This Is Your Cosmos

I can only surmise that when I first read this be-all-end-all window out onto NBA insider Olympus, my mind journeyed to a higher place. I was only roused from this celestial trance by an email from Henry Abbott, who wished to remind us all just how fucking amazing said anecdotal epic truly was. This is a long way of saying that, if you only read one thing about Leandro Barbosa, Jay-Z, and giant Samoans this season, this should be it.

In anticipation of a post later tonight: I romanticize this not because I'm naive, but because I'm unafraid of admitting that some forms of power are truly fantastic.


Thoughts and Prequel Facts

Not every day brings a shovel of mush from deep within FreeDarko's mental hive. Sometimes, we are as mortal as anyone else; usually, we just don't post on those days, like the way I will gleefully abstain from any discussion that involves a player I haven't heard of. Today, though, work is slow, and our cup of other people's glop runneth over, so here's a very brief "around the interwebs" post.

The grounds for legal action might be the primary FD concern here, but I'd also like to know what the fuck is going on is this all-too-brief video that uses Big Baby's artcraft. Pardon me for not keeping track of EuroLeague gossip, or not knowing Spanish; if anyone can shed some light on this, and explain whether the 3,000 plus viewings it's received is a lot or a little, I'd be thankful.

Next, the incredibly socio-politically fraught goblin that we call Shane Battier Bobblehead Day. Now in my experience, bobbleheads tend to make their victims look like something other than African-American men. Whether its some sort of culturally insensitive glitch in production or a marketing conspiracy, this fact cannot be disputed. Given this indelible truth, you can imagine my surprise when I saw what the Houston organization had cooked up for everyone's favorite upright Duke alum:

I'm not trying to come off as callous or the arbiter of racialized appearance, but those are not Battier's features. In fact, they've seemingly made him look blacker than he is, as opposed to the usual ethnically ambiguous blur most players' features become. It's kind of played to call Battier or his game "white," and I hesitate to say this was a PR mistake. . .but fuck it, there are probably some fans of the sport who don't like to be reminded that hustle darling Battier is in fact of African-American descent. The real thing doesn't force them to acknowledge it nearly as much as this faulty representation of him does. It's as if some excruciatingly smart and witty artist/sports fan decided to start a subversive line of bobbleheads that. . .actually, I'm going to get my corporate connect on the line.

Finally, DLIC has demanded I link to this, and I personally require that you go here so you can see my friend's videos from an ATL marching band competition. And the Recluse wants me to tell you that those Swag shirts are in and have already hit the mailwaves.


With But Sanctity To Guide Them

Far too much time has passed since last we uncorked a far-fetched theory on how basketball works. In the midst of our Melo/AI unveiling chat, the subject of Marbury came up. The Recluse raised his voice in support of the thesis that, if he only had a brain, Stephon would be a top five player. That got me thinking immensely on the subject of potential, one that should not be alien to any longtime readers. Namely, the possibility that there are two kinds of potential: that which can only be actualized as goodness, and that which could just as easily be made use of for evil.

On the surface, there's nothing so remarkably strange about this claim. Look at it thusways: the NBA Dark Ages defined for us quite accurately how a player could have great success at something widely considered a failure. How one could excel utterly at a practice detrimental to the sport itself. An athletic, agile guard or SF can be an utterly game-changing presence, instant offense when the team needs a lift. At the same time, we can generally agree that these hooligans can often overestimate their own prowess or importance. The ratio of arrogance to relevance varies, and yet there remains one constant: scorers can either score in a way that helps or hinders the overall project of the offense. The same can be said of de facto instigators like Marbury; it's often noted that his assist totals paint a misleading picture of his team's chemistry.


Mind you, a healthy degree of arrogance is associated with what certain schools of thought have called "swag." All the great ones have it. Roosevelt. Roosevelt. Pushkin. Belvedere. Grace Kelly. But we all know of the proficient 1-3's who have been corrupted by their own capabilities, and thus end up serving no master but their own pleasure. Again, the exact proportions vary. Yet who among us does not see that in Marbury, or Crawford, or Francis, or any of such players not currently employed by the New York Knicks, there exists the clear use of powers for evil ends? I have no interest in assigning this valence to Iverson; I see him primarily as a tragic figure, who now desperately wishes to commune with others but is often checked by his own internalized rhythms. We're talking about Hassan Adams, Gerald Green, Fred Jones, Rashad McCants, Tony Allen, J.R. Smith, all gifted individuals who could end up destroying themselves through misguided, skewed excellence.


Now amble with me, over to the lobby of the big men. Here, there is no such Faustian crossroads. When a big man realizes his potential, nature meets its match, petals pour in showers off of cliffs, and sweetness can reconcile with life. There is no such thing as a bad good big man. Perhaps a case can be made for good bad big men, but that would only bolster my assertion: when a post player falls short of the mark, it is almost always because of failure and indequacy, not misapplied genius. As for the more central possibility, look at that dude Zach Randolph. When he is distracted, insane, or corrupt, he getteth not position and fails to get points or boards. Returning to his double-double ways this year, he is also looked upon as a story of a life rescued from the maw of cancellation.

The lone exception to this rule proves how utterly powerful it truly be. The career of Eddy Curry has proven one of the foremost enigmas of contemporary basketball. When Curry has followed through on his tremendous potential, he is a formidably force in the paint—as far as scoring is concerned. Yet his total inability to block a shot, and remarkably fickle rebounding ability, seems to suggest that he has in fact developed a post game suited only to certain priorities. Much like the athletic off-guard whose defense is lacking but who can beat anyone off the dribble, Curry has redefined the center position as something that, like 1-3 on the floor, can be made a puppet of unseemly purposes. You'd never say that Curry isn't an excellent basketball player, and at this point he's also something of a mature one. But likely All-Star invite aside, he has taken on the role of the serpent in the low post's pro forma Eden.


Racing Furiously

It is only fitting, but also painfully obvious, that Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova will be facing each other in the Australian Open Women's final. The two stars have maintained more top-of-the-world status than any other females in their sport in the past ten years; and top-of-the-world status is of the real heavy "nobody to thank but me" variety in non-team sports. Sharapova, Serena, Federer, Tiger, Lance Armstrong, and on and on have the type of juice that Bean Thousand sometimes dreams about.

The other reason why a S.Williams/Sharapova final is so fitting is that no two female athletes have come under more scrutiny, within their sport, for being on top of the world. So much attention was paid to Sharapova's "star" after she won Wimbledon, and with every ad campaign, slinky dress, and public appearance, pundits began making faulty attributions that all of this "fun" was inhibiting her from winning another Grand Slam. That tennis experts even included "Kournikova" in conversations about Sharapova's work ethic is sillier than comparing Yao Ming's work ethic to Yuta Tabuse's because they're both Asian. And Serena, well, the lambasting of her has been all too well-documented. All the time that she takes off, the tournaments she pulls out of at the last minute because of "injuries," the kicking it with Keyshawn, and her stunning ESPY appearances--people feel that she "owes" the sport something, giving her a harder time than Robert Smith or Tiki Barber, and SHE hasn't even retired yet. (Not even to mention the fact how much her being "out of shape" has gotten discussion during this recent tournament).

Bottom line is that because of the looks + skill=superwoman quality that Sharapova and Williams embody, they have been taken DOWN, with the public trying to establish some direct correlation between this very superhumanness and the two women's "failures" or "imperfections." It is fundamentally upsetting for humankind to witness such lofty humans. Superhumanity makes us uncomfortable because it suggests inequality, class differences, injustice. Superhumanity, even moreso than witnessing a pitiable group of "sub"humans goes directly against some idealized notion of perfect egalitarianism. The solution to resolve this discomfort? Dehumanize the superhumans. Bring them to our level. And this very procedure is starkly rearing its head, as we speak, within our beloved Association.

