By 1924, American popular music was undergoing a systematic shift. Going were the days of classical dance hall music, with it the borrowed waltzes and concertos which had for so long dominated musical thought and exploration. Polyrhythms and improvisation found their way into compositions with alarming regularity via the African influences from port cities like New Orleans, which many cite as the birthplace of jazz. Perhaps the most emblematic composition of that time, and one which stakes a claim as the most important piece° of American music ever, arrived via George Gershwin, sans his brother Ira, in the form of a commissioned work that, if the composer is to be believed, was written in only three weeks’ time.
“Rhapsody in Blue” opened on February 12, 1924 in a concert at New York’s Aeolian Hall. Mainstream critics left the afternoon showcase confused, with New York Tribune critic Lawrence Gilman saying of the piece, “Weep over the lifelessness of the melody and harmony, so derivative, so stale, so inexpressive!” By 1927, the recording from Paul Whiteman’s band had sold over one million copies. Perhaps related, the Tribune went under in 1966.
Gershwin wasn’t the first artist to produce a work which would come to be highly influential and almost universally acclaimed and yet also see backlash in its time; it’s not like Sgt. Pepper’s skated by simply on the strength of its creators’ names, even in 1967. Even the most universally agreeable work of artistic brilliance¹ has a way of being lost on some people. Nothing is above reproach. In a way, that backlash makes it all the more appealing.
All of which is to say, no matter how widely acclaimed something is at any given time, there will always be someone willing to offer criticism, constructive or otherwise. Until recently, it didn’t seem that the inevitable Golden State Warriors backlash would ever arrive. This caravan of all-purpose basketball savants, like the barnstorming teams of the 1940s, would continue to spread its gospel of joy via the pick-and-roll, exemplary defensive switching and, of course, the three-pointer.
But then, a funny thing happened, and the NBA’s old guard started in with the standard “Back in my day…” criticisms. Last May, current Knicks President and 70-year-old man Phil Jackson, who really ought to stay off Twitter anyway, threw apparent shade at “3pt oriented teams” in a now-infamous tweet featuring the misspelling of a relatively simple five-letter word. He followed that performance art when he recently attempted to draw a parallel between Stephen Curry and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, formerly Chris Jackson, a man who never shot better than 39.2% from three during his nine-year run in the NBA. Curry has never shot worse than 42.4%, and his career average sits at 44.6% at the time of this writing².
Charles Barkley, never one to shy away from, well, anything, has long harbored resentment against the rise of analytics and shooting. In December, Barkley said of the Warriors that the 1995-’96 Bulls would “kill this little team.” Hall of Fame point guard Oscar Robertson recently came under fire for criticizing the play of other teams against the Warriors. Not to be outdone, younger generations have produced people who seem to think the Warriors are either overrated³ or boring.
The people criticizing the play of either Steph Curry individually or the Golden State Warriors as a whole in 2016 are misguided at best and archaic at worst, with trolls who don’t really care either way somewhere in the grey area, right where they belong, buried beneath several hundred comments like “STEPH ISNT HUMAN !!” and “riley is the most talented curry lol but stephs nice.”
If they cheese you off because because your team shares a division or conference with them, or even just because they’re good, that’s fine. But don’t let that sort of petty humanness stop you from enjoying this objectively mesmerizing symphony, a group of men flying around the court in gold, like Mercury leading all of their opponents to the underworld, all the while high-fiving, perfectly aligned in their kingdom of seemingly endless light.
To find rage in what the Warriors are doing is to find darkness in the sun: you’re either overlooking the obvious, or you’ve gone completely blind. Malaise may account for the latter, but that doesn’t discredit the obvious in the former. There will always be critics of genius, turning away simply because they know they’re incapable of the impossible feats occurring in front of them. For this time, these Warriors are the perfect basketball team, and Stephen Curry, lithe, nimble, quick of wrist and faithful of heart, is the perfect basketball player.
°Or pieces, depending on whom you ask, in addition to being the first quintessentially “American” piece(s)
¹I am not saying Sgt. Pepper’s, or “Rhapsody in Blue,” is definitely that, but plenty of people would.
²As Tyler Lauletta would say: Tweets is watching. Always.
³A note here on the enforcement of the hand-checking rule, which began with the 2004-’05 season: yes, it’s a different game than the sometimes rugby-like conditions refs allowed in the ’90s and earlier, but that isn’t entirely up to hand-checking. The rise of analytics, courtesy of Moneyball and related early explorations like Dean Oliver’s Basketball on Paper, as well as new schools of thought in basketball helped to facilitate a different, less physical style of play. We’d also be remiss to discount the influence of players like LeBron James, Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki, emblematic pillars of the Positional Revolution who allowed coaches to cater new gameplans to them and forced others to gameplan for them. Something also tells me Draymond Green would’ve figured out a way to make himself useful on one of those mid-’90s Knicks or Heat squads.