A weekend thread, only later. Get your hot takes off.
NBA Media and 'very online fans' obsession with seeming incredibly progressive about everything has now made them intent on insisting positions don't exist in the NBA.
The 'NBA is positionless' mantra has been mentioned for years even though it's basically untrue. There are some players who can now play a couple of positions (guard and point guard, power forward and center, small forward and power forward), sliding up and down based on matchups. But all this does is reinforce that positions actually do exist. We know what a point guard is, what a center is, what a shooting guard is, and on most good teams it's pretty clear.
Whether it's because they're afraid of seeming wrong, too traditional, or some other reason, there is now a movement that Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid *must* both be on the first All-NBA team even though the team has one center position, and they're both very clearly centers. They're more versatile than centers in the past, but centers none the less.
There is a call that the All-NBA teams just be a ranked top 15 players, even though that causes a number of other issues. For some reason, NFL media has no problem putting a QB on the second All-Pro team, and they still have a clear distinction between effectively similar positions on the offensive line. They don't cry to make the second best left tackle in the NFL "guard eligible."
This also reeks of fixing a problem that only exists momentarily, much like the call to present the playoffs as a 1-16 tournament rather than separating by conference, simply because the West happened to be better at the time.
There also seems to be some sort of issue that the media presents that their votes affect salaries because of the All-NBA teams. This sort of ignores that the way they cover the players has always in some way affected salaries, whether it's MVP or All-Star votes, or even certain storylines that they promote that make players seem more valuable.
I wish this was shorter. All I'm trying to say is that it's ok if Nikola Jokic is second team All-NBA. He'll live.
Not exactly a hot-take, but podcasts have largely replaced long-form written pieces. Hence why I gather you and others on Substack (like Taibbi) offer both the written piece and the narrated piece. I personally am grateful to you for your commitment to long-form writing with so many rich links and resources you provide in them. I always think of how Bill Simmons retired from writing, and while his podcast is great, his long form pieces are greatly missed by me. Thanks for filling that void for me, Ethan Strauss.
Having said that, I'm curious to know what your numbers are with respect to your articles; IE - What percentage of people have listened to your latest piece on Mark Cuban compared to those who have read it?
Tara VanderVeer's statement about how it's disappointing that after 50 years of Title 9 women's basketball still doesn't have the resources of men's basketball was interesting. To me the amount of resources and coverage women's basketball gets---when noone cares about it---is a huge success story of Title 9. Mark Davis bought a WNBA team for a couple million. That's like buying a couple Jamba Juices.
With every season the NBA regular seems pretty meaningless. Draymond first coined the concept of “16 game players”. I think I may become a 16 game fan in regard to my League Pass subscription. The Stars (i.e the roughly top 10 players) with each year show decreasing care about playoff seeding. This is sad, because I do agree that there is an insane amount of talent in the league right now but without meaningful game, the NBA on most nights just becomes a skill display - the large majority of which I can be across via YouTube packages, as well as informed nba podcasts. I doubt I’m the only one feeling this way about the regular season. The nba regular season feels sad
Could ratcheting up the pace of the game have made the NBA game less comprehensible and ergo less watchable to the average fan?
Not a college basketball fan, but got sucked into the hype that was the UNC-Duke game (no regrets!). Even though I didn't know any of the players or team styles, there was a simplicity to the game that went beyond its intensity and stakes for me. Banchero had a throwback quality to his game with his deliberate moves in the paint. And Caleb Love approached the game like a duelist would. Even the UNC center, despite lacking grace, was an endearing grafter. A friend of mine, who is not a sports fan, remarked that he was actually able to follow the contests within the contest. He'd been to a hockey game earlier in the week and noted that the average regular season NBA game feels more like an NHL game to him than a college basketball game -- there are clearly patterns and an intelligence to the game but they're moving too fast for the untrained eye to grasp and follow which leads to it all looking like a chaotic pinball machine at times.
Reminds me of Amin remarking on a podcast once (I paraphrase, perhaps inaccurately) that fans have been conditioned to think basketball is inherently graspable (which spawns the entire debate and opinion industry around it) whereas they're resigned to football (grid-iron) being beyond them and accept it as a communal viewing experience. He added that at the level of keen-observers the sophistication of NBA tactics is approaching football.
