Enjoy the dharma of Detroit as a marvelous rhythm that alternates between a soothing dictatorial rant about Ben’s free-throw line incompetence, Flip’s bench management, or Chauncey’s shot selection and a viscerally transforming submission to the wildness of the ride – taking an offensive foul from Life itself. Dharma is a Sanskrit word that originally just meant “Natural Law” or “Reality.” However, as adopted in various religious and spiritual contexts, dharma has also come to mean something like the “way of higher truth,” as well as “teaching,” “law” or “duty”. In Zen Buddhism, the dharma refers to the way things are, and also to teachings of the Buddha and the ethical and spiritual path that a buddhist follows. Now, apart from the fact that dharma rhymes with karma and that Culture Club paired karma and chameleon together in a catchy tune of the 1980s, there’s nothing in the meaning of “dharma” that would make it a likely partner for the word “chameleon.” After all, the chameleon is practically the symbol of pragmatic change dictated by nothing other than the threats and resources of the moment. In other words, if dharma seems to be about the eternal, the absolute, the way things simply are and the rules for bucking up and living with it, chameleon is about survival by adaptation in a world where just bucking up and facing the music can get you eaten. The only realities that matter to a chameleon are 1) that it’s smaller and weaker than a lot of other things out there; and 2) that it is blessed with the ability to change its appearance to blend in with its surroundings. And the only rule, therefore, is to change when necessary to survive. A dharma chameleon – an upstanding little fellow who cheerfully accepted the way of nature, quietly meditating his way into the belly of a larger beast -- would seem to be a dead chameleon. Unless, that is, the natural law that dharma refers to is a law of ceaseless change, the reality that even still waters harbor dynamic forces that add up to stillness. In a world like that, the chameleon, whose only identity consists in adapting to his environment, would be king. Of course, he’d be an invisible king, a king because and only so long as he’s invisible, but king nonetheless. The value of adaptation in a world defined primarily by its endless changing, its ups and downs, and by the sheer volume of variables beyond our control: that’s what I mean to capture with the phrase “dharma chameleon.” And it sums up as well as any other the affinities and biases that I bring to my reflections on the Detroit Pistons and on being one of their fans. Now when you live life as a dharma chameleon, one of the most fundamental things you have to get used to is letting go. Non-attachment the Buddhists call it. You have to let go of lots of things, but the one that underlies them all is your view of the way things are “supposed to be.” It doesn’t mean you let go of your wanting things to be a certain way, or of your trying to make them be a certain way. It doesn’t mean being passive. After all, even a chameleon gets its meals. It just means you step away from the wall once you realize that it's brick and your head banging against hasn’t made the wall any less brick. You let go when you come up to that point in your reality when it becomes clear to you that you don’t have the power to determine the outcome of the situation any longer, only power over your expectations and your responses to its unfolding. Things come and things go and it makes no more sense, given the dharma of impermanence, to get stuck on things being one way than it does to mourn the sun as it descends over the trees on a summer evening. That chameleon might really be hungry with a tasty little beetle right there in front of it, but if the bigger fish comes along, he’s going to need to let go of his expectations and adapt to the unfolding reality of the moment, to circumstances beyond his control. Otherwise instead of eating his meal, he’ll become the meal that’s eaten. He’s gonna need to let go, accept impermanence, and meet change on its own terms. Sometimes the Pistons seem to be chameleons, like when they were playing Utah during the regular season, or on the other hand, when they were playing the Spurs. They tend to play to the level of their competition. But I’m actually more interested here in looking at that particular quality of the team as their dharma, the ceaseless surprises the Pistons deliver to their fans, a kaleidoscope of endlessly reconfiguring elements: the dharma of Detroit. This seems to apply from the front office to the last guy on the bench. A lot of people might have been stuck on the way things were after the 2002-2003 campaign: we had the coach of the year and a squad showing improved cohesiveness around the burgeoning workmanlike identity of a core of more or less no-name players. But Joe D. let it go. He was capable of imagining things different than the way they are and so he threw some change at us, firing Rick Carlisle and hiring Larry Brown. So then we win a title. Hard to argue with that. Was it broke? Did it need fixing? Get rid of Okur, Mike James, and Big Nasty? It was hard for me to imagine we could win without them (or at least, that I would like the new guys as much). But win we did, not another title, but we came damn close and I wouldn’t say we lost it because of those changes Joe made. And, after all, I quite liked the new guys. But then more changes: Larry out, Flip in; and over the course of the season Darko and Carlos Arroyo out. From game to game the Pistons show us constant changes too. The recent Cleveland