The Meat Kitchen

To follow up on yesterday's post and address what it became: I knew about the study, just wasn't sure on the connection to what I was saying. Then Maxwell Demon left a comment below that set off the proverbial light bulb:

Ultimately, I think the study is a waste of ink because it attempts to quantify a set of assumptions, and also because its focus is unrealistically narrow. Foul calls affect a team, not just a player. Even if you accept the assumptions that there are "black" and "white" players and refs, and that a "black" ref looks at all "black" players the same, the research ignores the race of the player who gets fouled, and that of the fouler's teammates.

Granted, my argument is only about technical fouls, but I'm assuming those factor into the paper's findings. Here's the issue: looking at all players the same is going to get you into trouble in those cases, since there can be different intent behind the same actions. Holding all black players to a more uniform standard out of anxiety is just an extension of that same problem. Really, the ideal option would be to try and gauge each player and each situation individually, since it's not like these are virgin interactions. Refs and players see each other on a regular basis. I'm less interested in what the study says than what it's posited solution would be; if it's some sort of effort to create consistency across these calls, I'd say that's just another incarnation of treating all black players the same.

Now, some funny stuff. I am beginning to worry that J.R. Smith might bring down these Nuggets. While Karl's initial comments seemed uncalled for, I also saw them as a grandstand-y way of trying to get Smith to wake the fuck up. The weird thing about J.R. is that he's full of himself, but on the court it's not like he wants to be the man. He just doesn't get that there's any rhyme, reason or hierarchy to professional play, and that there are times to recognize that some people are more important than others. Not than him—that's not the hang-up here—but just generally organization must be acknowledged.

Smith's role on that team is weird. He has star potential, if only he could stop falling in love with his own three. Then on the Nuggets, he's brought in to fill the long-range void. It's like hiring a crackhead to be your organic grocery store's wine buyer. On top of that, he's a free agent next summer and could command some money, so it's not in Karl's interest to alienate Smith or get all paternal psy-ops on him. This was a gamble, based on the assumption that the Spurs had already won and Smith hadn't made a huge difference anyway. Since then, Karl has came right out and sort of apologizef, and then embraced J.R.'s standing with the franchise, which is to say ISOLATED INCIDENT, MOTHERFUCKER. He knows that Smith is both hopelessly arrogant and hopelessly insecure, and was guessing that this affirmative blandishment would play the latter against the former.

Now, the whole team is salty, and I'm thinking it's partly because they think Karl picked a awful time to prove a point. There's the whole "don't throw a guy under the bus" code of the locker room, but it's also kind of defeatist and deaf the last fiery wails of battle. So there's Melo saying that Karl should've talked to his BFF in private, and then maybe wondering why the hell Karl made a big show of benching one of his better players.

Let's also not forget that a crazy up-tempo Nugget explosion could really use that 20ppg J.R. capable of—I've decided that, as Iverson declines, he really needs as many stars around him as possible. Or else he reverts back to that part of the Philly Iverson we don't talk about, which is waiting for his shot to start falling before he effectively gets his underlings involved. Not sure if that's a function of his game or how defenses can adjust to his periods of frost, but with Anthony (and ideally, J.R.) he can acknowledge that he's not a point guard. He's a guard with tremendous speed and passing skills, like the way T-Mac or Kobe can chalk up 8-10 assists without being particularly Nash-y. Fact it, AI is discriminated against because of his height. As is LeBron, who has a point guard inside of him whether or not he ever admits it.

I'll calm down now, because I know that my faith in J.R. Smith can border on embarrassing. And I know that saying "Iverson, Melo and Kenyon Martin could close rank around J.R. and we'd have the Sonics all over again" is too dismal a worry for words to convey. Here's an anecdote that always makes me smile: when I was on press row for that Nuggets/Rockets game, no one reacted to anything. Until J.R. Smith had a contact-less pick and roll run around him on defense (several loud groans and noticeable eye-rolls) and then dunked over the whole Rockets squad (everyone giggled).

Exhale. If you've gotten this far, now it's time for me to send you to Agent Steinz's opus on what the Wizards' locker room really meant. We've had some conversation about whether the Bog has helped invent the market for a whole new kind of NBA content, one that teams recognize——or whether he was just doing the Wizards justice and this was what came out. This post made me ask him if, on some level, what we saw of the Wizards this season made their season a success despite the competitive disappointments. They weren't going to win a championship, so wasn't nine month's worth of swag, in-jokes, and now Antawn Jamison's dub made out of electric tape (I told you, go read it!) an acceptable substitute?

