Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Stop, stop, stop, stop hurting America.

As a nation, America loves to partake in faux-outrage. The high priest of faux-outrage of course is Bill O’Reilly, who whips his viewers into a frenzy over trivial or, more likely, non-existent threats, such as the “War on Christmas”. Faux-outrage is damaging because it distracts the media and media consumers away from issues that are actually important and deserving of further attention. Every 1,000 words that is written about how Democrats made fun of Ann Romney is 1,000 words that could be better spent discussing policy positions (whether THOSE are substantive or not is a whole different discussion). But as basketball fans, we are all just congregants at the church of Bill O’Reilly.

There are some legitimately bad human beings in the NBA. Jason Kidd is a wifebeater, DeShawn Stevenson is a (statuory) rapist, JR Smith killed a guy by rolling through a stop sign. Yet, if we took a poll of NBA fans about their least favorite player, Dwight Howard would notch an overwhelming victory over second place LeBron James.

I mean, I guess I get it. Dwight Howard needs to just shut the fuck up, and is certainly guilty of exhibiting poor judgment and a lack of understanding about how contracts work, while LeBron needed a much bigger dose of humility, class, and perspective when he left Cleveland in 2010. But neither of them (to public knowledge) have done anything to seriously hurt or destroy another human beings life like the players mentioned above. Say what you will about the Jail Blazers, but the real fault of those early-2000’s Portland teams was choking in the playoffs, not committing crime.

Sports are where we turn to when the drudgery of our day to day existence becomes too much. Depending upon your perspective, life is either terrifying or exhilarating because of the uncertainty that it presents. It is impossible to fully wrap our heads around things like “the economy” and “relationships” so we turn to either fantasy (environments that break the normal rules of life) or games (environments that have a clearly defined rule set and punishments). Basketball is compelling because there is a clear objective (score the most points) and way to measure who best achieves that objective (whoever makes the most baskets). The action that happens on the court is one of the few things in life a person can say that they fully, completely, 100% understand—you sure as hell can’t say that about any relationship you have ever been in (insert women are from Venus comment here).

Why is it that we excuse the very real, very bad deeds these men do as long as they can ball on the court? This isn’t a rhetorical question, I genuinely don’t know the answer, and am somewhat ashamed to admit that I am guilty of it too. I would have been thrilled if the Warriors had signed Jason Kidd in the offseason, his treatment of his ex-wife be damned, yet I would be profoundly uncomfortable if you told me that the guy in the office next to mine had killed a guy?

I think it has something to do with the fact that the rules of society that these men have broken are not present in the NBA rule book: there is no provision against statutory rape in the NBA. Sure, the commissioner’s office makes a show at punishing players for their off-court transgressions—DeShawn Stevenson was suspended for three games for the aforementioned statutory rape—but it’s pretty clear that the purpose of this is to mollify critics and sponsors, not an attempt to correct behavior. It makes a certain amount of sense that players aren’t given NBA punishments for real world crimes, but it doesn’t make sense to me that we leave our morals at the front door when we plop down in front of ESPN.

Which brings us back to the petulant, childish attempts by Dwight Howard to alter his destiny. It isn’t even so much that I want him to stop talking, but I want the media to stop reporting on him talking. In deference to Gertrude Stein, there’s no there there. As long as he continues to do work on the court, let’s save our outrage for the things that actually deserve it.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Games of the Week: July 30-August 5, 2012.

We begin the week with our 15-year-old friends, and finish the week with some Olympians.  Let's get to it.

Monday: AAU DI 11th Grade Championship (11:30 AM PST, ESPN3)

So I watched a few of the AAU games on ESPN3 last week, and I gotta say, I was pretty entertained.  There are some really talented players out there, all of whom look like DI college stars already.  It's pretty interesting to hear announcers talk about these guys like they're accomplished basketball stalwarts, and then realize that most of them aren't even old enough to drive yet.  At the same time, you can see the mannerisms that make professional athletes (or at the very least, athletes who receive a lot of attention) seem like pretty intolerable people.  There's a ton of showboating, jawing, and celebrating that happens after fairly routine stuff.  And that doesn't just go for the players.  Former NBA guard Jeff McInnis, who had a fairly successful 12 year career playing for three different teams, is the coach of Team Charlotte, and was more than a bit animated on the sidelines.  While watching his team's game on ESPN3, I noted that he had to be edited out for cursing almost continuously.  Parents were pretty rowdy as well.  Wholesome family stuff, this AAU business.

Tuesday: USA vs Tunisia (2:15 PM PST, NBC) 

Honestly, this game probably will be a blowout in the US's favor. But I'd wager that Tunisia isn't terribly worried about the outcome of this contest.  Despite the fact they lost their opening game to Nigeria 60-56, their presence in London is nothing short of a miracle. Tunisian basketball has been on the rise since 2009, since they finished third at the FIBA Africa Cup.   They went winless at the World Championships in 2010, but finishing third at the Africa Cup guaranteed them a spot in the 2011 Africa Cup, and another chance to qualify for the Olympics.  To everyone's surprise, they won the FIBA Africa Cup in 2011 as a dark horse participant, beating the heavily Angolans in the process. They've already beaten Britain in pre-Olympic friendlies, and will likely be looking ahead to Thursday's matchup against France, Tunisia's former colonial metropole until 1956.  If Tunisia can beat a wounded French team, that will be a source of nationalistic pride for a country that continues to search for its identity following their 2011 revolution.  Tunisia is also the only team that has no players who played either college or professional basketball in the United States, and only one player who has a European contract (7'0'' center Salah Mejri, who also played with the Sixers in the Orlando Summer League this year).  Keep an eye on Mejri, 6'8'' combo guard Makrem Ben Romdhane and 6'6'' point guard Amine Rzig, both of whom have legitimate size and skill in the backcourt.

