Sports Perspectives by Mark Elder

Friday, 6 February 2009

PETA’s banned advertisement

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mark @ 12:56

By now you’ve all seen the ad where women who are allegedly vegetarians are getting it in with veggies on camera.  I really thought the whole thing was a hoax — presumably you did too — but it is not.  I am here to tell you PETA is serious, and believes that you will stop eating delicious chickens because a scantily clad Caucasian hottie rubbed broccoli on her torso.

These people can’t be serious.  I mean really, did that ad make ANYONE put down their turkey sandwich and say “you know what, they’re right, this is wrong?”  I pray that it did not.  I’m glad NBC wouldn’t air it.  Good for them.  Spare us.  Beef is still what’s for dinner.

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The “Mecca of Basketball”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mark @ 12:49

Yes, folks, Kobe Bryant was right.  The Garden is the last great building left standing, but we can’t really say it’s home to many great teams, can we?  Some unbelievable moments in basketball and boxing have transpired in midtown Manhattan, but the greatest in the history of the world have not played for teams that called the Garden home.

This week was no different.  MSG was treated to two unbelievable, fantastic, sublime performances by two of the greatest to ever grace a court – but neither sported home whites.

Marv Albert appeared on Pardon the Interruption with Wilbon and Kornheiser last night to discuss the two historic nights, and he spoke about the unusual phenomenon of chanting MVP for Kobe, and rising in uproar every time Lebron dunks or shoots.  Reggie Miller was upset by this gentle treatment from the Garden crowd.  His position is that Knicks fans should jeer opposing talent, not cheer for it.  I would agree, but as Marv explained, times have changed, and New York no longer has a choice.

You see, we Knicks fans hate the Lakers, the Celtics, the Heat, the Pacers, and the Bulls – but we can ill-afford to shun greatness today.  We gave Reggie Miller the business because we wanted to see that greatness from our own stars, but today there is no chance of that.  Is Wilson Chandler going to go for 61 tomorrow night against Paul Pierce?  Anything is possible, except for that.  Check the Bible, it’s in there.  Lesser known passage, though.  The point is we’re all fans of basketball first, and the Knicks second.  New York is a Yankees town, but not a baseball town.  New Yorkers grow up playing basketball before they can talk (I did and I know others who did as well).  Watching MJ come out of retirement to score 55 was painful because we had a good defensive team and we probably could have held him to fewer than 50, or at least won the game.  Watching Kobe go for 61 in 35 minutes and 49 seconds…well…I can’t be mad at that.  We had no chance of stopping him, we have no chance of winning the championship, you might as well appreciate greatness when you’re graced with it.  Same goes for Lebron.  Two trips to the Garden the last two years and he’s averaged 51 pts, 9.5 rebounds and 9.5 assists.  That’s beyond greatness.

It’s nice to see the words New York on the front of the uniform of the player who has an all-time great performance, but seriously, can you begrudge Knick fans for putting aside the petty differences and embracing the brilliance and beauty of what Lebron and Kobe did this week?  I can’t, or at least I won’t.  The fans in New York are STARVING for good basketball, and if only our archrivals dane to provide us with it, well, Pops always said not to bite the hand that feeds you.

NBA injury reflections

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mark @ 12:32

Wow.  What an incredible week in the NBA to start the month of February.  A lot to get to, but let’s start with the injury report:
Jameer Nelson, one of the three best PGs in the Eastern Conference – out for the season (most likely) with a torn labrum.
Elton Brand messes up his shoulder and will be out for the season AGAIN.
Andrew Bynum out for 2 or 3 months with a torn MCL.
Chris Paul pulls his groin (or a sports hernia, perhaps?), but isn’t expected to miss too many games.
Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams have both been out for the Jazz, though Williams looked fine with a bruised quadriceps muscle last night.
Gilbert Arenas, DeShawn Stevenson, Caron Butler and a few others were ALL out against the Nets for the Wizards the other night, and of course, the Wizards were blown out.
Kevin Garnett and Caron Butler both missed about a week with the flu – which makes the NBA seem a lot like every other job in the world, doesn’t it?

Those are not minor absences, by the way.  We’re talking about key cogs in playoff teams being unable to play.  Most importantly Bynum and Boozer, because I have the Jazz winning their division, which they won’t do without Boozer, and I have the Lakers winning the championship, which they may not do without Bynum.

My initial reaction to the Bynum injury report, though, is one of awe.  He’s 3 meters tall and he weighs like150 kg and he tore his MCL but he’ll be playing professional basketball again in 2 months?   Are these people serious?  Is he Wolverine?  There’s no way that’s happening, unless I just don’t understand science and/or medicine at all.  I leave the door open for that, at least.  But come on.  My friend has bad tendinitis in his knees and the doctor told him not to hoop for 6 to 8 months!  Meanwhile Bynum will be playing professionally again in 8 weeks?  No.  I straight up refuse to believe that.

Regarding some other injuries:

Gilbert Arenas wondered aloud whether he should play at all to try to salvage his team’s awful, dreadful, very bad season.  He should have wondered a little bit more quietly, but in response to his quasi-inquiry that would never be posed to me:  no, don’t play.  What would be the point?  For the fans?  Wiz fans are a joke.  For himself?  He can practice on the low, then play summer league and preseason and he’ll be ready for opening night come October.  The truth is that it was a bad contract and the Wizards are better off getting all the ping-pong balls than they are finishing the season with a respectable record — and I almost NEVER say that.  WW management has made a lot of poor choices (including firing Eddie Jordan, paying Arenas 111 million dollars, and singing Jamison to play power forward for the next four seasons), and I think it’s time to start over and make some good ones, starting with good draft picks this summer.  And just a quick aside for those of you who are on the Nick Young/JaVale McGee bandwagon:  get off now, or get out of my ear.  I don’t want to hear it.  They’re both inconsistent complimentary bench players on a bad team.

