Presenting the NBA's Periodic Table of Style.

The stadium scene.
Nov. 11 2008 10:49 AM

Rasheed Wallace Is a Toaster

Presenting the NBA's Periodic Table of Style.

FreeDarko is the Web's leading destination for the obsessive, overliterate, free-thinking NBA fan. The basketball collective's new print extravaganza, The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac, mines all of FreeDarko's obsessions. There are incisive profiles of players, from LeBron James to Leandro Barbosa; unique statistics (the dunk-to-layup ratio among NBA big men); and—perhaps the book's most startling innovation—the Periodic Table of Style. Below, Nathaniel Friedman explains the table's genesis and meaning. Once you've read his introduction, take in a slide-show essay featuring Style Guide depictions of Gilbert Arenas and Rasheed Wallace as well as excerpts from the Arenas and Wallace essays in The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac. (Read more book excerpts here and buy the book from Amazon.)


High-school coaches try to drill into us that basketball is a game of X's and O's, but anyone who's watched or played the game knows that's not true. Driving to the hoop, finding your man in traffic, making a wide-open three—these aren't straightforward propositions. Everything you do on the basketball court requires some level of problem-solving, something each player does in his own way, based on his strengths, weaknesses, and even his personality. With this in mind, FreeDarko created the Style Guide. The Style Guide exists at the nexus of generic description and high-def motion capture, representing players' games as a composite of descriptive text and symbols—what we call the Periodic Table of Style. Kobe Bryant, maneuvering between defenders, isn't just driving toward the basket; he's exemplifying the practice of "lock and key." Carmelo Anthony doesn't display excellent footwork; he dances the salsa, takes baby steps, and bounds like a deer.

This is the vast vocabulary of style, and how each player pieces these components together to make the court their own is, in effect, who they are. NBA players have bodies, minds, and histories that factor into everything they do on the court. But the basic building blocks of style, basketball's instantaneous language, is certainly within our reach as students of the game. All is contained in the Periodic Table of Style, and from there, all men will be spoken for.

At this point, the FreeDarko Style Guide can be applied only in retrospect, through a second-by-second breakdown of film. Hopefully, though, someday networks the world over will build computers that map out replays in these terms and maybe even provide scripts to radio broadcasters. It may sound like a return to Morse Code or a government frequency devoted to UFO secrets, but to NBA enthusiasts, "sand dollar ... rocket ... sea gull ... mystery novel ... drain" will be the future of communication.

Click here for a slide-show essay on FreeDarko's Periodic Table of Style.


FreeDarko is a collective of basketball-obsessed writers and artists. The group's new book is The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac.


War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

The One National Holiday Republicans Hope You Forget

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

Should You Recline Your Seat? Two Economists Weigh In.


It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Or, why it is very, very stupid to compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice.

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

It’s Fine to Use Facebook to Serve People With Legal Papers, Court Rules

  News & Politics
Sept. 23 2014 6:40 PM Coalition of the Presentable Don’t believe the official version. Meet America’s real allies in the fight against ISIS.
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would a Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 8:38 PM “No One in This World” Is One of Kutiman’s Best, Most Impressive Songs
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 5:36 PM This Climate Change Poem Moved World Leaders to Tears Today
  Health & Science
Sept. 23 2014 4:33 PM Who Deserves Those 4 Inches of Airplane Seat Space? An investigation into the economics of reclining.
Sports Nut
Sept. 23 2014 7:27 PM You’re Fired, Roger Goodell If the commissioner gets the ax, the NFL would still need a better justice system. What would that look like?
War Stories
Sept. 23 2014 4:04 PMThe Right TargetWhy Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.
Building a Better Workplace
Sept. 22 2014 11:42 AMIn Defense of HRStartups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 23 2014 7:00 AMI Stand With Emma Watson