Thursday: Brazil vs Russia (8:45 AM PST, Illegal Stream Somewhere)

As far as I can tell, the only games being broadcasted on television here in the States are Team USA's games, and it's a well known fact that if you want to watch other countries play basketball, you're a bona fide terrorist.  So, since you're a terrorist and all, jump onto the internet, and find yourself an live streaming website to watch this matchup between two countries that know how to play the game of basketball.  Both of these teams are laden with NBA (or NBA-quality) talent, and are legit threats to beat the United States.  Wolves fans will be interested in watching the Russian team, which stars two of their newest signings, forward Andrei Kirilenko (the reigning Euroleague MVP) and combo guard Alexy Shved.  They also boast the talents of the Nuggets' Timofey Mozgov (who will forever be known as Blake's first murder victim, and the unit by which all nasty dunks are measured from here on out), former Kansas standout and CSKA Moscow anchor Sasha Kaun, guard Anton Ponkrashov, and former NBA forward and longtime CSKA Moscow player Victor Khyrapa.  They're also coached by David Blatt, a highly respected international coach who has been courted heavily within the last year to join a coaching staff in the NBA.  The Brazilians, meanwhile, can trot out their own NBA lineup of Tiago Splitter, Nene, Leandro Barbosa, Anderson Varejao and Alex Garcia (who played three seasons with the Hornets and Spurs).  This should be a good one.

Saturday: Argentina vs Nigeria (2:15 PM PST, Illegal Stream Somewhere)

It's another one of those "experience" versus "athleticism" affairs, but this time, it's international! The Argentinians have become one of the mainstays of international basketball, ever since they unseated the United States in 2004 and won the gold medal.  They finished a "disappointing" third at the 2008 games, and are now back in 2012, looking fairly long in the tooth, but still ready to compete against the world's best.  Their core group of players remains relatively unchanged from 2004.  Manu Ginobili, Andres Nocioni, and Luis Scola form the backbone of the team.  Fabricio Oberto, the starting center on the 2004 and 2008 teams, has been replaced by Juan Pedro Gutierrez Lanas, a mobile big man who looked pretty good in the exhibition game between Argentina and the USA about a week ago.  But the person everyone's looking at is Pablo Prigioni, who spent this year playing for Saski Baskonia in Spain, and just signed a one year deal with the Knicks.  Melo seemed excited about the prospect of playing with the pass-first point guard (you took too many shots, Jeremy), and some early scouting indeed yields some encouraging data.  The Nigerians, on the other hand, are hoping their youth and athleticism can counter Argentina's age and experience.  Everyone on their team played Division I basketball in the United States, and they have a few current and/or former NBA players (Ike Diogu, Al-Farouq Aminu, Olumide Oyedeji and Koko Archibong) to provide muscle and experience. They won their first ever Olympic match on Sunday, beating Tunisia 60-56 in a very tight game.   Let's see if they can use their building momentum to unseat one of the greatest living international teams on the world's biggest stage.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Your Annotated Smartphone Bathroom Reader for Sunday, July 29, 2012.

NBA news is slowing to a trickle.  We had to get creative this week.

The US Men's Basketball Team Is All Like, "Road Trip!!!!!!"
Kevin Lincoln
BuzzFeed Sports

Sometimes life isn't peaches and cream.  Sometimes we come home from work, tired and deflated.  Sometimes we just don't want to read 10,000 word articles on the literary merits of A View From Above: The Autobiography of Wilt Chamberlain.  Sometimes we want to laugh at dumb shit, and via Instagram and Twitter (what, LBJ isn't on Pinterest yet?).  The USA Men's Basketball team has provided plenty of dumb shit.  BuzzFeed writer Kevin Lincoln nails it on all accounts, unleashing from  me the giggles that he intended.

- FM
TrueHoop TV: Harrison Barnes
Kevin Arnovitz

A few weeks ago, I had a beer with Ben and Carolyn, two friends from college.  Ben introduced me to his friend Peter, a teacher in Seattle, and an NBA fan in his own right.  He and Ben had gone to high school with Harrison Barnes, the former tar-heel standout who was recently drafted seventh overall by my Golden State Warriors.  Both Peter and Ben stated that in high school, Harrison Barnes was like the perfect guy.  He was smart, friendly, athletic, and humble as hell.  Based upon this interview conducted by TrueHoop's Kevin Arnovitz, this seems to be a fairly on-point assertion.  Barnes effortlessly discusses branding, identity-formation and franchise rebirth in this short interview, and sounds like a scholar all the while.  Given his big brain, as well as his slick-ass performance in the Vegas Summer League last week, Harrison Barnes is showing all the signs of becoming my favorite player in the not-too-distant future.

- JG  

Reporter in the Eye of a Twitter Storm 
Jason Fry
Poynter Review Project (ESPN)

The Poynter Review Project expanded the role of ESPN's ombudsman; a unique position where an individual (or a group) offers objective analysis about a given organization's professional, ethical and humanistic performances from within the organization itself.  In many ways, the ombudsman acts as a watchdog, who ensures that an organization behaves with integrity and professionalism.  The old ombudsman, Le Ann Schreiber, used to write the most engrossing articles on ESPN.com  Her pointed analysis and critical eye for ESPN's penchant for making a cheap buck instead of offering high quality journalism made her articles seem almost scandalous.  While the Poynter Review Project (PRP) doesn't have the same depth as Schreiber, it has still offered unique perspectives into the day-to-day business of running a 24/7 information resource in the digital age.  In this article, the author looks closely at a day in the life of Chris Broussard, one of ESPN's senior NBA analysts, and a featured columnist on both ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine.  Broussard was widely criticized for "breaking" news stories from Twitter posts that were seen by most everyone, including rival outlets.  The PRP author, Jason Fry, discusses the effect that Twitter and social media has had on journalism, where the glory comes in breaking a story first, not providing the fullest, most in-depth account.  He calls out Broussard and ESPN for not taking more care in gathering pertinent details and offering original analyses; troubling habits that support the notion that ESPN steals scoops.  This is a really interesting read, and anyone who has had issues with ESPN's lack of journalistic integrity when it comes to breaking and reporting stories, will find welcome content in the PRP blog, as well as the archives of ESPN's past ombudsmen.

