What About Bob?

The Warriors won their final game of the season last night, 116-112 against the Denver Nuggets, to move to 51-31 on the season. There was little of note regarding this contest — it featured the second and third units of both teams — other than that, at around the nine minute mark in the first quarter, Bob “Fitz” Fitzgerald and Jim Barnett announced that their 21 year partnership would continue (in some form or fashion) into next season. At that point, thousands of Warriors fans, and fans of the league at-large, exhaled a huge sigh of relief. And though we won’t have to say “so long” to the beloved color analyst at the end of this year’s first round, Jim Barnett will begin the process of “retiring” from the Warriors after 29 years of service (most reports imply that he is being pushed out in order to take a new role with the team that will involve some broadcasts next year), and the team will begin to try out different personalities to take his spot. Some interesting personalities have been suggested. Tom Tolbert has been rumored as a replacement, especially after his strong performances alongside longtime radio broadcaster Tim Roye during last year’s playoff run. Brent Barry, currently with NBA TV, has emerged as another potential candidate. My dear colleague Kevin suggested Chris Webber, currently of Turner Sports, as a dark horse replacement. But in general, the sentiment has been that Barnett should remain in his current position to continue doing what he is lauded for doing: providing unbiased, entertaining, incisive and instructive commentary about the game. 

But what about Bob? One almost feels like they don’t need to ask a question this silly. In fact, if one polled a group of random cable-subscribing Warriors fans, and asked them which member of the announcing duo they’d like to jettison, most would certainly pick Bob Fitzgerald as the odd man out. Where Barnett plays the role of cool uncle for NBA fans, regaling younger denizens with stories of a wilder, more primitive NBA where everyone flew coach and the players walked 15 miles to games barefoot, Fitz is the polar opposite, despite his best efforts. Most of the time, Fitz is almost like your nerdy uncle who just, in general, tries way too hard to be cool. Jim’s cool and experienced call is buttressed by Fitz’s excitable, loud voice; always prattling on during both spikes and lulls in the action. He has a grab-bag of hokey announcer words, and calls Barnett “Pard’ner,” like he’s Woody from Toy Story. He has tried to shove countless horrific nicknames down the throats of his viewers; the most inexcusable being the Human Torch moniker for Steph Curry, a nickname that made everyone cringe each time they heard it (and which was seemingly retired this season). In almost every way, Fitz seems like a less-worthy counterpart to Jim Barnett; a tabby who has been blessed to be paired with a cool cat straight out of the Aristocats

Indeed, I would wager that many Warriors fans feel that the team is making two mistakes: getting rid of Jim Barnett and subjecting us to a continued existence with Bob Fitzgerald. Much of this has to do with the fact that we have been acquainted with Fitz for a long time, and that his relationship with the team, his colleagues and the fans, is complicated at best. As explained by Rich Lieberman, Fitz became the play-by-play man in the mid 1990s after winning the favor of former owner Chris Cohan, who already were unhappy with then-play-by-play man Greg Papa (who now heads the team’s pre-and-postgame shows on Comcast) who was calling games for the Oakland A’s at the time. Nearly 15 years later, Fitz’s relationship with Warriors ownership came under further scrutiny after Tim Kawakami discovered that Fitz (among other Warriors employees) were posting pro-ownership dispatches in fan message boards under fake usernames (but with highly traceable IP addresses). The news coincided negatively with the sale of the team to current owners Joe Lacob and Peter Gruber, and other troubling reports which suggested that Warriors ownership was paying Fitz’s six-figure radio salary (which gave him — and them– a platform to issue highly sympathetic takes about the omni-struggling team through his highly sophomoric radio show 12-3 pm weekday radio show “Fitz & Brooks”), and had signed him to a lucrative extension, while at the same time, stiffing his colleagues Jim Barnett and Tim Roye. In addition, Rasheed Malek of Warriorsworld reported that players were rebuking rather immature and self-conscious advances by Fitz to develop relationships that would be beneficial to his radio career. As such, most assumed that Fitz wouldn’t survive long into the new ownership, or survive at all. It is a surprise that he not only has survived in the new ownership, but has thrived. Not only has Lacob and company deemed Fitz the man to keep around. Through their actions, they have all but decided to build their announcing crew around him. This move hasn’t been widely celebrated by Warriors fans, who are reluctant to keep any aspect of the old, apologist guard around; especially it’s old public voice, who has managed to retain the good favor of his new bosses, and maintain his important position of influence.

Even if there wasn’t a large, vocal contingency firmly entrenched in their battle against Bob Fitzgerald, it is likely that there would be more sadness surrounding the departure of the color analyst, who is supposed to connect with the emotions of the average cable-watching fan. Jim Barnett in many ways is like the west coast version of Clyde Frazier; one without the trademark style and panache, but who commands the same amount of respect from both fans and league-types alike. In fact, it seems most NBA teams try and find this type of character to anchor their cable broadcasts. 27 of the 30 total NBA teams utilize a former player as their accompanying analyst, and the other remaining three (the Heat, Trailblazers and Kings) utilize a former coach. Unsurprisingly, the names tabbed as potential Barnett replacements are in this exclusive club as well. Though their styles are different, as are their resumes, all of these former company men are counted on to do the same thing: use their previous experiences in the NBA to provide definition to the broadcast, and add context to what is occurring on the screen, either through their own explanations, or with the help of a tool, like a telestrator. This is what Jim Barnett has been asked to do, through years of terrible basketball, and a few seasons of very excellent basketball (well, very good baskeball, at least). And as most people have established, he’s quite good at it.

