A Sinister Selfie: the San Antonio Spurs and their Character Issues.

Thanks to Spurs guard Danny Green, a new word entered our lexicon this week: the holocaust selfie. Green, who was visiting the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe Information Center in Berlin, where the Spurs played a preseason game, decided to snap a selfie of himself at the monument. While the picture was questionable, the caption — “You know I had to do it one time lol #holocaust” — was really what caused a stir. To his credit, Green acted swiftly and sincerely to his transgression. The picture was deleted (and then later reposted with a far more appropriate caption) and Green, himself, issued a lengthy apology on Twitter. Combining the four tweets yields us with this message: “Yes, mistakes do happen. I want to sincerely apologize for the insensitivity of my post! I have great respect [and] understanding for this country’s history [and] wanted to continue chronicling my experience in Berlin. But showed poor judgement. [Sorry] once again.”

The point here is not to lay it all on Danny Green, who has apologized, and who is guilty of a crime of ignorance rather than a crime of maliciousness. Rather, I highlight the “holocaust selfie” to illustrate that the San Antonio Spurs haven’t been as squeaky clean over the last few years as their sterling reputation might suggest. Of course, Tony Parker found himself facing accusations of antisemitism after a dated picture of he and French comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala both engaged in the quenelle emerged, a gesture that has been compared to a “Nazi salute in reverse.” At around the same time, pictures of Parker’s countryman and teammate Boris Diaw engaged in the quenelle resurfaced, adding to the (admittedly small) firestorm which wondered whether there were larger issues of antisemitism in the Spurs organization. But that’s really not the half of it. Right before the season started, Mike Budenholzer, the team’s former lead assistant, and newly-hired coach of the Atlanta Hawks, was arrested for a DUI before ever coaching a game for his new teamEven the team’s general manager has had his trouble with driving under the influence, getting arrested for a DUI in 2011. Prior to that, Gary Neal, who served as an important player in the Spurs rotation from 2011 to 2014, faced rape charges while attending LaSalle University, but was acquitted in 2005. And finally, one cannot forget the fact that Gregg Popovich, the team’s head coach whose grumpy-Gus act with the media has become his calling card, was apparently mean enough to Doris Burke to nearly make her cry. Yet, to the average NBA fan, most of these incidents are hardly incidents at all. Like other NBA teams, or professional sports teams, the Spurs struggle with character issues from their employees. At the same time, it still seems puzzling: why aren’t these transgressions more widely discussed?

Part of the reason has to do with the Spurs purposeful orientation towards their community. With apologies to the Toros and the Rampage, the Spurs are the only “Big Four” professional sports team in San Antonio, and by far the city’s most successful. In fact, of all of the NBA champions from the past 20 years, only the San Antonio Spurs (#36) hail from an area that’s not in the top 20 for media market size. As such, and like most single-team cities, they carry themselves with a “mom and pop” feel that contributes to their overall mystique. Though they maintain active sponsorships with national brands such as Kia, Coca Cola and State Farm, their primary sponsor is H-E-B, a local supermarket chain based in the San Antonio area. They also prefer to align themselves with sponsors who have a longstanding presence in the San Antonio area, including Express Lube and Southwest Business Corporation (SWBC). While this prevents the Spurs from having the visibility that a team like the Los Angeles Clippers enjoys, or even another strong one-team-town like the Oklahoma City Thunder (whose primary sponsor, Chesapeake Energy, is already problematically owned by team owner Aubrey McClendon), it also shields them from criticism that other prominent teams deals with. And, most importantly, it is difficult to criticize a team that contributes their images and likenesses to silly television spots and billboards around the area. The Spurs are sponsored by businesses that know them, and reap the benefits from a longstanding partnership with the ninth most valuable team in the NBA.

