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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Curt Schilling, Kobe Bryant and Biased Media Coverage

You probably have seen or heard about Curt Schilling's blog post that talks about Kobe Bryant's demeanor during Laker timeouts in game two of the Finals. Here is the excerpt that has been most frequently quoted and discussed:

What I do know is what I got to see up close and hear, was unexpected. From the first tip until about 4 minutes left in the game I saw and heard this guy bitch at his teammates. Every TO he came to the bench pissed, and a few of them he went to other guys and yelled about something they weren’t doing, or something they did wrong. No dialog about “hey let’s go, let’s get after it” or whatever. He spent the better part of 3.5 quarters pissed off and ranting at the non-execution or lack of, of his team. Then when they made what almost was a historic run in the 4th, during a TO, he got down on the floor and basically said ‘Let’s f’ing go, right now, right here” or something to that affect. I am not making this observation in a good or bad way, I have no idea how the guys in the NBA play or do things like this, but I thought it was a fascinating bit of insight for me to watch someone in another sport who is in the position of a team leader and how he interacted with his team and teammates. Watching the other 11 guys, every time out it was high fives and “Hey nice work, let’s get after it” or something to that affect. He walked off the floor, obligatory skin contact on the high five, and sat on the bench stone faced or pissed off, the whole game. Just weird to see another sport and how it all works. I would assume that’s his style and how he plays and what works for him because when I saw the leader board for scoring in the post season his name sat up top at 31+ a game, can’t argue with that. But as a fan I was watching the whole thing, Kobe, his teammates and then the after effects of conversations. He’d yell at someone, make a point, or send a message, turn and walk away, and more than once the person on the other end would roll eyes or give a ‘whatever dude’ look.

If you did not go to Schilling's blog and read the whole post then you probably did not see the part that the media left out:

Let me reiterate that this is from a complete basketball newbie, so for all I know this could be exactly how these guys play this game and interact with each other.

So, while Schilling frankly admits that he does not know whether or not Bryant's actions were typical--either for Bryant or for NBA stars in general--the media intentionally frames this story as "World Series hero Curt Schilling calls out Bryant as a bad leader."

Baseball is a slow, leisurely game. There is plenty of dead time to sit around and calmly talk about things--which is not to say that we have not seen more than a few heated dugout conversations, including a recent one involving Schilling's Red Sox. In contrast, basketball is a fast paced game that only has short breaks in the action. There is not time to have a half hour discussion in which you politely ask your teammates to play harder and be more focused. Anyone who actually follows the NBA knows very well that most superstars will get right in the faces of their teammates if they think that those players are not performing up to par. We've seen Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and many others do that. Kobe Bryant demands excellence from himself in his workouts, his practice sessions and during games and he asks no less of his teammates. That, more than anything else, is the real source of his conflict with Shaquille O'Neal when they were teammates, because O'Neal has never had that kind of fire, intensity or work ethic. This new Lakers team that has been built around Bryant mainly consists of young players who look up to Bryant for leadership and direction. Pardon my French here, but in the first round of the playoffs, Denver Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin said, "Pissed off is better than pissed on." In other words, it is better to get angry, be aggressive and act with a purpose than, well, get pissed on. That is the message that Bryant was conveying to his teammates--and the best proof that his leadership worked is that he led the Lakers to a fourth quarter rally that very nearly stole game two from the Celtics. This season, Bryant has generally toned down some of the more demonstrative aspects of his leadership but this was a case when his teammates really needed to understand just how poorly they were playing and just how dissatisfied he was with their effort. I did not see any instances in which his teammates "rolled their eyes" at Bryant and based on Lakers games that I have been to I have yet to see that reaction, so I suspect Schilling misinterpreted or misread their body language. As he frankly admitted, he is a "complete basketball newbie," which makes one wonder why his comments are getting so much play. It is interesting that if you closely read what Schilling wrote he says that he is making no judgment about Bryant but every mention of Schilling's post that I have seen portrays his comments as being critical of Bryant. This is a classic example of people hearing what they want to hear and believing what they want to believe as opposed to examining an issue with a critical mind.

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:58 PM

7 comments

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7 Comments:

At Tuesday, June 10, 2008 7:55:00 PM, Blogger Allen said...

Oh man, of course the resident Kobe hater at the office printed out Schilling's words and handed them out as evidence of Kobe's bad leadership.

Then I get into an argument with the local MJ lover, who thinks that MJ's rough treatment of his teammates was somehow better or more justified.

First of all, Schilling's interpretation of the players' reaction is just that: and interpretation. Secondly, if you're going to criticize Kobe for that type of behavior, you have to be consisent and criticize MJ at least as much, if not more. After reading When Nothing Else Matters by Michael Leahy, you will see that MJ was way harsher than Schilling's portrayal of Kobe, and MJ even sought to humiliate his teammates, and even alienated them with his personality.

It's only because MJ won that he gets a free pass.

 
At Wednesday, June 11, 2008 12:40:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

dude
curt schillign is trash...
even casual sports fans know that

nuff said

 
At Wednesday, June 11, 2008 8:22:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Allen:

What Schilling wrote is just his opinion, which he freely admitted. However, several of the people who quoted him framed his remarks to put Kobe in the worst possible light.

