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Friday, September 26, 2008

Marbury is No Mozart

"A young musician who longed to create beautiful music once asked Mozart how to become a great composer. 'It is first necessary to play an instrument well,' said Mozart. 'Of course, one must also learn the basic rules of composing and be familiar with the work of all the great composers of the past.' 'But you were only six when you began to write music!' interjected the young musician. Mozart replied: 'That's true, but I never thought to ask anyone as you're doing now.'" Story told by Grandmaster Pal Benko and reprinted in Compose Like Mozart.

A true genius can make the most difficult and intricate task seem ridiculously simple. Think of a healthy Tiger Woods. Think of Michael Jordan. Think of Prince producing, composing and writing albums while also playing multiple instruments and providing multiple vocals. Think of Bobby Fischer sweeping aside other Grandmasters as if they were children who had just learned how the pieces move. Think of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who committed to memory thousands upon thousands of words when he composed his books while in Soviet prison camps; most people can barely remember a grocery shopping list but he wrote and then memorized a stark and eloquent account of the brutality of the "Gulag Archipelago."

On the other hand, those who are not geniuses can make the easiest and most straightforward task seem impossibly difficult. Rather than single out "non-geniuses" by name, think of a football team that cannot get the proper 11 players on the field at the same time and then cannot get those 11 players to act in unison before and/or after the snap. Think of a basketball player who forgets the play between the time he leaves the huddle and the time that the ball is inbounded. Think of a golfer who cannot make a simple putt or who could win a tournament by making straightforward shots but instead inexplicably takes unnecessary risks and whose path around the course transforms from a victory lap to a bizarre safari. Think of a writer who cannot get simple facts straight, let alone use proper grammar or communicate in an engaging, lively manner.

Stephon Marbury is no Mozart of the hardwood. Marbury possesses certain obvious physical talents--speed, ballhandling skills, shooting ability, good strength for his size--but he neither instinctively makes the right play nor has he--paraphrasing Mozart from the above story--sufficiently familiarized himself with the work of the great composers (playmaking guards) of the past. Mozart never had to think in conventional terms about becoming a composer because he understood how to apply his talent in a way that synthesized and then expanded upon the work of previous great composers. Marbury has tried to take the same "shortcut" but without the benefit of being a basketball visionary genius. Magic Johnson passed the ball the way that Mozart composed music; like Mozart, Magic did not have to think about all of the intermediary steps in his development. A great chess player once said that his philosophy was to do things as they must be done and then see what happens--but this presupposes having the vision/talent/training necessary to see what must be done; it used to be said of Fischer that he could throw a piece in the air and it would land on the best square. For Magic, that meant seeing that his teammate would become open before even that teammate realized it and then delivering the ball through the hapless defense in such a manner that the teammate could not only catch the pass but also attempt a shot that he had a good chance of making based on his skill set.

The construction of Marbury's game is the very opposite of such genius; Magic passed the ball to make plays and to win games, while Marbury passes the ball to get assists and thus to use statistics to "prove" his value and obtain a bigger contract. One might object that ultimately there is no difference between Magic accumulating assists and Marbury accumulating assists but to think such a thing--let alone say it--betrays a complete lack of understanding of the sport (and of genius). Magic passed the ball not with the goal of getting an assist for himself but because the pass was the right play in that given situation. Marbury passes the ball if and only if, in his estimation, the recipient is likely to immediately shoot and score, thus padding Marbury's assist total. One problem with this is all of the passes Marbury does not throw because he does not think that they will boost his statistics. Another problem with this is all of the bad shots Marbury then takes in lieu of making good passes. A third problem with this is that Marbury in general is not interested in doing anything on the court that does not make him look good on the stat sheet--matters such as defense or any action when he does not have the ball other than figuring out how to get the ball back in his hands so that he can resume padding his stats.

During his NBA career, Marbury has played for Minnesota, New Jersey, Phoenix and New York. Almost without fail, when he leaves a team that team performs better and when he joins a team that team performs worse. In layman's terms, he's a loser. He may be a wonderful human being--I don't know, I've never met the man--but as a point guard, as a basketball floor general, he is a loser: his teams lose and, what's worse, rather than accept responsibility for those losses he consistently offers excuses while at the same time providing ridiculous self-evaluations of his play. When Terrell Owens proclaims, "Who can make a play? I can!" you may be amused by his bravado or merely annoyed by it but you cannot deny the obvious fact that a player who ranks second in receiving touchdowns in NFL history can--and does--make plays. However, when Stephon Marbury earnestly proclaims that he is the best point guard in the NBA all you can do is wonder if he is delusional and/or high.

This may sound overly simplistic, but in any walk of life you cannot win with losers; you can only win with winners (that is why I have quite confidently and repeatedly stated that no team with Gilbert Arenas as its starting point guard will ever advance past the second round the playoffs). I don't know what the Knicks plan to do with Marbury--and economic considerations may be impacting that decision at least as much as the front office's long term vision of how the team should play the game on the court--but they will not be a successful team until they remove him from the roster, either by trading him or by just waiving him outright.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:54 AM

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Carnival of the NBA #60 Hosted by HoopsAvenue

Carnival of the NBA #60 is being hosted by "Hoops Avenue."

I contributed my Hall of Fame piece about Adrian Dantley: Adrian Dantley: The Mystery Man.

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:53 AM

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