For evidence, look no further than at this, and this, and this. Whether it's telling Melo how to behave, Jerry Sloan imposing a curfew, or Stern banning players from nightclubs, this is all part of the increasing dehumanization of STARS throughout the league. Included should also be the new technical rules, which Forevers Burns touched on earlier this week. While none of these pieces of news are too shocking or out of the ordinary (well, maybe Stern's club ban), they are nonetheless interesting for the distinct manner in which they dehumanize. Psychologist, Nick Haslam, has a compelling theory of dehumanization, which suggests that
dehumanization comes in essentially two forms: denying people uniquely human attributes (e.g. moral sensibility), which posits humans as animal-like, or denying people human nature itself (e.g. agency), positing humans as objects or automata. I suggest that the type of NBA-wide dehumanization going on falls somewhere in the middle, constituting a mass infantilization of ballers.

Stern raised the age limit but more and more is treating players like children. The synthetic leather ball fiasco actually constitutes an underrated example of this. Players were denied a SAY. a CHOICE. Rationality, desire--these core human qualities were not necessarily denied, but rather they were ignored, and that angered the hell out of the players. The players didn't give a fuck about how the ball bounced or how it came off the glass, they just wanted to be included in the decision; treated like the adults that they are. Stern's nightclub ban and Sloan's curfew are far more simple, denying players agency over their own lives and lifestyles, demonstrating a grand distrust in these players' very decision-making competence, their rationality. And the new tech rules, as Forever Burns documented quite well, prevent the expression of emotion. Whining takes on a more literal meaning, and players are punished accordingly, again like children.

If superhumanity discomforts us, please at least allow them be human.


By this time, it's perfect timing

You're all familiar with Kelly Dwyer. Now behold his FreeDarko Guest Post.

It’s been said that Abbie Hoffman once mentioned something about nostalgia being a “mild form of depression,” but I’m not quite sure about that. Not about the sentiment, mind you, but the quote itself: for a while when you Googled it along with Hoffman’s name, the only results that would pop up would come from old columns of mine from various websites. As usually happens, this led me into thinking that I was just the latest to be duped by a bearded old Yippie. So let’s just state that I once heard, on a bootleg, the lead singer from Steely Dan claim that Abbie Hoffman once said that nostalgia is a mild form of depression, right before the drummer counted into “Hey 19.”

This here internet has taken a glorious turn over the last few years. We’ve been able to separate the wheat (this site) from the chaff (any page that features a “current mood” designation alongside an emoticon), we can view whatever Ian Dury video we want thanks to the growth of Flash-based technology, and we can warm ourselves with the idea that that which was at one time too nutty or too contrived to be considered modern-as-tomorrow or hep will find a home, somewhere, on someone’s desktop. Forget perversions and reaching out – the best part about this New Age, to me, comes from the idea that (no matter the tickler) somewhere there is someone cobbling together a snarky thought or twelve on your particular Nazz du jour: waiting for you to click, read, rock back and back again towards the screen, topped off with a passionate, “I know, right?”

You there … with the glasses, y’know?

(It’s usually at this point that poster and guest-poster alike are asked to supply a bit of photographic evidence to sustain the points. It just about goes without saying that this post will be about as lightweight as this site gets, so I might as well ride that train toward my kind of station, and use this as an excuse to point out that I would give several months of my life just to watch Robert Goulet, dressed like a harlequin, singing -- with requisite scatting interludes, and full-on Hendricks-style vocalese -- the theme from “Three’s Company." It’s all downhill from here.)

Nobody trudges toward the computer anymore, or dreads glomming over the usual bookmarks and time-wasters. Our whole lot of loutish NBA fiends have our hands full these days, and at the risk of sounding like a break room poster: it’s a wonderful time to have a screen full of something. Site after site after podcast after illegal torrent after email after site of bandying bandying bandying shmatta shmatta shmatta – it’s enough to keep a major website’s fifth-string NBA guy strapped to the iced tea IV in order to stay up for days at a time just to throw a goofball comment towards the next blog in his queue.

It wasn’t always like this; not even close, really, but there was a time when following these things (and trying to create that sense of “this is quite important, listen/Rod Strickland has his shorts on backward” yin/yang) was a wee bit harder. Not as hard as having to aim your radio antennae or TV ears toward a tape delayed flare-fest, or dealing with the sort of silliness that pervaded the post-Magic/pre-Stromile days and nights – but for anyone who stuck with it, spin it back …

Dig James “Hollywood” Robinson (tiny, chunky, shooting), or the time Isiah Thomas signed John Long and Earl Cureton (to move Toronto’s average age above the then-league mandated 22.1), or when Dallas fielded (courted?) 27 players, then fired Jim Cleamons, which inspired a 17-year old KD to write a scathing missive about Jimmy Cleamons’ Raw Deal, his first of 22,000 internet columns that nobody read. Or Gheorghe Muresan’s comeback with New Jersey in 1999-00, one that saw him share court time with Michael Cage. Or the time Eric Williams seemed well on his way to scoring stardom before tearing up his knee, taking 15 months to return (the lockout helped), before thinking better (depending on your view) of it, and returning to his Bigsby-strong roots once the ligaments healed.

These were heady, heady times. Little seemed permanent – with everyone waiting for the next big retirement or collective bargaining makeover or Shaq and Kobe to get their shit together or (when that failed) Phil Jackson to get his shit together and head to El Lay or David Stern to cut his Hoffman-esque (the later period, natch) beard off and do something about 82-79. But it was fun, great fun, picking apart these flawed characters that were well lacking in the intrigue and charisma department (no Agent Zeros, here) and the ability to drop jaws with honest-to-goodness swag (same parenthesized thing about Gilbert Arenas, here). I mean, in all of 1997-98, there were probably nine behind-the-back passes. Brent Barry had four of them, Pig Miller managed one (Lenny Wilkins took him right out), and I forget the rest. I think I left that composition book in my locker.

That muddied stream of lateral thinking (although, we were also told, you can’t lateral a horse) reminds me of having to identify the skinny guy placed prominently among the pictures above my computer (the only unrecognizable face among Bob Cousy, Moses Malone, Scottie Pippen, and – seriously – Xavier Cugat) to a college dormmate. It was Steve Nash, who was two months removed from being traded to Dallas and about a year removed from being mentioned in serious trade discussions between Phoenix and the Vancouver Grizzlies; a deal that was supposed to send Bryant Reeves to Arizona. Why would the Grizz give up a solid 7-footer for a third-string point guard? Well, Nash is from British Columbia, and apparently that was all that mattered to some stateside scribes …

I’m not sure which side turned the deal down, but you’d like to hope it wasn’t the guy who still has a job in Toronto, and not the mug who could have had two years of Darko in Dey-twah (pronounced like Ben-oit) but preferred Otis Thorpe. There were heaps of those -- ideas that sent Vlade Divac and Ike Austin and Scottie Pippen to Phoenix to run with Jason Kidd, or Vlade to Seattle as the missing piece in Paul Westphal’s first year as head SuperSonic (anyone who slogged through that era and calls the team “the Sonics” deserves a barbell thrown at them by Vernon Maxwell), plenty of nonsense spurred on by the biggest free agent class (1998) in history matched with an insufferable labor stalemate that ended the day I trudged through a Chicago snowstorm to buy “Miles Ahead.”

The sick thing is, most would think that the lockout season would be that era’s absolute nadir, but it wasn’t even close. And it had nothing to do with lowered expectations brought on by the sight of Shawn Kemp playing in Alonzo Mourning’s charity game and a 50-game season. It was a fun mess of the blues, and we did get to see Ricky Davis and Brad Miller tear it up late for the lottery-bound Hornets, after all. 1999-00 was a fulfilling (though less boisterous, mainly because Mike Wise wasn’t making a fool of himself whilst warning of Latrell Sprewell’s evil ways in Sunday magazine inserts newly made internet-fresh) march in place, typified by that year’s Sacramento Kings squad: the guys entertained, even as Nick Anderson saw his legs betray him, but only saw their winning percentage go up percentage points.

Naw, 2000-01 was it. Ultra-slow, Mike Miller, Mark Strickland’s last gasp, Kenyon Martin breaks another leg while the Lakers can’t be bothered to listen to Phil until April. The only bit of not-there that we thought deserved reification (turned out to be a lie … a filthy lie) was that year’s Clipper team – but they couldn’t even pull off vapid the right way. The team appeared to boast a series of talents who seemed (for shame!) too damn aware of their station, aware of their talents, and aware of the fact that they drew our attention. The hottest couple at the shindig was already too stuck-up to mashed potato or pose for photos, and they’d only won 31 games.

