Thursday, May 28, 2009

Response to SImmons

I want to bring up two things that Bill Simmons talked about today. Both are relating to officiating, one is structural and the other is more analytical. He points out (like we needed someone to) how dreadful the officiating has gotten, and cites several problems such as the age of the officials, the state of the game as a 1 on 1 thing, and the desire by the NBA to curb on-court violence leading to a crack-down that limits hard play. I have no answers for how to fix the officiating but one very simple thing that could address a lot of issues and doesn't seem to be too drastic.

In baseball, you have a crew of umpires. This crew is headed by one ump called "the crew chief" but in reality, they are all equally important. As they travel from stadium to stadium, they rotate counter-clockwise from base to base. So the crew chief isn't always behind home-plate, in fact, he's behind home plate as often as the other three umps.
In football, you also have crews, headed this time by the head referee. Football officials are the most specialized as any sports. They have two line judges standing on the sidelines marking balls and calling pre-snap penalties and penalties on the edge. You have a back judge to police things that happen beyond the secondary and already back to keep up with the speed of the faster players. You have an umpire standing LITERALLY in the middle of the action policing anything that might happen near the ball. Everyone knows their role. Guys generally don't have to make a call that they're not in position to make because there is a system set up to make sure there is always someone in position.

However in basketball, there are no crews. I mean, there are game-to-game, but after the officials ref a game, they get in separate cabs, fly to a different city, and join up with a new set of two officials to ref another game. There is SOME specialization, but when there is, it comes from a short pre-game discussion amongst the three refs. So if Danny Crawford is reffing a game with Zac Zarba and Bennet Salvadore one night, he might be assigned with Monty McCutcheon and Joey Crawford another night, while Zarba is in another city reffing with Violet Palmer and Dick Bavetta.

Now, Simmons talks about the chemistry acquired after playing years of pick-up ball with the same guys. I could not agree any more. If Matt Neff flew out to L.A. today, we could hang with any group in a two-on-two game. We've been playing together for 15 years. He's Malone, I'm Stockton. It's not even fair. But the reason isn't because we're so talented. And I don't necessarily think we have a form of ESP or anything. The point is, he and I know each others strengths and we know each others weaknesses. I know how he dominates in the post, he knows how effective I am in a screen and roll. He knows I like to D up on the ball, I know that if the ball hits the rim he's got the bound. I don't worry about rebounding, he doesn't worry about perimeter defense, both of which are weaknesses for each other. This is how basketball works.

So tell me, why can't this work for officiating? If I know that a certain official loves to officiate in the paint, and has been doing it long enough that he can seek things I can't see, I won't make a call from half-court when he's already on the baseline. If he knows I can run, and he's slower, wouldn't it make sense to let me work the sidelines and play in transition while he stands closer to mid-court and doesn't need to run as far in between plays. Wouldn't there be more trust amongst the officials to let no-calls be no-calls. You can specialize like in football, you can trust each other, and you can rely on chemistry the same way that my friend and I do in two-on-two.

Furthermore, there's a lot less alpha-dog posturing when you guys are all co-workers. Think about playing pick-up ball with nine strangers. You want to be the man for your team. You might feign alpha-dog mentality simply to impress your teammates, or to position yourself as the leader. This happens in officiating ALL the time. Take D-White's tech the other day. It obviously was a dumb call, but the official who made it was showing off for his crew. He was saying "Oh really D-White, well watch what I can do!" That call NEVER gets made if they crew was together all year. You let that slide, you let a lot of fouls inside slide if the guy on the baseline is your partner, and your season-long friend. The games would be officiated right.

What's baffling is how easy a fix this would be. Of course it wouldn't fix everything, and there's a long way to go, but it makes no sense the way it is now. Certain problems would go away immediately. Others would get better over time as officials grew to respond to one another. I just don't understand any argument for the other way.

And prong two of this is WHY a lot of this is happening. I don't get why no one wants to bring up the major elephant in the room: race. Ok, so Stern wants to curtail the violence, and I applaud him for that. There is a point (see: Artest, Ron) when violence gets out of control. But there's also a point when it's both entertaining and an asset. Magic-Celtics. Pistons-Bulls. Heat-Knicks. These were better cuz the teams were knocking the crap out of each other. But what happened in the mid- to late 1990s was a new crop of players came into the league. They wore corn-rows, banged to hip-hop music, and connections to criminality were easily drawn. On-court violence became less of an extension of tough, physical play, and more of an extension of the streets. Obviosuly, retrospectively, there is no difference between an on-court fight in 2005 and one in 1985, but visually and esoterically, there is.

In 1984, when Kurt Rambis clubbed Kevin McHale, he was tough. In 2006 when Carmello Anthony sucker punched Nate Robinson, he was a thug. The only thing that changed was the perception of the black athlete in the NBA. This is why baseball gets away with it, hockey applauds it, and basketball does EVERYTHING in their power, even if that means ruining the game to prevent it. I urge people to read articles from the late 1990s regarding violence. The word "thug" and "criminal" appears far more often than it should. There is a disproportionately vitriolic response against physical play and even violence in the setting of a basketball game. To ignore this element, which one can argue (like I just did) is the primary element in the curtailing of violence in games, is both ignorant and safe.

I am not "playing the race card," are acting as an apologist. All of us want to see more physical play, less techs, and more rivalry. But no one wants it from a big, black guy, with braids and a scowl. These guys are not criminals but athletes, and the associations are both wrong and detrimental to the game. It won't be until we, as consumers, and the mainstream press drop these associations with language such as "thug" that we'll see the game move back towards allowing emotional, and physical play, with sportsmanship added. Simmons is right on all accounts, and I applaud him for writing such an in-depth piece on the issue, I just wish he'd mention the giant elephant sitting in between Stern and Stu Jackson: race.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Other Shoe awaits

Why can't I shake this feeling? I never thought the Cavs were going to win it all. Check that, I didn't think so until about 2 months ago. About 2 months ago, amidst the chaos of March Madness and the dog days of what seems to be a year round NBA season, I started to believe. I think it was a combination of the Cavs hitting their stride at the same moment that the other three contenders—Boston, Orlando, and Los Angeles—starting hitting road bumps. At one point, Lebron passed Kobe, Garnett's injury pushed the Celtics into second-tier status, and Orlando, struggling to beat bottom-run teams, faded into championship irrelevancy. Once we secured home court, it seemed destiny. For the first time in 14 years, we were actually favored to win…and this time, thanks to the NBA's meritocracy where the best record is worth something, we actually had the home-court in the finals. Best player in the land, home court, contenders dropping like the Tribe in 2005 and the Browns in 2007, I actually started to believe.

