Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Ethan Strauss - NBA Myth

Strauss: It's not just getting political, it's getting dumber...It's just how stupid the politics are.

Woodhouse: Well with the NBA I think it's part of their brand.  I don't even buy it.

The interview with Ethan Strauss, of the substack House of Strauss, had actual content worth listening to, and I will give you one bit of it.  Strauss was a sportswriter, having worked for both The Athletic, covering the Golden State Warriors, and for ESPN, which he now says "cheapens everything it touches." He is also the author of The Victory Machine, about Golden State. (Haven't read it.)

WRT the NBA, the players learn that with certain beliefs they are bulletproof, and it changes them, not in their politics, but that "voicing that stuff is not bad for your career." It accelerates their becoming vocal, especially with social media rather than changes their beliefs, because many of the players legitimately do hold the racial cultural ideas they voice. It is unsurprising that healthy and wealthy young men whose careers revolve around making other people respect them - even very nice people like Curry and Thompson engage in public flexing, challenges, and showing off - are convinced that off the court they and their friends are not treated respectfully enough by the police, and turn that into evidence that the police racially profile blacks in general and that "there are two Americas." Yet how would they know, personally?  People have been sucking up to them and treating them as very special since they are 12, and they live in a world where people feed off impressions of disrespect.  The Warriors - and I very much like the Warriors - just won the championship and have spent the next few days reciting all the comments on Twitter and on sports media that criticised them this season and expressed any doubt.  It is now standard for teams to motivate themselves by saying "no one believed in us."  But many experts picked Golden State to win it all at the beginning of the season, and as people returned from injury and players developed, the drumbeat started that despite a difficult start - as in losing actual basketball games - they were going to win again.  It grows tiring. It is even more tiring when it bleeds over into politics, about which they know nothing. I like Jason Tatum and Jaylen Brown of the Celtics, but when they open their mouths about politics and policing, they are just idiots.  How, after all, would they know, in their protected spheres?

Still, with players it is understandable, even predictable.

What has puzzled me though, is why the coaches feel the need to make public statements as well. I concluded that if you make your living coaching young black players, you had best not have beliefs which offend them or you won't have work, so the job selects for particular beliefs. If what you really love doing is coaching basketball at the highest level and have a demonstrated aptitude for that, there are gates you must pass through.

But it literally never occurred to me that they would be making these forceful statements if they didn't believe them.  That they may have slowly talked themselves into them, sure.  That they had a biased sample set because they had seen young men's lives get interrupted or careers destroyed by crime, violence and subsequent contact with the police and legal system I took as an unfortunate reality, but we all have some of those confirmation biases. Statistics be damn'd, I seen it wit' me own eyes! Yet catch what Strauss says about it, having known them and talked to them for years. (The quote is from a verbal interview, and I have edited it just a bit to remove a few phrasings that sound fine when one hears them but look a little clumsy when viewed.  Imagine it spoken.)

"There was definitely a moment where NBA coaches, white NBA coaches specifically, felt like they had to project a certain racial sensitivity, but then you would talk to them in private - maybe, if you're me you had been talking to such coaches in private for years  and you go like 'Bro, you sound like just a shade more tolerant than Bull Connor when we speak, I don't understand where this is coming from, this isn't you.' It seems like an overcompensation. I'm being ridiculous invoking Bull Connor, but I'm just saying that these coaches are just filled with resentments they are choking down that most people don't have to in their jobs.  They often are middle-aged white men who are trying to boss around young black millionaires who can get them fired at the drop of a hat, trying to get those guys to do whatever they want and to execute the plan and the entire time they are up against this wall of passive-aggression, and getting needled by these guys, and yet they've got to maintain their position somehow. They are often just pulsating with resentment and they are often frustrated about things they would never air publicly. I've heard multiple NBA coaches bemoan how the players they have who grew up without a father are hard to coach.  That's something you will hear commonly from NBA coaches  Holy shit would you not hear that said in public. They know that. So I do think a lot of them are leading a double life.  (Discussion of the 2004 Malice at the Palace pretwitter, suppressed discourse that the players were both spoiled young trust fund brats and ghetto street thugs bubbled over, even back then) 

"I think there is an incorrect assumption of the NBA's demographics, they're still locked into this thought of 'The NBA is the place where young black men from the inner city find these millions and try to make it,' and I think that it in many ways was, and in many ways was back then, but the NY Times has done studies of the NBA's demography and the background of these guys. So many of them are the sons of NBA players and other kinds of professional basketball players. The NBA is about as black as it was back in the 90s and the early 2000s, but the players come from far wealthier backgrounds than before.  I think maybe even the average NBA player comes from a middle to upper-middle class background, blessed with the advantages of having fathers who know the game and imparted it to the kids   You have guys like LeBron James who came out of desperate poverty, same with Kevin Durant, but the median NBA player doesn't come from that background, even though I think most of the public is operating under the assumption that they do."

He goes on to say that rule changes also drove this, especially the 3-point shot. To become a long-distance shooter you have to spend a lot of time indoors in a gym. The driving game that gradually developed on the playgrounds, which created its own rule changes of relaxed enforcement of traveling and palming has been partially superseded by more and deeper jump shots. That means a more middle class upbringing - or higher.  So does better coaching. 

The rules and the equipment are the whole game.  Change the rules and/or the equipment and it's a different game.

No comments: