Monday, June 10, 2013

7 comments "Slate" Writer Says America is a Bunch of Hypocrites Because Nobody Likes the San Antonio Spurs

I generally dislike the whole "stick to whatever profession you normally write about" argument. Okay, that's a lie. I really like to use this argument when it is pertinent, but it does seem like a pretty lazy way of discrediting someone's opinion who doesn't normally discuss sports when that person is discussing sports. Matthew Yglesias seems to be an example of this type of person. He is an economist and he writes a lot of economist-like articles. You can see them here. What you see in there is an outlying article about the San Antonio Spurs and how no one likes them. It's just not very well written. It's more of a "Derrrrr, the Spurs aren't featured a lot on SportsCenter so nobody cares about them and that's why America is full of hypocrites" type article. It assumes popularity for the Spurs based on ESPN coverage is entirely congruent with the nation's love for the Spurs. Basically, it is the casual sports fans' opinion based entirely on a helicopter view of sports that is also based entirely on a lot of assumptions to arrive at it's point. This is the type of article that at best only serves to point out the obvious fact that exciting players and teams tend to get more coverage, and at worst is an example of an article written based on assumptions and generalities that has no real merit to the reader. This is also the type of article that was written in 2012 and is being re-posted because the Spurs are in the NBA Finals.

America—at least in its own imagination—stands for certain things. For the idea that hard work and sound judgment bring success, and that success deserves celebration. That winners should be celebrated as long as they play by the rules.

But as "Game of Thrones" has shown us, the rules mean jackshit and you need to start stabbing some people before they can start stabbing you.

The fact this writer is starting off an article about the Spurs talking about the American perspective when the NBA is becoming more and more of a global sport and the Spurs have 9 of the 15 roster spots filled by players born outside of the United States, well it just further contributes to the whole "casual sports fan, but hardcore economist" nature of this column. How America perceives itself (in regard to the NBA) is becoming less and less important because the NBA is becoming more and more of a global sport. You can't just say, "Hey, the Spurs aren't popular because they aren't exciting and Americans are hypocrites for not liking the Spurs" because there are fans from other countries who watch the NBA.

That teamwork, leadership, loyalty, and excellence all count for something. And that’s why the San Antonio Spurs, currently riding a stupendous run of 19 straight victories, are America’s favorite professional basketball team.

Here comes the twist!

Except, of course, they aren’t.

But you just said they were! I'm riding a roller coaster of emotion right now.

I'll deal with some facts very quickly. The Spurs (in terms of merchandise sold for 12/13...which admittedly isn't the best measure) are the ninth most popular team in the NBA. The teams above them in the rankings either play in huge markets (New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago), had a re-brand which caused fans to buy all new merchandise (Brooklyn), or had success during the previous season (both the Heat and Thunder made the Finals). So the Spurs still seem like a pretty popular team. For a team in a small market (which they ARE in a small market), the Spurs seem to have quite a few fans. I know, facts always get in the way of a good argument.

Not in their 1999 championship run or the follow-ups in 2003, 2005, and 2007. Not for a single moment amid the glorious 15-year run with coach Gregg Popovich and big man Tim Duncan have the Spurs captured the imaginations of the American people or even its basketball fans. 

This is absolutely not true. The 1999 championship run made many NBA fans happy because it involved a young player (Tim Duncan) helping a Hall of Famer (David Robinson) win his first NBA Title. I remember it vividly and it seemed like a lot of people were happy for the Spurs. I think it is inaccurate to say American fans haven't appreciated the Spurs during their 15 year run. Also, few teams ever really "capture the imagination" of a nation anymore. It's not 1967.

That’s because we are, ultimately, a nation of hypocrites that prefers drama queens, bad boys, and flukes to simple competence and success.

And again, let's blatantly ignore there are NBA fans who don't live in the United States. This is a fact that the NBA is a global sport. The NBA is surging in popularity overseas and social media has helped enhance this popularity. So the author's argument initially fails because you can't completely blame the Knicks, Heat and Lakers popularity on America and our extreme commitment to hypocrisy. If the author thinks Americans are hypocrites then he should also think the rest of the NBA-loving world as hypocrites too.

