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Friday, January 06, 2012

Kevin Ding Provides Excellent Lakers Coverage

A large percentage of what is reported about the NBA in general--and the Lakers in particular--consists of various kinds of nonsense: biased commentary, statistics that are either irrelevant and/or based on insignificant sample sizes, gossip, etc. One shining light amidst this darkness is Kevin Ding, the beat writer for the Orange County Register. His most recent article contains solid reporting with excellent insight. Here is Ding's coverage of how Kobe Bryant is dealing with the torn ligament in his right wrist:

Bryant has been taking a numbing injection to that wrist before every game in hopes of performing normally. Yes, it's that bad.

He does not want to publicize all the details of his wrist, which is usable only because the bones were not moved permanently out of alignment without the ligament to hold them in place. But it's now clear just how problematic the wrist is, and it's fair to wonder where all this will take Bryant.

Bryant walked out of Staples Center on Tuesday night with something that looked like an oven mitten over his right hand and wrist. He wears an immobilizing brace over the wrist when off the court, meaning take-for-granted parts of life such as texting on his phone or zipping his fly become rather challenging.

It was much the same aggravation in 2009-10, when Bryant played through the avulsion fracture in his right index finger--another rather useful body part for everyday activities apart from handling a basketball, too...

In 2009-10 Bryant paid a price for overextending himself, with the fracture in the top knuckle of that finger eventually healing, but the main middle knuckle so beaten down by the abuse that it wound up with arthritis.

That finger today remains, well, quite deformed. Actually, the most accurate way to describe the finger? Lumpy.


The L.A. Times, ESPN and other media outlets will try to convince you that Mike Brown is not a very good coach and that Kobe Bryant does not respect him. Ding has a much different take:

Days before Brown and Bryant reviewed video side-by-side on the flight home from Denver after Bryant's brutal 6-for-28 game Sunday night, Bryant shared with me the depth of his respect for Brown.

"I really want to win for him in the worst way, because I see how much he works and I see how much he wants it," Bryant said. "I hear the criticism he takes, and I believe it to be unwarranted. It makes me want to work even harder than I already am."

Brown and Bryant came out of their video study together with a mandate: Rededicate themselves to getting Bryant the ball in his favorite spots right off the free-throw line or in the short post.

"I think Kobe learned something when we sat down and watched tape," said Brown, staying typically humble by adding: "I know I learned something, too."

Brown also mentioned to Bryant the need to follow through properly with his wrist on jump shots. Well, when Bryant does that, the wrist howls in pain. It wasn't fatigue from six games in eight days that left so many of Bryant's shots in Denver on the front rim as much as the wrist failing.

Ding concludes:

Bryant is always the same but is never the same. Whether he's missing 22 shots or making 14, he's analyzing every one. He will travel to the ends of the earth for any possible edge, yet his nose will never leave the grindstone.

What he doesn't understand is why everyone doesn't get it by now:

This is what he does. This is who he is.

Bryant pounded away with that busted finger for six months of the 2009-10 season.

He got up only after he had what he calls the most satisfying of his five NBA championships.


For several years I have emphasized that Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum benefit immensely from the extra defensive attention that Kobe Bryant attracts. People who say that Bryant should have a smaller offensive role for the Lakers because Gasol and Bynum's shooting percentages are better than Bryant's shooting percentage do not understand the cause-effect relationship between how Bryant plays and the opportunities that Gasol and Bynum get--but, unlike many media members, Ding knows the difference between putting up numbers and being an elite player:

We said Andrew Bynum was going to be a beast this season.

Now that everyone has seen the 22.3 points, 15.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks, let's be clear about something else:

Bynum is not an elite offensive player in this league yet. Not even close.

He has an awful lot to learn before he gets there, and the second half of the Lakers' loss in Portland on Thursday night was an early pop quiz he flunked.