The Bynum injury is the biggest, but the Nelson injury is a close second.  Jameer Nelson has really come on this year and he had the Magic playing like a title contender.  Without him, they’re not.  Simple as that.  Some combination of JJ Redick and Tyronne Lue will take his place.  Ouch.  These injuries are killing my predictions.  How can the Jazz and Magic make noise in the playoffs if they are without key cogs?  I love Stan Van and Dwight Howard, but with no point guard, they’re not going to topple the Celtics or the Cavs.  Get healthy, Jameer, and get them next year.  We all saw what happened when Wade tried to play through the pain.  Learn the lesson from his mistake, don’t make the same one yourself, please.  For basketball.

As for Elton Brand:  it was a bad signing, and the Sixers will be fine without him.  Did anyone else notice that it wasn’t really working WITH him?  I don’t think this one matters much.  You can’t trade his contract anyway, so he’s not hurting you there.  The Sixers will just have to eat this contract over the next 4.5 years and deal with the fact that they won’t be winning any championships during that span.  Sorry, Philadelphia, but you still have McNabb and Ryan Howard, at least.

Jake Plummer disses Mike Shannahan

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mark @ 12:08

The Colorodo ESPN Radio affiliate (whatever it is, sorry, I have no idea and don’t care because it’s west of here) contacted Jake Plummer regarding the firing of Coach Mike Shannahan, and he called it “overdue,” adding that Shannahan hadn’t been a great coach in years, and that he was getting a pass largely because of his relationship with the owner, because fans had begun to see him as an offense-only mind who was, as a head coach, a creation of John Elway.  Normally I’d rip a guy like Plummer in this situation, but this time, I can’t, and here’s why:

1.  He’s correct.  Shannahan’s firing was overdue and fans were asking “how long can he ride Elway’s coattails?”  As a matter of fact, even people from West Africa had asked me “Mark, how long can he milk those two Super Bowl wins that were really just John Elway finally getting his?”  Damn.

2.  Plummer seems like a stand-up guy who is honest and backs his words with action.  He didn’t call for Shannahan’s head while he was still employed.  Both of them were out of work at the time, as a matter of fact.  This wasn’t a comment made out of spite after he was traded to Tampa to compete for the job of 2nd-string QB for a maniacal coach in a podunk town.

3.  He didn’t seek out the nearest reporter to trash the man, he simply answered direct questions when interviewed, and he answered them in a straightforward, forthright manner.  What more would one expect?

I guess that’s why this has been a non-story nationally, but it’s still worth a minute to comment on because DAMN!  Shannahan went out and got Plummer and showed faith in him when others would not, and then Plummer comes right out and says he should have been fired years ago.  No matter how you slice it, that’s at least a little messed up.  Still, though, like I said, he was right.  Can we please get Mr. Plummer an analyst job somewhere.  How is it that he’s unemployed but Matt Millen and Emmitt Smith and Shaun King are all working making good money on TV?

DJ to CF for NYY in 2009?

Derek Jeter is one of my (sports) heroes.  No, he’s not as historically significant as Malcolm X or Marcus Garvey.  He’s not a revolutionary and he probably never will be, but he makes and has made my life better and he brings a good many of us pride.  The New York Yankees have made my summers enjoyable for the past 19 or 20 years, since I really understood what the hell you’re supposed to do with a baseball, and Derek has been a big a part of that as any, so I’m going to address an old story that’s simultaneously a non-story and a potential future story:

Is Derek Jeter better suited to play center fielder than shortstop?

ESPN Insider online has a nice piece about the possibility of a move from SS to CF for DJ.  The answer is yes.  But the real answer is no.  The analysis is a familiar one:  as Jeter’s defensive range continues to erode, his remaining defensive attributes are more relevant to those of an outfielder than a shortstop, and the Yankees have no center fielder of whom to speak, so why not employ the slick fielding underpaid youngster at short, where there are more chances than center, and move the captain back a few meters?  He can continue to produce offensively and the Yankees will have a chance at being a great defensive team instead of a mediocre one.  With Molina calling games, Posada at DH and Derek in center field, the Yankees could be the top defensive team in the league behind Chien-Ming Wang, one of the top three ground-ball inducing starting pitchers in the world.  Sounds brilliant, right?  Well it is.  But it’s too brilliant.  Jeter tracks pop-ups and bloopers better than any shortstop I’ve ever seen, including Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra and any Johnny-Come-Lateleys you can name.  His range is average to his right (maybe a little below average this season, as he is turning 35) and it’s straight up not good enough going to his left.  I’ve seen balls that were clearly on the shortstop side of the bag go to Cano because Cano has excellent range and, when he’s mentally focused and prepared to play, he gets an incredible jump on the ball off the bat.  He still accounts for more runs than he costs the team because he gets on base well and is sure-handed when he needs to be, but not 21 millions dollars worth of runs, to be sure.

