For Your Consideration: Kirk Snyder, Outlier.

Remember when Vince Carter jumped over the seven-foot French guy?  Even if you don’t, you’ve heard about it, and probably seen it no fewer than fifty to a hundred times.

Remember when Kirk Snyder jumped over Von Wafer?  Unless you’re Kirk Snyder or Von Wafer or someone who happens to be obsessed with the idiosyncrasies of NBA basketball, probably not.  Hell, there’s a good chance you’ve never even seen it.

So here it is.

Yesterday, I began to read a book entitled Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.  Maybe you’ve heard of it.  If so, you might already understand where I’m going with this.  If not, allow me to explain.

Outliers is basically a collection of stories about people who’ve achieved exceptional success in their field, whatever that field may be.  The book tells the stories of Bill Gates, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Joe Flom, and many, many other famous world beaters.  First, the book tells the stories in the same manner as you’ve heard them told before — the bright but underprivileged youth, against all odds, scraps and hustles his way to the top, purely on his own merits.  It’s exciting, it’s inspiring, but it’s nothing you don’t know already.

Next, though, the book digs deeper into these stories and retells them with an emphasis on external factors such as culture, ethnicity, hometown, family background, and time (generation and birth date, for example).  Further, Outliers contrasts these famous world beaters from their intellectual peers — those who, based on quantifiable individual characteristics (IQ, for example), were expected to become world beaters but “failed” (I put “failed” in quotations because not being a world beater obviously does not make one a failure).  In doing so, the book demonstrates why external factors such as those I just mentioned are actually better predictors of extraordinary success than an individual’s characteristics.  In short, according to the author Gladwell, it’s not that the “failures” weren’t as capable or ambitious as the world beaters; it’s just that they didn’t encounter, entirely coincidentally, all the right places, people, and opportunities at the exact right time.

Vince Carter’s dunk over Frederic Weis is the greatest dunk of all-time.  But why?  Well, obviously, a big part of it is that he jumped clear over the head of a seven-foot man.  But there’s more.

Vince Carter’s dunk over Weis is the greatest dunk of all-time because it happened on a worldwide stage, in Olympic competition.  Vince Carter’s dunk over Weis is the greatest dunk of all-time because it left super-freak athlete Kevin Garnett in a state of complete astonishment.  Vince Carter’s dunk over Weis is the greatest dunk of all-time because a seasoned basketball fan can’t consider it without also considering Carter’s other aerial exploits, including his epic performance in the 2000 Dunk Contest.  Vince Carter’s dunk over Weis is the greatest dunk of all-time because Vince Carter is Vince Carter — a collegiate superstar, NBA legend, and cultural icon.  I would even go as far as to argue that Vince Carter’s dunk over Weis is the greatest dunk of all-time because Vince Carter is clean cut and handsome.  Beyond the basic dunk, everything about the scenario appeals to some pleasant human sensation.

On its merits as a slam dunk, Kirk Snyder’s jam, to me, is every bit as impressive as Carter’s.  Wafer may stand 6’5″ to Weis’s 7’2″, but Wafer put his hands up and jumped, whereas Weis ducked a little.  Snyder didn’t push off as flagrantly as Vince did, either.  Oh, and the way Desmond Mason reacted to Snyder’s jam is remarkably similar to the way Garnett reacted to Carter’s.  And Mason is an even better dunker than Garnett.

Don’t get your drawers in a twist.  I would never argue that Kirk Snyder’s dunk is the greatest dunk of all-time.  Never.  That would be absurd.  My point, rather, is that it takes more than the greatest dunk of all-time to make the greatest dunk of all-time, if that makes any sense (it doesn’t, which is why I mentioned Outliers — that it takes more than a dunk to make a dunk is comparable to the premise that it takes more than a world beater to make a world beater).

Kirk Snyder’s dunk can’t be the greatest dunk of all-time because Kirk Snyder’s career scoring average is 6.3 points per game.  It can’t be the greatest dunk of all-time because it happened in a February game between two middling teams that no one was watching (I used to watch every Hornets game and even I had changed the channel; the game was a blowout).  It can’t be the greatest dunk of all-time because Kirk Snyder is funny looking, has pleaded not guilty to a felony by reason of insanity, and is named “Kirk.”  Dunking, aside from scoring two points, is all about style and aesthetics.  There’s nothing stylish or aesthetic about a homely felon named Kirk.  Too many aspects of this scenario arouse the wrong human sensations; therefore, the dunk itself is seen as a lesser feat.