No doubt Bynum has plenty of moves, via both power and footwork, but what he lacks is the ability to handle double teams. He struggled when presented with that challenge late last season, and he will struggle again with it much of this season--probably more so than even Lakers coach Mike Brown suspects.


Some commenters at this site have disputed my contention that Bryant, not Gasol or Bynum, is the main Laker who draws double teams. Ding provides a quote from Coach Brown about Bynum that supports my case:

That's new for him. Not only new for him, but if you think about it, it's kind of new for our team in terms of having a post-up guy who gets doubled. That's something we have to work on, so it was great for Andrew to have to go through that and our team to have to go through it.

Now we just have to work on it, because we know Andrew can score on the front side of plays and in a one-on-one environment. Now he has to understand that when they come to double, it's OK--but we've got to make 'em pay, whether it's on the backside or it's with the re-post.


Before deciding to run the offense through a particular player, that player must prove that he can deal with trapping defenses. Bryant has proven that he is highly proficient in that regard. As Coach Brown noted, it is "new" for the Lakers to put a post player in position to be regularly doubled and it remains to be seen how Bynum will react to this role. If Bynum is capable of performing well in this role then this will make the Lakers a better team and possibly extend Kobe Bryant's career--but it is premature to just automatically say that Bynum should be the focal point of the offense. The Lakers should definitely still be willing to trade the injury-prone Bynum to the Orlando Magic for Dwight Howard if possible; Howard is a better rebounder and defender than Bynum, Howard is more durable than Bynum and, even though his post footwork is a bit less polished than Bynum's, Howard is a more explosive athlete. Howard has improved his post game recently and if he played alongside Bryant then Howard's effectiveness and field goal percentage would improve much like Gasol's did after joining the Lakers.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:02 PM

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What if ESPN's Main Basketball Blogger Wrote About the Miami Heat the Way that He Writes About the L.A. Lakers?

The following article is satirical but all of the cited box score statistics are true (they are deliberately taken out of context but the raw numbers are accurate). Some names have been changed to protect the guilty.

The Stat-Centered Selfishness of LeBron James is Destroying the Miami Heat

by Aenry Habbott

LeBron James sprained his ankle during the Miami Heat's blowout victory over the Indiana Pacers but he stayed in the game simply to try to amass a triple double (he failed, falling two rebounds short)--but, despite being healthy enough to chase individual stats on Wednesday, he sat out Thursday's game against the Atlanta Hawks, the only team that has beaten the Heat this season. This might have been the most important game of the season for the Heat but James did not care that Dwayne Wade also was sitting out due to injury, thus leaving the Heat very shorthanded; James came on to the court before Thursday's game, hit some shots and showed no physical limitations but he did not want to risk damaging his gaudy individual numbers.

Superficially, it is easy to see why so many people think that LeBron James is great: he scores, rebounds, defends and passes. But basketball greatness consists of so much more than what the naked eye can discern; basketball truth has only been revealed to statistical mavens like Bave Derri, an economist at Southwest Northeast Central Eastern College in Looneyville, Texas. Derri examined certain selected statistics and came to a startling, unconventional conclusion: James is actually a selfish player whose selfishness is destroying Chris Bosh's career and could doom the Heat to never win a title.

James attempted more shots than any Miami Heat player in 2010-11. The Heat went 0-1 when James attempted 30 shots. They went 0-2 when he attempted 24 shots. That winning percentage is even worse than the mark posted by the 9-73 Philadelphia 76ers in 1972-73--and that was the worst team in NBA history! When James shoots the ball either 30 or 24 times the Heat are worse than the worst team in NBA history.

But that is only part of the story told by advanced basketball statistics.