Luckily for us, the note that began all, can also destroy. The absurdity had to worm its way toward relevance (if not acceptance … but that’s for another day). Hand-checking was outlawed (Texas nearly seceded as a result), Skeets compared Jalen Rose to a car (I’m not a driver, and I can’t remember which one), Kevin Arnovitz starts pulling brilliant shit like this, YouTube allows us to alternate between Ronnie Lane and Ronnie Harper within seconds, Free Darko makes me wish I hung around past sophomore year (I was on an accelerated program, after all), and Henry Abbott pulled it all together.

But the game … it’s pulling off yeoman’s work. It’s changed, and the web has come up around it. And that last part is co-incidental; I’m afraid, but no less wonderful. It wasn’t as if, ten years ago, were merely had men in short pants helping us through those vaunted lives of quiet desperation, but it was close. And it wasn’t bad. And, in its own inimitable and hard-to-define (if you’ve made it this far through the post, that last part you’ll definitely be able to jibe with) way, it was just as fulfilling.

A few days ago, after throwing a line or two around about the photo heard ‘round the hoops blogosphere with Shoals, I sent a quick reply about posting a photo from last week of myself from a pub, just to keep up. So, after the girlfriend uploaded the bloody thing …

… I took a good look, which is never fun, and noticed that I’m well on my way to Yippiedom. Maybe that old coot and cocaine dealer, our dearest Abbie, was onto something. Either way, I’m happy doing things my way, partying like it’s 1997, while trying to keep up with Damon Jones.

Roll over Abbie Hoffman, tell John Crotty the news.


Harvest Moon Shining Down from the Sky

This post is the second of two examining the social implications of some of David Stern’s recent policy decisions. More accurately, this post looks at the startling lack of social implications for the new technical foul guidelines despite the outrage they inspired.
In my last post, I tried to argue that there were two lenses through which to examine the age limit guidelines David Stern imposed on the league in 2005. Clearly, the league benefits economically from the new rule; however, I argued that the age limit also indirectly helped economically disadvantaged kids with aspirations of playing pro ball by forcing them to view college as part of the path to actualizing their goals. While the moral implications of the age limit may have been more subtle, maybe they were most important.

The new technical foul guidelines, which at their inception all but eliminated strongly demonstrative gestures and talking back to officials, can be viewed from similar perspectives. For better or worse, many black youth see NBA players as role models and both consciously and unconsciously model their own behavior after those they adulate. To see a player explode in anger without consequence after a bad call further reinforces that kind of response and codifies it as a behavioral script.
But the potential importance of technical foul guidelines, and specifically the kinds of conversations their inception should have inspired, extends far beyond the ways in which players’ behaviors are modeled by impressionable viewers. Black cultural norms and white fear of them sorely needs intelligent discussion in this country and, more importantly, the NBA provides a forum large enough for everyone to hear it.

It's no secret that different cultural groups have different strategies of communication; when these new guidelines were first announced, some players claimed that they were in effect being discriminated against. To some (white) fans, their reactions to certain calls seemed purely hostile. Yet one can argue that the sometimes aggressively expressive nature of this communication evolved out of necessity; only by asserting themselves this way can black people avoid being ignored by a white power structure that seeks to marginalize them. However, many of those same white people who control society and its resources seem to fear black people for communicating in a way that they themselves made necessary. The Sub-Saharan African environment selected for individuals with sickle-cell anemia because of the phenotype’s increased resistance to malaria. However, while the individual became less prone to die young from the disease, other complications resulted in an average lifespan of 40 years. Evolution is, after all, a pragmatic force, not a wise one. While only the truly naïve would regard this kind of expression as a vestigial characteristic, it’s worth examining if it does black Americans more harm than good.

But this conversation never happened. The guidelines themselves sparked some initial outrage, but ultimately didn’t seem to have led to any substantive change. Referees that once asserted themselves to the point of outright antagonism have withdrawn significantly. Gradually, the league silently compromised until the issue passed and with it, the chance for meaningful debate. Additionally, by simply imposing his guidelines from above, Stern eschewed a genuine chance to openly discuss with players the significance and possible implications of their behavior, instead choosing to withstand a brief fit of outrage that predictably receded once refs softened and checks cashed. Here, the tenuous union between economic and social benefit diverged. Stern’s token actions satisfied his corporate interests, all the while avoiding asking difficult questions of himself and his players. He needed only to endure a few days of angry quotes from players with short fuses and shorter memories.

Furthermore, while I unequivocally supported Stern’s age limit, it separated itself from black culture and sought more to affect the systems and institutions in which it exists. With the technical foul guidelines, Stern seems to be making and acting on a direct value judgment on black culture itself. The letter of Stern’s actions may benefit black Americans in the long run, but I can’t get behind the overtly paternalistic approach to this issue, an approach that may ultimately undermine any positive social intentions he may have had. To basically say to players, “your culture needs to change and here’s how,” openly invites defiance where dialogue is needed. Maybe this was his plan all along; I can’t really blame him for trying not to let the league as a metaphor for race relations overshadow in any way the league as a source of entertainment, but it pains me to see such a crucial opportunity wasted.

Neither can the wave that has passed by be recalled

Although an unfortunately timed snowstorm prevented Shoals from being able to witness Melo's comeback game live in H-Town, we still felt that we needed to commemorate the event in some way, and what better than hastily organized, impromptu chat coverage of most of the second half by Shoals, Dr. LIC, and yours truly? You know how we do.

Brown Recluse, Esq.: the nuggets seem to think that being unselfish means throwing no look passes whenever possible
Bethlehem Shoals: j.r. smith passes like it's a shot
Recluse: jr smith must be incredibly frustrating to coach
Recluse: the nuggets are playing loose in the bad sense

Dr. LIC: this memphis season just further proves the genius of the grizz front office
Dr. LIC: find a legit reason to unload gasol for good bulls
Dr. LIC: develop gay and warrick
Dr. LIC: and pick up oden
Dr. LIC: genius
Recluse: they're going to fire this running coach
Dr. LIC: yup
Recluse: whatever this italian dude's name is
Dr. LIC: tony barone
Dr. LIC: and all the while the players are happy because they get to score

Shoals: karl said on saturday something to the effect of everything that goes right for us is because of najera
Dr. LIC: najera is their one "right way" player
Shoals: man

Dr. LIC: the jazz are the reverse negative of everything
Dr. LIC: their african american stars start playing well (williams and boozer)
Dr. LIC: and then the euros start bitching (AK and giricek)
Dr. LIC: i mean, not that the opposite normally happens… but that's what everyone THINKS happens
Shoals: aren't boozer and deron halfies?

Dr. LIC: the only bit i saw of the nuggets game was AI smile at the free throw line
Dr. LIC: that's all i needed to see

Shoals: it is really weird that nba tv has an arab analyst
Recluse: he's terrible, too
Shoals: or maybe only that's because i watched 24 earlier

Shoals: and also you should pick up steve blake
Recluse: what?
Recluse: is steve blake korean?
Shoals: that's his nickename
Recluse: why?
Shoals: because he is neither black nor korean
Recluse: who gave him this nickname?
Shoals: me
Recluse: just now?

Recluse: nene has been a HUGE disappointment to me
Shoals: emotionally?
Recluse: he went before amare!!!
Dr. LIC: Nene is fat
Shoals: he speaks spanish
Dr. LIC: portuguese
Recluse: he's brazilian
Shoals: but pretends he doesn't so he can not have to do interviews with spanish media
Shoals: some charming older guy finally talked him into admitting he knew spanish
Shoals: dude, this is locker room knowledge

Shoals: gasol "pretty good"
Shoals: what a fucking homer clown
Shoals: gasol is the most underrated star in the league
Dr. LIC: probably
Recluse: thank you
Shoals: gasol has never even been rated
Shoals: one way or the other
Recluse: and he's not even 100% yet
Shoals: you never even watch him play
Recluse: true
Dr. LIC: you know what
Dr. LIC: i think we should revisit the fact that you dont need to watch players to know how good they are

Recluse: barone looks he knows he's going to be fired
Dr. LIC: grizzlies have a great racket
Dr. LIC: coach doesn't care that he's going to be fired, because he is getting air time
Dr. LIC: players don't care if they lose, because they're getting big numbers ( = big contracts)
Dr. LIC: gasol can leave on reasonable terms

Shoals: doesn't "allen iverson, 20ppg" look weird?
Shoals: how is this game not over?
Dr. LIC: the nuggets uniforms are TERRIBLE

[Iverson throws alley oop pass that Melo is barely able to throw down.]

