regard Damian Lillard's post-trade warning to the "casuals" that they "won't be addressed" and know your enemies weep. There is a strain of basketblogging that swims in these waters, a coherent, popular school of thought that deifies the pure figure of the real hooper.
A real hooper is someone unsullied by the technocratic mediocrity and anti-creativity of the modern, system-based NBA. A real hooper is an aesthete, a player for whom the beauty of scoring matters as much as anything. A real hooper is a rugged individualist. A real hooper does not seek the simple path, she revels in the difficulty of operating in the no-man's land of the midrange. A real hooper faces his own prophesied obsolescence with equanimity, knowing that his archetype is eternal; real hoopers were getting buckets long before you were born, and they will continue to get buckets long after you're buried.
If Lowe is the exemplar of one pole of basketblogging, then Ekam Nagra is his counterpart at the other pole. Better known as Ball Don't Stop, Nagra is a multi-platform Canadian basketblogger, a Pro-Am organizer, the ne plus ultra of the reaction against the aesthetics of the modern NBA, and above all, the high priest in the church of the real hooper. The Nagra vision of basketball posits the following: the NBA was in a state of something like pure harmony until 2014, at which point the game changed and became the AAU; Kobe Bryant is the greatest basketball player of all time; there is a pernicious mass of "casuals" (the term I will use henceforth), "box-score boys," and analytics nerds, who seized power and mounted a counterrevolutionary purge of the real hoopers from the game, murdering notions of creativity and midrange scoring in favor of a mindless parade of threes and layups. There's more than a whiff of revanchism here, motivated by a true ideological passion for an idealized past against a nebulously defined class of outsiders responsible for sullying what was once pure.
On the one hand, it's easy to dismiss Nagra as a nostalgic crank, looking south on a northbound boat. His explicit position is that defense basically doesn't matter. His Kobe fixation was memorably psychoanalyzed by the pseudonymous basketblogger who runs Never Hungover as an "inability to grapple with parasocial grief in specific and a deeper mourning over time’s passage and death’s inevitability in general as displaced and projected onto a legion of nefarious bugmen conspiring to steal from him his last source of joy and beauty." And the lost arts he's mourning have been abandoned because they didn't help teams win basketball games.
“I would transform an NBA team overnight,” goes a favorite Nagra tweet of mine. “It’s easy in this talent filled league. The problem with a lot of these teams that stay at 10-15th is they don’t have people in the front office who have an eye for the game and talent. Just the analytics. The feel for the game is king.” All he’d have to decide is whether to trade three first-rounders for Cam Thomas, or four.
On the other hand, Nagra is popular among players: Many current and former Raptors and Canadian players have appeared at his Pro-Ams in Toronto and Vancouver, and Fred VanVleet, Isaiah Thomas, and other pros have shown up on his podcast. As a basketblogger, Nagra's goals aren't all that different from his nominal peers across the trenches from him, in that he also seeks to clarify and explain the patterns of the game, and prognosticate from there (the difference is that the prognostications are, like, Marcus Thornton would be a billionaire if he were born a decade later). Nagra even takes the basic conceit of basketblogging a step further by refusing to disentangle questions of skill from ideas of style—his aesthetic tendency is why, even if I disagree with essentially all of his conclusions, I can't help but have a soft spot for Nagra. But the real utility in considering Nagra seriously is for the ferocity of his war on the casuals.
Pervasive contradictions riddle his taxonomy. The lumpencasual holds power to a meaningful enough degree to be able to change the stylistic course of NBA basketball. The casual is steadfastly married to rigid, analytical ways of seeing the game, but is also foremost a creature of social media consensus. The casual fundamentally does not like basketball yet is obsessed with having opinions about it, leaving them in a constant, slack-jawed posture of surprise. Idiosyncratic as this language all is, it gets at what I see as an important anxiety churning within basketblogging. There’s an odd tension here to Nagra’s (though he’s not alone) scorn for the casual. Isn’t some point of basketblogging, or really any creative work, to introduce something new to someone? Nobody is omnipotent, and everyone who spends time on the basketball internet is a casual to some significant degree, waiting to be reforged in the crucible. “Casual,” then, doesn’t really mean casual in the literal sense.
In the figure of the casual, second-wave basketblogging finds itself grappling with its own tensions. If everyone can be a creator with access to the means of production, then everyone is both subject and object, infinitely capable of self-expression as a basketblogger but also susceptible to ideological capture. The edges between expert and reader are no longer distinct, and a reflexive reassertion of traditional basketball principles, appealing to the cult of the real hooper against the rising tide of modernity, is in some sense an attempt to wrest back control. If you cannot distinguish yourself by the act of basketblogging itself, this worldview proposes, you can still distinguish yourself via style.
The state of basketblogging has never been more fraught, precisely because it’s never been more open, which should sound familiar to anyone who has paid attention to the way traditional media has both warped and been warped by the gravity of social media. The boogeyman casual is the embodiment of a generalized anxiety about the changing political economy of basketblogging and its new polarizations. The casual bespeaks the fear that someone out there might care too much about the wrong thing, that the game itself is over-mediated, that we have lost sight of the essential question of who is and is not a bucket. The casual augurs the apocalypse in which the NBA's culture war is settled in favor of trivia, gossip, optimized efficiency—the great gettin' up morning when ball, at last, has stopped.