Did you know that the Miami Heat went 4-0 in 2010-11 when Chris Bosh attempted between 19 and 22 field goal attempts? That is a perfect record! You cannot beat 100%; NBA executives may not understand this kind of math but Derri confirmed to me that no one--not Bill Russell, not Magic Johnson, not even Michael Jordan--has ever led a team to a perfect winning percentage. These advanced statistics show that Chris Bosh is actually the best player in the NBA--but James is so selfish that he won't pass the ball to Bosh. When Bosh attempted just nine shots versus Sacramento on March 4, 2011 the Heat lost. The Heat also lost four of the seven games during the 2010-11 season in which Bosh attempted 13 shots. During the 2011 playoffs the Heat went 4-1 when Bosh attempted at least 18 shots--and Derri informs me that his complicated algorithm explains that the one game the Heat lost when Bosh attempted at least 18 shots was actually Isiah Thomas' fault but the reasoning behind this is so advanced that only an economist could understand it so I will not even attempt to describe it here.

The final proof came on Thursday. With James using a minor injury as an excuse to sit out to protect his individual statistics, Bosh proved that he is in fact the most valuable player on the Heat. Without James around to stifle him, Bosh attempted 27 shots and led both teams with 33 points and 14 rebounds as the Heat defeated the Hawks 116-109 in triple overtime. One of the times that Bosh made a shot James did not stand up and cheer, proving that James does not really support his teammates when they are performing well. Derri notes that if James had stood and cheered then the Heat probably would have only needed two overtimes to win the game instead of three; Derri's new Based on Standing formula (also known as the BS formula) multiplies a team's efficiency differential by how many times its leading scorer cheers when one of his teammates scores but subtracts 10 points for every time he does not stand and subtracts 20 points if he scowls. Derri says that according to this new, exciting metric LeBron James is the most selfish player in the NBA. I asked five NBA coaches about this but never got a response because they each laughed at me. Derri told me to not be upset, though, because coaches actually have no impact on who wins NBA games anyway. Derri is an economist and he bases his conclusions strictly on advanced basketball statistics so if you disagree with him then your thinking is outmoded and the rest of the basketball world will soon just sneer at you because you are an uninformed Luddite who rejects all notions of progress.

On March 30, 2010, Chris Bosh--then a Toronto Raptor--attempted 27 shots as the Raptors defeated the New Jersey Nets 100-90. That means that Bosh's teams are 2-0 since 2010 when he attempts exactly 27 shots in a regular season game. The advanced basketball statistics prove beyond any doubt that when Bosh attempts 27 shots his teams are undefeated and, according to Derri, unbeatable.

As convincing as that data is, I saved the best stat for last. Chris Bosh's career true shooting percentage is .571, while LeBron James' career true shooting percentage is just .567. Those are not only advanced basketball statistics but they contain the word "true." I just don't understand why so many NBA executives and coaches ignore the truth--and the truth is that since Bosh has a higher true shooting percentage than James the Miami Heat's optimal strategy is for Bosh to shoot 27 times a game.

Postscript:

Professor Derri has combed through the data and uncovered something that may overturn the conclusions mentioned above: Mickell Gladness has a true shooting percentage of 1.000 this season and the Heat won both games that he played in. That suggests that the optimal strategy for the Heat actually may be to play Gladness more frequently so that he can get more touches and more shot attempts. I asked six NBA executives about this and they each hung up the phone after laughing non-stop for 10 minutes apiece, which just confirms that NBA executives are too stupid to understand advanced basketball statistics. Perhaps if I do dozens of more posts revealing that James is a selfish player I will someday convince them that I am right.

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:55 AM

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Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Kobe Bryant's Shot Selection Endlessly Fascinates Self-Proclaimed Experts

On January 1, Kobe Bryant had his worst shooting game (.214 field goal percentage) in nearly two years. Considering all of the obvious extenuating factors--Bryant is a 33 year old, 16 year veteran playing in his third game in four nights while trying to figure out how to deal with a torn ligament in his right (shooting) wrist--the natural response to Bryant's performance would be to note that it is an aberration and to assume that, unless the wrist injury worsens, Bryant will continue to perform at a high level (he has made the All-NBA First Team and finished in the top five in MVP voting in each of the past six seasons, the longest such active dual streak). Instead, we witnessed a media response that brought to mind what I wrote in an article titled Kobe Bryant's Missed Shots and the Torrent of "Psycho-Basketball Analysis" That They Unleashed:

