Thursday, February 28, 2008

Bill Simmons Rhetorical Mailbag Questions: Answered

Bill Simmons published an NBA mailbag yesterday. In one particular question he’s decided to (rhetorically) ask you, the reader (yeah you) some questions. Instead of all of us readers flooding his e-mail with the answers, I’ll just answer for all of us on this widely read weblog. Cool?

Q: Before Andrew Bynum got hurt, the biggest change with him was effort. He looked like he was out to prove himself every night. The interesting question is, without all the Mamba drama in the offseason, would Bynum be as good now? I really think the answer is no. While calling out Bynum that way was distasteful, it might be one of those clear moves Jordan would have made, deriding a young star until he responded or was reduced to a shell of his former self (Kwame Brown.) Am I giving Kobe too much credit?-- David, San Jose, Calif.

SG: Not at all. You can't overstate how much one slight can change the course of someone's career. Does Dwyane Wade play like a man possessed if he didn't slip to No. 5 in 2003? Do Paul Pierce and Caron Butler have the same careers if they didn't fall to 10 in their drafts? Would Chris Paul be the 2008 MVP at the two-thirds mark if three teams didn't pass on him in 2005? Does Chauncey Billups turn into such a killer if Rick Pitino hadn't given up on him after 50 games? Does Baron Davis turn his career around if New Orleans never gave up on him? You could call it the first cousin of the "Nobody believed in us!" factor with team sports, in which an aggrieved player goes to another level partially because he's trying to shove it in somebody's face.

Let’s go over the questions separately.

Does Dwyane Wade play like a man possessed if he didn't slip to No. 5 in 2003?

Dwyane Wade plays no differently than he did if he was drafted in a slightly different slot. I can see him now….hmmm…I was GOING to go all out this game/practice/workout, but since I was only drafted behind Lebron and Melo I’m going to take it easy.

Do Paul Pierce and Caron Butler have the same careers if they didn't fall to 10 in their drafts?

If those same teams had drafted them (but in different slots), then yes….careers are the same.

Would Chris Paul be the 2008 MVP at the two-thirds mark if three teams didn't pass on him in 2005?

Yes, he plays the same in 2008 regardless of where he was drafted in 2005. I don’t think Paul says “yeah, take that Atlanta!… for taking Marvin Williams ahead of me!”….after he sinks a jump shot.

Does Chauncey Billups turn into such a killer if Rick Pitino hadn't given up on him after 50 games?

Um…hmmm…..well…if you’re going to credit Pitino giving up on Billups as being the reason why he’s such a “killer”, then how do you explain the fact that his performance from the midpoint of the 1997-98 season, when he was traded, was virtually on par with his next 5 ½ years in the league? Billups didn’t really show his “killer”-ness until he got to Detroit. So I’m going to say that going to the right environment, with the right teammates and coaching, is what helped Billups go the next level.

Does Baron Davis turn his career around if New Orleans never gave up on him?

Is Davis that different now, or is he just playing with better players in a better system while not being hurt? The numbers would say he’s not (that) much different, but I honestly don’t watch much Baron Davis. He was pretty much at his worst when he was traded. Perhaps some of his improvement would be the result of maturity and not being injured all the time? No, it can’t be that. He’s still mad at New Orleans. Wouldn’t Davis feel good about his ultimate treatment in New Orleans, since they sent him to a better (at the time) franchise in his hometown at at time that he himself wanted to leave?

I’m sure there are certain select cases of a player’s career being slightly different based on the fact that they were drafted at a spot that they felt was too low in the draft, but to imply at all that Chris Paul is the player he is today because he was so insulted that he fell all the way to the number four slot in the 2005 draft is stupid. Imagine how good Lebron James would have been if Carmelo Anthony was taken in front of him! That’s silly. Lebron is as good as he can be, and a player’s performance and reputation on the court is the product of their talent, skills, effort, fitness level, teammates, coaching, and luck (injuries, foul calls, some big shots going in/out, etc.). Nowhere in that equation is “draft position”.

I’d also like to point these excerpts out:

David (San Jose): Am I giving Kobe too much credit?

Bill Simmons: Not at all.

Bill Simmons (2 paragraphs later): The funny thing is that it probably wasn't Kobe's intent at all; it just worked out that way.

So Kobe gets the credit for Bynum’s improvement (it obviously has nothing to do with the fact that he’s now in his third year and isn’t in his teens anymore and is a good player...he just wasn't trying before) even though Kobe’s intent was (probably) to just be an asshole and make fun of him, not to ridicule him into improving. The credit goes to....Kobe.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Sports Illustrated: You Can’t Fool Me

In this week’s Sports Illustrated, Chris Ballard wrote a fairly lengthy piece on the Slam Dunk (that I have not read yet). But last night, thumbing through it, I noticed that the picture of Michael Jordan “dunking” that they included was not actually a dunk.

