Come Take A Ride In My Zeppelin

I was reading over Shoals' post outlining his feelings over not being a basketball "expert," and I realized just how glorious it is that FD is, until recently, almost entirely bereft of predictions.

A little while back, during the great Hollinger/Berri statistical formula debate, some dutiful citizen suggested that Hollinger and Berri test out their systems with a cowboy-style throwing of the gauntlet: Each statistician would use his formula to predict how many games each team would win the next year, with the one who got the closest being declared the winner. Berri copped out, saying something to the effect of "If I told you what would happen next year, than it wouldn't be any fun to watch, and I wouldn't want to spoil that for all of you."

Of course, that statement probably meant something more along the lines of "I honestly have no idea if my system can actually predict things rather than award credit for things that have already happened to players who rebound a lot, and if I was proven wrong, I wouldn't get to write smug missives daily about how everybody is dumber than I am. Regression Analysis something something." Even so, Berri did stumble upon some nugget of truth in his haste to wuss out; the institution of prediction can indeed ruin the game we love.

It used to be that we got our predictions from only a few sources; at the beginning of the year, an esteemed analyst on TV or in a newspaper would tell you what he thought would happen, we'd consequently tell our friends what we thought would happen, and then the season would happen, most of us would invariably be wrong, and our prior predictions would quickly be swept into the dustbin as we made new ones and collectively pretended that the old ones never existed.

Nowadays, things are different; studio shows are dutiful about recording the predictions their pundits make and delight in replaying them when the broadcasters are proven wrong; hence, Charles Barkley was held accountable for his prediction that the Mavericks would beat the Warriors four consecutive times after the lost game 1. The internet has changed everything on this front as well; instead of having to leaf through old newspapers, we can find Charlie Rosen's prediction that LeBron would disappoint, Bill Simmons' prediction that passing up Jay Williams for Yao Ming would be an unmitigated disaster, or Chad Ford apologizing for hyping Darko with a few clicks of the mouse. Hell, if you were so inclined, you could find a post I wrote on a Cavaliers message board a year ago defending signing Larry Hughes over Michael Redd. It's horrifying just how often predictions made by the supposed literati of sports turn out wrong; say what you will about Bill Simmons, but it's clear he spends more time watching and thinking about professional football than anybody this side of Ron Jaworski, and he can't seem to crack .500 picking football games against the spread.

However accountability of predictions has affected the way we view sportswriters, it's far more important how it affects us as fans. This year, I picked up fantasy basketball for the first time in a few years, and what is fantasy basketball but a measure of how good the average fan is at predicting what is to come in the season ahead? Because of my fantasy team, I'm rooting for the Jazz, who knocked my beloved Warriors out of the playoffs and feature Carlos Boozer, the man who may have cost LeBron his legacy, in a prominent role, because Deron Williams and Andrei Kirilenko, who I believe now only feels loyalty to his fantasy owners, are prominent members of my team. The league isn't even for money; it's just a casual Yahoo! league between a few amateur internet basketball writers. Even so, the need to have my predictions validated trumps all of my previous hard-won loyalties.

The compulsion to be right about my predictions and thus be recognized as some sort of authority on this game has even ruined what should be one of the year's best storylines for me. The first real exposure I got writing about basketball, indeed the first time I got my name mentioned by this site, was over a piece I wrote saying how Kevin Durant would disappoint us all. When I originally wrote the post, I made sure to mention that I hoped I would be wrong, and that Durant would shine as bright as we all hoped he would; in retrospect, I wasn't being truthful with my readers or myself. Maybe it was all the commenters who called me an idiot for doubting KD, but more likely it was my own arrogance; in any case, while I hate myself for doing it, I'm rooting against Durant.

I'd like to say that LeBron's my favorite athlete because he really does redefine what we think it's possible for a basketball player to do, making jaw-dropping plays regularly and emulating Jordan's dominance with none of his subtlety; where Jordan had beautiful change of direction ability and quickness, an unstoppable mid-range jumper, and the intensity to make sure his team would always come out on top, LeBron simply is a different kind of athlete than everyone else on the floor with him, combining size, speed, strength, and skill in a way that has never been fathomed before. Again, that's why I tell people LeBron's my favorite player; in reality, it's probably because when LeBron dominates, the lines all seem to finally fit between what I thought would happen and what's actually happening, validating the 14-year old sports fanatic in me's wildest dreams.

