Sunday, August 22, 2010

Talking to my Mother about LeBron James

So, I was talking to my mother the other day and the subject of LeBron James came up.  For some background, I think I should make everyone aware of how much my mother knows about sports.  She lives in a suburb south of Miami and has a peripheral knowledge of each local team.  By peripheral I mean the only football player she knows about is Dam Marino; she knows that Dwyane Wade is the best Heat player and she knew about Alonzo Morning from the late 1990s.  She knows that James is one of the best and most popular players in the NBA.  In fact he is one of the few players that she knows about.

When the subject of James came up I told her that he was going to her hometown team and she was happy about that.  I then told her that the entire country was mad at him and they think he is one of the worst people in the world.  The conversation went like this:

Mom:  Why is every one mad?  Did he demand to get out of his contract before it was up?
Me:  No, his contract was up and he never asked to be traded before it was up.
Mom:  Did he try to get more money than other people available?
Me: No, he actually left money on the table.
Mom:  Did...
Me:  Wait; let me tell you what I think happened.  He did not have to ask for a trade or out of his contract because he was a free agent.  He could've had more money with other teams, but he came to Miami for less.  He could've been the unquestioned headliner anywhere else, but decided to share the spotlight in Miami.  He announced his decision on national TV and raised over 2 and a half million dollars for a kids charity.
Mom: And people are made at him for that?
Me: Yes.
Mom:  Well there has to be something else.  Did he drive drunk and got a DUI?  Did he have a gambling problem?  Did he put money and fame above a chance to win?  Did he cheat on his wife?  Has he been accused of rape?  Did he have a prolonged hold out? What is it that has people so angry at him?
Me:  No he didn't commit a crime and didn't do any of that stuff.  The TV show was very narcissistic and he didn't call his old team before hand to tell them he was not coming back.
Mom:  Wait a minute; people are angry about the TV show that raised two and a half million dollars for a kids charity?  Is there a rule that says he had to call his old team before making a decision on his future?
Me:  No, there is no rule that says that.  In fact most teams routinely get rid of players without warning them.  They can be traded, cut, and replaced with no warning.  They seldom have a chance to tell family and friends that they have to move.
Mom:  But people are mad because a player did the same thing to the team?  Well, I don't get it, but I guess I'm happy for the Miami Heat.

This conversation with my mother actually took a lot longer, but I think I got the gist of it.  It was very hard explaining to her that the most hated athlete in the land of the free was someone who is not any of the following: an alcoholic, a greedy person holding out, a degenerate gambler, a sexual deviant, a person who chooses money and fame over winning, or someone demanding a trade or out of his contractual obligations.  Yet, I had to admit to her that the sports league that this villain plays in has examples of every single one of those characters.  In fact, some of the people criticizing James the loudest have been guilty of some of those flaws. 

For example, Charles Barkley had a recent DUI, has had trouble with gambling debts, and demanded a trade from two different teams while under contract with them.  Yet, he is the moral compass by which most of the people who are angry at James are guided.  I had a really hard time explaining that part to my mother.  I felt like I was playing devil's advocate for the people casting James as villain when I tried to make sense of it to my mother.  I feel dirty all over again just from writing about it now.

Maybe my mother and I are gullible or stupid.  Maybe a drunk degenerate gambler is where I should get guidance on how to evaluate human beings for exercising their god given right to choose where to work.  Maybe raising money for kids is a bad thing if you do a whole lot of self promoting while doing it.  Maybe I should talk to my mother about sports more often because I think her distance from the day-to-day minutiae of following sports gives her the best vantage point.  Like my mother, this situation with James and the reaction is a little weird to me at the moment.  Then again, maybe I'm not a good and ardent enough sports fan to appreciate the anger towards James.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Kobe vs MJ

Stop it people.  One guy is a super efficient lead dog from day one.  The other has never been the most productive player on a finals team.  Unless you think productive means averaging 30 shot attempts just to average 28 points so the experts can say what a great scorer the guy is.  If Pau takes 120 shots in the first 4 games instead of Kobe, then the Celtics would have been swept in this year's NBA finals.  Alas, Pau only took 60 while Kobe took 120 shots and missed 60% of them.  Get a grip people.  Shot attempts don't make you a great player, points per shot attempt might be a much better indicator.  Your guy Kobe is a little less productive than Allen Iverson, who is a little less productive than Clyde Drexler.  I will go this far: If AI played with Shaq from 1998 to 2004, then the Lakers would have beaten the Spurs in the 1999 and 2003 western conference and won the Chips those years and they would have beaten the Pistons in 2004 (when Kobe quit on the team).  They would have won 6 straight rings.  That, of course, is pure speculation. 

Search for "Wages of Wins" or almost any advance stats website and you will see that AI was a way more productive player than Kobe for most of this time in the league.  You will also see that Drexler was more productive than both, he just didn't take as many ill-advised shots as they did.  So he didn't end up with the high point totals, but as we all know point totals are only one stat.  The most misleading stat, if you ask me, but it is the one that conventional wisdom, and lazy "experts", tells us is the most important.  Too bad there is nothing wise about conventional wisdom. 

MJ was the most productive player since the merger.  Period.  He was also the winingest player.  The two are not related as some very productive players have not won a tittle (including MJ in his early years).  The most decorated is not always the best player because basketball is a team sport.  Meaning, even as Detroit won two in row, Thomas and Dumars were not better/more productive palyers than MJ.  The Chips are owned by the best teams and in MJ's case also the best player.  But please people stop saying Kobe is near MJ because he has 5 rings.  With that logic, I guess Robert Horry has already surpassed the GOAT.

P.S.  The Stats before the merger are not available for all categories, so it would be hard to compare MJ's production with someone like Wilt, West, or Russell.  Unless all you care about is point total, which is misleading if used as your main measure of production.  However, what we do know is that Bill Russell must've been magnificent.