However, I must admit, I thought there was a chance we'd lose to Detroit. Honestly. I didn't think of it as extremely legitimate, but they're the fucking Pistons. You don't walk over them. After that series, I was hooked. This was it. I actually, for the first time since an unseasonably warm autumn night in October of 1997 thought to myself, "Now you will know what it's like to be a Yankee, or a Niner, or a Bull. This is what it's like. Get Ready."

I'll tell you when it ran out. Game 1, forty seconds left. Delonte had just knocked down a huge three to take a one point lead and then Rashard Lewis, effortlessly caught a ball on the right baseline, put up an eleven footer and buried it to take a one-point lead. At that moment, despite Lebron's ensuing three-point play, I started to doubt. And now, as we stare up a small hill, a hill that we are almost expected to climb, I see an impossible mountain.

I don't know why. A win tonight, and we have a pretty distinct advantage. A best of 3 with 2 games at home is a lot stronger than a best of 7 with 4 games at home. But that win tonight seems implausible, and NOT for the easy reasons. I don't care about D-white, Rashard, Hedo, and Pietrus. I Don't care about Mo, Delmonte, and Z's problems. I mean, I do. Believe me I do. But this is beyond that. This is mythical. This is the product, not of Xs, Os, or statistics, this is the product of Dr. Pavlov, teasing me, baiting me, and universally letting me down. I am conditioned to expect the tease, and when the mouth-watering temptation to believe tries to overcome my pre-ordained cynicism, that cynicism rises, triumphs, and destroys grace in a higher power. The only higher power I know, is that giant shoe, worn by athletes from Elway to Alomar, the same shoe worn by Tommy Maddox, Josh Beckett, and an injured, hobbled Pedro Martinez. As I look up into the unknown today, I do not expect a Cavs win, I do not expect Mo's shot to turn on, or Z to turn effective. What I expect is the worst.

I expect a new story to tell my kids. Lebron's shot—despite what many other cynical Clevelander's are saying—will not be a footnote, but the central theme in the melodrama of another Cleveland tragedy. His shot will represent the worst or our abilities: Our ability to believe. Perhaps it is this trait that is our worst. Perhaps it is not our expectations to fail, our athletically-trained inferiority complex that defines us, but our insistence in believing in a cruel and self-serving deity who, at least from this perspective, seems to be more interested in our failures that anyone's triumphs. If this were not the case, than that shot would not have gone in. If Orlando truly is simply "the better team," than Lebron's shot would have hit that back iron and bounced mercifully off the rim, relieving us of that cruel hope that—despite my heart-felt attempts at abandoning—lives in my body, still today, causing more frustration than faith, and more anticipation for the worst than belief in the best.

More than anything today, I want to blow them out. I want it to be over after the first quarter. But there is a part of me, a slice of brain matter that I'm sure neurologists have discovered contains our ability to reason, to organize, and to plan, that wants D-white to hang 50 on us. Put us out of our misery. Take the hope, the belief, the prayers, and make them go away. It is May. The Indians are relaxed in the cellar, the Browns are….the Browns, and the Cavs are on the brink of collapsing before our very eyes.

I don't want that to happen, but I know better. I think we're the better team, but I don't see us winning. We have the best player ever on our team, and even he can't overcome some things. I know it's been sad before, but there are some things that will just never change. Unless they do tonight. Go Cavs….OH NO, NOT AGAIN.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Center problems

I know the Cavs have some serious problems to address. I know that the local media, the blogosphere, and the insufferable and uninformed national media have pointed out their lack of any production from the backcourt, which is entirely valid. Mo and Demonte's disappearance in this series is most likely the difference between a 3-0 lead and a 2-1 hole right now. But that is not what this is about. My posts are not here to reiterate what is so blatantly obvious after watching these games.

I'm not here to talk about the officiating, which seems to favor Lebron, then the Magic, then the Cavaliers. It's a super-weird issue that will probably rear its head more often than not, but the Cavs, outside of Lebron are getting hosed, while Lebron seems to be getting absolutely retarded whistles. Obviously the amount of free-throws on Sunday made for a stupid game, but what do you expect when you line up Joey Crawford in a playoff game. It's an odd choice, but not nearly the oddest of David Stern's handling of officials.

I'm here to harp on an issue that I can’t seem to understand. It's actually quite simple: Why is Zydrunas getting minutes in this series? Look, I've never met the guy, but it seems that all that have say he's an absolutely classy and gentlemanly guy. (Save his DUI and his stealing of Bob Sura's wife) I want him to succeed, and I thank him for everything he's given the city in the last thirteen years. But I am absolutely BAFFLED as to:

A. Why despite his inability to defend Howard, along with his complete inefficiency on offense, Mike Brown insists on starting him.

B. Why, despite these inefficiencies in all three games, Brown insists on playing him in crunch time despite Joe Smith and Ben Wallace both giving better minutes in this series.

C. Where, please someone tell me where, Darnell Jackson has gone!!!

The first is the most understandable. Z has been your starting center all year. I understand this attempt at congruency as the team tries to regain their regular season form. In fact, one can even argue that, given our hot starts in games 1 and 2, this can't be pointed out as a problem. But here's the thing: In game 1, Dwight Howard DESTROYED him in the first quarter. Dwight is a first half player. Z simply can't guard him. If Brown wants to start Z, I get it, but what I don't get is playing him through the first quarter (like he did Sunday night). It is PAINFULLY obvious that he is simply overmatched and hurting the team, so it's fine to give him the start, but to handicap the team leaving him in doesn't make any sense to me.

The Second question is quite bothersome. I am not arguing for more Joe Smith, Ben Wallace or others. I am not the coach, and I do not have the resources that I pray Mike Brown is currently consulting. I am simply asking: What is Z giving you down the stretch? Please…What!!!!

Several bullets about this. For one, Z appears, on paper, to have two discernable offensive skills. His ability to hit from 12-16, and offensive rebounding. The jump shot has simply not been there. In fact, one can even argue that he's simply not taking enough jumpers. So far in this series, in 95 minutes, Z is 9-26 from jumpers, including an 0-5 from beyond the arc. Overall, he's 13-34 from the field. This is well below replacement level, and is completely ineffective. I understand that no one on the team is shooting well, and that Z has the unfortunate task of going up against the DPY, BUT, it is different for Z, and I'll get to that in a minute.
The other skill is his ability to offensive rebound, and more specifically tip-in. However, in 95 minutes of play in this series, Z has 8 ORB. Now, I concede that rebounding can be a misleading statistic, for instance, Ben Wallace (in way less than half the minutes) has 5 ORB, but has countless tips keeping balls alive that aren't measured by a traditional stat, while Z has very few if any. Again, I concede that Z is up against Dwight Howard, so his numbers will go down, but this at the end of the day, both of Z's skills that make his defensive liabilities worth dealing with have been neutralized. Whether its declining skills, lack of heart, or Orlando's schemes and personnel, Z hasn't done what he does.

Defensively, I don't need to say anything. When Howard is in, Z resembles the chair that Yi Jianlin infamously dueled in his 2007 pre-draft workouts. When Howard is out, Z is turning a pole, seemingly named after a concentration camp into Hakeem. He cannot, and will not play a role on the weak side, he doesn't block, tip, or alter shots, he's slow in transition, clunky in the post, and even his fouls have been weak enough to allow way to many and-ones. You've all watched the games, so just know this.

OK, so you say "But Mo and Delonte haven't been able to hit either!" Here's my rebuttal. First off, Mo and Delonte had great years; fantastic years even. Z's numbers in almost all categories went DOWN. Z is getting older, his body is falling apart, and his skills—like all mid-30's big men—are declining. To compare Mo and Delonte's cold streaks to Z's lack of production is ignorant.

Also, Mo and Delonte's cold streaks could be attributed to invariable factors. Guys get cold, guys struggle under pressure, guys go through streaks like this. With Z, the problem is more about the Magic. They have neutralized him. If we get past this round, and Z can rip up Andrew Bynum, so be it, play him 40 a game. But against this team, in this series, he is a nothing.

And furthermore (and most importantly), with Mo and Delonte, we don't really have a choice. Mo was an all-star and Delonte was our best non-Lebroner in the playoffs. Their backups are Gibson, Szerbiack, Kinsey, and Sasha. Even given Sasha's hot 5 minutes on Friday, we still kind of NEED these two to get hot. We need to ride them out, and hopefully, given the nature of their problems, they could get out of it. With Z, it's not the case. Wallace is a MUCH better defender and MUCH better rebounder. While statistically his presence is hard to interpret, his presence has been very much felt. Joe Smith has been average, but significantly better than Z. He has been better shooting jumpers, a better rebounder, and played better defensively. And then there's the third question I've asked.


Please, let me make this clear. I have no clue, NONE, if Darnell Jackson is capable of making an impact in this series. Why do I have no clue? Because none of us do, including Mike Brown, because he will not try him. Here's what goes against Jackson: He's a roogie who may not be able to handle the limelight. He's untested against such a great player like Howard. He hasn't played much in the playoffs and might be rusty. Here's what he has for him: His size is, BY FAR, the best asset we have against Howard. Howard's second-round struggles were, by consensus, attributed to the physicality and size of Kendrick Perkins, and Jackson is the closest thing we have to a Perkins. His youth and inexperience could actually inject life into the team that seems to be lagging (see Lee, Courtney). He played very well in the second half of season, eventually usurping one-time future savior J.J. Hickson's minutes, and actually playing a few crunch time's late.

And the biggest thing Jackson has is: WHY THE HELL NOT! The Cavs have no answer, I repeat, NO ANSWER, for this team. All we hear is the "matchup problems" et al. Why not try, even if just for a 6-8 minute stretch in the second, to match this guy up against Howard. Worst case scenario, he gives you Ben Wallace's impact on offense and takes a few fouls on Howard that can keep Varajau in the game. Best case scenario, he frustrates Howard, helps get stops, scores a few easy baskets on offense (i.e. what Z SHOULD be doing) and forces the Magic to change their strategy. Could it hurt to TRY???

Z is getting 30+ minutes a game. He needs 20 at most. Give Jackson 8-10 of Z's minutes, 2 or 3 of Smith's and 2 or 3 of Wallace's. Match him up on Howard and just try to see if he can stop him. Give him 16 minutes, and let's hope that he's our Kendrick Perkins. Otherwise we lose this series 4-1 or 4-2. We go back to the drawing board and try to figure out next year. How will we deal with this guy, we will need to re-design our frontcourt. Why not try that now Mike? Change on the fly? Z won't mind.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

On The Road

I'm out for a few is a change of pace, I give you the top 3 albums of the last 10 years. These are my opinions, serve NO purpose, and are meant to be disagreed with. But these 30 albums have had a bigger effect on ME than any other records.
Feel free to disagree

Top 3 Albums of Last 10 years:

2009 (in progress)

- Silversun Pickups – Swoon
- Ben Kweller – Changing Horses
- Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band – Outer South


- Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
- Conor Oberst – Conor Oberst
- Portishead – Third


- The Fratellis – Costello Music
- The Shins – Wincing the Night Away
- Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago


- Silversun Pickups – Carnavas
- The Strokes – First Impressions of Earth
- Ben Kweller – Ben Kweller


- Jack Johnson – In Between Dreams
- Death Cab For Cutie – Plans
- Matisyahu – Live at Stubbs


- Mike Doughty – Skittish
- Elliott Smith – From a Basement on a Hill
- Franz Ferdinand – Franz Ferdinand


- The Jayhawks – Rainy Day Music
- The Strokes – Room on Fire
- The Shins – Chutes Too Narrow


- Red Hot Chili Peppers – By the Way
- The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
- Eminem – The Eminem Show


- Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
- The Strokes – Is This It?
- Jack Johnson – Brushfire Fairtytales


- Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker
- Elliott Smith – Figure Eight
- Radiohead – Kid A

