Monday, January 21, 2013

6 comments Chuck Klosterman Decides Everything Involving Sports is Pointless, So He Doesn't Even Understand Why He is Writing This Column

Maybe Chuck Klosterman is too smart for me. I have a small ego and can accept that maybe his writing is above my head. I don't think that's the case (this is the part where Chuck Klosterman, were he in my position, would write 1000 words on whether the fact I don't think this is the case that he is smarter than I am shows I have a large ego), so I will work under that assumption. Chuck reflects on the incident of David Stern fining the Spurs $250,000 and wonders, naturally, if sports really matter. Chuck tends to do this circular, navel-gazing type wondering about sports quite often. Whether it is suggesting rule changes he thinks aren't good or wondering what our dislike for Chris Johnson says about us. Now Chuck uses the $250,000 fine enforced on the Spurs as a way of determining exactly why sports matter. It seems Chuck likes to over-think issues whenever possible.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich elected to not dress four of his best players (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Danny Green) so that they could rest their legs at the end of a four-game, five-night road trip. This outraged NBA commissioner David Stern, who fined the club $250,000 for committing a "disservice to the league and our fans."

This statement isn't of itself stupid, but if you are me and want to create a straw man argument saying if David Stern really cared about the league and the fans he wouldn't have simply swept the Tim Donaghy mess under the rug by finding him to be the lone gunman and insisting there was nothing else to be seen here, then you find the idea of Stern giving a shit about "the league and our fans" as fairly ironic. This is the commissioner who has presided over an era of officiating where, at best, important NBA playoff games were decided by poor officiating, and at worst, he presided over an era with a conspiracy by officials to fix certain playoff games.

The NBA is a league where one official (Joey Crawford) can clearly have a bias against one team/player, while also having pleaded guilty to falsely stating his income on his taxes from 1991-1993. Crawford resigned immediately after pleading guilty in 1998 and David Stern then reinstated him in 1999, with Crawford never missing a single game. People make mistakes, but mistakes over a three year span? An NBA official Crawford gets reinstated as soon as he possibly can for lying to the IRS, but the Spurs are committing a disservice to the fans by benching their older star players as they see fit. Would it have been a disservice to the league to not immediately re-hire Crawford?

The NBA is also a league where another official's name has somewhat become synonymous with him getting assigned to a game when the NBA has a certain outcome they want reached (Dick Bavetta). The fact Tim Donaghy stated another official on the crew for Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals had a reason for wanting the Lakers to beat the Kings, and Bavetta was a part of that crew, along with being on the crew for quite a few other NBA games with questionable officiating, doesn't bother Stern at all. Nothing to see here. Donaghy was the lone gunman and sweeping this under the rug wasn't a disservice to the league and the fans, but Gregg Popovich has ruined the NBA's fake good name by daring to rest his players and ruining the competitive nature of a certain game.

You get my point and I could go on. David Stern pretending to give a shit about the fans is hilarious to me. If he gave a shit about the fans he would explain his decisions with more than a statement and a brisk walk back to his ivory tower.

The initial debate was straightforward: Is it acceptable for the commissioner to penalize a coach for not playing the players fans want to see?

I wouldn't like it if I was attending an NBA game to see the Spurs' stars play, but I fully understand Gregg Popovich's reasoning for benching Duncan, Ginobili, Green, and Parker.

These smaller, less important debates focused on the following: 

1. Should it matter that Popovich is the most respected coach in the league (and therefore warrants special treatment)?


2. Would it have made a difference if the Spurs had still won the game (which they almost did)?

No, but it goes to show the competitive nature of the game wasn't negatively affected by the absence of the Spurs' star players.

3. Is the NBA schedule too taxing?


4. Is Stern unnecessarily draconian?

Yes. He is a good example of a commissioner who believes he is above the game and also believes only he knows what is good for the NBA. So any decision he makes is a blessed decision and the right one.

5. Was Popovich consciously trying to poke the bear?

Who cares? It's his team and his right. If David Stern really cared about the fans and the league he wouldn't block trades. If Stern also wants to get involved with personnel moves, then he needs to get involved with personnel moves and begin to tell NBA owners which players they can or can not sign, as well as tell NBA owners how to run their team. He can't pick and choose when to do this. If the Warriors are making moves that hurt their team and therefore the NBA and Warriors fans, Stern has to stop those moves. I'm not advocating Stern do this, merely stating he can't pick and choose when to break out with the "disservice to the league and fans" argument simply when it is convenient for him to do so.

6. Would this have been less problematic if Popovich had warned the league of his decision in advance?

He shouldn't have to warn the league.

