Smile Politely

More Poetry in “The Motion,” Please

I guess when you’re young, it’s easier to watch movies without constantly questioning the director’s motives, the lack of script continuity, or significant lapses in credibility. Suspension of disbelief is not required for the young, because the young believe in everything.

For example, I liked Indiana Jones & The Temple of Doom when I was thirteen. But when I was thirteen, I didn’t demand that plots make sense. I didn’t really demand plots, actually. I’m older now, and jaded.

I watched Temple of Doom the other day. It’s terrible.

Indiana Jones & The Temple of Doom has no plot. It’s all action. And even the action doesn’t make any sense. The most titillating scene features dueling mine cars, flying down dual rail tracks, at extreme speeds.

Question: Why would anyone lay two sets of tracks, side by side, inside a mine? The goal, in mining, is to get gold (diamonds, coal, etc.) out of the mine. Mine cars, and tracks, make the job of hauling gold (diamonds, coal, etc) easier. You don’t lay track for the fun of it.

The answer, if you’re Steven Spielberg, is obvious.

“Let’s not worry about making sense — let’s have a willy-nilly headless-chicken romp of derring-do, with lots of exploding stuff.”

To date, $333,107,271 says his instincts were correct. Uncritical people and money are easily parted.

The 2007-08 Illinois men’s basketball season was exciting to watch, for largely the same reasons as Temple of Doom. Lots of frenetic movement, and not completely goal-oriented. To some degree, the action is choreographed. Unfortunately, when the director (coach) doesn’t like what he sees, he can’t yell “cut!” and try another take. This year, as the Illini careened though their schedule, the cars frequently jumped the tracks, so to speak.

And that’s the drama of sports. Truth is, sports always provides better drama than action hero movies: You can never be sure that the good guys will prevail.

Over the last seven months, I spent a lot of time watching the eyes, and the facial expressions, of Illini players as they ran through the motions — or The Motion — of head coach Bruce Weber’s sometimes vaunted offensive scheme.

In Canada, at Christmas, at the Big Ten Tournament, some things never changed: The less experienced members of the team seemed to be thinking “What To Do Next,” rather than “What I’m Doing.” They were always anticipating, less often executing. When they set screens, the defensive player to be screened had often moved on. When our guys flashed through the lane, the ball had rotated to the other side of the key. When our guys were open, they weren’t looking at the ball.

That’s not really surprising. They weren’t looking to score. Rather, they were looking to run “The Motion.”

“The Motion” offense is hard to understand. It’s complexities require a court awareness that few players develop naturally. Only after a season or two practicing “The Motion” can a group of 5 players effectively run it. In 2007-08, passes sailed out of bounds. Opposing defenses set, and waited for the ball.

It was easy for defenses to get set, because they knew — like we all know — that our Illini are expected to run their offense for at least 25 seconds before attempting to score. Illini swingman Calvin Brock said as much at a press conference — he didn’t want to shoot too early in the shot clock, because he’d be pulled from the game.

A set defense is like the Maginot line, which occasionally does have tracks side-by-side. You can’t get through it very easily, but it’s completely ineffective against aerial assaults. If Illinois had had an effective aerial assault last year, they would have won 26 games.

On the bright side, all of next year’s contributors will have had at least fourteen months of Intensive Motion Immersion — including a pair of long-range bombers.

That’s good. Because I don’t want drama from Illini basketball. I don’t need plausible dialog, or sub-plots featuring characters overcoming adversity. I want exactly the opposite. I want action, and no drama. I want half-court alley-oops, rather than the trench warfare of The Motion versus The Zone. I would be happy to see Illinois win 39 consecutive laughers, and call it a season. I would not be bored watching 40 minutes of militarily precise dominance — of the sort that makes Nazi movies, like Raiders of The Lost Ark, so exciting.

And while it’s cruel and sadistic to turn a precision military on the physically disabled, the feeble-minded, roma, the differently sexualed, and the culturally circumcised — there’s something intensely satisfying about unleashing shock and awe on a thoroughly repulsive, draconian backwater, like Indiana.

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