Monday, May 18, 2009

Lack of Heart vs. Not Very good

The sentiment on L.A. radio today (and those with outlets to me via other outlets, like say…conversation) seems to be an air of dominance after yesterday's altogether dominance of the Aaron Brooks's – ahem, the rockets (lower-case to represent their shell of a team). True, yesterday's performance was entirely one-sided, and despite gritty and tough play from Houston, Bynum, Gasol, Ariza, and others completely controlled all aspects of the game, BUT, what exactly does that mean.
Vegas, for what it's worth, thinks it means little. They give the Denver Nuggets a very realistic chance of winning the series, and considering the Lakers have home-court advantage, somewhat implies that in a neutral arena, Vegas, (whose opinion I value more than any analyst's) thinks the two teams are just about equal. While Denver did earn the number 2 seed, they finished eleven games behind the Lakers, and a staggering .140 points behind the Lakers in the Pythagorean standings. (Denver also finished behind the Celtics, Spurs and Blazers in the Pythagorean standings, three teams currently watching on television) What this means, is that despite no injuries, and despite the Lakers's convincing five-game disposal of the Jazz in the first round, some time in the last two weeks, Denver has made up 11 games of regular season separation and .140 points of Pythagorean separation to even up (or at least come close to evening up) the perception that the Lakers are BETTER than the Nuggets, save for home-court.
While Denver was quite impressive against Dallas in the second round, Dallas's Pythagorean winning percentage was barely better than Pheonix, who missed the playoffs altogether and has to be, at least somewhat, expected. What happened is, at least in Vegas's mind, is that the Lakers' struggles with Houston changed the perception of how good this Lakers team can be. Houston's obviously injured stars should have made for an easy series, but they were unable to capitalize, and were forced to subject their fans, and their own bodies, to a surprising game 7. A lot has been made about their heart, their character, and their "championship will" but I think eventually, like Vegas has done, we need to start looking at other factors such as: age, fatigue, and maybe this Lakers team is not that good.
Am I ARGUING they are not good, or even that they will lose a series…not really. I am saying that perhaps all of the things that critics and fans of the Lakers say they lacked in their 2 defeats in Houston in games 4 and 6, were effects, not moveable variables, of more fixed variables that have changed the perception of the Lakers' dominance in the Western Conference.
Some things to consider: Kobe Byrant, the unquestionable heart and soul of this team, is now 31 years old; however, like many astute critics will be quick to point out, he is an "old" 31, for he came into the league at age 18, and has, for the most part, started since his third year. In his thirteen-year career, he has played in 1112 games, starting 944 of those. This is not counting Olympics, preseasons, or the fact that Kobe is known as the hardest working player, off the court in the NBA. In the past two seasons alone, he has played in 197 games, starting each of them and averaging about 38 minutes per game. These numbers are STAGGERING.
To put this in perspective, over his career, he's already played 16 more games than Magic Johnson played in his entire career, and Johnson's numbers began a slight decline (especially in scoring, rebounds, and defensively) after about 900 games. Larry Bird played in 55 less games than Bryant and his numbers also took a sharp turn (also in part to his back problems) after about 900 games. Not counting his Wizard's numbers, Kobe has even played more games than Jordan, whose career total was 1109. Jordan also took two and a half years off in the mid-90s, and, though he did experience a SMALL dip in his numbers in the last two years of his Bulls career, he still won the championship those seasons.
Kobe, by contrast has NOT yet seen a dip in his numbers. He won his first MVP in 2008 in the season he surpassed the dreaded 900 game clip. Up until maybe two months ago, he was the undisputed, unanimous choice for "best player on the planet," and despite his age and games played numbers starting to reach some important benchmarks, has not (at least to the untrained eye) shown any signs of erosion. (There are some statistics such as FTA and points in the paint that do, in fact, point to a small decline in his athleticism, but Jordan worked through that, meaning there's a precedent to follow).
But the point I'm making with all of this data is that: instead of assuming that players age only during the off-season; the assumption that Kobe's 08/09 exists in a vacuum and signs of fatigue or maybe age will only emerge side by side with his 09/10 numbers is simply wrong. In fact, can't we assume the opposite is true? Can't we assume that players probably age more during the season that after? Can't we assume that Kobe, who seems to be playing at as high of a level as he was last year, is not even playing at as high of a level as he was in November? That assumption goes for Bryant, Fisher (1111 GP), even younger players like Gasol (629) or Odom (723) who may not be "old" but may be experiencing some sort of age-related fatigue after playing the amount of games at the level that they've been playing at over the last eighteen months? Look at Boston. Garnett and Pierced look like they're about 65 years old right now. Their month-long winning streak over November and December seems like it was three years ago.
So maybe, while fans and critics jump on the "will the Lakers show up tonight" bandwagon, they should be looking at another point. Furthermore, maybe the Lakers just aren't as good as we thought. The NBA season, despite being 6 months long, is only 82 games. While 82 games is a large sample size (6 times longer than the NFL) it is far from perfect. It is half as long as baseball's; it is played through an unbalanced schedule, and does not ALWAYS tell the exact story of the best team's in the league. For instance, Denver, Portland, and San Antonio all finished with identical 54-28 records. Houston, with Yao, and half a season of McGrady finished one game behind with a quite comparable 53-29 record. I am considering the fact that the Spurs are banged up, but also considering Houston as even more banged up. In the playoffs, these four teams, despite essentially identical records, have played four ENTIRELY different post-seasons. Denver is 8-2, Houston 7-6, Portand 2-4 and the Spurs 1-4. Since these are small sample sizes as well, little could be said about which team's are "the best" but perhaps the Lakers' 65-17 might not be as impressive considering their second-round performance.
Here again, my point is that maybe, while their regular-season record was more than impressive, perhaps it's sample size was too limited to expose the fact that the Lakers were merely not as good as their record indicates (and their Pythagorean record confirms). For instance, from February 29 through March 31, the Lakers played at a 10-6 clip. Maybe this pedestrian .625 record (duplicated in during a significant stretch in December) is truer to form than the much higher percentage played in other, hotter stretches. Again, I am not arguing that this is the case, but it would not be a stretch to say that the Lakers are closer to a .625, or even .659 (Denver's reg. season Winning pct.) than the loft goal of .793 they actually set. In fact, their post-season record right now (against a free-falling Jazz team, and a terminally injured Rockets team is .666 with 7 of 12 games being played at Staples Center.
Obviously this small sample size renders these numbers ALMOST irrelevant, but perhaps this sample is truer than other samples. Especially considering Kobe's age, the entire team's fatigue, and other fixed variables that are being interpreted by both familiar and unfamiliar sources as moveable variables, maybe the Lakers are just about as good as the Nuggets.
I could go on and discuss the hypocrisy of judging a team's merit based on an incredibly small sample size when a much larger sample size is readily available, or the virtue of match-ups, home-court advantage, and the ever-popular "heart", but I think that Phil and Kobe SHOULD be able to answer any questions over the next month.
I do not want to make any predictions, and I do not want to assume anything. All I will say is to my L.A. brethren, you just went 7 games with a team that most likely would be a high lottery pick if they played the entire regular season with their game 7 roster. Of the four teams in the final four right now, none is more fatigued than you, none is under as much pressure as you, and all three are playing better at this stage of the playoffs. Of course this can change drastically and quickly, but instead of basking in the game 7 domination, maybe a quick fan gut-check is in order. Shit-talking to a minimum, concern at an all-time high.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Kobe vs Lebron????

Today on TrueHoop, several prominent bloggers voiced their opinions on the individual rivalry between Lebron and Kobe. This dichotomy is so interesting to me because I can not remember an ongoing argument over who is better in basketball involving two so similar players in my lifetime. I mean, I guess there was the Garnett/Duncan rivalry in the early 2000s, but that was so one-sided that I don't think any logical person ever chose Garnett over Duncan after the years of domination.

In the 90s, there was very little debate because of Michael. Sure the 1993 and 1998 MVPs don't agree with this decade of individual dominance argument, but those were such flimsy awards (and Micahel proved those in the Finals) that they are not worth mentioning. In 2001 the debate between best player in the league was Iverson or Shaq…the next few seasons were Kidd vs. Shaq or Kidd vs. Duncan. We had a Nash vs. Kidd season, Kobe vs. Jordan…there really hasn't been a toe-to-toe dichotomy with two players arguably peaking since Magic and Bird. That dichotomy was so broad that it seemingly defined the decade.

