A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Posts Tagged ‘Magic Johnson

Responding to Magic’s Lebron comments and Bill Reiter’s takedown of ESPN ranking Lebron the #1 player in the league

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LeBron James

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On the eve of Magic Johnson providing another meaty quote about Lebron’s 2011 Finals, Bill Reiter at foxsportsflorida.com wrote a very good and clear article about the fallacy of still putting James on a pedastal after a frankly embarrasing shrinking act in the playoffs. As Reiter quotes, Magic said to a crowd at the University of Albany:

Veering from his point that it’s better to be remembered for off-court accomplishments, Magic said, “There’s going to always be great players in basketball. There’s going to always be guys who win championships in the NBA — except LeBron.”

Followed by: “Everybody’s always asking, ‘Who is better between Kobe (Bryant) and LeBron?’ I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me? Kobe, five championships; LeBron, zero.'”

Followed by: “Stop trying to compare him to Michael Jordan. Come on, man, six championships for Jordan. You know that Michael averaged over 30 points every playoff series? Don’t try to touch that.”

Reiter responds in part by saying

If only stats mattered, and rising to the moment did not, Joe Montana would not be the greatest quarterback of all time. His winner-take-all intangibles would pale in comparison to someone like Dan Marino.

If this logic held, Wilt Chamberlain would be the Michael Jordan of the NBA. No one ever has, or will, compete with Wilt on the statistical plane. Yet there’s a reason serious basketball people look at Jordan, Magic, Kareem, Russell and a slew of others with a higher level of respect.

That’s why “Mr. October” means something in baseball.

Closing matters. Winning matters. Otherwise it’s all just a glorified version of fantasy sports.

This is so clear — as is the fact LeBron so ferociously undermined his own natural talent with mental weakness and big-game frailty — that stating that fact no longer constitutes dangerous ground for most informed basketball and sports people.

I completley agree with both Magic and Reiter Read the rest of this entry »

Written by jr.

October 23, 2011 at 1:49 pm

The top 50 players of all time (by my standards)

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Bill Russell posing with other NBA Legends and...

Almost there, Bill (Image via Wikipedia)

If you’re a RealGM member, you probably know about this project, attempting to rank the top 100 players of the post shot clock era. (which among other reasons, allows us to avoid the impossible task of ranking George Mikan against everyone). We just completed the top 50, (note: Chris Paul made 50th, the thread hasn’t updated yet). I have some greivances about the overall list – let’s just say it’s 90% right and 10% wrong, but that 10% sticks out to a perfectionist. But shortly after it started I decided to update my own list one at a time in coordination with the main one, it is found halfway down the linked thread. This is my analysis in short at the halfway point, with 50 spots finished:

Tier 1 – The Greatest of All Time contenders

1. Michael Jordan

2. Bill Russell

3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

These are the 3 players I primarily consider for greatest of all time candidcy. None need much introduction if you are a basketball history fan. Read the rest of this entry »

The Accidental Hater

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Image from Chapelle's Show

With Shaquille O’Neal‘s retirement I feel compelled share what unique place Shaq Diesel occupied in my mind.

This won’t be something everyone enjoys because it’s a quite negative place. However, I do think that it represents a side of Shaq’s career that needs to be told along with the good. Is it sour grapes? Call it what you will.

Call me Magic

I was born and raised a Laker fan in Los Angeles. Magic Johnson was the first player I ever knew of. He was the star of the city, and hey, with my last name and my penchant for basketball, how could I now want to call myself “Magic”.

Fast forward to Shaq’s feud with Kobe Bryant. I begin to get more and more irritated. While Kobe’s ball hogging tendencies made me a touch sympathetic to teammates complaining, Shaq’s behavior was so awful that he was the one I felt the frustration toward.

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Pippen’s Blasphemy and Cowardice of Critics

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Chicago Bulls Scottie Pippen 1995

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Scottie Pippen said:

Michael Jordan is probably the greatest scorer to ever play in the game. But I may go as far as to say LeBron James may be the greatest player ever to play the game, because he’s so potent offensively that not only can he score at will, but he keeps everybody involved.

…and the locusts take the sky

The world exploded. Some talked about Jordan’s championships ignoring the matter that Pippen’s statement obviously wasn’t saying that the 26 year old LeBron had already accomplished more than anyone else ever, some tried to talk about Jordan being a more “complete player” without actually saying what LeBron was missing, some talked about Pippen as a bitter old fool. The only thing everyone agreed on was that you couldn’t possibly say LeBron might be better than Jordan.