However, the play-by-play man has a far more sticky existence, and in many ways, Fitz serves as a useful subject of analysis in terms of parsing out these persistent problems. Whereas we have a fairly decent idea about what makes a good color analyst, and who is the best fit for the job — that is, a former NBA player or coach who can entertain at least as well as they can explain — do we have the same clarity when it comes to play-by-play? What exactly makes a good play-by-play announcer? Who are the best at what they do? What traits are the most necessary? What qualities? Though they often talk more than any other individual associated with an NBA team, the play-by-play announcer has perhaps the trickiest job out of everyone. They must serve as the public voice of the team while the team does what it is meant to do — play basketball on the television for fans — and at the same time, strike a difficult balance between unbiased analysis and impassioned commentary. And while the national play-by-play guys like Mike Breen, Kevin Harlan and Marv Albert have long been championed for their ability to offer this middle-of-the-road analysis that can apply to any team, other local characters seem to fall along a much more subjective spectrum. They do not have the same experiences as the color commentator, so they must make up for lack of experience with added passion and panache. They do not have the same values as a fan, so they must try and formulate thoughts that will resonate with them. And throughout it all, they must be factually correct, and keen upon all the happenings in the league. It is not an enviable job.

There is lots of bad about Bob Fitzgerald. But, against all odds, there is also some good. His “homerism” — a highly subjective term relating to an individual’s proclivity towards preferring the team that he or she provides announcing duties for — is at times uncomfortable, but it falls in line with other play-by-play men throughout the league, who cannot explicitly bite the hands that (handsomely) feed them. He does linger on foul calls quite often, almost to the point of obnoxiousness. But at the same time, Fitz’s shrill voice compliments big plays nicely. His excitedly-stated “Good! Goooooood!!!!” has become a welcome counterpart to a big three by Steph or Klay, and a happy sound for Warriors fans to hear in the late-game nail biters that have become part and parcel with this team. His skills as a long-time radio host give him the skills to access the fount of knowledge that is Jim Barnett, and indeed, we likely wouldn’t know Jim as well as we do if Fitz didn’t prompt him to share relevant stories about his own playing career, and his thoughts on the proper ways to play basketball. While no one would think Fitz could leave the booth to go take Mark Jackson’s job, it is clear he knows the sport quite well, and has better knowledge of the league-at-large than some of his more provincial counterparts. And others have taken notice; Fitz is the voice for both men’s and women’s Olympic basketball, and has been since 2004. He is the play-by-play man for the San Jose SaberCats, and provides his services for other NBC-related sporting events on both television and radio. His abilities alongside Barnett have been worthy of seven Emmy’s — at least four won in conjunction with his longtime partner, and the first ever earned by the Warriors as a team. If we looked past these things, we would be pontificating with horse-blinders on; purposely seeing the most narrow of views.

It goes without saying that the best move is to #KeepJim, and allow him to flourish with a team that is just starting to make the long climb towards contention. There is a reason that fans feel strongly about his presence, and have gone out of their way to let Warriors ownership know that their forced retirement is an unwelcome move. And if most fans had their way, they would probably add a #DumpFitz hashtag to their Twitter activism. I’m not here to disagree with them, only to point out that while we have a decent idea about what makes a good play-by-play broadcaster, we have differing opinions on who best fills that role. And while Fitz doesn’t always meet the mark, he doesn’t always miss it either. Much like the players themselves, he, and other play-by-play men, are mixed bags more worthy of nuanced thought than breathless absolutes.

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Why Does the NBA Execute a Broadcast Strategy that Harms the League?

Here in Washington D.C., the professional basketball team is heading back to the playoffs for the first time in six years. Their squad consists of youngsters brimming with potential and steely defensive veterans. It is led by a budding star who did this over All-Star Weekend. Yet despite having all of these things going for them, nobody is excited about them. There are a variety of seasons for this, but one of the biggest is the lack of attention given to them this year, with only one national TV game on the schedule that ESPN ended up flexing out of.

When you hear stories of the NBA’s past, one of the dominant themes that emerges is how much David Stern transformed the league. The NBA Finals used to be shown on tape delay! The league expanded by seven teams! While I don’t disagree with these—and other—successes, it is worth examining the league’s standing closer.

The NBA should be more popular than it is, challenging football for American sporting supremacy instead of rolling around in the mud with baseball. This assertion is obviously unproveable—you can’t prove a “should”—but I think it is accurate. The NBA has always had a ton going for it. It is the sport of cities, where the majority of Americans have lived for decades. It is exciting, featuring the most jawdropping feats of athleticism. You can sit two feet away from the players with no barrier. There aren’t any funny helmets or hats in front of the players’ faces.

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Where are all the fans?

Whenever I bring up that the NBA should be more popular and perhaps David Stern presided over flawed strategies, I’m surprised at the almost violent reaction I get, as if I’m questioning the core tenants of the sport or something. I’m not, I’m simply saying that I love basketball, it could be better, and the league could’ve (and can) do a lot more to make the sport more popular.

I’ve written about what I term the short-sighted free arena problem before, where the NBA aids and abets owners in moving to smaller markets in order to secure publicly-funded arenas. From Vancouver to Memphis, Charlotte to New Orleans, Seattle to Oklahoma City to preventing the Kings from moving from Sacramento to Seattle, this strategy prioritizes a short-term financial windfall over the (for the league) long-term gains of showcasing the sport to more fans. It benefits individual owners at the expense of the league.

Similarly, the league presides over a television strategy that benefits a select few markets rather than the league—and its future—as a whole.

NBA

The average team has twelve percent of their games televised nationally each year, but these games are actually distributed very unevenly. This season the Heat, Lakers and Knicks all appeared on ABC, ESPN or TNT 25 times, while the Bobcats, 76ers and Raptors didn’t appear once. The median team was featured on national TV just seven percent of the time, which is reflected in the leftward skew of the graph above: half the league had three or fewer national TV games.

This is just as shortsighted and detrimental to the league as a whole as its arena strategy. You probably noticed that two of the three most televised teams were terrible this year, while two of the three least televised made the playoffs. This resulted in a whole lot of shitty basketball—at one point in January the fifth-worst-team-in-basketball Lakers played three nationally televised games in seven nights—being showcased to the casual fan who tunes in for what are supposed to be the “big” games.

