Tidbits – June 6

In this installment, Mark Kriegel takes a cheapish shot at Kobe; are paparazzi a part of athletes’ futures; money is even more evil than you think; Arod; and Billy Donovan, after the fact, apparently doesn’t have what it takes to be a leader.

1) On Monday, Mark Kriegel took a shot at Kobe. In the pantheon of American sports herodom, it always helps for the hero to have a foil. If a direct one cannot be found, then a specter-foil will suffice. LeBron and Kobe have little to do with each other on the basketball court – their teams only play twice a year and, of course, they’ve never met in the postseason. But, for Kriegel, LeBron’s recent accomplishments are an opportunity to highlight Kobe’s selfishness:

Great players are supposed to endow the players around them with greatness. Kobe Bryant does not. While James is about winning, Kobe is about Kobe.

In relation to his teammates, Bryant inhabits a parallel universe, separate and unequal. Perhaps you recall former Laker Chucky Atkins remarking with some frustration, “Kobe’s the GM of this team.” I’ll not forget the way he showed up his teammate, Luke Walton, who had the temerity to pass the ball back to him during an overtime loss to the Knicks. And while there’s some fantastic revisionism emanating from the Lakers’ high command, you may remember that even his own coach couldn’t stand him.

You think anything has really changed?

Kobe Bryant doesn’t instill confidence in the guys in the locker room. He communicates by text message.

Kriegel also dismisses the notion that Bryant has a weak supporting cast:

Bryant keeps complaining about the Lakers’ lack of talent. But with the case of Boobie Gibson now in evidence, I would submit that there’s not much difference between the talent level surrounding James and Bryant. In fact, let’s dispatch right here with the fictitious notion that the Lakers without Kobe are a bunch of scrubs. LeBron James doesn’t have anyone nearly as talented as Lamar Odom. The difference is how each star treats the talent around him.

The reality is quite a bit more complicated than this, though. I took a look at John Hollinger’s Player EfficiencyRatings (PER) for the supporting casts on the Cavs and Lakers, respectively. Hollinger’s stats can be questioned and I won’t belabor all the data, but they offer a good summary snapshot of the performance of Lebron and Kobe’s teammates. And, suffice it to say that Drew Gooden and Zydrunas Ilgauskas have logged considerably better performances over the past five years than any two non-Kobe lakers, with only Lamar Odom in the same ballpark. And, that doesn’t include such bench players as the Cavs’ Donyell Marshall, whose performance in the past five seasons considerably outshines any Laker coming off the bench. Additionally, it’s worth noting that both Ilgauskas and Marshall had high performance levels before they had James as teammates (and Gooden’s hasn’t improved in the past couple of years). To sum up, Ilgauskas was already very good before LeBron came into the league, far better than any Laker big man, Gooden is at least Odom’s equal (though they play a different style of game), and Marshall is better than anyLaker bench player.

Additionally, Kriegel describes James as a player who just shoots when he has to, in contrast to Kobe. But, Kobe took, on average, about a shot and a half more per game than James this season, not a huge difference and especially insubstantial when you consider that Cleveland plays a much slower, half-court oriented game with fewer total possessions. In fact, the difference between the Lakers and Cavs, in addition to overall style of play, is their respective defenses. The Cavs’ is very good, the Lakers’ isn’t. The point: that there is no compelling evidence to support the implication that LeBron is better at involving his teammates in the offense and is less selfish than Kobe. There’s a half an assist per game difference between them, and the Lakers shoot a better percentage than the Cavs as a team, despite having no inside players who are the equal of Gooden or ZI. So, unless Kobe is responsible for the Lakers’ poor defense, I don’t see that the comparison makes a ton of sense.

Kriegel acknowledges the talent difference between the conferences, but he doesn’t allow for the likelihood that if Cleveland’s first round draw had been Phoenix, they probably would have been one-and-done as well.

Kobe’s an easy target for adverse coverage. He may be a bad teammate, though I tend not to believe everything I hear on that front. And, I love LeBron – he’s one of my favorite players to watch. But, recent playoff developments notwithstanding, I am not persuaded that the difference in the fortunes of the Cavs and Lakers boils down to James being a better teammate than Kobe.

Full disclosure about Kriegel. First, I think he’s a great writer, one of the best in the business. Second, we grew up in the same building. I just think this was a cheap shot.

