NBA people love scoring. I mean, we really love it. Even the so-called "purists" start humping their TiVos every time Kobe Bryant drops 50 or 60 points, as he did in back-to-back games last week. In fact, people are still talking about Kobe's double scoring explosion, and blogging about whether he'll score 50 again, and again, and again as many times as he wants.
But you know what I want to know? Why aren't people still talking about the 64-point game Steve Nash had last week?
Maybe you remember it. It was against the league's best team, the Dallas Mavericks, and the MVP front-runner, Dirk Nowitzki. "Nash didn't have 64," you say? Well, he scored 32 points himself and dished out 16 assists. That means he was responsible for at least 64 points. But then again, some of those passes probably resulted in three-pointers or and-1 situations, so the number of points he was responsible for is probably in the 70s somewhere. I'd have to go back and watch the game again to be sure.
My point? NBA fans and analysts always seem to overvalue the number of points a player scores himself versus how many points that player helps someone else score. That's why Kobe's 65 was treated as so much more meaningful than Nash's "64." In fact, I guarantee Nash's performance wouldn't have gotten half the attention it did if it hadn't happened in a double-overtime game featuring the two best teams in the league.
Let's just look at the circumstances. And, for the sake of argument, let's assume all assists are worth two points, thereby excluding three-pointers and the and-1's. When Kobe scored 65, he also had three assists, for a point total of 71 points. When he scored 50, he once again notched three assists, for a point total of 56 points. The point totals, for the record, came in wins against teams that are 27-40 and 28-38, respectively. And those teams, I should also point out, are not top-notch defensive units.
Nash's 64, on the other hand, came in a win against the 55-11 Dallas Mavericks, the best team in the league (based on won-loss records) and the fourth-best defensive team (according to points allowed). So answer me this: what's more impressive? Producing -- through scoring and passing -- 60 points against lottery teams or against the league's best?
Let's extend this conversation to season averages, and again assume that assists are worth two points. Nash's averages of 19.1 points and 11.5 assists equal a total point production of 42.1 points. On the other hand, Kobe averages 30 points and 5.5 assists for 41.0 total points. So in a very basis statistical analysis, Steve Nash is worth more points per game than Kobe Bryant. But nobody ever thinks about it like that.
I was just perusing Nash's game log from last season, and it's telling. Did you know he had a 28-point, 22-assist game last season? That's a 72-point effort if (again) you give him only two points for each assist. I don't care how you look at it, that's freaking amazing. But I doubt anyone other than me (and now you) knows that game even happened, whereas everyone who follows the NBA (and many who don't) will always remember the 81 Kobe dropped that same year.
That's why it pains me -- and I mean the real, physical, I-just-got-my-nuts-caught-in-a-meat-grinder kind of pain -- when people boldly proclaim that Kobe is the "best player" in the league. Forget the fact that it's impossible to quantify what "best player" even means. It's all about the points. It's all about being "unstoppable" (although if a player was truly unstoppable, they'd never lose a game, let alone 6 or 7 in a row, as Kobe has done twice this season). It's all about flying through air, and dunking, and hitting crazy reverse layups and ridiculous "I can't believe he just took that shot" fadeaways. In short, it's all about looking good in the highlight reel.
Is Kobe the most explosive individual scorer in the league? Absolutely. Are his physical talents and abilities the most impressive? Perhaps, but in a league of Dwyane Wades and Lebron James's, it's hardly a given. But considering the fact that he doesn't consistently produce the most points or, more importantly, the most wins, I don't see how anyone can unequivocally state that Kobe is the best overall player.
"David Robinson never got to the NBA Finals until Tim Duncan got there and even when he did get that first ring he did it against the Knicks when Patrick wasn't playing."Your biggest gripe about Robinson is that he didn't win a title until Tim Duncan came along. And...? That's not an argument, it's a copout. After all, Kareem didn't win a title until Oscar Robertson came along, and he didn't win another one for almost a decade until Magic Johnson came along. Does that take the shine off of Kareem’s six rings? I doubt it.
"NBA star Shaquille O'Neal is doing a new weight loss reality show for ABC that is scheduled to air this summer. The as-yet untitled show will feature Shaq taking part in a campaign to help elementary and high school kids lose weight. The six-episode show is currently shooting in Broward County, FL."There's something laughably ironic about asking somebody who looks like an old beanbag stuffed with bacon to help kids work the fat off. If Shaq can't even keep his own teammates from getting fat, I doubt he's going to be able to help 4th graders break that unfortunate "Twinkies 'n Gravy" habit.