Dr. LIC: that was cool
Shoals: that was what i thought this whole game would be like
Dr. LIC: why is AI dancing around like they are in the playoffs
Recluse: AI seems to think melo can jump higher than he really can. he barely got that one and didn't get to one earlier
Shoals: "unselfish basketball is fun"
Dr. LIC: denver is making AI moronic
Dr. LIC: /soft
Shoals: melo is not a finisher

Dr. LIC: there are so many whites in the nba
Dr. LIC: indiana, memphis, utah
Dr. LIC: all teams of whites
Recluse: gasol is spanish
Recluse: memphis really should be a black team
Shoals: that's why no one goes to see them
Recluse: gordon/deng for gasol wouldn't make them any blacker
Dr. LIC: more british
Dr. LIC: "get crumpets"

Dr. LIC: we should do a post about players whose names sound like they should be presidents
Dr. LIC: alexander johnson
Shoals: richard hamilton
Shoals: grant hill
Dr. LIC: earl barron
Dr. LIC: daniel gibson
Dr. LIC: (i'm done with presidents)

Shoals: j.r.'s attitude is like a dumb kobe
Shoals: really moody and transparent
Shoals: and surprisingly fragile
Shoals: not fragile, unstable
Dr. LIC: sounds like blatche
Shoals: blatche has a psyche?

Shoals: i don't think there's a post in this
Shoals: wasn't a post in that game, actually
Dr. LIC: post it anyway


On the Eve of Pricey Incursion

Preface: There's really nothing to be said about this latest Stern firebomb. Though TAN pointed out that the politics of clubs being in or out should be interesting.

And thanks to GentleWhoadie 9000 for calling my attention to the video up top.

Go ahead and burn your calendars—tonight, it goes down. Actually, it would have on Saturday in my very own Houston, had it not been for the blasphemous sprouting of Mother Winter's extra limbs. In those rosier times, I'd been tapped by our friends at the Chicago Sports Review to capture the occasion firsthand; this coup was not to be, but instead I spent Saturday trying on the credentialed trousers of an actual sports journalists. What follow are the pinches and fits that might assuage you on this morning of longing.

The potluck grave

Warning: this will bear little or no resemblance to FreeDarko's ballsy romp through the Bulls and Wizards' locker rooms, or brush with USA Basketball richness. I showed up alone, sad, and clueless, and immediately realized that it was foolish to have accidentally rocked this with The Glide wandering the press buffet. I then proceeded to have my tape recorder break within two seconds of arriving at George Karl's feet, but did take near-indecipherable notes during his official pre-game. The likely inexact highlight:

"The Suns have shown that you can play fast and have good shot selection. It's the best way to play, looking for shots early on in the clock; shooting later is overrated unless you have a great post player you can feed it to. The last seven seconds has the worst shooting percentage of the whole 24."

After that, my morale was but a wisp, so I decided to lounge around and bitterly define myself against "the basketball industry" (yes, that's an Adorno reference) all around me. Really, it is a little strange that so much manpower is dispatched on any given game night, in hopes of maybe getting a quote or rumor that no one else overhears. When that conceit got old, I wandered around the service area some and marveled at how Altman-esque the scene behind an NBA production is. Thankfully, there was only a little bit of time left to kill with that before tip-off.

Butterfly massacre

I used to maintain that televised sports was the way to go, since it preserved that inhuman, larger-than-life aspect that FD so pathetically clings to. This past week, though, it's beginning to dawn on me that some things are only discernible in person. Here's a brief compendium of these from Saturday and last Wednesday's Rockets/Suns event, plus a gratuitous rap analogy I refuse to relinquish.

-Steve Kerr actually got me thinking about this on Thursday, when he told viewers that Andrew Bynum's length could only really be understood in person.

-Ditto for Marion, in my opinion. Everytime he extends within five feet of the basket, he's practically touching the rim. It all might as well be dunks for him.

-Amare goes into this strange trance when the ball's headed his way, like he's so intent on killing someone with it that he forgets to competently receive it. I can't remember if this was the case in the Season of High-Test Fables, but now it diminishes, now enhances, his fear-wreaking capacity.

-T-Mac is a different player. Still can raise havoc, still smooth and impressive. But that snap, that anger on the end of each play, is missing. It's a little too easy to attribute it to back fatigue, and he also gets his points far less conspiciously than he once did. I call it maturity with a touch of age.

-J.R. Smith's swag is absolutely off the charts. He makes Iverson look tame and deferential. And that rap analogy: Smith is Peedi Crakk. Don't even try talking me out of that, and don't ask me to explain it.

-Speaking of Iverson, he never makes it look easy. Maybe it has to do with his sight stature, or the grim determination always in his eyes, but everything he does comes off as forced and desperate. I think that in Philly, his cockiness dared you to call him on it. But he's slightly less edgy now, which allows you to realize how much of his style is showy over-exertion. Impossible is nothing, if only because he goes out of his way to give everything the air of impossibility.

Doors open, doors close

After the game, I was emboldened enough to wander into the Nuggets locker room like a man. So much so that I inexplicably found myself alone with all the players and one journalist who seemed to know AI. It's all kind of a heady blur—damn right, I'm still an awestruck fan—but watching Iverson in that setting for about three minutes confirmed everything I've always believed about basketball. Funny that a Seckbach video can make players seem fairly silly and mundane, but AI came off as even more exalted. It was an OT win and they were rushed to catch a flight, so maybe I caught him in unusually frantic spirits. Still, anyone doubting what he can mean to a team needs to spend some quality minutes with a half-dressed Iverson.

AI was as much of an energetic scramble in that setting as he is on the court. Trying to intimidate everyone at once into giving him some lotion, affably taking shit from DNP Jamal Sampson for going to the studio with Slim Thug, possibly singing the hook from a track called "Who Pooted?" they'd cut, and then belting out an improvised luv jam once the rest of the press filed in. He was clearly the focus of the team's emotions, with everything flowing to and from him. I barely even noticed Marcus Camby and his gigantic three-piece Louis Vuitton set.

When Iverson ambled up to the crowd of mics, the transformation was totally depressing. His eyelids lowered, his mouth drooped, and he started speaking in that monotone that some mistake as menacing. The tone of his answers ranges from serious to frivolous, intent to bored, but never did he capture the force or magnetism that I had seen a few minutes before.

It's no secret that players, especially superstars mobbed by reporters, often opt for roteness in their on-record quotes. But I think what Iverson said about his role on the Nuggets has a lot to do with the Jekyll/Hyde shift I witnessed:

"They've been without their leader. I've never been a vocal leader before. In Philly, it was guys like Eric Snow or Aaron McKie, and I've learned to do it from them. I don't know if Melo's that kind of player, but this is his team."

"Do I want to be a mentor for [Carmelo?] I want to be able to give him advice and be there when needs me. I don't know if that makes me a mentor."

He is right: it's Melo's team, and Melo's beaming smile and babyface will be the one expected to deliver the quote of record. If it seems ridiculous to hear Iverson say he didn't lead in Philly, it's because he thinks of himself as the soul of a team, the players-only conscience that the media and most fans couldn't begin to fathom. It's understandable that he seems himself this way, given his uncompromising identity and the controversy that's dogged him his entire career. Iverson doesn't want the pedastel or the spotlight. He's actually basketball's most phenomenal everyman, the People's Champ whose greatness forces a distance from people. This Denver experiment won't lead to a clash of egos; on the contrary, it's about one man finally being free to post up in the trenches where he's most comfortable. Iverson may be the most popular kid in school, but the last thing he wants at this point is to run for class president.


