You hear a lot about "good fundamental basketball" these days. Bobby Knight is in the Sweet 16, the special-edition "Hoosiers" DVD is new to the shelves, and you can't turn around without hearing somebody somewhere wax nostalgic about the long-lost mid-range jumper.
Fundamentals are important.
I've got a 3-year-old daughter who loves basketball; and I can't wait to teach her to throw a proper bounce pass, dribble the ball with her head up, and square her shoulders to the basket.
But fundamentals aren't everything. Not by a long shot.
If Lesson 1 with my girl is about the two-handed chest pass, then Lesson 2 is about George Gervin's tasty, double-jointed, excuse-me-while-I-slide-on-by finger roll.
From there, we talk about The Doctor, swaying a palmed ball the way a hypnotist swings a timepiece, putting defenders to sleep just before making them look silly.
And then it's about baggy-socked Pistol Pete throwing phantom passes, and a smiling Magic's little no-looks that make even Rambis look graceful.
Style counts, I'll tell her. Flair matters.
Steve Nash flips a little wrap-around to a cutting Amare and seems to backpedal even before he lets it go, like he's Tommy Smothers working a yo-yo.
Vince Carter does that insane mid-lane reverse-revolution scoop against the Lakers (a shot that might even have left the late, great Chick Hearn speechless) and you wonder how his body and brain even dreamt it up, let alone pulled it off.
Like a John Woo action hero rolling across the screen, AI dives headlong through traffic and trouble to get a silver-bullet shot off.
Kobe stab-steps and fades, echoing Air.
Gil Arenas dribbles all high and easy, too cool to sweat you.
Tracy McGrady alley-oops it to himself.
Luke Ridnour does a little shoulder wiggle to set up his top-of-the-key crossover.
And as I'm typing this line, the Bulls' Tyson Chandler skips down the lane, lofts a ball up and into the jamming hands of Eddy Curry, and then does a skip-skip-skip-to-my-lou back downcourt the other way, smiling.
None of it is exactly "fundamental." None of it is entirely necessary. But still, in its way, it's all crucial.
I appreciate Grant Hill's understated precision and Shane Battier's textbook approach as much as the next guy, and I understand the appeal of Tim Duncan's steady drop step and soft bank shot. I really do. I recognize the beauty in the way the Wizards run the Princeton with back cuts, too, and the way the Jazz run the high-screen-roll delights me.
Just, not too much.
I come not to bury fundamentals, but to praise style, if you know what I mean. My text is our collective devotion to the pure value of "good fundamental basketball" and our sometimes knee-jerk damnation of anything that has that little bit extra. There's something a little too buttoned-down about our fascination with fundamentals, I think. They can appeal in the same way robotics do: perfect execution. But they can repulse in the same way robotics do, too: cold, heartless performance.
If you're a head coach hoping to control everything that goes down on the court, maybe the fundamentals, from basic skills to well-run sets, are all that you preach, pray for, and cling to. But for anyone else, for fans and players, style is a big part of what connects us to the game.