There are many dunks like Kirk Snyder on Von Wafer; Kirk Snyder on Von Wafer just so happens to be one of the very best, and one of my favorites.  These dunks are not the greatest dunks of all-time, because whether it was the stage, the actors, or even the audience. Something just wasn’t quite right.  But, for whatever reason, I’ve always been inclined to distill basketball highlights down to their purest form, assessing them based only on their most fundamental characteristics as isolated athletic incidents.  Maybe it’s because I’ve often felt I never received the credit I deserved for my own basketball skills.  Maybe it’s something else.  I don’t know, and it doesn’t really matter.

The point is that Kirk Snyder’s posterization of Von Wafer is every bit the slam dunk as any slam dunk you’ll see on a “Fifty Greatest Dunks of All-Time” highlight show.  It’s just that you’ll never see it there, because the process we humans use to decide what is and isn’t exceptional is, I believe, such a mystery of the subconscious.  This process, this mystery — it causes so many incredible plays to be swept under the rug.

I suppose I simply enjoy beating the rug.

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Your Annotated Smartphone Bathroom Reader for Wednesday, September 24th, 2014.

So, about that new Warriors stadium…

NBA Media Day Preview
Corbin Smith
Biscutball

If Biscutball blows up, and Corbin Smith sheds his unwarranted veil of anonymity, many will point to this post — the NBA Media Day Preview — as the so-called “coming out party.” For several months now, Biscutball has been my “heir apparent to Basketbawful”; the only funny gonzo basketblog on the internet at this point. This post took Biscutball past the point of high-class carbon-copy, and into another realm altogether. It’s honestly best if you just read the post, and laugh to your heart’s content. Now that literally everything in the basketblogosphere is rooted in seriousness, this site is a necessary counterbalance.

League of Style (and other posts)
Noah Cohan
American Sports Narrative and the Fan Blog

I’d like to think that Kevin and I were among the first to look at FreeDarko critically, in an attempt to parse out what that project actually meant in the larger scheme of things. For many, FreeDarko was representative of something truly revolutionary; a movement that continues to inspire us to go deep on basketball for years on end. In that regard, Noah Cohan is doing the writ public at large an enormous service by using FreeDarko as the analytic linchpin in his dissertation on the American sports narrative and the fan blog. Cohan has been posting some flotsam and jetsam from the larger dissertation, and it has been a joy to read and discuss. From his work have come discussions on the efficacy of the positional revolution, the way formalization has changed the pursuit of blogging, and many other themes that presented themselves during the heyday — and the self-designed decline — of FreeDarko. I check back in here daily, and if you enjoyed FreeDarko like Kevin and I did, join in the discussion.

Anthony Randolph’s Long Road to China
Steven Lebron (aka Alex Wong)
VICE Sports

Anthony Randolph got the Diss treatment a few weeks ago, so I’m already in a Randolphian state of mind. As such, I definitely enjoyed this deep-dive into good Sir Anthony as he heads off to Russia, written excellently by Alex Wong (aka Steven Lebron). Truth be told, there wasn’t much here that wasn’t already visible with our own eyes, and Randolph didn’t seem to get too open and honest with Lebron/Wong. I would’ve liked more dirt on the Warriors; about the myriad of reasons it didn’t work out for Randolph in the NBA. But Randolph took the high road, and by all indications, seems to be enjoying himself in Russia. Good luck to Mr. Randolph; we all wish him the best.

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Your Annotated Smartphone Bathroom Reader for Tuesday, September 16th, 2014.

Fall is in the air. The offseason is slowly drawing to a close.

White Fight, White Flight: The Atlanta Hawks and the Race Card
Shrill Cosby
VICE Sports

A second wave of analysis about the Atlanta Hawks and their racist front office has emerged, focused more on the polity, and the way race informs the public’s reception to the Hawks, and professional sports in the city itself. This piece, written by Shrill Cosby is a strong entry into that collection of works. The anchor of the piece is a simple sentence — “the tale of Atlanta is not one of racial cooperation, but one of constant, pitched conflict” — and the rest of the body is focused on explaining that “constant, pitched conflict” which is now emerging in NBA-centered headlines. What emerges is that the segregated history of Atlanta, which involved purposeful relocation, re-zoning and revisionist history, matches many other urban areas in America, where racism is practiced in both de facto and de jure settings. Cosby does a great job merging the history with the happenings in the NBA, raising questions about the Clippers, the Warriors relocation to San Francisco, and so on. This is very much worth a read.