Conversations: The Gertrude Stein-Ernest Hemingway Letters

No time for introductions. What follows is an all-too-lengthy symposium between The Assimilated Negro, Brown Recluse, Esq, and me, Dr. Lawyer IndianChief, on the recent Bill Simmons' PHXSuns-fest. Should keep you overfed and slightly refreshed through the weekend.

KEY: T.A.N. is in bold Lucida Grande, Brown Recluse steps in for a moment dipped in Courier italics, and I, Dr. LIC, am draped in plain Times.


so, what's the reaction to latest Simmons piece on the suns?

i thought his slurping was a little too hard ...

in thinking about it right now, i think i'm coming to some conclusion on the import of your head coach, as in I take Dallas over Phoenix, and I think its because I take Avery over D'Ant. I think this is because Avery;s imprint, and getting Dallas to play defense, integrate a solid half-court offense, and successfully transition out of the nash era is much more impressive than D-Ant's pedal to the metal approach.

as i continue to mull, this feels like it might be weighty enough to write about. Dallas vs. phoenix. that's what the west is about now right? at least until we see the ramifications in denver.

I don't know, maybe I could re-read also, but it seemed a little fluffy to me. I haven't been watching the suns much, but this is because the NBA is the most objectively rational sport to me, i.e. we all know the suns and mavs and spurs will be the contenders and there's no way around it.

so in the midst of their huge winning streak, a streak we know has to happen, jsut as those other two teams will have great stretches, he announces their distinctively great ...

but then he qualifies it throughout the piece, with the Marion/Amare dynamic, amongst other things. if the team is legendary shouldn't he be able to say they're goign to definitively win. then half of the piece is dedicated to durant and comparison to the celts/lakers teams.

[Enter Brown Recluse, Esq.]

okay, i read it. not that this is relevant to the point by point, but
these things jumped out at me, and i thought i'd share:

"by the way, did you ever think that Shawn Marion would go down as the
greatest UNLV player in NBA history?"

whoa.....that kind of blew my dome a bit. but, yeah, i'd say he's
clearly better than LJ at this point. and j.r. rider, of course.

"I have never, ever, EVER seen anyone run the point guard position
like this on a day-to-day basis. Not even Magic and Isiah."

okay, now, that's some serious shit. i would agree that i've never
seen anyone run the point in the particular way nash runs it, but to
imply (he doesn't necessarily say it) that nash is a better point
guard than magic or isiah is pretty bold. but, you know, it's actually
not that ridiculous of a statement.

also, his durant stuff was on point. if you guys haven't watched him,
watch him. he's amazing, even if he is so skinny he looks like he has
a disease.

i think simmons has seriously fallen off with the pop culture
references and jokes, but his nba analysis is as sharp as ever. dude
really does know the game.

[Dr. Lawyer IndianChief says something:]

to me, the suns are nowhere near as good as dallas, and maybe not even as good as houston come playoff time. when it comes down to it, the teams that win championships are the teams with huge front lines, and a couple 6-10 guys (thomas and stoudemire) just aren't going to do it. the suns get exposed year after year because of this. diop/dampier, yao/mutombo...even duncan/butler/elson/oberto, they will all wear the suns down in a five game series. don't get me wrong, i'm rooting for the suns as much as simmons, which is why it is so tragic. another thing the suns are repeatedly exposed for: TERRIBLE rebounding. they give up the fourth most opposing rebounds in the Association, and watching them do this every spring has just got to be murder on their fans. their defense has seriously improved, giving up a fairly stingly opposing FG%, but it doesn't matter when guys are getting second-shot attempts. shoals calls the bulls the biggest tease in the league, but it is the suns that just KILL their fans every year.

as far as coaching, i don't know about avery being better than D-Ant. as good as avery is as an intervener, d'antoni is just as good for rolling the ball out on the court and letting em play.

to shift gears, though, let's talk about simmons. as much as we give him a hard time, guy is incredible. it's funny that when he writes an NBA column, it actually has the effect of making the rest of his work look so awful. he can't get around it, he knows hoops better than anything else, and he is also in the odd position of being a comedy writer who is better at nba analysis than anyone else affiliated by the worldwide leader. quick example, his insight about nash tripping the opposing players on screens, and pointing to that bulls game on jan2 where he set up barbosa for the winning shot? that was a play that my friends in chicago were talking about for weeks after the fact, but that NO ONE else should have cared about. it really shows you the level of sophistication with which he watches the games.

another note...brown recluse brought up the point that simmons has really fallen off with the pop culture references, and it is painful/teenager-to-dad-like to watch him trot out things from "indie culture" to reconnect with his audience (sidenote: little miss sunshine was a terribly overrated film that stole from everybody). i only bring this up because i am going to make a terrible pop culture analogy myself. simmons is the COMMON SENSE of sportswriting. just when i think he's completely lost it, he comes back stronger than ever.

hmmm. quick response for now. I'll be able to get on this for real maybe mid-late afternoon.

firstly, I don't see how you can slurp SImmons on this piece, and then say you also see the Suns as a tease. isn't the thrust of simmons' premise that the Suns are the best team in the NBA bar none? granted he qualifies it himself, which is another problem i have. if you're going to make a bold declarative statement, then do it. otherwise confess to jocking the suns while they're on an incredible hot streak like everyone else

i think the problem that simmons is having is that he is confusing his love for watching the suns play with a claim that they are actually the best team in the nba.
it's not even close. THIS is the tragedy of the nba. the suns are practically the saints of the nfl. everyone is pulling for them and they have the most exciting offense on the court/field, but they just don't have those playoff essentials (rebounding, big front line, do they even have a guy to make the clutch shot? etc.) to close the deal. simmons should have just focused on how FUN the suns are to watch in the midst of a very bizarre (/troubling for him: see the celts, clips) season.

My first and possibly biggest beef is with his first premise/section:

And it's an exceedingly relevant development for two reasons: 1. We're in a weird time in sports right now. There isn't a dominant football, baseball, basketball or hockey player

From where I"m sitting I hear a lot of talk about LT as potentially one of the all time greats. Same with Peyton. Tom Brady seems fairly transcendent. IN baseball Pujols, ARod, and Bonds pre-scandal tarnish? Hockey all the buzz are these young great players. In fact in every sport I'd say we're looking at arguments made for us getting to watch the greatest to ever play their sports.

2. The last great basketball teams were the Lakers and Celtics from the mid-'80s.

says who? this is where simmons age and bias are very much on display. The BUlls. I'd even argue for the Duncan/Pop Spurs since D-Rob. Great teams with great players. I mean maybe they didn'tgo as deep, but i'd stack them up and think they could win against those celt-lakers teams.

The two games and 28-game streak is like "so what" to me...

I like the Amare/Marion insight, that's good stuff. But I also think of it as exactly the reason one would read freedarko, you can get that type of stuff a couple times a week, not wait for a simmons "basketball" article

Bell and Barbosa are overrated because of Nash. This we all know to be true.

I agree with the "Nash actually deserves the MVP this year" premise, but again I think this whole thing you might find as a toss-off adlib at free darko. Its cool, it adds to the conversation ...but I'm not looking to slurp. My wig hasn't been pushed anywhere. And until I see Nash win a playoff series for the team, i say slow it down on all that Nash 2.0: This Time He's Edgy talk .

His main point, I think he falls into an old man trap. Old man trap means you're a sucker for your generation and deny the evolution of people, athletes, the game, life all around you. Yes Durant would score 55 with ease if he played in the 50s. And that means, while it may be difficult, its not impossible to compare different teams and different eras. just don't be a pussy. We know preposterous never-seen-before athletes when we see them. Lebron, Dwight Howard, people like this would be MVP's back in the day. So in general, contemporary players are just better athletes, they've built on everything that came before. They have stood on their shoulders. It doesn't make old less valuable, but it means today's spurs, mavs, suncs can compete with any of these old school teams.

And as far as I'm concerned there's a significant difference between Rashard Lewis and Mike Miller ...

agreed on points 1 and 2. LT is the most dominant player in sports. i'd argue that Santana is close to dominant in baseball. His claim about the Lakers/Celtics is classic "guy who stopped being enamored after his team started to tank." Those 1990s Bulls teams could have just kept winning forever.