Clearly, this does make a certain amount of (financial) sense. I’d bet TNT’s March 25th match-up between the Lakers and Knicks outdrew its other game, the Thunder and Mavericks, even though the latter is clearly a more tantalizing match-up basketball-wise. The problem is this panders to already existing large fanbases at the expense of working to create new ones. It sends a message to fanbases not featured on national TV that they aren’t important to the league, that the NBA doesn’t care about sharing their team with the entire country, let alone the world. It conditions potential basketball fans to a reality where only a few teams in the league matter, and teaches them they shouldn’t bother paying attention to the rest.

It is telling that the league’s television strategy is markedly at odds with the NFL’s. There are big differences between how the sports can and should be presented—football has almost always been more popular, it mostly plays on weekends, it has an extremely popular feeder league—but it is still instructive to look at how it approaches TV.

NFL v NBA

The first, biggest difference is that the NFL guarantees each team at least one televised game per year. At least one night each season, whether than be on Sunday, Monday or Thursday Night Football, your team is the only one playing, the focus of the entire league. Furthermore, while the league still does play favorites with certain fanbases (looking at you, NFC East), the distribution of national games is much more even than the NBA’s.

This is because at its core the NFL promotes the league rather than individual teams. Since almost every game is played on the same day, the league promotes Sunday as a day to watch football, not as a day to only watch your favorite team. There is more parity in the NFL, meaning a team heavily promoted last season may suck this season, leading to a more even allocation of promotion. The league has enthusiastically embraced and incorporated fantasy football, a game that requires paying attention to every single team in the league, into everything that it does. There is only a 4% correlation between market size and amount of games on national TV in the NFL; in the NBA there is a 25% correlation.

I don’t mean to say that the NFL is perfect and that the NBA should copy everything it does wholesale. The NBA is different than the NFL in many ways, and its promotion strategies should understand and reflect those differences. But what the league needs is a commissioner willing to promote what is best for the league long-term, even if that means foregoing some short-term financial gain.

The league needs to realize that an ever increasing part of the total revenue pie is made up of the broadcast slice, and its strategies should reflect that accordingly. The league should stop helping owners move teams to minor league baseball cities and instead look to enter (or re-enter) major media markets. The league should put both a floor and a ceiling on how many times a team is allowed to be shown on national TV. The league should consider shortening the schedule to allow fans to watch more rested and less injured players play basketball, and perhaps consider clustering games on certain nights (probably Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday after football season) and promote them as NBA Nights. The league should look to eliminate the incentives that encourage general managers to put a sub-standard product on the floor and treat the final 25% of the season as a joke.

Basketball is a phenomenal sport, but at times it has been severely let down by its stewards. It is time for that to change.

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Games of the Week: April 14-20, 2014.

As is the tradition of The Diss, the final Games of the Week of the year is written yearbook-style, and bids farewell to my three favorite teams who didn’t quite get over the hump this season. These teams are bathed in purple, which is apparently the color of admiration. Isn’t that nice.

This is also the final Games of the Week to ever be written by yours truly on The Diss. It’s been a good run, but I have tired of this feature, and will begin looking for a replacement to continue it next season. Thanks for reading it over the last three years.

Monday: Minnesota Timberwolves at Golden State Warriors (7:30 PM PST on League Pass)

Dear Wolves,

Hey! Life is full of surprises, huh? I know you arrived at school this year ready to become the most popular guy in class, and I can tell you did a lot of work during the summer to work on your Cool Kid game. And you did a great job! Problem is, nine other dudes just like you did the exact same thing! But that’s how this works sometimes. Think about it this way, man: you’ve gotten better each of the last four seasons! You were right there among the top teams in the West! You just were on the wrong side of a few really close games. Think of it as another lesson learned. I’m not quite sure what you’re going to do this year, but as long as it doesn’t involve trading Kevin Love, I think it will make you better. Good luck winning seven more games next year, have a great summer!

KIT,
Jacob

Tuesday: New York Knicks at Brooklyn Nets (5:00 PM PST on TNT)

Yo Knicks,

Hey. Look, I know we’ve had a hot-and-cold relationship over the last few years. You weren’t very nice to me, and I haven’t been very nice to you. Last year, when you were on Cloud Nine, winning 50-plus games and killin’ it on national television I was about as bitter as could be. I wasn’t exactly looking forward to you dominating the Atlantic Division this year. But watching you struggle all year really made me think differently about you. Just watching the effort, the intensity, the results; all of it dipped. And as a result, things weren’t as fun. The league is better when Melo is on the big stage. The league is better when the Garden is rocking. I think having you good last year reminded me how much fun the NBA is when New York City is fully engaged with the proceedings in a positive way. I’m hoping Phil can do some good things for you guys over the summer. Take care, let’s go catch turtles down by the creek this summer.

Sincerely,
Jacob

Wednesday: Phoenix Suns at Sacramento Kings (7:00 PM PST on League Pass)

Hi Kings,

The haters will say that this year wasn’t a huge step forward. They’ll claim you’re just as shitty as you’ve ever been, and that there’s no end in sight. Well, that’s why we’re friends, Kings, because I can tell them that they’re wrong. Despite your record, you had a really great season. I just really like the way you guys went for it this year. While other teams in the East just stank up the joint, you went for it. I know Boogie had his ups and downs. I know Rudy Gay can be frustrating. I know Isaiah Thomas is a huge defensive liability. But you guys picked up some interesting players, made some interesting trades, drafted some pretty nice rookies, and hired a coach who could conceivably be the man to prowl your sidelines for a decade. Those are foundation-moves, even if no one took notice. Congratulations on a good season, Sacramento. I’d love if you and the Warriors could be good at the same time. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for next year.

L8R G8R,
Jacob

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Diss Guy Miss Guy, Vol. 73

Adam Silver, Mark Cuban, Larry Brown, John Calipari, Oscar Robertson, your barista, that sweaty dude in your weekly pickup game, the homie at work … seems like everyone’s got an opinion that the current amateur-to-pro pipeline is in desperate need of repair, just like most infrastructure in our crumbling America. Instead of pelting you with another proposal, this week’s Diss Guy Miss Guy takes a look at a pair of players who have taken unorthodox paths through this broken system to arrive at drastically different destinations and remind us that there is not, and never will be, one size to fit all.

