Grooves

vinyul

I recently got a record player for a music-loving friend (ok, a girl). I’ve always heard, from audiophiles, that despite technological advances, music still sounds the best in analog form — the truest form — specifically on vinyl.  The soundwaves that are borne out of vibrations off grooves will forever trump compressed, digital files, they’d tell me.

Having given the record player a few spins — Kendrick Lamar, De La Soul, D’Angelo (LOL) — I’d have to agree. Music from a record player do indeed sound superior to Spotify streams or mp3s — the medium on which I’ve listened to music for the past decade. But is the difference in quality enough to justify the extra hassle?

As digital technology make everything in our lives simpler, at what point do we decide “It’s okay to sacrifice quality or tradition to save time/space/money”?

I say this, because the transport of the record player from place of purchase to my friend (ok, a cute girl)’s apartment was rough. The entire setup — turntable, speakers, amp — was too bulky to carry on a bus or subway, which left the taxi as the only option. Hailing a cab was impossible at the point of purchase (Sham Shui Po, where people are packed like a can of sardines), so I had to walk two blocks to a taxi stand, with the package’s heft — and the crowded, narrow streets of SSP — making every step a strenuous workout.

A couple weeks later, I was packing for the airport after finishing a two week trip back home in LA, and I spent a good 20 minutes wondering how I was going to pack the two vinyl records I had purchased (at the legendary Amoeba Records on Sunset Blvd in Hollywood). I wanted to put it in the luggage, but my dad warned they would be crushed. The records were too wide to fit in my backpack. Even if I brought it on the plane as is, I’d have to strategically place it so the records can stand upright.

It was a hassle.

Every time I’m back home in LA, I go through my collection (boxes and boxes of them. giant crates) of books, magazines, and comics. Though I’ve read every page in that pile, I still revisit them every time because I like the feel, and look, of a good book/magazine. I love holding an old issue of SLAM, and just admire the cover. I love to take an old magazine — including some old Wizard magazines that are over 20 years old — I’ve read through dozen of times to the bathroom. I love holding a tome and scanning through its pages.

That collection of books, magazines, and comics has been away from me for seven years now — ever since I left Alhambra, California — because they’re too heavy and space-consuming to travel with me on my quest to chase the dream of being a writer in a big city. I wish I had my giant pile of SLAM magazines with me when I lived in New York City, the mecca of basketball. I wish I could go revisit my old comic book collection every time I finish a screening of a new comic book movie here in Hong Kong. But I can’t, because to take such a huge collection of shit around is a hassle.

During that same trip back, my old friend Marv told me he had just purchased a Kindle Paperwhite, a digital reading device. As much as he loved holding a book too, he said, ultimately, to be able to have your entire book collection in one half-pound tablet was too convenient not to make the switch.

Another great friend, a filmmaker and musician by the name of Mike, told me something similar. He begun selling his record, CD and DVD collection last year, because, he said, the quality of digital music has improved so much that he could no longer justify owning a physical copy. CDs and DVDs still sound and look better than their streaming counterparts, he concedes, but the difference is too small to put up with the hassle.

Mike is a legit musician, filmmaker, Shawn Kemp fan, a lover of things. Even he has made the switch.

One of my (smaller) dreams is to own a giant bookcase/shelve when I have my own place, and fill it with my entire collection of shit. I want people who visit me to be like, “whoa, is this an autographed Noel Gallagher Q magazine?” and “you have an actual copy of The Dark Knight Returns, the greatest graphic novel of all time and the story that revolutionized modern day comic book story telling?”.

But I know that the transport of all my shit to where ever I live later in life when I’m settled (not Alhambra. It has to be a major city, like NYC, Hong Kong, Tokyo, San Fran) will cost me anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars. It’s an amount I’m already dreading having to pay. And I wonder, would it be easier if I just get digital copies of all my books and magazines and comics? Why do I need a record player when my iPhone plays music 90% as well but is infinitely easier to carry?

And so, like always, I am tying this back to the NBA (of course).

As I’ve written for Sports Illustrated, technology, specifically advanced metrics, has led to a sea change in how basketball is played at the highest level. Conventional NBA wisdom has been torn down one by one. We no longer need two bigs if we want to win a championship. We should shoot more threes. Everything about the league, from how players are developed to how a roster is built, relies on being efficienct, a quality best measured by advanced metrics.

Michael Jordan’s game, if looked through today’s advanced metrics lens, would be deemed inefficient and impractical — he shoots too many midranger jumpers; he doesn’t have a reliable three point shot. Allen Iverson, the most awe-inspiring and thrilling player of my generation, gets torn down even worse if he were to be judged by the panel of advanced statisticians and their high tech motion-capture cameras.

But as a fan of basketball — someone who truly cares about the game, its players, history, legacies, and relevance — I can’t let these advanced metrics take over my enjoyment of the game. Every mathematical formula tells me Allen Iverson is bad for winning basketball, but his 2001 NBA Finals run remain my all time most indelible basketball memory. Michael Jordan’s go-to move is now considered the worst shot in basketball, but he’s still the GOAT.

Truth be told, the Sixers of the early 2000s might have had equal or more success if they swapped Allen Iverson, the supposed superstar and MVP, for, say, two solid role players whom advanced metrics love (like Shane Battier and Mike Conley). They would have cost less than Iverson while producing the same results on less baggage and hassle. But no one in Philly, not even the two guys who were up to no good starting trouble in the neighborhood, would make that switch.

For the joy of watching Iverson — flaws and all — do his David vs Goliath routine was far greater than, say, watching a highly efficient team just get shit done with as little hassle as possible.

And so, as I was sitting at my friend (ok, a cute girl on whom I have a crush)’s apartment listening to the Backseat Freestyle on vinyl, I didn’t care that the setup took days to put together, or that the cost of the record player and four records could have funded three or four years of Spotify usage. I was too busy staring (and smiling) at the record, spinning as the needle vibrated between its grooves.

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