2) Have we opened a new chapter in the way sports figures are covered? This is the question that Mike and Mike posed to Buster Olney yesterday morning, in reference to the New York Post’s publication of pictures last week of Arod with a blonde not his wife. Olney says, yes, it is (and is sickened by the prospect), and notes that if the Post had published these pictures twenty years ago, other sports media might simply have ignored them. But, given the nature of information cycling today, those same pictures immediately find their way to the internet and a 24-hour news cycle with an insatiable appetite for the next story. Olney also argues that one of the consequences of introducing this kind of story into coverage of the players is that “it hardens the line between players and reporters.”

Writing on the same episode last Friday, the New York Times’ sports business/media writer, Richard Sandomir is more sanguine about such a development:

“Sports superstars are a different type of celebrity than those in Hollywood, and their species rarely cross-pollinate. Athletes benefit from a media culture in which the beat reporters do not view the reporting of players off-the-field dalliances as their job  a compact that dates to newspapers not chronicling Babe Ruths sexual peccadillos.

So while the unmarried Derek Jeter might be seen canoodling with a hottie in a Manhattan club, photographers are not staking him out en masse as they do Lohan, Paris Hilton or Britney Spears, or driving him off a road.

There are no sports couples as delicious to follow as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. But it is tempting to wonder how Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe would be treated if Access Hollywood existed in the 1950s.

Sports figures in this era, David Beckham aside, do not generate the attention of paparazzi, said Larry Hackett, the managing editor of People magazine. There is no regular sports equivalent of 40 photographers camped out at the Ivy Restaurant in Los Angeles waiting for Nicole Richie, he said.”

It may be that the Post put a photographic tail on Arod not because they intend to remake how sports figures are covered. Rather, this may be a function of the unique coverage that Arod draws – a singularly irresistible target. Besides, it’s not entirely true that the media lay off athletes’ off-field activities. It’s just that the kinds of off-field activities that do garner attention are not those one is likely to find in People or US Weekly. Pecadilloes may be out of bounds – but crimes and misdemeanors sure aren’t.

<>3) I didn’t weigh in last week on I-got-it-gate, the controversy surrounding Arod’s barking at Blue Jays’ third baseman Howie Clark on a pop-up, as Arod was running past the rookie. The play was bush league, but also clearly blown out of proportion because of the level of scrutiny Arod receives. In any event, Bill Plaschke of the LA Times defended Arod, and his defense raised an issue I wanted to mention. First, here’s Plaschke:

“It’s rude to pitch inside. It’s impolite to jog slowly around the bases after a home run. It’s unseemly to steal second with a four-run lead. Don’t you dare bunt in the eighth inning of a potential no-hitter.

And, apparently, never try to distract a player trying to catch a fly ball.”

“Are you kidding me?” former Dodger Maury Wills said. “Sometimes I don’t know what today’s players are thinking. They get mad at every little thing.”

During Wills’ 14-year career, he heard the same word chanted at him so many times, he thought it was his middle name.

“Every time a grounder was hit to me, somebody on the other team yelled, ‘Boot!’ ” he recalled. “I heard it for years. ‘Boot!’ ‘Boot!’ “

Tom Lasorda remembers once doing a similar ploy while coaching first base for triple-A Montreal. With two out in the ninth inning of a tie game, opposing catcher Gene Oliver was running through foul territory behind first base to catch a foul pop.

“I got it! I got it!” Lasorda yelled. A distracted Oliver missed it, and the batter hit the next pitch for a game-winning homer.

“Sure, Oliver wanted to kill me, but I was just trying to win,” Lasorda said.

Plaschke’s explanation for this new-found over-sensitivity: money.

To wit:

Free agency has made every player an ex-teammate, and big money has given them manners, and everybody just wants to play a nice game and drink a free clubhouse beer and hurry home to their PlayStations.

If I had a dime for every time someone in sports media blamed some contemporary sports ill on money, I’d have a lot of dimes. According to Mike and the Dog, money is the reason why there is now a supposed epidemic of athletes getting involved in dog-fightin (“they don’t know what to do with all their money.”) Money is the reason players don’t try as hard. Money is the reason players keep playing past their primes (and working year round to stay in shape in the process). Money is the reason they take steroids. Money is the reason they won’t sacrifice their bodies to win. Money is the reason they fight so much nowadays (as Fergie Jenkins told Sporting News radio a while back).Money is responsible for players being rude to fans. And, now, money is the reason they’re so polite.