series might serve as a microcosm of the way of Detroit. From offensive juggernaut in Game 1 to defensive monster in Game 7, with every subtle shade of red and blue in between, we saw in this series the varied manifestations of the Pistons. One game it’s Rip for 30, another Rasheed for 24, another Tayshaun for 20. One game Lindsey and Dyess star in brief stints, then they disappear for several games, only to return with solid performances. Just about every little fragment and element that makes up the Pistons seems to be in constant motion and you really can’t say for sure how they’ll settle into place in any particular game, or even in an particular quarter – heck on any particular possession. [floatl]http://www.pistonsforum.com/images/picdump/dharma/dc_sphkal.gif[/floatl]I think there are few roles that we assume in life that offer a lower ratio of personal control to personal investment than being a sports fan. In fact the only one that comes to mind is the whole life – death thing. As sports fans, we invest so much expectation and emotion and desire (and sometimes money) in particular outcomes; we cling to success as we cling to life. But we have no more say in when or how success will come than we have over when we’ll die. Little lizards we are in a world of powerful forces in constant and usually bewildering motion. Maybe fans of every team would say this, but I think the Pistons’ fan experience crystallizes this best of all because their changes come so fast and frequent and furious. As has often been noted, the Pistons aren’t the steady winning machine that the Spurs have been for the past few years. Nor are they the steady losing machine that, say, the Hawks have been for the past few years. They aren’t even like the Suns: reliably potent on offense, reliably porous on defense. The Pistons can look awesomely powerful and efficient one night, and hopelessly weak the next. They can bring inspiring intensity for one quarter and a maddening lack of interest the next. An awesome defensive stand yields to an idiotic turnover. Or, conversely, a gorgeously run set yields to a freebie fastbreak flush on the other end. The Pistons aren’t even like, heck, the Pistons! And that’s about all you could say about who the Pistons are: they’re nearly predictably unpredictable. Who but the Pistons would draft Darko Milicic (and I don’t mean this as a knock on Darko, but just a way of emphasizing our unpredictability) when Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Bosh were available?! We’re strapped into a roller coaster ride with these guys, as we are in life (at least my life!). And we can’t do a single thing about it. That’s just the dharma of Detroit: the reality of the Pistons, their natural law. So what’s a fan to do? Become a dharma chameleon! Adapt to the circumstances. Let go of your investment in particular outcomes because about the only thing for sure about this team is that they will surprise. Let go of the bar locking you in (‘cause you know you can’t move it anyway, and wouldn’t really want to even if you could), stretch those gripped fingers and flexed arms joyously toward the sky, breathe in the rushing air, feel your stomach rise and plummet, feel your heart grow and pound against your ribs, sweat, stop sweating, feel the terror, feel the exhilaration, feel the sadness, feel the joy, feel the energy, and feel the exhaustion. That’s where your attention should be: on living the feelings of the choice you’ve made to be a fan of the kaleidoscopic cosmic Pistons. And live all that knowing you’ve got absolutely zero control over what’s happening on the court. I’ll go ahead and say it: I love that we drafted Darko, not because I love Darko (in fact, I’m equally glad that we traded him), but just because it was the Pistons thing to do. It just feels exactly right. Now, none of our predictions of success, predictions of failure, compliments and complaints – none of them will affect the game in any way at all. In my opinion, they are nothing more than pressure release valves – ways of escaping for a moment the dizzying fact that we care so much about something we don’t control at all. When we criticize or praise players, or coaches, or trades; when we predict outcomes for better or for worse, we subconsciously indulge our wish that what we say matters, we pretend for just the duration of the comment that we have some control and in that way we catch our breath. We all need to do this once in a while, in different ways and to various degrees. And I’d be the last to judge. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with these little pauses. But I do believe that it’s important to note that they distract us from the visceral experience of dharma we’ve chosen to undergo by choosing to be Pistons’ fans. And I wonder sometimes why, and whether, we’d really want to do that. For this reason, it might be helpful at least to see these little escapes – these miniature delusions of control – for what they are: choices we make to get off the ride for a time. When we see them that way, we can begin to manage the choice of when to live the ride and when to hit pause more consciously and deliberately; we can begin to enjoy the dharma of Detroit as a marvelous rhythm that alternates between a soothing dictatorial rant about Ben’s free-throw line incompetence, Flip’s bench management, or Chauncey’s shot selection and a viscerally transforming submission to the wildness of the ride – taking an offensive foul from Life itself. Then maybe we can, like true chameleons, become one with the drama – er, I mean the dharma – of Deeee-troit Bas-ket-ball.