What are they teaching those kids in Miami? LeBron James and non-history

You may have heard that LeBron James will be returning as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers next season. He announced his decision in a first-person Sports Illustrated post last week.

While sportswriters generally fell about the place in sharing how emotional they thought James’ letter was/made them, no one seems to have examined James’ history recitation with any care. James said that “Miami, for me, has been almost like college for other kids.” Did they offer a course in American Athletic History there? If so, can someone leak us the syllabus?

James goes on to make the following statement (emphasis added):

When I left Cleveland, I was on a mission. I was seeking championships, and we won two. But Miami already knew that feeling. Our city hasn’t had that feeling in a long, long, long time. My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.

Unless James plans to suit up with Johann Von Football and defend Akron’s 1920 APFA title, it’s difficult to understand what James is talking about. The context of that final quoted sentence clearly indicates James is referring to the Larry O’Brien trophy. That’s the trophy they give to the team that wins the NBA championship. The Cleveland Cavaliers have not ever won the NBA championship. They only even made it to the finals once, in 2007, when the eternal Spurs swept James and the Cavs. You can handle the math from here.

ALDLAND Podcast

Even the ALDLAND Podcast is not immune from Lebron discussion, and so we start off the episode with that very topic. Where will he go? Why will he go there? All these questions and more are discussed. But don’t worry, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, we haven’t forgot about you and also predict your landing destinations. Not to be left out, soccer makes its presence felt in this edition of the ALDLAND Podcast as the World Cup final gets a healthy preview.

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Families that play together (periodically) win together: NBA champions edition

Following the San Antonio Spurs’ dominant win over the Miami Heat in the NBA finals, FiveThirtyEight decided to examine whether the popular narrative about the winners and losers– that the Spurs played a more complete, team-oriented style of basketball the Heat, increasingly reliant on their solitary superstar, could not combat– was borne out in the numbers. They did this by comparing the relative usage rates (USG%) of the teams’ lineups. Plotting the difference in USG% between each team’s “top” player, the one who “used” the most possessions to either shoot, be fouled, or commit a turnover, and each successive player, should show how well the team spread the ball around. A team that did a good job of sharing the ball should plot a flatter line than a team that did not. FiveThirtyEight’s chart supported the popular narrative: San Antonio’s line was flatter than Miami’s, and the league average, while Miami’s line topped both.

As FiveThirtyEight pointed out, this isn’t how NBA championships are supposed to be won. As much as the Heat’s assemblage of its “big three” was seen as groundbreaking, it fit the narrative that grew out of Michael Jordan’s Bulls and Kobe Bryant’s Lakers (and certainly existed before Phil Jackson coached both of those teams to multiple championships) that the NBA was a star-driven league, and the way to win championships was to have a superstar. The Heat simply presented as an extreme version of that reality, with little in the way of supporting cast members.

FiveThirtyEight only compared this year’s teams, but the article made me wonder how the last NBA champions who deviated from the star-heavy model– the Detroit Pistons team that won it all exactly ten years ago amidst a solid run– compared statistically to this year’s Spurs.

I tallied the numbers using Basketball-Reference‘s team playoff data, sorted by USG%. Before doing so, though, I made an executive decision to omit data from players who appeared in fewer than ten playoff games that year, which swept out Austin Daye (one game for the 2014 Spurs) and Darko Milicic (eight games for the 2004 Pistons). The resulting plot lines for each team are essentially equally flat:

nbachampusagechartFor perspective, keep in mind where the Spurs’ line– red on my chart, black on the one above– is situated relative to the rest of the (2014) league. It seems these Spurs and those Pistons were on the same page when it came to playing team-oriented basketball. Meanwhile, Miami is discussing adding Carmelo Anthony for next season. Anthony has been in the top ten in the league for USG% in nine of the past ten years.

Don’t drag me into this Richard Sherman thing

Knowing roughly how the internet works, I had a pretty good idea that Richard Sherman’s postgame interview with Erin Andrews would elicit a substantial amount of “discussion” as I watched it on Sunday night. I also had a reasonable suspicion that that discussion would become a discussion about the discussion. That’s because, as I wrote here the next morning, Sherman’s interview was not all that remarkable when compared with other works in the same genre.

In the immediate aftermath of his comments, a lot of people said racist things about him, including labeling him a “thug.” The new online sports media critics (shorthand: Deadspin), collectively about which I’ve attempted to write before, preemptively steeled themselves against charges of racism by 1) labeling Sherman’s critics racists and 2) wholly endorsing Sherman’s comments.

It’s important to take the nation’s temperature on race issues periodically, but the race element of this discussion isn’t particularly interesting or nuanced, even though it does come with an Ivy-League-esque twist. However bluntly they did so, Deadspin et al. are right to stand up against racist tendencies in our discourse. Does that mean they need to go all-in with Sherman, though? No.