 

Jeter snares a foul pop-up, twisting his body as the ball heads for the crowd

 

Let’s analyze this rationally, and then realistically:

-Jeter tracks balls in the air better than balls on the ground; and everyone knows this.
-Jeter has a strong arm and excellent body control.  He is a good athlete in addition to being a good baseball player.
-Anecdote is not data, but I have never seen Derek Jeter misplay a ball in the air into an error, and I have seen hundreds, if not thousands of Yankees’ games.
-Jeter can still make a nice play in the hole and give you an amazing jump-throw from the outfield grass all the way to first – no hops, but that’s about it.  More and more often as the years go on, his dives in the hole come up empty, and the numbers support that.  10 years ago, he’d snare it.  Just 2 years ago, he’d knock it down.  Now, the ball trickles through to Damon, who is the MLB version of your neighbor’s kid who your kid doesn’t want to play with because he throws like a girl.
-Going to his left, Jeter is slower than other good shortstops.  If he’s going to get there, his is the glove you want the ball in, but if there is a good chance for another SS to glove the grounder, and a poor/slim chance for DJ to glove the grounder, you’re giving the other team extra outs.
Rationally speaking, given these points, and the fact that center fielder for the New York Yankees is STILL one of the most important, high-profile positions in all of sport, the Yankees should move Derek Jeter to the outfield immediately.

Now let’s be realistic.  Derek Jeter is not just one of my sports heroes, he is that for about 30 million people across the nation.  He is SOLELY responsible for making shortstop of the New York Yankees the glamour position it is today.  Prior to Derek Jeter, it was center fielder of the New York Yankees that commanded your respect, admiration and awe.  Mickey Mantle, Bernie Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Babe Ruth – all Yankees, all outfielders.  Shortstop?  Who was the Yankees shortstop in 1995 before Jeter was called up.  I know this, but only because I have a problem.  If you’re only moderately obsessed with the Yanks — you know, you’re obsessed, but you have it under control — then you might not know that it was Tony Fernandez playing the 6 position for 103 games in 1995.

Derek is an icon, a legend, a champion, a hero.  He’s the embodiment of the Yankees.  He’s a Yankee for life.  Is there a diner in the Bronx that would be so bold as to hand this man a tab after he eats?  I don’t think so.  (Whether Mr. Jeter has been to a diner in the BX borough in the last decade is an unrelated question)  The man has given us four championships, six pennants, 11 division titles and two wild cards.  How dare I even address the topic of asking him to play a different position?  I should never have even broached the subject.  I apologize.

Until Derek Jeter ASKS to switch positions, until we have a stud shortstop waiting in the wings, until it becomes clear than no amount of spending on other positions can compensate for Derek’s poor range as a 6, we have no right to move him to 8.  Why?  Because as long as you can win with this guy at his position of choice, you find a way to do it.  The Yankees may have found that way.  They have home run hitters at the corner infield positions, both of whom have strong arms and good defensive instincts, both of whom have won Gold Glove awards.  They have a second baseman with incredible range and a great arm.  They have TWO plus defenders who can play center field (neither of whom can get on base for shit) and a few others who are solid in the outfield tracking fly balls.  Molina behind the plate has had his right arm surgically replaced with an AR-15 and the Yankees have three ace pitchers who miss bats like nobody’s business.  Cap it all off with the greatest relief pitcher of all time, and you have the talent around Jeter to compensate for his degrading defensive abilities, without depriving us of the occasional flashes of brilliance.  Don’t you want to see Jason Varitek’s BA drop below .200 when DJ snares his slow grounder in the hole and jump-throws him out from left field somewhere, as newly-acquired Mark Teixeira streeeeetches toward short?  I know I still do.  Don’t rob us of that, Yankees.  Don’t tell us that our hero is ALREADY so mortal that he must vacate the position he made relevant before his $189,000,000 toll has even been paid.  Let Jeter be larger than life for a few more years, and then let him receive gobs and gobs of praise for coming out “of his own volition/accord” and telling Girardi that he will play outfield if it means more World Series championships for his beloved franchise.  That day will come and we irrationally heap the love all over him again, but until that day, just pay guys like Sabathia, Teixeira and Burnett so that Derek doesn’t have to carry the burden of winning alone, and is weaknesses will not be glaringly obvious to the casual observer.  If we can win with Jeter at short, we’ll be reliving the glory days, and honestly, what Yankees fan doesn’t want to do that?  In the first year of the new Stadium, let the icon play the position he made iconic until it becomes painfully clear – to HIM – that he is costing the team a chance at victory.  At the moment, he is still good enough, still wiley enough and experienced enough and sure-handed enough to play shortstop for the best team in baseball.

However, when I step back and take off my pintriped glasses, if I must, though only for a moment, I can see that the Yankees organization sees the day coming when he, and perhaps Alex Rodriguez, move back to center field and right field, respectively.  They have not signed a long-term center fielder or right fielder in years, and I don’t think they will.  Admittedly the day is coming, but there is glory between now and then, I’m certain of that.  Think about how much easier it will be for either or both to make that move AFTER winning a title.  How much easier is it to step back and say “this is for the team, for the future” than to imply “this is for the team, but it’s long overdue, I’ve been playing the wrong position for years and you may therefore infer that I’ve cost you, the fan, multiple championships in doing so, if only for my own ego.”  After the 2010 season, Jeter will move, and do so gladly as the reigning MVP of the World Series.  ESPN talking heads:  get your praise ready now, you’ll be showering him with it then.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Quick NFL Picks

Filed under: NFL, Picks — Mark @ 11:41

I’ve had a good deal of success picking the NFL this year, so I’ve decided to start doing it on record.  I’ve done it lately with gut instinct and simple analysis.  Since that’s what has worked lately, I’m going to continue the trend.

Ravens v. Steelers:  I go with Baltimore.  The Wire was the best television program in history.  The city has nothing else going for it.  Flacco doesn’t seem to be overcome by the pressure.  Steelers have already toppled the Ravens twice this season, and it’s not going to happen thrice.  Ravens 19, Steelers 17.