The story is online, with the same picture. Here is the picture.

This layup was one of three left-handed layups that Jordan had in game 2 of the 1991 NBA finals during his streak of 13 consecutive shots without a miss. He had two of the more ordinary variety, then the streak culminated in the now-famous, vastly over-rated “switch” shot (think Gatorade commercials) where he moved the ball from his right to his left hand for no particular reason. That was shot number 13 in the streak.

Sports Illustrated, take that! Burned.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Colin Cowherd, WHAT???

From today’s show, talking about Kobe Bryant:

“Offensively, he’s the greatest player I’ve ever seen because he’s the most creative. Whereas Jordan relied on two or three stock moves for much of his offense. Kobe makes stuff up, every time down the floor.”

Ignoring the fact that a player who dribbles the ball only with his right hand, but goes 20 for 20 every game on 17 foot two handed setshots would arguably be the least creative offensive player ever, yet still arguably be the best, what the fuck are you talking about????

Cowherd did say that Jordan was a better player than Kobe Bryant. But can we pause on this? Jordan relied on two or three stock moves? WHAT? WHAT?????

No really, in all seriousness, WHAT?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Magic Johnson Repeats Himself, Again

The NBA held it's annual Slam Dunk Contest this past Saturday night. You can check out some video of Dwight Howard and Gerald Green doing some pretty creative dunks here.

This was the 9th consecutive All-Star Saturday that the NBA has held a dunk contest. The event was a marquee event of the weekend from its (NBA) inception in 1984 through about 1994. I would say from 1995-1997, the event had become somewhat stale as the dunkers struggled to come up with much in the way of "new" dunks and the judges and fans reacted as if they were watching terrible dunkers doing terrible dunks, which wasn't true. They were watching dunkers do significantly better dunks than they were doing in 1987 (some of Jordan's dunks included), but their memories sucked. So the NBA scrapped the contest in 1998 and rolled out the most boring 15 minutes in TV history with a short lived game called "two-ball". The lockout left us All-Star weekendless in 1999, and then the dunk contest was brought back in 2000. That year, Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady and Steve Francis officially brought the dunk contest "back". It was an exciting contest that saw Carter break out numerous dunks that had never been seen in the NBA contest before.

In the 8 dunk contests since then, we've seen Jason Richardson, perhaps the best NBA dunk contest dunker ever, threw a ball off the backboard and put it through his legs. We've seen a 5'7" dunker do dunks that Spud Webb would have struggled to do with using a tennis ball. We've seen some great dunks. Some years were less remarkable (the Fred Jones year doesn't really stand out), but some have been really good, and some dunkers have done crazy stuff (Richardson, Carter, Robinson, Iguodala, etc.).

But the one constant, is that just about every year, Magic Johnson gets himself into one of his Elmer Fudd laughing fits and announces that the dunk contest "is back". "The dunk contest is back!". I bet there's been 5 contests since the dunk contest was in fact, back, that he's announced on TNT at least once (usually more) that "the slam dunk contest is back ahahhahahahahhaahhaahahaha!". Shut up, Magic Johnson.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Chris Berman Continues to Ruin The Greatest Highlights

This past week I’ve been enjoying some of the old NBA all-star weekend highlights in the NBA's list of top 10 plays (on

Some notes/recommendations:

1989 – This was an odd all-star game, as it was played in the Astrodome and it didn’t feature Bird or Magic, both out with injuries. It was insanely high scoring and up-tempo. John Stockton had 9 assists in the first quarter alone. It did include guys like Kevin Duckworth, Mark Eaton, Kareem in his last ASG, Terry Cummings, and Larry Nance. Sounds boring right? Well, fortunately Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins, Charles Barkley and Isiah Thomas showed up. Some of the plays featured at include Isiah passing it off the backboard to Jordan for a dunk, Isiah throwing a 40 foot bounce pass to Jordan for a dunk, and a sequence of events ( doesn’t show the whole sequence, but does include the two plays from it in the top 10 plays) where Patrick Ewing rejects a two hand dunk attempt by Olajuwon, a jump ball is called (in West territory), and Isiah Thomas catches the tip off the jump – and in one motion immediately releases a downcourt pass over everyone’s head to Charles Barkley for a 2 handed dunk. Isiah might be the most entertaining all-star player ever.