Since 1966, there have been just two players in the league to attempt over a thousand shots and shoot below 38% from the field in a single season: Rafer Alston in 2007 and Brandon Jennings who’s a couple games away from accomplishing the feat for a second time in his career. For this dubious distinction alone, Jennings is our Miss Guy. And it signifies a rock bottom of sorts for Jennings who broke ranks with the existing power structures back in 2008 when he bypassed college basketball in favor of signing a contract with the Italian pro team, Lottomatica. The decision had the potential to be a watershed moment: Would high school players eschew the rah rah glory of the NCAA and March Madness in exchange for a pro apprenticeship with a European team? The answer has been a resounding NO that’s been audible all the way across the Atlantic.

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[Thanks to my friend Ian Levy of www.hickory-high.com for the shot chart idea.]

Gerald Green didn’t need Italy any more than he needed college. Four years Jennings’s senior, he graduated from high school back when players could still make the leap straight from preps to pros. But where Jennings’s ability maintained a mysterious Italian luster, Green’s warts and weaknesses were on full display. There was no question of teenage culture shock, no context to explain away struggles, just the obvious: Gerald Green wasn’t ready. If the up-the-age-limit camp wants a poster boy for their cause who isn’t named Korleone Young or Lenny Cooke, they need look no further than Green. With the exception of an effective second year, he spent his first four seasons in the league donning jerseys for six different teams (four NBA and two D-League) and by the time 2009 rolled around, what should’ve been his fifth year in the League was spent in Russia playing for PBC Lokomotiv-Kuban. For most players who follow a similar path, it continues on in strange gyms across Europe and Asia. But Green isn’t like most.

Would you blame Green for playing with a leather helmet?

Around the time Green was freezing in the Russian winters with copies of The Master & Margarita to keep him warm, Jennings was an NBA rookie eager to prove himself. There was the almost triple double in his first game in the league. Then a couple weeks later when he dropped 55 against Golden State (the most points for a rookie since Earl Monroe scored 56 in 1968). Blessed with blinding speed and dizzying quickness, Jennings easily ingratiated himself with the pro set. Sure, his accuracy and efficiency were poor, but most rookies struggle to master the nuances of the pro point and Jennings was no different.

If Jennings was the bold prospect with a limitless future, Green was the resilient worker willing to go to the edges of the basketball universe to prove himself. It was after one of his numerous stints abroad that he landed with Eric Musselman’s Los Angeles Defenders – an opportunity Green points to as his Lazarus moment of sorts. With Musselman’s blessing and encouragement, Green flourished for the Defenders. In what appears to be the crux of the confusion with Green, Musselman summed up what most teams never quite figured out:

He (Green) is a 3-point specialist. If he didn’t have that dunking ability people would think of him as a really streaky guy who could put points up on the board in a hurry and change the complexion of a game. But I think because of his athleticism and dunking and all that, I think people have a misconstrued perception of how good of a shooter he is.

Green’s Defenders performance (he shot nearly 46% on threes with six 3Pas/game) caught the attention of the Nets who added him to their roster in February of 2012. Counting D-League and international teams, the Nets were the 12th pro franchise to employ Green since suiting up for the Celtics back in 2006. This reminds us that 12th time’s a charm – particularly when the NBA is the end goal. Appearing in 31 games for the Nets, he proved to be a better shooter from every spot on the floor than he had during his first go-round in the league. His defense was improved, his shooting percentages were better – beautiful byproducts of confidence regained.

Speaking of confidence, it’s fair to say Brandon Jennings has never lacked in this area. If Musselman’s right and Green was the shooter miscast as the heir to Dominque Wilkins’s dunking prowess, then maybe Jennings is the speedster confused for the scoring point guard. Maybe Jennings, with his McDonalds accolades and trailblazing ways (see Italy, see Under Armour, hell, see his old flat top) is really a Vinnie “the Microwave” Johnson-type of instant offense off the bench. Sometimes a flurry of success is the worst thing to happen to a young athlete as coaches and the athlete come to believe aberrations are the norm, that they possess innate qualities that are really just outliers. Looking at Jennings’s shot charts above, we see a player who has spent the bulk of his career as an average-to-below average shooter. Where we hope to see young players evolve in terms of both quality of shots and efficiency, Jennings has gotten worse. For a player prone to taking and missing poor shots, playing alongside a massive frontline in Detroit hasn’t helped his efforts. [Meanwhile, Green's thrived this year in the Suns wide open attack where he's fourth in the league in 3's made and is a strong candidate for Most Improved Player.] He’s having the second worst eFG% season of his career and is missing more shots between 0-3 feet than ever before (21%). Since 2009, only John Wall and Rodney Stuckey have a worse eFG% than Jennings, but both of those players have taken more than 1500 shots less than Jennings.

Jennings is only 24-years-old. When Green was the same age, he was stuck in Russia penning early chapters in a global odyssey that includes a handful of highs, but mostly lows written in strange, incomprehensible languages and prepping himself for the inevitable Diss Guy he would be awarded a few years later. Jennings won’t walk the same path, but there’s a humbling “paid his dues” element to Green that isn’t evident in Jennings’s game. He still plays like he’s the focal point at Oak Hill Academy, unable comport the strengths of his game to the elevated requirements of the NBA. A miscast talent enabled by a lack of pro stability and structure he’s encountered in Milwaukee and Detroit, it’s unclear if Jennings will author a narrative along the lines of Rudy Gay or Gerald Green or if it will include more of the unpredictable he’s given us so far.

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Meaningful Basketball, Revisited.