It happens every season. Some alleged NBA "expert" writes a long and damning editorial about how the league has been or is in the process of being destroyed by marketing individual superstars ahead of the team. The latest of these quibblers are MSNBC's Mike Celizic, who bemoans how the NBA has traded away teamwork for the cult of personality, and FOX Sport's Randy Hill, who claims that the NBA is responsible for the "me first" attitude among players.
Both Celizic and Hill make it sound as if this is a relatively new phenomenon. Celizic only goes back as far as the Shaq/Kobe fued, and Hill, for his part seems to think it began with Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. To which I say: What??!
Maybe they're trying to frame their articles within a context that current NBA fans can understand, or maybe they ignorant of league history. The NBA was born in the fall of 1949, when the Basketball Association of America (BAA) merged with the rival National Basketball League (NBL). At the time, professional basketball was just a way of filling stadiums and sports arenas when there wasn't anything else going on. It was almost impossible for owners to maintain financial viability, and teams were constantly folding or moving to new cities. In 1949, the NBA featured teams such as the Washington Capitols, Providence Steamrollers, Rochester Royals, Chicago Stags, St. Louis Bombers, and Indianapolis Jets. Ever hear of those teams? Didn't think so. Furthermore, the Warriors were in Philidelphia, the Pistons were in Fort Wayne, and the Lakers were in Minneapolis.
Team owners, desperate to turn a profit, quickly realized that fans (and potential fans) were drawn to specific players as much or moreso than the teams they played on. Many times, a team would draft local college players ahead of other, more talented players. In fact, the league even instituted a territorial draft that took place before the regular draft. This allowed a team to forfeit its first-round pick to select a player from its immediate area (under the assumption that the player had a strong local following). That's how the the Boston Celtics got Tom Heinsohn, and how the Philidelphia Warriors got Wilt Chamberlain.
Anyway, the league has marketed the individual from the very beginning. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, George Mikan was professional basketball's first superduperstar, and when his Lakers travelled to New York, the billboards would read "George Mikan versus the New York Knickerbockers." The NBA All-Star game was created in 1951 so the league could showcase its best individual players. And let's not forget about Wilt Chamberlain. People flocked from the four corners to see him play, regardless of whether it was for the Warriors, the Sixers, or the Lakers. Due to his incredible popularity (and the resulting boost to ticket sales), he demanded and received the first $100,000 per year contract -- at a time when most players were making around $10,000 per. (Immediately afterward, Red Auerbach signed Bill Russell to a contract worth $100,001 per year, just to one-up the big guy; and thus the "exploding salary scale" was born.) And, much like today's stars, Wilt was accused of putting stats and records ahead of winning, which led the "experts" to conclude that Wilt's greed and selfishness would ruin basketball. Sound familiar?
The point is: none of this is new. Look, I'm as much a basketball purist as anybody. I want the sport to be played "the right way" -- fundamentally sound and team-oriented. I would much rather see the Phoenix Suns have six or seven players in double figures than watch Kobe score 81 points while the rest of the Lakers stand around and watch. But I also understand that the NBA is a business, and, as with all businesses, making money is the bottom line. Does this lead to selfish players trying to pad their stats to sign bigger and better contracts? Of course. But that's always happened. Pat Riley was a member of the 1971-72 Los Angles Lakers team that won 33 straight, finished the season 69-13, and won the NBA championship. Do you think "Mr. 15 strong" put the team first? He'll tell you he did, but by every account I've read, he fumed about not getting enough playing time, sulked whenever he was benched, and regularly got into fights with teammates during practice over his role on the team. So there you have it.
The selfishness and me-first attitude have been around since the beginning. The only real difference is how it's being expressed by today's players. And that problem is due more to modern cultural influences than NBA policy. The fact is, David Stern can't regulate teamwork, selflessness, and desire. There are too many other factors involved.
And as for the writers and critics, well, they don't really suggest any kind of realistic alternative. The NBA is a business that makes a profit by marketing its players. Take away the league's profit center, and you take away the league. Unless they can suggest some kind of practical solution, I wish they'd stop recycling the same story year after year.
Labels: NBA marketing