But Kobe vs. Lebron is something different. It's not necessarily a preference of styles (such as the Bird/Magic dichotomy) though stylistically there are significant differences. It's not about size or speed (such as the Iverson/Kidd/Nash vs. Shaq/Garnett/Duncan dichotomies) though there is a significant size and speed difference. What this dichotomy is essentially boiled down to is youthful potential being realized at the exact same moment that youthful potential is peaking.

Kobe, living in the shadows of O'Neal for as long as he did, has struggled with his personal rivalry with Jordan's legacy since Shaq's departure in 2004. Lebron on the other hand is in a personal struggle with the mythical expectations belied upon him by the postmodern media, and the hopes of Stern and the NBA in the wake of Jordan's retirement. The personal side of this rivalry only came into the forefront this year thanks to two independent things:

1. The Olympics – The two struggled to claim the overall leadership moniker and hence the title of "greatest player in the world."

2. Lebron's ascendancy as both super-star, and leader of a top-echelon team (thanks in no small part to his time spent with Bryant in China) gave more validity to the idea that James may have passed Bryant as the best player in the world.

The conversation can be heard in bars, on television, and in blogs. It’s an argument that everyone, young/old, educated/stupid, casual/dedicated, seems to share an opinion on. When I went to the Cavs/Lakers game at Staples Center in January, even Lakers fans, known for going to the mat for Kobe unconditionally, seemed to believe that the torch was being passed before our eyes.

There are DEFINITELY arguments for both players…and though I believe that Lebron passed Kobe approximately two months ago, I believe that the argument is valid and worth discussing. My argument is simply that Kobe GOT OLD. That is not to say that he went through a Chris Webber-esque decline, but that he is an old thirty-one, who has played close to two-hundred games in the last eighteen months. And no one, no matter what anyone says about Howard, James, Garnett, or anyone else, plays these games harder than Kobe. About two months ago, Kobe (and the Lakers) started running out of steam. His drives to the hoop are down, his elevation on his deadly jump-shot is down, and his ability to become an on-fire character in NBA Jam seemed to diminish.

Lebron meanwhile, at age twenty-four (Michael Jordan's age in 1987, or Tiger Woods in 1999), is JUST hitting his stride, carrying a team on his shoulders, and playing a level that Kobe was playing at two years ago. Of course this is just my opinion, but if you were to ask me on March 16th, "who would you rather have?" I'm not wasting any time and answering Kobe. Today, again, not wasting any time, but the answer's Lebron.

Ok, but my opinion doesn't matter at all. One of the facts that I find troubling in the pro-Kobe argument is the "4th quarter assassin" argument. The argument that Kobe is the best player in the league in a one possession game. On TrueHoop today, Royce Young of the Daily Thunder argued:

The thing I see in Kobe is a straight assassin. He's the Travis Bickle of basketball. He's there to finish you, even if your kid is in the other room watching. I don't get that from LeBron. LeBron is a slow cooker -- a guy that needs 48 minutes to beat you. He's absolutely unguardable one-on-one, he can rebound, he can create for teammates and he can man up. But does he have that sense of the moment like Kobe does? Can he just walk on the court and say "I got this" to his teammates. I'm not sure he's there yet.

I hate to be the desperado here out riding fences, but in one respect I'm a straight James man. But in another, I want Kobe. It all depends on where we're at on the clock I guess. If I'm starting a franchise and I get to choose one player, I want LeBron. But if I'm taking one shot at the end of the game, I choose Kobe.

OK, so there is a small concession at the end (the "if I'm starting a franchise" comment, but personally the "taking one shot" situation is analogous to the "best player in the world" metric. My argument isn't that this argument is flawed, it's that it simply is based upon NOTHING. While I like Royce Young, and occasionally read his blog, I don't feel that following the OKC Thunder for one season qualifies anyone for making a judgment on who is better in the 4th quarter.

I would agree that up until this season, this might be true; but up until this season, Lebron's best second scoring options have been players that were riding Phil Jackson's bench in crunch time. This season, as the Cavs improved their personnel, Lebron also ascended to the mythic expecttions bestowed upon him as a seventeen year old. But Young is arguing that the thing that sets Kobe aside from James is his CLUTCH abilities. He is arguing that Lebron is a more complete player, but it is Bryant's clutch seperation that makes him more valuable.

This season, per 48 minutes of crunch time (defined by 4th quarter and OT, 5 minutes or less, game within 5 points) Kobe averaged 56.7 points, while Lebron averaged 55.9. These numbers are essentially identical, and by now means is Byrant's edge significant enough to jump Lebron in the dichotomy. Furthermore, Kobe's FG% in these situations is .457% while Lebron's is .556% essentially meaning that Lebron makes a full shot (two points) more than Kobe for every ten taken. Lebron's clutch FG % is only surpassed by Carmello Anthony, and surprisingly, Zach Randolph. Throw in Lebron's peripheral pretty significant statistical advantages over Bryant (14.3-8.4 boards, 12.6-5.7 dimes, 3.5-1 steal, and 1.7-0 blocks) and it would be hard to argue that Bryant is even close to James late in a game. In fact, the only two metrics in which one could argue that Bryant is superior to James are FT% and turnovers. Free throw percentage (James 85 % and Bryant 92%) is nullified by the fact that James shoots two more free throws per 48 clutch minutes than Kobe, and the turnover number (James 4.8, Bryant 3.0) is a result of James doubling Bryant's assist total.

The point of all of these numbers is that, despite Kobe's propensity for being able ot hit back-breaking daggers from twenty feet (often on national TV), he is not nearly as efficient of a player in crunch time as Lebron is. One other incredibly telling stat (one that Young's blurb is actually consistent with) is that Bryant has player 142 minutes in 41 games of crunch time. Lebron has played in 111 minutes in 31 games of crunch time. Lebron's 48-minute "slow-cooker" attack has proved so much more valuable than Bryant's, that his team has not needed him to play the role that he is statistically better than Bryant at playing. THIRTY-ONE GAMES of crunch time. Are you kidding? That number is ridiculous, and in the playoffs, Lebron has won every game by double digits, while Kobe's team is 7-4. And before you bring up the softer competition argument remember this fact – The Lakers were 2-2 against the Pistons and Hawks this season, the Cavs were 3-1 against the Jazz and Rockets.