The Trials of Greg Oden
Michael Wallace
ESPN.com

I will admit that I don’t have much room left in my cold NBA fan heart for Greg Oden. As much as I’d like to keep generating humanistic pieces about players who deal with individual struggles, I’m somewhat at a loss for words about Mr. Oden. The latest “setback” for Oden is criminal — he hit his ex-girlfriend in a drunken rage — may be the last trial for the center before the league gives up on him completely. If that’s the case, this may be the last major piece devoted to what he could have been, versus what he actually is. Michael Wallace — a skilled long-form writer, and one of the more humanistic writers ESPN has to offer — paints Oden in a sympathetic but stern light, and analyzes the ways his physical and mental health have contributed to where we, and he, are today. In his estimation, Oden can’t be held completely to blame for the ways things worked out, but his own “demons” (alcoholism, depression) haven’t helped out much either. One can hope that Oden finds his way in the league, but pieces like this one emphasize that the best chance of that happening may have passed long, long ago.

The NBA’s Atlanta Hawks Problem
Brian Fleurantin
Nets Daily

Although this piece touches on subjects most of the other Hawks-focused essays also analyzed, I wanted to include this piece from Brian Fleurantin for a specific reason: his exploration into the overall lack of diversity in front offices of NBA franchises. To this point, Fleurantin is worth quoting at length, since I couldn’t encapsulate it better than he could (and did):

In recent months, there has been more discussion about the league’s lack of diversity in certain parts of the game. Becky Hammon was hired by theSpurs to be an assistant coach, making her the second woman (first full time) in league history. Natalie Nakase has been working at her craft around the world and hopes to join an NBA staff as a coach full time soon. In the head coaching ranks, there is more diversity, but when you dig a little deeper, there’s a trend you start to notice. Of the ten who aren’t white men, only two (Erik Spoelstra in Miami and Dwane Casey in Toronto) didn’t have playing experience. It’s fantastic that there is increasing diversity in the head coaching ranks, but if the only way to break through is if you used to play in the league, it spells trouble for those who didn’t play in the NBA. It speaks to the pipeline (or lack thereof) that Tom Ziller broke down further over at the mothership.

When we move to the upper levels, the lack of diversity becomes even more apparent. Of the thirty General Managers/President of Basketball Operations, only three are not white men (Masai Ujiri in Toronto, Doc Rivers in Los Angeles and Billy King in Brooklyn). And when you look at those three, King is on his second tour of GM duty after working in Philadelphia, Rivers is the head coach, and Ujiri previously worked in Denver. And at the top of the mountain?

More of the same.

Well said, sir. Well said.

 

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Diss Guy Miss Guy, Vol. 80

Diss Guy: The eyes and ears are Everywhere: How Ray Rice, Bruce Levenson, and Danny Ferry were Exposed

My God man, it’s like it was yesterday that Tricky Dick Nixon was posted up in the oval office recording every little sound that escaped the lips of his guests and cronies. Then in the Boyz n tha Hood 90s there was Rodney King’s vicious beat down at the hands and night sticks of the LAPD which was caught by the all-seeing eye of a well-placed camcorder. And now we’ve arrived at a place where technology has delivered omnipresent eyes and ears that see and hear more evil and shame than any of us prefer and we all know this even though a few men in their infinite misjudgment or hubris would make us wonder if we really do know it.

Like Donald Sterling a few months ago, Ray Rice, Bruce Levenson, and Danny Ferry have been caught red-handed with irrefutable video (Rice), audio (Ferry), and electronic (Levenson) evidence of their affronts to the all-powerful corporate gods they serve. Without over-saturating your weary brain with a re-hashing and analysis of events, or the processing of race, gender, and domestic violence in American sports in 2014, the no-nonsense acknowledgement of a collision course between pro athletes (in this case a proxy of all western humankind) and technology is sufficient.

Domestic violence and racially-insensitive or biased feelings are still all too common aspects of our culture. Pro sports are no exception and we can find abusive athletes and racist owners as far back as our History of Sports almanacs will take us into the past. These actions are nothing new, but our front row voyeuristic access is something all of us are fidgeting into.