Additionally, the family-style atmosphere that surrounds the Spurs extends to formal coverage of the team and this, in turn, seems to shield the Spurs from negative headlines. The San Antonio Express-News is the only major newspaper in publication in the area, and as such, the only outlet that assigns beat writers to the Spurs. The writers themselves — Jabari Young, Dan McCarney, Mike Monroe, Jeff McDonald and columnist Buck Harvey — are among the best in the business, providing excellent analysis and commentary on one of the league’s crown jewels. Through their words, we have learned much about the Spurs’ iconic characters, from Popovich’s fatherly ways, to Tim Duncan’s love for Marvel comics. However, upon further observation, we are confronted with the fact that these writers are either unable or unwilling to dig a bit deeper, and present more nuanced character profiles about members of the beloved hometown team. The quenelle incident was only mentioned in passing by one writer, Dan McCarney, in a piece highlighting how “proud” head coach Gregg Popovich was in Tony Parker for his apology. The other writers chose (or were told by an editor) to let the story drift out of the headlines. Granted, this is understandable, considering Popovich’s exhaustively-chronicled grumpiness towards the media, the Spurs’ stinginess with national media requests, and the politics that must come with being the single major newspaper in a single sport town. While this engenders a positive relationship between the high-performing local team and the local press, it perpetuates the notion of the Spurs as infallible; of being incapable of truly making a mistake. This feeling seemingly extends to the blogosphere, where sites like 48 Minutes of Hell, Air Alamo and Pounding the Rock, offer tight but biased analysis for the favorite team of the writers, and in most cases, the only team where the writers themselves live. All of these individuals write for an audience that likely doesn’t want to hear about negative character traits or questionable actions. Instead, they write pieces that highlight the Spurs sense of selflessnesssacrifice, and longevity. It contributes to long-existing ideas of Spurs as airtight, and in many ways, beyond rebuke.

But the biggest reason that the Spurs don’t get the heat is because they are the Spurs, a statement that has become strangely self-evident. Kris Fenrich wrote about this elegantly a few months ago, as he watched the Spurs wrap up their fifth championship, listened to what people said about them, read the words people wrote about them, and took note of the spin:

All these attributes we associate with San Antonio: a group of humble pass-first players willing to take less money in pursuit of something bigger than themselves don’t necessarily align with everything they do and who they are. There’s the trite “Built vs. Bought” tweaking, the anecdote about Duncan never speaking to Parker that is frequently spun into a quaint story about earning respect, Popovich’s unnecessary treatment of journalists (which took countless awkward interviews before any mass condemnation occurred – perhaps because the same people in a position to criticize are those dependent on him for quotes and insight), stoic Duncan’s eye popping complaints aimed at officials, former Spur Bruce Bowen’s dirty play, and of course Parker’s questionable relationship with former teammate Brent Barry’s wife. If you want reasons, both on and off the court, to dislike the Spurs, there are plenty.

Indeed, Kris is correct: the Spurs contradictions make them difficult to analyze. The Spurs’ last championship cemented the legacy of the team, and thus, the primary figures who define the organization. Led by Pop, anchored by the Big Three, and supported by a lovable cast of global citizens who do not mind being cogs in a well-oiled machine, the Spurs were — and are — a team that defy much further explanation. For most, an opinion about the team has been made, and that opinion is not changing any time soon. They are both boring and not-boring at once, both old and not-old, both slow and definitely-not-slow. It is their contradictions that seemingly make them who they are; a small town team that can unseat the major markets, who can throw monkey wrenches in the best-laid plans of the league, who can prevent a LeBron vs Durant finals series from ever happening again in our lifetimes. It is they who can drive the NBA crazy despite being the strongest example of how smart team management can supersede any constrictions caused by market size, television exposure and name-brand recognition. Yet, it is important to remember that this is who they are because this is who we have made them out to be: a cult of personalities team who draw their strength from their seminal figures, and who only need to answer to those figures, and those figures alone, on a daily basis. And as long as the team keeps winning 55 or more games a year, and consistently participates in the NBA’s final four, there will be little by way of dissent from anyone who deigns to explain what makes the Spurs the Spurs, from either a local or a national perspective.

