The subway, the snow and the polar vortex conspired this week to remind me about the myth of movement. And since there’s a basketball metaphor trapped inside my very chilly commute story, you get to hear about it.
I arrived in my new city1 just about the same time as a literal arctic front, which made for an interesting first week of commuting from my Park Slope pad to the office in Lower Manhattan. I’ve been around the city enough to understand how the commute works, but I’m no sage pro of the Subway yet; as it turns out, I know (as the saying goes) “just enough to be dangerous.”
So on the first morning I was due downtown, I bravely popped out into 9 degree weather and light snow and headed towards my urban chariot, the 2/3 train. When I got to the station, the electronic board told me that the nearest Manhattan-bound 2/3 train was nine minutes away. However, because of weather issues on a parallel line, they were diverting 5 trains through our station, and one of those would be coming through in two minutes2. It would make all the same stops as my usual train up until Fulton Street, at which point it would get back to being the 5 train and head up the East Side.
That would leave me one stop shy of what would typically be my spot to surface, but it would save me SEVEN WHOLE MINUTES of waiting for my train. So I hopped in.
The walk from Fulton & William over to where I would normally get off the train is not terribly far – it’s actually about (drum roll) seven minutes, according to Google Maps. But on this particular day, the seven minutes of standing on the subway platform would have saved me seven minutes of walking in that bitter cold – the wind chill off the Hudson made the “feels like” temp a subzero nightmare. By the time I got to work, my face was stinging and ice had begun accumulating on my eyelashes.
My chapped, red face lasted all day, a reminder that I had fallen for the myth of movement: the sense that any movement towards your destination is better than none. As the polar winds reminded me, sometimes the most efficient way to get to your destination requires standing still for a few minutes.
There are a lot of examples of the movement-is-best fallacy in the Jazz fan conversation right now, and as fans of a historically successful franchise, we probably all slip into that mode without thinking sometimes. Like most fans, I’m a bit conflicted about winning this year. I go into each game legitimately hoping for a Jazz win, but if they lose, I instantly switch into, “Oh yeah, draft pick” mode. I assume in that way each Jazz win is a little like the 5 train, while standing there for another seven minutes could bring the Jabari train or Wiggins train or Embiid train that’s a more direct route to where we’re headed.
But there are any number of similar 5-train conundrums with the Jazz this year. We’ve already talked about minute allocation issues that beg the question of what train the franchise is on (or if they’re all waiting for the same one), but impatient comments keep popping up from people in a hurry to get one place or another.
Last week, after the Jazz’s starting vets played a key role in propelling the team to a victory, a couple different tweeps said different versions of: “We don’t want to see wins featuring Marvin Williams & Richard Jefferson.” That’s odd. Maybe these folks are really just mature, patient people waiting for the 2/3 train, but I read it as though they’d rather see the young guys struggle and lose than watch the team figure out how to win with some help from some older guys. That seems a bit like cutting off your nose to spite your face. If the goal is teaching a young core how to win games, why should it bother us when they put the pieces together with help from a vet or two?
Of course, the vets represent their own movement paradox.Because riding a bunch of expirings to empty wins now still leaves a lot of ground to be covered on the back end of the journey. It’s why I hope everybody involved has the same destination in mind and the same plan to get there. If the desired outcome is purely about ping pong balls3, then Marvin and Richard are absolutely the 5-train scenario incarnate4. My hunch is that the desired outcome has more to do with creating a culture and teaching behaviors, and then hoping some mix of lottery luck and/or the asset cupboard gets the Jazz what they need if they accidentally win a few too many.
There are a lot of 5-train scenarios in the realm of the youngs, too: apparent shortcuts that actually cause you more pain and suffering in the long run. Many perennial lotto teams struggle with developmental angst because personal accountability isn’t necessarily linked to rotation decisions. Then there’s the patient, milk-before-meat approach that requires moving slower at first but winds up putting you closer to your destination sooner.5
Trey Burke sat and waited at first, although that was less based on a choice and more based on circumstance. Still, by most accounts the six weeks on his own proverbial subway platform helped him be better sooner. This certainly isn’t true of all players6, but for Burke, the longer route was the right route and the patience paid off.
So what do you root for when you watch a Jazz game? Just remember that if you’re rooting for a shortcut — to team relevancy, to player growth, to vet roles, to 40 wins, to 0 wins — it might not end the way you’re envisioning.