BUSINESS: Negotiating Through The Media

There are many species of bad journalism, most of which involve too much opinion by the writer, but sometimes the opposite is true and a writer gives you the apparent facts without the context needed to make sense of them. Let me use an article from the NY Times about 30 Rock to illustrate a common type of bad journalism that I find to be equally amusing and annoying: reporting negotiating positions without bothering to explain to the reader to take negotiating positions with a grain of salt, let alone how to interpret statements made in the course of negotiations. This has been a common thread in scores of articles these past few months about – among other topics – the debt ceiling negotiations, the Libya war, the perpetual Israel-Palestine ‘peace process,’ the NFL and NBA labor negotiations, the Mets’ legal dispute with the Madoff trustee and other business machinations and their efforts to re-sign Jose Reyes, and the legal imbroglio surrounding the Dodgers. I’ve read more articles on all these topics than I could count that failed to give the reader the guidance to put the parties’ statements in the context of the underlying negotiating dynamics.
The Times tells us, first, that Alec Baldwin has said he’s leaving 30 Rock after next season, a departure that of course would be a terrible blow to a show built around the tensions between his (awesome) character, Jack Donaghy, and Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon. It may well be true that Baldwin sincerely has other things on his mind, maybe even a run for public office, and/or that he’s feeling he’s done all he could with the character. But it’s at least equally likely that he could be persuaded to stay on if NBC offers money or other contractual concessions to make it worth his while.
Then we get the response from NBC brass and from Lorne Michaels, the show’s executive producer:

Executives from the show and NBC aren’t sure, but they made it clear in interviews here this week that his departure would not mean an automatic end to the award-winning comedy.
NBC’s new entertainment chairman, Bob Greenblatt, said: “I’d love nothing more than to have Alec for the duration of the show. That’s my goal. Let’s see what we get.”
NBC’s interest in keeping “30 Rock” around for at least one more year after the coming season can be explained by the need for more episodes to enhance the show’s resale value in syndication.
The executive producer of “30 Rock,” Lorne Michaels, was more definitive about a future for the comedy, even if Mr. Baldwin turns down all blandishments to continue. “I would hope he would want to go on,” Mr. Michaels said on Monday. “But we’re going to keep doing the show.”

Again: I don’t doubt that NBC would very much like to extend the show’s run one extra season for syndication purposes; many a sitcom past has been kept on past its proverbial shark-jumping point for that reason. If 30 Rock is still making money at that point, the network would probably try to soldier on without Baldwin. And Lorne Michaels has never been a guy who thought any of his cast members were indispensable (to put it mildly). But this all smacks strongly of a negotiating posture: the network and Michaels are doing interviews here precisely to send Baldwin the message that he’s not holding all the cards. And the reporter, Bill Carter, doesn’t breathe a word of that, probably because he knows full well why they are giving him these interviews.
Of course, Greenblatt and Michaels have their own competing agendas:

Mr. Greenblatt did open the door to a possible disagreement with Mr. Michaels over the re-entry of “30 Rock” onto NBC’s schedule. The show’s sixth-season premiere has been postponed until midseason because of the pregnancy of its star, Tina Fey.
Asked if “30 Rock” was ensured a spot back on NBC’s successful Thursday night comedy lineup, Mr. Greenblatt said, “That is a good question, and I really don’t have an answer for it.” He added, “Nothing’s written in stone.”
But as far as Mr. Michaels is concerned, it is. “The show will be back on Thursdays,” he said confidently.

Of course, if Baldwin’s future with the show is in doubt, that’s one reason the network would not want to commit valuable Thursday night prime-time space, plus Greenblatt is taking charge of a fourth-place network and probably should keep his options open. But NBC has to keep Michaels happy, too; as the creator of Saturday Night Live, he remains a vital part of the network’s brand image. Michaels’ certainty here is obviously intended to send an unsubtle message that he will not be a happy camper if the network moves his prime-time baby out of its Thursday night sinecure.
I don’t mean to pick on Carter, who in this article has at least offered us enough quotes from each of the participants that a skeptical reader can piece together what is really being said here; that’s not always the case with this sort of journalism. But in general, reporters aren’t doing their jobs if they don’t report how someone involved in negotiations could stand to gain from taking a particular position in public, and worse still if they straight-facedly claim that someone will never make a particular concession (e.g., Jose Reyes won’t talk about a new contract during the season), when in fact they might well do so for the right price. The dynamics of negotiations and how they are handled through the media can differ across situations, but there are a finite number of basic underlying approaches to negotiating, and they crop up across many different fields of endeavor.
Consider the debt ceiling debate – surely many Republicans would have preferred to pass ‘cut, cap and balance,’ and some were genuinely opposed to raising the debt ceiling at all. But for many people involved in the fight, pushing for the ideal policy, even if it was the policy they wanted, was also a matter of getting leverage to extract a better deal when the time came to compromise. Similarly, many Republicans sincerely opposed any deal that would raise any taxes at all; others may have been willing to trade some revenue-raisers for something better, but found it convenient to stay in line with the ATR pledge against tax hikes as a posture unless and until that better offer materialized. None of this is insincere; it’s just good bargaining.
Learn to look for the signs of negotiating postures between the lines of news articles, and they will surface again and again in every section of the paper.

BASKETBALL: The Promised Land

After all the LeBron James hype, the NBA title goes to the Dallas Mavericks. This is good news all around.
Starting with the champs – with the Rangers coming up short in October and the Cowboys long removed from their halcyon years, Dallas fans haven’t had a title to celebrate since the Dallas Stars in 1999, and Dallas is – to put it mildly – not predominantly a hockey town. The Mavericks have had many good teams over the years, but this is the first time over the hump for the franchise and its long-suffering fans, for Mark Cuban, for Dirk Nowitzki, for Jason Kidd. Even if you don’t love some of those guys – it’s been hard to root for Kidd since he pleaded guilty to domestic abuse a decade ago – they’ve paid their dues in the NBA.
As for the Heat, I may be alone in this view, but as I wrote in July, I want them to succeed and prove the naysayers wrong, in part because it pains me to see a talent as great as LeBron James get run down for not winning a title, and in part because I’ve overdosed on the preening of the LeBron bashers – but at the same time, I’m happy that he melted down and failed to win it this year. A little humility, a little adversity along the way is not just good for the soul, it’s good for the sport. A great many of the NBA’s legends (like Nowitzki and Kidd) failed in their first crack at the Finals, and sometimes multiple times, before getting over that hump – Shaq, Wilt, Olajuwon, Drexler, Dr. J, Moses, Jerry West, Isiah, Wes Useld, Elvin Hayes, Bob Pettit. LeBron, of course, has now been down this road twice. It will make it all that sweeter, and feel more earned, when and if he finally wins the big one.

One Sporting Event

Tom Bevan passed along on Twitter this column asking what one sporting event you’d go back in time to attend in person if you could, and making the case for the first Ali-Frazier fight.
It’s a tough question. I’d immediately discount any event I actually did watch live on TV, like Game Six of the 1986 World Series, the 1980 Miracle on Ice, or the Giants’ three Super Bowl victories. My first reaction was to pick Game Seven of the 1960 World Series over some of the more impressive individual achievements like Don Larsen’s perfect game or Wilt’s 100-point game (of which film doesn’t survive), or classics like Bobby Thomson’s home run, but I think after kicking this around with some others on Twitter I’d probably settle with Game Seven of the 1912 World Series, which just had amazing team and individual drama and a chance to watch some of the greats of the pre-film era (Christy Mathewson, Tris Speaker, Smokey Joe Wood) in their primes.