Likewise, I'd like to say that I've never quite embraced Dwayne Wade because of his style of play, which is a calculated assault to draw fouls instead of LeBron's glorious improvised spurts of the impossible, and the free pass he's gotten from the media since day one, never encountering the kind of scrutiny for a shaky outside jumper or an inability to stay on the court that LeBron has gotten for wearing the wrong hat. In reality, Wade threatens the order of my LeBron-centric universe, and I can only really appreciate players who aren't in direct competition with LeBron for the heir to the Jordan throne, which is why I've come to love Carmelo, Gilbert, and Amare so much in recent years while remaining lukewarm about Kobe and Wade.

This could be what lies at the media's fascination, and our fascination as fans in general, with phenoms like LeBron: we all make predictions, many of them positive, about guys who have hype built up around them as soon as they come into the league, so we magnify their triumphs and faults because at some level it's a reflection of whatever thoughts we formed about them. Despite our professed love for the underdog, we really only have a passing interest in them; as much as we love Jamario Moon, Earl Boykins, and those of their ilk we'll never be as attached to their successes and failures the way we are to LeBron's, Oden's, or even Kwame Brown's-we celebrate their achievements on a muted level (has Jemario gotten nearly as much attention as Kevin Durant, despite the fact that he's exceeded every possible expectation of him while Durant has failed to live up to his?), while accepting his failures wholeheartedly, because he's not playing with our money.

Carlos Boozer could well be playing better basketball than Dwight Howard and Yao Ming right now, and he's certainly physically dominating enough to grab our attention, but his 2nd-round pedigree and injury-plagued early prime years have relegated him to being interesting mostly as LeBron's lost companion, while Ming and Howard are the shining hopes for big men in this league. It's not impossible for those who went under the radar early to blow up into superstars, but they generally have to do something spectacular, such as win two MVP awards, emerge as a franchise player as a teenager, or be Gilbert Arenas for us to put the kind of investment into them that we put into phenoms.

Liberated fandom, is, in some ways, a scary thing; there's safety in sticking with your childhood team through thick and thin, as it's really not a reflection of you as a fan how well your anoited team does from year to year. By picking our favorite players and teams instead of having them handed to us, we accept more responsibility for how they do, which puts a pressure on us, driven by our need for confirmation of our beliefs, that was previously non-existent. It's natural to need to be right, but basketball is one of those rare areas where we should set aside our personal prejudices and vendettas and just allow the joy of the game to wash over us; such is the glory of liberated fandom, and that is what I shall continue to preach during my time at Free Darko while trying to cure myself of my own prejudices. After all, it's all about Love. (Not Kevin Love, mind you; he's not athletic enough to succeed in the NBA, and NBA defenders are fast enough to cut off his outlet-passing game.)


At 11/28/2007 7:21 PM, Blogger jawaan oldham said...

I envy liberated NBA fans. I'm trapped with the Knicks for life, a fate only Dante could have written. I do dabble in liberated fandom with football, a sport I like but care less about; there's no emotion there for me.

One thing not really addressed in this post is the way that no one will EVER admit that their "pick" is wrong, no matter how arbitrarily that pick was made. That's the disturbing thing to me, that everyone is more worried about being labeled a flip-flopper than being wrong (note Merrill Hoge's psychosis regarding Vince Young, all because he said VY would never make it in the NFL; no NBA example immediately springs to mind).

At 11/28/2007 8:11 PM, Blogger Sweat of Ewing said...

This is actually one reason I like Simmons - he will on occasion admit to a bad pick. Read his 2-weeks-into-the-season forecast, where he talks about his bad predictions, etc.

At 11/28/2007 9:15 PM, Blogger rebar said...

brilliant turnaround on the Love.