At this point, the Spurs are so heavy, they are almost totally beyond unpacking. They are a team that have made themselves by living almost completely on the margins, perched right on the border between two countries, playing by rules that only they can play by. It seems almost impossible that they can have shortcomings; that they can be linked to antisemitism, infidelity, drunken driving, sexual violence and outright bullying. But we are confronted by evidence that they do, and that they are; indeed, they are human, in a league populated with them. It is a shame that we won’t really get a picture of them that extends much beyond the Spurs system, which uses the media to skillfully gloss over negative character traits in an effort to keep the black-and-silver machine churning. As long as wins come, this will not be questioned.

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Diss Guy Miss Guy, Vol. 81

Diss Guy: A Rivalry in Texas starring Mark Cuban vs. Daryl Morey

What better place than Texas for a rivalry and who better to star in the center of this Lone Star State sparring session than rogue Mavs’ owner Mark Cuban and Houston Rockets wunderkind General Manager Daryl Morey? We’re only in October and already long-standing feuds are being renewed with references to old slights, cultural misperceptions, and front office faux pas. And this, this is the type of bad blood we need, the type of “I don’t like you, you don’t like me, let’s fight” rivalry that makes mundane Thursday nights on TNT turn into must-see TV for all in the ever-loving basketball universe.

The latest Morey vs. Cuban salvos were a counter attack from Morey in response to cultural and chemistry criticisms from the Dallas billionaire. In a melodramatic piece on Yahoo! Sports, writer and Coach K rival Adrian Wojnarowski wrote,

For months, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has unleashed a barrage of slights and snipes onto the Houston Rockets, framing the regime of general manager Daryl Morey in the most unflattering of ways. It has been an undermining, calculated campaign. Just understand this, though: No longer does it go unanswered.

Reading that opening paragraph from Woj, one almost wonders if it’s not the skilled hand of the dramatist penning the prologue of a Shakespearean spectacle about to unfold. Morey’s comments certainly can’t live up to the scene set by Woj, but the Houston GM at least left the florid language to the poets and spoke in contemporary terms:

I think [Cuban’s] pissed that we went after Dirk in free agency, however unsuccessful it was … I think he’s doing a smart thing to take on a rival … But let’s be clear: If the money’s equal between the Rockets and Mavericks, I think players are picking Houston. Every time. Dwight [Howard], I just don’t think it was a hard choice between us and Dallas. If you want to win, you’re going to want to join our organization … The choice was pretty obvious between the two teams. Dwight is the smart guy in this.

In taking an explicit, unveiled shot at Cuban’s franchise, Morey’s extending the rivalry in his pointed, but mostly harmless comments, but to be clear, this beef extends beyond the media and words. If you think Cuban’s dislike of Morey and the Rockets had anything to do with the big fat contract he gave former-Rockets forward Chandler Parsons this summer, then the conflict has extended into the realm of player personnel decisions and potentially altered previous paths. That being said, this is a rivalry with teeth, not fangs, more Nas/Jay Z (without “Ether”) than Biggie/Tupac and that’s a good thing for all involved. But let’s trace the issues back to the source.

Last summer, Morey, with all his probability-based notions and willingness to play the front office game well-within its bounds, but well beyond the bounds much of the league informally agrees to, made a play for Dallas’s heart and soul, Dirk Nowitzki. Cuban wasn’t just miffed about this, it seems he was livid (“I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’” – can’t you just picture Cuban saying this? Chin tucked low, square face incredulous, so pissed off he has to get on the stair master and burn away the anger.), but had a chance for revenge with Howard’s free agency. When Morey won that round, Cuban couldn’t resist the urge and said, “Obviously, he (Howard) made a mistake in judgment.”  Obviously that didn’t sit well with the Rockets. This past summer Cuban overpaid to get Chandler Parsons and somewhere in the middle of all that Dallas hired a front office guy by the name of Gersson Rosas from Houston. Rosas spent a couple months with the Mavs then returned to Houston. Suddenly it’s like we’re in the middle of an NBA soap opera with backstabbing, broken hearts, and a bunch of men with full heads of hair.