I also recommend the ’92 game (includes Barkley knocking over Mutumbo with a left-handed dunk), ’88, ’98, ’90 and others. ’90 Includes Barkley stuffing Hakeem Olajuwon and Jordan dunking on David Robinson on the baseline, and it’s also the last ASG with Bird and Magic. Just great stuff for NBA fans of that era. I’ll try to watch most of the years when I get a chance. There’s a number of things to like about what has done in compiling the list, such as seeing the old stars in their prime and hearing the great Hubie Brown/Dick Stockton calls from the late 80’s. That's what led me to write this post.

Part of what is great about watching any great highlights/moments in sports is hearing the original calls made by the broadcast team. Some examples:

“Do you believe in Miracles?”
“I don’t believe…what I just saw!”
“The Giants win the Pennant!”
“Annnd….now there’s a steal by Bird…underneath to DJ and he lays it in!”

Those are just a few off the top of my head.

So, why does ESPN insist on showing the old highlights in their “Greatest Highlight” segment with Chris Berman doing the call in 2008? Why do they bastardize these old clips like that? Is that the whole point of featuring him in this segment? Chris Berman sounds lame when he’s calling highlights LIVE….never mind him using contrived calls to capture the emotion of great sports moments that, in many cases, were perfectly captured by the original announcers, who were better than Berman and were actually feeling real emotion when they made the call. I just heard him “call” the Kirk Gibson homer in the 1988 World Series….it was awkward. He sounds like a guy at a broadcasting fantasy camp or something.

I guess my point is that I dislike Chris Berman.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Jon Heyman, I Don't Believe You

In the 2/11 "Daily Scoop", Jon Heyman of CNNSI included this brief paragraph about Don Mattingly.

• Don Mattingly did the right thing as usual by choosing his family over the Dodgers' hitting coach job, and many believe that he also cut his playing career a few years short for similar family reasons. That decision may have cost him being a part of the Yankees' late-90s dynasty as well as possible entrance into the Hall of Fame, but Mattingly has never said a thing about it publicly.

Don Mattingly's last season was in 1995, when he hit 7 homeruns with a .288 average a .341 OBP. I have not heard of anyone, until the paragraph above, ever speculate that he retired because of family issues and not his back and lack of productivity at the plate. Of course, Heyman’s “many” could be his contacts that I of course have no access to, but I personally think he’s just pulling this paragraph out of his ass. From my point of view, Mattingly was done as a star caliber player when he retired, and probably a season away from being a part-timer if he chose to stay on. He was not going to be a serious (star caliber) contributor a championship team (again, maybe a part-time player, but that flies in the face of the HOF talk). Mattingly could always hit for a decent average, but when he lost his power in the late 80’s he was really no longer a star. His great glove and pretty good BA at first base was diminished by his terrible power and the fact that he didn't walk much or have any speed.

Mattingly played 770 games over 6 seasons in the 1990’s. In those games he hit 58 home runs, or 12 per 162 games. I certainly don’t think that Mattingly hitting another 58 homeruns and a bunch of singles over his next 770 games was going to get him in the Hall of Fame or a continuous spot on the Yankees' roster.

I liked Mattingly (he was one my favorite players), and it’s a shame his back gave him so much problems. I also give him credit for walking away when he did and not creating the awkward “um, Bernie Williams, you suck now, go away” moment that a certain NY center fielder created.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Suns Trade for Big, Title Almost Assured

The title of this post is a summary of Scoop Jackson’s assessment of the big Shaquille O’Neal for Shawn Marion (and Marcus Banks) trade in the NBA. “Big” is apparently a nickname for Shaq, because Scoop innocuously calls him that a few times with no color provided. An example?

Big might come to town rejuvenated.

I hate you.

Let’s skip ahead to some of his thoughts (these are just excerpts, full column is here - it does include more basketball analysis than I'll lead you to believe):

And before the Suns ended up like the Grizzlies after trading Pau Gasol and getting "the twin of nothing" in return for the Matrix, they decided to get someone who, if you checked his history, guarantees your team will either get to the NBA Finals or win a ring.

That’s it, picking up Shaq guarantees you a finals appearance! Done. Start printing the t-shirts. This is based on how Shaq’s teams have performed when he was a dominating big man, which is not what he is now of course, but who cares? Why not just trade Steve Nash for Robert Horry! Steve Nash has never made the finals, and Horry has 7 rings! You can’t lose! Then you can start sizing those rings right now! It’s so easy. Is Horace Grant available? There’s a guaranteed finals appearance.

I hate this line of thinking. Well it’s always been this way, so it’ll just continue. Enron never missed a quarter either. They always made their earnings targets…and then some. Until…..they didn’t. Within about 6 weeks of announcing that they (finally) missed a quarter they became the then biggest bankruptcy of all-time. The Patriots never lost a game this season…until they lost the Super Bowl. Shaq has never played on a team that didn’t make the finals, until _____?

