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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Diss Guy Miss Guy, Vol. 72

Diss Guy: NBA’s topic du jour: the Pacers

Many bloggers and basketball writers are hacking away at keyboard keys eagerly exploring the Pacers recent slide. There’s all these quantitative and qualitative reasons to explain the spring slope they’ve been sliding down for the past month. But we’re not investing in deep analytics here, instead we’re praising the decline, because if there’s anything we love more than an unexpected 19-game win streak, it’s an unpredictable collapse by a team that previously seemed ordained to renew their rivalry with the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. Today any ordaining is on hold while our eyes are glued to the proverbial flaming horror of Luis Scola hanging on the edge of the abyss, long dark hair aflame while the Pacers’ collective grips try to hang on tight while Ian Mahinmi and Roy Hibbert try in vain to haul their mates back up to solid ground, but everyone slips with sweaty fingers and oily hands. Careful now…

I’ve seen many more stories and headlines exploring the reasons why Indiana’s struggling than I’ve seen about the Spurs excelling. I don’t believe this is because sports fans prefer failure to success (although there’s something to that) because even Philadelphia’s recent league-tying 26-game losing streak wasn’t covered with the congressional investigative zeal we’ve seen writers give to the Pacers. A quick glance at Google News shows us some angsty headlines:

As fans and writers, it’s like we can’t get enough of these tales of demise. Everyone’s in a race to understand these unsolved mysteries. What is it so deeply embedded in our DNAs that we latch onto collapses like the ferocious mechanical shark in Jaws clenching down on the limbs of a frightened white child? We taste the blood in the water and simultaneously cringe at the metallic flavor while chomping down for more. Do you remember Rick Ankiel? He was a beast of a pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals whose career as a major league hurler deep sixed on national TV when all ability to hit the strike zone abandoned him on that loneliest of mounds while everyone watched, perplexed. I’ll never forget Ankiel’s story … it was simply too unexplainable.

The Lakers last year were a collective train wreck of incomprehension. After the fact, it all made perfect sense, but in the moment when we all thought they’d be competing for a Western Conference crown, it was a shock to the system of our expectations. They were a story that refused to die. From the early season struggles and Mike Brown’s firing to Kobe’s torn Achilles and finally Dwight Howard’s departure, they were hot mess in the mold of Amanda Bynes and Lindsay Lohan, but without the substance abuse and legal issues. And like those starlets gone astray, many of us followed – from near and afar, but we followed.

What’s happening with the Pacers is much more inexplicable than the Lakers and, for this occasionally cynical writer, it’s dramatically satisfying. The roughneck bullying of David West, the ineptitude of Roy Hibbert’s offensive game, the race to anoint Paul George … the narratives are coming undone and our inner Freuds are crawling through the gray matter desperate to explain and understand it. In the meantime, I’m trying to enjoy a show that I don’t think will last. I’m no sadist, but the very public crumbling in athletics, particularly over something as universally trivial as winning and losing in basketball, is entertaining. Pacers games have devolved into spectacles where they struggle to get past the woeful Pistons or score more than 80 points each night. No one’s hurt, no one is dying, just a group of guys who took a corny picture together and are now the NBA’s most confusing riddle. It’s not funny, but it’s gripping in the same way as LeBron’s 2011 Finals performance. And after all, what are sports if not an unscripted soap opera with cleverly crafted storylines holding our attentions with never ending plot twists and turns? Pacers fans will disagree, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Miss Guy: The Corrosion of Rust Belt Basketball (except the Bulls)

As much entertainment as the Pacers have provided, they’ve joined a few other teams across the rustbelt of the country to exemplify shitty on and off-court basketball management. The Rust Belt drapes across the upper Midwest and covers historically industrial cities that are included in the league’s Central Division: Milwaukee, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit. The Central is unlike most divisions in the NBA in that none of its five teams are outright tanking or using a get-bad-to-get-better strategy. Also fitting is that Indianapolis, home of the Pacers, is not part of the Rust Belt, which unfortunately hasn’t insulated it from a poor post All-Star break.

