Monday, April 8, 2013

6 comments Rick Reilly Celebrates His New Contract By Showing Why He Didn't Deserve a New Contract

ESPN recently signed Rick Reilly to a new contract which really surprised me. Not the new contract, though I'm sure the amount of money Reilly is paid would surprise me, but the fact ESPN gave him a new contract. I probably shouldn't be surprised and have given ESPN enough credit to believe they think Reilly stinks as bad as the general public seems to think he stinks. If I were trying to write like Rick Reilly I would say he mails in so many columns he could singlehandedly keep the US Postal Service delivering mail on Saturdays. Rick Reilly puts such little effort into his columns even Eddy Curry thinks Reilly is lazy. Okay, enough Reilly-isms, you get my point. Rick has written a column about why the 1971-1972 Lakers' streak is more impressive than the 2012-2013 Miami Heat's streak. He probably could have written a good column that would have proven this to be true (since it probably is), but in typical Rick fashion he writes so poorly a person (like me) simply feels compelled to point out where he is wrong. Bad jokes and poor persuasive techniques are a hallmark of Reilly columns and they are widely present in this column.

The Heat lost to the Bulls the night after Rick wrote this column, so I am sure Rick thinks he had something to do with the Heat losing to the Bulls. Obviously the Lakers' streak is "better" than the Heat's streak because it is longer. I put "better" in quotes because I think that is a terrible word to have used in the title of this column to describe a comparison between a 33 game winning streak and a 27 game winning streak. So yes, Rick is right in that because the Lakers' streak was longer, it is more impressive, but Rick's reasoning is just so bad I have to write about it. So let's attack some reasoning!

Not to disagree with LeBron James, but I disagree with LeBron James. And so does Jerry West.

BREAKING NEWS: One of the members of the 1971-1972 Lakers team believes his team's win streak is the most impressive. Is going to a member of the 1971-1972 Lakers team really the best way to get an honest and unbiased opinion on which win streak was more impressive? He may as well do a poll of new parents to see which ones think their newborn baby is the cutest in the world. I guess when Rick devotes one hour of his week to researching and writing his column then corners have to be cut somewhere. 

James says the NBA wasn't as competitive in 1971-72 as it is now because the ABA was a separate league then. Therefore, the 33-game winning streak by West's Los Angeles Lakers that season is a watered-down light beer compared to the Heat's Dom Perignon streak of 27 and counting.

I think (a) it is nearly impossible to compare these two winning streaks, especially now that the Heat's streak ended at 27 games and (b) LeBron has a point about the best athletes not playing basketball and the increased athleticism and competition that is seen in the NBA today. It's a different game from basketball in the early 1970's. The fact the NBA is a different game from when it was played in the 1970's doesn't mean LeBron is right of course.

Sorry, LeWrong,

Get it? His name is "LeBron" and Rick just called him "LeWrong," so-----wait, I don't really get it.

Let me count the ways that what the Lakers did then is harder than what the Heat are doing now, even if they get to 33, starting with …

You just know Rick starting this column off trying to write 33 reasons why the Lakers' streak was harder than the Heat's streak, but couldn't think of enough reasons to get to 33. Also, Rick is sorter of moving the ball a bit. The title of the column says the Lakers' streak is "better" than the Heat's streak, but now Rick is saying the Lakers' streak was "harder" than the Heat's streak. There is a difference, albeit possibly a small difference.

1. Yes, the ABA

The 1971-72 ABA had only 11 rickety teams and was doing more folding than a Gap clerk. Most really good players didn't want to take the risk. It had some legends, but after Julius Erving (Virginia), Rick Barry (New York), Dan Issel (Kentucky), Billy Cunningham (Carolina) and Artis Gilmore (Kentucky), the talent pool went downhill faster than Vince Wilfork on a water slide.

Two things I must mention:

1. That joke isn't funny anymore. Stop me if you're that one before when it comes to a Rick Reilly column. Some players are bigger than others, but this type of joke about Wilfork going down a water slide just isn't very creative. Of course, Rick got his new contract so he can start gaining weight, not showing up to practice and not giving a crap until he needs to start writing well to secure his next contract.

2. So after the five Hall of Famers Rick just mentioned the ABA didn't really have any other great players and there was no talent drain from the NBA to the ABA? What about players who never played a long time in the NBA, but would have if the leagues had merged prior to 1976?  I seem to remember (okay, I don't actually remember) Freddie Lewis, George McGinnis, Billy Paultz, and Mel Daniels were pretty good players. So other than the five Hall of Famers who played in the ABA, there were other ABA players that would have made the NBA a more competitive league in 1971-1972. It's not fair to just look at the players who made it to the NBA and became Hall of Famers, but players who spent the bulk of their prime in the ABA could also have made an impact in the NBA during that season.