- JG

The Maloofs Trapped Sacramento, and the Path Out is Unclear
Tom Ziller
Sactown Royalty

I haven't checked in with the arena situation in Sacramento in a little while.  Tom Ziller reports that it's not a particularly pretty picture.  At this point, the arena deal is all but dead, and Mayor Kevin Johnson has begun focusing his efforts on bringing Major League Baseball to California's capitol city.  Ziller laments this change in direction, and offers scathing opinions about the Maloofs, who he argues has misled Sacramento's leadership, citizenry, and Kings fans.  Ziller points out that the Maloofs had championed the idea of putting an arena in the Railyards area of downtown Sacramento, an underdeveloped area that is important to Sacramento's economic future, regardless of whether the Kings stay or not.  Additionally, they offered to put up a lot of money to ensure that work would begin on an arena there; money that has since been taken off the table.  With pressure on Mayor KJ to do something with the Railyards, and the Maloofs digging in their heels, preparing to wage war against Sacramento in a lose-lose battle for either a publicly funded-arena or a Kings team in Anaheim or Seattle, Ziller grimly suggests that the only way out for the city is for the Maloofs to sell the team to an in-town buyer.  Otherwise, it's up to David Stern and the Board of Governors to reject the Maloofs bid to relocate the team to a different city.  This is a sad situation playing out in Central California.

- JG

How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America: A Remembrance 
Kiese Laymon

This piece has nothing to do with basketball.  It's just one of the best things I've read in recent memory.  The author, a current English professor, offers an autobiographical essay that discusses race, guns, violence and blackness in America.  The piece focuses on the four times the author either saw, brandished, or was threatened by a gun throughout his life.  These instances, though not immediately connected, are linked together through a wonderful prose that makes your breaths feel heavy, and your throat feel thick.  It's a great piece of writing, read in a time where the roles of guns and gun-related violence are under a microscope, without much of an analysis that takes into account the role race -- in particular, blackness -- has in the process of buying, owning, and potentially using a firearm.  This piece is brash and unapologetic; a must-read in a time where innocents are being gunned down by white men with badges, and without, while race goes completely unnoticed and unanalyzed.  Many thanks to Todd Anderson for posting this on Facebook, and introducing me to Kiese Laymon.  I will likely purchase his upcoming book.

- JG

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Dream(ing) Team

Team USA finished up its pre-Olympic exhibition schedule on Tuesday by defeating Spain in a less than stellar performance. The main storylines thus far with regards to Team USA have been mostly playful and lighthearted anecdotes featuring some phenomenal photo ops of sleeping NBA super stars. All fun and games aside, David Stern has recently expressed his feelings that perhaps we need to reexamine the structure of Olympic basketball in the United States. Speaking largely on behalf of team owners, Stern has floated the idea of making Team USA only open to players 23 years of age and younger. Building further on this notion – he loosely expressed his vision of a World Cup of Basketball in which every four years (as is the case with soccer/futbol) the best of the best compete on behalf of their countries for the World Championship.

All right, Stern. I’ll bite. Let’s just say we accept this idea and try and come up with our starting five had this rule been on the books before the start of the London games. In my opinion, here’s what our lineup would look like:

PG – Kyrie Irving
SG – Russell Westbrook
SF – Kevin Durant
PF – Kevin Love
C  - Anthony Davis

Not too shabby, eh? Now, just for the hell of it – let’s say we can magically cure all the previously injured players. Substitute Rose in for Kyrie, shift Love to the 5, and let Blake play the 4. The case could be made that that starting line up would be slightly better equipped for the Olympics due to their youthfulness.

The glaring weakness with Team USA in 2012 is the serious lack of quality big men. The depth chart for Centers looks something like this:

C - Tyson Chandler, Anthony Davis, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Jerry Colangelo

With that given, let’s go ahead and assume Team USA wins the gold medal (A heady assumption I know, but just go with it). If our biggest issue to overcome is defending the post, and we manage to scrape by with that sort of depth chart, does removing one player (Chandler, a talented but not necessarily elite defender) decrease our chances THAT much? I don’t think so. In my opinion, what makes Stern’s timing of this idea so compelling, is that THIS year of all years would be the one in which our U23 line up could probably compete just as much as our unrestricted team.

And think about this: If we had to fill out an Under-23 roster we’d probably have to tap some current college athletes. Nerleans Noel (18) is currently prepping for his freshman year at The University of Kentucky. He’s ESPN’s number one ranked high-school player in the nation, stands 6’10”, and rocks a killer throwback hi-top fade. Encouraging, and really needing, the assistance of amateur athletes to fill out our Olympic roster would be fantastic; A nostalgic and commemorative tip of the cap to everything the Olympics (used to) represent.

But before we get ahead of ourselves here it’s important to remember something: Despite whatever nonsense David Stern spews out, the real reason behind this whole idea is NBA team owners are trying to “protect their investments.” If it were up to Mark Cuban every Dallas Maverick would sit quietly in detention-hall all summer until it was time for the NBA season to begin. It’s utter bullshit. Being granted the privilege of representing your country in the Olympic Games, and becoming an athletic ambassador for your nation, is perhaps the highest accolade anyone could ever imagine. I can understand an owner not wanting their super star joy-riding drunk on a scooter (sup, Monta?), but to deny them their ability to compete for a gold medal for your own selfish reasons is beyond ridiculous.

And in regards to Stern’s vision for a World Cup of Basketball, here’s why I don’t like it or think it would work:

- The only difference between a World Cup and The Olympic Games is that Stern and the owners don’t make any money off the Olympics. If their concern truly is that they want to avoid injuries – how does training for a World Cup differ from the Olympics?