Yes, MJ and the 90s were as you (and many others here including myself) have contended a blip in our media culture with how our attentions could be directed at scale in a uniquely centralized, focused manner. However, stylistically, the deliberately slow-paced, mano-a-mano, almost gladiatorial aspect of iso-heavy basketball also made the NBA inherantly graspable (lent itself more easily to human tendency to narrativize around individuals too) and the divergence between the opinions of the casuals and the sophisticates was minimal. A counter-point in favor of pace from the 80s basketball fan would be the Showtime Lakers. I'd contend the sort of pace we speak of there vs today's pace and space are qualitatively different. The 80s Lakers were forced to be more stylistically diverse to accommodate Kareem and the engine was a sui-generis pass-first talent (and media phenomenon) in Magic. Today's pace is driven more by an attempt to imitate the Warriors. The Warriors were also quite diverse in terms of shot-distribution and are also centered around a singular shooter in Curry. The issue is: it's easier for pretenders to fool themselves into thinking they can mimic (or practice their way into) and reproduce the effects of good shooting, yet no one is going to think they can emulate basketball savant IQ and passing vision.
A friend and I recently left local news organizations in a small town in Paducah, KY (<30k population). The people in town love to point out the missteps of the understaffed local paper and tv news org but I believe strongly those same people will romanticize the days when they had one, and lament their dissolution. My lukewarm take: whatever comes after the death of local media will be a hell of a lot worse than what we have today.
The next World Cup will be held in Qatar this winter because FIFA officials were bribed. Thousands of workers labored under slave conditions to build stadiums in the hot desert. However, the biggest issue for progressive sports media is that Qatari officials will ban the rainbow flag. Literally shaking and clutching my pearls. We need to keep wrongthink politics out of sports, but goodthink politics are fine!
The "max" contract in the NBA is the cause of a ton of the league's problems. Because an empty stat, best player on a bad team player like Beal gets mostly the same amount of money as a guy who can drag a team to the playoffs on their own like Giannis, you end up with
1. Too much roster flexibility for moving around guys like KD/Harden/etc
2. No way to keep guys satisfied other then giving them more control
which leads to too much player movement, which leads to all the issues where people don't feel a kinship for the team.
Hey Ethan, continuing on your NBA locker room talk do you feel there an effort to hide sometimes the alpha, and dare I say “toxic masculinity” traits these players have? I compare when an NFL player is mic’d up on gameday you get much more of the raw emotion of the player in many of them, with many bleeps usually. NBA it’s just a guy calling out screens for two minutes lol. Also has this lack of access curbed much of the reporting on some of the salacious stories we’d get every now and then? I first remember Steve Nash, Tony Parker & Brent Barry, Delonte West & Lebron, Paul George & Roy Hibbert etc. These kind of things couldn’t have just gone away, but you don’t even get any rumors of these things anymore.
I hate the term "dog whistle." Anything can be argued to be a dog whistle. It's just a way for people to put words in their opponents' mouths.
When it's all said and done, LeBron James and Michael Jordan will stand so close in terms of career accomplishments and overall domination of the sport. However, whereas no one did more to increase the popularity of the sport than Jordan, no one has had a greater impact on the decrease in the NBA's popularity over the last decade than LeBron. Key LeBron contributions:
1.) Free Agency, Player Agency
Part of Jordan's appeal was the grueling half decade of trying to overcome better teams even as his individual star shined. He struggled to break through, eventually overcoming a physical, big-man centric league. LeBron from 2007-2010 was a force of domination not seen since prime Jordan. But as he flamed out year after year against physical opponents, he decided to collude to create a superteam. At first it looked like LeBron might pay the price but he got the last laugh. He's now won three titles with three different teams, using star movement and influence over organizations to construct short term solutions to get RINGZZZ. He validated this approach to breaking through and now he has copycats. It hurts the league overall to have front offices and fanbases held hostage to this level of player empowerment. And to fans of the game, it feels cheap.
2.) Chill Mode
LeBron more than any player since Shaq (and he shares a lot of similarities to Shaq on this list) rendered the regular season a waste of time. In 2009, four teams finished with at least 59 wins. Since that time, no regular season has had more than two 59+ game winners. Part of this was due to a sense of urgency seeking home court advantage. LeBron and the Cavs lost to the eventual champion 2008 Celtics, in which the home team won every game of the series. Observers noted this and the other examples of heavy home court advantage in 2008 and it created a sense of urgency during the 2009 regular season. Fast forward to 2017, where the Cavs finished with the 5th best SRS in the Eastern conference and still brute-forced their way back to the finals. In that 2017 season, LeBron basically ceded the defensive side of the court, conserving energy. He led the NBA in points and played in all 82 games, and the Cavs ranked 29th in the NBA in defensive efficiency. LeBron and the Cavs brutally (and I mean brutally) swept the Raptors, who boasted the 2nd best SRS that season. (This directly led to the rent-a-Kawhi kalculus.). In 2015, LeBron started moping on the court, decided abruptly to take 2 weeks off, and the Cavs took the eventual champion Warriors to 6 games despite missing Love and Irving. In other words, LeBron has vindicated the practice of treating the regular season as, at times, meaningless. When good teams feel they only need make the playoffs in order to have championship aspirations, (and bad teams feel they need to drop in the standings to secure draft odds), you end up with a lot of regular season games that feel completely foreign from the intensity of playoff games. Regardless of how it really happened, no one ever watched Michael Jordan and thought he was conserving himself for some future endeavor.
