Thursday, January 3, 2008

A Banner Day For Anecdotal Bullshit

I wanted to write something substantial tonight, but between trying to finish off Scoop Jackson's hilarious Randy Moss column that I started yesterday and working on a fantastic Dennis Dodd puff piece about Les Miles, I didn't have anything really solid to give you. Until I checked over at ESPN.com and saw Bill Simmons has a new article up. It's basically 14 or so paragraphs of fellatio for the Celtics, which isn't really a surprise or worth my time to complain about. But two of those 14 paragraphs stuck out from the rest. I'm pretty sure that between them we have some kind of record for consecutive sentences filled with anecdotal bullshit. Take a look and tell me if I'm wrong. I'm not sure I've ever seen anything like this. First, the setup.

Much has been made of Boston's team slogan -- "Ubuntu," an African word meaning unity -- but you need to attend a Celtics game to understand why they're on pace for 139 wins this season.

Either I've missed the coverage (unlikely), or this is false and no one actually gives a fuck what their team slogan is. Has anyone heard anything about this on a national level? If anyone out there is from the Boston area (Google Analytics says there's at least a few of you... come on, speak up), can you let me know if this is even a story on the local level? All I do all day is consume sports media from a wide variety of sources, predominantly the Celtic-loving ESPN, and I've heard just as many stories about the Celtics and their "ubuntu" since the NBA season started as I have about that version of basketball they show on the Spike channel with all the trampolines and ridiculous dunks. Which is too bad, because I really like that trampoline basketball game. I just haven't heard anything about it in a while.

Anyways let's get to Bill's amazing consecutive sentence streak of AB.

In the layup lines, everyone is high-fiving and joshing.

Every single team in the NBA does this. Go to a meaningless November game between the Sonics and Timberwolves. It's happening, I promise.

Before the opening tip, Posey greets each starter with a prolonged man-hug and inspirational words. The nightly sequence might hark back uncomfortably to Rocky and Apollo's beach snuggle, but it works.

Before he throws every pass, Peyton Manning thinks about pudding. Is that why the Colts won the Super Bowl last year?

During games, bench players stand and cheer as if they're being coached by Mark Madsen.

Also a practice of every team in the league.

In garbage time, the starters root just as passionately for the scrubs.

Again.

These guys eat dinner, hang out, work out and play video games together.

No way. NBA teammates doing stuff like that? Why isn't this a bigger story? I bet they even sometimes go to parties together! Maybe the Knicks should try that kind of thing.

They don't care about stats, acclaim, shots or minutes.

Wow. None of them? Not even the bench guys, many of whom are probably hoping to crack a starting five somewhere else in the next couple of years? That's so refreshing. I'm tired of all the selfish athletes out there who only care about stats, like Fish Fillet-Rod. Or Buffet-Rod, if you like that better. I can't decide.

It's a team in every sense.

A fitting conclusion to this sequence. So let's tally it up- that's eight straight sentences which are meant to prove a point, yet fail completely to do so because they contain no real information which is relevant to the attempt in question. Instead they're filled with vague descriptions of things that are completely non-unique to the team/individuals in question, or things that almost definitely have little or nothing to do with how well a team plays. That's the wordiest definition I can think of to describe anecdotal bullshit, and Bill is a master of it. I'm very impressed with his work here. I don't think this streak will be matched for a while.

The sad part is, I can tell you why the Celtics actually are winning a lot of games: they have a lot of good players whose styles of play work well together. Weird, right? If I hid that answer amid like fifty other wrong possibilities like "They all like the same breakfast cereal" and "The whole team went to see a movie together, and they all liked it equally," how long would it have taken you to find it? Hopefully not very long, or you're too stupid to be using the internet.

Now, I'm not saying team chemistry doesn't matter. It most definitely exists and affects the makeup of teams. But ultimately, winning is a function of talent. A lack of chemistry can sometimes slow teams down, but there are countless examples of times bad chemistry didn't affect a championship caliber team at all. And sometimes team can play over their heads and use chemistry or some other intangible to have success in the short term. But in the end, teams that have talented players whose on-court styles mix well is 95% of winning.

Of course, this kind of explanation is boring for people like Bill. He wants to believe that there is some other kind of mystical force driving his favorite teams. It's not good enough for him to just acknowledge that they're really good. He needs more. I can't say I blame him for that, although I do find it a little strange. When my favorite baseball team went on an absurd hot streak and won the NL pennant last fall, I wasn't thinking that maybe they had started a book club together and that was the reason they won all those games. I just figured they had some talented guys and were lucky enough to win a bunch of close games in a row. Is that crazy? Is it boring? Does it really matter? At least I wasn't grasping at magical straws and suggesting that their success happened because they cheer for each other from the dugout and give hugs during the pregame stretching routine.