At 11/28/2007 9:54 PM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

Great post, great final paragraph.

But I thought liberated fandom meant not caring about wins and losses? I mean, I'm "stuck" caring about how those Knicks do every game. But when I watch the Premiership every Saturday morning/afternoon, I have no real care along those lines. I watch Man U, and want to see the brilliance of Tevez, and now (thanks to also being on Man U) Christiano Ronaldo. Dude is brilliant (though I'm still fond of him from his Portugal World Cup days, where he won me some money by making it to the semis... props to Maniche and the rest of the crew, too).

But in the end, do I really care if Man U wins or loses? Not really... I just want to watch these guys do something brilliant.

Isn't that really what liberated fandom is suppose to be? No predictions, no expectations, no worries... just pure entertainment?

wv: ltisp: My lisp would like some tea, please.

At 11/28/2007 10:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That last parenthetical sentence was so FD

At 11/28/2007 10:47 PM, Blogger El Presidente said...

"...has Jemario gotten nearly as much attention as Kevin Durant, despite the fact that he's exceeded every possible expectation of him while Durant has failed to live up to his?

While there used to be a huge disparity, Jemario is catching up pretty quickly. Interesting especially when considering Durant's extreme hype. I think you're way late on the Jamario exposure. Simmons has mentioned him twice now in columns and chats (yeah I know Simmons was on the Durant bone), he's on the front page of NBA.com, and every fantasy site in the universe has advised readers to pick him up. He's less hyped than Durant, and his game is so much more mature.

"Not Kevin Love, mind you; he's not athletic enough to succeed in the NBA, and NBA defenders are fast enough to cut off his outlet-passing game."

Makes me sad that I heard him compared to a "less-smooth Brad Miller."

Also: Josh Smith - 10pts, 8 rebs, 7 asts, 3 stls, 5 blks.

And finally: In communist China, defense plays you!

At 11/28/2007 11:45 PM, Blogger rebar said...

oh the brilliant sweet irony of that parenthetical.

besides the point, perhaps no one cared as much as me, but i thought it was hilarious that NBA.com had EA predict the results of the season by simulating through like dynasty mode or something in NBA 08. I think that's an example of where prediction could actually make the season better, i mean, i don't think anyone will take the predictions of a vidjeogame as THE TRUTH, but it does provide one with much to speculate over. Also just a really strange thing for them to do. Perhaps EA will become the new baskeetball prophets.

Still, i have some problems with an out of hand rejection of predictions. Perhaps i confuse predict with hope, but one of the most satisfying parts of the Leeg is making absurd wishes to the basketball deities (suns vs warriors series, Boom-Dizzle MVP, Lebron averaging a triple double after the all-star break, T-Mac past the first round, etx) and claiming supremacy when one or more of these gentleman's wagers goes our way. I appreciate a site (such as FD, Truth in a BF, or Plissken) that doesn't just traffic in seemingly empirical analysis of "player's stock" or starts to predict the playoffs in november, but i do like some predictions, and i feel that they're an integral part of the game.

fuck, i'll just call them dares. most of my "predictions" are comparable to daring my friend to drink an entire bottle of oyster sauce or something equally ridiculous. they'll most likely end being false, but the fun is making them and imagining what would happen if they came true.

At 11/29/2007 12:41 AM, Blogger El Presidente said...

Dwight Howard is going to be something to behold during the 2008 playoff. Good-god-almighty.

At 11/29/2007 1:47 AM, Blogger Ty Keenan said...

I have no real problem with making predictions, but I think the important thing is to realize when you're wrong, accept it, and appreciate whatever that player/team does regardless. Despite what rebar says, we've made a ton of predictions on Plissken (check the draft posts if you want to see how stupid/smart we are) and will probably continue to do so. But if I'm wrong about thinking someone would be bad (for instance, I thought Tayshaun Prince would be an unmitigated failure in the NBA), the important thing to do is accept the guy's game and see what I like about it. That's hard sometimes (I still haven't forgiven Peyton Manning for being better than Ryan Leaf), but it should be that way. Speculation is a natural human tendency, and no one likes being told he was wrong.