But let’s embrace this hate with all the bad blood and bile flowing through our systems. We’ve come a long way from the days of the Bad Boys and Robert Parrish clubbing Bill Laimbeer in the face without serious repercussion. We’ve all heard former players-turned-analysts lovingly reminiscing about the days when players were getting whacked in the head driving to the lane, but the notion that Karl Malone crushing Isiah Thomas’s face with a flying Louisianan elbow is part of any glorious golden age is misplaced. Trying to hurt an opponent is never a good thing, but a healthy front office dislike that trickles onto the court in the form of a rivalry between polite young men like James Harden and Chandler Parsons (but watch out for that Patrick Beverly!) is wholly appropriate. For a league that was rightly criticized for “Super Friends” a few years ago, we all need all the rivalries we can get and if Mark Cuban and Daryl Morey want to catalyze one, I’m all for it.

And you can bet your sweet ass that when Dallas takes that flight a few hundred miles southeast to Houston and matches up with the Rockets on Saturday, November 22nd, I’ll be parked on my couch, beer in hand, ready to drink up the bitter-tasting basketball  poetry that only deep dislike and hatred can pull out of men.

Miss Guy: Annual Melo Misstep

Speaking of drama, will the headlines ever end with Carmelo Anthony? A few days ago, ESPN saw fit to splatter its sidebar headline with words Melo spoke to the ever-reputable king of “sources,” Chris Broussard: “I’m the most underrated superstar in the league,” which any athlete of Melo’s stature knows is a not-so-secret code for the me first athlete.  Maybe Melo’s onto something, but unfortunately none of us can even agree on the definition of a superstar, let alone come to a consensus on who the properly-rated superstars might be. But as quick as ESPN and rest of the basketball media picked up the pull quote, Melo was back peddling quicker than that time he sucker punched Mardy Collins in the face during the ugly little Nuggets-Knicks fracas from 2006 (which strangely has its own Wikipedia page). On Thursday this week he sought to clarify those comments and told the New York Post that ESPN “took it and ran with it,” going as far as referring to the question as “a setup.”

Not-so-surprisingly, part of Melo’s explanation to the Post’s Marc Berman was that “I don’t even think about [being underrated]. If I start thinking about that, I’m losing focus on the task at hand.”

It’s impossible to know what the real Melo thinks or feels. It was a year ago around this time, just before the season began, that he told the New York Observer that he wanted to test free agency. A couple weeks later he was once again explaining to the Post that, “I want to retire in New York, I mean, let’s just be quite frank. I think a lot of people jumped the gun when I said I wanted to be a free agent.”

There’s a trend over this past year of Melo offering clarifications or revising statements, but it seems to happen more notably when criticism follows his comments. What of the comments that don’t grab the headlines?

In the same yet-to-be-shown interview with Broussard, the “setup” interview, Melo sets his sights on “These (analysts)” who he claims are “all people that maybe never accomplish anything. That just sit back and write articles all day long about what they see. They’re kind of living through us out there on the basketball court.” Aside from coming across as a petulant brat, Melo’s critiques are reminiscent of LeBron James’s comments after the 2011 Finals loss to Dallas when he infamously said: “All the people that was rooting on me to fail, at the end of the day they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today. They have the same personal problems they had today.”

After being heavily critiqued for those comments, LeBron went out of his way to clarify what he actually meant (“Everyone has to move on with their lives, good or bad. I do too.”) – just like Melo did above. But in all of Melo’s comments and clarifications and the “setup” from old wily Chris Broussard, he didn’t back away from his criticism about “people that maybe never accomplish anything. That just sit back and write articles all day … kind of living through us.” Whether this is aimed at the basketball media, bloggers, or fans who support the league and players like Melo, we likely won’t find out because critique-worthy statements from Melo are typically accompanied with edited revisions.

Yep, Melo’s become infinitely reliable. We know he’ll get his 25-or-so points per night. We know he’ll be great on the offensive side of the ball and not-so-bad defensively. We know he’s one of the best pure talents of his generation. And he’ll even remind us of as much, “I know night in and night out I’m gonna go out there and put my work in regardless of win, loss, or draw.” And along with all that talent, we can now expect the annual honest-statement-taken-out-of-context from an underrated star who keeps finding ways to make the same mistakes.