The raw game changer has been the endless reams of data collection—visceral videos, tasteless audio clips, and endless emails. Historically these views and actions have been hidden behind locked doors and confined to areas presumed to be safe and trustworthy. But we all know shit has changed and with that change suddenly every action short of the thoughts bouncing around in our schizophrenic minds has the potential to be recorded, analyzed, and criticized. Where a St. Louis Rams defensive end named Leonard Little was once able to commit involuntary vehicular manslaughter with his Lincoln Navigator while driving drunk, serve a little eight-game suspension, come back, get caught drunk driving again, and face no further suspension from the league, we now have the violent video of Ray Rice knocking his then-fiancée, life, and career into a strange limbo. Where David Halberstam’s groundbreaking Breaks of the Game plainly informed his audience of NBA owners’ and corporate America’s discomfort with the late-70s blackness of the NBA, there was barely a batted eye, but now we have Levenson’s email culled from over 24,000 Atlanta Hawks’ documents and the apparent catalyst behind Levenson selling his portion of the team. The mass collection, documentation, and presentation of all this information and these actions, coupled with an evolution of what is and is not socially acceptable, has created an atmosphere where certain actions and ideas are no longer tolerated – only no one really knows what is and isn’t acceptable in this new, rapidly evolving world.

For all of us, from Jennifer Lawrence’s stolen naked self-shots to the high school kid sending dick pics via Snapchat only to realize the pics don’t dissolve into digital nothingness, our sense of privacy and secrecy are being painfully and embarrassingly re-calibrated. And for the Ray Rices, Danny Ferrys, and Howard Levensons of the world, what would have once been shameful character flaws and secrets taken to the grave are now ugly scarlet letters with forever homes on the internet to be crawled and indexed by search engines, etched in pixelated eternity on Wikipedia pages and forever re-told as cautionary tales rookie symposiums and owners meetings. The eyes and ears are everywhere waiting for someone to screw up and the message from our favorite sports leagues is somewhere between “don’t do something that could harm the league” (and the billions of dollars at stake) and the more cynical, but more realistic “don’t get caught doing something that could harm the league.” We haven’t reached any absolute conclusions, but the presence of this mass surveillance is at least accelerating change whether we’re ready or not – and it’s clear some of us aren’t.

Miss Guy: RIP Marvin “Bad News” Barnes

On September 8th, basketball lost one of the all-time great characters in Marvin “Bad News” Barnes. Bob Costas compared the 6’8” power forward to Dr. J in terms of talent and he was similar to Earl “the Goat” Manigault or Lloyd “Sweet Pea” Daniels or even Len Bias in that he was a world class player who squandered his bountiful gifts away in exchange for drugs and alcohol.

To riff on the above evolution of 24/7 surveillance where smart phones can document the actions of anyone anywhere at any time, the American Original that was Marvin Barnes will never be again. While his drug use was so powerful that it derailed what, by all accounts, should’ve been a Hall of Fame career and likely contributed to his death at 62, his personality was powerful enough that so many of the memories of Marvin are positive or wacky or unbelievable. This is a guy who refused to board plane changing time zones because “I ain’t getting on no time machine.”

If he came along today, Barnes would be a mainstay on TMZ for all the wrong reasons. He’d put JR Smith’s and Ricky Davis’s off-court existences to shame and the truth is that he was likely so coked up, he’d be posing for photos and be featured all over random Instagram accounts in NBA cities across the country. If Barnes’s life off the court was wild and crazy by the freewheeling standards of the 70s and 80s, it would’ve been unsustainable in David Stern’s NBA.

His career was neither good nor bad, but marked by extremes. Bill Reynolds of the Providence Journal, a writer who covered Barnes for decades described his personality as: “one part Muhammad Ali, one part street poet, and on part stand-up comic, all without a filter.” He was colorful, naturally a gregarious man always in the middle of something, but the same drug use that put a hard ceiling on his basketball career was a source for so many of the stories that accompany any reference to Barnes. He was the rare player who had the audacity to pull this off (h/t to Matt Bonesteel of the Washington Post’s Early Lead blog):

After a particularly wild night in New York, he slept in and missed every flight to Norfolk, where the Spirits were playing the Virginia Squires at Scope.

Barnes chartered his own plane and arrived at Scope just before the game, a woman on each arm – his companions from the previous evening – and a bag of McDonald’s burgers in his hand. He opened his full-length mink coat to reveal his Spirits’ uniform.

“Boys,” he said. “Game Time is on time!”

Benched for the first quarter, Barnes finished with 43 points and 19 rebounds.

He was quintessentially FreeDarko and inspired this description from Bethlehem Shoals:

Lots of you have read Loose Balls, so you know the stories. But Barnes was like (Roy) Tarpley times ten million, and with a swagger that 1980′s degeneracy was sorely lacking. While I’ve never seen clips of him, I get the sense that he was a power forward who could drop 50 on anyone while nodding off on the bench, then charm everyone, then pop back in and score 30 more once the game had already ended. Barnes also set the tone for those Spirits of St. Louis lovingly memorialized in multimedia, grab-bag fashion by Remember the ABA and this dude.