BASKETBALL: The King Becomes The Apprentice

There have been oceans of commentary on the LeBron James to Miami story (NY Daily News headline – “WHO CARES” – but they still put him on the front and back covers of the paper for the second day running). On a general level I agree with the consensus: I can’t blame him for deciding to leave Cleveland for a better chance to win a title, but if he was going to leave the Cavs, he could hardly have picked a worse way to increase the pain for his devoted hometown fans than the national TV special crowning a long and probably mostly-for-show public debate. I can’t really blame Cavs fans for rallying behind the sentiments in the Cavs owner’s over-the-top open letter that amounted to the “Fredo, you broke my heart” speech. The Miami signing is death to two proud franchises: the Cavs had the heart cut out of their team and their fans’ loyalty burned in public (three highest paid athletes in Cleveland now: Antawn Jamison, Travis Hafner and Jake Westbrook), and the Knicks, moribund for a decade, had no real Plan B after spending the past 4-5 seasons un-building around having the cap room for LeBron (I’ll believe Amar’e Stoudemire and his rebuilt knee when I see him do it in NY, given the ghastly record of Knicks mid-career acquisitions of scoring forwards the last quarter century).
LeBron will have a long way to go yet to top Barry Bonds as the best free agent signing ever, or Shaq in LA as the best post-merger NBA free agent signing. Also: I think the people who talk up how superior a salary cap system is to baseball’s economic system will be quiet for a while. And of course, there’s the inevitable political point to be made on how much more money LeBron will make in Florida than in Ohio due to Florida’s lower taxes.
But here’s the one thing I wanted to weigh in on. There’s a school of thought, emblemized by Bill Simmons’ excellent column yesterday, that by going to a team that already has an ‘alpha dog’ scorer/ballhandler (Dwayne Wade) who’s already won a ring with the team, LeBron has shown that he doesn’t have it in him to be the alpha dog himself in the way that Jordan and Kobe have been.
Well, maybe. And if so, maybe – assuming it works out – people who value teamwork, unselfishness and dedication to winning championships should celebrate LeBron’s willingness to suppress his obviously considerable ego for the good of winning.
But consider the alternative interpretation: maybe LeBron knows he isn’t ready to be the alpha dog. He’s still only 25, and Wade is 28 and has already taken a lot of pounding. Maybe after finding the limits of his ability or willingness to carry a team alone in the playoffs, LeBron wants to learn the finer points of his craft a little longer, bide his time the way Magic did in the early 80s or Havlicek in the mid-60s or Kobe earlier in this decade. Maybe on some level he’s admitting he doesn’t really know how to win – yet. What’s wrong with that?
It’s hard to project whether the Wade-James-Bosh experiment will work until we see what role players the team assembles around them; it wouldn’t surprise me to see some veteran role players take a pay cut for the chance to play with a trio that, when they’re on the court together, will be completely unguardable. Shaq comes to mind – I’m not sure what shape his relationship with Wade and James is at this point, but pretty much everybody who’s played with Shaq has benefitted from the experience. Also, I’d put the over/under around 8 months on Pat Riley returning to the bench to coach these guys, especially if LeBron doesn’t immediately mix seamlessly into the team.
And morally satisfying as it might be to root against these guys, part of me, as a sports fan, really does want to see the experiment succeed to shut up a lot of preening sportswriters and prove that a true partnership between guys of Wade’s and James’ caliber can be formed. Certainly two guys with their athletic gifts and passing ability have the potential to create some really beautiful basketball.

Quick Links 4/20/10

*The Mets have had some questionable decisions already this year. We saw Fernando Tatis try to score on a wild pitch with two outs, the bases loaded, down 3 and David Wright at the plate against a pitcher having trouble throwing strikes. We saw Jerry Manuel pinch run Tatis for Mike Jacobs and then have to use Alex Cora to pinch hit in the same inning. We saw Manuel play for one run on the road with Joe Mather pitching and Jose Reyes on first base, asking Luis Castillo to bunt before Mather had proven the ability to get anybody out. But perhaps none worse than Manuel on Saturday having K-Rod staying warmed up for 12 innings and possibly as many as 125 pitches in the bullpen before coming in tired to blow the save. Let’s hope that doesn’t linger. That’s why you use the closer as soon as you hit extra innings on the road.
*Craig Calcaterra looks at the curious suspension of Ednison Volquez.
*Joe Posnanski’s all-time NBA top 10. His mini-essays on Wilt, Kareem and Jordan are all spot-on, and in Jordan’s case reminded me of his obvious, though smiling, irritation earlier this year when Jay Leno asked if he could still dunk. This, about Wilt, is an excellent point:

You know, if you think about Wilt Chamberlain’s career – it really is staggering to think that he has through the years been labeled as a guy who did not win enough. I mean, Jim Kelly or Dan Marino or Charles Barkley or Barry Bonds – fair or unfair, it is true they didn’t win championships. Chamberlain won TWO. What’s more, he led his team to the Finals four other times. What’s more than that, his teams were beaten by the Celtics six times in those years, and while so many would like to make that a Russell vs. Chamberlain thing, the truth is those Celtics teams had 10 Hall of Famers. TEN HALL OF FAMERS! Two starting lineups of Hall of Famers. Those teams at various times had Havlicek and Sam Jones and Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman and Tommy Heinsohn and K.C. Jones and so on and so on … all in addition to Russell. They also were coached by Red Auerbach and Bill Russell.
To believe that Wilt Chamberlain – with the help of a Hal Greer here or a Tom Meschery or Paul Arizin there, guided by an Alex Hannum or Dolph Schayes – somehow SHOULD have beaten those Celtics teams is to believe that there has never been a more dominant presence in basketball than Wilt.

*Ronald Reagan and James Dean, together on film.

You Can’t Teach Height

If it’s true that being tall is a major advantage in politics, former Nets, Knicks and Trailblazers center Chris Dudley, at 6’11”, will be a man to watch as a contender for the GOP nomination for Governor of Oregon in 2010. The Yale-educated Dudley seems to fit the bill of novice citizen-politicians for good and for ill – he’s voted only sporadically in past elections, but is off to an outstanding start raising money – and is aiming to take on the likely Democratic candidate, former Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber.
Dudley had some of his best basketball seasons with the Blazers and has recently been working in Oregon as a financial adviser. You can check out his campaign site here. A quick look suggests that at least on fiscal issues, Dudley will be running on a straightforward GOP platform of cutting taxes and spending:

Continue reading You Can’t Teach Height


Adrian Wojnarowski’s account of Michael Jordan’s Hall of Fame acceptance speech just makes me sad. I haven’t seen the speech, so maybe Wojnarowski and the people he quotes are overreacting, but really, bringing up long-ago grievances like the 1985 All-Star Game at an event like this is just sort of petty. I’ve always liked Jordan, even when he was torturing the Knicks, and I never held against him his enormous ego; you don’t get to be Michael Jordan (or Babe Ruth, or Ty Cobb, or Ted Williams, or Shaq, or Muhammad Ali, or John Elway, or Brett Favre) if you don’t walk around all day believing you can pull off things nobody else thinks possible. But some guys just have trouble letting go of the fight when they’re off the playing field. I’ve been lately reading Leigh Montville’s outstanding biography of Ted Williams, and Williams could be the same way (he brooded over old grievances, channeled his fire into fishing but also into yelling at his wives), but at least he used his Hall of Fame speech to be gracious, even changing the history of the Hall with his call for the enshrinement of Negro League greats. Jordan’s speech will be swiftly forgotten, as are most such speeches (Williams’ aside), but it’s sad for him as much as anyone that he couldn’t make a nicer moment of it. I wonder – given his stumbles as an executive – where he’ll find another challenge worthy of his energies again.

