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The difference in artists, like jump shots, is in the whip of the wrist.

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A man, a train, and his iPhone -- Twitter -- Pekovic's tattoos -- Veal Shank -- Okinawa -- Y2K -- Firetruck -- A Possible Suicide -- A hero -- Spreadsheets and Van Gogh -- Three shots -- 1.2 Points Eschewed -- Memory -- A dismembered threat -- The Whip of the Wrist

Conley jumper
Conley jumper
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

One - A Man, A train, and an iPhone

History is rarely appreciated while it is happening. Dissatisfied with this condition, we invented Twitter. Friday night I was on a train in Atlanta, watching a very small slice of history unfold in real time. The Grizzlies were in the midst of losing to the Minnesota Timberwolves - the team with the fewest wins in the league.

Twitter had tweets.

In the moment you get emotion, criticism of effort, and a hibernation theory that really bears further investigation. That they would go on to beat the Atlanta Hawks - the team with the most wins in the league - matters little. This was a moment that happened. These tweets artifacts lorded over a moment, which is sort of the point of Twitter.

I didn't see any of it. Like I said, I was on a train, and as far as I'm concerned this game doesn't exist outside of the Grizzlies loss column curiously increasing by one the same night they played the Timberwolves.

But if I wanted to, I could. I could go back and watch this game at any time. On my laptop. On my DVR. In so many pixels I could probably detect which of Nikola Pekovic's tattoos needs a bit of polish.

This is the state of the NBA. Everything is accessible. Even the players' movements are tracked and charted by the teams. We now know not just how many shots a player misses, but how many times he touches the ball at the elbow, how many times he dribbles, how far he runs.

Players are dissected like Hannibal slices Veal shank for his guests. With precision, and with a not-unspoken air of condescension.

If there are any secrets in an NBA game, then they only exist inside each player's head.

More on this in a moment. But first:

Two - Mr. X, Okinawa

Wandering into an Irish Pub in San Diego's Little Italy, I met an ex-Marine.  He was friendly in a way you don't find in the South, which is to say, his friendliness was not an obligated social performance. The whiskey neat in front of him was not his first of the night. The simplest way to describe this man is that he was plucked from a Denis Johnson novel.

If you've never read Denis Johnson - and most haven't - a slightly longer way to describe Mr. X is that he was a living, breathing poem who read himself aloud to a complete stranger.

Let me tell you about Mr. X. We talked for two hours; or rather, he talked at me, filibustering the air between us. All he wanted to talk about was Okinawa. He had been stationed there during Y2K which, he confided to me, even the Marines were scared as shit of. "But - and you know what I mean when I say - that Y2K," he stifled a burp with a mallet for a fist, before telling me the rest of his secret. "that Y2K didn't firetrucking stop me from partying."

He did not say firetruck.

That New Years Eve, as the rest of the world kinda didn't know whether they should be freaking the firetruck out about Y2K, he had wandered through the Okinawan streets. Only the Americans were partying, he explained, because the Okinawans, they had their own Chinese New Year {sic} in January.

Abruptly, his narrative shifted. Mr. X told me that across the way, (and here, he held his hands up, as if to block the light from a sun that was not rising inside this San Diego bar) he saw a man in his skivvies dangling from a fourth floor balcony. He shook his head, solemnly or drunkenly: "You know where I'm going with this." I told him I did, even though I had no clue where any of this was going. "Remember, he was partying. I told you only the Americans were partying. This guy was an American. No man left behind. I told my guys,  ‘We have to FIRETRUCKING save this guy.'"

"What did you do?" I asked.

"I ran over there as fast as I could." Atop his rickety barstool, Mr. X teetered as he pumped his arms, furiously miming the sprint he sprinted fifteen years ago. "And then I yelled up at him: ‘Hey buddy, what are you? Stupid?"

And then he jumped.

Later Mr. X told me that the Jumper wasn't committing suicide or anything like that. Still later, Mr. X confessed that he may have been doing shrooms that night. He later took that back and said he had never done shrooms, which I chose to believe if for no other reason than my belief seemed really important to him.

But before we had danced around the role chemicals had played, Mr. X completed the Jumper's story. He told me Jumper had been partying with some local females and they had locked him in their fourth floor room. They demanded he slip forty dollars under the door before they let him out. Rather than agreeing to this exchange of currency for services rendered, the American chose the blue pill. He jumped off the balcony.

There was an awning below Jumper, and it wasn't like the movies where an awning absorbs a human being, propels them back up in a comfortable arc, before they land safely in a dumpster or a fish stand or in the arms of a fellow American. In the words of Mr. X, "He fell straight through that shit."

"What happened next?"

"He yelled FIRETRUCK." Mr. X giggled.

"...Then what happened?"

"And then," Mr. X waved his hands while making a noise which sounded like a wet fart, "he got up and ran away into the night. Disappeared. I never saw him again and," he looked at me knowingly before completing his riddle, "neither did you."

I'll never forget the look in his eyes. He had saved this man. He was a hero.

Three - The Whip of the Wrist

My question to you is this: which one is better?

Is plugging in the cells of a spreadsheet better than painting a Van Gogh?

What I want to suggest is that the sum total of our experiences - what some people think of as our lives - exists somewhere in between. In between having your every movement tracked by SportVU cameras and maybe or maybe not doing shrooms in Okinawa during Y2K.

Because even if we have all the information, we don't really know what to do with it. Data increases every day. Our ability to process it does not. We swim in it, and it makes us feel less like we aren't still making bad decisions.

The difference between an average and below average three-point shooter is three missed shots per 100 - an undetectable detail to the person whose hand the ball leaves. How do you communicate to one of the best four hundred basketball players in the world that three shots - three wrists which snap not quite perfectly; three unlucky bounces; three events that may be months apart - that this is the difference between shooting and passing?

These hundred shots happen, and those three misses matter. How could they not? Change three shots and you can change the course of an entire season.

This isn't an argument. I'm attempting to render how weird it must be to experience parts of your life with every motion tracked, with every action churned through a never-ending media cycle, with nothing slipping through the cracks. In short, as data.

That is how a Tayshaun Prince pump fake lives in the modern NBA. 1.2 points eschewed for a chosen 0.7 points - a half point forsaken. I imagine I would block this formula out of my mind as well. We are not formulas, and we war against those that tell us we are.

Forgive Marc Gasol if he thinks the right basketball play is to pass. Forgive Jeff Green if he recognizes the correct rotation a half second late. They've been to Okinawa more than us. We watch them go there eighty-two times a year.

Forgive me if I have my own Okinawas. Moments I return to. Moments I felt a hero. They appear preserved in amber but really I stuffed them in a sack while doing other stuff. Moments I've shaded just so. That I've colored and cut and hewn until they, and I, feel perfect. I've worked on them for years.

I'd do anything for them, because I love them. Because before this little sliver of a moment right now... they're all I have.

Because our Okinawas are both precious and precarious. Bring me something - data, an opinion, reality - that endangers them and it will be dismembered.

Like this, we paint our lives, and are artists. It may not always be beautiful, but it is highly human. The difference in artists, like jump shots, is in the whip of the wrist.