Maybe Phoenix will make the finals (they have a very good team and a recent history of success), but it won’t be because Orlando did in 1995. They certainly had a good chance at making the Finals without even making this trade, so it’s not like Shaq should get all the credit if they do anyway. But he will. Even if Shaq averages 5 and 5 we’ll be hearing about how his presence made winners out of the rest of the team, which had superstars but none who’ve even made a Finals before because they are losers who needed a winner to show them the way.

Orlando? Finals in three years. L.A.? Finals in four years, three rings in eight. Miami? Finals and ring in his second season.

Scoop, I just addressed this, dummy. Read the paragraphs above yours.

See, the Suns are outthinking all y'all.

Fuck you and your fucking crappy slang.

They know that one thing comes almost assured with this trade: They will win a title with Shaquille O'Neal in the lineup.

Almost assured! Done! Just wait until the last paragraph when Scoop unveils his secret for how he’ll win a title….they just have to expect nothing from him!

It's just a matter of whether the one ring they get with him is worth the years they won't win while he's still there. The Suns have never won an NBA championship -- just like Miami before Shaq arrived. And if they're smart, they can take the one they'll win and milk it for 30 years -- just like Portland. The question is if $20 million per for the next two seasons is worth getting the one year of ring service they're going to get from Shaq.

Seriously, just start printing the banners. Shawn Marion who? That guy was keeping them down!

The fact is, by attaining the services of Shaquille O'Neal and not expecting or needing much from a productivity standpoint in return, the Phoenix Suns may have made the most ingenious move in the NBA in the past 10 years. Only time will tell. It's just a matter of how wrong they -- and he -- really want to prove the world to be.

If you’re scoring at home, the most ingenious NBA move in the last 10 years is trading an All-Star player (and their best defensive player) in Shawn Marion for a seriously declining, old Shaq O’Neal who is owed a sick amount of money AND THEN NOT EXPECTING HIM TO BE OR NEEDING HIM TO BE PRODUCTIVE! Brilliant!

What do you mean only time will tell? You guaranteed them a finals spot and then said they’re going to get “one year of ring service” from Shaq! You said they were “almost assured of a title”. Time will tell my ass, this is a lock!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Gregg Easterbrook Thinks He’s Smarter Than Every NFL Team

If you’ve read Gregg Easterbrook’s Tuesday Morning Quarterback before you know that he likes to go off and discuss, at length, random things. Cheerleaders, astronomy, economics, environmental policy, etc. are the usual fare for Easterbrook. He also has a running commentary about the executive structure of NFL teams, which he finds to be ridiculously layered with executives. He spent some time on this topic in this week's column. I will focus on what he said about the New England Patriots for the simple reason that he says they are the most “top-heavy” and because I believe it’s a good example of how he doesn’t know what he’s talking about here.

First, a portion of his commentary:

• The Patriots, this year's winner for most top-heavy front office, have a chairman and CEO, a president, a vice president of player personnel, a chief administrative officer, a chief financial officer, a chief operating officer, three other vice presidents, two executive directors, two people who both hold the title director of sales, a director of strategic initiatives, and 12 other directors.

Morons! Easterbrook could run that shit with 5 people and a monkey. He’d of course add an Executive VP, Football God Compliance because he thinks Football Gods are real or something. Anyway, so that’s 26 executives.

Later he says:

When pondering football title inflation, bear in mind that individual NFL franchises are fairly small economic entities. Forbes magazine estimates that the Patriots earn about $255 million in annual revenue, with about $200 million in revenue being the NFL average. If $200 million sounds like a lot, it's half the annual revenue of Barney's, the New York department store. There are many enterprises viewed as small businesses whose revenue exceeds the $200 million brought in annually by the typical NFL team; $200 million in revenue just doesn't justify large numbers of grandiose executive titles. If General Electric had the same ratio of titles to revenue as the Patriots, GE would employ 652 presidents, 1,304 executive directors, 1,956 chief officers and 9,780 directors.

As usual, Easterbrook does a good job of oversimplifying things to support his argument. The statement that the revenue number is half the revenue of Barney’s (which is more than 1 store, of course) is meaningless, as they are completely different businesses. It’s also very misleading for a different reason, which I’ll explain later. He ignores the fact that the CEO of a company is almost entirely devoted to that Company. They typically serve on a few charitable boards and may possibly be on the board of other companies, but those are not their jobs by any stretch. Bob Kraft’s role as the CEO of the Patriots is not analogous to that of a CEO of a similarly sized company, for a variety of reasons. His job is to oversee his broad business holdings, of which includes the New England Patriots. Many CEO’s of pro sports teams are just rich guys who manage their investments, one of which is their team. The following is from the Patriots’ website:

Kraft founded The Kraft Group to serve as the holding company for the family's varied business interests, which are concentrated in five specific areas: the distribution of forest products, paper and packaging manufacturing, sports and entertainment, real estate development and private equity investing.