BASKETBALL: Rick Pitino, Scumbag

I’ve been a fan of Rick Pitino since his Knicks days, but this story sucks and it stinks and it sucks:

University of Louisville men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino told police that he had consensual sex with Karen Cunagin Sypher at a Louisville restaurant where he’d been drinking on Aug. 1, 2003.
He also told police that he later gave Sypher $3,000 to have an abortion, according to Louisville Metro Police reports The Courier-Journal obtained under the Kentucky Open Records Act.

Ugh. Read the whole thing, it doesn’t get prettier.

BASKETBALL: An Expert In Brawling

The DC Circuit today ruled that no expert testimony was required to establish that Allen Iverson had a legal duty to stop his bodyguard from beating a man in a bar fight:

In the early hours of July 20, 2005, a brawl erupted at the Eyebar, a Washington, D.C. nightclub. Among the injured was Marlin Godfrey, a patron in the Eyebar VIP area that night. He suffered a concussion, a ruptured eardrum, a burst blood vessel in his eye, a torn rotator cuff, various cuts and bruises, and emotional injuries. Godfrey sued Allen Iverson and his bodyguard, Jason Kane, both of whom were in the Eyebar VIP area that night. The amended complaint alleged that Kane and Terrance Williams, who also sometimes acted as Iverson’s bodyguard, attacked him and directly caused his physical and emotional injuries, and that Iverson was negligent in failing to stop both men from injuring Godfrey.

Iverson’s lawyer argued that traditionally, you can’t sue an employer for “negligent supervision” (the theory under which Iverson was held responsible for what his bodyguard’s misconduct) without expert testimony establishing how he should have trained his employee to deal with these situations. The court effectively concluded that an ordinary, reasonable-man standard of care applies when the beat-down happens in the employer’s presence:

A jury may need the aid of expert testimony to evaluate how a hotel should train and otherwise supervise its security guards to ensure that they do not unreasonably use force on some future date. But it is a different thing altogether to say such expert assistance is needed to establish the standard of care for an individual who is present while his personal bodyguard, acting on his behalf in clearing a room in a nightclub, beats a customer and causes significant injuries. Iverson has pointed to no case in the District of Columbia – nor have we been able to locate any – dealing with the standard of care a person owes in supervising his personal bodyguard in his presence. The evidence in this case supported the jury’s finding that Kane attacked Godfrey in a fight that lasted several minutes, and that Iverson stood and watched without attempting to do anything to stop the beating.

Of course, it may not have been admissible evidence given that it happened when he was a teenager, but Iverson has his own past history of brawling – which is, ironically, probably why he has a bodyguard now and possibly why he was hesitant to get involved. I’m not 100% comfortable with sticking him with the bill for everything his bodyguard does, and I’m sympathetic to the possibility that (1) the damages here were excessive and (2) the guy who picked the fight may have been setting Iverson up, but the jury didn’t buy those arguments, and as far as the legal analysis goes, when you just stand there as a guy in your employ beats a man that badly, it’s hard to say that the law shouldn’t hold you responsible.

Quick Links 2/18/09

*Megan McArdle on whether World War II ended the Great Depression. Francis Cianfrocca responds here.
*Michelle Malkin looks at how ACORN plans “civil disobedience” to stop foreclosures, thus prolonging the cycle of bad housing loans.
*Genghis at Ace notes the Democratic Party ties of the latest guy accused by the SEC of a billion-dollar fraud. This should sound familiar.
*The New Republic profiles the Politico’s knack for scoops and – what comes with that – penchant for inaccuracy. That said, you can smell the jealousy from the newspapermen quoted here (is Bill Keller really the guy to talk about unsustainable business models?)
*Bill Simmons on Mike D’Antoni’s offensive system and its limitations. Somewhere, Paul Westhead smiles.

Quick Links 2/1/08

*Bob Klapisch has a must-read (really!) article about how the Twins got backed into the Santana deal with the Mets instead of taking better packages from the Yankees and Red Sox (one is left with the impression that the Red Sox, possibly rationally, lost interest once the Yankees were out of the bidding – unlike the Yanks they don’t have unlimited financial resources and have a fairly solid pitching staff at present). Via Pinto. On the one hand, the Twins’ new GM Bill Smith clearly screwed up by turning down a deal involving Phil Hughes, Melky Cabrera and two additional prospects in December; on the other hand, the Yankees will probably regret turning down a last-minute chance to get Santana for just Ian Kennedy, Melky and one other prospect (and I say this as someone who thinks Melky has a good shot to be a real good player).
*Speaking of great reporting, Fred Barnes’ account of how President Bush decided on the surge, based heavily on interviews with the president himself, is also a must-read for intelligent discussion of the subject.
*The five stages of voting in Republican primaries. Via Vodkapundit. Absolutely spot-on.
*The wages of Kelo: the Second Circuit this morning affirms the use of the eminent domain power for the munificent public purpose of bringing the Nets to Brooklyn.
*Stanley Kurtz on Waziristan past, and Waziristan present.
*This is an amazing story, if true.
*You will look long and hard for two savvier observers of presidential politics than Karl Rove and Patrick Ruffini, and their takes on the 08 scene are worth reading, especially Rove’s point about exit polls and Patrick’s point about the advantages of online fundraising (added advantage he doesn’t mention: online donors don’t show up demanding favors).
*The FBI interrogator who questioned Saddam after his capture confirms what we all knew: Saddam intended all along to retain the ability to ramp up WMD production as soon as he could, and he made a deliberate effort to appear to still have WMD capability:

Mr. Piro: “The folks that he needed to reconstitute his program are still there.”
Mr. Pelley: “And that was his intention?”
Mr. Piro: “Yes.”
Mr. Pelley: “What weapons of mass destruction did he intend to pursue again once he had the opportunity?”
Mr. Piro: “He wanted to pursue all of WMD. So he wanted to reconstitute his entire WMD program.”
Mr. Pelley: “Chemical, biological, even nuclear.”
Mr. Piro: “Yes.”