Just saw a commercial for tonight's games and got chills.


At 5/03/2007 4:27 PM, Anonymous iverson fan said...

I'm wondering why nobody is mentioning Melo's 4 offensive fouls in game 4 or the fact that he does not understand how he should pass out of a double-team. He just holds the ball. Maybe the Nuggets should package Camby and JR for an elite shooter or perimiter defender. As much as I love Camby's D, his salary, age, and injuries make me wonder if we should hope that Kmart can pull an Amare.

At 5/03/2007 4:45 PM, Anonymous kwamesalami said...

I don't think the study means to prescribe a new way of officiating - but rather to highlight that even in the NBA - the closest corporate America has yet gotten to racial happiness - implicit bias shapes decisions in ways that have little or nothing to do with conscious racial animus, but a lot to do with how we was raised. If there's a prescription latent in the story, I think its a society wide one - try to raise your kids in a stereotypeless world, where black is just one factor among many in understanding a person's identity, and isn't highly correlated with a lot of negativity.

At 5/03/2007 4:50 PM, Blogger Dr. Lawyer IndianChief said...

this is just a cheap substitute for not writing the post that i really want to about the nugs, but here is the deal: this team disgusts me. they have as much talent as any team in the league, more than san antonio, and just cannot pull it together. the supposed defensive player of the year could not do anything to stifle tim d, and was actually outplayed on that end of the court by his own teammate (nene). melo's career playoff record is a kevin-garnettian 3-12. the only person i care about on the nugs is iverson, and denver is turning dude into a footnote.

i blame karl for 90% of this.

At 5/03/2007 4:52 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i know that the authors aren't really all that concerned with the nba. otherwise, they wouldn't be so obvlious to the bombshell timing of it, and there wouldn't be all these details for us fans to quibble over. i guess i'm wondering what the appropriate policy response would be if one buys its conclusions.

At 5/03/2007 4:56 PM, Anonymous Josh said...

I don't think there is a policy response to be made, at least by the NBA. I think the authors of the study are talking about the existence and impact of societywide (likely-)unconscious bias. Policy recommendations would probably be at a societal level in that case - like "get people to live in more integrated neighborhoods and attend more integrated schools; increase knowledge rather than ignorance, and empathy rather than fear."

Or something like that.

I could hardly believe that Charles Barkley said that, about how the league is mostly black so the study didn't make sense. I mean, I've always loved Barkley's hilariousness, but it really does seem lately like he's just kind of out of it...

At 5/03/2007 5:04 PM, Anonymous kwamesalami said...

I guess my answer would be to agree with you that a policy would be inappropriate - that what you want is a ref who responds to the nuances of what's before him as delicately as he can - that probably requires giving the ref interpretive freedom to glean the facts and decide how they relate to the rules. I think one of the interesting things about implicit bias studies is how they force us to think about our behavior as transcending what we consciously control to a far greater extent than we're comfortable with - and sometimes that means seeing a problem, and only being able to take long term steps to ameliorate it, not just being able to flip a switch and stop thinking in certain patterns. Long term I think the best way to overcome the problem is to get as freedarko as you can in discerning individuality. But given the finitude of attention, that's a slow road. So be it.

At 5/03/2007 5:10 PM, Blogger nerditry said...

dlic: they are a team that could absolutely never contend because none of them are on the same wavelength as the other. it's blatantly evidenced by the number of times that Iverson was able to draw multiple defenders, roam around the halfcourt and finally jacked up a poor shot.

they are a team of reactionaries, explicitly evidenced by Camby's DPOY win. he lead the league in blocks, but most of his seem to come from making a late switch onto another defender's man. carmelo has the tightest tunnel vision on offense this side of damon jones.

the nuggets cannot come together because they have no direction, no central ideal as a team. consider how many playing nuggets besides melo were drafted by the team and the nagging knowledge that george karl could be gone tomorrow.

At 5/03/2007 5:57 PM, Anonymous fix_the_knicks said...

i know that the authors aren't really all that concerned with the nba. otherwise ... there wouldn't be all these details for us fans to quibble over.