The Bucks are the one team in the division that could best benefit most from an intentional rebuild, but even they appear to be stuck in stasis unsure of how and where to go next. The Pistons are a collection of mismatched pieces like a Lego set put together by a semi-creative kid who somehow stumbled into uncle’s acid stash and found some of the most colorful, but useless pieces in the whole set and ate the directions as an afterthought. Detroit, of all the Rust Belt cities, has suffered the worst of their Rust Belt counterparts to their dependence on the auto industry which has been grossly mismanaged. The parallels between the pitfalls of the Big Three automakers and baffling Joe Dumars decisions – all the way down to the dependence on excuses – is sadly apropos.  Post-LeBron Cleveland is never scared of making bold moves, but like the LeBron era, most of those moves pop in concept, but fall flat in reality. Desperate to keep their young star Kyrie Irving, Cleveland has rushed headlong into moves with an emphasis on today and a blind eye to tomorrow.  And for more on the Pacers just scroll up a couple inches and re-read the Diss Guy section or click on any of the links above.

On court, the Cavs, Bucks, and Pistons have been below average all season. Where Cleveland and Milwaukee have shown signs of post All-Star break improvement, the Pistons have taken a cue from the Pacers and gotten worse. These teams operate in place of confused tumult and it shows in their personnel moves. The Cavs roster has been influx all season beginning with the axing of their off-season gamble, Andrew Bynum (picked up later by the Pacers where he’s currently hurt), reaching its climax with the firing of GM Chris Grant and including trades for Spencer Hawes and Luol Deng. Detroit dumped Coach Maurice Cheeks after he won back-to-back games and all rumors are indicating Dumars is done after this season. Milwaukee with GM John Hammond (a Dumars protégé) and Coach John Drew are treading water in a lake polluted with industrial waste and other putrid smelling hazardous materials.

Whether or not there’s a correlation to their in-season moves and recent stretch of losing, the Pacers look like a team that took a couple risks (adding Bynum and trading long-time Pacer Danny Granger to Philly for Evan Turner) and lost. It’s not realistic to analyze Indy’s splits and blame Turner or Bynum, but something in the locker room or between the players feels like it has changed and until we can measure chemistry (looking at you, 2k Sports), we’ll have to satisfy ourselves with a mix of data analysis and trusting player comments.

In terms of wins and losses, the Central isn’t the worst division in the NBA (that dubious distinction belongs to the Atlantic), but when we layer in front office management, the failure to make progress in Cleveland, Detroit and Milwaukee shifts the dishonor to the Rust Belt division. The graphic below shows before and after All-Star break margin of victory and Net Rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating). Except for Cleveland’s 0.2 post All-Star net rating, each of these teams is below zero across the board. Since February 16th, they’ve all ranked in the league’s bottom half of winning percentage. By any statistical measure they’ve been anywhere from mediocre to the league’s worst, but like the cities across the Rust Belt, you don’t need some fancy three-dimensional graphics showing population decline and unemployment to see decay. Tune into a Bucks game for hopelessness. Maybe watch the Pistons for an example of mismanagement. Cavs for earnest desperation and the Pacers for the current version of community dysfunction. The Central is depressed and dependent on the Bulls for any sort of post-break positivity. At least NBA teams can pray for talent bailouts in the form of an annual lottery … that’s more than the residents of shrinking Rust Belt cities can fathom.

 

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The Exiled

Editor’s Note: We are proud to feature a guest post from Alex Siquig. This is Alex’s first submission to The Diss. Follow him on Twitter @thomasawful.

***

It seems like the snow will never stop falling in Baltimore. It is April and still this cold trash falls from the sky. At work people are talking about this relentless winter or March Madness or some combination of both. I don’t care for either. Every year during this beloved tournament there comes a point where I refrain from directly trying to prove the clear and obvious superiority of the NBA from some college hoops boosting zealot. Others have done it better and more elegantly than I ever could. To each his or her own! But there is one complaint in particular that grates on my sense of propriety. College fans routinely lambast the NBA for lacking the requisite maniacal crowd intensity, implying some league wide apathy amongst ticket buyers, but those grumblers have likely never made a study of the commitment and devotion of Golden State Warriors fans in the last decade. It’s mind-boggling and seems almost unjustifiable, the agony people have cheered for, supported, and loved for so long with almost nothing given back. To me that kind of affection is a lot more stirring than screaming in the stands and painting your face a particular color for a couple of games.

Baltimore is a proud town, it’s brusque and bold and sweet. It’s a city deeply in love with the Ravens and the Orioles. Everyone wears purple in the autumn and winter and the word on the street is the next Super Bowl and paternal asides about Joe Flacco. Spring and summer is all about orange and a seriously dorky looking bird. The most important part of the NBA for most Baltimoreans is Carmelo Anthony. Based on mostly meager anecdotal evidence, I feel very confident wagering that 80% of Baltimore City School gyms are named after Melo. The Bullets have been gone for years and there’s no apparent longing for them.