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Show Me Your Flair.


Media day has become known as the unofficial start of the NBA season, despite the fact that in most cases, the players haven’t even begun practicing with their teammates yet, and meaningless preseason games still are more than a week away. On this day, the team is paraded into a large room, where they all participate in strange photo shoots. In these cases, the players are more like models than they are professional athletes; standing tall and proud in their uniforms, perfecting hardened looks and blank stares as flashbulbs pop and hiss around them. As they stand there, perfectly still, almost arboreal in quality, one can’t help but note that, should their coach blow a whistle and yell “hustle up!”, the players would excuse themselves and trot away from the fracas of media day, have a hasty huddle, and take the court against another NBA team. They would be ready, after all, for as the players remain motionless, they are dressed as if they are ready for motion, action, excitement. Here is LeBron in tights, $200 shoes adorning his feet. Here is Melo with his headband already in February form, his trademark orange sleeve compressing a magnificently cold shooting arm. Yes, these players are armed and accessorized, ready for action. They are crisp, clean, full of flare. However, at this moment, the neoprene remains dry, the headbands remain perfectly settled on highly-scrutinized hairlines.

While the event marks the beginning of a new NBA season, media day also seems to signify the end of the first round of Accessory Season; the extended period of time where new lines of flair are produced, and later presented by their most famous endorsers. By this point in the proceedings, in between the end of NBA finals, and the start of training camp, NBA players — as well as the myriad of businesses that pay them to push shoes, shirts, large plates of nachos, deodorant, cell phones and breakfast cereal — have released most of their major products. Media day serves as the rollout for these items, a chance to model the tchotchkes. An obvious example exists in LeBron James’ new shoe, the LeBron 12, which was revealed late last week to the purchasing public at Nike’s headquarters outside of Portland, Oregon. The shoe itself resembles the crystalline entity; a messy compound of uneven hexagons and synthetic material resembling futuristic snakeskin. Yet, at the same time, it’s presented as the zenith of progress; the end of a magnificent journey of feet-sheathing, and all for a “it could be worse!” price of $200. “It’s a shoe defined by extreme precision, as well as explosive performance,” says Trevor Edwards, President of Nike’s Brand (with “Brand” capitalized as a terrifying proper noun). “[It] has everything that LeBron needs in a basketball shoe — and nothing more. In a word, it’s the best.” In the lead-up to media day, the reveal of the shoes wove interestingly with other additions to the ever-expanding iconography of the NBA, like a myriad of sleeved alternate jerseys being adopted by various teams, to logos for D-league teams which are compared (favorably?) to a “non-alcoholic gay disco.” All of these disjointed releases come together at media day, revealed in a carefully crafted event meant to tie all the disparate slogans, icons and individuals together in a unified message: “invest in us.”

I will argue that, among all the sports that exist on our very-nice-but-ultimately-doomed planet, basketball provides the most forgiving environment for accessories — the tangible and often purchasable assets that accentuate a player on the court — to flourish, thrive, and be innovated. Additionally, basketball allows its participants the greatest opportunity to accessorize; to experiment with various tools and products in an effort to enhance performance and even establish a brand. Perhaps basketball’s primacy in the realm of accessorization isn’t a surprise. Among the five major North American sports — and I will graciously, progressively include soccer in this list — basketball features the most scantily-clad players; galloping gracefully in roomy, baggy garments, unencumbered by long pants and brimmed hats, and unladen by vaguely-effective helmets and suits of armor. Their intensely built bodies are often laid nearly bare before us, seemingly begging to be covered in images, garments, labels and logos. In many cases, accessorizing is the choice of the player; a staunch display of agency and self-promotion. In most other cases, that accessorizing is done for them, either by the teams that employ them, or the sponsors that pad their accounts. Regardless of the case, accessorizing occurs, and then the accessories themselves trickle down, to your weekend run with your friends, to the catwalk, or even to the club. Indeed, basketball accessories serve as a strange conduit between a freakishly elite group of athletes and the vast midsection of the world, and accessorization becomes a common language of understanding between these two disparate groups.