"Kobe Bryant's shot selection is subject to a play by play microscopic evaluation that I have never seen applied to any other player of his status; literally every time he shoots--or doesn't shoot--someone questions his judgment and motivations, alternately suggesting that he is either forcing the issue or else playing too passively in order to allegedly make some kind of point. All great scorers are expected to shoot the ball 20-plus times a game and shots that would rightly be termed 'forced' if someone else took them are not forces if they are shots that the great player has a reasonable chance of making or if the shot clock is winding down and there are no other good options left."

In his first game after the much discussed January 1 debacle, Bryant scored 37 points on 14-29 field goal shooting (.483) while also contributing eight rebounds and six assists as his L.A. Lakers defeated the Houston Rockets 108-99--yes, the same Houston Rockets who purportedly use "advanced basketball statistics" to create a competitive advantage defensively against Bryant, a laughable claim that has been debunked on many occasions, most spectacularly in the 2009 regular season when the Lakers swept the Rockets 4-0 as Bryant averaged 28.3 ppg while shooting .533 from the field.

It generally is considered a logical basketball strategy for the best player on the team to take the most shots but many media members apparently struggle either to grasp this concept or to figure out who in fact is the best player on the Lakers. Mike Wilbon and Jon Barry have some kind of mental fetish that compels them to repeatedly insist that the Lakers are better off when Bryant shoots less frequently, a contention that I refuted thusly:

"Rather than focusing on how many field goals Bryant attempts to try to determine his optimal role for the Lakers, it makes more sense to look at the end result of his field goal attempts (and free throw attempts): Bryant has scored 40 or more points in 96 regular season games, third on the all-time career list behind Wilt Chamberlain (271) and Michael Jordan (173). The Lakers posted a 65-31 record in those games, a .677 winning percentage that is better than their overall winning percentage (.656) during Bryant's career. Bryant had 27 of those 40 point games in 2005-06, when he led the NBA in scoring with a 35.4 ppg average that ranks eighth on the single season scoring list; the Lakers went 45-37 overall that year (.549) but they went 18-9 (.667) in his 40 point games. Bryant 'only' had four 40 point games in the 2008-09 season and the Lakers went 2-2 in those contests; obviously, that is a small sample size, but Bryant had 27 games this season in which he scored at least 30 points and the Lakers went 21-6 (.778) in those games, which is virtually identical with their overall winning percentage (.793) this season."

I wrote that passage in 2009; the updated numbers--as of January 4, 2012--show that the Lakers are 73-34 (.682) in the regular season when Bryant scores at least 40 points, which is equivalent to 56 wins in an 82 game season.

Instead of listening to Wilbon provide unsolicited advice to a player who has won five championships, educated basketball fans are still waiting for him to ask LeBron James about James' phantom elbow injury during the 2010 playoffs (that topic never came up during ESPN's one hour "Decision" debacle, an oversight that Scott Raab rightly pilloried). It is also worth remembering that, as I emphasized in a December 2009 article, "Bryant does not miss games due to non-serious--or even some serious--injuries" but in the 2007-08 season "LeBron James missed five games because of a left index finger sprain (I am not questioning James' toughness at all, but merely pointing out that Bryant's toughness/pain threshold/will to win are off the charts even in comparison to other tough minded, elite athletes)." Bryant has mentioned that he plays through injuries even though this may hurt his personal statistics because he believes that he can always help his team win games; only James knows if he sat out because of his pain threshold or because he thought that he could not help the team or because he thought that playing with that finger sprain would have impacted his personal statistics. The difference between the way that Bryant handles injuries and the way that James handles injuries provides yet another perspective on the "great debate" regarding who is the better all-around player; while there is no question that James' youth and athleticism have enabled him to surpass Bryant in terms of regular season productivity since late in the 2009 season, Bryant's determination to fight through injuries and his ability to dissect elite defenses in the postseason have enabled Bryant to make three straight Finals appearances and win two championships since James entered the league (in addition to the three championships Bryant won in four Finals appearances between 2000 and 2004), while James has won just two out of 10 games in his two trips to the NBA Finals.