After the merger in 1976, four teams transferred into the NBA plus another dozen or so other players. "If they were so great, why didn't we see them in the league?" West asks.

I know why. I was 18 then. I loved the ABA, but even I knew most of those guys couldn't have made an NBA roster. Some of them could barely make a jumper.

This is just such a irritating topic to discuss because Rick doesn't get it. Some of the ABA teams transferred over to the NBA and had success, while the ABA teams that didn't make the transition to the NBA had their players put in a dispersal draft. Some ABA teams transitioned into NBA teams and had success, so the ABA teams could play. In fact, a few ex-ABA teams won their NBA division soon after the merger, which tells me teams in the ABA could play ball. Here's what Bob Ryan (an authority on the NBA and basketball, at least in my opinion) said about the ABA:

"When writers such as Jim O'Brien and Peter Vescey wrote that the two leagues were very close, that some ABA teams were among the top five of all pro basketball teams, I thought they had no objectivity and that they were too close to the teams they were writing about to really understand pro basketball. Then came the merger, and Denver and San Antonio won division titles. What could I say? Guys like Jim O'Brien were right."

So who should I believe on the strength of the ABA teams...Rick Reilly or Bob Ryan? I think I'll trust Bob Ryan that the ABA wasn't as weak as Rick claims it to have been.

2. Travel

The Heat have their own plane. The Lakers flew commercial. Sometimes -- coach. Sometimes -- layovers. Here's how different road life was: They'd have to take their uniforms back to their rooms and dry them over the shower bar.

That's fantastic and very interesting to learn. The problem with this point is the Lakers weren't the only NBA team who had to travel coach, deal with layovers and dry their uniforms over the shower bar. So there was an even playing field. When the 71-72 Lakers played the 71-72 Celtics the Celtics didn't have an advantage because the Lakers had difficult road conditions and the Celtics didn't. Both teams had tough road conditions.

So it is fine to compare the Heat to the Lakers in terms of travel, but when looking at the impact of this travel and whether it was harder for the Heat or Lakers to have a long winning streak, each team has to be compared to the other teams in their own era. There was an even playing field for the 71-72 Lakers because the team they were opposing had the same travel issues. So while the Lakers were playing road games tired from their journey, they were also playing teams at home who were tired from their journey to play the Lakers. It evens out because there was an even playing field for the 12-13 Heat and 71-72 Lakers in terms of travel. Not a good point by Rick.

One game during the streak, they played in Chicago, woke up the next morning, went to O'Hare for their flight to a 7 p.m. game that night in Philly, and couldn't take off for five hours.

"We just sat on the plane forever," West remembers. "And this was the day of the game. 

Anecdotal evidence is really the only type of evidence I truly need to believe this story.

(Not that it wasn't fun. They used to find somebody short, surround him on all sides, and begin talking over the poor guy's head. Six or seven 6-foot-6 guys pretending they didn't know he was down there. "Some guy would be trying to get his luggage and he'd have nowhere to go. We'd do it on elevators, too.") 

It sounds like all of this travel that only the 71-72 Lakers were subjected to really tired them out and gave the other team a competitive advantage.

3. Back-to-back-to-backs

The Lakers played three games in three nights four times during the streak alone. Playing three games in three nights is as dead now in the NBA as the set shot. If you asked the Heat to do it even once you'd be hearing from their lawyers.

The Heat have played three times in four days six times, as well as playing six times in eight days a few times. Again, the three games in three nights schedule is what every NBA team played back in 1971-1972, so there was a level playing field. It is impressive the 71-72 Lakers played three games in three nights, but other NBA teams had to do this as well. So because the 71-72 Lakers had to play three games in three nights this doesn't make their streak more impressive because other NBA teams had to do this as well. The Miami Heat aren't the only team who currently doesn't have to play three games in three nights on a regular basis, so the playing field is level for the 12-13 Heat.

4. Two questions

If the competition is so superior now, as James says it is, how come two of the three greatest streaks in league history have come in the past six years? Why are four of the top seven from 2000 and later?

If the competition was so superior back in the 70's then how come Rick Reilly is cherry-picking data by stopping at the Top 7 streaks to prove his point? This is an excellent case of a writer cherry-picking data that would cause people to dismiss the conclusion he was attempting to draw if they saw the entirety of the data he was cherry-picking his subset of data from.