This year’s Spurs team somehow managed to earn less recognition than its predecessors

This thoroughly deep analysis of the Spurs popularity is presumably based on the author's need to prove his point and so he writes this statement without any supporting evidence because none is provided nor possibly exists.

Apologists for the American fan have long argued that the Spurs don’t get attention because they have a “boring” style of play.

Oh, so we are assuming the NBA is still a sport only Americans watch? Great. Welcome to 2013, where American sports are popular overseas.

Also, this characterization of the opposing side's argument is very much a JemeHill move. You frame the opposition's argument on your own terms so that you can easily refute that argument. Who cares if the way you frame the opposition's argument isn't necessarily indicative of the opposition's argument? You proved it wrong! Huzzah!

This never quite explained the Spurs’ rampant unpopularity. The brutal, slow-it-down Knicks and Heat teams of the late-1990s didn’t exactly strike out-of-towners as lovable, but they were iconic.

So the Spurs have rampant unpopularity? You can learn so much by reading statements that have no factual backing for those statements being made.

Again, I'll be the big boy and start to use some facts. A 2011 study based on the average secondary ticket price for each road team showed that the Spurs had the 8th most popular ticket among NBA teams (at least in terms of ticket cost). Apparently the Spurs are so rampantly unpopular people will pay the 8th most amount of money to see them play as a road team. Boy, people must really hate the Spurs.

Oh, and the late-1990's Heat and Knicks teams were "iconic." I'm not sure about that, but I am sure those teams played some pretty tough playoff games against each other. So perhaps the late-1990's playoff series between the Heat and Knicks is what was iconic about these teams. 

At a minimum, people loved to hate those teams. The Spurs are just ignored.

The Spurs are rampantly unpopular and ignored. Nobody likes them and nobody pays attention to them.

But as Duncan’s legs aged

The rest of Duncan's body didn't age, just his legs.

and the league’s evolved, so has Popovich’s system. The current iteration of the Spurs is a scoring powerhouse that combines sharp ball movement with accurate shooting to rain threes on the opposition.

So why does "everyone" ignore the Spurs? Why is this author's generalized assumption true? Is it because America is a nation of hypocrites? Could it be because the Spurs really aren't rampantly disliked

Playing with an above-average pace and the best field goal percentage in the league, the Spurs ended the regular season second in overall scoring and first in offensive efficiency. When the Phoenix Suns leapt into contention with a fast-faced, point-guard-led, long-ball-heavy offense fans around the country jumped for joy. Now that San Antonio’s embraced gunning, nobody cares.

So because the Spurs are playing at an above-average pace we are supposed to start comparing them to the Steve Nash-led Phoenix Suns? What? I keep reading "nobody cares" about the Spurs, but I see absolutely no confirmation this statement is correct. There is a difference in a team playing at an efficient pace and a team playing at a fast pace.

Nor is it credible to attribute the Spurs’ obscurity to San Antonio’s alleged “small market” status, a hoary cliché that fails to notice the extraordinary population growth in Texas since the ABA-NBA merger brought the Spurs into the league.

Here's the thing though, the Spurs are popular. So the author's entire hypothesis that the Spurs aren't popular remains incorrect. I would say the team that is 9th in merchandise sales is a team with some popular players (and therefore by extension the team is popular) on that team.

It’s true that San Antonio remains considerably smaller than New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, or even Dallas and Houston. But it’s far from the NBA’s smallest market.

Right, and in terms of road ticket sales and merchandise, what teams do the Spurs lag behind? New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, etc. The Spurs are the smallest NBA market in the state of Texas. To not only ignore the Spurs popularity for the sake of laziness and say, "they aren't a small market team, look how much population growth Texas has experienced" while ignoring that the Spurs play in the smallest NBA market in Texas is ridiculous. The size of the San Antonio market has something to do with the Spurs not being as popular as successful large market teams.

This author experiences issues when it comes to the relative size of San Antonio. We aren't comparing San Antonio to every city, but to every city with an NBA team. The Spurs play in the ninth smallest market or seventh smallest NBA market, depending which measure you use. In terms of NBA teams, they are a small market team. The author can get all pissy and use the word "hoary" in a sentence, but it doesn't change the fact San Antonio relative to other NBA cities is a small market team.