It should be obvious that Bryant's statistics have been negatively impacted because he played with--at various times and in various combinations--a broken index finger on his shooting hand, an avulsion fracture in his right pinkie finger, a gimpy right knee and a chronically injured left ankle. However, Bryant's overall productivity and his championship pedigree should give him a little leeway to have one awful shooting night every two years while playing his third game in four nights with an injury that would likely send most players in the league to the bench for weeks.

Bryant simply will not receive such leeway from the media; instead, we will hear that the smart thing for the Lakers to do is build their entire offense around an injury-prone big man (Andrew Bynum) who still is not in good enough shape to run up and down the court without losing his breath and who--in the victory against Houston--authored the first 20-20 game of his professional career (Dwight Howard, who entered the NBA one year before Bynum, has posted 33 such games, while DeJuan Blair and Chris Wilcox each have posted two such games). Before the Lakers phase out Bryant and restructure their entire offense around Bynum wouldn't it make some sense to see (1) if Bynum can actually get into (and stay in) shape, (2) if Bynum can avoid getting hurt (in the past four seasons he has played in just 204 out of a possible 328 games) and (3) if Bynum can consistently perform like an All-Star caliber player? Bynum has shown flashes of scoring and rebounding prowess but those flashes have always been followed by him either getting injured or simply not maintaining a high level of performance. The interesting thing about the Houston game is that at times Bynum's body language indicated that he wanted to receive the ball more often than he did yet he did not run hard down the court nor did he consistently fight to establish deep post position (last season, ESPN/ABC commentator Jeff Van Gundy repeatedly blasted Bynum and Pau Gasol for "trotting" instead of "running"); Bynum often wandered around the top of the key in the half court offense and one time when he got an offensive rebound instead of going up strong he passed the ball out to Troy Murphy, who was so surprised at Bynum's passivity that the ball actually bounced off of Murphy's face before Murphy caught it. Meanwhile, Pau Gasol seems intent (or content) to reinvent himself as a midrange jump shooter--he has been allergic to the paint on offense dating back to last season, something that became glaringly apparent during his disastrous 2011 playoff disappearing act. The funny thing is that the one Laker who most consistently and aggressively fights to establish low post position is the team's 33 year old shooting guard, the guy who so many "experts" think should be shooting less and deferring more.

Lakers' Coach Mike Brown has responded very sensibly to the media-created controversy regarding Bryant's shot attempts (which of course means that the media will soon be revisiting the tired nonsense about Brown not being a good coach): "He's got five championship rings. Bynum and Gasol have maybe one or two. So I'm going to go with the man who has five...He's been there and done that so I'm going to give him some freedom. Am I concerned about it at this point? No. Two months from now, if he's shooting 34% from the field, OK, I'm going to have a lot of concerns."

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:52 AM

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Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Scott Raab's Hate Letter to LeBron James

No one hates LeBron James as much as Scott Raab does--or at least that is what Raab wants you to believe after you read The Whore of Akron: One Man's Search for the Soul of LeBron James, Raab's blunt, profanity-laden and highly personal account of the pain that he has endured as a long suffering fan of Cleveland sports teams, culminating in James' infamous "Decision" to "take my talents to South Beach." Ironically, for all of Raab's professed loyalty to his Ohio roots--the book's brief About the Author notes emphasize that he was "born and bred in Cleveland"--Raab lives in New Jersey and on page 11 he offers this description of his departure: "I had left Cleveland in 1984--I was not some schmuck doomed to failure and disgrace--no f------ way."