Similarly, it took quite awhile for something recognizable as “homesickness” to catch up to me, but it caught up hard this year and in strange ways. I grew tired of the chalkiness of Baltimore sunshine. The snow ceased to be a magical novelty and transformed into a likely way of killing me in a car accident. Watching basketball and more specifically Warriors basketball became a rare occurrence. I had become fat and comfortable in San Jose, at least when it came to money. Here there were no benevolent friends with uncles who owned a consulting firm. Life became lean and lonely. I lost contact with the majority of my friends. Money was the San Antonio Spurs of my life; it never ceased to smash my dreams…Rent and food and too much booze and then bills and insurance and bills and debt and bills. All the while there was something strange happening, something I didn’t care for.  It was just a thudding realization that I was missing it.

It seemed every year without fail the typical Golden State Warriors season would be irrevocably ruined after a few games. The 82 game season takes us from Halloween to summer’s doorstep, but the Warriors have always had an aptitude for digging their own graves and then cannonballing into them with kamikaze abandon. We still cheered, but it was dependably depressing. So when I moved from my cottage in Santa Clara to Baltimore I certainly didn’t expect the Warriors to start winning games, but that’s exactly the thing those assholes started to do. They won pretty, they won ugly, they stumbled into trouble and then managed to start winning again, a characteristic few Warriors teams during my lifespan can confidently claim. They won and won and scraped their way into the post-season. They beat the highly favored Denver Nuggets. They put a genuine scare into the immaculate killing machine known as the San Antonio Spurs before falling in six games. They played like a burgeoning contender, like the team my dad and I had always wanted. And they did it while I was far away, without many similarly victory deprived souls to share this long scheduled catharsis with.

I did try to share it, especially with my dad. Phone calls with bad reception, emails with no subject lines. Dad was the guy to blame for this silliest of infatuations. Dad took me to get Chris Mullin’s autograph. He tried to teach me how to spell Sarunas Marciulionis. He forgave me when I lost interest during the Mike Dunleavy years. He never made me feel like a bandwagoner, even when I was. I’m certainly no athlete or even generally interested in sports at any level. But there are things you might consider pointless or even beneath you that surge with possibility if someone just has the audacity to bring them to life for you. My father has a knack for stripping the vulgar layers away, leaving only the splendor left standing. I didn’t see the obvious beauty in basketball until he made me see it and since then I’ve never been able to un-see it. Basketball is therapy, soul searching, release, revenge, and forgiveness. It’s art, but better than most of that museum stuff.

I was missing Stephen Curry playing the best basketball of his life, a bona fide and anointed superstar. I was missing the strange rise of the Splash Brothers. I didn’t have a say in the great fan debate/moral inquiry of David Lee. I have never seen Andrew Bogut block a shot at Oracle. I was missing the Warriors spoken of with respect by the media, by other teams, by all the vacuous pundits. In just under two years they had flipped the script with such vigor you could almost forget what an unrepentant laughingstock they had been for so long that the phrase since “time immemorial” is only faintly hyperbolic. The dysfunction was one of the guiding principles of the organization. For many years they seemed less like a basketball squad and more like mercenaries bankrolled by an unseen parsimonious warlord.

Loving a team from afar isn’t altogether a unique situation. People relocate, things happen, it’s fairly standard to cheer for teams outside your time zone. You have to be like Gregg Poppovich or Rick Carlisle and make some dang adjustments! Many of these amounted to minor annoyances, that Satan of Small Things. Waiting until 10:30 at night to watch games. Rarely getting to watch the local feed and listen to the avuncular grace of Jim Barnett or the much-despised enthusiastic company man (but very decent play-by-play dude) Bob Fitzgerald. Peering at my computer screen and trying to decipher choppy time delayed streams loaded with penis enlargement ads. Sometimes my computer couldn’t seem to handle the feeds anyway and I took to the streets (Twitter).  Pacing angrily while refreshing time-delayed box scores and rabidly scrolling through the chaos of basketball Twitter were some nerve-racking times. This is no great shakes to soccer fans or tennis enthusiasts who rise at obscene hours while their friends snore through their nightmares, but this did feel different somehow. The timing. The meteoric rise. Something important was happening that I wanted to be a part of, and I couldn’t and wouldn’t. The greatest Warriors team of a generation would rise and fall while I shivered 3000 miles away. I am not the cosmos, I know, but it’s a heavy feeling in my chest nonetheless.

