The more I talk about the 2012 All Star game with friends, out-of-touch co-workers, and strangers on the bus who harangue me the moment the protective truss of my cell phone gives out, the more confused I become trying to decipher the matrix by which we determine All Stars and/or exceptional players.
Each individual has different criteria, yes, and I’m not irritated so much by how players are selected (it is, after all, a game for the fans, with players selected by those same fans, and whether or not I agree with their logic for selecting these players is inconsequential) but rather how some people rationalize their selections.
Yesterday, my friend and I were discussing MVP candidates over lunch. I suggested Kevin Love, on the basis that his stats thus far (25.0 PPG 13.6 RPG) are similar to Charles Barkley’s during his MVP season (25.6 PPG 12.2 RPG). Granted, Sir Charles shot significantly better (.520) than Love (.451) but I’d argue that Love’s ability to shoot threes (.378) offsets this somewhat.
My friend disagreed, which is fair. There are arguments to be made for others (particularly LeBron, again, for carrying the Heat while Wade loses a knife fight with Father Time) but my friend did not stop there, and instead said Love, at best, deserves a reserve spot on the Western Conference squad – barely.
My friend reasons that although Love is performing very well, he is doing so on a bad team, which thus indicates his work is of the empty variety, meaning if his production does not alter the outcome of the games or cause his teammates to play better, then he is not actually a good player but rather an opportunist. Insane? Yes, but it gets trickier the deeper we go. Should players be penalized for performing well on bad teams?
In 2005-06, when Kobe took 2,173 shots (35.4 PPG 5.3 RPG 4.4 APG) playing alongside such luminaries as Smush Parker and Kwame Brown, en route to a 45 win season and a first round exit, such stats were virtuous and the mark of a “winner” or indicative of his onyx, serpentine will to succeed. The same was said when Allen Iverson poured in 30+ PPG for five seasons, another shooting output one could argue was necessary considering the Sixers’ next best offensive player was Aaron McKie.
If it is acceptable for certain players to shoot their team into contention and be looked upon by the roundball literati as heroes forced to suffer with dreadful support, why do we not extend the same allowance to other, less offensively-reportorially “sexy” players. Moreover, why in the world do we hold how a certain player’s teammates perform against the player in question?
The NBA recently announced the reserve roster for the 2012 All Star Game, but using my friend as a barometer, I predicted somewhat confidently that Paul Millsap (16.5 PPG 9.7 RPG) would certainly watch from home, as would David Lee (18.7 PPG 10.0 RPG), while Dirk Nowitzki, who this season has pulled the equivalent of calling in sick after a night of drinking and getting repeatedly winded in second quarters, made it.
I realize my tone is beginning to sound like a feverish Mark Santorum letter to the Village Voice editors, but it’s time we kill the myth of The Winner and we need to do it quick.
It’s ridiculous believing a single person has the sway to transform those around him into better, more serious and less likely to board the team bus with a Courvoisier hangover, type players. Do we really expect the most skilled player on each NBA team to roust the Darrius Milesian rookie from bed at dawn, send the escort therein home in a cab and physically drive the young man to the gym while simultaneously reciting Al Pacino’s Every Given Sunday speech?
These NBA teams contain a dozen grown, fully developed men, with varying degrees of narcissism and discipline. En route to the NBA, they’ve been tossing balls through a hoop for decades under the tutelage of an assortment of coaches from Authoritarians like Coach K to chummy, “be my best friend” equipment managers such as Mike Brown. They’ve heard the coach’s oration during many a practice, after receiving a similar one from their parents on the way to practice and, each summer, again from motivational speakers/washed-up-HOFers-from-a-nearby-county during summer camp.
The 1,239th speech, given by, essentially, a co-worker will not suddenly send the tumblers in the youngster’s brain to spinning , finally cracking open his skull and spilling forth the realization that winning, now, is more important than anything. The notion that everyone can be reached through the proper prodding and challenge is nothing more than a third act resolution to a rapper-turned-actor basketball straight-to-DVD abomination, or an inspirational vignette played during halftime of a big playoff game. “I was just a lowly man, looking for some cash, until Zach Randolph took me aside in practice one day and called me a pussy.”
I don’t buy it.
I hate to bring up the one man whose spectre darkens every discussion of basketball greatness, but 20 years ago, popular opinion on Michael Jordan veered toward him being nothing more than a one dimensional scorer who just didn’t have what it took to win The Big One. While his scoring, underrated playmaking, and stifling defense were worthless, even his competitiveness – that, to me at nine-years-old appeared so incendiary that I expected it to scorch the corners of the NBA on NBC score overlay – meant nothing based on the fact his team was unable to beat the Detroit Pistons.
We know how that story ends and I ask you just how the zeitgeist embraced the idea that he somehow learned to win along the way, as if he enrolled in a Master’s course held in the United Center’s basement?
If Dennis Rodman or Scottie Pippen or Phil Jackson or Toni Kukoc never came along, and Jordan performed as well as we remember him performing. but he won three fewer titles, would we consider him, historically, a worse player than we do now?
Of course we would. And that is something I’ll never understand.