*Great move by the Yankees snagging Morgan Ensberg. Ensberg has had his struggles lately and granted he will be less useful as a first baseman, but his combination of power and patience makes him a potentially very useful bat.
*Color me un-shocked that Clinton crony Strobe Talbott would be duped by Soviet agents.
*The real DB Cooper, unmasked? Nah, he would never have stolen paper currency just months after Nixon took us off the gold standard.
*Mark Steyn rightly takes McCain to task for his hostility to making money in the private sector. I think John Hinderaker has the better of the argument about preferring McCain to a novice politician like Romney on foreign affairs – unlike Steyn’s example of Hillary, McCain is a longstanding, indeed life-long, foreign policy hawk who has no illusions about the likes of Putin (I believe he once said he looked in Putin’s eyes and saw the lettters “KGB”). And Pejman properly takes McCain to task for misrepresenting Romney’s position on timetables and the surge, which is a shame because there really is a fair contrast (see here and here) on the fact that McCain was a longstanding, vocal leader on Iraq strategy while Romney played the role of a cautious follower who always kept his options open to bail on victory in Iraq for the greater good of getting himself elected.
*Andrew Ferguson on Fred: brilliant. Ruffini’s Fred postmortem is also worth reading.
*This video about Hillary’s role on the Board of Directors of Wal-Mart will likely hurt her mostly in the primaries, and certainly doesn’t scandalize me. But it’s amusing and interesting on a few levels, not least the accent she was using back then. There’s also a lesson about what drives journalists; biases are one thing, but when Brian Ross mentions that he covered this story 16 years ago, it’s pretty clear that returning to it now is about Ross’ career more than about Hillary.

Continue reading Quick Links 2/1/08

BASKETBALL: The Most Hated Figure In The History of New York Sports?

I have to wonder at this point if Isiah Thomas is the most unpopular sports figure in New York history. At least while in New York, that is; Walter O’Malley is still hated in many quarters 50 years after taking the Dodgers from Brooklyn, but O’Malley was only disliked for leaving town. Leo Durocher was hated by Dodger fans when he managed the Giants and Giants fans when he managed the Dodgers, but that’s also not the same.
Consider the elements that went into Isiah’s unpopularity:
1. As a player, he was a hated rival of the team.
2. He came to town with a seemingly endless stream of controversies in his past, many of them racially charged.
3. His prior record as a coach, GM and league executive was an unbroken string of failures, including the collapse of the league he ran.
4. He took over in NY as both the GM and, subsequently, the coach, thus eliminating any competition (other than the owner who hired him) for the fans’ hatred.
5. He assembled a roster that was unsuccessful, seemingly designed not to play well together to match the talents of the players involved, expensive, not young, and not full of hustling, aggressive players. After this failed, he basically turned that roster over for another one just like it.
6. This method of roster construction left the team unable to change its direction for the foreseeable future due to the salary cap, while competing teams found ways to acquire major stars on the market at the same time.
7. On top of the failures in constructing, motivating and managing the team, he managed to get himself embroiled in a sensationally ugly offseason sex scandal.
8. He is apparently in no danger of ever being fired.
It’s reached the point where the Onion’s satire seems plausible enough and Knicks fans are reduced to discussing assassinating the coach.
I’ve certainly seen unpopular people in NY before. M. Donald Grant comes to mind after the Seaver trade, Steinbrenner’s been hugely unpopular at times, and of course there’s Joe Walton. Plenty of failed players have found ways to expand their portfolio of unpopularity, like Bobby Bonilla. Going back further, I don’t believe there was ever this kind of hate directed at the likes of Ralph Branca or Fred Merkle or Joe Pisarcik or even Charles Smith.
Unless someone has a compelling case for someone else, I’m going with Isiah.

4/19/07 Quick Links

*There’s a fair number of debates from the Virginia Tech shooting I don’t have time to weigh in on now (there’s the gun control issue; Glenn Reynolds aptly summarizes the case for less of it here, there’s the university’s reaction time, and there’s the appalling spectacle of NBC News broadcasting the killer’s videotape), though it seems the most important question is why it was so hard to get the killer out of circulation or at the very least on a list of people who should not be permitted to buy firearms, when he was giving off every sign of being a potential danger to himself and others and everyone around him saw those signs and several people tried to do something about it.
In all the horror I did find one moment of a little levity from this quote:

Briettney said her friend, who was shot in the knee, buttocks and shoulder, was expected to be all right.
“The one day he goes to class, he gets shot three times!”

*If you were wondering what was so gosh-darn important about holding that Rutgers press conference: the Rutgers coach now has a book deal.
*All three of my fantasy baseball teams have Felix Hernandez. This is not good news for any of them. Perhaps letting him throw a 111-pitch complete game on a cold April night in Fenway in his last start was not such a good idea.
*I definitely did not see a Mark Buehrle no-hitter coming. The past four years, Buehrle has finished second, second, first and first in the AL in hits allowed.
*You can read my reactions to the partial-birth abortion decision here, here and here. This is also a good summary of the concurrence (H/t).
*Please, wear your seatbelts.

Sticks and Stones

So the Rutgers women’s basketball team held a team press conference yesterday to respond to Don Imus:

Rutgers’ outraged coach, C. Vivian Stringer, wiped away tears as she recounted her own battles with racism and said she won’t let Imus “steal our joy.”
Then each player stood up, walked over to the microphone and introduced herself.
Towering over her teammates, Vaughn gave a cheery “Good morning, everyone.” But her broad smile faded as she opened up about the hurt she feels – as an African-American and a woman. “I’m not a ho, I’m a woman. I’m someone’s child,” she said.

The decision to hold this press conference is a horrible failure of leadership on the part of Stringer and anyone else in the athletic and academic establishment at Rutgers who let this happen.
To recap, for those of you just tuning in, radio ‘shock jock’ Don Imus is in hot water, and justifiably so, for referring to the Rutgers women’s hoops players as “nappy headed hos,” and a fair debate is to be had as to whether this proves that Imus is
(a) a racist and/or sexist;
(b) a boor and a moron with no sense of propriety;
(c) a cranky old coot whose brain is permanently addled by drugs having a ‘senior moment’ on the air;
(d) an aging shock-radio guy trying desperately to stay relevant by talking like a 22-year-old rapper; or
(e) my personal favorite, all of the above.
I’m not here to defend Imus, as his remark was indefensible, and besides, Imus endorsed and relentlessly touted Kerry in 2004, so let the Left defend him. On the other hand, as I have long argued, not everything that is indefensible is necessarily a capital crime. Imus has, appropriately, been given a two-week suspension for the same reason you hit the dog with a rolled-up newspaper when he poops on the living room rug. Whether he should be fired depends on what you think more generally about shock-jock radio, since this kind of thing is basically an occupational hazard of employing people like Imus. Of course, there’s also the fact that Imus isn’t funny (granted, I’ve never been a regular listener, and I first heard him around 1980 so I may be selling his early work short, but in my book a guy who is unfunny for going on three decades is not funny).
But here’s the thing: whether or not they think they are just in the business of winning ballgames, college coaches are role models to their players. College students are at a particularly impressionable stage in their lives: finally old enough to first start to see adults as peers rather than distant authority figures, they naturally begin to model themselves on whomever they meet that most impresses them. Most college athletes – and I assume this is true of the Rutgers women as well – will not become professional athletes, and thus are preparing themselves for life and jobs in the real world. It is incumbent on their coaches to teach them lessons that will help them there.
Imus’ remarks were crude and ugly, but the lesson Stringer should have been sending these young ladies is that they say a lot about Imus but nothing about them. Different people handle these things differently, but a coach worth his or her salt could have played this at least two perfectly reasonable ways. One is to laugh it off with the traditional “sticks and stones” attitude, and show the players that this really shouldn’t mean anything to them; there will always be people who say inappropriate and mean-spirited things in life, and you shouldn’t take that seriously. A more combative personality of the Bobby Knight variety would respond by taking some personal public potshots at Imus, drawing the story away from the players and into coach vs. shock jock; this would teach the players the valuable lesson that when somebody sucker punches your people, you hit them back in kind and teach them a lesson.
What you do not do is call a press conference like this:

“I want to ask him, ‘Now that you’ve met me, am I ho?'” said Rutgers center Kia Vaughn of the Bronx. “Unless they’ve given ‘ho’ a whole new definition, that’s not what I am.”
Declaring that Imus has “stolen a moment of pure grace for us,” the wounded women spoke out for the first time about Imus’ racist radio remarks.
“This has scarred me for life,” said guard Matee Ajavon of Newark. “I’ve dealt with racism before. For it to be in the public eye like this, it will be something I will tell my granddaughter.”

