Thursday, November 02, 2017

Quibbles About The Captain Class

...and further comments coming right up in the next post.

I reviewed The Captain Class last month, but two things continue to gnaw at me, so I will pass them along. The first should be of little importance, yet I find I cannot get rid of it.  Perhaps setting it down here will be enough.

In his selection of which teams were elite, Walker includes The San Antonio Spurs 1997-2016, who won 5 championships in that span, plus went to a 6th. Yet the LA Lakers won five inside that span, 2000-2010, and went to two other championships.  I know Walker's reasoning, that LA did not sustain excellence during the longer span, yet in view of how short the reigns were of other teams he considered the Elite Sixteen - 2 of 4 years, 5 of 5 years, 2 of 6 years - it seems arbitrary. That's more than half of his total. Similarly, he excludes Michael Jordan's Bulls, who won 6 championships in 8 years, because they were not good those other two years with Jordan gone, and Jordan had not previously won until a "real" captain came on the scene, Bill Cartwright. Lastly there is another NBA team that went to the finals 7 straight years and won three: whatever team had Lebron James the last seven years. Walker keeps the 1980's Celtics and Lakers off because they each failed to completely dominate the other over the course of a decade.

And that's just basketball. He excludes the 1960's Packers, who won five championships in seven years (plus an additional appearance the year before) because they did not have a Super Bowl against the AFL for the first three of those, and so "did not play against the highest levels of competition" in those years. But the AFL was much inferior in those years. (This tells me that Sam Walker is young. Every fan alive at the time, even a child, knew this.) He excludes the 1981-95 San Francisco 49ers and 2001-2017 New England Patriots, because they failed to achieve "something unique" - because of the existence of the other's similar accomplishment.

He calls baseball a team game, which it only is marginally - the catcher qualifies as part of a team, I suppose, but everyone else is part of a team only a fraction of the time - but then excludes teams, particularly NY Yankees teams, because they did not match the five-in-a-row record. Again, this all seems arbitrary. They defined dynasty from 1921-64, with only a few gaps here and there.

Now that I think of it, most of those teams had captains of a similar type to the one Sam Walker extols, but missing a piece here or a piece there. Some had captains not very much like what he describes, winning on talent alone. Looking at that, I have to wonder if Walker cooked the books a bit, tailoring his rules for eliteness to the get the examples he wanted.

I think his point would still stand - quite easily, in fact - but it doesn't have the same declarative oomph when you have to backpedal to "well, most of the teams...and the others pretty much..."

So it turned out to be important after all, and not just to sports fans.  Some teams are elite more on talent, or because of coaching/strategy, or because of domination of resources (NY baseball teams). Not the majority, but it can happen.

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