7. Did ticket buyers in Miami deserve a refund?

No. They have Wade, James, and Bosh. They shouldn't come to the game to see the Spurs stars anyway.

8. What responsibility does Popovich have to TNT (the network that broadcast the game and potentially lost viewers because of who wasn't playing)?

Some, but he has a bigger responsibility to his team.

9. How is this different from teams who tank games at the end of the year in order to qualify for the draft lottery?

Completely different. The Spurs are still trying to stay competitive and win games.

In fact, I suspect those minor issues were mostly being analyzed as a way to avoid the deeper question this conflict demands, simply because the answer is too big to reasonably confront.

As always with Chuck Klosterman, it can't be a simple discussion. There ALWAYS is a deeper issue that only he is smart enough to manufacture---I mean discover and then he will write a column about this issue.

The question is this: What are we really doing here?

Oh God, really? It's like Chuck can't help but navel-gaze. Chuck probably takes a piss and wonders what this piss means in the grand scheme of things. Did he just flush the toilet selfishly taking water away from someone else? Could he have pissed three times today instead of four times? What does the fact he pissed three times instead of four times say about him as a person? If Chuck is really selfish in how he goes to the bathroom then how come going to the bathroom made him feel better? Is Chuck not supposed to feel better because it may be selfish to people he has never met?

What I'm asking is, "When a dilapidated version of the Spurs plays the Heat in late November, what is actually at stake?"

A victory? A game to put on a SportsCenter graphic in June when the Spurs and Heat meet in the NBA Finals that shows the team's record against each other this year?

I'm wondering about the central purpose of pro sports, and how much of that purpose is directly tied to entertainment.

Some people watch sports because they like the competition and entertainment factor. It's entertaining to me when my team wins.

In order for a Spurs-Heat game to be entertaining, it has to be competitive; in order for the game to be competitive, the outcome has to matter; in order for a regular-season game in November to mean anything, the outcome of the NBA title has to mean a lot. And if we're going to accept the premise that the outcome of the NBA Finals is authentically important (and that who wins the title truly matters), then this whole experience needs to be more than casual entertainment.

See, when I do my Chuck Klosterman "piss parody" I'm not too far off. 

This is fairly typical Klosterman schtick. He takes something sports-related and then creates a bunch of questions out of it. At some point, a reader may actually think there is a discussion or a point being made when Chuck is really just churning ideas through his brain. This game is entertaining because sports are entertaining. This game could be entertaining without being competitive, depending on your point of view. Chuck is looking at this from a neutral point of view. As a Heat/Spurs fan, this game would be entertaining even if it weren't competitive.

Popovich is a beloved, admired coach who appears actively unconcerned with the entertainment requirements of basketball (which is how most serious fans would insist they want him to behave). He's exclusively concerned with real competition over the long term, particularly in the month of June; everything else is a distraction. Stern's essential rebuttal is that pro basketball only exists because pro basketball is fun to watch (and if you ignore its entertainment import, the rest of this will all disappear).

Chuck is clouding the issue. Popovich is concerned with running his team, while Stern wants a good product on the court. I get that. The issue is being clouded because Chuck is making these two positions be at cross-purposes when they possibly may not be. Perhaps a person finds basketball to be inherently entertaining, so regardless of the competitive aspect a person finds the game fun to watch. There aren't necessarily two competing visions present. Popovich could be unconcerned with entertainment, but the game still be entertaining, therefore meeting Stern's purpose.

What is present is David Stern overreaching because he is insecure about the product on the court. Stern believes the NBA has to be a superstar-driven league and fans won't show up if there aren't superstars on the court. I can see this view in this specific situation if this game didn't take place in Miami where the best player in the NBA was on the court.

That dissonance between Popovich and Stern is what forces my question.

Haha...this question isn't even being posed by Chuck. This question is forced to be asked.

If what makes sports entertaining is the degree to which the games matter, should we value competition above all other factors, even if doing so occasionally makes things less entertaining? 

There you go assuming. What makes sports entertaining isn't necessarily the degree to which the games matter. Sports can be entertaining simply because you like watching two teams play. I haven't (this is embarrassing and sad) missed a Duke basketball game in about 10 years and I have missed two Carolina Panthers games throughout the franchise's (short) history. There have been some bad games in there that weren't competitive, but I was still entertained. The sport itself can inherently be entertaining. So a competitive game in a sport I like is entertaining, even if the game doesn't matter, and very rarely will valuing the competition of a game make the game less entertaining.