Somebody gave these young women the message – or at least failed to disabuse them of the notion – that they should take Imus’ words seriously, take them to heart. This press conference was a show of the coach and the players wallowing in Imus’ words, embracing them, and thus elevating them as if any serious person would think less of them – rather than of Imus – for what Imus said. This story should never have been about the players, because Imus’ words were generic (indeed, that’s precisely why they were offensive). It’s the Culture of Victimology at its most destructive, teaching these young women that they should consider themselves to have been genuinely maligned by an aging boor and to seek out the status and posture of one to whom a deep wrong has been done and who is owed.
Put more succinctly, when someone calls you a ‘nappy headed ho,’ you should not feel the need to call a press conference to deny it. Maybe these young women don’t know that – but if they don’t, it was the business of someone in a position of authority to teach them. Shame on Vivian Stringer and Rutgers University for failing to teach them that.

BASKETBALL: Cinderella Time

So, Holy Cross will play in the West Regional 4-13 game against Southern Illinois in Columbus, Ohio on Friday, looking for its first NCAA Tournament victory since defeating Navy and Wake Forest in 1953. This is the highest seed for either HC or Southern Illinois in recent history.
Just to recap, HC lost by 4 to Kentucky in 2001, led in the second half against Final Four team Kansas in 2002, and led in the second half and lost by 4 against Final Four team Marquette in 2003; Patriot League rival Bucknell beat Kansas in 2005.
It’s time for a win.

BASKETBALL: Have Team, Have Wins, Need Fans

I’m guessing that alumni of places like Duke and Kansas don’t get email messages like this one I just received from Holy Cross:

Your men’s basketball team is having a fantastic season, and they need your support as they are now just two wins away from another trip to the NCAA Tournament!
The Crusaders are 23-8 after a victory over Lafayette in the Quarterfinals of the Patriot League Tournament on Wednesday night, and now will face American University in the Semifinals this Sunday, March 4th, at 2 PM at the Hart Center.
Unfortunately the academic calendar has the student body — who have made the Hart Center an unbelievable home court advantage this year — away on spring break. WE REALLY NEED YOUR HELP! The weather forecast is good so please give some thought to making the drive to Worcester and supporting the team. You can call the ticket office in advance (508-793-2573) or you can buy tickets at the door.
The Crusaders’ excellent regular season efforts were well recognized by the League – as senior Keith Simmons won Player of the Year, senior Torey Thomas was the Defensive Player of the Year, and head coach Ralph Willard was selected as Coach of the Year.
But now all that matters is the next two home games. A victory on Sunday would lead to a championship game against the Bucknell/Army winner on Friday, March 9 at the Hart Center . It would be a 4:30 p.m. tip off with the winner guaranteed a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
We need your support and we hope to see you, and hear you, at the Hart Center this weekend.

BASKETBALL: Iverson Moves West

If only they had had the calm, steady leadership of Allen Iverson, the Nuggets would never have had that brawl with the Knicks.
UPDATE: On a more serious note, Iverson is a great statistical puzzle. Now, basketball stats are subject to more illusions and limitations than baseball stats, and we still run pretty short when it comes to measuring a basketball player’s defense. On the other hand, I don’t buy the idea pushed by Iverson’s champions (see this otherwise-excellent Bill Simmons column) that the numbers are entirely meaningless.
See, here’s the thing. You win basketball games by doing three things: (1) getting more shot attempts (including free throws) than the other guy, (2) converting more of your attempts into points, and (3) preventing the other guy from converting his attempts into points. Period. Nothing else matters.
Leaving aside his defense, which I don’t doubt is valuable, the statistical question is whether there is really any evidence that Iverson helps out with #2, or whether he does enough on the offensive end to help out with #1 to offset that.
To the casual fan, Iverson scores a lot of points, so he must be a good offensive player. But the fact is, for most of Iverson’s career his points per shot attempt have been terrible, and his mediocre assist totals have suggested a player who isn’t really setting up his teammates well enough to offset that. (Granted – and it’s a big “granted” – he improved in both regards starting with the 04-05 season, largely as a result of pushing his free throws per shot attempt into the stratosphere). Plus, he turns the ball over a lot.
Defenders of Iverson will argue that he has made up for this historically by getting off a huge number of shots. Now, it’s true that a team’s go-to guy can and should have a lower ratio of points to shot attempts than, say, a guy who scores 10 points a game – the key scorer has to make the toughest shot attempts when the clock is running down, and it’s worth a few misses to push your scoring average from 12 to 25, as long as the marginal extra points don’t come with so many extra misses that you end up just sucking the life out of the rest of the offense.
Anyway, I haven’t bored into the details of Iverson’s Sixers teams closely enough to have a strong opinion on the subject, and as I said in recent years he has shown sufficient improvement that maybe the questions about his first eight years in the league are moot. But I don’t regard it as simply received wisdom to be accepted without question that Iverson’s high-scoring raw numbers automatically make him a superstar-level offensive player.

BASKETBALL: The Square Peg Collection

The Knicks’ acquisition of Steve Francis in exchange for senior citizen Penny Hardaway and Trevor Ariza is obviously a steal on a pure talent basis, which only makes it more likely that Isiah Thomas is doing this to set up Larry Brown as the fall guy, by giving him talented players who can’t possibly fit together. Isiah is probably thinking that Marbury and Francis could whup Isiah and Dumars in their primes in 2-on-2, which they probably could; unfortunately, the NBA is not a 2-on-2 game.
UPDATE: Bill Simmons nails this in a satirical column that’s just comedy gold, especially the McHale-Isiah exchanges. An excerpt:

Continue reading BASKETBALL: The Square Peg Collection

BASKETBALL: Embrace Your Destiny

Bill Simmons is dead-on again with this second column on Kobe Bryant, dealing with his 81-point game. The whole “I’ll show I’m really unselfish” thing when he sat after cracking 60 in three quarters was just pointless. Like Bill said after the criminal trial, Kobe now has to embrace his destiny as a Barry Bonds-style bad guy who doesn’t let up, doesn’t apologize, doesn’t care what you think of him, gives no quarter and asks none; that’s the only role left to him.
I recently finished reading Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader, (reviewed here by Frinklin), which picks up the story of Anakin/Vader (and others) shortly after the end of Revenge of the Sith. More on that later, but the point here is that the book reminded me of Bill’s point about Kobe: Vader spends a lot of the book whining to the Emperor about the limitations of his suit and his spacecraft and fleet, obsessing about the Jedi, cursing the events that led to his wife’s death and his mutilation, and otherwise wallowing in self-pity. Eventually, though, he accepts the fact that his old life and old ties are gone, that he can’t go back to the places he was before, and goes about single-mindedly pursuing power and domination because that’s the only avenue he has left. The result puts him on the path to being the Darth Vader of the original trilogy – ruthless, powerful, feared by allies and foes alike.
I’m not suggesting that Darth Vader is a good moral role model, of course. But I found the parallel intriguing: whatever private redemption Kobe might undertake, his only plausible public role, at least on the court, is to become a single-minded dominator of his opponents. He’ll never get credit for being a nice guy anyway.