Eagles v. Cardinals:  Philadelphia is hot right now and I don’t think that Arizona’s defense is good.  Donovan McNabb is the best of the four remaining quarterbacks.  I like D.Nice eating soup in front of a camera on Media Day the Tuesday before the Super Bowl.  Eagles 30, Cardinals 21.

I don’t know if I’m compelled to pick the Super Bowl now, given that my championship picks could be wrong, rendering the Super Bowl pick moot, but I will just in case I’m correct about this weekend.

East coast birds duke it out on Super Sunday.  I like Donovan to throw the game-winning touchdown to somebody I’ve never heard of who isn’t particularly good.  Westbrook will be stifled in the running game but will catch a few balls and take a lot of eyes of McNabb, who will be the real star of the game.  No vomit on the field this time.  Eagles bring it home for the NFC East in a close one.  Eagles 20, Ravens 17.

Make your own picks in the comments section.

Contracts

Filed under: Economics of Sport, New York Sports — Mark @ 11:26

Folks, this is a hard post for me.  Those podunk bastards in New England have seriously become a thorn in my side over the past few years, and while it is clear that anyone who bets against the city of New York will rightfully be crushed like the foolhardy insect drawn to the bright blue light on a Mississippi back porch, it seems that will yet again require a herculean effort on the part of our beloved Yankees to make that happen.

Now, listen, everybody who is reading this knows that I don’t like Boston or Massachusetts or whatever other states are up there in New England.  I’m told that there is syrup up there somewhere but I go to Canada for my syrup.  I know that there is beer but A. I don’t drink beer and B. who gives a shit?  I’m also told there is lobster.  I don’t eat seafood because it makes me ill, but if I did, I’d eat good old-fashioner Maryland crabs and leave the lobster for those Harvard types.  Until I see Obama coating a lobster in Old Bay at some restaurant that calls itself a “Shack,” I don’t want to hear it from the lobster people.  Get your snobby New England cuisine out of here and back to Cape Cod where it belongs. 

Boston is a podunk college town.  Rhode Island is not an island (or a peninsula, I’m told).  Half of Connecticut wants to be NY and the other half wants to be Massachusetts.  I’m not even sure what else constitutes New England, but I know that rich kids go to camp in Maine, which really should be a part of Canada, I think.  How it is that the lowly Red Sox can compete with the juggernaut Yankees is beyond me.  Except that it’s not.  It’s easily explained with a few simple facts.

1.  Although the Boston metropolitan area is less than 1/4 the size of the NY metropolitan area, they spend roughly 7/10 of what the Yankees spend in terms of player personnel and management.  This is almost exactly the maximum that they can spend, under MLB rules, without contributing millions of dollars to the payroll of poor teams.  Why welfare teams like the Royals and Brewers even bother is unclear, but how is much clearer:  they use the Yankees’ money to supplement their own income.  Regardless, the Red Sox spend, relative to their city, WAY more money than other teams, including the Yankees.  Think about this:

The Florida Marlins’ payroll, including their Manager Joe Girardi, in 2006, was under $15 million.  That same year the Red Sox payroll was over $120 million.  The Yankees rightly spent the most in the league at $194 million.  Let’s do the math as compared to the population of their respective metropolitan areas.

Yankees:  $10.20 per person

Red Sox:  $26.80 per person

Marlins:  $2.77 per person

Okay now think about that for a second, and then answer this question:  are the Yankees really spending too much money?  Should the Steinbrenners really be pocketing all that money instead of spending it on players to make their team better and make their fans happier?  I will address that issue in more depth another time.

For now, let’s get back to the contracts issue.  The Red Sox bid $175 million for Mark Teixeira, but he wanted to play in New York, so he signed with the Yankees for #180 million.  It’s possible, though I wouldn’t say likely, that he wanted to play in New York because of the extra $5 million dollars, but, over 8 years, that doesn’t seem likely.  What can you buy in NY on $22 million/year?  Not much.  It’s not some little college town, you need big boy money in New York if you want to live a rich, lavish lifestyle, and I’m not convinced it can be done with new money, never mind a simple annual salary.  Regardless, he came to the Yankees and fans rejoiced, but yesterday my stoic visage turned downward to an outright frown.  Word broke that Kevin Youkilis re-signed with Boston for $40 million.  A staggeringly low number, but even more incredible is that he’s signed for the next FOUR YEARS, with an option for a fifth at the same rate.  That’s insane.  How is Kevin Youkilis making $40 million when Mark Teixeira just signed for $180 million?  I don’t know where Bill James grew up, but he obviously has something against New York.  This guy is killing us.  We should be paying HIM $40 million dollars over 4 years.