- While basketball has marketed itself fantastically it still doesn’t have the kind of international support that soccer does. There is also significantly less parity across the world, and without enough broad competiveness this type of event would not be able to be sustained. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

Diss Guys Miss Guys Volume 3.

Diss Guy: David Kahn

Summers don't always tend to be David Kahn's time to shine.  There was that summer of 2009, when he went point guard crazy, snagging two in the draft (one of which was Ricky Rubio, but it took him two years to show up in the Twin Cities), signed two others as free agents, and hired the worst coach of all time.  Then there was the summer of 2010, when he pissed off Chris Webber by comparing him to Darko Milicic, was a bit too forthcoming about Michael Beasley's previous drug use on the radio, then signed the aforementioned Darkosaurus to a ridiculously undeserved contract.  Summer of 2011 went a little better; he managed to drug and brainwash hire Rick Adelman, but still made some pretty thick-headed signings.  This summer, Timberwolves superstar Kevin Love, feeling self-conscious about his lack of playoff berths when comparing "career resume size" in the shower after Team USA practice, put him on notice.  And how did Kahn respond to Kevin Love's whining?  He turned Darko Milicic, Martell Webster, Wes Johnson and Wayne Ellington into Brandon Roy, Greg Stiemsma, Chase Budinger, Alexy Shved and Andrei Kirilenko.  Not a bad few weeks at the office.  We've given Kahn some lukewarm love before, and if these signings work out, he's probably going to get some more.  Way to figure out how to do summers, Dave.  

- JG

Miss Guy: Rod Thorn

In an effort to keep basketball alive during the dead time between the end of the finals and beginning of the Olympics, I recently decided to conduct an experiment in which I would artificially manufacture the excitement and melodrama of the regular season.  My genius plan was to refrain from as much contact with the basketball world as possible in the three weeks I would be cavorting abroad in Taiwan visiting family.  I wouldn’t log onto ESPN, read too many posts from the Diss, and seek news from the 76ers.  What I wanted was to re-experience basketball when I returned the US—in essence, to create for myself a whole new basketball world, where no team was the same and the gossip completely fresh.  Foolproof right?

Well.  What a big fat fail for me.  When I returned to the States, I came back to a nightmarish present in which the 76ers had amnestied Elton Brand, signed Kwame Brown to a two-year $6 million deal, and moved Spencer Hawes, carting his new, heftytwo-year $13 million contract, to the four.

Yes folks.  You heard right.  To make up for their weak front court and lack of offense, the 2012-2013 team will be starting two centers, one of whom is Kwame Brown complete with “small hands” and “bona-fide scrub”-iness (and that, my friends, is when he is healthy and playing).  

This will not go well.  There is no upside to this.  It is like leaving for vacation and returning to discover that Rod Thorn had shat on your pillows and Doug Collins your sheets.  Not cool guys.  Not cool.

- Symbol Lai (SL)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Wild Guesses and Outlandish Speculation: Scandal edition.

Our focus yesterday on the Penn State scandal naturally lead us to discuss similar scandals in the NBA.  Frank "Kevin" Mieuli, Jordan Durlester, Jason Arends and Alex Maki weigh in.  Let's get to it.

1.  Do you feel the NCAA's punishment -- $60 million dollar fine, four year postseason ban and 111 vacated wins from 1998-2011 -- fit the crime?

Franklin Mieuli: Given the NCAA's jurisdiction, yeah, I think they did pretty well.  It is still obviously a situation best handled in a court of law, and hopefully it comes down hard on all those pedophile-enablers like it did on Sandusky.

Jordan Durlester: Due to the nature of the crimes committed by Penn State no punishment could ever really match the horrendous level of pain that was caused.  Having said that, the punishment handed down by the NCAA was sufficiently just.  The men who were "in charge" and primarily responsible for harboring this monster will get a more fitting punishment in criminal court.

Jason Arends: Well, the crime is the cover-up and enabling of a serial child rapist.  I'm not sure where to even begin with an appropriate punishment for that.  It certainly seems like there should be more criminal charges from something like this, and I'm sure the civil penalties have only begun.  My only concern is that the student athletes and support staff of the organization are going to be more adversely affected than those at the top, but that's sadly almost always the case with institutional punishment, and I'm not sure of a way around it.  In short, I don't have any problems with the NCAA punishments, but after something like this if they decreed that Beaver Stadium be bulldozed into the ground and the earth around it salted, I wouldn't object.

Alex Maki:  In a perfect world there would be a punishment that would only affect the leadership and those who were complicit, and it would not affect individuals that played no role and that are, in a certain sense, vulnerable such as those receiving (either right now or in the immediate future) scholarships to play football at Penn State.  But we don't live in a perfect world.  As Jordan said, this is such an egregious crime that few punishments could be considered too severe.  The punishment is less than perfect given the fallout of affecting scholarships and those just hoping to play football (which many, if not all, will be able to do somewhere else), but it is fitting and probably sufficient.

2.  Is this the worst scandal in modern sports history?

Franklin Mieuli: Absolutely.  Gambling, "integrity of the game", steroids, etc., are trivial in the face of this.  An iconic, powerful sports institution being used to aid and abet pedophilia?

Jordan Durlester: Without a doubt.  The despicable actions taken by Sandusky are only matched by the equally despicable attempted cover up.

Jason Arends: Unless some sports organization was murdering people or allowing even more children to be raped, then yes, I'd say the Penn State scandal is the worst in modern sports.  Most other scandals I can think of deal with performance enhancing drugs or gambling, which is a far cry from sexual assault in my book.  There was that Baylor player who was killed by a teammate and the coach asked teammates to lie about it, but I'd say the systemic cover-up of a child rapist is even worse.