BASKETBALL: Shooting Revisited

Now that the 2004-05 stats are up at, I thought I’d update the tables from my historical analysis of shooting efficiency in the NBA. As it turns out, 2004-05 may go down as the year the league’s tinkering finally yielded some results in terms of improved offensive efficiency and increased tempo, resulting in just the second season in a decade with an average team scoring above 97 points/game and the best shooting efficiency since they moved the three point line back eight years ago. Here’s the new tables, including revised historical averages incorporating the new numbers:
The 2000s

Season P/G 2% 3% FT% PPFGA FGA/G FT/P FGA/FTA %3
1999-00 97.5 .468 .353 .750 1.046 93.2 19.5 3.25 16.7
2000-01 94.8 .461 .353 .747 1.036 91.5 19.6 3.24 17.0
2001-02 95.5 .465 .354 .753 1.041 91.8 18.8 3.41 18.1
2002-03 95.1 .463 .350 .757 1.039 91.5 19.5 3.31 18.2
2003-04 93.4 .460 .347 .752 1.032 90.5 19.5 3.30 18.7
2004-05 97.2 .470 .355 .756 1.059 91.8 20.3 3.08 19.6
Average 103.4 .444 .340 .741 0.996 103.8 21.7 2.98 10.6

You’ll see that all the elements of offensive efficiency were up – shooting percentages from all distances were up, as were three pointers and free throws as a percentage of field goal attempts. These figures are reflected in the numbers for the league’s top players and teams, notably several players on Phoenix (check the 1.23 PSA – another abbreviation for PPFGA – on Amare Stoudamire, who attempted nearly 800 free throws this season) and Miami. Also look at Kevin Garnett’s career high 1.13 mark, as Garnett easily set career highs in free throw attempts and FT% while cutting his shot attempts and matching his career best FG%.

BASKETBALL: Simmons on Artest & Co.

Bill Simmons, unsurprisingly, has one of the most insightful columns on the whole Pistons-Pacers brawl. Lots of good stuff there – read the whole thing. I liked his suggestion that David Stern should punish Pistons fans by suspending beer sales at The Palace for 60 days, as well as his defense of Jermaine O’Neal and his suggestion that Artest would probably end up on the Knicks, stepping into the shoes vacated by the departure of Latrell Sprewell. This amused me:

Adam Carolla had an interesting take on this incident: Imagine being the guy at the game who was first attacked by Artest? You’ve been watching these guys for two hours, you’re pretty buzzed, you’re loving the seats … and then this fight breaks out, and it’s riveting as hell, and then suddenly Artest gets nailed by the cup and he’s coming right at you. As Carolla said, it would be like watching “Captain Hook” in the movies for two hours, then Captain Hook comes right out of the movie screen and attacks you. Would you have blamed that first guy for soiling himself?

But Bill fails to answer the deep philosophical question: how did this entire thing manage to come off without Rasheed Wallace doing something crazy?
UPDATE: Of course, we Knick fans feel that Artest returning to NY would actually be poetic justice, recalling that he was the man the Knicks passed up to draft . . . Frederic “French Toast” Weis.

BASKETBALL: Out of Control Weekend

Daniel Drezner puts the Pistons-Pacers brawl in perspective, noting that it pales in comparison to European soccer hooliganism. Which is fine, but that doesn�t mean it isn�t inexcusable, as was the ugly South Carolina brawl yesterday in Lou Holtz�s final game.
I�m not sure if I agree with Mannix (Chris, that is) that Ron Artest should be kicked out of the NBA for good, but a suspension for the rest of the season may be in order, in light of his repeated involvement in this kind of thing. And I do think the NBA has a major league-wide cultural problem, the roots of which I would blame on its addiction to ever younger, unschooled players. Back when most NBA players had three or four years of college and relative maturity behind them, things like this seemed a lot less common.
Of course, sports-related riots aren�t anything new. Remember the �Nickel Beer Night� fiasco?
Anyway, it was an ugly fighting weekend, with even President Bush and the Secret Service involved in a scrum down in Chile.
UPDATE: I stand corrected. Though I�ve always liked the sound of �Nickel Beer Night�, it appears that the ill-fated promotion of June 4, 1974 was actually �10-Cent Beer Night.� I guess I failed to account for inflation.

BASKETBALL: Shooting By The Numbers

The miserable showing by the US Olympic basketball team has people talking about the decline of shooting in the NBA. It’s certainly true that this team can’t shoot. But is offensive efficiency and skill really in decline around the league? It’s an appropriate time to unveil another of my long-standing research projects: a statistical history of offensive efficiency and tempo in the NBA. My apologies if someone else has done this stuff before, but I got tired of trying to find it somewhere; tip of the hat to for the numbers.
I’ll run these in table form, decade by decade. The first four columns of the chart should be familiar enough: the leaguewide averages for team points per game (P/G), shooting percentage on two-point shots (2%), on three-point shots (3%), and on free throws (FT%). A key stat I use here is Points Per Field Goal Attempt (PPFGA), developed by John Hollinger of the Basketball Prospectus; the formula is (P/(FGA+.44(FTA))). Basically, Holinger started by assuming that a free throw is worth 1/2 of a field goal attempt (e.g., you get two shots for two points instead of a single field goal attempt), then cut the ratio from .5 to .44 based on an analysis of how often guys shoot an extra free throw after hitting a bucket, for a technical foul, etc. I use the denominator of this formula to estimate the number of team shot attempts per game (FGA/G). The last three columns seek to break down the components that go into offensive efficiency above and beyond the shooting percentages: the percentage of the league’s points that were scored at the line (FT/P), the frequency of free throw attempts per field goal attempt (FGA/FTA; a higher number means less free throws), and (since 1979-80) the percentage of shots that were three-point attempts (%3).
I’ve listed league expansion and contraction under “Major Rules Changes,” but I’m sure I’ve missed some actual changes in the rules that had some significant effects. Also, I haven’t set out the blow-by-blow extension of the schedule; the NBA schedule rose gradually to 72 games in 1953-54, then went up to 75 in 1959-60, 79 the following year and wound up at its present 82 in 1967-68. I also haven’t done a similar table for the ABA, for a variety of reasons; maybe another day. Let’s begin:
The 1940s
Major Rules Changes: 1947-48, league contracts from 11 teams to 8; zone defenses outlawed

Season P/G 2% 3% FT% PPFGA FGA/G FT/P FGA/FTA %3
1946-47 67.8 .279 N/A .641 0.693 103.9 23.4 3.75 N/A
1947-48 72.7 .284 N/A .675 0.674 107.9 25.1 3.56 N/A
1948-49 80.0 .327 N/A .703 0.781 102.4 27.5 2.83 N/A