The previously-linked piece from Matt Bonesteel contains nothing but great stories about Barnes. And even Reynolds’s piece which is tinged with wistfulness is full of anecdotes that don’t fly in the current climate.

Reynolds mentions Barnes’s penchant for embellishment and maybe a lot of the old stories are exaggerations and variations of truths long forgotten or never lived. Whatever the facts, aside from a few old photos, arrest records, and these ephemeral memories of Barnes, the lack of a definitive recounting of Marvin Barnes’s life on and off the court is part of the romantic mythology that we wrap around athletes and which is slowly receding out of our reach because everything is documented or recorded or verified. Marvin Barnes is gone at the young age of 62 and for better or worse, we’ll never see another like him.

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The NBA is Dooming Itself to Mediocrity

A different week, an entirely different picture of the NBA’s ongoing media rights negotiations. Last week I wrote about a report from The Big Lead, which indicated that Fox Sports 1 would broadcast games under the new contract. But we have a new conflicting account, this one from SportsBusiness Journal, that asserts that very little will change, with TNT and ESPN being retained as the only broadcasters of NBA games. But before getting into SportsBusiness Journal’s report, we need to talk about how the media gathers information.

There’s no getting around it: either The Big Lead or SportsBusiness Journal screwed up their reporting. The Big Lead used the word “when”—as if it is an assured eventuality—to refer to Fox Sports 1 signing a media rights deal with the NBA, whereas SportsBusiness Journal says that there is “little chance” the NBA will expand the media rights deal beyond TNT and ESPN.

If The Big Lead is being played, it’s most likely by the Fox Sports and the NBA. Fox Sports wants to grow support for the idea of a third media rights package, and one way to do that is by creating the presumption that they are getting it. Failing that, both the NBA and Fox Sports would like to drive the price TNT and ESPN have to pay for the rights higher. If SportsBusiness Journal is getting played, it is most likely by ESPN and TNT. If they can convince Fox Sports that there is no point in even playing and drop out of the bidding, they can potentially pay a lot less for the media rights contract. It could also be the work of the NBA, sending a signal to Fox Sports that ESPN and TNT are willing to back up the Brinks truck, and they better do so too.

If we take the new SportsBusiness Journal’s report at face value and assume it is right, it’s a disaster for the future of the NBA. From my reading, almost nothing will change under the new media rights deal.

“there is little chance the NBA will carve out a third package for another network”

While involving a new partner constitutes a risk, it is something the league needs to heavily consider. The audiences for every TV network are different, so it is an opportunity to tap into a new segment of the market. More importantly, a new rights partner brings fresh eyes to league coverage. I’m a big fan of how TNT broadcasts NBA games, and to a lesser extent ESPN, but who knows what ideas Fox Sports, NBC or some other organization has? Sewing up this deal while TNT and ESPN have exclusive negotiating rights, before talking to outside broadcasters, is a mistake.

“The NBA wants to explore the NFL’s model, where streaming rights are sold separately. The NFL sold streaming rights to Verizon as part of a four-year, $1 billion deal that runs through the 2017 season. ESPN and Turner are balking at such a plan, saying that they need streaming rights to the games they produce.”

As an increasing percentage of “television” is viewed online, streaming rights are becoming proportionately more important. ESPN and TNT would like the status quo to prevail. Currently they control how NBA fans can stream games, usually by signing agreements with cable companies like Comcast and Time Warner to let people who pay for a cable package with ESPN and TNT to access some of that content online. It means the only people that can stream online are those that could already watch on their TV.

When the NFL’s media rights came up for renewal a few years back, they did something very smart. They kept Fox, CBS, NBC and ESPN aboard, but sold streaming rights to Verizon Wireless. Verizon then sells “Verizon Wireless More Everything,” which is a cell phone data package that Verizon Wireless customers can pay for. Even if you don’t pay for cable or have a television, if you are a Verizon Wireless customer, you can stream almost every NFL game. It’s a way of reaching a different demographic of fans than currently watch games on television.

That last point is especially important given the long term trends. The vast majority of NFL games are shown on over-the-air television—meaning you don’t have to pay for them—but almost all NBA games are on cable. Considering only 68% of Americans have cable (according to Gallup), that’s a full 32% of the country that basically cannot be NBA fans. But it gets even worse when you dig into the particulars. Only 62% of those 18 to 29 have cable, signaling a long term trend where fewer and fewer people can watch the NBA. According to that same survey, 73% of people have wireless internet, and among 18 to 29 year olds 83% do. Eighty-eight percent of 18 to 29 year olds have a smartphone.