This is not the easiest sell, but in some dark moments I miss those final rotten days of the Chris Cohan owned Warriors. Not for the loathsome Cohan, or the toxic atmosphere he and Robert Rowell and an increasingly distracted Don Nelson perpetuated, or the horrific teams that routinely got hammered down during an 82 game marathon towards disgrace. I miss them for far more selfish reasons. I was there. I could finally regularly afford tickets to games so I went as often as I could manage. I had what seemed like dozens of buddies that were usually willing to either come over and put up with my hysterics or sit and watch me scream at the television of this dive bar or that dive bar. This was the great era of D-League All-Stars, second-rounder debris, and distracted over the hill journeymen come to die. This is a time no one actually pines for. But I pine for the living room in the house I grew up in where I used to eat the hell out of dad’s not quite world famous spaghetti and watch Golden State Warriors games until our hearts and brains broke. The fellowship of damaged fandom, the brotherhood of bricked shots and defensive brain sharts. It wasn’t much, but it was all we had for quite a long, long time.

I’ll swallow my murkier reflexes and try to suppress the curmudgeon within. My life is too good and to be unduly envious of the proximity of others to the abruptly successful Warriors is a broken path. I chose the snow and doggone it (people in Baltimore say this quite often) I’d choose it again. But what I wouldn’t give to be there for just one game and see this team fight to take the Thunder or Clippers to the brink. To see a Stephen Curry game-winner with 16,000 comrades I’ll never meet. BART would be packed with loud drunks in jerseys, the sodas and beers would be near unforgivably expensive, and I’d be sitting in shitty upper level seats and getting rowdy with dad and Chris and Jon and Jason and Nate and Jarod and Devlin and Mike and My and Nick and Ramsey, and the rest of the people who know instinctively what it means when I post Stephen Curry’s name over and over again on Facebook and broadcast my anxiety across social media.

That would be a perfect night, even without the win.

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Kobe Bryant Sheds his Skin

As the youngest of three brothers, there was a decent amount of fighting with my siblings growing up. Probably not any more than you would expect from three boys, but still. In many ways my oldest brother is your stereotypical first-born—the leader in anything the neighborhood kids got up to, who had a difficult time controlling his anger any time one of his little brothers beat him at anything, even an insignificant, luck-filled game.

Two of my most vivid memories from childhood were when I beat him up. They’re vivid because they’re the only times I got the better of my brother five years older. Once I managed to get out of a pin and got a few swings in before he resumed dominating me. The other time I nailed him from a distance with a 32 ounce bottle of sunscreen, immediately realized my mistake and sprinted to the only room in the house with a door that locked.

The central organizing force of my childhood was my relationships with my brothers. If you track my current behaviors back far enough, chances are they originate in how I related, understood and interacted with my brothers. It’s not that these relationships were deterministic—I’m not in my current job because I once beat my brother up—but that they shaped me to the extent that nurturing plays a role in that.

I couldn’t help but think about my childhood as I read through the New Yorker’s big Kobe Bryant profile, ten pages of Kobe struggling with understanding how much control a person really has over who they are.

***

When discussing Kobe Bryant’s character, his own role in shaping it is frequently left out of the discussion. His public persona is a cold-hearted basketball player with a homicidal desire to win, an affliction he was born with and managed to channel into becoming one of the best basketball players of all-time. It seems Kobe himself believes this, describing one of his daughter’s meltdowns after he beat her at Candyland: “‘Shit, the kid’s like me. Damn it….Maybe you can learn it later, but it’s not taught.’” From his parents to his daughter, Kobe Bryant is merely a vessel of a genetic hatred of losing.

A year ago Kobe went down with an achilles injury. The initial pronouncements were not good, and a survey of basketball players suffering achilles injuries revealed mostly broken careers. But that didn’t stop the Lakers, Kobe or Kobe fanatics from assuming, without a second thought, that he would recover ahead of schedule, recover his greatness. After all, why would a human injury affect a man who isn’t human? It never stopped him before, playing through achy knees and multiple broken fingers.

The headliner from the piece though, the quote that has bandied about this week, is Kobe Bryant’s criticism of Miami Heat players for posting a photo of themselves on Instagram wearing hoodies in solidarity with Trayvon Martin. Kobe was responding to the notion that he should’ve done something as well, retorting that just because he is African-American he has no obligation to support all African-Americans. Using the language of a post-racial utopia, he says one has to look at the facts first.