This guy’s role with the Patriots is not analogous to the CEO of Barney’s at all. Not unless that guy/girl is also running a timber operation or something. Also, the Kraft Group’s revenues in total are almost certainly higher than Barney’s, which makes Barney’s as a point of reference even more off-base. Using GE as an example is terrible, as I’m sure they have a startlingly high number of executives anyway given that they have about 320,000 employees. Using Easterbrook’s lame extrapolated supposedly-hyperbolic numbers (based on revenues) to compute that there are 13,692 executives at GE, you’d wind up with executives representing about 4% of their workforce. That’s low. I know my Company has more than 4% of employees classified as Director level or above. If your business has 50 employees, don’t you have more than 2 executives? Unless you are working in an all-manufacturing environment or a larger business with thousands of lower level employees with compartmentalized job skills, I would think this is true.

So Easterbrook has noted that the Patriots have a Chairman/CEO, that’s Robert Kraft (above), as well as a President, Jonathan Kraft. Let’s read what the Patriots website says about Jonathan’s job:

Kraft's NFL obligations are only a small part of his day to- day responsibilities, which are as diversified as the many different companies he oversees. The Kraft Group has a diversity of interests concentrated in five specific areas: the distribution of forest products, paper and packaging manufacturing, sports and entertainment, real estate development and private equity investing and Kraft is responsible for overseeing the operations of each division.

Does it sound like he’s spending the bulk of his time on the Patriots? Do you think the President of Barney’s job description starts with “so and so’s Barney’s obligations are only a small part of his/her day to day responsibilities”. What Easterbrook fails to recognize is that the top 2 executives of the Patriots are tied into to Kraft’s other businesses, and most others also devote a significant amount of time to Gillete Stadium, which the Kraft Group owns. Don’t forget that if the team owns the stadium then that is a year-round business that requires executives (operational, sales, finance, etc.) to oversee to make sure that this asset worth several hundred million dollars is being fully utilized for economic purposes while being maintained. That’s a full-time business. Here, let’s look at a portion of the Patriots’ COO’s job description:

As Chief Operating Officer he oversees the daily business operations of each department in the organization to ensure the efficient achievement of operational and financial objectives. With its active calendar of concerts, trade shows and private events within the Fidelity Investments Clubhouse, the stadium complex is a year-round convention center in addition to being a premier sports and entertainment venue.

Going back to his revenue number, if U2 performs a concert at Gillette Stadium, does it show up in the Patriots’ revenue figure? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t just assume it does.

It’s not entirely uncommon for a company with revenues of a few hundred million (let’s say domestic only, to keep it simple) to have the following executives:

Overall Executives
- CEO/President (could also be two roles)
- COO (or some companies just call this type of role the President)
- Could have….Chief Marketing Officer, Chief Technology Officer (hi-tech), Chief Accounting Officer, etc.

Functional Executives
- VP, Marketing
- VP, Research & Development
- VP or Director, Human Resources
- VP, Sales
- VP, IT/IS (could be two Director roles)
- VP, Professional Services (or manufacturing, Ops management etc. – industry specific).
- VP, Corporate Controller
- VP or Director of Finance (FP&A, budgeting, finance management of verticals, etc.)
- VP, Corporate/Business Development
- Other potential VPs = Strategy (related), Mergers and Acquisitions, Product Marketing, Customer Service, etc.

Business (verticals) Executives
- GM – Business line 1
- GM – Business line 2
- GM – Business line 3

Industry specifics and company size dictate the org chart of a company, that’s just meant to be a quick overview of what you tend to see.

Now here’s where it gets interesting (or probably really, really, painfully boring), each of the functional executives likely have at least 1 Director level executive reporting to them. In something as important as development for a hi-tech company or a pharmaceutical company (even a small one, pre-revenue), there could be 2-3 VP’s reporting to a Senior VP, and those VP’s could have responsibility for certain product lines possibly (or disciplines – pharmacology, chemistry for a biotech, etc.) with Director level employees under them. For sales, you could have a few Directors managing sales teams by geography or vertical or both and reporting to a VP of Sales. Or you could have a VP of Sales under each vertical. In finance, under the Controller or CFO, you probably have a director (or VP) of tax and Divisional Controllers. Each of the GM’s likely have a “Director of Operations” or something analogous for that line. Also, I’ve ignored legal but a fair number of small/mid-size public companies employ a VP/Director level internal legal resource.