Alex Maki:  Yes.  Sure, it kind of stinks when players cheat by taking steroids, or referees bet on games.  But these were men betraying the trust of children and potentially ruining their entire lives.  For no reason whatsoever.  Nothing really comes close.  I also want to say that, though I'm not sure the word "scandal" really covers it, covering up and inadequately addressing concussions is particularly pathetic and inhumane, especially in the NFL and NHL.  This scandal, while not as bad as the Penn State assaults, will be looked back on as bewildering and degrading to humans.

3.  What do you feel is the NBA's biggest scandal or black eye in its history?

Franklin Mieuli: I'm tempted to say the continued ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers by a racist megalomaniac, but racking my head all I can come up with is Malice in the Palace, which in comparison to the events at Penn State, isn't all that bad.

Jordan Durlester: The Malice at the Palace.  I was literally terrified watching the invisible wall that separates players and fans get demolished in that infamously chaotic scene.  I must have watched that clip a thousand times and still have trouble processing it.

Jason Arends: The revelation that Tim Donaghy was fixing games for the mob would have to be the top NBA scandal.  While anyone who watched the 2002 WCF would not express surprise that at least one referee had money riding on games, this was a tremendous embarrassment to the NBA, especially because Stern only learned of it when the FBI turned up Donaghy during an organized crime investigation.  The inconsistencies of NBA referees was (and it) always an issue for the league, but to have an active referee be betting on games and working with organized crime is a tremendous black eye for the integrity of the NBA.

Alex Maki:  Though I think the Malice in the Palace is pretty horrible, I think the NBA has a decent (but not great) track record of putting out a product that is family-friendly.  So though I take violence far more seriously than most other shortcomings in the league, I would actually vote that the Tim Donaghy betting scandal in 2007 was more of a black eye, as it had the potential to completely undermine any confidence the public and even the league had in the legitimacy of the sport.

4.  Could a similar situation to Penn State -- that is, protracted sexual violence and a top-down cover up -- occur in the NBA, or another professional sports league?

Franklin Mieuli: I hesitate to say no, but I doubt it.  In college sports the universities are powerful silos, oftentimes outside the direct jurisdiction of anybody but themselves, which is why big-time programs are run like fiefdoms.  Say what you will about David Stern, but I can't imagine him covering up for anybody.

Jordan Durlester: You'd have to be foolish to think that this type of scandal couldn't happen again in a professional sports league.  With the amount of money at stake you unfortunately can never be too sure.

Jason Arends:  Yes, I'm sure it has happened and will happen again, in the NBA and other leagues.  Given the tragic under reporting of rape and the significant barriers victims face, I'm certain that sports organizations have covered up sexual assaults for players before.  Maybe nothing quite as stomach churning as decades of child rape, but who can forget the Isiah Thomas-run Knicks and the sexual harassment trial that resulted?  Or the numerous players who have been convicted of sexual assault over the years?  Sports is a big money business heavily dependent on image.  There are going to be people who think that loyalty to the brand is more important than basic humanity, so I don't think this is the last cover up we'll see in sports.

Alex Maki:  Colleges and universities definitely have their own cultures and power structures that might make a coverup a bit more likely.  But I think the take away (and frankly a lesson we social psychologists always lecture on in our Introduction to Social Psychology classes) is how powerful situations can make normal people do horrible things.  This doesn't mean blame should not be leveled at people that commit horrible acts, but instead that given a system that has a sufficiently hierarchical power structure and doesn't have to answer to any outside entities (or can hide things from outside entities), it is perhaps more a question of when, not if, something (not necessarily of this magnitude) goes wrong.  And I think often times professional sports leagues still meet these criteria.  (This is not an opinion directly informed by empirical, social-psychology studies, so I don't want to see any misleading quotes in the future!).

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Despicable Elephant in the Room.

For the past two weeks, there has been an elephant in the room, watching me write about meaningless shit.

It is the ugliest elephant I have ever seen, slimy, foul-smelling and obscene.  It just sits there, and rightfully trivializes everything that's happening in the NBA, from free agency to summer league.  It reduces the Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik and Nic Batum offer sheets to zilch; silences the whinings of Dwight Howard, distracts from a marquee matchup between two international powerhouses.  It renders the NBA useless, turns it to mush.

This elephant, in the words of Charles Pierce, is the raping of children.  And additionally, the coverup of the raping of children, and the safe harboring of the rapist.

There isn't much more to say about Penn State, I suppose.  Most of the emotional outbursts occurred yesterday, after Mark Emmert (who I spent the better part of a year organizing against with other students, faculty and staff; fighting to keep him from turning the University of Washington into a sort of Penn State West with unduly funded sports programs and administrators with million-dollar paychecks) announced an unprecedented punishment for the university.  It's been well reported at this point: a $60 million fine, a four-year postseason ban, and the vacation of 111 wins, which removes former coach Joe Paterno from the "winningest football coach" designation; like any of that shit matters when we're discussing raped children and harbored pedophiles.

I have struggled to both come up with something to say about the scandal without falling into the pit of self-righteousness that other writers have, and at the same time, find a way to use the scandal to better understand aspects of sports.  I've also wanted to use this scandal to do some sort of closer look into the NBA, but I wasn't quite sure what to examine.  The crime is heinous, and the punishment does not really look like anything I've ever seen before.  Now, more than in November, when this entire awful thing came to light, we are seeing the charting of new territory; where organizations that officiate, bankroll and profit from the expansion of global professional sports weigh in on the institutional price of sexual violence (and the abetting of sexual violence), and how those who profited from such a gross oversight --including players and fans -- must all collectively bear witness.