Since well-established sportswriters and commentators make far more money than their predecessors did, what about their performances can we attribute to money? Their laziness? Their reliance on the same tired cliches and false dichotomies? Their hypocritical bitterness over the affluent lifestyles of the men they cover? Their apparent aversion to turning on computers and reading lowly blogs?

4) But, speaking of Arod-bashing, Josh Elliott, filling in with Eric Kaselius for Mike and Mike last Friday, waxed grave in his assessment of Arod, insisting that there has been one misstep after another for the beleaguered slugger since the beginning of the preseason, when he put his foot in his mouth by acknowledging his strained relationship with Derek Jeter. Of course, when Arod had his historically good April, that airing of dirty laundry back in the Spring was widely cited as having been a contributing factor. Arod’s had a good few days since last Friday, so maybe the early Spring admission was a good thing after all. At least until his next slump or behavioral fumble. Ah, cause and effect.

<><>5) Finally (for now), Greenie has grown more annoyed by the day at Billy Donovan’s indecisiveness over the Orlando Magic job (as an aside, has this EVER worked out for a college coach? Pitino, Montgomery, Calipari, Carlesimo, Tarkanian? And, don’t give me Larry Brown – he was a professional coach before he was a college coach and spent many more years coaching in the ABA/NBA than in college). Today, Greenie approvingly cited Jay Bilas for being “the one guy” who was willing to stand up and call Donovan out for his flip-flopping in recent days. Bilas contends that Donovan’s hemming and hawing shows that Donovan can’t make the hard call, and that this will hurt him down the road. To his credit, Golic did not take this seriously, questioning how, exactly, this turn of events would hurt Donovan. To which I would like to add – Bilas’ statement about Donovan’s inability to make the hard calls is moronic.

<>If it’s true that Donovan can’t make the hard calls, then all Bilas has proved is that you don’t need to make the hard calls to accomplish what only five other coaches in NCAA men’s division I history have accomplished -namely win back-to-back NCAA titles. On that list of coaches who presumably don’t need to have had the fortitude to make the hard calls: John Wooden, Adolph Rupp and Coach K. I know we’re in a slow news cycle right now when it comes to NCAA basketball. But, surely Bilas can spend his time worrying about something more important – like how much Kevin Durant can bench press.

12 Responses to “Tidbits – June 6”

  1. J-
    Awesome post. I’ve been watching Greenie’s daily and increasing meltdown at the thought of Donovan – dude seems a little obsessed. And I saw Elliot’s grave pronouncement about A-Rod (Trey Wingo did the same thing with Michael Vick’s, what, three prior incidents and said they were approaching Pacman Jones status).

    And yes, LeBron-loving at the expense of Kobe is already waaaaay old – and useless.

  2. Full disclosure about Kriegel. First, I think he’s a great writer, one of the best in the business. Second, we grew up in the same building. I just think this was a cheap shot.

    Fuck Kreigel. I say it here and I’ll say it to his pasty face before bashing it in if he has the temerity to ever come out to Vegas and show his face. White folks in America have a distressing need, it appears, to pile on, even if they are just amking shit up.
    Again, Fuck em.

  3. Somehow LeBron makes his teammates better, even though Kobe already has THREE RINGS. People act like he was a role player, chipping in a steady 10/4/3 a game. No, he was usually the second best player on the court, and sometimes the best player. Oh yeah, and the incredibly selfish Kobe just happened to lead the Lakers in assists, both regular season and playoffs, all three years of their three-peat.

    Kobe hate always amuses me.

  4. […] post by jweiler and software by Elliott […]

  5. I love the treatment A-rod is getting over the fly ball fiasco.

    Now I’m waiting for an ESPN “Outside the Lines” expose linking ADHD-onset diabetes-global warming with the propensity for little leaguers to chant: “hey batter, batter, batter, SWING!”

  6. CJ Scudworth Says:

    Jweiler, you certainly have a point about rich, complacent sportswriters, but I agree with Plaschke on the A-Rod deal: Baseball “manners” is about money. It has to be. Just like guys charging the mound when a generation ago getting plunked was no big deal. You have to admit, money changes everything.