The NBA traces its official records back to 1946-47, although the league was known as the BAA (Basketball Association of America) for the first three years prior to a merger with another professional league. To the modern eye, a league-wide field goal percentage around .280 is almost inconceivable, although to the novice basketball fan at the time it may have seemed to make it easier to grasp basketball statistics (see! they’re just like batting averages!). As you can see from the above and the seasons of the early 1950s, however, the offensive skill level of the league was improving rapidly as the league gathered the nation’s best basketball players; look at the 60-point increase in the league’s free throw percentage in a two-year span. Free throw percentage is a good barometer of basic shooting skill, since free throw shooting is basically just man vs. basket, with no adjustment for the level of competition. The pace of play reached a pre-shot-clock high of 107.9 shot attempts per game in the league’s second season, when teams played just a 48-game schedule.
The 1950s
Major Rules Changes: 1951-52, size of foul lane doubled from 6 to 12 feet; 1954-55, shot clock introduced; 1957-58, ban on offensive goaltending

Season P/G 2% 3% FT% PPFGA FGA/G FT/P FGA/FTA %3
1949-50 80.0 .340 N/A .715 0.820 97.6 29.5 2.52 N/A
1950-51 84.1 .357 N/A .732 0.855 98.3 29.1 2.50 N/A
1951-52 83.7 .367 N/A .735 0.877 95.5 29.2 2.43 N/A
1952-53 82.4 .370 N/A .716 0.887 92.9 31.2 2.15 N/A
1953-54 79.5 .372 N/A .709 0.885 89.9 29.4 2.28 N/A
1954-55 93.1 .385 N/A .738 0.911 102.2 28.5 2.41 N/A
1955-56 99.0 .387 N/A .745 0.916 108.1 28.6 2.40 N/A
1956-57 99.6 .380 N/A .751 0.899 110.8 27.9 2.56 N/A
1957-58 106.6 .383 N/A .746 0.898 118.7 26.8 2.66 N/A
1958-59 108.2 .395 N/A .756 0.915 118.3 25.4 2.82 N/A

Basketball in the Fifties, especially early in the decade, was a bruising business, as earthbound forwards and centers dominated the game. The level of violence in the game reached a pinnacle in the 1952-53 season, with one foul shot for every 2.15 field goal attempts and a record 31.2% of all points being scored at the line. Perhaps the archetypical player was Dolph Schayes, who shot 40% in a season just once (.401 in 1959-60), but averaged nearly 8 free throw attempts per game for his career while shooting .849 from the line, and averaged 12 or more rebounds a game 11 years in a row. Bob Cousy debuted in 1950-51, and revolutionized the game by being the first true point guard, but took some time to foster imitators; Bill Russell arrived in 1956-57, although black players would not become a common fixture for several more seasons. You can see the immediate and dramatic impact on tempo of the shot clock, as well as the fact that it was introduced to arrest a decline in the pace of the game.

Continue reading BASKETBALL: Shooting By The Numbers


I was contacted recently by the proprietors of the new site . . . a little background: Sean Forman for years has done great work with, the premier baseball stats page on the web and one I support with several page sponsorships, and after some stumbles introduced But for some time, a need was unmet in basketball, and a competitor set up (an extremely useful) knockoff site, I had been using the site for many months and permalinked it here, but an affiliate of Forman has finally established the new site. Check it out; it seems to run a little faster and better than the imitation site.

BASKETBALL: Wheelin’ and Dealin’

If you missed it, just heard on WFAN that the Knicks completed a trade today:

New York Knickerbockers President, Basketball Operations Isiah Thomas announced today that restricted free agent guard Jamal Crawford has been acquired in a sign-and-trade deal, with the addition of forward Jerome Williams, from the Chicago Bulls in exchange for forward Othella Harrington, guard Frank Williams, and centers Dikembe Mutombo and Cezary Trybanski.

I will not expose the current state of my basketball ignorance by attempting to analyze this, except to note that the facts that (1) the Knicks are getting thinner and thinner in the middle and (2) Crawford’s career shooting percentage of .397 does not bode well for a change in offensive philosophy away from “move slowly and miss a lot of shots”.

BASKETBALL: Learn ’em Young

Harvard Law School visiting researcher Michael McCann has a study showing that high schoolers entering the NBA Draft “average more points, more rebounds, and more assists than the average NBA player.” I’m not so sure history is a fair sample – McCann seems to concede that the good record arises from self-selection that is itself the product of the disincentives maintained by the NBA to skipping college – but the study is reported in this article; judge for yourself.

BASEBALL/OTHER SPORTS etc.: Great Sports Moments

Michele asks for greatest sports moments. I’ll repost my thoughts here. I’ll agree with some of the moments cited by her commenters – Jose Canseco getting hit in the head with a ball and turning it into a home run is still the funniest thing that’s ever happened. Bill Mazeroski’s homer – ten years to the day before I was born – is tough to top for sheer instant drama and finality, especially when you consider the aura of invincability of those Yankees and the back-and-forth nature of that game and that series. And yes, I once had a poster on my wall of the famous Starks dunk over Jordan.
My personal favorite, of course, is still the bottom of the tenth inning of Game Six, 1986 World Series, specifically Bob Stanley’s game-tying wild pitch. Close behind are Robin Ventura’s “grand slam single” in the rain in 1999 and virtually every minute of the 1991 Super Bowl.
Probably the most electric moment from a sport I don’t follow or, ordinarily, even like that much was Sarah Hughes’ gold medal winning figure skating performance, because she single-handedly did what I thought couldn’t be done in figure skating: overcome the expectations and grab victory through the sheer brilliance of a single performance. In other words, for one night, she actually made figure skating a real sport.
The most memorable ones I’ve seen in person: (1) Game Six of the Knicks-Heat series in 1997, when half the team (including Patrick) was suspended and the MSG crowd just tried to will the skeleton roster to victory; (2) Brad Clontz’ wild pitch in the last scheduled game of the regular season in 1999 to send the Mets to a 1-game playoff with the Reds.

BASKETBALL/ Sports Guy & Wiley

Bill Simmons faced off with Ralph Wiley on Monday, talking basketball and other stuff. As Aaron Gleeman noted, Bill “did the unthinkable” and “made Ralph Wiley seem almost likeable.” He did the even more unthinkable by playing the first race card in a chat with Wiley – that’s like winning the tipoff against Wilt Chamberlain.
There’s a mountain of interesting arguments to be had over their lists of the top basketball players of all time, but one that got me was Bill choosing Moses over Kareem. I know he hates Kareem, but c’mon here – if titles are everything, as the rest of his list seems to suggest, how can you rank Moses that high? He was basically just a rich man’s Ewing who only won the one title. He couldn’t score with Kareem, pass with Kareem, block shots with Kareem, he was at best even as a rebounder, and he didn’t have a single killer offensive move.

