So, it’s been just more than a month since my last post, and that’s an inexcusable amount of time. While I haven’t written much about sports here, today’s post is mostly reserved for that.
I’ve been a basketball fan since I was seven or eight years old. To this day, there is a binder and an under-the-bed storage box full of basketball cards, and an open account with a nifty site called checkoutmycards.com, where people can buy and sell single cards from their collection. While I began my sports-playing life with soccer (which was a cruel and unusual torture for a four-year-old) and baseball (at the iconic Red Berry’s in Kendall), I truly found my love in basketball in the fifth grade. Once those boyhood dreams of playing in the NBA died, I felt I had a real chance to play at the college level. But with three coaches in the last three years of high school and an athletic director not-at-all interested in shopping players on our team to small colleges, my only chance was a walk-on try-out at St. Thomas University.
I chickened out. It’s the biggest regret in my short life, leaving that opportunity behind. I ended up at FIU, and after watching a few open practices of their men’s team, I knew I could’ve made that squad as well. In high school, I could shoot and defend, but again, I elected to sit in the stands rather than try and make it to the floor. If I could do everything over again, that whole stretch from the basketball season my senior year at LaSalle through what should have only been four-years in college, I would. (Of course, that desire comes with the incredible caveat that I still get to meet my wife, and still get to have my kids, which may-or-may-not have happened if my basketball dreams were pursued/fulfilled.)
I say all of this to set up one simple point. I know about basketball. I may not have played the game at its highest level, but as a someone who did play competitively and who coaches competitively, I know enough. Enough to see that the color-commentators and studio analysts covering the Miami Heat are not at all approaching this unfolding story without bias. Each sentence, phrase, or analytical nugget is being spewed through a colored lens. Colored by prejudice and a predisposition that the way the Heat are “doing things” is not that way it “should be” done.
Sports can be a cathedral at times, with people kneeling at different intangible altars. The zeal that surrounds teams can easily be likened to religious fervor. Just look at the UEFA Champions League match earlier today. Many of the people tapped to cover the Miami Heat are dead-set against the team, to the point where they simply ignore, to quote Morpheus, “the obviousness of the truth”.
One of the most polarizing people for our city has been Charles Barkley, the TNT analyst and former NBA star. While there was a time he provided insight and illuminated aspects of the game for non-pros, Charles Barkley is now a cartoon character. He is set up on the studio to play a role, and this year, his role is defined by his anti-Heat positions. Other analysts and color-commentators have a similar approach. They’ve set their positions up against the Heat early in the season, and now attempt to pick apart their games in hopes that, if the Heat lose, they can puff out their chest and say: “I told you so.” At the moment, there isn’t a single analyst that can do that. It’s gotten to the point for me that I watch the games without volume, because I cannot stand the asinine drivel that is being presented as analysis, and I rarely watch any of the post-game coverage other than the press conferences.
The most frustrating aspect of the coverage is the way these analysts have tried to tear down the Heat, and specifically LeBron James, while trying to hold up players like Derrick Rose. The fact these analysts have a pulpit allows them to sway the zealots in front of them. (Alas, most of the masses are fervently rooting against the Heat, so they happily shallow the bullshit being served to them.)
I’ll point to one specific bit of creative analysis to make my point. Many of the people paid to dissect the basketball world have wielded their scalpel trying to find parts of the Heat as cancerous or faulty. They say things like: “LeBron isn’t a closer.” And they point to abstract ideas like chemistry, ego, heart, and drive. Then, when a nice player like Derrick Rose zips through the lane and thunderous strikes down a dunk, they suddenly anoint him as the neo-best-player-in-the-league; a humble, messianic baller that leads a true “team”. Then when presented with Rose’s statistics (which are inferior in almost every way to LeBron’s), they creatively coin the phrase: “volume shooter”.
The first time I heard that, I was at a loss. I thought they meant “volume scorer,” which would be a player that scores a large percentage of his team’s points. But no, they meant “volume shooter,” which seems to mean that he takes a lot of shots to score. For example, in Game 5 against Miami, Rose made 9 of his 29 attempts. For the entire series, he scored 117 points on 120 shots. To me, that’s incredibly inefficient. But the analysts coined this phrase, “volume shooter” to justify Rose’s inefficiency when faced with a far superior player like LeBron James. (James scored 129 points on 94 shots in the same 5 game span.) So, these analysts, paid by different entities to enlighten the public viewer regarding the game of basketball, have presented us with something that, by all logical accounts, should be seen as a major flaw in a player’s game. Instead, it’s trumpeted as “being a leader”, since Rose has no one else who can score.
To take my point a step further, Derrick Rose sat before the press on the podium after each loss, sulking rightfully, and assuming all the blame for his team’s failures. “It’s on me,” he would say. This was praised as leadership, and a mature response to the losses by a young 22-year-old. While availing himself to the media after the games and comporting himself well can be seen as mature, his responses fall short of leadership material. He should have demanded someone else step up with him. He should have called on his teammates and the coaches to help overcome the issues they were facing. But his responses avoided conflict. True leadership can’t worry about being liked; true leadership can’t avoid conflict.
Don’t get me wrong, Derrick Rose is a dynamic player. I would have enjoyed seeing him in a Heat uniform had the draft lottery worked out the way it was statistically supposed to. But Rose is closer to Allen Iverson than he is Michael Jordan. LeBron James? He’s Jordan. Just take a look at what Scottie Pippen, Jordan’s wingman, said yesterday. “Jordan might be the greatest scorer, but James might be the greatest player.” Once Scottie put that out into the Universe, he was vilified. But I don’t think he’s wrong. James can be better than Jordan, if he wins. (Granted, that’s a big “if”.)
Like I said earlier, I know about basketball. I also know, these paid analysts know about basketball, but their commentary seems colored with personal bias. What do I want from them? Insight. Tell me something that I, as someone who never played at that level, would not know. Enrich my viewing experience with facts and knowledge. I don’t need bias. I have a bias, too. I might as well be wearing Miami Heat undies, but that doesn’t change the fact that I know what I saw during Game 5, that 18 to 3 run to close it out was something special.
Growing up, I had the pleasure of watching Dan Marino, certainly one of the greatest passers in the storied history of the NFL. But Danny never won, which has kept him from the Mount Rushmore of Quarterbacks. Now, I get to watch LeBron James. He’s the best basketball player in the Universe. Coverage of the NBA Finals will sound eeriely similar to the coverage of the two previous rounds. Analysts will say the Heat aren’t nough of a “team”, they don’t have a bench like the Mavs, they don’t have veteran savvy. They’ll ignore how this group of players have grown together. They’ll ignore how at this point in a basketball season, the bench plays the smallest role in a game because a coach will push to have his best 5 players on the floor as much as possible. And they’ll ignore that this Team, led by LeBron James, is just full of savvy.
If LeBron gets 4 more wins, Charles Barkley and all the other analysts out there will have to bite their tongues and start the conversation Scottie Pippen threw out there. Me and my Heat undies will go find a chisel to remake basketball’s Rushmore.