For me, this was a special punishment that fit a special crime.  Yes, corruption is liable to exist in any institution where a relatively small group of individuals have an inordinate amount of power, who can abuse that power to push their own agendas and save their own hides, unbeknownst to the vast majority of their clientele, employees or supporters.  We can conjure up the image of Bernie Madoff at Madoff Investment Securities LLC, or Rupert Murdoch with News Corp, to see examples of "big potatoes"-type scandals, where a group of empowered men oversaw major criminal operations without the knowledge or support of many within their closest circles until they were discovered by authorities.  However, there were a number of unique aspects about the Penn State scandal that set it aside from other large-scale institutional transgressions.  First, the crime was especially heinous.  Sundusky's crime of rape of children (and Paterno's crime of covering up of such a rape) far outweighs Madoff's theft of money, or Murdoch's invasion of privacy.  Secondly, the crime was committed at a place where such terrible acts should be least likely to occur -- in a charitable organization for at-risk youth, as well as a public research university, in facilities at where people are supposed to be focused on "play" and "games".  Thirdly, and importantly, the persons who oversaw the coverup -- a college football coach, an athletic director and a university president -- are not typically seen as accessories to rape.  As such, there was no way that the NCAA (which is run by a council of university presidents) couldn't be involved, seeing as how big money college football, and top-down university administrative structure, were so central to the successful maintenance of the cover up.

The message of the punishment was clear: if Penn State wished to have a football program in the present, and the future, it would have to come at the expense of its past.  And that's exactly what happened.  For all intents and purposes, the years 1998-2011 never happened for Penn State football.  Their last win was in 1997, when Mike McQuery, whose decision to report child rape to Joe Paterno and not campus security exemplified the transgressive culture at Penn State, threw three touchdowns in a win against Wisconsin. My friend (and budding Diss-cussant) Dave Gold made an excellent point on Facebook, saying, "you really can't take away a win; the game already happened."  And to an extent, he's correct.  But in my opinion (and as I've argued before) there's something more powerful about the visual representation of an event -- even one struck from public memory -- than the writing that records it.  The effect of this is even greater for events that are taboo, and no longer discussed, or are no longer allowed to be discussed.  It's similar to seeing the blank space in an altered photo from Stalinist Russia, where a person once stood, but now no longer appears.  You know there was a person there, even though the censors attempted to erase them.  What's now more compelling -- at least for the historian, or the interested party -- is what happened to that person, and why whatever happened, happened.  These are the questions we will now ask about the absence of 111 wins, as well as gaping holes where glorious statues used to stand.

(Think of it this way: in 2022, ten years from now, long after the lost scholarships are returned and Penn State assumedly is a relevant program again, proud alums will still have to explain why 111 wins were wiped from the books, they will have to craft an answer that dances around explanations of sodomy, forced oral sex with minors, and sexual assault.)

The narrative is forever changed.  The message is forever convoluted.  And now, the Penn State faithful now have to dance around the issues that truly matter, or grit their teeth and face them head on.  For the players who have borne the unfortunate brunt of the NCAA's punishment, I feel little sympathy.  The NCAA has allowed them all the opportunity to transfer to other Division I schools, and those who wish to stay and play for the school where children were raped en masse can continue to do so, without scholarship, and without a postseason.  If Penn State means that much to you, stay there.

So to that end, I applaud the NCAA -- they handed out a punishment that forever alters the narrative of an institutionthat relies on history and tradition to garner human and financial support.

Now what about the NBA?  This is a basketball blog, after all.

What frightens me about Penn State is that, since its so unprecedented, it feels pointless to project what effects it may have on professional sports.  This could just be an isolated case.  Or, this could be the tip of the iceberg.  We don't know, and won't know until it happens again.

However -- and this is pure speculation from a person who's neither an expert on college sports or institutional deviance -- there are many reasons why the NBA is unlikely to be the site of a scandal as damning as Penn State.  The NBA and the NCAA, as sports associations, do not match up cleanly.  In the NCAA, a leadership board comprised mostly of university presidents make big systemic decisions, which are then processed by athletic directors at said universities, who hands down pertinent information to the coaches of the university's sports teams. Meanwhile, the NBA's board of governors, comprised of the majority owners of the NBA's 30 teams, assign smaller groups to work on bigger issues, such as rule changes, labor issues and marketing strategies.  Those teams include a cross section of the NBA, including players, general managers, directors of team operations, and so on.  David Stern oversees most of this movement, and attempts to keep tabs on all sides engaged in these discussions.  In other words, in the NBA, power is far more diffuse, and there's more engagement on multiple levels to ensure that nefarious machinations aren't occurring behind closed doors, under the table, or in the locker room.

It also seems to me that NBA personnel, especially coaches, don't come into contact with children as much as college personnel do.  NBA franchises are certainly visible participants within any urban community, but rarely branch outside of the cities that they play their home games in.  Nor do NBA teams play as direct a role in charities and other private organizations as Penn State did with the Second Mile, Jerry Sandusky's charitable organization based in State College, Pennsylvania.  There are certainly no moments where players, coaches, or really team staff could isolate vulnerable individuals in the same way Sandusky did, time, and time, and time again.

That said: someone in the NBA has a dirty secret.  There's no way around it.  Over the years, there have been many transgressors who have collected paychecks from the National Basketball Association, or an owner with a majority stake in one of the Associations' franchises.  There are launderers and womanizers.  There are woman-beaters, drug abusers and drunk drivers.  There are gamblers and grifters. There are even a few rapists and murderers, as well.  The NBA is hardly littered with sinners, but as in any cross-section of society, there are bad apples in the bunch.

And what's more?  There are those in the NBA who would just as soon sweep it under the rug and pretend it never happened.  The Golden State Warriors attempted to keep sexual misconduct by Monta Ellis towards a female front office employee secret until the media got wind of the scandal.  The Knicks tried the same thing with Isiah Thomas and Anucha Browne Sanders.  And while Stern has flatly denied that he knew anything about crooked referee Tim Donaghy, many have doubted his claims. Powerful institutions will do everything in their power to cover up the dirty laundry rather than wash it.  The NBA has shown itself to be no different.