I stopped playing fantasy sports because I had to pull for player's I didn't like watching. Honestly, I've always found it weird that this site started in a fantasy league, although some of the quirks that were described here a month ago helped explain that.

At 11/29/2007 3:43 AM, Blogger Caleb Tyler Adam said...

"Carlos Boozer could well be playing better basketball than Dwight Howard and Yao Ming right now, and he's certainly physically dominating enough to grab our attention, but his 2nd-round pedigree and injury-plagued early prime years have relegated him to being interesting mostly as LeBron's lost companion, while Ming and Howard are the shining hopes for big men in this league."

Interesting, but I think the prejudice towards Yao and Howard has more to do with size than pedigree than injuries. Yao was picked highly, but had a hell of a first season (and not in a good way) and Dwight was a high pick, but has always been seen as a man-boy in the same vein as LeBron, to a certain extent. While no one could argue that if you had to choose one player for one game, right now, Dwight, Yao, or Boozer, it would be an insurmountable task, I think most casualish NBA fans would not choose Boozer just because he isn't a "big." He's six nine, bro. I think that has much more to do with how most fans view him than pedigree or injuries.

wv: zjbtkwhw - shavlik randolph's favorite wrestler

At 11/29/2007 5:00 AM, Blogger Doctor Dribbles said...

There was a lot going on in this post...typical, ambitious FD. Thinking about how the hype machine might skew our rooting interests is definitely an intriguing topic. I just don't think the disparate concepts--pundits make bad predictions! we pull for players based on pedigree! cast expectations aside to follow players!--really work together as a single, conclusive argument.

I'd also echo El Presidente and Caleb Tyler Adam--Jamario's getting plenty of love, Carlos gets less for reasons beyond the 2nd round/injuries--but will stick the rest of the quibbles over on WRG.

Still, Krolik, there's something really interesting here about predictions, who makes them, and how that affects us fans...I hope you keep exploring it.

At 11/29/2007 5:19 AM, Blogger Chris said...

Where did you find that picture of 8-year old kevin martin?

At 11/29/2007 5:50 AM, Blogger Krolik1157 said...

Wow, he does look like Kevin Martin. Never even noticed that. And yeah, I bit off more than I could chew (again) on this one- it's fine to expect/hope for something like Josh Smith pinning a block to the top of the backboard or LeBron averaging a triple-double, but a set-in-stone prediction like "Josh Smith will blossom into an MVP candidate" or "LeBron is no Michael Jordan, or for that matter Dwayne Wade," or "The Celtics won't work without Rajon Rondo stepping up huge" will seriously affect the way you look at the game; you'd be disappointed by Smith instead of appreciating him, be secretly mortified at LeBron, and feel odd about the Celtics waving your lack of knowledge in your face, and as those sentiments are increasingly becoming set in stone thanks to things like the blogosphere, we are being affected. And the Boozer/Ming, Moon/Durant and Boykins/Brown paragraph is what happens when you stumble onto a giant theory during last-minute punch-ups; I'd need a whole other post, maybe a book, to truly do justice to what piques our interest about certain players.

At 11/29/2007 5:53 AM, Blogger Kaifa said...

Great post. Didn't TrueHoop have some kind of prediction contest during the last play-offs? A whole bunch of experts (including the stats guys?) and Henry's mom?

Also, if you really want to doubt your NBA knowledge, try picking all the winners for a typical NBA game night. I think we all had a pretty good idea before the season how the Spurs, Suns, Warriors and Sonics would fare and there really aren't that many big surprises in the macrocosm of teams and the whole season. But trying to predict the microcosm - teams' success on a particular night, that just makes you feel dumb.

For fun I sometimes bet one Euro (the currency, not the life of Frederic Weiss) on the scores of all the night's NBA games, only picking the winners and nothing with point spreads and so on. In about twenty tries I was right on the winners one time. I was about to have another try a few days ago but got a call from a friend and left without picking. Then this happened and I was a little relieved the next morning:

Utah 109
New York 113

Minnesota 103
New Orleans 94

Washington 110
Dallas 98

San Antonio 99
Sacramento 112

Phoenix 114
Golden State 129

At 11/29/2007 8:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To be fair, Jay Williams career was abruptly ended by an unmitigated motorcyle accident.