Exactly a year ago today, after the Warriors clinched a playoff berth at home, I wrote about meaningful basketball. I wrote while overcome with euphoria, completely floored by the moment I had just experienced with some of my dearest friends in my humble apartment in the North Bay. At that moment, I asserted that there’s some basketball that cannot be written about, nor discussed. And believe me, I still believe that. “There’s a lot of basketball that you can write about on the internet, scream about in a bar, explain poorly to your friends and family,” I wrote at the time. “But there’s very little basketball that you just feel; realize its meaning and importance, and leave to grow and establish itself deep within the ground, its roots untouched and presence revered.” Indeed, “meaningful basketball takes no singular form; it is diffuse, shifting its shape and resemblances like clouds in the blue afternoon sky.  It cannot be analyzed, refuses to be broken down into its smaller parts.” They were very heartfelt, melodramatic words. I take none of them back.

But, alas, welcome to today.

***

Last night, I tried to write about meaningful basketball again. I wanted to, even anticipated doing so. But it didn’t happen. Gazing angrily at my own personal tealeaves, it wasn’t because had just occurred – a last second 100-99 loss to the Denver Nuggets—but because, almost like last year, the emotions were too thick to wade through, too cryptic to gleam meanings. When Stephen Curry’s 29 foot heave fell short, and I saw an army of faceless Nuggets storm off the bench, fists extended over sweatless heads and warmup pants sashaying upon long, rested legs, I quickly turned to the San Francisco Giants game, and then went to bed before learning of the game’s conclusion. It was the first time all season that I didn’t take in the local postgame affairs; listened to tired apologism from Gary St. Jean and Greg Papa, considered the empty pious words of the embattled head coach Mark Jackson, reveled in the dramatic veteranship of guys like Jermaine O’Neal and David Lee. It was the first time all season I didn’t log onto Twitter, to slap virtual high-fives with other virtual fans, and look wide-eyed at dissenting opinions that didn’t fall into my own personal worldview.The Nuggets had accomplished a mission that seemed to have far more meaning to them than the Warriors personal mission to wrap up a playoff berth, and start setting the table for a potential run at the fifth seed. And once I turned off the lights, and sank into my rather uncomfortable bed, sleep evaded me for far too long. I’m not even really sure if I slept at all.

It’s hard to know what to do with these moments as a Warriors fan. Each fan – especially those born in the 1980s, who have no memory of the rumored-to-have-existed championship team of 1975, who know Run-TMC mostly through sensationalized stories and NBA 2K14, and who define their Warriors fanhood largely by a prolonged history of ineptitude and irrelevance, and the mythical pursuit of “a great time out” – has their own set of coping mechanisms that they rely upon when calamities such as these occur. Our tools are well worn; nicked and dinged with consistent use, and hand-crafted to be of the best use for those who wield them. Indeed, many features of last night, and by extension, this season, have matched less glorious moments in our own pasts; unknown to most casual fans, but remembered all-too-well by the faithful. Timofey Mozgov’s 23 point, 29 rebound, 3 block performance resembled other efforts from relatively-unknown NBA players like Chuck Hayes, Brandon Jennings, Chris Duhon and Rodrigue Beaubois, who happen to have their career-defining games against the Warriors. The late season home loss to the Nuggets bears sickening resemblance to the infamous 2008 home loss to Denver, which essentially ended our hopes of making the playoffs despite a 48 win season. And all of the strife that has surrounded the team since Joe Lacob offered luke-warm critiques of Mark Jackson’s coaching job this season, and has been accentuated by several boggling home losses and two high-profile assistant coach firings, has looked too much like the dysfunction that seemed ubiquitous throughout the mid 1990s, and well into the 21st century. In the end, I – we – are left stripped. The meanings are both absent and too present at the same time. It’s hard to know what such a loss means when, with five games remaining, it could possibly mean everything, and at the same time, nothing at all.

There are plenty of individuals who are willing to tell you what to think in these tense, uncertain times. They occupy many different spheres of influence, and work in concert, through a variety of mediums, to inform our experiences as fans. Tim Kawakami – known among fans as the lauded narrator of the last days of the House of Cohan, and a consistently radical voice against the team’s establishment – has steadily beat a drum over the past few months, rhythmically calling out questionable coaching by Jackson, and questionable play by David Lee (and taking great exception to just about anyone who says otherwise). Ethan Sherwood-Strauss has offered mixed messages about the team’s ascent and decline, lauding the team for discovering a “killer lineup” (a casual statement from Bogut that is quickly evolving into a referendum against David Lee) arguing that the team and management stand in opposition to each other, giving Jackson just enough rope to hang himself. But not everything has been negative. Marcus Thompson, who assured us that the Warriors hyper-religious workplace was nothing to be worried about, argued to fans that a tense situation might be the best-case-scenario for Mark Jackson. And Bob Myers, the Warriors general manager, has appeared on the radio to offer other suggestions on what fans should focus on. “We might possibly win 50 games this year and that should really be the story, and it’s a good story,” he said, while at the same time, reminding the fans that “some stories resonate more with the fans and the media,” and that “you don’t want your season to be affected by anything externally.” In this way, he has put the blame largely on the fans for not being “true to the process.”

And, of course, there are the players and coaches themselves, who scold fans for listening to what the media say, and not just believing what is happening in front of the screen, or even in person, viewed from the hallowed pews of Oracle. “When you have a chance to win 50-plus games, but you win five games in a row and lose one, and all of a sudden the coach should be fired, that’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen. Especially from a city that is so hungry for a winner,” exclaimed Jermaine to Scott Ostler on April 1st. “When you’ve got something good, fully cherish it. We’re in the midst of trying to do something really special,” David Lee, whose play and health has been questioned lately, also stood firmly behind his coach, and his view on things. “I don’t pay attention to what Tim Kawakami writes. By this point, you ought to know that it’s rather biased. I’m not taking shots at him, but I think he just took Harrison’s name out of the article and inserted Draymond’s this year,” Lee was quoted as saying. “I think I’ve been a guy that’s worked my butt off for this team, been a leader on and off the court. A huge stat they say is plus/minus. I think I’m ninth in the league in that right now. So if I’m hurting the team, I don’t see it.”  As for the coach, who has confronted these expectations for months now, his platform has remained the same. The coaches have been vociferous about the situation, emphasizing that this isn’t a situation at all. “This is not the norm,” Jackson said after word came out that Darren Erman had been fired, “To me, I think it’s a great time for us as a team and an organization.” And of course, he made sure to add another barb to us, the deprived fan who has been waiting for a savior. “To still be standing, this isn’t new. It’s new to you guys. It’s not new to us. So to still be standing, still winning and still in our right minds says a lot about this culture.” Everyone seems to have an opinion on what the culture of the Warriors is. Very few of those opinions are exactly alike. Indeed. it’s hard to know where that culture stands today. And as a fan, it’s hard to know if I’m even a part of it.

