Saturday, June 29, 2013

Get a Grip on (or) Ghosts of Girlfriends Past

I actually heard Mark Schlereth, one of the more well-spoken ESPN former athletes/talking heads, insist that the NFL has about the same percentage of criminals as any other company, about 1%. His partner, another former NFL player, quickly agreed with him as they rationalized this comment under the guise of "increased visibility." The NFL has about 1500 dudes. The company I work for has about 1500 dudes. Since the Super Bowl ended, there have been about 30 arrests of NFL players and draft picks. That's 2%, Mark. Two of those arrests were for murder, and in case we forgot, Jovan Belcher of the Kansas City Chiefs was deprived of the opportunity to be arrested because he committed suicide after definitely murdering his daughter and girlfriend.

Maybe I work for a model employer, or maybe there is a massive cover-up going on within my national company, but I think you would be hard pressed to compare the arrest rates and type of crime being committed by the employees of the two organizations, or, any other organization of similar size in the country. I was more than a little surprised to hear such an ignorant statement come out of someone not named Wilbon or Bayless.

But separating yourself from long-held beliefs can be difficult, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. Take the NBA Finals for example. Context becomes important when analyzing events. The two former NBA player/analysts were imploring Lebron James to shoot more at all costs, damn the results. Rose and Magic cringed at every loss, rooting for LJ with every launched jumper. The other two analysts flanking the pros were Wilbon and Simmons.

We've already documented all you need to know about Wilbon. He's the guy who didn't vote for Barry Sanders for the Heisman "because he played in a cornfield." So you know from the start that his ability to identify the best player is nonexistent. Throw in the fact that he's from Chicago and the Jordan bias becomes so thick that even Magic has to shut him up every few sentences.

But Simmons' response was a bit more puzzling. The same guy who has created a place for thoughtful and intelligent writing ranging from Bob Dylan anecdotes to All-22 type breakdowns of the Patriots running game in the form of Grantland, curled up into a mid-80s fog of Larry Bird references and retread Emmitt Smith-like titles make you better arguments. The disgust he and Wilbon demonstrated after Game 6 were not for the lost opportunities for Tim Duncan and the Spurs' Way, but for the Spurs failure to crush Lebron.  This continued through post-game interviews in Game 7, a game in which Lebron had pretty clearly the best elimination game performance in finals history. A performance that was nearly derailed by the following.

In what could only be called a Tim Donaghy moment, the refs called a lane violation on the Heat in the third quarter, negating a made Lebron free throw (yes, he should've had 38 points). This is a call that rarely sees action in the regular season, let alone a nail-biting Game 7 of the finals. Up two (not three due to the bogus call) with less than a minute to play, Mario Chalmers puts up a few Shaq-like free throws and instead of sealing the win, we are left to wonder if a Spurs fix/Heat collapse, is inevitable. Instead, Lebron swishes a jumper (after getting fouled first by Parker) with 27 seconds left and throws in a steal and two more free throws to end the game.  As Jeff Van Gundy vomits (his bitterness towards the Heat for firing his brother is not hard to pick up on) all over Mike Breen, Simmons and Wilbon hit their delete keys for their pre-written Lebron choke columns.

But the final minute of Game 7 was hardly a microcosm of all Lebron did to win that series. He hit the game winner in Game 6 also.  He blocked Tim Duncan for the third time in the series.  At the start of Game 6, Lebron, as he did in Game 7 of the Pacers series by taking George, simply volunteered to guard Ginobli and Parker. Ginobli was so incapable of even dribbling against LJ, that he was removed from the game after four minutes before proceeding to have the worst game of his life. Without Manu (runner-up Heat MVP) in the game, James switched to Parker over the next seven quarters. Parker, who before the series Rose had praised as a top-five NBA player, and elevated to "maybe top-three" after his multiple travel, Hail Mary bankshot to seal Game 1, was never heard from again. He shot 9-35 in those last two games, and was swallowed by Lebron. The prevailing wisdom that James would fatigue chasing Parker around screen after screen now seems laughable as Parker was literally unable to finish the last two games.  He was seen sucking air on the bench during the most crucial times of both games while Lebron destroyed the Spurs late despite playing 50 minutes in Game 6.

Oh yeah, one more thing. Three of the Heat's top 6 rotation guys scored zero points in Game 7.  Zeeeerrrrooooo. Bosh, Allen, and Miller made no shots. And yet, they somehow still won.  Please show me a game in which James Worthy and Kareem aided Magic with zero points. Please show me a game in which McHale and Parrish secured a championship by scoring zero. And I'm sure Jordan played a game in which Pippen and Kerr, with a little help from Kukoc, scored zero.

Simmons was willing to concede after the series that James could now enter the discussion of Top 10 ever, you know, maybe comparable to (his hero) Bird. The same Bird who played with like five other HOFers. But Jordan? How dare Magic even mention it. Jordan had to match up on super scorers like uh, who did he guard? Hornacek? Russell (Byron, not Bill)? Hersey Hawkins? Oh, that's right, he had Rodman and Pippen for that.  The three-man zone the Spurs employed against James? As Grantland pointed out, this would've caused opposing defenses to be called for about 80 technicals against the Bulls because zone defense was simply illegal when Jordan played.  Does James somehow lose credibility by leading easily the worst NBA finals team ever at age 22?  Better to just get basted out of the playoffs every year like the pre-Jackson Jordan did for his first five years than make a run?

So whether it's defending the league that gave you everything or your childhood heroes (even the ones that punch their teammates in the face), nostalgia tends to cloud reality. As the commercial says,
nostalgia is dumb.