American consumers are moving away from watching video on their TV, and watching more of it on their computer, phone, or Roku/Apple TV/Xbox. There has been talk over the years of a non-traditional rights partner like Google or Netflix buying live sports streaming rights. Netflix is starting down that path by producing original television shows, and YouTube has also streamed live events like the Copa America, Wimbeldon and Cricket. Whether it is a cell phone service provider or an online content company, the NBA could do a lot of creative things with streaming rights.

But no, they’re just going to give them to ESPN and TNT to squander on people that already pay for cable.

“Turner also will continue to manage the NBA’s digital assets, which include NBA TV, NBA League Pass and NBA.com.”

The fact that the NBA outsources its digital assets is a complete and utter joke. Maybe this made sense in 2000, but it makes absolutely none in 2014. It’s not like the NBA is outsourcing a call center or something, it’s the NBA’s website, TV channel and premier subscriber product! Major League Baseball’s digital capabilities are so advanced that it has created an arm called Major League Baseball Advanced Media. It runs the league and all thirty teams’ websites, as well as MLB Radio. But it also has contracts with a variety of media organizations to handle their streaming video content: WatchESPN (ESPN’s hugely important streaming service), CBS’ March Madness streaming service, the WWE Network, the YES Network, SportsNet New York etc. It even runs the video content for The Blaze, Glenn Beck’s crazy politics website!

So while the NFL controls its digital rights, and Major League Baseball is so far ahead of the game that it does the streaming video for fucking ESPN, the NBA outsources its digital assets like they’re trying to save 5 cents on the manufacture of every widget. If Turner was doing an amazing job with the league’s digital assets that’d be one thing, but they’re not! NBA League Pass is an awful service that deserves every single piece of negative press that it gets, with an interface five years out of date and options that pale in comparison to the MLB’s streaming service.

In 2003, Major League Soccer signed a partnership with MLB Advanced Media to run its digital operation. In 2009 they brought it back in-house, understanding that for the long-term growth of the league, it was important to be fully in charge. Yet somehow five years later, the NBA is content to continue farming out one of the most important aspects of running a league.

***

No matter what happens, the NBA is going to get a boatload of money each year of its new rights deal. The media landscape is such that the importance of live sporting events has exploded in recent years, driving up their price to broadcasters. The biggest deals—the NFL, MLB, NHL, Pac-10, SEC, World Cup—are already sewn up, meaning the NBA’s deal (along with the Big-10’s, to a lesser extent) is the last time an important package will be up for bidding for half a decade. The NBA is growing in popularity, while baseball is stagnating and football faces severe long-term challenges.

All of the leverage belongs to the NBA, not ESPN, TNT or any other broadcasting network. They’re going to get $2 billion annually for the deal, and enormous increase over the $930 million it currently gets. Much more important than securing an extra $50 million or $100 million a year—which then has to be split 30 ways, making it a relatively trivial increase—is building a solid foundation for the long-term growth of the sport. This means making compelling basketball content easy to access online and on phones, owning digital assets to move quickly as thing shift, and targeting entirely pockets of the population where potential basketball fans live.

Instead, it seems that Adam Silver and NBA owners are content with the same ole same ole. Sure, by wrapping up negotiations quickly in order for ESPN and TNT to overpay, everybody will end up with slightly more guaranteed money. But the opportunity cost of such a choice is enormous, and the league is choosing incorrectly.

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Your Annotated Smartphone Bathroom Reader for Tuesday, September 9th, 2014.

Some late-morning reading all about a very bad week in professional sports.

Bruce Levenson Isn’t a Racist, He’s a Businessman
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Time

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has become something of a renaissance man when it comes to analysis of popular culture. This is unsurprising, given that he has experience as a professional athlete, coach, executive, movie star, and countless other positions in civil society. As such, he is qualified to comment on the rapidly developing situation in Atlanta, which he does in a piece for Time. Abdul-Jabbar’s analysis is rooted in parsing out whether or not the email itself was racist, and whether Levenson, by extension, should be exonerated from anything he wrote in regards to “diversifying” his customer base. For Abdul-Jabbar, the answer is an emphatic “no.” “He wasn’t valuing white fans over blacks,” writes Abdul-Jabbar, offering that instead “he was trying to figure out a way to change what he thought was the white perception in Atlanta so he could sell more tickets. That’s his job.” On a base level, this is correct: Levenson should be attempting to make his business more profitable, and for the former NBA great, that involves asking “cringe-worthy” questions. However, Abdul-Jabbar’s conclusion is where the argument becomes shaky, at least for this reader. He asks an interesting question: “If his arena was filled mostly with whites and he wanted to attract blacks, wouldn’t he be asking how they could de-emphasize white culture and bias toward white contestants and cheerleaders? Don’t you think every corporation in America that is trying to attract a more diverse customer base is discussing how to feature more blacks or Asians or Latinos in their TV ads?” That seems to be the larger question, especially as news about Danny Ferry continues to unfold: are these the fundamental questions those who want to accrue wealth should ask, or are they asked in order to maintain already existing structures? Either way, Kareem is worth reading, especially on this issue.