And today, faced with the same questions that have plagued this team since, really, forever – can this organization actually handle success for a long period of time? – it’s even hard to know if I even want to be a part of it.

***

I can’t tell you if the sky is falling. I can’t tell you if huge chunks of blue are raining down on your community, flattening buildings, crushing innocents who vainly duck for cover under besieged ramparts. Similarly, I can’t tell you if the Warriors’ sky is falling; everything that seemed shiny just a few months prior turned a dull, earthen shade of brown. I’m not in Reporter Bro Club, and really have no stake in the never-ending pursuit of “being right,” or creating a position of authority that suspends me over my readers, shouting absolutes and hurling self-conscious epithets at the readers who made me who I am today. All of those things are up to you. And I’m with you. I’m a fan; a fan with a blog, but in the end, just a fan. And in the NBA pecking order, my opinion matters the absolute least. I am but a sheep on a hill, bleating happily, surrounded by other braying creatures who live their lives grazing, moving from one area to the next.

However, I do know this: to us, all of this is still meaningful basketball. Each one of these five remaining games carry deep importance for each person connected, whether they stand to benefit personally from the proceedings or not. These are games that have overgrown their narratives, far too large to fit into any neat container. These are games that make you shriek and shout; make you jump up from your seat in ecstasy or agony. These are games that make us utter noises that are reserved for moments of intense emotion and feeling, grunts and groans that make your neighbors’ ears perk up, and their eyebrows raise. In these games, lesser opponents like the Nuggets, Timberwolves and Lakers appear like behemoths; dangerous insurgents with nothing to lose, and who have no regard for your own emotions and desires. Indeed, these are the games that will not only define the Warriors as a team, but Warriors fans as a community.

I cannot tell you how to be a fan. In fact, no one can. No reporter or blogger can tell you what to read, and what to ignore. No Warriors executive can convince you that their view is the correct one, because they will never know how, exactly, you define “correct.” No NBA player can tell you what to value, because their value system is completely different than yours. No coach can tell you what you’re used to, and what’s new to you, because they are not walking in those shoes, wearing those clothes, and living that life that only you are living. None of them know you like you know you. And I can’t claim to be any different than them.

But take my word for it: at the end of this, if you are a fan of this team, I will be there for you. I will be there for you because I know you will be there for me. I know you well. I hear you clearly, screaming your heart out in section 224, far louder than any stuffy Silicon Valley tech-ass down in the 100 section could ever hope to. I see you clearly, shouting at whatever screen our team is playing on, decrying turnovers with anger and celebrating three-balls with delight. I am listening to your opinions about David Lee versus Draymond Green, and trying to wait for you to finish because I have opinions of my own. I share your admiration at Bogut and Iguodala’s all-around skills. I acknowledge and agree with your frustration around another go-round of bickering from suits, and the distraction it has become. I love that you love it when we win. I hate it that you hate it when we lose. We are all members of this tangible community together, and I will never, ever turn my back on you. None of us will ever turn our backs on each other. Together, we’ve been through things they’ll never understand. They want to, but can’t. It’s what keeps us together, even though they bicker and bite.

The unknown is scary in nearly every form, and the NBA is no different. I do not know if there will be a little “x” by the Warriors in the standings by the end of the Lakers game tonight. I do not know whether there will be two playoff games or twelve at Oracle this year, or if playoff games are going to even happen at all. I don’t know what players will be wearing jerseys next season, and which ones will be wearing suits on the bench, or worse, jerseys for different teams. I do not know who will coach the team next season. Really, no one does, no matter how much they convince you that they do. We’ll all get the Big Reveal at roughly the same time, whenever all of this craziness stops.

But before those answers become apparent, I feel I must stop, breathe, and remember to feel every moment of this agony, which will be revisited against the Los Angeles Lakers just before sunset. So excuse me while I stop listening to you, and just watch what unfolds in front of me. For if I don’t, I fear I will miss all of the meanings, both large and small, that keep me bleeding blue and yellow, and will likely keep me bleeding those beloved colors, despite everything that’s ever happened, and everything that possibly could occur.

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Why is NPR’s Sports Coverage so Bad?

Like many new projects, when The Diss began there was no clear identity. Hell, I thought we were doing a Basketbawful thing, so I wrote under a pseudonym for the first year.

The biggest influence on both Jacob and my understanding of basketball was FreeDarko, so much so that we dedicated an entire week to FreeDarko’s legacy. The other big inspiration wasn’t a blog, but rather the lack of one. We wanted to write the kinds of stories NPR would write if NPR actually covered sports in any meaningful way. Whether we succeeded or not is a different conversation, but that was the goal.

I recount this history because yesterday NPR’s Code Switch, which explores the “frontiers of race, culture and ethnicity” posted an excellent piece on how the stereotypes of basketball players has evolved throughout the history of the sport. Readers of The Diss will be familiar with the racialized language used to describe players today—black players are “animals”, “freaks of nature” and “naturally gifted” while white players are “heady”, “display basketball IQ” and are “hard workers”—but Gene Demby shows how these stereotypes weren’t always the norm.