(Well, except Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who once again made one of his patented “He’s right, but no wonder why no one likes him” statements bringing up Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell.)

I find the whole thing amusing. I should say up front that I don’t give one whit about Pippen’s opinion in player comparisons general. Nothing personal, I’d say the same about pretty much any player. While I love hearing what these guys have to say about the game in general, such comparisons are complicated enough that no matter how fantastic your basketball knowledge, you can’t have a complete opinion without spending a ton of time analyzing the situation with every tool at your disposal. The number of star athletes, or even coaches, willing to do this is vanishingly small, and then you really do need to think about whether the speaker has an agenda.

Even a broken clock…

However Scottie’s being downright reasonable here in a world full of people too afraid to be reasonable.

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Written by Matt Johnson

June 2, 2011 at 6:28 pm

Book of Dimes, Choking Palimpsest

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Palimpsest of street posters in Pondicherry (P...

Palimpsest of street posters via Wikipedia

Alright, this ought to be interesting. Working on 40 hours with no sleep, and Ethan Sherwood Strauss’s fascinating piece on LeBron’s narrative is pushing me toward the abstract. My apologies if this comes out gobbledygook.

Here’s Ethan’s gist:

They leave behind a blue Twitter cloud of snickering scorn. Pundits rush to agreement: The opposing team’s best player is what LeBron isn’t and what LeBron should have been. Sportswriters light a fire beneath Erik Spoelstra’s seat before the coach even slumps into a post-series presser. It’s a disaster, much to the delight of the chattering classes.

And LeBron James will be the “choker.” That narrative already exists — last year’s exit gave us that framing device. The thinking went: James either choked because he quit or quit because he choked.

Before culminating in:

But in the imagination of many, LeBron will have “choked” because the story people want often overrides reality. To quote Maya Angelou, “people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I’m on record as the amoral analyst. I cheered for LeBron to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers simply because I wanted to see what would happen. I follow narratives with enthusiasm without making a morality play of things.

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Written by Matt Johnson

April 26, 2011 at 9:40 pm

Information Gain: The secret to a must-watch event

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Los Angeles Lakers Magic Johnson and Boston Ce...

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TrueHoop makes an argument today in an article about the importance of parity in praise of uncertainty in sporting results that I think almost completely misses the mark:

Research suggests that more uncertain outcomes lead to more certain income, or … more pie.

There’s a reason that the TV deals for the NFL and the NCAA basketball tournament both dwarf the NBA’s. In just about every game of the NFL season, and in just about every game of the NCAA tournament, you simply must watch to know what’ll happen. It all matters. You wake up the morning of the game with almost no ability to pick any winners. That’s the kind of thrill-ride that leads to enraptured fans and huge TV income.

Don’t confuse luck with parity 

Really, in every game you don’t know what happens in football and college basketball, but it’s a given in the NBA? Pshaw. I’ve tackled the issue of certainty/uncertainty here before on several occasions. Here’s the table from when I compared March Madness to the various pro playoff systems:

Read the rest of this entry »

The Little Dipper

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Lebron JamesSince the beginning of his career, we’ve compared Lebron James to the greats. He has the dominant scoring ability of Michael Jordan. He has the combination of size and passing of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. But I believe the best comparison may end up being Wilt Chamberlain.

Both Lebron and Wilt are among the athletic greatest talents any sport has seen. They are men among boys physically. On top of this they possess superior basketball IQ and skill. Both players are larger than life stars.

What makes judging Wilt’s career so frustrating is a comparative lack of domination compared to other greats. The Big Dipper ended up with 2 titles, one in ’67 with Philadelphia and one in ’72 with the LA Lakers. His contemporary Bill Russell won 11 titles in 13 years. Most noteably Russell came out on top in ‘68 and ‘69 when his team had aged and Wilt seemingly had the superior talent beside him. First with Hal Greer, Billy Cunningham, Chet Walker, Luke Jackson and Wali Jones in Philadelphia, and then with Jerry West and Elgin Baylor in LA. Yet Russell’s Celtics were a better team who won with defense, effort and supporting each other’s games. Wilt can be excused for not winning titles the first half of his career with less help than Russell, but in 68 and 69 he has no excuse. The truth is these two seasons take Wilt out of the greatest of all time discussions. If a greatest ever candidate, he wins in those seasons. Period.

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