    I’d like to see some deeper analysis of the non-Kobe Lakers vs. the non-LeBron Cavs. Playing in the West definitely makes it tougher on Kobe, but I’m not convinced that the talent around him is appreciably different than the talent around James. You talk about Big Z like he’s still an elite center — he’s a solid center, but not what he was. I’m not sure that Andrew Bynum — at times — wasn’t better than Ilgauskas this year. Gooden is so inconsistent, Larry Hughes was playing out of position — and sucking most of the time this year when he was at his normal SG spot. And Damon Jones, Eric Snow and Donyell Marshall, the guy who clanked that wide open 3 in Game 1? Please. Not good. Boobie Gibson was solid in the Detroit series, but he’ll do nothing against the Spurs. And Pavlovic was a non-factor against Detroit.

    The Lakers have a huge PG problem, but had they been able to keep Odom and Walton on the court, they would have been much better this regular season…

  7. jweiler Says:

    Hey CJ

    About ZI, I said nothing like he’s an elite center. I did say that his performance level is appreciably better than any Laker over the past five years not named Kobe or Lamar – and that’s a fact. Bynum was good for about twenty games this year, then he sucked. And Marshall missing one shot doesn’t change the fact that he’s performed at a much higher level than any Laker bench player in recent years. As for Walton and Odom being hurt for much of the season, that only furthers the point that the comparison was an unfair one.

    As for money, I stand by what i said – the evils to which it is attributed in sports today are often self-contradictory and I don’t hear sports talking heads complaining about their own large pay checks.

  8. Another great piece J. Like some of the other comments, I have to agree that Kobe bashing is so groundless and usually based on some sort of envy.

    Most professional sports babies have a sense of entitlement because they know all to well the inner workings of their respective sports and the media construct. It’s not that they look down on teammates, it’s that their collective philosophy seems to be more grounded in achieving a more hallowed ground (Griffey, Bonds, Manning). What’s wrong with surpassing the athletic exploits of their fathers? Shouldn’t that be true for all youth?

    You would think that more writers would reference this before bashing what is definitely superior talent.

  9. CJ Scudworth Says:

    OK, I shouldn’t have implied you said Big Z is better than he is. Sometimes my comprehension is lacking. At the same time, my comments on the Lakers and Cavs are based on this year only. I don’t think it’s especially relevant to go back five years, but you obviously do.

    More in responses to other comments here, I acknowledge that the Lakers are awful quick to trash Kobe publicly when it suits their purposes, but I seriously have a hard time thinking that people in and out of the media dislike Bryant out of jealousy. At least I can’t imagine they’re any more jealous of Bryant than they are of A-Rod, Bonds, Tom Brady, Tiger Woods or any other elite athlete.

    The way you all feel about Kobe is just going to be my one beef with this site, I guess…

  10. CJ we respect the talent on the field period. I can care less what the hell Kobe does off the court because its simply irrelevant.

    The men I know don’t watch soap operas and I choose not to watch one through the guise of then pen.

    Kobe is a basketball assassin and even though I personally am a Sixers fan, I opine to watch the player as his legacy grows.

  11. The Kobe bashing stuff is getting old and quite unneeded. Most of the hateful comments are based on perceptions, not the facts.

    I can’t believe the biases against Kobe.

    Oh, James makes his teammates so much better yet the stats of his teammates before him are better than when playing with him.

    And contrary to the beliefs that Kobe doesn’t involve his teammates, most of his teammates have better stats playing with him than before. And which Kobe’s teammates are starting material before joining the Lakers, not Mihm, not Kwame, not Smush, not Atkins. And Luke Walton was a backup for 3 years. However, they managed to have an overchieving 1st half of the season.

    Too bad most media hacks only want fans to see the negative stuff (sometimes even made up stories)about Kobe and bury the positive side under the rug. Also too bad, many fans are swayed to think/act against Kobe.

  12. CJ Scudworth Says:

    Mizzo, that’s my point about Kobe. I hardly hear a media person talk about him without including the words “most talented player in the game” or “NBA’s best player.” I think he receives ample credit for his immense talent.

    The other stuff? I don’t know. I’m in the middle. Some people pile on, sometimes the Lakers screw him, a lot of times he brings it on himself…

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