What I’m saying is that you can easily get to 26 executives. While that may be a more robust org chart that he is considering when looking at an NFL franchise (and the 26 execs above), my point is that the number of executives is not surprising to me nor does he have any basis for saying it's extreme in comparison to businesses of similar size/complexity.

So the point of this long, boring post, is to say that Easterbrooks’ long running rant/joke about the number of executives at NFL teams is a stupid waste of time. I’m sure some teams are top-heavy, just like some companies, but this isn’t worth the effort that he (or I) have put into it.

David Tyree has a Good Sense of Humor

Giants WR David Tyree did an ESPN chat today. It included the following:

Mikey (NY): Congrats on becoming a NY hero! You seem to have avery strong hands, is that just natural, or do you work on your hand strength?

David Tyree: (12:53 PM ET ) What are you trying to say?!?! I'm married! But no.

and later...

Herb (Philly): Was there any stickum on your helmet?

David Tyree: (1:12 PM ET ) Are you really a Giants fan? Because I cannot release information to the enemy.

David Tyree: (1:13 PM ET ) We may have a Stick'um gate on our hands.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Dr. Z Right, GGAS Wrong

Well so much for the new “predictions” label. I’m guessing most people out there enjoyed the Super Bowl.

The play that made the game was Eli Manning evading a certain sack late in the 4th quarter on 3rd and 5 to find David Tyree, who made an unreal catch under pressure by pretty much pinning the ball against his helmet while Rodney Harrison was on top of him. That one play changed NFL history. Maybe the Giants pull out a first down after that, but that play also picked up over 30 yards.

Without that play I think it’s extremely likely that the Giants lose, the Patriots are 19-0, and there’s no talk of choke and talks of the Greatest Team Ever are rampant again. It’s funny how one play can do so much. That’s what makes sports so great. One play. Without the play the Patriots are fielding questions about being the best ever.

I still go back to the Ravens game, the one that the Patriots lost, twice, but were bailed out by a timeout call and a false start. Without that luck, they are likely 17-1 heading into the game and we escape weeks and weeks of undefeated, 19-0 and ’72 Dolphins talk. But again, two plays….neither of them actually “plays”. A timeout and a false start on that Monday night, and here we are, talking about how they blew the chance at 19-0.

Personally, I wanted the Patriots to win, but I’m pretty unemotional that they lost since I’ve invested so little emotion into the team over the years. Fans that I’ve run into are disappointed, but not distraught. I think there’s been too much winning lately to really cause the kind of disappointment that Boston fans used to feel after, say, the Red Sox would collapse in the playoffs. Three Super Bowl wins and the Red Sox winning the World Series (so recently) will do that. I should also note that I don’t hang out with rabid Patriots fans though. I’m also very happy that the Belichick/Brady worshippers, particularly some of the guys on WEEI who shouted down any argument that the Patriots would lose now must deal with the reality that they did. That’s a great thing.

The only thing that makes this loss more dramatic than any other championship loss was the angle of going undefeated. They can win the Super Bowl next year or the year after because someone has to win it, but they aren’t going undefeated.

Now let’s hope that Jemele Hill writes so more crazy NBA shit in the near future, I’m bored.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Enjoy the Super Bowl

Paul Zimmerman of Sports Illustrated (Dr. Z) made some headlines this week when he announced that he was picking the Wild Card Giants to beat the 18-0 New England Patriots. Pretty bold. I don't make a habit of tracking Dr. Z's pick, but I was immediately reminded of this SI cover that came in the early 90's.

My prediction: Patriots over Giants, 37-23. Enjoy the game.

Jemele Hill Creates another Argument to Refute

Way back when I wrote this piece on Jemele Hill’s insane Jordan vs. Bryant comparison, I noted the following:

I HATE when writers make arguments for themselves to counter like this. Jemele is the queen of that.

Jemele has since done this a couple other times, most recently in her column explaining why it’s okay that Randy Moss quit on the Raiders. You’ll see a couple of allusions to “many people” and “some” who’ve criticized the situation because Moss was supposed to be on the receiving end of bad karma. I read a fair amount of national sports writing. Honestly, this is not being played up. This is not an issue. Jemele is framing it as an issue so that she can dispel it, with a crazy conclusion that it’s okay to give up and collect huge paychecks for little effort. Vince Carter, you’re in the clear.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Normally, I don't condone athletes giving up. But in Randy Moss' case, he was right to quit on the Oakland Raiders.

So you don’t condone athletes giving up, but in a really high profile case of an athlete giving up, you’re not just okay with it…you think it was the right thing to do.