At 11/29/2007 10:30 AM, Blogger berts said...

yo krolick your posts have been great reads so far. be careful with the prophetic dialectic though (as in synthesizing all the disparate into one Theory)--shoals pulls it off 'cause he's been honing it so long. your 5:50 post seems much more truthful even though it's in less certain terms.

At 11/29/2007 11:47 AM, Blogger MC Welk said...

Step into the light: It's OK to like the Jazz now, even if they still employ the likes of Harpring and Hanbrough (in the future).

At 11/29/2007 11:49 AM, Blogger MC Welk said...

stop hitting me with your Hansbrough

At 11/29/2007 1:15 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Is this article related to this:


at all?

At 11/29/2007 1:17 PM, Blogger Dan Filowitz said...

I like this post, and also what stopmikelupica said.

Isn't part of "liberated fandom" also liberating yourself from the ego that goes along with it? Fans of teams derive some degree of self-worth from the ups and downs of their chosen squad - the very thing to be liberated of by following players or storylines or whatever else you have freed yourself to follow.

Also, what you've been saying is that it's hard to see predictions go wrong because it's a blow to the ego of the predictor. But why should we be so invested in these predictions? Just because we guess wrong about what might happen in the future doesn't make us dumb or weak or worthy of ridicule.

Maybe the opposite needs to happen - instead of lauding people who guess things right, we should treat them as lucky instead.

At 11/29/2007 1:20 PM, Blogger J.E. said...

Wasn't mini-Kevin Martin in 'Full House' once?

wv: mjeko -- something Krstic would say

At 11/29/2007 5:01 PM, Blogger Pooh said...

You had me at (and I'm paraphrasing here) "Dave Berri is a pussy who knows nothing about basketball."

At 11/29/2007 5:13 PM, Blogger 800# said...

This post sums up many of my feelings about my current level of fandom. I jumped back into basketball last year because I was dragged into a fantasy league with some friends. I missed the draft and lucked out by pulling in Marion, Amare, and Rasheed, and I ended up have a great time from there on in making trades and diving in to today's league. It was a far cry from my situation as a kid growing up in Salt Lake. My folks had Jazz season tickets, and I watched in the Delta Center as Stockton set the all time steals record. I loved the Jazz of my youth, and despised every other team in the league in spite of their swag. I swung wildly then between liberated fandom and jingoism, and I had trouble figuring out where I fit in the process.
Arenas going down enveloped me in psychic dissonance. I picked him first in my draft this year, and this weekend I ended up making a late night trade that I've regretted since I hit the submit icon. I feel like his injury is part of the larger narrative of his life, and instead of sympathy or hope, my fantasy choice has made me feel like an impotent dope that was played by his swag. I don't like it, and rather than liberating me I definitely feel tied to my fandom in a cheap and disgusting way.
Egotistical prognostication (ie tying the size of my dick to my ability to predict Dwight Howards ft%) is destructive to liberated fandom. It reduces the art of creative play to stat lines, numbers, RESULTS. I think Jamario's lines are things of beauty, but in reality his hustle and grace are what inspires me. I figure then that sports writing as it now exists, as a game of constant prediction with little responsibility, alienates me from what I enjoy about the sport.

At 11/30/2007 3:37 PM, Blogger J.E. said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 11/30/2007 3:39 PM, Blogger J.E. said...

Arenas going down enveloped me in psychic dissonance. I picked him first in my draft this year, and this weekend I ended up making a late night trade that I've regretted since I hit the submit icon. I feel like his injury is part of the larger narrative of his life, and instead of sympathy or hope, my fantasy choice has made me feel like an impotent dope that was played by his swag. I don't like it, and rather than liberating me I definitely feel tied to my fandom in a cheap and disgusting way.

Same boat, 800. I just traded Gil for David Lee. (!)

At 4/13/2009 3:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...




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