Let’s see if the number reflect the contracts:

Youkilis in 2008 for Boston:  .312/.390/.569 with 29 HR and 115 RBI in 145 games for 1 team

Teixeira in 2008 for Atlanta/Anaheim:  .308/.410/.552 with 33 HR and 121 RBI in 157 games for 2 teams

Teixeira is one year younger than Youkilis and is a switch hitter.  Obviously Youkilis benefited from being a right-handed hitter in Fenway Park, but he is not a creation of Fenway Park.  His road OPS is lower, but still good at .900, identical to Mark Teixeira’s road OPS.  His home OPS is actually lower than Teixeira’s at 1.019 compared to 1.026 – but that’s due to Teixeira’s patience at the plate – he walks more than Youkilis does.  Regardless, looking at these numbers, they are all virtually identical.  One year younger, with the ability to switch hit and a slightly better glove.  That got Mark Teixeira an extra $140 million?  I don’t think so.  Additionally, Teixeira can’ t play 3rd base, which Youkilis can.  Granted, that’s immaterial to the Yankees, who are set on not playing guys out of position anymore, and who have Alex Rodriguez holding things down at the hot corner.  Still, Youkilis more than approximates Teixeira’s value, he is essentially a Fenway Park Mark Teixeira, making less than half as much money and on a contract that is half the duration.  I am a die-hard Yankees fan who hates Boston and pretty much everything about it, but I have to give them this one.  They didn’t deal us a blow, per se, because we never had a shot at Youkilis, who wouldn’t play in New York anyway and in whom the Yankees are uninterested, but from an objective baseball perspective, if you tell me I could get Teixeira-like production from a player who should have been the league’s MVP in 2008, with similar defensive prowess and the ability to play both corner infield spots, and you tell me I could get it for a $40 million commitment instead of a $180 million commitment, I’d be crazy to say no. 

All that said, I want to go on record now, before pitchers and catchers even report to camp, and say that Robinson Cano will have a better season than Dustin Pedroia and maybe even a better season than Kevin Youkilis.  His OPS will rival either of them and he will defensively be more valuable because he has better range and a better arm than Pedroia.  He has made more errors, traditionally, but I am going on record and saying that he will be very sure-handed this season, with an excellent shot at a gold glove AND a silver slugger award for his play in the new Stadium in 2009.

Right now, though, I’m really wishing that Mr. Youkilis had been awarded his rightful MVP for this past season.  Certainly with an MVP award in hand he wouldn’t have signed this paltry contract.  Seriously, his contract is so low compared to Teixeira’s, which was signed first, creating a precedent for Youkilis, that it makes me want to investigate.  Is Boston paying Youkilis the extra 4 million he deserves annually on the side, so as to avoid luxury tax payments to the MLB?  How did they talk sports agents into signing below market value?  It defies all logic.  Why can’t Scott Boras represent more Red Sox players and fewer Yankees players?

And for that matter, can we please start the WBC already?  I miss baseball!  The Knicks are terrible!  I find myself rooting for teams I hate, like the Lakers, and teams that are irrelevant, like the Magic, because I have nothing in New York.  We were undefeated for the first three days of the season and since then it’s been downhill.

Enough blabbing for today.  Back to work.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Basketball Prediction Post

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mark @ 12:43

As mentioned in the early days of this weblog, I have a rational bias toward professional sports when compared to college sports.  College sports are a joke, so I will devote only one paragraph to college round ball in this post:

UNC will win the NCAA Tournament, some disrespected mid-major school will win the NIT and no one will care at all.  Duke will lose in an upset in the third round of the tournament, in part because Coach K, who I love, recruits too many white players.  Georgetown will make the Final Four as will Pitt, but neither team will be able to come within 10 points of UNC in the championship game.  Every half-way decent college player will turn pro after the tourney and very few will be impact players as rookies in the NBA.  Blake Griffin I like, though, because he rebounds.  Incidentally, how is it that people don’t yet understand that rebounding wins championships?  It’s written on the wall in the Hall of Fame.  It can’t be any clearer. 

Moving forward into basketball players who are talented…

I predicted the division winners at the beginning of the season, then revised them after the Iverson/Billups trade (great trade for both teams).  Here is what I’ve had since the trade:

EAST:  Celtics, Cavs, Magic

WEST:  Lakers, Jazz, Hornets

The division winners in the NBA are easy to call, traditionally, because basketball teams with better players and coaches usually win more games.  It’s more difficult to pick the other 10 mediocre teams that will make the playoffs.  My playoff lists are as follows:

EAST:  Cavs, Celtics, Magic, Pistons, Hawks, Heat, Nets, Sixers

WEST:  Lakers, Hornets, Jazz, Spurs, Nuggets, Rockets, Suns, TrailBlazers

In the playoffs I like David Stern’s dream and Kobe Bryant’s nightmare – Lakers v. Cavs in the championship series.  Evaluating the series objectively, the Cavs have an excellent chance against L.A.  New York is screwed if Lebron wins championships these next two seasons, however, so I’m going to say that he won’t.  Lakers in 6 this season over Cleveland.  The road to the Finals will be as follows:

First round winners:  Lakers over TrailBlazers (sweep), Suns over Hornets, Jazz over Rockets, Spurs over Nuggets, Cavs over Sixers (sweep), Celtics over Nets (sweep), Magic over Heat, Pistons over Hawks (in 7)

Second round winners:  Lakers over Spurs, Jazz over Suns (in 7 – this one could go either way), Cavs over Pistons, Magic over Celtics (in 7 – might be wishful thinking)

Conference Finals winners:  Lakers over Jazz (in 6), Cavs over Magic (in 6)

NBA Finals winner:  Lakers over Cavs (in 6)

That said, I would like to also go on record as saying that, objectively, Kobe and D.Wade are now tied for SECOND best player in the world.  Lebron James has eclipsed them as the most talented, versatile and valuable player in the world.  Dwight Howard is now 4th, and Chris Paul rounds out my top 5.