I bring this up because what happened with the Raiders continues to dog Moss' legacy, just as Kobe Bryant's seemingly self-imposed no-show against Phoenix in a deciding playoff game continues to indict him as a selfish player. Moss should be the No. 2 story of Super Bowl XLII. (Tom Brady is No. 1, of course.) But despite an impressive display of sincerity at Tuesday's media day, some people are still having trouble buying the new, wiser Randy Moss.

Are people really talking about this? I suppose, a little. But my question is; why wouldn’t it part of his legacy? Should we just ignore negatives and only remember positives? Can we forget this holocaust business and just remember how orderly and efficient Hitler was as a leader? Who says Moss should be the number 2 story of the Super Bowl? These are a few stories that should be bigger than Moss.

1.) A chance at 19-0.

2.) Patriots w/ a chance to win their 4th SB in 7 years. Same for Brady and Belichick, which is how QB’s and coaches are measured and puts them further into historically significant company.

3.) Eli Manning’s improbable late season performance and maturity. Manning making the Super Bowl a year after his brother.

4.) The Giants making the Super Bowl despite having to win 3 straight tough road playoff games. The Giants overall resurgence that seems to have started with the great Pats game in week 17.

In the eyes of fans and more than a few sportswriters, Moss playing for a Super Bowl ring upsets the balance of the sports universe.

“More than a few sportswriters”…..who? Name a few.

To many people, Moss is proof that sports karma doesn't always work. Despite giving a lackluster effort for much of his two years in Oakland, the stars aligned to send Moss to the best franchise of the millennium, which has put him one victory away from unprecedented history.

“Many people”. Name one. Who are you arguing with? The stars didn’t “align”; the Patriots took a chance that many other teams decided would not have taken. It's also not really putting "him" into history, but "the team", of which he is a part. Not wrong, but sort of different.

"I had to stay positive, but in the back of my mind, I didn't know if I would get here or not," Moss said.

I understand why Moss makes sports purists feel nauseated. He'd have probably stayed in the MVP conversation a bit longer had his Oakland days been further behind him. Fans will accept contract disputes, unproductive superstars, even lengthy championship droughts. But quitting on your team? That's always deemed unacceptable.

No no no. Moss isn’t in the MVP conversation because Tom Brady just quarterbacked a 16-0 team with arguably the best statistical passing season in history. That sort of defaults the MVP to him. I didn’t read one “the MVP is Moss, but I’m not voting for him because of the Oakland days” column. Who tolerates superstars being unproductive? Fans hate that!

Yet, on rare occasions, there are exceptions. And Moss' situation with Oakland is one of them. Because the Raiders quit on Moss just as much as he quit on them.

No they didn’t, because they kept paying him. Let’s make this real clear.

Randy Moss’ obligation: Play football hard, up to his potential. Earn his compensation.

Raiders’ obligation: Pay Randy Moss his compensation, per his contract.

One of these things happened, and one didn’t.

Moss always has been emotional, and it's no secret he has struggled with handling losing with dignity, as evidenced by his tantrums over the years. "I approached the game, when I was young, very angry," Moss said. "Not at anyone in particular, just the game of football."

When Moss fled to Oakland from Minnesota, there were high expectations, since the Raiders were only two seasons removed from playing in the Super Bowl and Moss was considered a great talent. But frustrating injuries limited Moss' effectiveness. And bad coaching, questionable play-calling, working alongside fellow malcontents such as Warren Sapp and Jerry Porter, and failures at quarterback -- all this amounted to a Molotov cocktail for Moss, which resulted in the perennial All-Pro becoming disinterested and loathed.

Some teams are not very good. Some teams almost always suck. There are players, sometimes star players, on those teams. It is their job to perform, even if the team sucks. This is not hard. Michael Jordan never quit on the ’85 Bulls because they were a bunch of druggy unprofessionals. Magic Johnson disliked Paul Westhead, but he still played hard for him.

"I'm a football player," Moss said. "That's what I do. Things really weren't going like I expected them to go. Not as an individual, but as a team. We had Derrick Burgess, Warren Sapp, a lot of guys that have names throughout this league. Expectations were high. Football wasn't a main priority around there."

Warren Sapp didn’t make Randy Moss drop those passes.

How Moss handled things certainly was immature. But can anyone honestly blame him for feeling the way he did? People who hate their jobs don't give their all -- that's a simple reality. And usually the biggest reason people hate their jobs is because they aren't being inspired or developed.

I can’t blame Moss for feeling the way he did, but I can blame him for playing the way he did. Moss has a bunch of excuses for not performing well in Oakland, but one of them is not that it was okay to stop trying. That’s a terrible message.

Let’s do a little play:

Jemele Hill: “Jemele Jr. can I see your report card?”