In the early days of basketball, Jewish players dominated the game. Demby pulls great quotes from the New York Daily News in 1938, where Paul Gallico writes that Jews excel at basketball because the sport, “places a premium on an alert, scheming mind, flashy trickiness, artful dodging, and general smart alecness.” The takeaway is that stereotypes aren’t just a reaction to what we see in the world, but actually take part in shaping how we see the world.

This is the NPR sports coverage that The Diss has asked for over and over and over and over and over. But while every week or so Code Switch will write about sports—I really enjoyed this piece on why some English speakers prefer hearing soccer matches broadcast in English—on the whole NPR’s sports coverage is extremely lackluster.

With rare exceptions, NPR runs two and only two kinds of sports stories. The first is a newsy story, often embedded in All Things Considered or Weekend edition, like this piece on FC Barcelona’s transfer ban.  The other fits into what I call the “whacky shit” category, like a segment on trash talking Bhutanese archers.

When you think about it, these programming decisions make sense. There are two main constraints limiting interesting NPR sports programming: the audience and the medium. Compared to other radio stations, NPR’s audience is older, more female and interested in many “serious” topics. The average listener isn’t very engaged in sports, so the material is better presented in the NPR news story style—calm, monotonous, “I talked to blah blah, Professor of blah blah at the blah blah University of blah blah”—than anything else. And because segments aren’t typically longer than five minutes, the (rough) equivalent of 750 typed words, there isn’t much time for depth.

This is how we end up with the “whacky shit” segments. The newsy stories aren’t particularly interesting to the core audience, and they are even less interesting to the actual sports fans among NPR listeners because they mostly just repeat things they already know. The solution is to cover things that nobody knows about in order to satisfy sports fans, while the weirdness of the story interests the common NPR listener.

This is all completely understandable and defensible. NPR has a core audience and they need to present things in a digestible way to that core audience. Where NPR fails is in its lack of an interesting dedicated sports shows. NPR has great stuff for niche audiences. Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me is a great trivia show. This American Life is a great story show. Car Talk is a great auto show. Radiolab is a great science show. Where is NPR’s great sports show?

NPR’s most well-known sports commentator is Frank Deford, who has had a weekly segment for approximately forever. Frank Deford was one of our Miss Guys from a couple of months ago, with Kris Fenrich writing that his commentary on basketball was, “overly naïve, unnecessarily simplistic, and most uninformed – whether that’s by choice or by ignorance, I don’t know.”

The other sports coverage comes from Bill Littlefield’s Only A Game which, to put it lightly, just doesn’t do it for us. Its problem is twofold. To its detriment, it rarely deviates from a tone that could be mistaken for a parody of NPR’s tone. There is none of the uncertainty, drama or excitement that is what makes sports so interesting to follow, just monotonous recitation of things that have happened. The tagline for the show is, “There’s the sports world and there’s the rest of the world; NPR brings them together on Only A Game,” but it is criminally inaccurate. That’s the most disappointing thing. NPR is the perfect venue to, rather than see sports as apart from the rest of society, use sports as a lens to better understand the world around us. Only A Game—and I think the name is supposed to be an ironic joke—really does treat sports just like that.

If you want to see what NPR’s sports content should look like, just go to Slate. Josh Levin solicits excellent freelance sports pieces, and writes some great ones himself. The crown jewel, however, is the weekly Hang Up and Listen podcast, where Levin, Stefan Fatsis, Mike Pesca and sometimes guests tackle notable stories in less than an hour. It is no coincidence that Fatsis is a regular contributor to NPR, or that Pesca just left NPR after ten years to join Slate. In his farewell letter to his NPR colleageues, Pesca wrote, “But I have always wanted NPR to be a weeee bit more ambitious or daring, to be willing to take risks outside our comfort zone.” So have we, Mike, so have we.

Call us parodies of upper middle class liberals if you will, but NPR is great. There are many issues or topics in which its coverage is outstanding, but sports isn’t one of them.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

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Games of the Meek: April 7-13, 2014.

It is a Diss tradition to dedicate the second of the last Games of the Week to the teams that I didn’t bother to watch this year, simply because they were too bad, too tankish, too uninspiring, too dramatic, too not the Warriors, or too whatever else I saw fit. It is also a Diss tradition to bathe these teams in RED, which is apparently the color of shame. Not all Diss traditions are kind. Perhaps these teams will do better next year.

Monday: No Games Scheduled

The NBA and the NCAA get a big fat red face-painting today. No games scheduled? Really? Because of the national championship game for college? That’s a big, steaming load right there. Sure, the tournament has been entertaining enough this year. But nothing — NOTHING — is worth removing a day of games for. Only way the NBA can make up for this is to come out, call NCAA president Mark Emmert a skeezy fucking prick-hole, turn him upside down, and shake that douchebag really hard so every NCAA athlete and under-funded academic program can get the millions upon millions of dollars that fall out of his pockets. Go hit your head with a brick, Emmert, and may your antiquated, pay-to-play hack-job of an organization burn in hell.

Tuesday: Dallas Mavericks at Utah Jazz (6:00 PM on League Pass)

Each year, a perfectly innocent team suffers simply because they give off that “give me four or five years, and I’ll have my shit together” vibe sometime in early summer, and I just write them off for the next nine months. Unfortunately, that distinction belongs to the Utah Jazz, who were broadcasting all sorts of weird signals just as soon as the offseason began. They didn’t even try to resign either of their two best players from the previous year (who then went on to have great years for their new teams), and their intriguing rookie (as much as any of those exist this year) spent a significant part of the early season injured. So by the time they actually started playing better after the All-Star break, they were all personas non grata to me. Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Trey Burke are interesting enough, but not on a weekly basis. And you can’t help but look at Phoenix, who were projected to be about as bad (or maybe even worse) than the Jazz, yet are thriving under former lead assistant Jeff Hornacek’s tutelage, and think that they might’ve let the wrong guy go to a different team within the conference. But all that’s in the past, now. Utah has a down year about as often as Haley’s Comet appears, so I’ll give them a mulligan. Sort of.

