Birth Of The Cool

Submitted by Brian on March 29th, 2011 at 4:01 PM

You'll know this by the third word but this is a guest post from Johnny of RBUAS, who just popped up and was like "I've got this thing." Here it is.

birth-1 birth-2

He came from the internet, just like the rest of them. He was in California in barren gymnasiums, making no-look passes from half court with the audacity of someone who thought he’d be the best one there back when the bus was still idling in the parking lot waiting to depart, even though sometimes he wasn’t.

He was at Michigan last year when it was bad and was supposed to be good and when it wasn’t his team because it wasn’t really anyone’s team. And this year when he stewarded a sinking raft that became a submarine lurking just below the water’s surface.

And he was there in Charlotte with eight seconds left, clapping for the ball with enough intensity to turn carbon to diamonds between his hands. Not out of routine or even because it could be no one else but because he knew exactly where he was going and that he needed to get on with it. He needed only the ball and a chance and pursued it with the sort of maniacal focus that ends with you pulling your head inside your shirt completely when you miss because it is dark in there and calm, or at least calmer than the disorienting, vertiginous return to a reality you thought you had transcended in those brilliant moments.

It was a miss that leaves with it a haunting memory; seconds that play on a loop until you fall asleep and then you see them in your dreams. But sometimes they manifest themselves in the type of theatrical vindication accompanied by a montage and a soaring, orchestral soundtrack or at least a bodacious new haircut. I think, at least.

It's technically over but let's call this an interlude.





I think it was sometime in 2006 but all that matters is that it was years after everything happened that they said didn’t happen. Chris Webber was on The Best Damn Sports Show talking to John Salley and some men with spectacularly gelled hair who had never played basketball professionally. And then Jalen Rose appeared on screen via satellite.

Jalen and Chris existed then as they do now: in an impenetrable nebula with other wealthy people who build bowling alleys in Welsh castles and fill the moats with virgin blood and ride around on hover boards sipping Pterodactyl bone marrow straight from fossils. They were exactly where they told each other they would be.

They were there and I knew that they were there because I could see their bodies, and yet they were still mostly back in Jalen’s Dodge Shadow in jackets that were too big; half baffled that they’d made it, half amused that it had been so easy.


Chris said these things:

“Jay had old, beat up shoes, with holes in ‘em, that he would sit around cleaning with a toothbrush and white shoe polish.”

“You’d get a pizza card every day for five days … but me and Jalen would eat the same pizza, save (the cards), so the next week we could get like 15 pizzas.”

“When we were down to UCLA by 20 at halftime, Jalen came in, and Juwan said something, I might have cried, coach Fisher ain’t say nothing, and we walked right back out on the court.”

“Jalen had a green Dodge Shadow that had no back seat because all it had was speakers in the back, that one of his boys hooked up that probably was going to catch the whole car on fire, and all we would listen to was Scarface.”

“It was the best time of my life.”

When they were in that car they were in orbit, in a way, twisting the world in their palms like a tiny stone they’d found floating on their way to another galaxy. They were there and I think, sort of, they always have been.

Jalen told Bill Simmons, “When media members came into the locker room and they hear that kind of music, they’re looking at us like we’re from another planet.”

In some ways they were. Grotesquely fascinating and, in their most thrilling moments, frighteningly unstoppable. Five kids synchronize to create a monster the country struggles to interpret, let alone fathom. They can only stand and watch and listen to the noise and feel the ground shake beneath them. They were a marauding death squad worthy of a theme song and an action figure, shooting apples off each other’s heads once the curtain was drawn.




And so you can pull the banners down; burn them in an open field while orphans sing hymns around the flame. It happened. Something was there and it sort of isn’t anymore but mostly it is, like getting a tattoo of her name removed after she left you and then really left you. Bubbly, mangled flesh where a life once was. It’s gone except that you never forget the times you opened the door and she was there, just standing there, looking at you, waiting for you to let her in.

Brian’s frustration with Webber is not at all irrational. But I never knew them as something that grew, or simply emerged, and then broke everyone’s heart. I know them only filtered through the tumult and deification. Part of why I’m so capable of appreciating the Fab Five is specifically because I’m so detached. I know them through VHS recordings, retrospectives, and ultimately a reputation not so much for capturing the zeitgeist but for chewing it up and spitting it out unmistakably altered. They existed, somehow, and so that is enough for me. They are a geological force, a museum exhibit, an alien cadaver cryogenically frozen in a remote military base to be studied and dissected. It won nothing except everything that actually matters.



It is like someone saying, “So tell me what it was like when you got electricity.” This is what I know because it has always been. Long ago it was dark when the sun went down and now I plug two metal prongs into a wall and can watch infomercials on a colorful rectangle. Only rather than a lab coat they were wearing black socks and an air of magnetic irreverence. I know only what they became.