What this all adds up to is this: The argument over Lebron vs. Kobe is still valid. It probably will go on for another year before Kobe's legs begin to give a little more (though I would not put anything past Kobe's competitive drive carrying him a few more years in the elite), and it will define this era of the NBA. BUT… the 4th quarter assassin garbage, so often called upon by Kobe apologists to deify Bryant's mythology over James's – is simply false. And once all of us, including Royce Young, figure this out, the dichotomy will become a lot clearer.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Rivalry Lost?

Six years ago, on the eve of the 2003 NBA draft, the draft that was poised to save the NBA, to put the Jordan era behind us, to take the league from the "thug-ball" that the pre-blog sports journalist seemed to fear so much, the story was not about the potential of Dwayne Wade; or the anticipation for the career of number two overall pick, Darko Milicic. The anticipation and unprecedented promise was brought by two teenagers: Lebron James and Carmelo Anthony. We heard they were friends, we heard they were rivals, we heard about their lone high-school match-up in which James outscored Anthony, but his team came up short. More than anything, we heard about a potential Magic vs. Bird rivalry – a pairing teeming with contradictions:

- The duality of James and Anthony would redefine the individual in the NBA.
- The future of the NBA, the NEXT chapter, would be defined by homage to the past, and, hopefully, if we were lucky enough that this rivalry should pan out, the future would be an ideal representation of the past.
- A league full of young, brash, self-aggrandizing, precocious children of the hip-hop era, who were supposedly ruining the league with their "biting-the-hand-that-feeds-them behavior, would be saved by two young, black, kids, who were superstars by the time they were old enough to buy a pack of cigarettes.

But the media, the hype machine responsible for creating the iconography of James years before his first game, with little else to talk about during anti-classic Spurs/Nets finals, spurred on this potential rivalry. The Rocky Mountian News said, "They could be the future of the NBA. Or they could be like the past, when Magic Johnson and Larry Bird carried on a dramatic rivalry after entering the league in 1979." The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said that the two were "poised to stage the next great rivalry."

This was the new era: Lebron and Carmelo.

At about this same time, Kobe Bryant's career appeared like it might be on an early decline. First, the Lakers' dynasty was crumbling. Their three-year stretch of invincibility was shattered that spring after an early exit to the San Antonio Spurs. Then later that summer, weeks after the draft that welcomed the supposed savior partnership into the league, Bryant was charged with rape, leaving both the Lakers' future, and Bryant's career in treacherous uncertainty. The twenty-five year old Bryant already had his three rings, but his shaky relationship with both his Lakers co-star and his coach left a lot of us thinking that maybe this is it: a Hendrix-esque career that dazzled us for a short period of time and was over before it ever really got started. The idea of a potential Bryant/James rivalry was so far-fetched at this time, that it was never even a spark inside a columnist's head. Forget the fact that Bryant is a mere six years older than Anthony, one of the hardest working players in the game, and one who takes almost every challenge personally (hence his feuds with both O'Neal and Jackson), he was part of the "thug" era. He was Iverson, Sprewell, O'Neal, and Marbury. Bryant was a part of the old guard, and no one was hoping that six years later, it would be a duality involving him, and not Anthony, that would be the dream Finals.

After Anthony and James finally did meet in the regular season, the hopes for the rivalry were reduced. After all, their respective teams won a total or thirty-four games in 2002-2003. That's a sum; aggregate; COMBINED. The idea that these two kids, whose combined AGES were merely thirty seven, would take these two teams, with their combined zero Finals appearances, to the Finals, in the same year, seemed somewhat preposterous. Hope and hype gave way to realism and awareness.

Marc Stein of ESPN said, "It's the most unrealistic expectation yet to be placed on LeBron James. And Carmelo Anthony shares it with him. Let's all please stop with this stuff about these two recreating Magic vs. Larry." Mark Heisler of the L.A. Times sarcastically treated their first regular season match-up, more as a dais for roasting the hype. He joked " Yes, the league that gave you Wilt Chamberlain vs. Bill Russell and Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird now proudly presents ...LeBron James vs. Carmelo Anthony?" He went on, " . . . be careful what you televise, buy commercial time on or tune in to, you just might get it . . . There was the Goodyear blimp beaming, "The Future is Now ... LeBron vs. Melo," and providing shots of the glittering Cleveland skyline.
This was unusual for an indoor event but the blimp had a nice view of the adjacent baseball stadium as well as the Gund Arena roof, under which James and Anthony dueled to see whose future this was."

So we had a problem. We had a hyped duality that was primed to save the league, but the mainstream sports press (and most logical observers) were insulted by the presumptions that this seed would sprout to fruition, hence saving the NBA and ridding the league of the evil-doers (see: Artest, Ron). These two kids, and more importantly these two teams, were not ever meeting in the Finals. Give it up, stop talking about, and let's enjoy watching Shaq, a rapist, and two aging veterans run the table and win their rightful rings.


Now its 2009. Lebron is MVP. Kobe is last year's. Kobe lost last year's Finals. Lebron lost two years ago. Kobe and Lebron shared the captain title in the Olympics. Lebron and Kobe star in the new Nike commercial portraying the two as puppets. Meanwhile, Carmello, the supposed second half of the holy duality, came into this season with a career 4-20 playoff record. His two biggest stories in his career were a "Stop Snitchin'" video he did, and his sucker punch thrown at Madison Square Garden. His career has not been, per se, a disappointment, but by no means has he lived up to his potential. And now he sits 4 wins away from the Finals, and most likely a meeting with James. It is finally here. The potential has lived up to the hope and we sit a mere eight victories away from the rivalry that WE built six years ago. We should be looking at our creation and beeming with paternal pride. And yet, the hype about 2009, the story, the theme, the prayer, is that Carmello, one step away from where we never believed he'd get, will lose to Byrant's Lakers.

You don't need me to tell you, it has been ordained by higher forces that the Lakers will meet the Cavaliers in the Finals, and this must happen. Cynics are calling for a Nuggets-Celtics Finals. Traditionalists are hoping for Lakers-Celtics. Purists are calling for a Rockets-Cavs. But the hype, the commercials, and public discourse is all discounting any scenario that is not: Lebron and Kobe. Bethlehem Shoals of freedarko and The Sporting News's The Baseline says of the potential, "So turn down the commercials, stop reading the columns, and tell all your friends that Denver's going all the way. As long as you can admit, in your heart of hearts, that LeBron vs. Kobe would be a pretty amazing series to be forced to sit through."

Wait? What happened? What happened to these two guys saving the league? What happened to it never being possible? What happened to the Holy Duality!?!?!? It's Lebron and KOBE? I thought he was going to jail? Or getting older? I thought he destroyed the Laker dynasty, set the league back, and was considered one of the least popular players in the league? I'm confused. But what I'm more confused about is the lack of anyone bringing up the fruition of all of the prayers from six years ago. This very well could be it. The true start of a rivalry that was abruptly put on hold on a snowy November night in Cleveland six years ago, when Denver defeated Cleveland by fourteen and Lebron's 7 were a low-light in his 3-11 shooting night.

