I’m thrilled to say that, eight weeks in, House of Strauss has reached the 1,000 paying subscriber mark, otherwise known as the Kevin Kelly line. Obviously I want to build on this, but four digits means independence, a blog bar mitzvah of sorts, thanks to all of you. For the Weekend Thread, feel free to submit story ideas, takes, and anything else pertinent to a Substack that just became a man.
Really appreciate you taking on topics that ruffles some feathers. The politics side of things is fascinating especially when you approach it with honesty. The more I read your work (have for many years), the more I wish you were born in Australia/UK/NZ - Cricket is tailored for you. It’s wrought with politics, corruption and sometimes complete lunacy. And few writers really want to talk about it publicly.
It’s been very enjoyable to see your career blossom. Glad to be supportive of this new venture. See you at 10,000 subs.
I’ve always been curious what it looks like when the league and it’s teams are forced to assume the role of State Department. I find it bonkers that a consigliere to one of the world’s great dictators (great in the way you proclaimed Columbus to be) retired from a 15 year NBA career to open the next chapter of a life that presumably includes telling Erdogan which journalists to jail and which to kill. How much of this aspect of Hedo Turkoglu was known within league circles (or the actual State Department) throughout the decade and a half he spent hoisting step back jumpers here in the States? It’ somewhat surreal to know this about Turkoglu and still log onto twitter to see his chummy exchange with old coach Stan Van Gundy or the Orlando Magic sharing his career highlight reel. Behind closed doors, what do people within the league say about the Enes Kanter/Hedo/Turkey dynamic? I find it interesting that Kanter has never had a Turkish teammate and in an age where every social justice issue is seemingly up for discussion, no other Turkish players speak publicly about the situation back home. Do teams implicitly request this of the media, or is a loaded question to Cedi Osman just not worth it?
I often think about a story your colleague Brian Windhorst told on a podcast with Zach Lowe (which was immediately & suspiciously scrubbed from the archive) about approaching then-Cavs swingman Sasha Pavlovic the day Serbian dictator/genocider Slobodan Milosevic died in his cell. Admittedly ignorant to the region’s geopolitical complexities, Windhorst figured that Pavlovic (hailing from neighboring Montenegro) would be thrilled with the news. Instead a distraught Pavlovic surprised Windhorst by proclaiming Milosevic’s death “a national tragedy.” Thirteen years later, Bucks owner Marc Lasry invited his friend Bill Clinton to the team’s practice facility. Everyone was happy to pose for a photo next to the former president with the exception of Nikola Mirotic, a devout member of the Serbian Orthodox Church that still harbers tremendous resentment towards the Clintons over their 1999 NATO led airstrikes in Belgrade. Were the Bucks, like Windhorst, ignorant of this dynamic or did they know not to put Mirotic in a position where he was smiling alongside the man his people consider evil? Perhaps there was an awkward moment when Mirotic refused the photo? If no one else, Clinton surely would’ve been keen as to why. A few months later at a nationally televised playoff game, a sidelined Jusuf Nurkic wore a t-shirt commemorating the names of Bosniak war veterans who were killed in the brutal conflict with Serbia. If Clinton ever showed up in Portland, it’s a safe bet Nurkic would’ve been happy to post the photo.
This is obviously all fraught territory. I’m certainly not looking for my favorite professional sports league to play the role of The Hague. Just curious what it looks like when these issues arrive at their table alongside sludgy, potent coffee and piles of grilled meats.
As someone whose book launch is today and whose band just booked a big show in December, I’d love to hear about creating! Whether it’s how your favorite stories came together, or a deep dive into bangers like Vanessa Carlton’s top hit.
I'm not much of an NBA fan (or anything other than MMA for some reason these days), but I heard your interview on Blocked and Reported and found it very interesting. Now I've eagerly listened to your podcast and your appearances on other podcasts (e.g., the Fifth Column), and I think your voice on media and culture is really valuable and important. Good job and congrats on the milestone!
Congrats Ethan - Man, I could not stand you when you first showed up on the scene. But wow, over the years it's been a 180. I still remember the first time I heard you on a podcast and I was really impressed - couldn't ignore the talent. It was like when I came around to Kobe as he got older and stayed at a high level (as one of the LeBron > Kobe's RINGZZZZ culture warriors of the mid aughts, I didn't see that coming). Anyway. over time I started to enjoy your takes, and now your choices. So much respect for you, dude. Good decision going independent - you're good enough to make it. Seems like all media right now have to proclaim the modern orthodoxy and I can tell you'd rather just be objective and genuinely curious.
As far as ideas: I'd love your thoughts on the enduring farce that is Pablo S Torre's 2009 SI article which states: "78% of NFL players face bankruptcy or financial distress within two years of retirement" and "60% of NBA players are broke." (within 5 years of retirement)
Here's a rough timeline:
1.) 2009 Torre writes this thing. It's utterly ridiculous in its claims.
2.) 2012 ESPN does the 30 for 30 "Broke"
3.) 2015 Time magazine does a profile and mentions that both numbers are overblown and pulled out of thin air. NBA says that Players Union survey suggests that within 10 years (not 5), "6 to 8% had lost huge sums of money or were having trouble making ends meet". https://money.com/famous-athletes-bankruptcy/
4.) 2015 A research paper gets published stating the number of NFL bankruptcies is 1.9% not 78%.