James' flaws are clearly evident and well documented, from his tone deaf handling of the "Decision" to his disappearing act in clutch situations versus elite teams, but--despite Raab's strident tone--one cannot help but wonder how much of the rage Raab expresses is genuine and how much of it is simply posturing to pander to the presumably large audience of James haters. Is Raab venting to soothe his troubled soul, is he authentically ruminating about the addictive way that sports--specifically, rooting for certain teams and/or players--can readily consume so much of our lives or is he merely being sensationalistic in the hope that his book will sell a lot of copies?

Raab boldly declares, "My mission is to bear witness," though much of what he says he has witnessed during his writing career relates to the drug-related and/or sex-related escapades of celebrities ranging from Robert Downey, Jr. to Tupac Shakur; Raab's self-declared witnessing mission does not quite measure up in grandeur or substance to the reporters who risked their lives to document the Civil Right Movement or to the researchers, Nazi hunters and prosecutors who dedicated themselves to bearing witness to the horrors of the Holocaust. It must be noted that Raab has an odd--which is to say curiously sympathetic--take on John Demjanjuk, the SS death camp guard who apparently also murdered a Holocaust survivor in cold blood after World War II ended.

Raab asserts that bearing witness to James is different than any of Raab's previous missions because James brought hope to Cleveland and then James "betrayed" Cleveland. Raab believes that he is uniquely qualified to limn the full depth of James' story. The boldly defamatory title of the book introduces a metaphor that Raab graphically employs right from the start: "For seven years, LeBron did the same thing as any trollop worth her taxi fare..." Raab goes on--and on and on--but you get the point.

Raab is surprised--or perhaps just bemused--that the NBA and the Miami Heat decided not to issue him any more credentials for Heat games or practices after Raab posted an obscenity-laced tweet in which the nicest thing he called James was "loser" (prefaced by another word). Raab's prose is often over the top, even when he offers an otherwise on target description--in the form of a monologue directed at James--of why Cleveland fans were so infuriated by the "Decision":

"They burned their jerseys right after your hour-long ESPN smarm fest, when the whole world saw you for the stunted, soul-dead bumpkin you are. Those Cleveland fans knew for the first time what utter fools they had been to believe that LeBron James ever gave a damn about anything but LeBron James.

And because they were born and grew up and will die Cleveland fans, those fans also instantly grasped your legacy as a Cavalier: You will forever be the player who choked and quit against the Celtics in the 2009-2010 playoffs. You surrendered. You gave up. You and your team--while the clock still ran, with the coach urging you on--quit trying, laid down and died.

For that disgrace alone, those fans were right to burn the stinking jerseys they themselves had paid for. Add the disdain and the disrespect you showed for Cleveland as Jim Gray and Michael Wilbon fellated you on national TV--not a single question about your playoff tank job or the phantom elbow injury that floated in the same ether as the rumors of your mother's sexual dalliance with one of your teammates--hell, those fans should have torched those jerseys with you and your sycophantic posse wearing them."

Raab is right that James quit versus the Celtics--I will never forget watching that meltdown in person and we all just saw James do the same thing in the 2011 NBA Finals versus the Dallas Mavericks--and Raab is right that the only thing worse than James' conduct during the "Decision" was the total abandonment of any pretense of journalistic integrity by Wilbon and Gray (and others). However, burning jerseys in the street is sophomoric and speaking of burning said jerseys while James and his "sycophantic posse" are wearing them may accurately express the raw rage felt by a great many people but it is also excessive; I agree wholeheartedly that James' playoff performance was disgraceful and that the whole "Decision" fiasco--from the preamble of various teams sending representatives to Cleveland to court James as if he really were "King James" to the ridiculous TV special to the stage show in Miami during which James bragged that he would win "Not one, not two, not three..." championships--reflected poorly on James' maturity and sense of perspective but he does not deserve to be burned to death in his jersey. Even if Raab meant this as a stress-relieving metaphor, there are so many nuts who probably would really like to do this to James that a responsible writer should not even go there. If karma exists, then the karmic result of James' quitting and his ego-fueled "Decision" will be that he never wins a championship and thus never completes what once seemed to be his inevitable ascent into the Pantheon.