Here are the longest win streaks in the history of the NBA. I can cherry-pick statistics too! Of the Top 13 win streaks in NBA history, if the competition in the league was so superior then how come five of them took place from 1965-1972? Philadelphia had two separate streaks of 18 games, the Knicks had an 18 game win streak, the Bucks had a 20 game win streak and of course the Lakers won 33 consecutive games from 1965-1972. It is amazing what you can find out when you don't arbitrarily cut off data. So two of the longest streaks have come in the past six years, but five of the longest thirteen streaks happened from 1965-1972. This is what happens when a writer ignores data that disproves his point and tries to mislead his readers. What a hack.

5. None-and-dones

In those days, no player could come to the league until his college class had graduated. There's a huge difference between playing against veterans and a lot of six-whisker 19-year-olds who've never checked into a hotel much less into a 260-pound center. "We weren't playing against a bunch of kids," says West. "We were playing men."

This is an odd comment considering the Heat's best three players spent a grand total of four years in college playing college basketball, with Wade taking up three of these years. It's also an odd comment because Jerry West and his fellow Lakers weren't playing NEARLY the type of basketball player that plays now. Today's players are more muscular and athletic than those that played in the NBA 40 years ago. Jerry West may have been playing men back then, but the NBA players today are bigger men now then West played in 1971-1972.

6. Beasts

The NBA in those days was a kind of traveling triage. Every team seemed to have some walking Sears Tower in the middle who handed out contusions free of charge. And yet, during the streak alone, the Lakers beat Wes Unseld (Baltimore), Nate Thurmond (Golden State), Elvin Hayes (Houston), Bob Lanier (Detroit) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Milwaukee), who finally killed the streak with 39 points at home. Would you rather play them or Bismack Biyombo?

Rick blatantly ignores two big factors here. The Heat had beaten very good big men during their streak and there are other positions on the court other than center. Simply because the 71-72 Lakers played great centers doesn't mean the team they played was more difficult to beat. Guards and forwards are difficult to beat also. This is a list of guards and forwards the Heat beat during their 27 game winning streak:

James Harden
Chris Paul
Kobe Bryant
Kevin Durant
Russell Westbrook
Kyrie Irving
Carmelo Anthony
Paul Pierce

Here is the list of centers who the Heat beat during their 27 game winning streak:

Dwight Howard
LaMarcus Aldridge
Joakim Noah
Marc Gasol
Pau Gasol
Tyson Chandler
Roy Hibbert

These guys have been known to play the center position very well also. So Rick's idiotic use of Bismack Biyombo as the example of the center the Heat had played is very misleading.

"It's funny," West says. "After the games, we weren't all that excited about the streak. We were excited about how much money we'd just made. They paid us $5 for every assist, steal and blocked shot. I can remember Wilt would get 14 or 15 blocked shots some nights. I'd get 10 steals in a night, no problem.

This certainly doesn't sound like an exaggeration at all. Wilt blocked 14 or 15 shots, Jerry West had an easy 10 steals, and I am sure Gail Goodrich would hand out 43 assists per game, while also working as an undercover cop infiltrating the mafia during halftime. This all sounds so very believable and not at all anecdotal evidence or an exaggeration.

7. Immortality

The Lakers made those 33 look easier than the People crossword. Only one opponent finished within four points of them. (Heat: five times, so far.)

Four is one bigger than five, so clearly the Lakers win. Argument over in Rick's opinion.

They trailed at halftime in four games. (Heat: nine times.) Only once did they trail after three quarters. (Heat: five times.) The Lakers' margin of victory was almost 50 percent more than the Heat's.

So is the Lakers' streak more impressive because they won these games by so much or is the Heat's streak more impressive because they managed to win close games? Also, the fact the Lakers only trailed once after three quarters may not speak much for the high level of competition the Lakers faced.

The Lakers -- with West, Wilt and the purest shooter in the game at the time, Gail Goodrich -- were a tidal wave of O that has rarely been seen in basketball since. They scored over 120 points 22 times in that streak, with no 3-point line. They laid 154 on the Philadelphia 76ers one night during the streak, without overtime.\

Again, does this speak to the strength of the Lakers team or the talent level around the NBA in 1971-1972? I get the Lakers were a dominant team, but it begs the question of whether the teams around the Lakers were strong competition.

