Friday, March 30, 2007

Go Ahead, You Can Laugh All You Want, But I've Got My Philosophy.

Bill Simmons occasionally issues a really idiotic column or blog entry from time to time, and the most recent on the hate for the supposed upcoming "O.J. Mayo Era" is pretty stupid (if not outright repellent). He's right about one thing: with Mayo headed to USC and talented big man Kevin Love headed to UCLA, next year's games between the schools will be an awesome rivalry to watch (and will keep me and my UCLA alum co-worker jabbering at each other all season.) Thanks for jumping on the bandwagon, after ignoring it while living in L.A. for so long.

The problem is, Simmons has to drop this stuff:

The bigger picture: With Mayo joining a loaded USC team and Love playing 20 minutes away for a Final Four team, that's looming as a dynamite rivalry and the most intriguing media subplot for the 2007-08 season. After all, Love represents everything good about basketball (unselfishness, teamwork, professionalism) and Mayo represents everything we've come to despise (showboating, selfishness, over-hype). If Love were black, this would be a much easier topic to discuss. But he's white. So even though there's a natural inclination to embrace Love's game and disparage Mayo's game -- you know, assuming you give a crap about basketball and care about where it's headed as a sport -- there's also a natural inclination to hold back because nobody wants to sound like the white media guy supporting the Great White Hope over the Black Superstar Du Jour.

But you just did, Bill. Either cop to it or shut up; don't just brush it off as a philosophical difference. We have a few selective elements about both Mayo and Love, both filtered through news media, with its own series of professional biases about what is good and what is bad, and sports media, often, is no different. Simmons goes on to say that Mayo's style is neither good or bad, but just what it is, even though he doesn't like it much. Did he ever consider that Mayo may have tossed the halfcourt alley-oop to himself because he was having fun? Or that Mayo got T-ed up by an official who had it in for him? Does he remember that the McDonald's All-America game is a FREAKING EXHIBITION and doesn't mean jack?

Let's hold off on judging Mayo's game until he's in the cardinal red and Love's until he suits up in powder blue. The problem with assessing how exceedingly talented players like Mayo and Love play in high school is that high talents are playing above the rest of their competition by leaps and bounds, and that isn't always reflective of what we see in the college and pro arenas.

In the next paragraph, Simmons says that players coming in want to be Kobe, Vince Carter, or Agent Zero rather than Steve Nash, using LeBron as an example:

Just look at what happened to LeBron's all-around game when he reached the pros -- blessed with an innate passing gene that gave him a choice between becoming the next Magic or the next MJ, he said "Screw it, I'm going for my points" and went the MJ route. I will always be disappointed about that choice.

Bill, be disappointed in LeBron's teammates and the Cleveland front office -- the reason James has had to play to the MJ role of scorer is because no one else on that team can score on a consistent basis. Management and the coach expect him to do it all. However, it's not a Bill Simmons column without a Celtics mention, and in saying that this has been one of the worst regular seasons in recent memory and tying that in to the era of NBA AAU ball, he says the Celtics were lifeless and unconcerned about their losses, as if they didn't matter.

During their 18-game losing streak, nobody ever got kicked out of a game, knocked someone into a basket support, threw a frustrated punch ... hell, even the coach didn't get kicked out of a game. There was a passive, pathetic, indifferent response to everything that was happening. Not a single person stepped up. As somebody who travels with the team told me, "If you were with these guys every night and saw how little these losses affected them, you'd never want to follow sports again ... the losses just bounce right off these guys."

There's no winning with most sports observers -- if you don't show passion, you don't care, but if any of those Celtics kids got angry, got caught up in the heat of the moment, like knocking someone into a basket support, that player would be a pariah, suspended, and viewed as everything that's wrong with the sport of basketball. Part of being a pro athlete is trying to shake off the losses like they don't affect your game, so you can go back and do better in the next one.

It's not a white thing or a black thing ... it's a basketball thing.

Right. If you have to say that in the first place, then the truth really lies somewhere in between. The problem is that Simmons writes that there's room for both of them, which there ought to be -- flashy guys like Mayo do things that make me say, "WTF; that was awesome!" and get me tuning in; folks like Love make me appreciate every little thing about the game (i.e., Tim Duncan). I'm going to love watching both of them in Pac-10 play next year. Don't implicitly lionize one and demean the other. Both games have a place in the college hoops landscape, and eventually, in the Association.


Gangsta D said...

I've never understood the need of writers to build up one player by tearing down another. I like Simmons, but as soon as I saw the headline I knew not to even bother reading the column.

Zach Landres-Schnur said...

pretty on point, S2N. Nicely put.

twins15 said...

Normally I like Simmons, but I didn't like this column for the same reasons you mention. Actually, I haven't really liked most of his columns lately, especially about college basketball.

Signal to Noise said...

Gangsta D - part of the sportswriter's blood at times is to start some shit. Sometimes it's deserved, a lot of the time it isn't. It's an instinct to grab readers by making an aggressive assertion.

Zach - thanks.

twins - it's hard to take the Sports Guy seriously on sports which he admits he doesn't pay attention to until late February (I think he copped to this on college ball). I can accept his opinions on the NBA a bit more because he is obviously a devoted fan of the pro game. Some of his conclusions on it are misguided, but I won't question his fandom of the NBA.