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

LeBron James is the best professional basketball player ever

It might not seem like it, but, as discussed on ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike this morning, LeBron James’ current season is the best season a professional player has ever had. John Hollinger, also of ESPN, created the Player Efficiency Rating (PER) metric for basketball players. In (his) general terms, “the PER sums up all a player’s positive accomplishments, subtracts the negative accomplishments, and returns a per-minute rating of a player’s performance.” It’s an advanced metric, and really, it’s a doubly advanced metric because it’s derivative of other advanced metrics. If you want it, the nitty gritty is here, but what PER allows us to do is compare individual players with their contemporaries and with those from other eras on equal footing.

The following is a list of the top individual full-season performances, based on PER, in the history of the NBA and ABA:

Rank    Player PER Season Tm
1. Wilt Chamberlain 31.84 1962-63 SFW
2. Wilt Chamberlain 31.76 1961-62 PHW
3. Michael Jordan 31.71 1987-88 CHI
4. LeBron James 31.67 2008-09 CLE
5. Wilt Chamberlain 31.64 1963-64 SFW
6. Michael Jordan 31.63 1990-91 CHI
7. Michael Jordan 31.19 1989-90 CHI
8. Michael Jordan 31.14 1988-89 CHI
9. LeBron James 31.10 2009-10 CLE
10. David Robinson 30.66 1993-94 SAS

The full list from Basketball-Reference is here.

James already has two of the ten best seasons, and he’s the only active player in that group. (His teammate, Dwayne Wade, is the next active player listed, at 13.) If the current season ended today, though, James would post a PER of 32.8, by far the highest mark ever recorded.

Perception is a valid and important check on the things statistics tell us. I feel like there are a million things one could write about James and perception, expectations, image, and legacy, all of which would get at the fact that the title of this post is something I’d guess most people reject as an initial, gut reaction but also something we all expected we would read, write, or say at some point. There are myriad potential lessons here. One is that these advanced metrics are a way of witnessing history in the moment, something that’s difficult to do based upon perception alone. Another is that, darn it, I hate LeBron and sabermetrics are for idiot-nerds. A third raises questions about the value we place on winning championships as a component of individual players’ legacies. A fourth is that Patrick Ewing, whose best season comes in at #117 on the big list, might not be the Dan Marino of the 1980s and 1990s NBA, and Kobe Bryant, whose best season so far comes in at #51, isn’t quite the heir to His Airness’ throne, or even Shaq’s big seat. And on and on.

NBA free agency and state income tax rates

From Dr. LIC at The Classical:

“Tax Avoidance: How Income Tax Rates Affect the Labor Migration Decisions of NBA Free Agents” (Journal of Sports Economics, 2011)

As often as we hear about NBA players and other professional athletes going bankrupt, it turns out they are not as financially unintelligent as some suspect. It turns out that surreptitiously, players take state income tax rates into account when deciding where to sign as free agents. As much as we talk about chasing rings, getting max contracts, positional fit, chemistry with coaches, big market versus small market endorsement deals, and weather, it appears there are other rational factors at play in these decisions. Economist Nolan Kopkin looked at NBA free agency from 2001 to 2008 and found that even after accounting for a host of relevant factors such as team wins, player position, or crime rate and student-teacher ratio in a particular city, increases in income tax rates during this time period equaled lower-quality free agents. This data helps explain ”The Decision.“  LeBron James’ selection of the Heat allowed him to purchase $12.34 million worth of purple gingham shirts by relocating to tax-free Miami versus the tax load that would have resulted in New York. Whether agents, players, or some other invisible hand is responsible for this remarkable effect of income tax on free agency is unknown, but perhaps we should take this information into account when formulating our opinions on next summer’s signing period.

While notable, I’m not convinced the “effect of income tax on free agency” is truly “remarkable,” although readers can decide whether I am remarking upon it or simply noting it, and whether that changes the remarkability of the effect. Maybe “unsurprising” is what I’m getting at, particularly when one considers the interests, knowledge, and skill set of agents. Or at least, the contrary result would have been surprising, noteworthy, and very possibly remarkable.

The rest of this edition of what appears to be a regular sports science feature is here.

Philadelphia dreamin’, on such a summer’s day

It’s been over a year since “The Decision.” Thirteen months since Miami’s “Big Three” hit South Beach. Two months since the Heat lost in the NBA Finals. One month since the NFL lockout ended. In other words, it’s time for the media to reprise the dream team motif that paid their bills through the NBA season. NFL free agency, though compressed, has been slow, with one exception. Keep reading…