As far as old man trap, that is at the heart of the article. He loves the Suns because they remind him of a hybrid of those Lakers-Celtics teams, when let's face it, times have changed in terms of what is required to win a championship. Every champ for the the last 15 years had THE dominant frontcourt/post-player or MJ. There's no way around it. Sure, it could be time for a revolution, but the Mavs are as much of a revolution as anything. The team with the "swiss army knife" player (Simmons' term) has never won jack in the playoffs. Perhaps the aftermath of the post-Sabonis/post-KG explosion of these do-it-all types will finally get over the hump with Nowitzki, thus setting the stage for more dominant swiss-army-knives, Lebron and then Kevin Durant to win future championships as well.

The Rashard Lewis/Mike Miller thing confused the hell out of me. I was like, "Why would you give James Jones' minutes to Mike Miller?"

The Suns and Dallas are close. But as you point out Dallas is sturdier and more diligent up front and on the glass. And this is a direct reflectin of the difference between Avery and D'Ant. Before Avery the Mavs were just as soft as The SUns, maybe softer. Now they follow the Spurs. That's all coach. Not Dampier or Diop. If Avery took over the Suns, Amare would become a beast.

This paradoxical conundrum just struck me:

If Steve Nash is a potential 3-time MVP.
And Dallas is better than the Phoenix
And Dallas is better now than when they had Steve Nash
And Phoenix is exponentially better since they got Steve Nash
How ridiculous is Avery Johnson then????

Would you trade Steve Nash for Avery Johnson the coach??...

the answer is YES!!!! YES!!!! YES!!!!!!!

But see Simmons doesn't want Avery's nuts all in his mouth. He'd rather Steve Nash's nuts, like everyone else.... homosexuality is undoubtedly easier if you have a group of people participating.

ok, avery is the man. but so is mark cuban (eff donnie nelson, getting his strings pulled). cuban made some seriously gutsy moves. i still think the nash move was stupid, but dumping finley and don nelson were brilliant. replacing toine walker and jamison and shawn bradley types with guys you NEED to win championships: diop, devean george, fuck it...even croshere. i dont know how much of this is directly attributable to avery j, but upon his arrival the entire culture changed. the thing was, for the longest time, dallas was the joke of the league, so when cuban took over, everyone was just content that they were winning a ton of games. 52 wins was a novelty. fuck the playoffs. plus, the whole playstation-in-the-locker thing had the major league effect of "we're pampering these guys." the van exel team was a TEAM OF STARS. as long as they got their points (and they always did), nobody cared. i think avery's arrival was more of an "oh shit" moment than a "now we're going to learn how to play good defense moment." dirk's D still sucks. same with terry. but with damp and diop in the lane, nobody wants to go in there.

Also, agreed on distinguishing entertainment vs actual quality/caliber of team. and the suns are the best team to watch.

I think this point about the schedule and power structure of the league is a sharp one. I think it ultimately helps my side also which is to say you can get this sort of stuff at FD, steady flowing.

overcome your weakness, how fundamental is that. while d'ant masks the weakness. yes, big difference there.

…Not much more to add here. Santana is another good call. i don't know if he's transcendent, but he's definitely the consensus ace anyone wold take.

and unit and Clemens were transcendent in their primes a few years ago, .... his claim about athletes, especially as his first point is completely out of his ass.

I think when people make claims like this they should suffer the slings and consequences of irresponsible rumor mongering, like we should be able to say that obviously Simmons and MIke Miller are having the gay sex, only way he'd force his name in like that.


Dead End Immanence

These last few weeks have been a time of great inward searching here at FreeDarko, the sort of perilous epoch during which coins are befaced and hospitals beckoned. Right left of my spleen and the knottiest ridges of my spirit, I stumbled upon a relic from a bygone brush with inspiration: LeBron F. James.

You may recall this most granite of prosperants. Last year during the playoffs, he followed a script untouched in its predestined chivalry, its non-stop clutch at perfection and monotheistic narrative. LeBron was the Chosen One like us Hebrews were, a reflection of an angry, all-mighty deity with no room for human frailty. His narrative was startling in its simplicity, like that billion-dollar epic that moves you because it dresses up plain truths in billowing, lumbering garbs. There are any number of better candidates for Basketball Jesus; LeBron was the Messiah of the prophets and chasids, and he made our loins quake accordingly.

But now, our Highness seems all but forgotten. The stats have dipped, the team somehow seems even shakier and less inviting, and the East's fraudulentness is approaching Nets-era intensity. Still, what I'm realizing is that LeBron may have had his moment because his myth admitteth progress, never process. When he first began his march through the postseason, this site was awash with complaints that the media was treating it as a "coronation." At the time, it struck me as needlessly grouchy; now, I'm seeing that LeBron's story might end up being as much, if not more, of a joke than Kobe's has become. Bean Thousand is often accused of imitating MJ, and yet no one suggests that his transformation into a more mature player might be every bit as contrived. If this is the case, the scale of his self-consciousness, and consciousness of history and legacy, are almost sickeningly grandiose. While there's nothing interesting about self-doubt, crippling self-doubt almost redeems itself through sheer chutzpah. The same is true for Bryant, whose has gone from coopting mannerisms to engineering his own imperfect salvation—so fucking demonic it becomes pathetically sincere.

Scan the skies for LBJ, and you'll find only a fixed point in space gradually making its way toward finality. There is little doubt that James is as perfect a basketball speciman—mentally, physically, spiritually, and diatonically—as the human animal has ever yielded. Even if his success does not always come instantly, eventually it will come to pass. Put simply, LeBron James will eventually get rings, get MVP's, and assume his rightful place near the top of the totem pole. That these Cavs are likely not going to facilitate this (cf. the Suns Massacre) does not thwart or question this; it merely puts it on hold. A dream deferred rots only if it fears the sun, and in LeBron's case, he feels not time and is sustained by his own inner glow. Kobe toys with his narrative because it will define him; LeBron is on such a different level that he's ultimately immune to a good story. When it works in favor of his upward drift, it enslaves us all. We may begrudge it, but there's a reason why we're witnesses, not believers.

LeBron now, though, is in limbo. No one ever call him disappointing, because he'll eventually get there. And while Cleveland may finish with a decent record, it's hard to take them seriously as a contendor. Assault me all you want with "best record in the conference"—that team could get beat by Washington, Chicago, Detroit or Orlando in the 'offs, and no one would bat an eyelash. Move over to the West, and that number jumps considerably. LeBron can still take them somewhere, but unless he surpasses last year, we'll barely notice. Imperfection simply doesn't make any sense in reference to James, and so these falterings or moments of flux are written off as indecipherable. There is no Wade-like push to the top, or Melo-esque fall and redemption, to be had within his pages. Only fit of ascendance, spelled by caves that will be forgotten.


An' the Gobble-uns 'at gits you ef you don't watch out!

As you, informed follower of the National Basketball Association, surely already know, the biggest trade of 2007 has the Pacers of Indiana sending S-Jax, Al Harrington, S-Jas, and Shoals favorite Josh Powell to the Golden State in exchange for T-Murph, Ike Diogu, and Junior. Although one (I'm looking at you, Dr. LIC) might initially think this trade makes no sense, it actually benefits both teams quite a bit. For the Warriors, the emergence of Andris Biedrins has made Murphy and Diogu (and Adonal Foyle, for that matter) expendable, and Mullins must be very happy to finally get that ill-advised Murphy contract off his books. Getting rid of the similarly overpaid Dunleavy, who has been whatever word is the exact opposite of "fan favorite" in Oakland, must also have led Ol' Flat Top to spark up a stogie or whatever other means of celebration he so chose.

The most important player the Warriors get in return is Harrington, who is the perfect 4-man for a Nellie team. One man's tweener is another man's gold. Meanwhile, Monta and Matt Barnes have been holding down the wing spots admirably, but S-Jax provides much needed depth, as the team is still waiting for J-Rich to get healthy. I personally never thought Jasikevicius would do much in the NBA, but he's got experience and a wet jumper, and that's not too bad for a throw-in. I don't really know what Powell gives you, but Nellie must like him since he had him in Dallas.