Let me be clear about something.  This is objective analysis, not my usual NY bias.  I hate all teams other than the NY Knicks, and none of these players has ever played in NY, so I have no allegiances.  Last year, I felt Kobe’s conrtibutions were the most significant of any player in the league, but you simply cannot say that he is better than Lebron in 2009.  Lebron has become so dominant, it’s scary.  His near triple-double against the Cs on Friday night demonstrated as much.  He’s going to win 5-8 of the next ten championships.  He’s that good.  I know some people have been on the Lebron bandwagon for years, and I have not, so I may seem late to the party, but that is not the case.  I’m not saying he’s always been better and I’m just now realizing it, I’m saying he has eclipsed Bryant, and it may be that Wade has as well, though that is at least debatable.

More on this to come during the course of the  season.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

A few words about Tony Dungy and coaching

Filed under: Legacy, Race — Mark @ 17:14

Tony Dungy retired yesterday and so naturally the media (quick side note:  am I a part of “the media,” or is the “blogosphere” still entirely separate?) has rushed to recap his professional career and capitalize on this discussion on his legacy and place in history.

Tony, like all NFL coaches, has been linked in the NY Post’s Page Six to both Victory (see 2007 Super Bowl) and her fat sister, Agony of Defeat (see every other season of his career).  He is far from unique in this way.  The list of good and great coaches who have won exactly one championship is long and storied, though Dungy, unlike any other coach, found his way into the playoffs every season of his coaching career.  Much will be said this week about how Mr. Dungy is a better man than coach, and that is saying a lot for a coach who never missed the playoffs and seemed to win 12 or 13 games every season he was in the NFL.  We’ll be reminded that he is the only Black coach to win a Super Bowl, and we’ll learn a bit about his life’s work of helping young men to find a good and righteous path toward personal, financial and spiritual success.  All of that is wonderful, and I do admire Mr. Dungy quite sincerely, both for his professionalism and his ability to set aside football in favor of greater personal outreach, but the question sportswriters ask themselves, or are asked by their editors, when a man of Dungy’s stature retires is “how will you remember him/her?”

I will remember Dungy as a man who did not try to do too much, and as a result was able to accomplish more than he may know.  I’ve had many a conversation of late about the inherently slow nature of progress, and I think that Dungy’s choice to lead by example and help individuals through personal outreach is helping to lay the foundation for a stronger future for the Black community. 

The reason is simple.  If progress is slow, attempts to circumvent the process, to take a shortcut straight to the end game, will fail and set us back instead.  Dungy did try to succeed, don’t get me wrong.  He did not sit at his desk one morning laying out a plan for tempering his inevitable triumphs.  The point is that he clearly has a similar vision for progress – a vision for a stronger, healthier, more prosperous Black community with strong families and faith – but he did not take the podium and turn it into his pulpit.  He used his fame and acclaim to reach out on a personal level.  He leveraged his position to get peoples’ ears, but he has, to date, kept the most dangerous, controversial truths private.

Mr. Dungy’s crowning achievement is that he managed to be different without ruffling any feathers, and he did so in a world that initially rejects change with resounding and overwhelming force – then subsequently flocks to it at light speed.  The NFL coach is supposed to be a loud and fiery disciplinarian with white skin, brown hair and a stiff, thin upper lip.  Dungy is none of those things and his level of success is precisely equal to that of the best modern-day coaches who perfectly embody that stereotype (think Bill Cowher or Jon Gruden, who replaced Dungy in Tampa and won the Super Bowl in his first season with Dungy’s team).  The stereotype of the Black man, especially in NFL circles, is similarly linear.  The NFL’s Black man isn’t supposed to be soft-spoken, spiritual, smart and savvy.  Dungy apparently shredded that memorandum upon his induction into the head coaches’ club and continued about his business, winning football games and helping people his way.

Dungy didn’t win five straight super bowls and history will not remember him as Victory’s greatest lover.  Nor would he wed Defeat (as Marv Levy did in the 1990s), and it is better for all of us that he vacates his throne somewhere in the middle.  What we needed from Dungy was not to write a story of incredible, unfathomable success.  Eldrick has done that – blown every white player ever to cross him completely out of the water – but it hasn’t meant that Black people are equally respected and represented in the sport of golf.  Dungy may have wanted to crush the competition on an annual basis, his failure to do so means more for progress.

If Dungy, or his disciples Jim Caldwell and Lovie Smith, had achieved disproportionate success by bucking tradition and stereotype, they might be able to change convention and even stereotype, but they wouldn’t be making progress for the long run.  As long as Black people mimic each other and have similar levels of success, they will continue to be grouped together.  Similarly, any disproportionate level of success will be mimicked by white and Black alike, and in the ultimate copycat league, it would be the system he devised that won.  Sure, he’d be credited with creating the system, but we’re not ready for that yet.  Dungy’s value to progress comes from the fact that he is unanimously acclaimed for his work on and off the field, unversally respected as a man and as a professional, and the fact that he got here without following a trend or inciting a paradigm shift.   He doesn’t and didn’t fit a description, nor has he single-handedly created a new description that GMs must seek out.  He is calm, cerebral and clever.  He treats his players as professionals, as adults.  As such, if a man with a bright football mind and a similar philosophy is considered for a head coaching position, there is now a precedent, but not a strong enough one to force out the old guard. 