He also spoke of his admiration for Seattle Seahawks corner back Richard Sherman, and sees Sherman as a kindred spirit displaying, “‘the truth of athletes at the highest, highest, highest level.’” When profile author Ben McGrath brings up how white people in particular reacted to Sherman’s post-NFC title game demonstrative statement, Kobe once again downplays race: “‘Even if it’s a white athlete that exploded like that…That was the ugliness of greatness. That’s what that is to me.”

Kobe has adopted an extremely naïve opinion on the importance of race. He seems to subscribe to a worldview where there exists such a thing as an objective fact, as if “facts” aren’t colored by numerous things, among them race. He doesn’t acknowledge that simply by being black in America, Trayvon Martin lost the battle of “facts” before it even began. His pooh-poohing of a race-based understanding of Sherman’s comments is inconsistent with the heavily racialized uproar that ensued.

The commentary on Kobe’s opinions on the Trayvon Martin case—including my colleague Jacob’s wonderfully written piece from last week—has focused on his identity as an African-American with a non-typical African-American upbringing in suburban Philadelphia and Italy. This imprinted upon him a complicated identity, not wholly American but certainly not Italian. This is what Jim Brown refers to when he says Kobe Bryant is, “somewhat confused about our culture”.

While Kobe’s cultural identity is certainly important—and something he brings up multiple times in the profile—these analyses based upon where he was raised miss out on fully understanding Kobe. I don’t think his stances on Richard Sherman or Trayvon Martin come from his different understanding of “African-American” from having grown up in Italy, but rather a rebellion against the idea that a person is how they were raised. I think Kobe is angry at not being party to this dialogue. He wants to reassert control over his own narrative, and not let it be defined by who he was 25 years ago.

***

Kobe Bryant has never been a pitchman in quite the same way as Michael Jordan or, more recently, LeBron James. Sure he spends his summers selling shoes in China and features in some commercials, but hypersaturating your consciousness with Kobe Bryant doesn’t fit the brand he has cultivated, the dark, mysterious, lethal Black Mamba. He isn’t in commercials riding his bike around or taking selfies with his Samsung ™ phone.

A cynical reading of the New Yorker profile is that Kobe granted access to change this, to boost his marketing credentials. You don’t grant wide-ranging access for the hell of it, because you believe in good journalism, but to get something out of it. The cynical reading says Kobe knows the end is nigh, and he is pivoting towards a post-basketball career. But it goes deeper than that.

Kobe Bryant has sold millions of sneakers, but not really. Nike has sold millions of sneakers with his name on them, with his face on the ads. Wkeden+Kennedy‘s brilliant ad executives come up with the commercial, and the director tells him where to go. He’s selling shoes but he’s not the one doing the selling, if that makes sense.

I don’t think Kobe is pivoting towards increased promotion, but attempting to reinvent a whole new Kobe, a Kobe he controls. He tells McGrath about his admiration of Giorgio Armani: “‘Giorgio Armani didn’t start Armani until he was forty. Forty! There’s such a life ahead.’” Armani isn’t admired only because he created a billion dollar business, but also because of when he started a billion dollar business. To Kobe, at 40 Armani left unknown-to-the-world Armani behind and was born anew as Giorgio Armani, fashion empire mogul.

Similarly, he tells of stopping in business classes at Boston College and the University of Miami on a recent road trip. I doubt there was value to him in an undergrad marketing class, especially once it became distracted by his presence. But it is another sign of Kobe owning his own person, ceasing to let others control his image and instead becoming educated enough to do it himself.

***

The logo for Kobe Bryant’s Nike gear is an abstract shape made up of six quadrilaterals in a vaguely triangle formation. He has explained that it represents the sheath of a samurai’s sword. Fascination with martial arts is a well Kobe has gone down before: “Black Mamba” is the name of Uma Thurman’s character in Quentin Tarantino’s homage to Japanese martial arts films. Perhaps I’m taking his marketing too seriously, but it makes sense to me that a samurai is how he sees himself, and thus projects accordingly. He’s dark, silent, mysterious, deadly, an assassin.

It is not a persona that lends itself well to McDonald’s commercials. It is not a persona that lends itself well to opening up and letting the public in. Indeed, for all the gallons of ink spilled upon Kobe Bryant, we don’t know too much about him as a person. In any case it doesn’t matter, as if the New Yorker profile is any indication, the person we do know is furiously trying to change that image.

Soon we will see Kobe Bryant as Kobe Bryant envisions, unshackled by the influence of his past.

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