But, more notable is what the Pacers get out of this deal. As the suspensions handed down to Melo et al. so inexorably proved, the Brawl still casts a mighty shadow over the NBA, especially in Middle America, where the people have long memories and nothing to do. With this trade, Indiana finally rids itself of the man who so eagerly joined Artest in his fan-punching rampage and who infamously licked shots in a strip club parking lot. From the Warriors, the Pacers get two--well, I'll just come out and say it--they get two white guys. I hate to disabuse anyone of the notion that America is not a colorblind society, but there are certain places in this nation (and I posit that Indianapolis is one of them) where race still matters. Many fans there would rather pay to watch some hard-workers like Murphy and Dunleavy than some thugs with guns. Hey, you don't have to believe me if you don't want to.


Dave Berri's Dismal Science

Ever since Malcom Gladwell first endorsed The Wages of Wins in the New Yorker last summer, Dave Berri’s secular science of Iverson-bashing has been subject to an endless stream of criticism from pro basketball’s actuarial heavyweights. ESPN’s John Hollinger , Salon’s King Kauffman , and APBR’s Dan Rosenbaum have all traded blows with Berri and his co-authors, leading Dan Shanoff to name Wages of Wins the most controversial sports book of 2006. In many ways, the volume of criticism directed at Wages testifies to the durability of its thesis. Everyone seems to agree that the book is flawed, but no one can definitively say why. The reason for the stalemate, I believe, is a confusion over the nature of the flaw. The problem with Wages isn’t the statistics – its the economics from which they derive.

As Mathew Yglesias has wisely noted , the central issue in Wages is the weak correlation between payrolls and wins. Numerous empirical studies have demonstrated that increases in NBA payrolls do not correspond to increases in team success. Given that player salaries are determined by conventional measures of productivity – in particular, scoring – Berri argues that these measures must be flawed: otherwise, higher payrolls would mean greater productivity, and by extension, wins. The aim of Wages, then, is to develop a more accurate model of player productivity – one which could, if adopted by GMs, eliminate the disjunction between wages and wins, and thereby usher in a more economically efficient league.

I won’t go into detail about Wages’ methods, which are well summarized here . The basic idea is to use regression analysis to estimate a single measure of players’ marginal productivity, called ‘Win Score’ (WS). The crucial difference between Win Score and existing metrics (like PER) concerns the valuation of scoring. Unlike conventional measures of offensive efficiency, which penalize players only for the shots that they miss, Berri recognizes that even when a shot is made, a resource – a possession – has been expended. Because teams average roughly 1 point per possession, a 1pt opportunity cost is deducted for each field goal attempt, regardless of whether it goes through the hoop. Thus, when Kobe Bryant shoots 26-50 for 52pts, his marginal impact on team wins (52pts – 50pos = +2) is the same as that of Ronny Turiaf shooting 2-2 for 4pts (4pts – 2pos = +2), or Andrew Bynum grabbing 2 defensive rebounds (2pos = +2).

Now, the economics. Suppose that Berri is basically correct, and that Win Score is an accurate measure of players’ marginal productivity. According to orthodox economic theory, the “price” (i.e. wage) that players receive in an efficient market should be determined by their Win Score. However, recent economic models have demonstrated that the existence of this “efficient market”, and its capacity to correctly “price” player inputs, depends on a highly unrealistic assumption: namely, perfect information. For a GM to sign a player on the basis of his Win Score, he must first know, with relative certainty, what a player’s Win Score will be.

In his book, Berri argues that player productivity can be predicted, with sufficient certainty, on the basis of past performance. Using data from 1994-2004, he shows that Win Scores from the previous season are highly correlated with current performance (R-sq = .70). The problem with this line of reasoning is that “Win Score” as such doesn’t actually exist, but is instead a composite of various inputs. Now, suppose we distinguish between scoring input (points – true shot attempts), and non-scoring input (rebounds + steals - turnovers….). When we reexamine Berri’s 1994-2004 data, we find that non-scoring production is almost perfectly consistent from year to year (R-sq = .85). Yet when we consider scoring production alone, the correlation between past and current performance is much, much weaker (R-sq = .30). Thus, contrary to the assumptions of Berri’s economic model, the ability of GMs to accurately “price” a players’ scoring production is a highly uncertain (i.e. risky) business. From the perspective of players, the risk involved in scoring production appears even starker. Except for super-efficient producers (i.e. Shaq or Duncan), even above-average career shooters face a significant risk of ending a given season with negative scoring production, and thus, scoring income. Berri’s data shows that in any two season interval, over 30% of all players switch between positive and negative scoring Win Scores.

The uncertainty of point production has profound implications for Berri’s analysis. Under the assumption of perfect information, efficient scorers know whether they will shoot efficiently each season, and thus will continue to shoot up to the point where it becomes unproductive for the team. In reality, however, players are uncertain as to their actual scoring efficiency, and as such will be risk-averse when attempting to maximize that aspect of their income. Thus, if scorers were to be paid the true value of their marginal products – if economic rewards were distributed on the basis of Win Score – there would emerge a profound divergence in what teams and players perceive as an optimal level of shot attempts. Insofar as their investment is ‘diversified’ across the entire roster, teams will prefer that the above-average scorer shoot liberally, despite the occasional below-average season. In contrast, the player, fearing the possibility of a sudden career-ending injury, and thus relatively more risk-averse than his employer, would likely under-invest in shot attempts – if not eschew scoring altogether – rather than risk a negative scoring year.

The problem of underinvestment is further compounded once we consider that players themselves can, at any given moment, choose between scoring (risky) and non-scoring (risk-less) production. Thus, rather than take a high-percentage field-goal attempt, a player may opt for a potential assist (WS = +.5), or focus on grabbing an offensive rebound (WS = +1). The problem here is analogous to the one identified by economist Joseph Stiglitz in his analysis of the sharecropping system. Stiglitz argues that in situations where workers can choose between more- and less-risky farming techniques, there will arise “a conflict of interest between the landlord and workers. At any specified share contract, the landlord wants only to have the worker choose whatever technique or crop maximizes expected output; the worker is willing at the margin to sacrifice some mean output for a reduction of risk”. For above-average scorers, shooting will generate more overall career utility than, say, offensive rebounding. Yet offensive rebounding may nevertheless be more attractive since it poses essentially no risk of a loss. If scoring was “priced” on the basis of Win Score, even the most efficient shooters would likely under-produce on offense, choosing instead to maximize other, less-risky forms of production.

Berri and Co. are certainly correct in their claim that scorers are overpaid relative to their marginal impact on team wins. Yet in their rush to offer a correction, the authors never fully consider why this is the case? Why is it that scoring statistics explain 63% of player salaries, while equally-important possession statistics (i.e. rebounding) combine to explain just 1%? To the extent they address these questions, Berri and his co-authors fall back on an unconvincing appeal to the “bounded rationality” of GMs. They argue that the “myth” of scoring’s importance has only survived because people in the NBA do not process information efficiently, and that once they are exposed “to new and better information”, their decisions will change accordingly. In other words, the reason mangers overpay for scorers is that they haven’t read Wages of Wins!

The recognition that scoring is a uniquely risky mode of production, and that determining its “price” is fraught with uncertainty, affords a far more convincing explanation of its disproportionate value and compensation. What first appears as irrational, suboptimal behavior under the orthodox assumptions of neoclassical economics can now be understood as economically rational (if not perfectly efficient) outcomes in situations of uncertainty. Consider the question of why scoring is valued more than possession statistics, even though their marginal effect on wins is the same. Traditional economics tells us that in equilibrium, the price of labor depends on its quality (i.e. marginal productivity): if scoring and rebounding are equally productive activities, their prices should be equivalent. In contrast, Stiglitz and other economists have shown that in situations of uncertainty, quality often depends on price: here, workers with a certain labor capacity will only expend the necessary effort if they are paid an above-market wage. Put simply, the production of points in the NBA – due to the relative uncertainty of success – requires that scorers receive more than the value of their marginal product. Otherwise, players with the capacity to shoot efficiently WOULDN’T TAKE THE RISK OF TRYING TO SCORE.