While some of Raab's observations about James and the Cavs ring true, in general what passes for basketball analysis by Raab is not particularly in depth and at times it is contradictory; first Raab suggests that if the Cavs had hired Byron Scott a year or two earlier then Scott's championship pedigree and strong personality might have influenced James to stay in Cleveland but later Raab snidely refers to Scott being paid $4 million a year to stand on the sideline "with your arms crossed and your mustaches twisting with disdain. Aren't you supposed to be motivating these guys somehow? Or does that cost extra?"

The Whore of Akron is sloppily edited: a sentence on page 36 begins "I was married when I met her to a potty-mouthed Cleveland girl..." and a sentence on page 57 contains a similarly faulty transposition of words ("I was Demjanjuk's son-in-law following Ed Nishnic up the stairs..."). The book also includes far more information about Raab's sex life than you would ever want or need to know, details that a good editor could have (and should have) removed from the book; this is not to suggest that great writing cannot contain profanity or sexual references: literature can (and does) contain those things but in the case of this book they are unnecessary and gratuitous. Removing those elements from the text would not at all compromise Raab's style or voice; Raab clearly possesses fine writing chops and it is a shame that he did not exercise them more fully. His take on ESPN is accurate, brilliant and concise:

"Now ESPN is throwing money and bandwidth at a new brainchild: the 'Heat Index,' a full-court phalanx of reporters and columnists paying daily homage to the primacy of a single NBA team even as the vast bulk of news coverage of the entire league is dominated and driven by ESPN, which pays the NBA a billion dollars a year for broadcast rights and in turn derives huge profits from the ad time it sells to Nike and all the other companies who are themselves paying hundreds of millions of dollars in endorsement fees to the athletes ESPN's newshounds are paid to cover. Which obviously has nothing whatsoever to do with ESPN pulling a story about LeBron James acting the fool at a Vegas nightclub. Obviously.

Whatever John Walsh might choose to call it, this isn't credible journalism. It's a daisy chain.

No one with any sense will ever again consider ESPN an honest source of NBA coverage--but if anyone in charge at ESPN or the NBA cared about that, The Decision would never have aired. One ESPN executive said after July 8 that the network expected to have a one-on-one with LeBron as the season approached. The World Wide Leader got what everyone in Cleveland got the past seven years: bupkes."

That passage contained no profanity and no references to Raab's sex life, weight problems or battles with substance abuse. If he had written the whole book in that vain he could have produced a book of enduring significance--but I am not sure how many copies such a book would have sold and, more importantly, I am sure that Raab and his publisher are not sure how many copies such a book would have sold. Instead of sticking with substance, Raab wrote a long hate letter to LeBron James, a missive filled not just with hatred of James but also with self-hatred and hatred of his own family. Raab fully realizes that he has fallen short but he does not care or at least he does not care enough to change his ways: "I was past forty when I began to make real money as a writer, but real money couldn't make a good writer out of me, much less a good man...I am not the man I want to be. Being that man isn't possible--and it doesn't matter." What matters, Raab concludes, "is the effort."

Despite the truths that Raab tells about LeBron James and ESPN, Raab's book is in many ways cut of the same flawed cloth: James is a great player who could be transcendent but--so far--has repeatedly failed on his sport's biggest stage, ESPN has the resources to be a powerful source of important journalism but instead settles for superficiality and mediocrity and Raab is a gifted writer who wastes his talent spewing profanity and providing way too much detailed information about sordid aspects of his personal life.

A great book could be written about the tempest of talent, ego and insecurity that is LeBron James but Raab only provides tantalizing glimpses of the insights that book would contain.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:27 AM

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