The San Antonio metropolitan area’s 2.2 million inhabitants ranks it above Sacramento, Orlando, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Memphis, New Orleans, and not least of all Oklahoma City.

The Spurs have a larger market than only eight other NBA teams. Doesn't that make them a small market team?

But the fact that nobody lives in Oklahoma City hasn’t stopped Kevin Durant from appearing on the cover of video games or the Thunder getting gushing write-ups in GQ.  

This is where the author being a casual sports fan again becomes clear. Kevin Durant is one of the best and most exciting players in the NBA. He has national endorsements. Tim Duncan is also an exciting and great player, but he doesn't search out these endorsements. Kevin Durant appears on the cover of video games because he searches this out. Tim Duncan does not search these things out. Therein lies part of the difference in the star players from these two cities.

No, there are two main reasons why the Spurs are genuinely boring. The first is that, unlike the Thunder and pretty much every other NBA team, they don’t have anybody who dunks. San Antonio’s top dunker, Tim Duncan, had just 35 slams this season, tied for 63rd-most in the league.

But I thought the author just said the idea the Spurs are boring isn't true because they are very efficient on offense. Now he is characterizing the Spurs as boring because they don't dunk the ball enough. Again, the author is confusing popularity among fans with SportsCenter highlights.

Second, the Spurs organization’s top-to-bottom dedication to winning is incredibly stultifying. The star never tries to get the coach fired. There are no contract disputes. 

The Thunder are popular and the star never tries to get the coach fired and Durant quietly re-signed with the Thunder as well. The Thunder are still a popular team, presumably because they dunk the ball a lot and for no other reason.

The face of the franchise is on the last year of his contract and nobody’s speculating about whether or not he’ll come back.

Most likely because the article the author linked consists of Tim Duncan saying he is coming back to San Antonio. That sort of leaves no room for speculation.

No other team even bothers to try to hire away San Antonio’s coach despite his indisputable track record of success.

This very rarely happens to a team that is consistently a winner. Teams didn't try to hire Phil Jackson away from the Lakers and Bulls (at least not publicly) and no team is trying to hire Eric Spoelstra away from the Heat. Usually teams who have a successful coach choose to keep that coach as opposed to allowing another team to hire him away. So it isn't shocking at all that Gregg Popovich hasn't been hired away from the Spurs.

Even when the team indisputably miscalculates, as when the Spurs signed Richard Jefferson to a high-dollar multiyear deal, the situation is dealt with quietly and efficiently....And when the opportunity presented itself to make a financially advantageous trade and swap him for Stephen Jackson’s less-onerous deal, management got it done.

Then the Spurs later cut Stephen Jackson and he publicly stated why he thinks they did so.

Competent, businesslike success gives us nothing to work with. Kobe Bryant’s egomaniacal play, LeBron James’ absurd television special, and Dwight Howard’s “should I stay or should I go” antics are polarizing.

Sexy, exciting stories get more publicity, but this doesn't mean the Spurs are less popular because they aren't sexy or controversial. It simply means they get less coverage on sports shows for things that have nothing to do with their play. The Lakers and Magic didn't become more popular because there were questions surrounding Dwight Howard and where he wanted to play during the 2012-2013 season, they just got more coverage for being involved in the story. Coverage doesn't always equal popularity among fans.

There’s a reason that Bridezillas is a show and there’s nothing called Reasonably Well-Planned Wedding Enjoyed by All.

Thank you for stating the obvious. Networks air television shows that are exciting. If the author wants to me to prove his point wrong using television, I can do that. The Spurs played the 7th most nationally televised games this past season. That's a lot of nationally televised games for a team that is supposedly so unpopular. So yes, television does show exciting and popular programs. Apparently someone at TNT, ABC, and ESPN believes the Spurs are exciting and popular. I wonder where they would get that idea from?

Americans don’t want excellence, and we certainly don’t want long-term sustained excellence. We want our dynasties to come with a side order of drama, controversy, and bad behavior. 

This is incorrect. The media may want the author to believe this, but Americans want a dynasty that has long-term excellence. The media wants excellence and excitement. And once again, don't forget the NBA is a global sport. People outside of the United States watch NBA games now.

We want to watch a train wreck and then tut-tut in a smug self-satisfied way about the irresponsibility of the people who caused it. We want to maintain our high ideals, without needing to walk the walk. 