If we were to take it a step further, it could be argued that the mere existence of the NBA, as well as the general accessibility and utility of NBA-inspired accessories, has been enough to generate innovation that has influenced popular culture more-so than nearly any other sport in the world. Again, this isn’t a surprise, or at the very least, it can be fairly easily explained given the insistent visibility of the players. Perhaps it is their perceived superhumanity that has led to the creation and consumption of a myriad of products based upon excelling at physical activity and chewing up the competition. The idea that at a basketball-shaped pump on the tongue of a Reebok, or cartoonish-looking springs on the heel of a shoe, could provide choice amounts of artificial athleticism – I used to be bound by gravity until I got my Nike Shox! – is informed totally by the extraordinary feats NBA players are able to accomplish on a nightly basis. The notion that an arm band, or a calf sleeve, could provide something more than just extra weight on a non-essential appendage, or that a head band could provide you with extra street cred off the basketball court is a direct result of the unique style of marketing the NBA participates in: a showcase of accessories, arrayed upon exceptional individuals, where correlation and causation are often blurred, and it is unclear whether the accessories make the man, or vice versa. This is how the NBA has distinguished itself over the years; by making the products the players wear on the court meaningful and obtainable available to those who truly want them.

In this way, media day — which rubs many the wrong way — is generally regarded with disdain because of it’s association with Accessory Season, and the NBA’s annual rite of unrolling their various brands, messages and marketing schemes for the upcoming year. Media day as an institution stands in stark contrast to Ron Artest, the slapstick former NBA forward who has rebranded himself as “the Panda’s friend.” Artest, who is bound for the Chinese Basketball Association after wearing his skills thin in the states, offered something completely different for his new purchasing audience: the first shoe, meant to be played in, with a stuffed animal attached to the top. The $75 shoe itself looks rather plain; it’s all about the panda on top. “The bear is not detachable,” Artest assures potential buyers, “the Teddy bear is a permanent and is the pandas friend! The ears on the side are also not detachable. Enjoy!” Given the importance placed in shoes — and headbands, and arm sleeves, and knee straps, and any other item that makes a player what they are, and enables them to do what they do — Artest’s tomfoolery seems almost sacrilegious; discordant with the times we live in. But at the same time, and like his former colleagues in the National Basketball Association, these items are meant to represent the individual, and everything the individual stands for when they’re on the court. In the same way Reebok Pumps made you springy like Horace Grant, and Nike Shox made you fly like Half-Man-Half-Amazing, the Panda’s Friend will make you a tough defender, a strange twitter follow, and a whimsical presence wherever you take your skills and your shoes. Of course none of these things are actually happening. However, as long as you believe in what you’re wearing, and the person who told you to wear them, it’s honestly as real as can be. And since belief is usually expressed in terms of dollars and cents, it’s hard to know what’s real, and what’s fantastical, in this strangely blurred world.

The NBA season is still 27 days away. Training camps have just gotten underway, and teams are now beginning to offer small glimpses of what could be in store on a nightly basis. LeBron is receiving under-the-legs passes from Kyrie Irving, slamming the ball into the hoop with a facial expression that seems savagely comfortable, ready for just about anything. On the other end of the spectrum, a rebuilding team like the Minnesota Timberwolves are still finding ways to show off their new pieces; delighting drunken college students at a late-night open practice, filled with all sorts of witching hour alley oops and tomahawk jams. Yet in all of these scrimmages, the players look destitute, sashaying around in Adidas-brand jorts and sweaty long sleeved shirts steaming under over-sized pennies. No, it is not yet time for the players to really show us what they have in store. That will require games that count; an opportunity for them to show us their flair, in the hopes that we will eat it up, our eyes wide with amazement, our mouths ajar and tantalizingly moist with saliva, and our pockets aflame from dollars and cents just waiting to be spent.

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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

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

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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