Sports Illustrated writers are prone to get flowery from time to time. (Gary Smith is their staff ace when it comes to turgid prose.) But this right here is ridiculous. Here's how Charles Pierce begins a recent profile of Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash:
A cold spring rain passes through the broken mountains. The morning is gray and laced with it, and it lashes the cactus plants and the arid brush and the birds that call with voices as rough and jagged as the topography. The rain changes the aspect of the desert, softens it into something unlike itself, something liquid and less implacable, something habitable and conventional and less wild, a place where things have to work less hard to grow.
El Chorro Lodge is opening in late morning. Silent men in coveralls sponge the water off the tables on the patio. It is a place like so many that have been carved out of the desert and the hillsides outside Phoenix. People come here to do business over lunch, or to celebrate bibulous anniversaries and promotions and the other minor benchmarks by which success has been measured in the centuries since the desert became another place for the commerce of cliché that is modern American life. The morning comes alive. The chatter at the bar gets louder, almost drowning out the music on the sound system. A Canadian named Neil Young is singing about burning out and fading away. A busboy sings along. Nobody at the bar knows the words. There's no golf course in sight, but everybody there looks as though they've just birdied 18. Outside, a guy on a silver mountain bike glides up to the valet parking stand.
There's a long-sleeved T-shirt under the short-sleeved T, and a pair of gray shorts, and the hair is in some place halfway between the pillow and the morning breeze. The face seems to spread itself open at the bones, the blue eyes wide and the cheeks broad and chiseled. The whole aspect is something both controlled and askew, off-plumb but on-balance. Steve Nash hands his bike to the valets. They park his bike in the lot between a couple of Cadillacs, which look no more like Cadillacs used to look than this place looks like the primordial desert. On a chilly rain-washed morning in a place that's supposed to be neither chilly nor rain-washed, amid the banalities and air-kisses and petty contrivances of a dozen business lunches all around him, Nash seems to be the only soul in the place who's real.
"I've always had a feeling in my life that great things are to come," he said. "My life, it's definitely a bubble, but it's all about how freely and easily you depart from it. And I love my departures from the bubble. I love thinking, What else am I going to do?"
Uh, what? I'm not saying Charles Pierce took peyote before heading to this interview, but he seems awfully impressed by the fact that sometimes it rains in the desert. And I'm not so sure about the value or pertinence of his social criticism. (Nash is real, man. These other people are phonies!)
It gets worse. Charles Pierce has read some important books, you see, and later he decides it's time to shoehorn one of them into this story about a man who dribbles a basketball for a living (emphasis added):
He has been a witness, then, with the shrewd eye of an outsider, to the NBA's transformation into an engine of what Joseph Nye calls "soft power" -- the great, galumphing presence of American popular culture in the rest of the world. "Popular entertainment," writes Nye in Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics, his seminal 2004 work, "often contains subliminal images and messages about individualism, consumer choice and other values that have important political effects." Nye specifically mentions that "even popular sports can play a role in communicating values."
But Nash also has a sense of soft power's inherent trap. So many of its globalized manifestations are driven by corporate imperatives that it homogenizes everything it influences. The authentic is no longer antonymic to the artificial -- not with Camden Yards and throwback jerseys stitched by children in China. When "authentic" is just another brand, the only antidote remaining to the artificial is the genuine, which must always be defined as a million different individual personal choices.
"The authentic is no longer antonymic to the artificial"? Is Pierce practicing for a poetry slam? Yikes. That's terrible.