Yet, not enough has changed for me to furrow my brow when I see images of children at a NBA player's camp, or attending a function organized by a head coach.  I see no reason to conduct a witch hunt of the NBA, to ascertain whether pedophiles exist amongst the association's ranks.  I was never a college football fan, so my life won't change much.

But I will never forget what happened at Penn State.  And no sport can ever call itself an escape, if horrors like these happen in its name.

For a long time, I will watch basketball with a despicable elephant in the room, and will bear witness to the sins of our grandfathers.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Games of the Week: July 23-29, 2012.

Both of the NBA's summer leagues have concluded (with my Warriors going 5-0 in Vegas!), and the NBA finals are a distant memory.  That should do it for basketball, right?

Wrong!  As Kevin Durant stated (and Nike advertised) during the bleak days of the 2011 lockout: Basketball never stops.  And he's right.  There's plenty of ball being played during this offseason.  It's just not always being played by NBA players, and not always on network television.

But never fear, dedicated Diss link-clicker.  The Games of the Week feature is flexible.  We will lead our horses to the water that is clandestine offseason basketball, and force them to drink that muddy-but-still-wet water.

Games of the Week: Basketball Never Stops edition.  Three offerings on the week.  Let's get to it.

Tuesday: Team USA versus Spain (1:30 PM PST, ESPN3)

As we learned last night against Argentina, Team USA is vulnerable to national squads that (1) have NBA players, and (2) have played extensively together.  It took strong efforts from the entire team to put down an Argentinian squad that featured Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola and Carlos Delfino.  The Spanish squad -- who Team USA faced off against in a memorable Gold medal match back in 2008 -- will likely pose a greater challenge than the Argentinians.  Even without Ricky Rubio, the Spaniards trot out a lineup that would probably win 55 games in the NBA.  They're led by the Gasol brothers up front, and flanked by Serge Ibaka and Juan Carlos Navarro (who briefly played with the Grizzlies).  They feature a talented guard corps as well, with Jose Calderon, Rudy Fernandez and Diss favorite Sergio Llull.  And their non-NBA players are deadly as well, with Victor Claver and Victor Sada ready to play big roles off the bench.

If you are a fan of the USA, you must hope that the boys in red and blue stay out of foul trouble.  Team USA's big men have found themselves in almost constant foul trouble since pre-Olympic friendlies began.  If Team USA loses Tyson Chandler and Kevin Love early to foul trouble, they'll have to go small against a team featuring the Brothers Gasol.  Given how skilled Marc and Pau are (and how much fun will it be to see them playing together?) this will not bode well for Freedomlandia.

In any case, this should be a very fun game, and one that should not be missed.

Wednesday: Houston Defenders (TX) versus Boo Williams (VA) (1:30 PM PST, ESPN3)

The Amateur Athletics Union (AAU) is one of the most beloved and reviled institutions in all of sports.  While players fondly recall (and staunchly defend) their days flying around the country with other high-level amateur athletes, playing elite teams in far flung corners of the country, coaches, parents and bloggers bemoan the time commitment and culture of AAU basketball.  Regardless of how AAU basketball is perceived, this is the first opportunity for future professional players to engage with similarly-abled individuals both in the United States and abroad, and get a small taste of what it's like to make a living playing sports.  This, in many ways, is the Bar Mitzvah for the highly-paid ballers of the future, and the alumni lists for both the Houston Defenders and Boo Williams is extremely impressive.  This will be an interesting glimpse into the world of professional basketball, six years before these players are even eligible to declare for the draft.  In particular, pay attention to the Defenders' Aaron and Andrew Harrison; twin brothers who run the Defenders' backcourt, and at age 14, look like surefire NBA guards. 

Thursday: AAU DI 8th Grade Championship (11:30 PM PST, ESPN3)

Check out the video above.  This is from the AAU DI 8th Grade championship from last year.  These 14 year olds are huge.  And what's more?  They're fucking good.  The guy getting interviewed in the video was offered two Division I scholarships on the spot after his performance in this game.  And he's 14 years old, in case you forgot.  

In the immortal words of Skee-Lo, "I wish I was a little bit taller...er."

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Your Annotated Smartphone Bathroom Reader for Sunday, July 22, 2012.

A very Jeremy Lin-themed bathroom reader.  It's a slam dunk!

Terry K. Park

If Voltaire had witnessed Linsanity, he might've written this satire about the rise and fall of Jer...I mean, Leremy Jin.  Terry K. Park provides a fictional biography of James Leland Dolan, the great-great-grandfather of James Dolan, the current owner of the Knicks, and how he experienced the sensation that was "Jinsanity" way back in the 1820s.  The name "Carmelo McAnthony" made me laugh. If you liked Candide in high school, or at the very least, the 100 pages of Absurdistan you read on your flight from Dallas to Philadelphia, you might enjoy this piece.

- JG

Henry Abbott, J.A. Adande, Brian Windhorst, Marc Stein, Kristi Dosh and Chris Broussard

This was the main feature this week on ESPN.com, and it's a pretty important piece for those who are still in the dark about what exactly transpired between Jeremy Lin, the Knicks and the Rockets.  The heavy hitters of ESPN basketball analysis come together to create a comprehensive narrative of the Jeremy Lin contract saga.  Each writer takes a different variable that played a role in Lin's departure from the Knicks -- the family, the Knicks, the Rockets, the Poison Pill, the financials and the Lin camp -- and closely analyzes each element to show the intricacies of the situation.  In the end, the pieces weave together, and create a full narrative about what exactly transpired.  While no new information is presented, this is the most comprehensive and chronological account of the end of Linsanity. 