Obviously, if the Nuggets can take a game from the Lakers/Rockets and maybe stir things up, we will start to remember, but I want it now. The only two teams in the conference finals are led by Anthony and James and I want to know where everyone went. Where are the believers, the optimists, and the faithful? Where are the cynics, the realists, and the naysayers? Where is the league, so adept at training our eyes towards certain characters, stories, and settings? Why wait? Why root against it? Sure, Kobe vs. Lebron would be amazing, but so would Lebron vs. Anthony—at least that's what you told us six years ago…

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Talkin' Hoops

Over the last month-and-a-half, I find myself constantly reading basketball blogs, pouring over old basketball articles (under the guise of primary research for my thesis), and constant discussion about the current state of the NBA, as well as historical issues such as Ray Allen vs. Reggie Miller, Kobe vs. Michael, and the historical context of the current era of officiating. It suddenly dawned on me, that despite my own belief that baseball was my favorite sport, and the Browns were my favorite team, I think I like talking about hoops most. And I want to figure out WHY that is. Of course the very simple answer to this question is: I am from Cleveland and I live in Los Angeles, and representatives from those two cities are currently favored to meet in the finals of the field of sixteen's (now seven) tournament.

But I think there's more. As a bartender in the City of Kobe, ahem, Angels, I am privileged to talk to a lot of pretty dedicated hoops fans that have experienced some pretty heady moments in NBA history. Also, it should be noted: LA fans get a bad rap as being fair-weather—I am hear to say that—at least Lakers fans—are some of the most knowledgeable, dedicated, and educated fans of any team I have met. They are the anti-Boston sports fans. Conversations with this group (leaving out the occasional irrational Kobe nut) often leave me satisfied and informed about the perspective of West Coast hoops fans.

I apologize for that brief transgression. As I was saying: as a bartender, I have been lucky enough to have some pretty intense conversations in the last few months, conversations I feel that I have rarely been able to have at such a consistent level about baseball and SURELY about football. Here is my theory on why:

Baseball is about statistics, and results. Opinions, even empirical evidence rarely can trump the veracity of statistics. Conversations about baseball—at least those I tend to become involved in—are often comparing the use and utility of particular stats. How important are stats like RBIs and wins, when OBP, slugging, IP, and Ks seem to be better barometers of production? Discussions about baseball are mathematic and definable. To use an academic analogy, baseball is a hard science, say chemistry—elements have defined atomic weights, predictable behavior around other elements, and tend to follow certain physical laws that are pretty easily defined. Hoops is not like this. Hoops is a soft science, like say anthropology. You can apply similar methods to analysis, but at the end of the day, the both the results, and the methods of analysis themselves, will be open to interpretation.

Football on the other hand seems to be about excess and sensationalism. We are rarely impressed with historical context, we rarely discuss cultural significance, there is very little room for non-traditional thinking, and, really, discussions about the NFL tend to be mind-numbingly narrow. That is not to say I do not LIKE the NFL, it is merely a weird trend you can call the American Idol phenomenon. Like American Idol, the NFL inspires plenty of discussion and conversations, but these conversations, regardless of age, education, social status, or any other mitigating factor, tend to me remarkably similar in breadth and relevance. Conversations about last months draft were astoundingly similar in any circle. Furthermore, we tend to be impressed, not by ability, intelligence, or grace, but by size, speed, and strength. We are impressed by 6'4" linebackers who run forty yards in less than four-and-a-half seconds. We are impressed by 6'6" inch receivers who can outrun a cheetah. Unfortunately, conversations I would like to have—conversations about the social and racial implications regarding the self-lionization of the players, conversations about leadership, conversations about alternative perspectives on the game—are rarely, if ever, welcome. I find this incredibly frustrating, that every conversation regarding the NFL, is compressed down to a simple analysis with very little room for external thought.

Which brings me to the NBA. So much about the NBA lends itself to informed and substantial discourse that a short list here will not nearly do justice, but let me try. Issues in the NBA span such a broad spectrum of education, analysis, and society, that every conversation you can have can be different. The game cannot be explained simply by numbers so that arguments over who is better at what, seem to all have, at least a small amount, or validity. The two month playoff system (which can be exhausting) lends itself to a two month cavern of nationally televised games in which casual fans participate, and hard-core fans are submerged. The games are played by players with no hats or helmets so that every corn-row, braid, smile, sneer, tear, and cringe are exposed with virtually nothing to get in the way. The game is played with an indefinable grace that makes the play of some of the league's stars so tangible yet unquantifiable that the only externalization available is discourse and verbal awe.

The obvious example of this phenomenon is Lebron. Lebron is doing things that many people have not seen before. This is interesting, because if the game were analyzed like baseball, this would not be the case. Lebron's numbers are similar to Oscar's, Bird's, Michael's, and a few more guys. But he is doing it differently. What exactly is different about Lebron compared to his predecessors? THAT is the discussion. Is it his size, his determination, his youthful exuberance, perhaps his game's influence by other players, his individual rivalry with Kobe, his team's rivalry with Boston, his own historical significance, his responses to criticisms levied on him by the press in the last five years. All of these play a part in the formation of Lebron James. Then, subsequently, there is discussion about his game on the court. His style, the way he has a weird ability to hit half-court shots, his Dr. J dunks, his Magic-like passing, it's all up for discussion. In baseball, it's numbers; in football is structured rigidity that takes away from the overall substance of any conversation or participation in any contextual analysis of the game, in basketball, it's about the individual, the team, the history, the culture, and then, after all of that, there's still a champion.

Why is it that the best basketball players are judged by how many rings they've won, while football players and baseball players are judged by individual achievements? Why is it that the personality and charm of the basketball player is so much more important than the dullness and litany of other sports (presented beautifully by Kevin Costner in Bull Durham in the cliché speech on the bus)? The answers to these questions are as great as the answers to questions about the game itself. Basketball, unlike other major team sports, is simply a matter of discussion.

Friday, May 8, 2009


Of all of the hypocrisies created by the "War on Drugs," perhaps the most tangible and quantifiable is that of the current steroids war within Major League Baseball. I am not the first person to point out these hypocrisies, nor am I in a respected minority. It seems as if almost all branches of communication are vehemently "anti-steroid" which is eerily similar to being "anti-terror." Of course, terror is a bad thing, as are steroids, and supporting bad things is akin to participating in bad things, and none of us want to be confused with a terrorist or a drug abuser, so down with terror and down with steroids.