This AT&T commercial never ceases to disturb me (which, I will grant, is mostly my own fault). We see a high school football player involved with a marginally crazy play during practice, captured on the phone of an anonymous peer who likes to invent unoriginal catchphrases. The footage goes viral and the player becomes famous — so famous that he gets recruited by Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops,

It's a commercial and not in any way reflective of real life nor should this commercial cause an internal debate any more than the DirectTV commercials should make us wonder if that passive-aggressive married couple are really commenting on modern married life.

I hate this commercial. It's glib and insidious. However, I only hate it because it's fiction.

Annnnnnnnnnnnnnd we are off topic now.

If a real kid got a scholarship to Oklahoma because of this kind of scenario, I would be charmed. Anytime a real athlete's individual performance outshines the unsophisticated concept of winning or losing, I inevitably love it. His or her motives are almost an afterthought. I only find it troubling when the scenario is fake. 

Are the odds that Chuck Klosterman sees a therapist an even 100% or do you think it is as low as 99%?

Fiction is always more real to me.

Which probably explains why Chuck takes real life events and then creates fictional problems or quandaries (or at the least problems that are fictional in that no one else worries about them other than Chuck) to discuss in relation to these events. Fiction is more real to him, so creating issues that may arise around real life events seems like a natural part of his writing.

Just before Thanksgiving, a Division III basketball player for Grinnell College scored 138 points in one game. The player, Jack Taylor, went 52-of-108 from the field; the rest of his team spent the entire game relentlessly feeding him the ball so that he could launch trey after trey after trey (their next-highest scorer had 13 points)...When I read about this game the next day, I was ecstatic. I've often wondered how many points a basketball player could score if that was the only goal,

So would David Stern fine an NBA team for doing this same thing Grinnell College did? It takes the competitive nature out of the game, but at the same time makes the game exciting, so I would guess Stern would not fine an NBA team for doing this. More importantly (to me), I find the idea of how many points a basketball player could score if that was his only goal as a boring question. Who cares? This seems like the pinnacle of taking a basketball game and turning it into a sideshow. It's just not my thing.

It was totally fascinating, but nothing more. Personally, I'd be happy if this became a trend in the low end of Division III basketball. I'd like to see a space race to 200 points.

I don't get how Chuck Klosterman (of course this is the same guy who thinks we treat Chris Johnson poorly by expecting him to live up to the expectations that Chris Johnson himself set) can think one player attempting to score 200 points in a game should be a trend. This is the pinnacle of team basketball turning into a one-person sport and attempting to remove the competitive aspect from a team game.

I don't see why it would have been better for Grinnell and Faith Baptist to play a 54-51 game that would be totally lost to history.

I don't think this performance was an abomination or anything of the like, and while a 54-51 game would be less historic, if this type of game planning for one player to score over 100 points occurred on a regular basis it would take some of the fun out of watching those games for me.

What if I saw a commercial in which a basketball team sacrificed every traditional, competitive impulse so that one kid could score every single point, and this was celebrated as a brilliant way to demonstrate the power of a 4G network? I'm sure I would hate it. And I would hate it because it would force me to consider what I'm supposed to like about sports, as opposed to just watching the games and feeling good.

The conclusion Chuck comes to is always about him. It's like he takes his own personal demons out on sports. Our feelings about sports have to be complicated because Chuck's feelings about sports are complicated.

Perhaps you think this is an imaginary problem. Perhaps you say, "Just don't worry about it and the problem will disappear."

This is the part where Chuck may just be smarter than I am. I don't understand what the problem truly is. Sports are entertaining, some games are competitive, other games are not competitive, and David Stern shouldn't tell an NBA team how to use their personnel. We all move on.

Right now, in pro football, there is strong statistical evidence that insists teams should punt less on fourth down (even if it's fourth-and-4 and they're at midfield).

As a footnote, Chuck writes: 

However, isn't part of the reason the numbers suggest going for it on fourth down at least partially because almost no one regularly does so? Statistics aren't predictive; they can only show us what happened in the past. So if going for it on fourth-and-4 at midfield is still a relative rarity, isn't the available data for its rate of success questionable? And isn't it buoyed by the specific situations in which it occurs? I mean, what kind of team tends to go for it on fourth-and-4 from midfield? It generally seems like it's teams who are desperate (and sometimes facing a prevent defense) or teams who feel confident that they have the personnel and the play-calling acumen to succeed (most notably the Patriots). But let's say every team started doing this, all the time (which appears to be what the stat-heads want). Won't the base rate drastically change in potentially unexpected ways? 