The one opponent the Heat have that is much tougher is the media. The Heat are covered like freckles on a redhead 24/7 by dozens and dozens of daily media. The Lakers had one traveling beat writer, my old pal, the late Mal Florence, from the Los Angeles Times.

Rick has to name-drop that he knows Mal Florence. Rick must also know Satan since the only way Rick could still have a successful sportswriting career is if he made a deal with the devil.

When they finally lost in Milwaukee, his editor called him off the trip early to save money.

The next morning, Lakers coach Bill Sharman saw Mal holding his suitcase in front of the hotel, waiting for a cab.
"Where you going?" Sharman asked.
Without a pause, Mal sniffed, "I don't cover losers."

What were the Lakers still doing at the hotel the day after their loss to Milwaukee? Shouldn't they be sitting on a plane to play their third game in three nights against a team that is full of NBA Hall of Famers?

The Lakers streak is more impressive than the Heat's streak simply because it was longer. All jokes and snark aside though, Rick Reilly is still a terrible writer and it's good to see he hasn't lost his ability to mail in a column. It seems ESPN made a big mistake in re-signing their version of Vernon Wells. Of course the same company that employs Skip Bayless clearly doesn't give a crap about quality, so I should expect this dedication to mediocrity.

6 comments:

Danny Ainge, whiner deluxe said...

I think the lack of a three point line is an underemphasized difference between the two eras. The number of crappy teams each team played or plays bears further scrutiny.

Rick Reilly is clearly functioning here as Charlie McCarthy to Jerry West's Edgar Bergen. This is strikingly similar to last week, when someone in the Ricketts family was moving his lips for him as a Cubs shill.

Bengoodfella said...

That's a good point and one I did not think about. The three point line means a team could get hot and beat the Heat. Not that the three point line is an equalizer in the NBA like it is in college basketball, but I thin the three point line does make a difference.

I don't think there has been a very good investigation into which streak is more impressive, though I also don't know if anyone cares at this point.

waffleboy said...

A few comments before I get to my main point.

For starters, Rick Reilly was never going anywhere at ESPN, because unless you start grifting people on the interweb, impregnate a couple of interns, or are Keith Olbermann it's pretty much impossible to lose your job at the world wide leader. I mean let's face it, we're talking about an organization that's probably going to still be sending paychecks to Chris Berman and Dickie V two years after they are dead and gone. So I guess the good news here is we all can plan on ignoring another six years of Rick writing his once a month column about the blind high school kid who shoots 98% from the line.

Okay, all of this started because LeBron James essentially lives in a giant cocoon of unconditional love, which by the way is great for a three year old, but leads to grown adults sounding kind of douchey when they want you to know how hard their lives are playing with their handpicked teammates on the best team in the league. This lead to a whole bunch of people getting into a pointless apples vs oranges debate about the good old days vs. now, which I'm sure has lead to a lot more lazy columns than just Ricky's.

This is just my opinion here, but what would have been a really good story would have been to find out how do you get a team to sign on for a long win streak in the NBA regular season.

I know nobody likes to talk about it, but the NBA regular season is ridiculously long, and almost begs for teams to take it easy at least once a week, so you've got some gas in the tank for the playoffs. How and why do players, coaches, and management decide to play intense playoffs level basketball for a long period of time when they don't really need to?

Now that is a story I'd love to read, but of course we didn't get that, because Rick Reilly is so lazy ESPN should buy him one of those mobility scooters.

jacktotherack said...

Sorry RickIncorrect, this article sucks ass. When did someone suggest to Rick that he is actually funny?? His jokes make me wince from how corny and shitty they are.

Anonymous said...

Jackttr, my jokes are corny and shitty too but then again I'm an unpaid volunteer. I never read SI. Did Rick always suck so bad? It is hard to imagine how he stumbled on to this ESPN gig given his putrescence. Although the ESPN way is to buy expertise/talent without proper vetting; witness Hoge, Kruk....

Bengoodfella said...

Waffle, I thought they would get rid of Reilly because he didn't even make a good troll. He was so incompetent the viewers didn't care about him at all. I thought that is what would have gotten his contract not renewed.

We all know NBA teams take the night off. Maybe it was Shane Battier's inspiring speech that convinced the Heat to play hard for a month. I'm sure that is Bill Simmons' explanation.

Jack, I think it was suggested to him back when he had the back page of SI. Then he believed it and that's where we are now. The world has changed, but he hasn't.

Anon, no, Rick wasn't always this bad. He was capable of a good article, but his corny kind of articles don't really have a place on ESPN.com and once you get past writing sad stories about athletes he doesn't have another skill set.