By way of conclusion, let me just say that there is something peculiar about three academic economists second-guessing the propriety of NBA salaries. Well-paid professionals of all other persuasions are rarely subjected to such skepticism. Asked to account for the exorbitance of CEO compensation, for example, and your average economist will more likely cut off his own arm than conclude it anything other than optimally wealth-enhancing. Compared to CEOs, one would think that high-scoring basketball players – whose performance is subject of infinitely more surveillance, and who negotiate their contracts with infinitely less bargaining power – would be worthy of at least the same benefit of the doubt. Yet Berri and Co. simply jump to the conclusion that these players are overpaid.

The reason, it seems to me, is that below its ostensibly neutral surface, Wages of Wins is as much ideology as science. Note the familiarity of Berri's targets (Melo, AI), his conspicuous affection for "Playing the 'Right Way'" (see Chapter 10), or the undisguised moralism of the title’s jeu de mots. Or consider the following from the authors' blog :

Certainly NBA coaches, like Auerbach, are aware that rebounds, shooting efficiency, and taking care of the ball are important. But players can see that the highest paid are the scorers. And players also see that the money still comes even if they perform poorly with respect to many of the other parts of the game Auerbach knew led to wins and championships. So next time you see a player focus more on how many touches he has and less on winning, remember the incentives the players face. And ask yourself, what would you rather do, collect millions or win a basketball game?

The irony of this passage is that it recognizes (albeit tacitly) that the quality of scoring production is a function of its above-market “price”. Yet rather than exploring the obvious conclusion – that such incentives are necessary for motivating scorers’ labor – the authors instead retreat to the well-trodden canard of player selfishness. What we have in Berri’s book, then, is Calvinism masquerading as social science – not the other way around.


The Sound of Tables Turning

So as you may remember, we devoted an entire evening to decoding the Elie Seckbach phenomenon. Skeets and Tas actually got him on the line, and talked with him for a while about many things—including our little pow-wow.

Listen here, and within one second you'll realize that Elie is no fool, has thought through this whole thing, and has a perfectly affable relationship with everyone he engages. He chucklingly questions why we didn't ask a journalist or player who knows him, which I guess shoots down a lot of our speculation. But I still think there's a lot to be said for the nature of the video objects, which exist aside from the "inside" knowledge of how things are off-camera, or how these segments may impact his audience. He also is, or acts, confused by our claim that he's "awkward" in these interviews, and makes no mention of the fact that he writes like a fourth grader.

Of course, I'm mostly embarassed that an organization so obsessed with irony and gentle misleadings now looks the dupe. And I hope we haven't ruined Steinz's career, though to his credit he had more questions and caveats than he did fire and brimstone.

One shiny spot on a morning of utter humilation: from the interview, it sounds like Farmar's pops reads FD. Hopefully he will continue to after this.


The Myth of Thomasyphus

Have you seen the salesman?

Have you seen him? He is selling —SHOCK!

He wishes us to reach into our toilet bowls and grab the shit out of the bowl and hold it up to the light, and see that in fact this shit may be .... INCREDIBLE SHIT! Do you not realize this piece of shit has value!!

Look here, he runs to us with books, graphs, and charts of “value picks,” bellowing the name “Renaldo Balkman” from the heavens. “Look,” he implores, “you got YOUR shit at the lowest possible price. You’ve even gotten a little shitty return on your last trip to the bathroom. Rejoice!!! This shit will one day fertilize your barren soil and help seed the birth of a new landscape!!”

We appreciate your shitty mathematics salesman, but it’s still feces. It’s smelly, and stains the hands. It sullies your clothes. It is not attractive. It is feces. We will flush it now.

“But look what this shit can do! Renaldo Balkman!!!”

Do you know the Myth of Thomasyphus?

Do you seek to deny the absurd inevitable fate of our tragic hero pushing the shoulder-slumbering payroll up the mountain?

Tragedy seeks not defense, only acceptance. And so we weep, in fact perhaps we don’t boo so much as we utterly, cosmically, and forcefully sob.

The salesman spies our tears and presumes we need cheering up. But while waiting for Godot, we need little consolation, only interesting conversation. And certainly we need no finger-pointing to Thomasyphus halfway up the mountain, extolling the half-truth that “things are going well.” His fate is already sealed, his tragic flaws long revealed. This is why we weep so forcefully, why the night is so dark.

Of course the tragic figure has virtues, without them he would not be tragic. Such is our narrative, the interminable rise and fall. From our vantage point, 6,000 feet beyond the NBA and time, every game affords us a screening of the whole meaningless transaction. And so we weep. But not for lack of remembering happier times.

Tragedy begins with great joy. And weren’t we truly joyous seeing this man accrue talent through sheer vision and will? Oh, do you not remember the parades and spilled champagne when we imported the cancer directly into the heart of the team? We cheered while bestowing upon Phoenix a new life, and leaving our own destiny forever flawed and in need of chemotherapy.

Oh the joy! We covered every inch of concrete from Brooklyn to the Bronx with liquor in saluting the return of our own homegrown prodigal son. Do you not remember salesman? Do you not remember the tears of joy? They taste no different than the ones we shed today.

Tragedy begins with great joy. And weren’t we truly joyous when in a moment of the purest genius Thomasyphus realized, if you don’t have the talent, the only alternative is “The Great Coach.” There are but a handful of fish who can spawn under any conditions, given the time and freedom to fully impose their will. And he catches one and gives it to us.

Oh the joy! We drank Mike’s Hard Lemonades until six in the morn on the day Larry Brown was hired. Do you not remember salesman? Do you not remember the tears of joy? They taste no different than the ones we shed today.

But we understand the nature of your beast salesman, we need not dig too deep into this silly pathology, it is a pitch built on the effuse of flare guns. Alive for a moment on the front page, catching your eye, only to fizzle and disintegrate when watched with any sort of steady gaze. We envy your check, and embrace you with the same ardent love we embrace our father, but also offer a warning: Be mindful of your environment. Alas, such caddish opportunism only contributes to the inconvenient truth of global warming in sports journalism:
“But if I was rebuilding an NBA team, Isiah Thomas would be the first person I'd call. Why? Renaldo Balkman.”
Really salesman?
“If Lee, Curry, Richardson, Channing Frye and Jared Jeffries stay healthy and together, within three years they will be in a tug-of-war with LeBron James' and Dwight Howard's squads for supremacy in the East.”
Really salesman?
And I especially no longer fault him for drafting Balkman, who blocks more shots than No. 2 pick LaMarcus Aldridge, grabs more rebounds than No. 4 pick Tyrus Thomas ….
Some say Isiah could have gotten Balkman in the second round, or even signed him as a free agent. I say take a look at the 2006 NBA draft and point out a player selected after Balkman who could have helped the Knicks more this season
Tell me more of this Balkman you are selling salesman. Regale me with his epic tales of grandiose shot-blocking domination. It sounds compelling.
Critics say the Pacers floundered with Thomas as coach, but few care to mention the roster he inherited was not the roster Larry Bird led to the Finals the season before.
Indeed salesman, with Jermaine O’Neal, Brad Miller, Ron Artest, Reggie Miller, Al Harrington, Tinsley and other solid role players, some fools would argue his roster was better.

Look salesman, I wish you no harm of course, you are only selling your wares. You are only trying to pick up my spirit. But perhaps your pitch-perfect satire was published in the wrong venue. The parable of The Geek, The Bully, and The Idiot, is already being told to our children. They are learning the lessons so they won't be chained to this unending darkness. But it would take a Herculean effort to turn back the hands of time now, and until such an event, Thomasyphus continues to roll the payroll up to the top of the mountain. And no one thinks it will stay there, not even you.

Perhaps another tact: Charts and spreadsheets of draft picks can’t process the infinitely complex algorithms of the heart. And we native New York Knick fans now only bleed concrete and pain in lieu of blue and orange. Our love has been turned over too many times. Our soul knows only betrayal (and an inability to defend on the ball) … and so let us weep together salesman. Let us share in this most primal of emotions. Let us weep until the night becomes the day once again.

...thus spach TANathustra