FreeDarko is a blog, but also a book (or two, really); it’s a force of nature somehow distilled from the endlessness of the internet into bound paper. It’s a collective and a mindset; FD is a group of like-minded basketball enthusiasts, but whether “FreeDarko” is a descriptor for all of those who subscribe to a particular way of thinking or merely the fantastic collection of writers who led the conversation is beyond me. FreeDarko will clothe you, and then revel in its own endearing impracticality. It will cover your walls in the most vivid NBA artwork money can buy, and fill your head with ideas that will change the way you look at basketball forever, so long as you throw convention to the wind and sip on the Kool-Aid for a while. It is both criticism and appreciation, for no teams and all teams, for some players and all players.
I have no idea what FreeDarko means. I thought I did once, but I was probably wrong. The same is undoubtedly true regarding my comprehension of some of the fine, lofty works of Bethlehem Shoals, Brown Recluse, Esq., Dr. Lawyer IndianChief, and FD’s many other incredible contributors, as well as the visual stylings of Big Baby Belafonte and Silverbird5000; I wouldn’t dare claim to have properly processed the lot of FreeDarko’s exports over my years as a reader, partially due to my own faults, but also because FD simply loves to teeter on the edge of the rails.
Or at least FreeDarko loved to teeter on the edge of the rails. The FD site as we’ve known it is no more, and though this is hardly the time to pen epitaphs for FreeDarko’s authors, it’s as worthy of an occasion as any to reminisce over what was, what was learned, and what was gained from the most unforgettable cornerstone of the contemporary basketball blogosphere. I know blogdeath is not the end, but only a transition; FreeDarko is survived by the numerous authors who made it great — many of whom still hover around the game — and years’ worth of amazing works. Still, this is an event of reflection, if not one of mourning.
No other written basketball entity could ever match FD’s luxuriance, and I’m not sure any ever will. The longform prose, the heavy concepts, the esoterica — FreeDarko’s allure was always based in its indulgence. This particular internet nook offered something rich that no other outlet could imitate, even as FreeDarko’s prevalence inspired and influenced a new wave of online scribes (myself most definitely included) to embrace that which they had been taught to reject. There’s just nothing quite like the FD brand, and though the thematic influence of Shoals and co. can be traced to the ends of our basketball realm, every FreeDarkolite bears roads leading to Rome. Other blogs or writings may be proximal in theme, but FreeDarko had — and has — no NBA peer in style, intellect, and audacity.
Yet what I loved about FreeDarko most of all was its refreshing self-awareness. By the time I finally stumbled upon FD, the site had already covered a lot of its theoretical bases, the comment section had come alive, and the authors were working magic. There was this insanely intricate and self-referential body of work to explore, as threads carried through FreeDarko’s archives in spiraling patterns alternating in intellectual seriousness and bits of tantalizing whimsy. The balance of gravity and levity that FreeDarko was able to strike wasn’t just commendable and awesome, but damn noble. Inspiring on its own merit, really. FD will largely be remembered for its conceptual taglines and general ethos, but I think it’s crucial that those of us who knew FreeDarko well never let ourselves forget how tonally brilliant this entire endeavor was. From blog to book and back, FD’s authors were able to dive headfirst into basketball theory and emerge spewing magnificent and insightful prose, but somehow those under the FreeDarko flag never lost touch with the game’s all-important sense of fun.
Those at FreeDarko’s helm knew what they were doing, even when they didn’t; FD may have missed the point at times, but for most of its natural life, it never missed a beat. The blog and its authors grew into a sense of what they were and what they provided, and once they reached that point, the FreeDarko collective offered the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a self-actualized blog. It was beautiful to watch, to read, and to revel in.
So to Nathaniel Friedman, Todd Ito, Adam Waytz, Jacob Weinstein, and Jesse Einhorn, among so many others: thank you. FreeDarko was a blast, and we’ll never, ever be the same.