The Moral Arc of Pro Sports Bends Towards Profit
Jack Dickey
Time

In a variation of some of the same themes tackled in Abdul-Jabbar’s piece, Jack Dickey (also writing for Time) takes a different look at what sports fans are seeing in the headlines this week: the multiple forms of violence produced by capitalism the pursuit of profit, and what they all mean in a larger picture. To do so, he skillfully weaves both moralistic elements of the Ray Rice story and the Atlanta Hawks story to illustrate how sports, as he terms it, “arcs towards profit.” Dickey points out that the NFL — specifically commissioner Roger Goodell — are benefiting from the diligent work of image consultants to portray themselves as “strong leaders” when it comes to social issues, yet a dramatic disconnect remains, not just in terms of individual behavior, but also profit margins. Dickey wins major points by extending this analysis to the NBA, which is participating in the same problematic practices with none of the fiery critiques. “The NBA is winning praise (and facing no criticism) for fighting a tacit racism it funded and nurtured less than a decade ago,” writes Dickey, referencing recent events with Donald Sterling and the NBA. “Writers are looking to an empty NFL suit to help solve a real crisis.” This state of affairs illustrates an ugly tension in modern, decadent American culture: that writers and fans demand change of all sorts, but are looking in completely the wrong places to find them.

Bruce Levenson, Donald Sterling, and our Figurehead Problem
Evans Clinchy
Hardwood Paroxysm

In this take on the Hawks situation — and the “pursuit of profit” theme that seems to be front-and-center in this first-wave of analysis — Evans Clinchy takes an original approach, and looks at the role our glorification of “figureheads” in this mess. Like others, Clinchy looks closely at the email Levenson sent, and chooses to privilege “intent” over discourse. In his analysis, he asks important questions about Levenson’s postulations, and asks whether we might look beyond the individual, and focus on the larger structural issues that compel Levenson to make problematic observations. “Is that racism, or is that just good business sense?” writes Clinchy, before concluding somewhat open-ended-ly that “there’s a fine line, and the immorality of treading such a line falls to the wayside in the pursuit of profit.” While I agree that there should be room for nuance in every analysis — and Clinchy certainly is nuanced as he lays out a compelling and well-constructed argument to focus on aspects besides the racist himself — we should beware apologizing for racism in the name of perpetuating the worst parts of capitalism.

The Sterling Shuffle: Unpacking White Jewish Racism
Sikivu Hutchinson
LA Progressive

(Editor’s Note: This annotation originally appeared in the May 5, 2014 edition of the ASBR). When Donald Sterling’s comments were released to the public, many shrugged their shoulders, mostly because both the racist, and his racism, have been around since time immemorial. The goal of the analyst, then, was to illustrate an aspect of his comments that might be surprising to even the most jaded readers. Sikivu Hutchinson shows the reader how Sterling’s comments are informed by a tradition of racism developed by Jews who, like blacks, have fought to be viewed as “Americans” in the United States of America. Hutchinson explains that most Jews did this by emphasizing their whiteness, usually through de facto racist practices against other non-whites. As such, an ugly history of segregation, and an ugly language of racism, have emerged over the years. Moreover, Hutchinson points out this historical tradition has evolved into an anti-black/African bent in Israeli nationalist politics and discourse. This is an excellent contextualization of Sterling; one that was far different than the others.

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Forging a New Bust

America’s sultry love affair with Anthony Randolph roughly coincided with its equally passionate love affair with Dubstep, both arriving front-and-center in 2009, as the horrors of the Bush years finally began to fade, and the new horrors of the Obama years began to make themselves known. In many ways, it was a fitting soundtrack for Randolph, as the two seemed to be kindred spirits; it’s discordant clanks and skittish screeches balanced by steady percussion and melodic overtures, as Randolph’s career proceeded along at roughly the same cadence. It would be during the bass drops — deep dives into the darkest depths of a song, where your ears open up and your body runneths over with the sheer power of noise — that you’d lose yourself in the dream. For Randolph, those drops would come in the form of brawny athleticism few had seen the likes of; dunks and alley-oops that would put the game on ice for a few minutes, and blocks that sent orange orbs screeching into the stands, at least temporarily diverted from their intended destinations. In both mediums, there was something new and different, a unique way at looking at a well-worn trope, and the distinct possibility for something original to last; to change the game in a permanently positive way.