Jemele Jr.: “Here you go Mom, I got 4 A’s and 1 F”

Jemele Hill: “An F! Why? What happened?”

Jemele Jr: “Well, there are some popular kids in the class, but they are not good students, so I stopped thinking that was important. Also, the teacher didn’t really inspire me that much. Mostly, I just wasn’t happy with how everyone around me was performing, so I stopped trying. Our class, as a whole, wasn’t succeeding, so why should I try? I knew the material, I could have gotten A’s, but I didn’t want to try."

Jemele Hill: “Sounds good to me, here’s your allowance!”

Looking at the debacle the Raiders franchise has become -- and the wheels were in motion before Moss arrived -- is it unreasonable Moss wouldn't put it all on the line for that dysfunctional franchise? Just look at the problems the Raiders are having now with head coach Lane Kiffin, who seems to be lashing out the same way Moss did.

Put it all on the line = play football hard? Yes. Yes it’s perfectly reasonable to think he would do that. You act like they were asking him to secure Taliban occupied caves in Afghanistan with a bunch of 10 year old cub scouts. They were asking him to play football, and they were paying him to play football.

A gross amount of money and an excess of athletic ability doesn't prohibit athletes from feeling the same frustrations regular people feel. Moss was no different than the 9-to-5 guy who can't stand his idiotic boss.

But that guy still tries! I’ve been that guy! I still tried! I wasn’t making millions of dollars a year either.

Years ago, when Barry Sanders retired from the Detroit Lions via fax machine, a large number of Lions fans were angry at what they perceived to be a betrayal. Sanders never shorted his effort on the field, though he did pout at times. But he left the Lions soon after receiving an $11 million signing bonus and the biggest contract of his career. Many fans felt he should have stuck it out. But Sanders later admitted he retired as a healthy 30-year-old because he felt the Lions would never win. And to think, Sanders thought that way about the Lions before the Matt Millen era was in full swing.

But, see, that’s okay (assuming he refunded the portion of his signing bonus that hadn’t vested) because Sanders, as you note, CONTINUED TO TRY, DESPITE HIS TEAM SUCKING. This is evidence for the exact opposite point you are making. All the excuses that Moss has, Sanders had, but he never let it excuse him from putting in the effort. So thank you for…proving…you...wrong.

Sanders knew he was too good to play for an organization that bad. He might have handled his situation more maturely than Moss, but ultimately they both realized their talent was far too great to be controlled by people who didn't know how to win.

But….he handled it…..the opposite way?!?!?! So that’s not good for your argument, right?

That's why, when Moss said Tuesday he wanted to retire as a Patriot, I believed him. Call Moss a front-runner, but he essentially wants what all great players want: to play for an organization dedicated not only to winning, but to fostering his ability. Just ask Archie Manning if he would rather be known for nobly sticking it out with the struggling New Orleans Saints, or finishing as a champion.

Ask Archie Manning if he wishes he could go back in time and quit on his football team, because he was unhappy. I think he’ll say no. Nowhere is it written that each excellent professional athelte deserves to get, or will ever get, a shot at a team championship.

Of course, Moss should be held accountable for his actions in Oakland (and Minnesota). But it shouldn't define his career, or be the reason people root against him in Sunday's Super Bowl. Moss has atoned for his behavior in Oakland, and it's obvious the Raiders had bigger problems than him.

Again, this is a defense of an argument that is not being made.

Now, if you want to root against Moss because of his recent alleged domestic violence incident, or his other brushes with the law, that's fine. But getting indignant about Moss quitting on Oakland, given the reputation of that franchise, is like being upset if someone is unfaithful to Britney Spears.

Britney Spears, really? Really? Fucking really Jemele? I hate the sportswriter mindset that if I just throw an analogy to Britney Spears or Paris Hilton…then the point is made. Can’t you use something more fresh, like Hitler? That guy is on fire on TMZ.

Besides, Moss has made far more careers than he has destroyed. What was Daunte Culpepper without Moss? What about Brian Billick, who built a reputation for being an offensive genius because he coached Moss in Minnesota? Pre-Moss, people still had their doubts about whether Tom Brady was a great quarterback or just the product of a great system. No one says that anymore. With Moss, Brady became an MVP, and is in line to be regarded as the best quarterback of all time.

I'd say sports karma is working just fine.

This paragraph is in defense of Randy Moss’ abilities as a football player and his performance in Minnesota and New England. Something that no one is criticizing! No one is really talking all the much about how he played in Oakland either, but if they were, then pointing out how great he was in Minnesota and New England would only support their claim that he was dogging it and that’s not “right”. Again, this hurts, not helps, your point.

This does explain a lot of Jemele’s output though.