The L.A. Clippers: where Reality Imitates Farce

Who would honestly appreciate a "superfan" on a personal level? Let's say you're related to someone who calls himself the biggest fan of your team who has ever lived. Let's pretend he has a solid case, and is unreasonably obsessed with your team. Do you find yourself proud of the depth of his hobby? Or perhaps just sketched out by the general air of creepiness that pervades the most obsessive of fans? For my money, I've always thought that I'd probably be rather unimpressed if I was related to a superfan -- I'd certainly appreciate their ability to enjoy life and throw themselves full hog into their pet hobbies, but I don't think I'd be able to get past the obsessive tendencies and the other things they could be doing with their money. I don't think I'd really like a superfan in real life, if I had to spend too much time around them. On a personal level.

And that's sort of the key. As a concept rather than a person, I don't think you'd find a single sports fan who doesn't harbor a tincture of respect for the hardiest of diehards. We may -- and we often do -- laugh at other team's superfans. We don't understand why they do what they do. But at our team's games, somewhere in our cold and barren hearts, we find it in ourselves to root for the crazy person on the jumbotron who's painted their face with the logo and is wearing enough official team merchandise to feed a poor Ethiopian family for a months. We see them dancing on the screen and we feel the kinship wrought of what may very well be the only singular thing that connects us. When we see the superfan, we know we root for the same guys. They galvanize us into a semi-patriotic fury that only dies down when we've left the stadium and had some time to reflect on how absolutely silly sports is. But for that moment, the superfan is the MVP of the arena, and the MVP in the hearts of many fans.

And then you've got the Clippers! Continue reading

Take it from Hockey: Improving All-Star Weekend

AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz

Let’s face it, the All-Star game has never been particularly enjoyable. Hell, my dad has always thought of it as a solid representation of how he felt about basketball. And he would say so:

“3 and a half quarters of boring back and forth action, and sometimes an intense last 6 minutes,” he'd say, quickly adding that he enjoyed playing the sport. He just hated watching it. He loves hockey, but he's not a one-sport guy: he loves watching the NFL and CFL. As an extra dish to his beloved hockey, that is.

Let's talk about hockey. It’s not surprising that my dad, a guy who went through his 20s watching Wayne Gretzky and the Oilers in Edmonton, (while playing the sport whenever he had free time) had plenty of pretty good reasons to watch it. And yet, hockey - usually a relatively more exciting and unpredictable game - at one point managed to have an even less passionate All-Star Game than the NBA's. The whole experience of watching the NHL All-Star Game was tantamount to watching the lockout leagues — soulless, careless, pointless.

So, the NHL realized something that we'd all known pretty damn well — it’s all about the Weekend. On its face the All-Star Weekend is no great innovation: the NBA has its All-Star Weekend, with all the excitement that comes with jumping over Korean cars, Charles Barkley choosing Allen Iverson with the 1st pick in an All-time Fantasy Draft. And yet, in recent years, the NBA has lost the All-Star battle to the NHL. How did that happen? Continue reading

Why Richard Jefferson was guarding LaMarcus Aldridge

Here's a speculative answer, Matt:

I've been reading "Thinking Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman, and here's one of my takeaways so far: Modern psychology - as Popovich likely knows from the advanced psychological methods of the U.S. military - has identified dozens of heuristics that cloud and guide the judgment of experts and novices alike. These heuristics all exploit the tension between the intuitive and rational minds and thereby allow - to use the simplest examples - irrational methods of advertisement and rhetoric to pierce into the rational mind, even to the point of predictability. What's more, the heuristics may be based on absolutely nothing: When you are asked to make an estimate of a quantity and an experimenter puts a totally random number on the sheet of paper before your estimate, your estimate is going to be heavily weighted by this, again, totally random number. This is just one example of how the mind is led astray by diversions to the fickle intuition, both in the random ether-streams of words and numbers of the Internet and deliberate attempts to sow the mind with messages by advertisers and public figures. Complicating matters even further is that (according to Kahneman) this tension between the intuitive and rational is also central to the great power of the mind.

I speculate then that Popovich deliberately tries to navigate this reality of the mind, and so gravitates toward incredibly intelligent, driven, attentive role players like Matt Bonner, TJ Ford, and Kawhi Leonard and gives them simple expectations and tasks that they can focus on with every fiber of their being while on the floor. It's no coincidence that the Spurs' execution seems so crisp: Popovich makes a constant effort to ameliorate the diversions to the intuition and to highlight the strengths of the prepared player's intuition. Popovich has incorporated the power and the frailty of human intuition into his every decision as a leader and demanded in turn that his players do the same. Continue reading

Jeremy Lin and Comfortable Silence

At the Mavs game, they took some time to interview Jeremy Lin's high school coach. They tell him that Lin had described himself as arrogant and selfish before an ankle injury in high school changed his whole outlook. This self-effacement is too much for his astonished coach, who replies that - as you might expect - Lin was never arrogant in high school. Lin's being too hard on himself, his coach says. And you just shrug your shoulders and smile at another wonderful paragraph in an already wonderful story. Tim Duncan is my favorite athlete, and these are the stories that come out about Tim. And about Dirk. And about Nash. These are the good old stories we've already heard, presented in the expansive wonder of the new world that Lin has created. Continue reading