Since the NBA is a global sport, I guess the entire world is a bunch of hypocrites. Assuming the author is correct (which he isn't), is it even hypocrisy to want to watch a train wreck and in a smug self-satisfied way, then give teams who feed our hypocrisy more ratings and popularity? Is that hypocrisy or choosing to watch and support exciting teams?

Nobody can hate the Spurs, so nobody wants to love them.

Except for the networks that showed them the 7th most times this past season on national television, the people who bought apparel that made the Spurs 9th in the NBA in merchandise sold, and the fans who will pay the 8th most money and seem eager to see the Spurs play a road game. So if we ignore all the ways the Spurs are popular, then you can see how unpopular they are.

It’s more comfortable for everyone if we can just pretend they don’t exist.

Just like it is more comfortable for the author to just assume his hypothesis that the Spurs are unpopular is correct. The Spurs don't cause controversy, don't dunk the ball a lot and they don't appear on SportsCenter much, so they must be really unpopular, right? Wrong. 


Anonymous said...

What facts do you have to back up the Durant "searches out" ad income and Duncan doesn't assertion? Maybe Durant's management is greedier or more effective or just smarter than Duncan's? I know neither guy personally searches out endorsements.

Bengoodfella said...

Anon, it's entirely possible Duncan just can't find national endorsements, but I find it hard to believe he just can't find anyone who wants him to endorse their products. I have to believe Duncan doesn't choose to endorse many products.

Logic, as well common sense, say that Kevin Durant wouldn't have contracts with Gatorade, Sprint, SkullCandy, Nike, and 2K sports if he or his people didn't seek these contracts out to some extent. Durant isn't personally doing it of course.

So I have no proof other than not being able to believe Duncan has the worst management in the history of professional athletes and Durant has to want to do these endorsements or else he wouldn't. Maybe "seek out" isn't the best choice of words, but Durant isn't turning down opportunities available to him. It's not like Durant walks around the streets looking for products to endorse or anything. No athlete personally searches out endorsements, like going door-to-door seeing if anyone wants to pay him for endorsing a product.

It's not an insult, though you clearly took it that way.

As always, the brave anonymous guy does the ripping.

Bengoodfella said...

Is this really about Bill Simmons? Are you the same Anon who ripped me about the Bill Simmons post and now you are defending Durant because Simmons loves Durant?

Anonymous said...

I wasn't really bothered by the Yglesias piece. As you pointed out, the guy is an economist not a sportswriter. I did notice when I read it that you noted some of his points weren't backed by facts and it seemed to me your ad point was similarly lacking. I think I disliked the searches out phrase as it implied Durant (who I don't care about either way) is a money grubber and Duncan not only isn't but sadly can't get a gig. I wasn't trying to rip you just noting a possible inconsistency.

I hate Simmons and enjoy reading all anti-Bill posts.

Bengoodfella said...

Anon, I understand. I should have not used the words that the author used in saying "searches out" because it gives the wrong impression.

Thanks for nothing the inconsistency. I thought you were the same Anon guy from time to time rips me in Simmons pieces. The whole Durant-Simmons thing was a connection I thought I had made. I was wrong.

I should have used different phrasing. That's what I get for using the same language the author used.

I'm glad you enjoy the anti-Bill posts and I've had my coffee now, so I'm less pissy and reactionary.

Anonymous said...

First of all, I'd really like to thank this author for being the first person in human history to refere to late '90s Heat-Knicks playoff series as "iconic." Only if you're a basketball sadist were those series iconic.

"No other team even bothers to try to hire away San Antonio’s coach despite his indisputable track record of success."

Is this really the barometer for how popular a team is? Nobody's tried to hire Belichick away from the Patriots, guess they aren't popular! Maybe no one hires away Popovich (or Spoelstra, for that matter) because as an NBA coach, having some of the best players in the league is the winning lottery ticket and you'd be a fool to leave that.

Bengoodfella said...

Anon, I didn't really enjoy those series. See, the author didn't say those series were iconic, he said those teams were iconic. He's confusing the series with the teams.

I don't know how a team trying to hire away a successful coach means that coach is popular or vice versa. Jim Harbaugh isn't rolling in offers from other NFL teams, so that means no one likes him, right?