90% of the quibbly details are probably caused by the MSM misreporting what the study is about. No offense to anyone, but every concern raised here comes either from that, or from a misunderstanding of statistics.

The point the study is to use data to assess a simple statement: "the more refs in a game who are the same race as a player, the less fouls that player gets called for."

You could ask lots of other questions, like whether a) the player who got fouled is white; b)
the specific ref who called the foul is white; c) the rest of the team is white; d) the owner of the team is white, but donates to the United Negro College Fund... these are interesting questions, BUT THEY HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THE POINT OF THIS STUDY.

The authors picked a single claim, and used the data they had to show that it's very probably true. That's all. You have a different, better, question you want to answer? Do your own study, and have fun. It doesn't change anything about this study.

Oh, and the New York Times says that the NBA showed them their data, which they then sent to three academics. The three wise men unaminously concluded that the NBA's version made no sense whatsoever.

Sorry if I seem a little frustrated. Since so many of you are lit majors, try and imagine if Umberto Eco published an essay on what Roland Barthes would say about the draft, and then David Stern and Charles Barkley got on TV to tell him that they've read Barthes, and Eco doesn't know what he's talking about. Then imagine being treated to several days of sportswriters and commentators confidently misrepresenting every basic aspect of literary theory.

At 5/03/2007 6:26 PM, Anonymous grover's dad said...

wow, thanks for the link to that great Bog post. I do think this season was a success for the Wiz and basketball as a whole, so much fun.(i love how Deshawn said they made Jamison weirder! haha...Fiji!)
hope the swag continues to next season.......

At 5/03/2007 6:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Darkofan: "Fix the Knicks" 's literary criticism analogy is brilliant and funny. Actually, Barkley , and the attorney -super promoter Stern , have a better chance at fairly critiquing and differentiating baroque novels than they have of correctly dissecting large field statistical analysis.
A less hyper-sensitive response by the NBA would be to say that, even if you accept the report's debatable assumptions, in relative terms , it shows remarkably little bias exists, as the league continues to aspire to attain statistically measureable, absolute neutrality. The NBA remains one of the least biased institutions that exist, even the Army can not compare, at least at the rank and file level. As the older genration of referees retire the barely detectable bias suggested by the study should tend to become even more obscure.

At 5/03/2007 6:45 PM, Anonymous Maxwell Demon said...

Knicks: I think fans aren't reading the study because the abstract practically begs us not to. People are going to wade through pages of text and math to find out "whether predominantly black teams are more likely to win or lose"? By any definition, is a single NBA team predominantly white? Hype and rancor aren't byproducts of the study, they're the point of the study.

At 5/03/2007 7:34 PM, Blogger SilverBird5000 said...

i think the policy solution, if the authors were to posit one, would simply be to hire more black refs. equal representation would be a minimum, though a more radical (and perhaps, given the implications of the paper, more effective) solution would be to actually make their representation proportionate to the racial composition of the league (i.e. making 80% of league officials black). this wouldn't eliminate the implicit bias - which is basically impossible at the league policy level - but it would equalize the effects, which under the current regime result in a disparate impact for black players.

i'm with fix_the_knicks in my frustration at the general misunderstanding of the study out there in the media (and to some extent, here in the comments as well). i've read the paper (twice, actually), and see nothing to suggest either logical or methodological weakness, much less wholesale inaccuracy. the data could be better (but it always can), and based on that data the authors convincingly establish a fairly simple empirical finding: that refs call fewer fouls on players of their same race (and by definition, more fouls on players of a different race). they control for every conceivable covariate, run an exhaustive number of regressions to explore alternative hypotheses, and yet the finding remains robust. moreover, the conclusions they draw are remarkably modest, given the strength of the evidence, and the interpretations of their finding vis-a-vis the social mechanism producing it are left pretty open, making the firestorm surrounding its disclosure all the more bizarre .

more to the point, i'm with ian ayres, whose reaction - "I'd be more surprised if it didn't exist" - seems by far the most obvious and yet, for whatever reason, seems to have become the least accepted.

At 5/03/2007 7:34 PM, Blogger Colonel D. Williams (Ret.) said...