2012 Assist Infographics: Point Gods, Guards, and Quetzalcoatls

So, earlier today, the fantastic folks at Basketball Reference released to the public a marvelous database. It includes a highly interfaced and searchable play-by-play database for the past 10 years. This is, quite frankly, incredible. There's virtually nothing your heart desires that you can't search for -- player performance by the time left in the game, detailed stats of what happens when players make certain plays, team performance in certain situations... I don't think I'm being overly sycophantic when I say that this is among the greatest single advances in easily interfaced, searchable, and public statistical databases in the world of NBA statistics. There may never be any one or two people who mine the database for all the insight you can get from it. Ever. Long story short, it provides an easy way to answer certain questions, and the ability to learn how to raise better ones. To that end, I'll be doing a series of posts where I graphically demonstrate certain things that this database allows one to easily find. I hope that these will be useful to you. They're certainly interesting, if nothing else. Today's introductory topic as I sift through the data for interesting insights: how are assists distributed among the league's best setup men? Who are their most prolific partners? When in the game do they get them -- and what's the score when it happens?

Interesting questions. And it's easier to scratch at answers than ever. Let's dive in.

Continue reading

Juwan A Blog #6: Dear Dikembe

Dear Burke Nixon,

Recently you pointed us to your blog (Dear Dikembe: Open Letters to the NBA). The blog's premise could strike someone - like me, for instance - as quite strange. Oh, it's interesting: on Dear Dikembe, you incorporate all the myriad reports and information out there about NBA players into your own experiences as fan and teacher. And then, when you have something interesting to say about a player, you address him directly in a long, open letter (like this one), generally made from long, open sentences (like this one).

What's odd about this premise is a bit hard to express. I write fictional pieces all the time about these same players and it doesn't feel strange and I can't really account for the difference between our approaches. Maybe it starts with the asymmetry of the fan experience: While this is so obvious it's barely worth saying, it's rare when fans are themselves objects of fandom (and especially rare when it's by the same celebrities they're fans of). So - for the most part - public fandom of players simply doesn't go both ways, or if it does, the "mutual" part is usually overly generalized for the players ("my wonderful fans") and overly individualized for the fans ("Marry me, Dirk"). It's a glaringly asymmetrical relation. King-Subject, King-Jester, Patron-Artist, etc. Continue reading

Sager's Sacred Chord

Story based off Dave Murphy's Sager series, most recently Blue Velvet

"So, this is my station." Craig Bartholomew Sager gesticulated with one hand while loosely adjusting the wheel with his other. "My jams, so to speak. I've never gotten a chance to talk about them with anyone, and I'm glad you're here to listen. Now, that's kind of funny. 'Here to listen' is just one word from 'hear' to listen. That's how listening works!"

Robert gave Sager a sidelong glance. "Isn't that the same word?"

"Hah, no, one is location-dependent and the other is something you do. You know? Here versus hear. They're homophones... Shaq always laughs when I use that word. But I learned it back in elementary school when things were different. It's a good word."

Robert raised an eyebrow. "Okay, Mr. Sager." Continue reading

Jeremy Lin: the Anatomy of a Phenomenon

I wasn't really planning on watching Jeremy Lin's whole game tonight, if I'm honest. I've missed much of his play this week with a tough slate at work and a lot of extracurricular preparation for Valentine's Day next week. My intention was to watch the first quarter, wait for the inevitable letdown, and switch to Cavs-Bucks or Clips-Sixers or another game I expected would be competitive and interesting. But the game began and Lin's insane start essentially broke my ability to cognitively process what was before me. Jared knows. Watching Lin play wasn't simply like watching a player in the midst of a strong and inspired hot streak. It wasn't like watching Earl Boykins light up the defending champions for a new career high. It was different. Strange. Foreign. And I realized I was watching something that -- even if it was the only great game of Lin's NBA career -- was going to be deserving of analysis and introspection. So let's dig into the curious game and talents of one Jeremy Lin. Continue reading

The Tcharh Lott Bobcat$ and The Legend of Cr'azhwals

At a Bobcats home game, a father and his young son are sitting in decent seats:

"Watch that one," the father points at a player, "He's Gerald Henderson. Gerald plays good defense, and that doesn't always make it to SportsCenter, but he wins games for us. He's our unsung hero. Watch how he stops that frivolous chucker, Jamal, from moving past him."

"Wow! That's great!" the child says, as the jump-shooter Henderson is guarding (whom the father correctly believes to be Jamal Crawford) jacks up a terrible fadeaway three that by a miracle of chance goes in. "Was that supposed to happen, dad?"

The father grinds his teeth a little bit. "No, but sometimes it happens anyway. The point is that he's not going to do it too many more times like that. He's inefficient. He can't keep that up. Gerald's defense is great. Watch, pay close attention." But Crawford has the hot hand and - after a Bobcats pass goes literally nowhere - seconds later hits another contested three to the muted disgust of the crowd. The father rubs his temples. "I guess you could say that basketball doesn't always mean the good guys win," the father says grimly, looking on at an increasingly lopsided Blazers blowout.

"Are the Bobcats the good guys, dad?"

"I would say so, yes, more often than not." As the father says this, Gana Diop is at the line. "Except for him, son."

Continue reading