- JG

Andres Alvarez
The Wages of Wins Journal

Carmelo Anthony caused waves when he called Jeremy Lin's contract with Houston "ridiculous."  What exactly made it "ridiculous"?  Andres Alvarez (who's quickly becoming a Diss favorite for his smart, funny, and succinct analysis) attempts to answer this question in this post on TWOWJ.  Alvarez takes a closer look at the third year of the contract, as well as the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) to show why Lin's contract hurts the Knicks so badly in this new CBA.  He explains how the new progressive luxury tax, which charges more money per every $5 million exceeded, compounds the costs of expensive deals.  He also points out the most important, yet most understated, point: the only reason Lin's contract is "ridiculous" is because other players on the team are already signed to "ridiculous" contracts themselves.  This is essential reading to understand the larger cap implications of "poisoned" back-loaded deals like Lin's.

- JG 

Patrick Minton
The NBA Geek

Patrick Minton, better known as the NBA Geek, has been producing smart, statistically-driven NBA analysis on his blog and for The Wages of Wins Journal for a few seasons now.  I've always liked his work because it usefully mixes love of advanced stats with the human interests of the game, and does so in a highly readable and understandable way.  In this post, Minton helps the reader understand how "framing" and "anchoring" have driven the "ridiculous contract" narrative for Jeremy Lin.  Minton shows how wording in official statements can imply different meanings.  In the case of Lin, Minton explains that the Knicks have phrased statements about Lin's contract that seem to imply that his contract over others, will carry greater ramifications for the Knicks salary cap situation.  It's another interesting look into the way the Knicks and the media have framed the particularities of Lin's supposedly "poisoned" contract.

- JG

Eric Freeman
Ball Don't Lie

In a move that Jordan accurately called "The Slipperiest of Slopes", the NBA will soon begin selling jerseys with ads on them.  Eric Freeman offers his suggestions for which companies will best represent the teams that are essentially becoming their billboards.  The best one, in my opinion, is for the Sacramento Kings, who will get a Taco Bell label on their jerseys. Freeman writes: "An absolutely horrible meal that still tastes quite delicious, in its way.  That makes it a perfect pairing for a bad team with DeMarcus Cousins and Thomas Robinson in the front court.  Plus, game times will perfectly coincide with Fourthmeal for fans watching on the East coast."  Well said.

- JG

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Slipperiest of Slopes - Proudly Presented To You by Adidas

Earlier this week the NBA Board of Governors held their annual summer meeting to discuss the state of the association, debate possible rule changes, and bask in the glory of being full-fledged 1%ers. Big Daddy D (which is how Dan Gilbert has David Stern stored in his iPhone) offered the following quote to reporters at the conclusion of the meeting:

"We had a happy group of owners, our ratings are up 28 percent over the last decade, while television ratings are down around 30 percent the last decade. We are going to have our best year ever, both in gate and sponsorship this coming year."

(Doesn’t that quote seem way too redundant for a man of Stern’s/Daddy D’s professional and academic accolades?)

Well how do you like them apples? Remember, oh like, less than a year ago, when all we heard about was how little the NBA owners were actually grossing? Whatever. Hope you enjoyed Vegas, Assholes.

The major in-game changes made primarily had to do with increased instant replay in the final 2 minutes and overtime – specifically checking on goaltend/block calls. I mean, sure. Calling a clean block or a goaltend can have a huge effect on the way a game plays out. Determining the arc of a shot is an incredibly difficult task. It’s a split-second judgment call, ultimately coming down to the official’s best guess, which is why the issue was brought up for discussion. However, doesn’t a block/charge call have the same profound effect on momentum and ultimately how the game ends? Isn’t that call just as much the officials’ best guess as a goaltend? What kind of precedent are we setting here?

Instant replay was also expanded allowing officials to determine the severity of flagrant fouls. They briefly discussed flopping, but seeing as it’s not a pressing issue, decided to table it and get back to their bottle service at Tao.

Which brings us to the most polarizing decision that was made: Starting next year (or actually, right now) NBA jerseys will proudly feature advertisements in the form of sewn on patches. The estimated revenue from the advertisements, which includes both the jerseys worn by players as well as those sold to fans, is 100 million dollars.

David Stern has lied about many a thing during his tyrannical reign over the National Basketball Association but the one promise that he has remained steadfast to was his dedication to exploring alternative ways to generate new revenue. You think you’re Kobe’s biggest fan? Oh, really? Well, do you even own an authentic 2012-2013 gold and purple Lakers home jersey complete with Adidas and Del Taco patches? I DIDN’T THINK SO.

I wanted to give myself at least 24 hours before writing this article to the let the concept marinate. My initial visceral reaction was one of utter disgust that resulted in numerous 4-letter-words, swearing off the NBA for good, and googling images of the Phoenix Lifelock.

The most upsetting part of this whole situation was the inevitability of it all. Anyone with any knowledge of how professional sports work in 2012 should have seen this coming. Professional soccer jerseys, NASCAR cars (is that right?), and WNBA jerseys already feature much larger and more blatant ads on them and they seem to have gotten away with it without any major complaint from the fans. It was only a matter of time.  I wish I would have seen that Morgan Spurlock documentary, “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” because I’m sure there was at least one badass quote that would’ve worked perfectly in this paragraph. Oh well.

The NBA is a business, and the goal of any business is to grow. Allowing advertisers to put small patches on jerseys seems harmless enough and is going to bring in a ton of extra cash for not much extra work. It really just makes sense. The problem arises because we as fans foolishly try and trick ourselves into thinking that following sports is a getaway from “real life” and “business.” When we tune in to ABC for a primetime Sunday marquee matchup we’re not just watching the best athletes compete for our viewing and blogging pleasure; we’re watching men hard at work earning a living. Seriously. Next time you forget that; pinch yourself.

And guess what? This isn’t going to stop. This is the first step in a trend that eventually will lead to much bigger and broader advertisements and sponsorships. Know why? Because David Stern knows two things for sure: More advertisements lead to more money, and no matter what he does to the jerseys - his fan base isn’t going anywhere.

I’m sorry for going all Gordon Gekko on you. I really hate what’s happening, and what’s bound to happen in the not-so-distant future, but honestly…what choice do we have?