With a head bop to A.E. Housman...
To An Athlete Dying Young: A Defense of Darius
THE time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.
Darius Miles was a dream. All arms and legs and vertical leap the man should have, would have, could have. I guarantee at some point you cheered for him. His grace. How could you not?
To-day, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.
The news came down and you could almost hear the cackles from certain corners, those who have twisted his life, health and well-being and held it up as a symbol of violence, lawlessness and "what's wrong" with the Modern Athlete. So quick they will be to bring Darius home.
Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.
The fall from grace and glory was a vertical asymptote, plummeting ever-downward. Darius kept his smile throughout this season. He gave it a go. The knee couldn't take it. In a life with few guarantees, there's no doubt Darius is thankful for his guaranteed millions. He isn't taking it for granted. When you come from East St. Louis, no matter how many years later, you appreciate and cherish money. Flaunt it, too? Sure. But can you really, truly blame the man? "If you walked a mile in my shoes, you'd be crazy too."
Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears:
Is he aware of everything that was said? The negativity? The contortion and distortion of his image? Did he hear the cheers? Why hasn't he let us know? Why the silence, Darius?
Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.
Darius was a dream and the dream is now dead. It's possible that in 10 years a new generation of basketball fans won't get Van Wilder, they won't practice the head bop, they won't even care. The franchise is quickly outrunning the individual accomplishments of Darius and company. Does that mean those of us who did know should simply forget or turn our back?
So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.
Darius did things that would impress even the mighty Oden. He remained an enigma to the last second. He comported himself this year with complete dignity. Perhaps this new-found character is the prize he holds most dear.
And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl's.
Long live the dream. Long live the garland. Long live the headband.
Darius was misunderstood by a city whose living history is different than his in almost every way.
Portland: unpretentious, easy-going, suburban. Darius: flashy, quicksilver, street. Housman can be read as precautionary; let's hope, for the sake of the next generation, Miles can be too (I'm looking at you, Carmelo, with the same innocent braids, the same nickle-and-dime problems, the same Hollywood aspirations).
In the end, the epitaph should not be: "Blame Darius," he doesn't deserve it, or "Pity Darius," he has no use for it. It should be, "Remember Darius" ... young, brilliant, smiling, on top of the world. Remember when.