When Nothing Else Matters is a great read.

 
At Wednesday, June 11, 2008 12:24:00 PM, Anonymous deuvidol said...

I read Schilling's post, and he's comparing Kobe's behaviour to the one of Celtics' players.
Schilling tries to be honest about what he sees, says he didn't have any prejudice against Kobe, admits that Kobe's achievements speak for themselves, and finally repeats that he doesn't know so much about basketball and he could be wrong.
Well, these things make his statement very believable.

You, on the other hand, seem incapable of showing measure in your argument, or admit that there is the 'possibility' that Kobe is a bad leader... Sometimes you're too much of a fan to be objective.

I really admire Kobe, and I don't know about the bench stuff, but what I saw during the game was him constantly bitching about his teamates mistakes (MJ did the same, fine by me), but NEVER encouraging any of them.

That's NOT being a leader. And that's why people hate Kobe, despite the fact that he is currently the best.

 
At Wednesday, June 11, 2008 11:23:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Deuvidol:

One aspect of this situation that I did not mention but someone else pointed out is that if Schilling was going to be writing about what he saw and heard while sitting right by the Lakers' bench then he should have had a media credential, not a ticket. I'm sure that Schilling would be thrilled if fans were seated close enough to the clubhouse to hear his interactions with teammates and that such conversations were then written about publicly without any context provided.

Unlike Schilling, I have actually interviewed Bryant, his teammates and players and coaches around the league. Kobe is an excellent leader. He played a major role in Bynum's emergence this year, as I detailed in a post about the Lakers' game at Indiana early this season. What Kobe did on the bench in game two is no different than what Bird, Magic, MJ and countless other NBA superstars have done in similar situations. As I explained in the post, the NBA is a lot different than MLB and things are said a certain way in the heat of battle. People who closely follow the NBA understand that.

You are absolutely wrong to say that Kobe never encourages his teammates. He has built up their confidence tremendously. Look at game three. I think that we can all agree that Odom had a terrible game, yet in the postgame press conference Kobe said that Odom played calmly and made some good decisions, like passing to Vujacic in the corner for the big three pointer late in the game. Kobe left out the part about the many, many bad decisions that Odom made or the fact that Odom's pass was pretty easy to make--Kobe did the heavy lifting by drawing the double team and giving Odom a pass that was easy to handle.

If you think that Kobe's leadership style is more negative than MJ's then you need to read the Jordan Rules and When Nothing Else Matters. One thing that Kobe does not have that MJ had was the adoration of the media; they fawned over MJ and crafted a very positive image of MJ but they have taken a much harsher--and generally unfair--tack regarding Kobe.

People "hate" Kobe for several seasons:

1) Some people will never forgive him for the Colorado incident.
2) Some people resent that others compare him to MJ.
3) The media constantly says negative things about Kobe and many people are naive enough to believe everything they read and hear; that is why some people continue to insist that Kobe chased Shaq away from the Lakers even though every single party involved says that Kobe did not do this (including Shaq himself).

 
At Wednesday, June 11, 2008 11:51:00 PM, Anonymous NWO said...

What I found most interesting about Schilling's blog is something that's not getting ANY play in the media.

That is this:

"2) Every SINGLE play up and down the floor has MULTIPLE fouls being committed by multiple players. These guys are in close, every play. They are beating the crap out of each other, and the refs see it. That makes me think that the game is called and paced exactly how the refs want it to be. I wondered aloud, a few times, how in the hell calls weren’t being made against the Celts on a ton of plays in the paint where there was some serious pugilism being committed. There were a ton of ‘non-calls’ in my incredibly amateur opinion."

So even Schilling, a reputed straight shooter who has an obvious interest in rooting for Boston, clearly saw a significant disparity in how fouls were not being called in the Lakers' favor. It's really appalling how Game 2 was officiated in light of Donaghey's allegations that came out the same day.

 
At Thursday, June 12, 2008 3:27:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

NWO:

I have already stated that I thought that there were some missed calls in game two but I also don't think that this was the decisive factor in the outcome of the game.

I hesitate to put too much credence into what Schilling said about the officiating for the same reason that I don't put too much credence into what he said about Kobe's leadership: Schilling admittedly does not know much about the NBA. Unless you have seen an NBA game from a courtside vantage point before, you will be surprised by how much physical contact takes place; you simply do not get a sense for this by watching on television and it is sometimes hard to see this from higher vantage points in the arena. So the calls that Schilling thinks were missed may in fact just be normal incidental contact NBA-style. What I noticed on TV, particularly with the help of some replays, were some plays when Kobe drove to the hoop and Pierce pulled his non-shooting arm back, a loose ball/rebound situation in which Pierce held Kobe back by grabbing his jersey and some other drives during which similar infractions took place. What made those non-calls stand out is that the refs called a ticky-tack offensive foul on Kobe; as Van Gundy and Mark Jackson said, if they are going to call that once then they need to call it all the time.

 

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