5.) 2015 Torre writes a takedown piece of that study in 538, claiming that these authors were motivated by "publish or perish" and defends himself by saying he used the word "or"
6.) 2016 I start teaching this as an example of poor ethics in my Technical Communications course and rant about it on my blog: https://cavstheblog.com/?p=45271
7.) 2020: ESPN (Torre's employer) does a longform catching up with Darko and re-cites the numbers from the 2009 SI study. https://www.espn.com/espn/feature/story/_/id/20211833/nba-bust-darko-milicic-finds-success-back-home-serbia
Torre's SI piece continues to be cited somehow.
What mechanism or system allows something so ridiculous to endure? How does Torre write that defense piece? How does 538, a data driven site, allow him to argue this?? Does Torre know where the bodies are buried? Is the truthiness of star athletes losing money trump accuracy?
Idea for a column:
Some years ago, the NBA was being touted as the model for a sports league. They focused on marketing players over teams. Their players were more visible than NFL players who were on 45 man rosters and wore helmets covering much of their appearance. The NFL was losing market share to the NBA, and the thinking was that people followed players not teams. Now it seems that the NFL approach of marketing teams over players is winning out.
What’s the impact of the NBA giving players the higher profile and mobility to the degree that the players now are making their own teams in a way - Lebron bringing in AD and Russ, or Durant going to Brooklyn just because they had cap space to land Kyrie?
Fans love players but follow teams.
I think you have made this point, which some (wrongly IMO) tsk-tsk as xenophobic, but think it's challenging for the NBA their next generation of superstars (Luka, Jokic, Giannis) are international players with imperfect interest, who spend their offseason's out of sight in Europe, and to this point, have not been able to become dominant marketing forces in the U.S.
Happy to be a subscriber! Keep. It up!
Congrats on hitting 1k. Hopefully it empowers you to take bigger risks. This isn't to say I haven't enjoyed what you've put out so far. Just that I'd like more OKCIA-style stuff. Some ideas:
1) A deep dive on the ref Scott Foster, he who would get a call from Tim Donaghy after almost every communication Donaghy had with his bookie handlers. Maybe loop some gamblers from that era in (Bob Voulgaris seems to be chatty again) analyzing cash flows, game decisions, line movements et al. Could make for an amazing investigative series.
2) Rules in the NBA and how they affect viewership. I contend (and I suspect I mildly plagiarize Amin here) that NBA's appeal has a lot to do with an agreement between fans' eye-tests and game winning value. The 3 point revolution, pace and space, de-emphasis of athletic dominance have combined to create a divergence between what leads to wins and what casual fans (the sorts who drive ratings) are amazed and drawn in by. The dunks make for good highlights but with the exception of someone as powerful as Zion, I can't see hyper-athletic/strong but skillfully imbalanced players having competitive value like they did in the past. The game is certainly more "challenging" for a player to learn and implement today but the pace at which it proceeds doesn't allow for shifts in tempo and bated breath edge-of-seat moments, its more like slot-machine mini-dopamine-hits, making it harder for fans who have so much media competing for their attentions to care about games for sustained periods. The eye-test and win-value divergence has also I believe sort of offended many viewers' sense of who exactly the best players are. With regular season officiating, I don't think its very controversial to say that Curry and Harden offer probably most winning value, but in the playoffs (when the officiating is quite different, allowing for Curry to be physically targeted and Harden not awarded fouls) both see marked drops. It's a player level version of the 73-win Warriors' loss to the indifferent 57-win Cavaliers contributing to the drop in regular season interest among viewers.
Congrats on 1k!
I read Jon K's recent profile on Anthony Edwards in the Athletic, where it talked about his emotional intelligence and stuff like that. I always found that part so interesting, players' personalities and how they navigate interpersonal stuff etc. It specifically talked about how Edwards was such a natural math student, and I'm really curious on that, how different players' brains work in different ways. Are there players that are more naturally verbal/English/History sort of skilled? Which players have just pure STEM brains? How does it relate or express itself through their game, if at all?
The coastal nature of NBA media and coverage
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One idea: why/how are NBA players so dumb? Lebron may be the smartest player we've ever seen, a basketball genius by just about any standard, and he was dumb enough to support their trade for Russ and think Russ would be a good fit/upgrade. What is with this dissonance between what players see/think and what is so obvious to any non-player who follows the league?
I've heard you talk about this before, but I am really fascinated with the tension between using analytics to game the game (across all sports) and the entertainment value of the games. Maybe find an economist well versed in game theory to interview.
Congrats..a number to celebrate as very few achieve..
Was wondering if you can dive into why the NBA is cracking down on social media accounts that post short NBA highlights (Mostly on Twitter) and removing them for violating DMCAs. Whereas other accounts that do post highlights professionally don't get DMCAs. Remember when Adam Silver said this:
"We're incredibly protective of our live game rights. But for the most part, highlights are marketing."
Happy to help support your good work. Does this mean your no longer a part of the Athletic? In any case, have always enjoyed your podcasts and looks forward to hearing more as your topics broaden
Talk about the top NBA top 75 and the crime of selecting Damian Lillard as part of it. I actually live in Portland and like the guy, i even run into him frequently, but that is a wild choice. Whos getting paid off!?
You've written about the 'Panopticon' in your work and I thought it was a really interesting way to frame situations.
I'm curious, are you influenced by Michel Foucault?
(Paulie voice) “You broke a cherry!”
We want agent content!
I have always been fascinated by the term "adjustments" in sports. I understand on a veneer level but am curious as to whether how it is implemented. Whom is in charge of adjustments? Do coaches only change at halftime or are adjustments made on the fly? Thanks