This is not that team; it is not any team and I have no idea what it will be and for that reason I love it. It is not peculiar or compellingly flawed or even one of Beilein’s self-effacing, limitation embracing West Virginia teams. It is just a thing that is constantly turning into another thing and we see it happen in Jon Horford moving through the lane in what seems like a single step and in laser-precise backdoor bounce passes. In Tim Hardaway Jr. launching three pointers undaunted by distance or obstruction, knowing only of a force that overcomes his entire body and having no desire to suppress it, and a confidence that builds like a tidal wave in the distance and leaves in its wake snapped umbrellas and a 900-win coach’s emasculated smile after barely managing to make it out of there alive.


It is a team at once starkly pragmatic and gleefully ambitious, a kid posing in the mirror in its dad’s fatigues from Vietnam when no one’s home. It is proud and quietly defiant; it is something where things shouldn’t be. If the Fab Five was a seismic force capable of shifting the earth on its axis, this is a plant growing from the fractured pavement.

They came from the internet, obscure aside from their lineage and some of them, for a time, with hair like members of 60’s British rock bands. They are here now and they will be here and I am watching it happen.

(Mar 5, 2011)  Jordan Morgan hugs Darius Morris after Um beats MSU, 70-63, Saturday afternoon at Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor.  (Dale G. Young/The Detroit News) 2011.Johnny used to write stuff like this at RBUAS before everything became too depressing. He met Lloyd Carr once because Carr liked what he wrote.



March 29th, 2011 at 4:14 PM ^

Loved the post! 

Aside from the fact that the writing style was totally unique and entirely unexpected for a boring Tuesday afternoon in late March - in the vast and unending nebulous that exists from the end of the basketball season until the beginning of football - it perfectly captured both my feelings on the Fab 5 and on this year's team. 

Well done. 


March 29th, 2011 at 4:19 PM ^

As much as I detest his writing, it's always good to see his work, because it means that M is finding success in some way. Otherwise, he wouldn't give a fuck.


March 29th, 2011 at 5:23 PM ^

I could not agree more. I have never understood the attraction other have to his writing. Over wrought prose trying to lay far too much emotional significance upon events that cannot hope to carry weight he gives them. He sounds like a 13 year old girl trying her first attemts to write poetry about love and relationships [and vampires, you cannot forget vampires], except its about sports. He wants to sound deep and profound. It ends up being unreadable.


March 29th, 2011 at 5:46 PM ^

What you call being overly emotional, some would call having passion. Giving weight to the experiences is derived from the love of his team/school. Suffering makes success sweeter, that comes through in his writing.....

I think you're trying way to hard to find the writer's ingredients in one post.


March 29th, 2011 at 7:27 PM ^

Suffer? When the goings got tough, Johnny bailed. He gave up. Quit. Ceased to be (in terms of the Michigan blogosphere).

All of the traits he lauds in MICH players, he lacks in his own character.

Vast amounts of words, wasted, ruminating about Mike Hart's stubby legs, churning non-stop toward some ethereal, and ultimately unattainable goal, or however Johhny would put it.

His writing is a meandering road of metaphors that takes a tirelessly long time to traverse, and upon arrival you find that you haven't really gone anywhere, and you could have just taken M-6, cutting 45 minutes off your travel time. It's trite (lol, see what I did there?).

03 Blue 07

March 30th, 2011 at 11:31 AM ^

This confused me last night, and still does (your comment). What Matty Ice was saying is that he takes umbrage with you imputing motive for writing/not writing on Johnny when you've never met the man. He's saying it's fundamentally flawed to think you can ascertain Johnny's subjective state of mind and motivations when you don't have the data to properly do so. For all you know, he just had a kid or something. Or he's a super-bitter hermit troll with a rocket backpack he only uses to hover around in a basement. The possible motives are vast, and to ascribe certain motives/state of mind to him without enough of a basis to do so is inherently overly presumptuous.

Hope that helps (sorry for the verbosity).

matty blue

March 30th, 2011 at 8:09 AM ^

back in the early- to mid-80s, there was an annual baseball book by bill james called 'the baseball abstract.'  being a huge baseball fan, a stat-head and math-inclined, i would almost always get it the day it showed up in the bookstore.  i would then avoid human  contact for a few days and immerse myself in it.  he did this for about ten years (i know, i still have the original copies, held together by duct tape in some cases).

when he quit the abstract, in 1988, he wrote an essay called "breaking the wand," where he talked about his reasons for quitting.  there were several, but the one that i remember the most talked about his fans.  "by writing these books," he wrote (and i'm paraphrasing from memory), "i've met a lot of great people and made some great friends, some of which i'll keep for the rest of my life. i've gotten lots of great letters, and i've always been happy to read them and write back.  but some of them, and it's a small number, have completely pissed me off.  'write about this,' they'll say, or 'don't write about that,' as if i were some sort of goddamned public utility or something." (ed. - i'm pretty sure that "goddamned public utility" is an exact quote) "feel free to argue with me on points, but DON'T TELL ME WHAT TO WRITE."  this last is also a pretty exact quote.

my points being:

  • if you don't want to read it, then don't.  there are a  thousand other people writing about michigan.  brian often links to them.  feel free.
  • you have no idea why he writes or doesn't.  saying that he quit because he couldn't handle the losing, or "when the going got tough," or whatever you wrote above (and i'm not going back to look) may or may not be true, but in any case it doesn't make him any less or more of a fan, or person, or writer.  those of us who write do or don't for lots and lots of reasons.  denigrating him for not doing it isn't being tough, or smart, or somehow better.  it just makes you a dick.