I wouldn't say I agree with these points, but I do wonder what would happen if every team started going for it on fourth down in this situation. I can see how the results would change in unexpected ways. Regardless, I am being strong and avoiding Chuck's rabbit hole. Back to his navel-gazing...

But if you're one who believes that this axiom must be embraced for its mathematical veracity, it probably means the reason you're watching football is because you really care about the outcome. 

But if you're the one who wants your team to go for it on fourth down then you are watching football because you care about the outcome of your team's game anyway. Maybe I'm different. I don't watch a game and want the Steelers to go for it on fourth down in a situation like this. I don't give a shit what the Steelers do. I only care about axiom's like "go for it on fourth down" as it relates to my team. I could be in the minority, but I suspect I'm not. This is where Chuck is missing the boat. He is taking the analytical view of going for it on fourth down and confusing it with the fan's view of going for it on fourth down. The fan's view is most fans don't solidly believe in one axiom and watch NFL games to make sure all NFL teams follow these axioms. Some do, but in watching a game between two teams a football fan doesn't cheer for then the actual competition is why that football fan is watching the game. These football fans don't care about the outcome, they just want to see a good game. If a football fan is watching a game involving a team they do cheer for, then naturally the outcome is what the fan cares about and going for it/not going for it on fourth down affects this outcome. So that would be why a football fan would care about the axiom of going for it on fourth-and-4 at midfield, because it affects the outcome of a game that fan cares about. Otherwise if the football fan doesn't have a preferred team in the game, then I would think that fan would care more about a competitive game.

It means you believe that the most important thing about a football game is who wins and who loses, which is fine. Except that it makes the whole endeavor vaguely pointless and a little sad.

Again, it depends on the game being watched. If I am watching Maryland-Georgetown play college basketball I want to see a good game. If am watching Duke-Georgetown I care about seeing a competitive game where Duke wins. Watching sports isn't always outcome-based, even though Chuck Klosterman finds it more convenient to assume all sports fans watch sports in this way.

For sports to matter at all, they have to matter more than that; they have to offer more cultural weight than merely deciding if Team A is better than Team B. If they don't, we're collectively making a terrible investment of our time, money, and emotion.

I sincerely have no fucking clue what Chuck is talking about. I don't get why sports have to offer more cultural weight than merely deciding if Team A is better than Team B. Sports are entertainment and a diversion. They don't have to have more cultural impact than a movie or any other form of entertainment has to have a cultural impact. If a person likes this entertainment based on who wins the game than this isn't a terrible investment of time, money, and emotion because that person was entertained. The goal was achieved.

What matters is not the outcome of Miami–San Antonio, but how important that outcome was to begin with.

It was a regular season game. Heat and Spurs fans cared because they want their team to win as many games as possible in order to make the playoffs. The outcome matters in terms of how many wins the Spurs/Heat have at the end of the year and how important the outcome was is irrelevant. People watch sports, they don't care to figure out why they like sports. Why must Chuck always know "why?"

So within this debacle, who was justified? Who was on the right side?

Why does it matter who was justified? Why is there a "right side" on this issue? Doesn't the idea Chuck is looking for who is "right" when there isn't a certain right or wrong contribute to his own hopeless nature of trying to quantify those things which can't be quantified?

My natural, non-thinking inclination is to side with Gregg Popovich...I am emotionally motivated to side with him, because his position makes it seem like sports are more important than the people watching them on TV (which is what I want to feel).

I am really glad this is all cleared up, because I gave two flying fucks to read 1000 words on which side Chuck Klosterman was on and why he was on that side. Chuck thinks it is somewhat sad and pointless for people to watch sporting events merely to find out who wins and loses, but to watch sporting events to find out who is "right" regarding a specific situation isn't sad or pointless...even though it is impossible to know exactly whether Stern or Popovich are truly right.

Yet — in my head — I know that David Stern is right.

His edicts are sometimes infuriating, but they're always enforced for the same motive.

Ego? His love of power?

He always sees the biggest possible picture. Stern holds an inflexible vision of how the NBA should operate, and he's never wavered.

This unwavering vision hasn't always helped the NBA or done anything to dispel the impression Stern is a dictator who will use his authority to turn the NBA into what he wants it to be, even if it means meddling in the affairs of teams and creating the competitive balance he wants to see in the NBA. The NBA is Stern's puppet and he doesn't mind if you see the strings attached. He probably prefers that actually. It gives his ego a boost. He denies trades, he sweeps officiating scandals under the rug, all while allowing terrible owners free reign as long as they kiss the ring.

The NBA will always provide the illusion of competitiveness, which fans will unconsciously accept as viable entertainment. If you turn on an NBA game, you will see the game you expect (and will be able to pretend that it's exactly the game you desire).