As Mr. Dungy steps down, he leaves behind a lasting impression in the NFL community.  He has demonstrated that, regardless of the race and age of NFL players, they can be treated with the respect befitting of a professional adult.  He simultaneously proved to the NFL that a Black man could be victorious at the highest level in the sport of football, and that there is no such thing as “the Black coach;” there are only Black individuals employed as head coaches.  He did not try to be white, he did not try to be Black, he did not fall victim to the myth that a Black man operates a certain way.  Dungy never felt compelled to succumb to convention.  He just did what he felt was right to the best of his ability and he got the same results as Bill Cowher, Jeff Fisher, Jon Gruden, Mike Holmgren and Tom Coughlin.  He has forced me to remember him as an individual.  I will not forget that he is the first Black man to lead a team to a championship, but I will remember first his character and his tireless efforts to achieve relatively modest gains, independent of his race.  It takes a lot for me to say that I can remember a man independent of his race, and that is why I believe we’ve put another foot forward on the path to progress.  As Wyclef Jean’s father told him the night he played Carnegie Hall in front of America’s powerful elites, you have made it when people can see through your wardrobe, through the dark skin and scars, and see the man.  Above all, I will remember Mr. Dungy as a man who made it, and a man who has taken us one step further on our individual paths to make it.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Collective Bargaining Agreements

Filed under: College, Economics of Sport, New York Sports — Mark @ 16:49

Stuff Sports Fans Like:  #1:  Sports.  End of blog post.  You see, sports fans, unlike “white people,” “educated Black people,” or “white trash people,” which have all been blogged about by fellow wordpress users, do not have an extensive list of likes and dislikes.  We like sports.  We dislike anything not related to sports.  Nothing supersedes sport.  In that way, we’re a lot like heroin addicts.  Now, back to Sports Perspectives…

 Greetings again.  After a brief hiatus we at Sports Perspectives are back in full effect.  There’s a lot to discuss in the wonderful world of sport, so let’s get to it.

 Today’s topic is collective bargaining agreements between Players’ Unions and Leagues.  Notable CBAs include those of the NFL, NBA, and MLB.  The CBAs themselves will be discussed in depth over the course of a few posts during the week.

Collective bargaining agreements caught my attention when NBA commissioner David Stern suggested that it is now time to increase the minimum NBA age to 20, just one year after increasing it to 19.  This is ridiculous.  I hate the idea that gainful employment be denied to perfectly deserving and capable individuals in need of gainful employment.

Now, in anticipation of the comments supporting this seemingly unconstitutional rule, allow me to admit up front that, for 99.9% of the world’s population, this rule is beneficial.  NBA teams will not be responsible for developing prospects, they won’t be caught investing millions of dollars (and valuable draft picks) into high school students that will never develop into NBA-level talents.  This benefits fans, players currently in the league, and of course the Association itself — most of the time.  So given that, why complain?  Consider the following list of players who were under the age of 20 when they began their respective NBA careers:

Kobe Bryant

Lebron James

Tracy McGrady

Dwight Howard

Amare Stoudemire

Shaun Livingston

Kevin Garnett

Tony Parker

Andrew Bynum

Andray Blatche

Al Harrington

Stephen Jackson

Monta Ellis

Tyson Chandler

Gerald Green

Josh Smith

Al Jefferson

Sebastian Telfair

Eddy Curry

Kendrick Perkins

Kevin Durant

Carmelo Anthony

Andris Biedrins

Chris Wilcox

Kwame Brown

Luol Deng

Brandon Wright

Jermaine O’Neal

I could go on,  but I think this is a pretty solid sampling already.  I trotted out this list for a simple reason:  to show that the NBA doesn’t just have  a solid history of under-20 stars (Magic Johnson, at age 19, wins rookie of the year and NBA Finals MVP; Moses Malone leads league in rebounding six times and is a rebounding legend today), it has an impossibly good precedent thanks to under-20 draftees.  Ask yourself: were those players harmed by their entry into the professional game prior to turning 20?  Perhaps some were, but is it the Association’s responsibility to save them from themselves, even at the expense of the development, happiness and livelihood of others?

Forget generalizations, let’s examine specific examples:  Would Chris Paul be the NBA’s best point guard already if he had stayed in school and 2007-2008 was his rookie season?  Would the resurgent Hornets be where they are today if not for Paul and Chandler?  As I see it, the top 6 candidates for MVP in the 2007-2008 season were all drafted under the age of 20:  Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Chris Paul, Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard, Tracy McGrady — in that order.  Can we really sit here and argue that those players benefited from going to the NBA when they did?  Would 2 years of college education have helped Kobe Bryant?  We’re talking about a man who speaks three languages and, your hatred for him aside, is one of the smartest and most devoted players ever to play the game.

Still, I hear people say “what about the failures?”  What about them, jerk?  Kwame Brown could have gone to school.  Wouldn’t have a degree or anything to fall back on, he’d just have two fewer years of income under his belt, and the income would be a lot lower because he wouldn’t have been a #1 overall pick, he would have been a second-round pick.  Sure, Jordan doesn’t get banished from the Wizards for drafting him, but as I recall Michael Jordan is a man who knows how to land on his feet.  Someone told me he won six NBA championships and made about a billion dollars in the last quarter century. which, all things considered, doesn’t seem so bad for a philanderer and degenerate gambler.  My uncle Louie had a bad habit of gambling and cheating on his spouse, and he has yet to appear on any Forbes list.  His chances are getting slimmer every day his body goes unfound.  Who knew the East River led to the Atlantic Ocean?  Oh, the mob, you say?  Huh.  Back to the lecture at hand:  you can talk about busts who were drafted too young, but college is no solution to the problem of draft busts.  Here is a list of the Association’s Ryan Leaf wannabes who attended accredited institutes:

Adam Morrison

J.J. Redick

You know what, let me pause right there.  How’s that working out?  Oh, not so good?  I hadn’t heard.  No, really, I haven’t heard anything about them since they were drafted, because they’re not good at basketball, and according to http://www.NBA.com they play it professionally for whatever reason.  And they are by no means the exception.  Wally Szczerbiak stayed in school.  Now he’s regarded as a 3-point specialist who makes only one fourth of his wide-open threes and therefore plays  for a new team every season – sometimes two.  I just heard that the Cavs want to trade him.  Honestly, I’d rather have Marbury, despite his failures against Madison – err – at Madison Square Garden.  How are either of these guys in the league right now?  Can’t they go tear it up in Europe like the mighty Earl Boykins?