Continue reading BASKETBALL/ Sports Guy & Wiley


Kevin Garnett runs off with the NBA’s MVP Award. This should be pretty uncontroversial, even though Garnett doesn’t have the ability to dominate a single game or short series the way Tim Duncan does; Duncan missed 13 games this season while Garnett, as usual, was indestructable. Garnett became the first player since Bob McAdoo in 1974-75 to lead the NBA in total points (McGrady had a higher per-game average) and total rebounds. In fact, Garnett led in rebounds by a huge margin, especially on the defensive glass, where he pulled down 894 defensive rebounds to 682 for Ben Wallace; Wallace was the only player in the league within 250 rebounds of Garnett. John Hollinger also rated Garnett and Duncan 1-2.
Garnett has more in common with Karl Malone than Michael Jordan, in the sense that his game is less dominant and more a display of uncommonly consistent and sustained excellence. It’s hard to find a category where Garnett didn’t excel – 9th in the league in blocked shots, 19th in steals, 22d in assists. Despite leading the league in shot attempts he finished at a respectable .499 from the field, good for 11th in a league where, amazingly, only ten players shot .500. While this was his best season, he’s been churning out years much like this for some time without interruption.
The number that jumps out is that Garnett’s season high in scoring was 35, and his career high (reached twice) is 40. Think about that: a career 20-a-night scorer over almost 700 career games, averaging 23 last year and 24.2 this season, who’s never scored more than 40 in one night. That’s a man who butters his bread with his consistency.

BASEBALL/BASKETBALL: Lighting Up The Scoreboard

If you’re wondering why New York Giants fans are so excited about Eli Manning, well, let me offer some perspective here. Consider my somewhat-typical experience. I’m a Mets/Giants/Knicks fan, and I’m 32 years old. Manning gives me, potentially (if he lives up to billing), the opportunity to see my favorite team develop an offensive superstar. Now, if you’re a Red Sox fan or a Lakers fan or, even, a Detroit Lions or Montreal Expos fan, that may not sound like anything terribly novel. But consider the top homegrown offensive stars of my three favorite teams over the past 30 years or so, at least based on their performance in NY:
1. Patrick Ewing
2. Darryl Strawberry
3. Phil Simms (yes, Simms contributed more than Strawberry, but except for a brief moment around 1984, he was never a carry-the-team kind of QB)
4. Edgardo Alfonzo
5. Rodney Hampton
6. Mark Jackson (yes, #2 all-time in assists, but Jackson’s a slow guy who can’t shoot and only once scored as many as 15 points per game)
7. Joe Morris
8. Todd Hundley (we’re scraping here; Hundley spent more than half his Mets career as an offensive millstone, although he did set a home run record for catchers)
9. Ray Williams
10. Amani Toomer
11. Mark Bavaro (an icon, but only briefly a light-up-the-scoreboard player)
12. Tiki Barber
13. Michael Ray Richardson
14. Lee Mazzilli
15. John Starks (I count Starks and Mason as homegrown players, since the Knicks developed them as regulars)
That’s a top-of-the head list (feel free to quibble – this one’s a natural argument-starter), and after Ewing, it’s pretty weak; plenty of individual franchises could do better. And neither of the corresponding lists will knock your socks off, either – the top guys who were brought along in NY but bloomed elsewhere (Rod Strickland, Ed McCaffrey, Lenny Dykstra, Kevin Mitchell, Gregg Jefferies), and the top guys who arrived from elsewhere (a list that starts to fall off after Mike Piazza, Bernard King and Bob McAdoo – meaning no disrespect to Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez – and on which the top Giants are creaky old guys like Ottis Anderson and Fran Terkenton).
Looking at the list above, it’s no surprise that the Mets have never had an MVP or a batting champ, the Knicks haven’t had an MVP or scoring champ in the past 35 years, and I couldn’t find the last time the Giants had a league leader in passing, rushing or receiving yards. My New York, at least, is a defensive town. That’s why people went crazy for Stephon Marbury, who seems no more likely to bring home playoff glory than King or McAdoo, and why Mets fans are so hopeful about Jose Reyes if he can ever put together a healthy season.

BASKETBALL: Charity Stripe Trivia

A pair of trivia questions for all you NBA-heads:
1. Only three players in NBA/ABA history have attempted 500 three-pointers and 500 free throws in the same season – and a fourth will join the club with his next free throw attempt. Name ’em.
2. A player has shot 90% or better at the line in 400 or more free throw attempts in one season 17 times in NBA history; the feat has been accomplished by ten different players. Name ’em. Give yourself credit if you get nine; you won’t get the hardest one unless you’re a real early-fifties history buff. There’s also an eleventh who should be added to this list before season’s end.
Answers below:

Continue reading BASKETBALL: Charity Stripe Trivia

BASKETBALL: It’s The Totally Insane Mark Cuban Blog!

Got yer Cuban right here! (Link via Matt Welch). Ooooh, this is gonna be interesting. What’s the over/under on how long it takes Cuban to get fined by the NBA for something he says on his blog? (Never mind the fact that he’s talking here about investments about which he’s making SEC filings – that could get him in a whole lot more trouble than an NBA fine). But it’s always entertaining to see a controversial public figure take his case directly to the public.

BASKETBALL: One More Glass of Vin

I have to approve of the Knicks scooping up Vin Baker; Baker has mostly played well thus far this season, and unlike the Celtics (who undoubtedly will miss Baker but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get out from under his contract when he backslid on his treatment for alcoholism), the Knicks presumably didn’t sign Baker to an expensive long-term contract. In a league where free talent is a rarity, you have to take the breaks as they come.


Bill Simmons has a fine column on why LeBron James is the real deal. James still needs a lot of work (biggest weakness: he’s averaging almost 4 turnovers a game), but his in-season progress has already been dramatic, and the kid just turned 19 two weeks ago.
I disagree, though, with one assertion in Bill’s column:

When LeBron hits his prime, surrounded by quality shooters and big guys who can run the floor, he’ll toss up a triple-double for an entire season. Comfortably. We’re talking 33/12/13 every night.

The scoring and assists, I can see; in that respect, projecting James as a potential next Oscar Robertson isn’t unreasonable, although such projections are always speculative.
LeBron is currently averaging 5.8 boards per game, playing over 40 minutes a night on a crummy team with lots of rebounding opportunities (the Cavs are shooting .427 from the field as a team). That means he has to go a long, long way to 12 boards a night. Most NBA players — with the exception of specialists like Ben Wallace or slow-developing big men like Patrick Ewing or Kevin Garnett — enter the league at or near their peak as rebounders. Michael Jordan pulled in 6.5 rebounds/game as a rookie, and only once cleared 7 a game. Larry Bird: 10.4 R/G as a rookie, career high of 11 three years later. Clyde Drexler: 6.0 his second season (his first playing starters’ minutes), cleared 7/g twice. Magic Johnson: went up from 7.7 as a rookie to 9.6 two years later, and downhill after that. Robertson himself averaged 10.1 as a rookie and 12.5 his second year, and dropped off after that. If LeBron is a star rebounder in the making, I’ll be shocked.
I emailed Bill about this, and he does have his reasoning: LeBron’s currently playing guard and playing away from the basket, so he’ll get more opportunities to hit the boards when he moves to the frontcourt later in his career; plus, he’s just a teenager and still growing. Bill knows more about basketball than I do, and he’s seen a lot of LeBron’s games, whereas I’ve only seen highlights. It’s true enough that Garnett shows how a skinny teenager can develop into one of the league’s best rebounders. But I still think history is against LeBron ever developing into a double-figure rebounder.