Wednesday: Phoenix Suns at New Orleans Pelicans (5:00 PM PST on League Pass)

After two consecutive years of winning my end-of-the-season approval for a job vaguely-well-done, I have to give the New Orleans Pelicans a big splash of the red stuff this year. The reason is simple: Anthony Davis has made them look bad. In 2012, the team was seemed to be trying to forget Chris Paul and reassert itself under then-lauded coach Monty Williams. In 2013, after getting bought, and drafting Davis, the team was focused on trying to get healthy, and start developing a Davis-Ryan Anderson-Eric Gordon core. In 2014, after a largely celebrated offseason that saw them obtain Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans, and undergo a wack-nuts rebranding into the Pelicans, the team was actually projected to win some games. So much for that, I guess. Anthony Davis’ brilliance on both the offensive and defensive end had the unintended side-effect of highlighting how poorly this team is built and coached. There were some acts of the Basketball Gods, like injuries to Anderson, Holiday and Evans (that is, all of the other good players on the team). But AD didn’t really do them any favors, despite his excellence. To see such an exquisite player forced to run extended minutes with Austin Rivers and Brian Roberts is a crime of the highest order in the NBA. So my love affair with Monty Williams and Dell Demps is officially over. I demand a real team around Anthony Davis. Perhaps Adam Silver can re-purchase the team and send AD to Golden State.

Thursday: Denver Nuggets at Golden State Warriors (7:30 PM PST on TNT)

The Homer Game of the Week features my beloved Golden State Warriors facing a former favorite of mine: the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets went from being one of my most-watched teams to one of my least, and much of it has to do with the beguiling danger what I’ll term the “faceless army” syndrome. Last year, the George Karl-lead Nuggets developed an exciting brand of “next-man-up” basketball, which worked out great until the “next man” failed to step up in the playoffs, and George Karl lost his job. The Brian Shaw-lead Nuggets, in many ways, were very much like the Nuggets of the prior year, but this time around, that “faceless army” worked disadvantageously for the Mile High Club. At various points in the season, the Nuggets really lacked a true “face” to really help me figure out what, exactly, was going on with the team. The veterans didn’t get along with Shaw, and Shaw didn’t seem to try and get along with the veterans. The team stole the “Most Friendly for Knee Injuries” label from the Blazers (get well Nate Rob, JJ and Danilo, who wasn’t fixed properly by his team). And by February, they were giving off that sort of musty smell of a team that probably had too much pride and latent talent to outwardly tank, but it was clear that it wasn’t in the cards. If they get one of the lottery picks, they’ll get a Melo-like presence to re-anchor the team, and get a Trailblazers-style rebuild-on-the-fly started in earnest (think Damian Lillard joining LaMarcus Aldridge) which will get them back into the top eight in the West. But this year was not one worth watching in Denver.

Friday: Washington Wizards at Orlando Magic (4:00 PM PST on League Pass)

Don’t get me wrong: there will be a day when we look back at the Dwight Howard trade, and assert that the big winners of that whole crazy things weas the Orlando Magic (sort of like the Grizzlies are said to have “won” the Pau Gasol trade, even though the Lakers got two championships out of Gasol). Nic Vucevic still projects to be a top-five center someday, Arron Afflalo has been found money, and the cap space and draft picks the team accrued will ensure competitiveness someday in the future. Orlando will come out of that looking pretty, even if Dwight makes several deep playoff runs with the Rockets, and even wins a championship. But we are still many days away from uttering that opinion, and not getting wide-eyed looks from just about everyone. When I checked in on this team, it looked like Jameer Nelson was still getting an awful lot of playing time despite the fact that younger players needed the development. The young guys themselves looked promising (I especially like Tobias Harris, Victor Oladipo and Mo Harkless), but aren’t really anything worth tuning in for on a regular basis at this points in their careers. I’m sure the Magic will be sick come 2017, but it’s 2014, and I can’t be bothered right now.

Saturday: Boston Celtics at Cleveland Cavaliers (5:30 PM PST on League Pass)

Even when the Cavs briefly threatened to snag the eighth seed from the Atlanta Hawks (who are spared a spot in Games of the Meek because someone has to finish eighth out there), I was done with this team. Few teams appeared to have less fun throughout the season, and it really showed in the product. Similar to the Pelicans, the Cavs got a pass the last two years because they seemed to be clearly on a rebuild-path. But this was the payoff year, and despite the weakness of the East, we got very little in return. And man, was it sad. Kyrie and Dion did not gel as an elite backcourt, were at odds the entire season, and couldn’t keep their names out of trade and eventual departure rumors. Newcomers like Jarrett Jack, Earl Clark and Andrew Bynum contributed very little from the outset, and late-arrivers Luol Deng and Spencer Hawes provided too little, too late. Mike Brown looks like the least enjoyable coach to play for in the entire league. The hero worship for straight-up role player Matthew Dellevadova got unbelievably uncomfortable. And even with all of this, the team almost staggered their way to the playoffs. That’s the East for you, folks. I won’t miss this Cavs team. Hell, this Cavs team won’t miss this Cavs team. That’s how much they hate themselves.

Sunday: Toronto Raptors at Detroit Pistons (12:30 PM PST on League Pass)

Congrats, Joe Dumars. Your Pistons are the first team to be listed in Games of the Meek three years in a row. Between you and me: I think this year was his best fuck-up job; some grade-A shitty general managing. If you thought that whole “overpay inefficient starters” thing was just a phase that he got over back in 2009, you are wrong, my friend! This is one of the few times I can remember that nearly every reservation someone had about a team during the offseason came absolutely true. There weren’t enough possessions to go around for the team’s starters, and no one was good enough to make those possessions meaningful. The team played next to no defense. The bench was entirely non-existent. The head coach was a dud. And look who’s left standing. Everyone claims that Tom Gores will let Dumars walk at season’s end. I’ll believe it when I see it.

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