March 31st, 2011 at 7:44 PM ^

so you remembered it just fine. And the shouting is "DON'T TELL ME WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT", so again, just fine. A word here or there is less important than the point, and leaving out only an unimportant word affects nothing.

(I have both the '85 and '88 Baseball Abstracts. I bought one every time the Tigers made the playoffs, which in retrospect was something like living next door to Ernie Harwell and only chatting with him when my internet connection was down.)

Swayze Howell Sheen

March 29th, 2011 at 4:24 PM ^

"And he was there in Charlotte with eight seconds left, clapping for the ball with enough intensity to turn carbon to diamonds between his hands. Not out of routine or even because it could be no one else but because he knew exactly where he was going and that he needed to get on with it"

that stood out for me too -- the intensity of the "give me the damn ball". it's what a point guard does. 



March 29th, 2011 at 4:44 PM ^

Nice post. I thought it was cool and it made me feel like Michigan is cool even though this Michigan is so different from Jalen and that crew.


March 29th, 2011 at 4:51 PM ^

An excellent post.  Cogent, well-written, and inspirational.  I would gladly read anything Johnny writes (and hopefully there'll be lots of good things to write about in the upcoming football and basketball seasons).

Other Chris

March 29th, 2011 at 6:39 PM ^

Takes all kinds, etc. I'm not much of one for this style, ascribing emotion and motivation to people about whom you know little aside from basic biography and box scores. I'm also think the particular case of comparing/contrasting the Fab Five -- as seen through the recent documentary -- and the current team is a bit of a stretch.  


March 29th, 2011 at 10:13 PM ^

It would be creative nonfiction without the verbosity and unrelenting metaphor in the sense that, in the piece, Johnny "knows" what players are thinking and/or feeling. He constructs their thoughts, feelings, and motivations to fit his narrative.

Saying that Darius Morris "thought he'd be the best" is not verbose, nor is it a metaphor; it's fiction. He doesn't know what Darius thought. He gives us a situation that happened (or in this case, probably happened, because we can assume at some point during his high school years in California, DMo played basketball in a gym) and then creates thoughts for Darius that fit nicely into the frame Johnny has built for this particular work. Thus, it is still creative nonfiction sans the labyrinthian prose.

It's still awful without the verbosity and unrelenting metaphor in that, Johnny is essentially ascribing fictitious thoughts and motivations to players. He then filters these made up thoughts and motivations through the prism of his own perceptions, and what is distilled is a sort of vague, nostalgic, garbled, representation of real events. This type of writing is, as I stated earlier, trite.

RBUAS Johnny

March 29th, 2011 at 10:28 PM ^

I meant that to make a no-look pass from half court requires an undeniable boldness and confidence. I guess, in that I was not on his high school basketball team, and that I am not, in fact, Darius Morris, I don't know what he was actually thinking, but I don't think it is at all inconceivable that Morris once sat in a bus before a game and was convinced he would be the best person in the gym before he even got there. He doesn't seem scared or deterred by many things at all. And I think he's basically embraced that this is who he is. Wasn't there an article in the Free Press recently where Morris said some of the tension last year between him and Beilein was created when the team was struggling and he (Morris) was, for a freshman, unusually insistent that he should have a more central role in the offense? He's intense; he antagonizes players who were more highly-regarded in high school than he was. These are all qualities that I find exciting and I think Morris is an especially compelling character because he possesses them. 

Other Chris

March 29th, 2011 at 10:43 PM ^

I'm not sure they are reliable narrators.

I've read far more talking about him being likable than antagonizing, from Play Their Hearts Out to all the Dan Tan stuff. I'm guessing that like all of us, he's a complicated person.  I mean, hell, he was polite to and about Tim Doyle wrt all that butterfly nonsense.

It's just a matter of taste, and it's not a style I favor. Obviously in the minority here.

RBUAS Johnny

March 29th, 2011 at 11:36 PM ^


Morris was quoted in it, actually. And there were quotes from Beilein as well. The Free Press is guilty of many journalistic improprieties, though to my knowledge fabricating quotes is not yet one of them. Anyway, I wasn't trying to debate the paper's credibility (I don't read it much either). 

And I didn't say that he was an antagonizer. He made an antagonistic remark. I don't think that he's exclusively one set of similar traits. I don't think I was being reductive. Yes I agree he's sensitive and likable but telling Kalin Lucas, "get off my court" requires some balls, I think, or at least enough that my "best player there" line isn't pure fantasy.