Continue reading

Four thoughts on the Miami Heat’s 2012 NBA championship

1. It was just last Thursday that the Miami Heat claimed the 2012 NBA championship with a blowout win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, yet it feels like it could have been six months ago. Maybe that’s because I don’t follow the NBA that carefully, but I get this feeling with nearly every passing major sports championship, and I remember it even as a kid, so it isn’t a feature of a developing perspective on time with age. It could be that the media mediates our experience of sports more than we realize. Hyperanalysis of championship games and series builds so much anticipation and tension. By the morning after the clinching game, though, the championship really does feel like yesterday’s news. Absent a controversial happening during the game, the media typically offers little beyond a standard game breakdown and an interview with a player or coach before jumping right into previewing the next season.

2. The morning-after conversation after this championship was all about LeBron James. The media’s beat on James had already begun to shift once the Heat made it to the finals, and by the time Miami clinched, they had made a complete 180 on LeBron. Had LeBron really changed, though? In some ways, probably. We’re told he developed his post game this year. That’s definitely something material. But if material, identifiable, quantifiable basketball things were the focus, his winning a championship wasn’t the point of change. He wasn’t heralded as the greatest when he was having, by the numbers, the best season in basketball history earlier this year, or when he won his third regular season MVP award, only questioned more. The nexus of the widespread criticism seemed to be personal and stem from things like the artistic merit of The Decision and The Introduction, his prediction that he’ll win eight championships, his apparent laissez-faire attitude with respect to competitiveness and the fourth quarter, his receding hairline and associated coping method, his unwillingness to shake hands when he loses, his calling the mother of his children his sidekick, etc. etc. If some or all of these are the bases for your beefs with James, though, the new ring on his finger changes nothing. Drew Magary, as usual, cuts to the chase:

There’s never been any question that LeBron James is a great basketball player. And even when he was coming up short in the playoffs, haters like myself just used those failures as an easy excuse to pile on him further, because he’s a dipsh[--] and he deserved it. The fact that he’s won a championship doesn’t fundamentally alter his character in any way. That’s the great con of sports: the idea that winners win because they have character and losers lose because they don’t. If you think LeBron is a good guy now because he won a title, then you probably had no business thinking he was a bad guy to begin with, because the outcome of a sporting event says nothing about the person within.

I never decided if I am a “LeBron hater,” which probably means I’m not. The only thing that really bugged me was his unwillingness to shake hands after he lost that championship with Cleveland. I guess I’m more agnostic about him, and I don’t think he’s more likely to win eight championships now than he was a week ago or a year ago save for the mathematical fact that he now has one of those eight.  Keep reading…

King James Approximately: A Summer Jam from Florida

Plenty of below average songs about Miami came to mind when I woke up this morning and learned that the Heat had won the NBA championship, but I thought it would be better for everyone to raise the level of geographic generality a little bit to broaden the options. Having done that, and recalling that the first day of summer was this week, the choice was pretty easy. Here’s “Mainline Florida,” the last cut off of the great early summer album, 461 Ocean Boulevard:

Please ignore the video uploader’s errant comma and make like Mike Miller and don’t let your troubles keep you from having a great weekend.

The 2012 NBA finals: Resurrecting the Zombie Sonics allows attention-seeking bloggers to go all-in on LeBron James

The very elemental 2012 NBA finals tip off tonight between the Heat and Thunder, and while we don’t know which way Captain Planet’s going with this one, I did think everybody outside of South Beach was on board with cheering for Oklahoma City. Probably more accurately, I thought everybody was on board with rooting against LeBron James & co.

Now that King James is (again, admittedly) on the verge of winning his first NBA championship, the internet’s writing hands are rushing to join his camp. Whether they really are tired of harping on James for The Decision, the pep rally, and his promise of eight championships in Miami or they’re just following the old, adhere to one view for a long time and then publicly and suddenly change positions to get attention model, or maybe they see that James’ time is here and they want to be on the right side of history, everybody’s suddenly all-in on LeBron James.

How to accomplish this switch? Remind everybody saying OKC “did it the right way” that OKC did it the wrong way first, by ripping the franchise out of Seattle. Continue reading

LeBron James is the 2011-2012 MVP, and rightly so

Back in February, I asserted that LeBron James was the best basketball player ever, and at that point, he was. He had at that point, by a comfortable margin, a higher player efficiency rating than any player ever had achieved. (General explanation of PER in the previous post; full explanation here.) Although he regressed from 32.8 to 30.74 to finish the season, it still was good enough to be the tenth best season ever by an individual player. In so doing, James knocked David Robinson out of the top ten, meaning that James (4, 9, 10), Wilt Chamberlain (1, 2, 5), and Michael Jordan (3, 6, 7, 8) collectively turned in the ten best seasons of professional basketball ever played.

James’ competitors for the MVP this year weren’t even close to him:

Rank Player PER
1. LeBron James 30.74
2. Chris Paul 27.04
3. Dwayne Wade 26.31
4. Kevin Durant 26.20
5. Kevin Love 25.36
6. Dwight Howard 24.24
7. Blake Griffin 23.43
8. Derrick Rose 23.02
9. Russell Westbrook 22.94
9. Andrew Bynum 22.94

For comparison, Paul is the only other player whose 2011-12 charted on the top 100 all time– at #79.

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Previously
LeBron James is the best professional basketball player ever