Speaking of Europe, international players are no different.  High school players are difficult to scout, but so are guys from Turkey, France, and the Czech Republic.  Think about this- Tony Parker and Frederic Weis were both drafted out of France.  Parker was younger (18 on draft day), and was drafted lower, but has won three NBA championships and a host of awards and accolades including NBA Finals MVP in 2007.  Weis, all 7’2″ of him, was literally hurdled and dunked on by Vince Carter DURING A GAME after Vince stole his telegraphed outlet “pass” in international competition; thus leading to his quiet divorce of Eva Longoria, who, like, Jordan, landed on her feet.  Weis cannot be seen playing for the Knicks (who drafted him) but he can be seen on http://www.youtube.com being embarrassed while the world watched in amazement.  My jaw literally drops if I watch that video after having not seen it for a month.

The fact is that you do NOT get a statistically significant increase in likelihood of success by drafting players at an older age.  Understand something about  merit-based, capitalist economy (or some variation thereof, in this case):  if it was good for the player to wait to put his name on the draft board, then you’d be able to convince him to do so without this preposterous and possibly unconstitutional rule.*  For some of these kids, college is worthless.  If they want to go to actually get an education, they can do that after playing in the NBA, and it will be their choice.  That’s how it should be.  If we’re so concerned about these men being educated, then we should let them choose their school based on academics, not based on who has the best basketball coach and who will give them a chance to be seen in the NCAA tournament in March.

The NCAA exploits these young men for free labor and the NBA engages in tacit, lawful collusion by making rules that force players into this ridiculous system of unpaid labor.  The scholarships that students receive, which supposedly make up for the lack of financial compensation, are a joke.  Every player receives the same scholarship, but not all players are equal.  Furthermore, the coaches in college are pathetic.  How do you look yourself in the mirror knowing that you’re earning 5 million dollars in a given season even though your players do all the real work?  Look, I’m not saying coaches should work for free – I wouldn’t (read: couldn’t afford to eat if I did) – but seriously, the players get INFINITELY less than the coaches do.  And please, drop the “free education” bullshit.  As fantastic as it is to get a degree from Cincinnati or Louisville or UConn, these players aren’t even getting that!  Their busy athletic schedule prevents them from putting forth a proper effort academically, and then they leave before they’ve taken any difficult classes anyway.  I’m seriously getting worked up just thinking about this.  This is crap.  Why, after seeing what a resounding success Lebron James has been, would we say “let’s never let that happen again.”  Who is complaining that guys like Lebron are employed as professional athletes? 

Unrelated point – imagine if a Lebron or Kobe played tennis instead of basketball, how do you think Andy Roddick would be doing?  Not so good.  Not so good.  Ms. Decker might have to reconsider her allegiances.  Unless she married him because she loves him or something; in which case he’d be doing just fine.  

Back to college – the system is broken and nobody cares to fix it, it would seem.  People STILL, to this day, tell me that they prefer college basketball to the NBA.  Why don’t foreigners suffer from these moronic allegiances to the less talented, underpaid athletes?  Where are the Londoners who can’t stand how Chelsea’s players make so much money and don’t attend university?  Shouldn’t they play for the love of the game and not get paid?  Doesn’t it ruin soccer for you when players earn more money than you do without having a college degree?  Or is it okay when your country isn’t plagued by the spectre of 400 years of oppression of black and brown people?  (No, I didn’t have to make it about race.  It just is.  Like Ice Cube once said, I’m just CNN, I just report this shit)

To bring it back to where I began:  Stern needs the NBA players union and owners to sign a new CBA that would prevent any team from employing the services of a 19 year-old player.  To me, it’s pretty clear that this is a bad idea.  The benefit to teams is that they don’t have to scout high school talent in earnest, they can let the colleges and universities handle that, and then watch players play in college against better competition for two years or more, allowing the NBA scouts to, allegedly, better project an individual’s NBA viability.  As I’ve mentioned before, that doesn’t work, but that’s besides the point.  The point is actually that this practice is anti-competitive.  Some teams have scouts who can correctly identify young talent, other teams don’t.  The teams who do not employ someone with that skill set will therefore lose, which is fair and just.  Why shouldn’t the well-run organizations who place proper emphasis on scouting and, to a lesser extent, player development, be rewarded for their intelligent and responsible practices?  This idea that somehow we have to account for a small-market team’s lack of financial resources is stupid, but not nearly as stupid as the notion that we must account for a poorly-run organization’s lack of good decision-making ability.  We’ve run through this discussion before.  A classic socialist’s conundrum:  should we compensate for differences in ability as well as differences in financial resources?  The answer, for most of us, is no.  Doing so is inefficient and foolish.  If David Stern is so clever, as media-types seem to believe, then why doesn’t he see that?  I think he does.  Owners who don’t want to pay good talent evaluators their proper due are simply have his ear and may also be fattening his wallet.  I can’t make that accusation officially, but it seems like a logical and objective conclusion to draw.  If you have a better explanation, let me hear it.

 

*not actually unconstitutional, but I had a discussion with a law professor from Harvard (who COULD have been a Con Law prof, I didn’t ask) on the train and he agreed that the rule is bullshit.  No lie.

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