We are all sheep according to Chuck Klosterman. 

You will get what you think you want, and any question over what that should (or should not) be will not factor into the equation. And if it does, somebody will get fined $250,000.

So that's what's really going on here.

I'm so confused. This seems to have been a clusterfuck of words to me.

Chuck starts out deciding the conflict between Popovich and Stern isn't about sitting out the Spurs starters being benched, instead he says it's about what is entertainment versus what is competition. This leads to a discussion about how Chuck hates commercials, but if those commercials happened in real life then he would like them. Which leads back into a discussion of competition versus entertainment where Chuck decides a game isn't entertaining if the game is not competitive, but if you watch a game for the competition then that is sad and vaguely pointless. Sports fans only want to watch a game if it is a competitive entertaining game, but to want to watch a competitive game and care about the outcome is pointless. This would make sports pointless, which they clearly aren't since they entertain millions of fans. This leads to Chuck wondering if teams really should go for it on fourth down more often, but also wondering why fans care if teams go for it on fourth down more often. Then Chuck asks why the Spurs-Heat game was important at all and why we even care who won the game. Finally, we get to the final conclusion David Stern was in the right because he needs to keep up the illusion of competitive basketball, which Chuck thinks is pointless to care about anyway unless he doesn't like competition in basketball and enjoys it when basketball consists primarily one player trying to score as many points as possible. This would be something worth watching in Chuck's opinion, even though it removes part of the competitive nature of the sport out of the equation, which he claims is why basketball fans watch the sport.

I need a Valium.


jacktotherack said...

For sports to matter at all, they have to matter more than that; they have to offer more cultural weight than merely deciding if Team A is better than Team B. If they don't, we're collectively making a terrible investment of our time, money, and emotion.

That might be the most infuriating sentence I've ever read. Since Chuck is always interested in asking why, I want him to answer why sports need this extra cultural weight?? Why can't they just be viewed for what they are: games that people enjoy watching as a means of diversion from the realities of everyday life?

Seriously, who is Klosterman's intended audience? Coffee house hipster douchebags who masturbate to their own hypotheticals?? The fact this asshole has to ramble on incoherently paragraph after paragraph all just to show he is the smartest man in the room is nauseating. His faux-intellectualism with dumbass statements like "fiction has always been more real to me" just drip of pretentiousness and self-obsession over the notion that everyone should care how he views the sports world.

No wonder Simmons and this dickhead are friends.

JimA said...

When my daughter was a baby, we had trouble getting her to sleep occasionally. What we came up with was to put her in a swing, in front of the tv, with a basketball game on. She would fall asleep in minutes. I'm pretty sure she didn't care who won the game, so I guess these games had that cultural weight that is so important to all of us.

Bengoodfella said...

Jack, I thought about who the hell would want to hear him talk as well when I was reading this. I'm not sure if a more pretentious sentence than "fiction has always been more real to me" will ever be written.

Sports are sports. They are a diversion from life and can be given weight in order to generate storylines and headlines. If I enjoy sports then it is a great investment in my time. Don't tell me how to spend my time.

Jim, I am sure your daughter was also able to give the games more cultural weight than just who won and that's why it was a great investment of your time. It's good to see you using sports in the correct fashion and not just as a fan.

am lucky, every Bobcats game is on television here in Greensboro, so if I ever have trouble falling asleep I can just turn one on.

waffleboy said...

Wow, you really can't help but watch the sausage being made when Klosterman writes, huh? I mean most writers would have probably had this as an internal dialogue when they were figuring out what they were going to write about, and how they were going to shape their arguments, but Chuck just writes down everything that rattles through his mind, and bam! 2,000 words are in the can before he even has to worry about getting to his main point. Well played Mr Klosterman. Well played indeed.
And for the record, isn't the real story here, that it isn't even halfway through the season and San Antonio is resting all of their best players?
Oh, and I don't care what Chuck says, Billy Joel is in no way shape or form a secret success.

JR Ewing Theory said...

No comment necessary:

Bengoodfella said...

Waffle, I don't think I like seeing how the sausage is made. I'm better off not understanding at all. I think his writing is so bad that many people aren't capable of recognizing it doesn't make sense and isn't very good.

Yeah, I thought that was the story too. The explanation was that they had a long road trip and Popovich wanted to rest the guys.

Billy Joel wrote "We Didn't Start the Fire" which ruined all goodwill for "Piano Man."

JR, I couldn't get through that. I went into it thinking maybe something additional could be added to the discussion and quickly saw I was wrong and quit reading it. Bad, huh?