Didn't the study show that the racial prejudice went both ways? White refs favored white players. Black refs favored black players. This seems so obvious, so much a part of common sense that the only thing I'm surprised about (not really) is everyone getting upset. We all know that the refs suck, so why would this one tiny extra bit of info be seen as something outside of the accepted narrative? It only adds to the refs tortured humanity.

I know everyone is afraid of racial issues, but I don't think the study says anything sinister at all except reaffirm what we all should already know to be true.

As for A.I., he doesn't know how to act when surrounded by good players for the first time in his career, except by treating them as bad players and making them worse. He's all heart, but his heart sucks the blood from the rest of the team.

J.R. is only an extension/amplification of the identity of the Nuggets, and that's the problem.

Karl seems to privately despise the mentality of the new breed, and therefore the status of the league. His self-hatred gets extended to the rest of the team. He and A.I. work in different ways to suck the life out of the team as they attempt to resuscitate it.

At 5/03/2007 10:12 PM, Blogger salt_bagel said...

I think fans aren't reading the study because the abstract practically begs us not to.

Max, I think that's a bit of a naive statement. The reason most people won't read the paper is that they don't know the first thing about science and couldn't get past the first paragraph. They would like someone else to interpret it for them in layman's terms. That's not a criticism of the fan; it's not their job. The big problem is that I haven't heard a decent interpretation of it yet in the mainstream media, except for the Times article, which seemed pretty even-handed. I'm with Knicks and Silverbird on the misrepresentation thing. The study is pretty darn sound, and it only purports to measure one thing. That's how a scientific study should work.

As for policy change, I think the ref-hiring policy is and always should be based on skill in making the calls and nothing else (except ability to get up and down the court). You'll lose far more than you gain when you start hiring less consistent and competent refs just to alter some other factor.

At 5/03/2007 10:20 PM, Blogger salt_bagel said...

And if anyone wants a taste of unconscious bias in action, go to Harvard's Project Implicit and play one of their quick association games. It takes 5-10 minutes, and you'll freak yourself out. Just don't get offended when it detects biases you didn't realize you had.

At 5/04/2007 12:58 AM, Anonymous Sean said...

Holy shit! It's not even close.

At 5/04/2007 1:14 AM, Blogger Sergio said...

Dirk is dead to me. Whatever happened to the fearless jumpshooter of yore? I barely recognize this gutless facsimile of a role player.

At 5/04/2007 1:37 AM, Anonymous Sean said...

Sergio: Seriously, what the hell happened to Dirk? Eight points!?! In one of the biggest games of his career?

At 5/04/2007 1:58 AM, Blogger Jason said...

Isn't this a bit overboard to call this Dirk's biggest game of his career? He was in the finals last year overall. Dirk coulda put up 30 tonight, I'm convinced that the Warriors woulda still pulled it out. The entire mavs team was thoroughly outplayed, and Avery got outcoached.

Time to revisit the "Avery is far more valuable than Steve Nash" post?

At 5/04/2007 2:27 AM, Blogger Sergio said...

Sean: I'm stunned. Watching this reminded me of playing the best team in our middle school rec league, circa 1996. It didn't matter what we threw at them; nothing developed. To me, the Warriors did not look like scrappy underdogs out there. They simply demolished the Mavs and sold their children into slavery. Organized chaos and creative destruction were nowhere to be seen; this was simply destruction.

At 5/04/2007 2:43 AM, Blogger PostmanE said...

We all know that the refs suck, so why would this one tiny extra bit of info be seen as something outside of the accepted narrative? It only adds to the refs tortured humanity.

This is also what I don't get. Beyond the basic misinterpretations of the study (I really couldn't believe the words as they were coming out of Barkley's mouth), since when are people so anxious to defend refs? Aren't these the people usually skewer after they watch their HD replays four or five times? Now that race is involved, are refs suddenly the flawless, bias-less whistle-blowing machines we expect them to be?

At 5/04/2007 10:43 AM, Blogger Joey said...

I'll just say this: I hate the Nuggets. I think Karl is self-defeating and narcissistic; I think Carmelo, no matter how he is romanticized, is just not a true superstar interested in things like passing when appropriate; I think that J.R. should have gone to college and learned how to play; and so forth. They are just not likable. And even if one only assesses them from a style perspective, there is a certain revulsion that comes from watching people do the same things over and over to always lose in the same way. That's not style; that's stupidity.


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