The terror/steroid links don't just end there. The arguments for why exactly the two parallel "wars" must be waged seem to follow a similar ubiquitous, yet never quite concrete line of reasoning. For instance: "Excuse me Mr. Bush, why again are we invading Iraq, and again, tell me, why must we continue to wage war there after six years of stalemate?"

"Oh yeah, they were masterminds behind 9/11. Wait, they weren't involved...umm, they have something bad, something we need to rid them of, let's see…let's try this buzzword: weapons of mass destruction. No? OK then…this Saddam guy is pretty malicious, we'll ignore all of the other repressive dictatorships and bring this one down…what's that you say? Oh, we did that five years ago? Hmmm…have we installed democratic government there? No? That's it! Democratic government."

Similar lines of justification have surrounded the steroid "epidemic." We've heard that it taints the record books. It's cheating. It is harmful to the body. It gives players a competitive advantage. It's not natural. And quite simply "drugs are bad."

Why all the justifications, each of which is fundamentally flawed, and yet almost universally, amongst the press, the league, the common fan, and even ex-players seem to be unconditionally in agreeance that this problem is the biggest problem in sports.

First off, let's remember that NFL players have been busted for using these drugs for years. Players receive short suspensions and are forgiven. In baseball, we talk about players' legacies, their Hall of Fame credentials, and their attacks on the integrity of the game. You hear that Shawn Merriman, INTEGRITY OF THE GAME! HA. You've got more important attacks on integrity of your game; things like end-zone dances and trash-talk.

Given this week's news about Manny Ramirez, and questions about his Hall of Fame votes, let's address the justifications and see who else isn't getting into the hall of fame.

Drugs are bad: Ok, so players that do drugs are out, huh? OK, Mickey, Babe, and Ty, sorry, but despite your iconic careers, your literary legacies, and your incredible numbers, your alcohol abuse and participation in underworld culture keeps you out. And as far as the law is concerned, just because alcohol is legal now, doesn't mean it was legal then. Babe, those speakeasy trips are going to cost you. Sorry pal.

And while we're talking about Babe, let's address this tainting of the record books. Anyone that played before 1947, didn't have to play against black players. You know what, let's make this 1959, when Pumpsie Green became the first black player on the last team to integrate. So, Babe, Ty, Gherrig, Foxx, Wagner, Williams, Dimaggio – you guys are gone. Imagine if a marginal pitcher like say, Steve Avery never had to face Barry Bonds, Gary Sheffield, Kenny Lofton, or Mo Vaughn. Imagine if someone like Steve Finley never had to face C.C. Sabathia, Doc Gooden, or Lee Smith. Isn't that a little more of a competitive advantage than getting an extra four feet on a fly ball, or returning from injury three weeks earlier.

Speaking of injuries, the argument of late against steroids has been about how unnatural it is. Working out, that's natural. Batting practice, rehab assignments, and vitamins are natural, steroids are not. This is true…kind of. Steroids simply increase production of hormones that are produced naturally. So, while the drug itself is unnatural, the result is simply an unnatural increase of a natural substance. You know what isn't natural? Taking cartilage from your left elbow and putting it in your right. This procedure is more commonly known as Tommy John surgery. Mariano Rivera, Paul Molitor, and Pat Hentgen are all subjects to this completely unnatural surgery. As are current MLB stars, Chris Carpenter, Tim Hudson, Carlos Quentin, and Josh Johnson. These guys can forget the Hall of Fame, and, as per the war of steroids, have tainted their legacy and destroyed the integrity of the game.

Integrity. What an interesting concept. There are two main schools of thought against steroids. There's the record book school, and the integrity school. The record-book school assumes that scores of innocent, pre-pubescent children are somewhere pouring over books filled with statistics and numbers, and these children's innocence will somehow be compromised when come across Brady Anderson's 1996.

The integrity school assumes that the sport is not a business, but a game, played in either a prairie, or a busy Brooklyn street. The game is not played under lights, but somewhere in between Walt Whitman's death, and Ken Burns's birth. Compromising the integrity of such an idyllic slice of Americana is both unpatriotic and careless. But what these critics often seem to conveniently forget was that up until two years ago, the use of most of the Performance enhancing drugs that are currently under such scrutiny was simply not against the rules. Scuffing the ball of (see: Perry, Gaylord), use of violence (see: Cobb, Ty), and collusion (see: all owners up until the late 1970s) WAS, in fact against the rules. Not only does this find flaw in the "cheating" argument, but acknowledgement that rules are not always just, needs to be considered.

The most obvious would be the color ban that changed the way the first half of the twentieth century was played. How about the raising of the pitchers mound in the early 1960s? Pitchers like Koufax, Drysdale, Gibson, and Marichel certainly played within the rules, but the rules gave them a distinct advantage. Until Curt Flood came along, rules made the players pieces of property, slaves under the plantation-like leagues. There have been rules banning curve balls, a rule placing an asterisk behind certain records, even a crazy idea to let half of the teams put in a substitute hitter every time their pitcher bats, but not allowing the other half. Is this cheating? Of course not. But it kind of puts a damper on the whole "cheating argument."

And finally, the record books. Oh the record books. The fictional metonym that seems to represent all that is good about baseball, and the innocent bystander in the drive-by shooting perpetuated by Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Manny Ramirez. The biggest problem with the argument that these players' actions have ruined the innocence of the record books is simply bogus. To read the record books without context, without understanding that eras change, rules change, and records are not as symmetrical as we all want them to be, taints a comparison between any eras, not just one that includes the last fifteen years. To read the record books without acknowledging Jackie Robinson, changes in technology, changes in rules, changes in the way the game is managed, tracked, followed, and consumed is as irresponsible as casual drug use. The 1990s brought us tiny ballparks, expansion, exponential improvements in technology, increased scrutiny and coverage, and yes…it included the rise of designer performance enhancing drugs. We know this. We acknowledge this. No one will ever try to compare Bonds's 73 with Ruth's 60. There are too many differences in the eras. Anyone that loves baseball knows these things, and if you don't love baseball, then put down that 1,200 page fictional tome that your reading and go watch American Idol.

The point of all of this is that, yes, steroids, performance enhancing drugs, weapons of mass slugging percentage, whatever you want to call them, have changed the game. Not for the worse, or for the better for that matter. Players who can jump from the minors to the majors, increasing their salary by 1500 % have to do this. Players who need to take a pill, vitamin, antibiotic, or steroid, to compete with the rest of the league, have to do it. It is us—the consumers, the media, and the players who are no longer good enough to play—that have the biggest problems with it. It hurts us. It affects us. I say to you that this issue is not a problem, it has been addressed, and eventually, not far off, we will find a new demon to attack. Let's all relax, watch some baseball, and if you really have a problem with all the drugs, maybe it's time you took a puff of pot, squinted real hard, and maybe you can see the game played in 1927…but a little more colorful.