However, most of us know that originality is as fickle as it is farcical — everything is an imitation of something or someone that preceded it — and in a vicious recalculation of the time-honored equation, Randolph’s basketball life imitated the tempestuous nature of art. The dunks, blocks and rebounds that seemed to distinguish him from his other positional peers (though it was always difficult to tell which position Randolph was playing, and which position he was meant to play in the NBA) slowly faded into the background as other more pressing professional tasks went unfinished, and necessary development went unmet. The alley oops were great, but the simple defensive rotations were absent. The blocks were cool, but there seemed to be a legitimate barrier between him and a fundamental understanding of where he was meant to be on the court. And his frustrating lack of health, an inability to stay on the court, stymied good will, despite forceful attempts to look past the inconsistency. Yes, it is a low blow to blame someone for repeatedly spraining their own ankles. Yes, it is a despicable to be a punching-bag for a burnt-out, alcoholic coach during your rookie year. But there is little room for a long view in the NBA, for participants and consumers alike. Before long, all that was predictable had occurred, and most had moved on. We can almost see it now, in our overactive mind’s eye: a faux dubstep beat, developed by an ad agency in an effort to sell yogurt in a tube to a hipper, younger generation, churns along like dramatic yawns after lunch, while we sit, blink, and watch Randolph sit, blink, and rot slowly on the vine. This is the death of art. This is the end of Anthony Randolph, at least as we know him, and loved him.

The players we refer to as “busts” — a blanket term referring to those who failed to live up to the lofty expectations others set up for them, or who fail to evolve into the players experts were sure would emerge after a few years of transformation –often times serve as time capsules for eras that have closed the doors on themselves, or crushed themselves under the weight of our own staggering prognostications. A disco ball shines brightly on the afro’d head of LaRue Martin, a steady rhythm guitar providing a soundtrack to a player and genre in continual decline, until both are absent from the picture. Strangely suspended Orbitz drinks and monotonous alt-rock stand proudly by the mid-1990′s dream of The Kandiman, the unknown seven-foot prospect from the University of Pacific who indeed was too good — or, too bad — to be true. The antiquated sounds of Jermaine Dupri and Chingy sound like dulcet tones while we watch turn-of-the-century clips of Tracy McGrady making the league look stupid with seamless, almost liquid movements to the hoop, yet sound like gramophone music once McGrady’s career finally took its final, bleak shape. In those moments, these players become something different; a representation of the things that used to make us smile, until we realized that they — or, “it” –were never going to be enough, and that a rearticulation of what could’ve been pales in comparison to what actually came about.

It is possible that Randolph, who has taken his sad eyes, disappointing career averages with four different teams, and yet-unformed skillset to Lokomotiv Kuban, will re-emerge, and make himself noticeable again. He would not be the first person, place or thing to come back from the Great Beyond refreshed, renewed and rejuvenated. Gerald Green’s original form — a failed lottery pick, high-flier with no skills, a bona fide “bust” — was not sufficient for consistent NBA production. His transformation into a serviceable two-way player, who could slash to the hoop as well as drain corner threes, happened long after he was deemed a bust, and banished overseas. For Green, the transmogrification was absolute; tangible even from our privileged positions on the couch. No longer focused on proving who he wasn’t, but rather, who he was, Green was finally released; finally ready for originality. For Randolph, the goal seems to be to figure out who, exactly, he is, at least on a basketball court. One gets the suspicion that once he discovers that innate thread within himself, everything will be fine, and he’ll get going with what he was supposed to be doing from the very start. It might not look like what we expected — those dunks, those blocks, those rebounds; they still delight the mind — but it will be his very own, and ours to fully, totally and unabashedly enjoy.

The chance remains that Anthony Randolph has played his final game in an NBA uniform. It’s possible we’ve called him a bust to his face for the last time, a tired epithet that is as vague as it is vicious. But if that’s the case, it means that he finally made it work for himself; finally found a place he was comfortable, and able to contribute. If that occurs, we will have only one recourse: to congratulate the man, watch what he has become, and postulate if, or how, he could reintroduce himself into our hearts and minds, reformed and revamped into a completely different specimen altogher. Then, and only then, can we return to YouTube clips from 2009, to watch those brilliant dunks, blocks and rebounds which had us so excited about the future, as an industrial dubstep beat plods along happily in the background. 

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