3.) Friends Zone
We can name a lot of MJ's enemies and rivals. Right from the moment LeBron entered the league he declared that Carmelo Anthony was his best friend. Then, D Wade was his best friend. Chris Paul was his best friend. (He's got a lot of "best friends"). The best rivalry of the early LeBron era was LeBron v Kobe, and we hardly ever got to witness meaningful games between them. Now that so many athletes are represented by Clutch sports, which many assume to simply be an extension of LeBron's reach, it sometimes feels more like LeBron is a lead of a fraternity than a player hell bent on vanquishing his foes. The NBA (like all sports) benefits from rivalries, real or contrived. With the exception of a short stint where he seemed to take it personally that Steph Curry wasn't willing to wait in line before being crowned the new king of the league, LeBron seems to have no appetite for rivalries. He could have had great rivalries with Draymond Green and Kevin Durant. Now he takes vacations with those guys.
4.) LeBron the Shapeshifting Headcase
Fair to say Michael Jordan never had aspirations to become a global cultural icon, until he was the greatest basketball player the world had ever seen. LeBron declared his intention to be a global icon from the very start. Throughout the years, LeBron has sought cultural relevance in so many places, has changed his persona, his mechanics, his messages, and it has combined to be a giant distraction from an otherwise cosmically-overwhelming career. A short list of LeBronisms: he can't decide whether his Jersey number should be 23 or 6. He boldly stated that the league should retire 23 out of respect for Jordan. Then he unretired it to wear it for the Cavs in 2015. Now he's back to 6. He has changed his free throw routine more often that his jersey number. He passed up the final shot twice during the end of the 2012 ALL STAR game, to stunned looks from notorious chuckers Kobe and Melo. Once, during a game he publicly yelled at his own Mom to "sit your ass down", but also declared that players don't ever disrespect women in the (privacy of the) locker room. He refused to sign a letter presented to him by teammate Ira Newble, which condemned China's involvement in the Darfur genocide, and opined that Daryl Morey was misinformed on China v Hong Kong. But as he saw the fawning admiration of Kaepernick and probably hung out too much with D Wade's activist wife, he decided to go all in on left wing social justice. Now he tweets threats to Columbus Police Officers who used lethal force to save someone's life. He wore a Yankees Cap to an Indians game, until he decided to become the Indians #1 fan in 2016, ensuring he'd be shown on TV during every playoff and World Series game. He grew up a Cowboys fan in NEO because he always rooted for front running teams and never any of Cleveland's three professional sports teams. (Now he's a Browns fan). As Ethan pointed out, early in LeBron's career he had some fun-loving, likable advertising campaigns. Now he's too serious. He keeps taking on personas. He was (at times) the fun-loving, handshake generating, pass with the game on the line supernova during Cavs 1.0. He started a national conversation on whether or not Phil Jackson's "posse" comment was racist (Maverick Carter since weighed in that it wasn't racist). He embraced the villain role during the Heatles tour, and he's been all over the place ever since. All of these things have made LeBron an unlikeable icon of the sport. Jordan's single minded desire to be the most dominant basketball player captured an era and endures to this day, while LeBron has distracted us from his greatness.
Is the Americanization of Formula 1 a good development? F1 announced their new race in Las Vegas last week, a logical next step in catering to America’s growing interest (we’re now at Austin, Miami, Vegas). I’ve seen European pushback couched in jealousy—not necessarily envy—of their perceived “Americanization” of the sport, arguing: F1 will abandon historical races for more lucrative American cities/audiences, transforming their “sport” into an American “product,” rule changes, and similar concerns. I’m not fully convinced there are intrinsic, enduring European principals being compromised (other than geographic convenience/historical interest/stereotype—see Talladega Nights’ Jean Girard portrayal), especially in a sport that relies so heavily on corporate investment—that quality seems truly American. I think this European culture v. American commoditization tension through the F1 lens has been under-covered, although it is still developing
About a half hour ago, Red Star Belgrade players were booed in Lithuania for refusing to hold up the “Stop the War” sign that’s been part of the Euroleague pregame routine since Russia invaded Ukraine. Would be very interested to hear from NBA Serbs where they stand on the situation.
All NBA teams are hurting basketball because of the insufferable talk about who should be on what “team”