The point is, the Celtics have three of the top 40 or so players in the NBA on their roster. One is a big man, one is a guard, and the other is a tweener. It just so happens that Garnett draws a lot of double teams, which leaves the other two guys open for kickouts. Allen is a lights-out shooter and Pierce is a great slasher, but Allen can also slash and Pierce can also shoot. Add in a bench full of guys that don't suck, a not overly difficult schedule, a little luck, and boom, there's your 27-3 record. The real factor is that their three best players' styles perfectly compliment one another. Is their relationship off the court part of that complimentary nature? A little bit. Maybe.

If you want to write an article full of speculative crap like Bill has here, you have to approach it from the vantage point of "Wow, I can't believe how good my favorite team is, so I'm going to offer some alternative theories as to why they win all the time! I'm not saying these are true, I'm just kind of talking out of my ass!" At least that way you look like someone who's just really giddy about the team's success and wants to write something about it, instead of someone stupid who thinks no other team in the league does stuff like hang out together or cheer for each other from the bench. And yes, before you leave your snarky comment, I know Simmons mentions that talent is a part of the equation in his article. But really, look at it- where do you think his heart really lies when it comes to the question of what leads to wins?

15 comments:

jff said...

i was astounded, absolutely astounded by the frequency of movie references the SG threw into that column... i mean, i know what you get with him, name/family dropping, dumb analogies, shitty trade scenarios, and movie references - which, at times, makes for an entertaining read... but he had like 3 of those suckers in a super short article -- and high school musical was one of them, what the fuck?

also, i saw some memphis subs hugging the starters before the game a few nights back, no word on whether their chemistry is about to cause an amazing winning streak... i'll keep you all updated

Jeff said...

I'm in New England, and I listen to 40 minutes of Sports Talk radio in the AM (WEEI, Boston) and I've never heard the Ubuntu thing. I also catch about a game a week.

cs said...

I've heard of the Ubuntu slogan only because I'm 99% sure Bill Simmons brought it up in a column earlier in the year. I could be wrong. Maybe I'll check if work is slow. ...Ill check.

cs said...

Fuck it, that ubuntu comment could have appeared in ANY of his columns, regardless if he wrote them about the NBA or not. But, in his pathetic NBA preview, number 12 on his Random Predictions list: "The Celtics break the records for "most amount of time the bench guys stood up clapping and cheering during an 82-game season" and "most times the other four guys immediately ran over to pick up a teammate who got knocked down."

What an asshole. I mean, really.

cs said...

Okay, yes I'm a total loser with nothing better to do, but I found it:

http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=simmons/071012

"Everything about this team has been transformed. You can see it. Guys are hugging before the opening tap, cheerleading during games, making extra passes and everything else. They even have a mantra for the season, the African phrase "ubundu" that means unity. Doc Rivers came up with it, which was great, although I wish he'd also come up with a plan to defend the high screen. Regardless, this team is loaded with ubundu."

I guess the spelling changed somewhere in the last three months. They reaplced the "D" with "T" for Team or some shit.

Matt said...

Jeff doesn't know jack. I work in Boston, and "Ubuntu" has replaced "hi," "hey," "wussup," and "how's it goin'?" as an all purpose greeting. You say it to co-workers, strangers in the elevator, and of course the guy using the urinal next to you at a sporting event.

Actually, I completely missed that whole story as well, and I've been to 4 or 5 Cs games this year. A quick Google search shows at least 2 other references (I was too lazy to look past the 1st few results) in addition to the Simmons 1 already ID'd: a Boston Herald piece from 10/4/07 and an ESPN The Mag piece by Chris Broussard dated 10/24.

blanco112 said...

So "much has been made" now officially means "I mentioned in a column once" according to Simmons.

Anonymous said...

You left out this gem:
"As soon as Duncan arrived, in 1997, Popovich and Buford began to avoid bad guys"

Really? Because I could have sworn Stephen Jackson played a pivotal role on one of those championship teams. Isn't he the definition of a bad guy? Also, didn't they add Big Dog Robinson in 2005, another character risk? Finally, despite his massive crush on "Big Shot" Bob Horry, doesn't Horry have a somewhat questionable history on character? He took a cheap shot at Nash last year. He also threw a towel in a coach's face. Basically, this guy gets a total free pass because he hit some big shots on some exceptional teams that won titles.

larry b said...

Anon- You're absolutely right about S. Jax. And please, don't call him Robert Horry. His real name is The Fat Version Of Will Smith. I'd also like to add on an unrelated note that Tim Duncan is one of the biggest crybabies in the NBA and no one seems to want to talk about it.

Blanco- You're definitely right. Wouldn't you agree that much has been made in the past about the Peyton Manning face, the Patriots' "F-You" approach, and The Diane Lane All-Stars?

Matt- Thanks for the links. Looks like it is in fact out there... barely.

CS- Your friends and family might call you a loser with nothing better to do, but around here you're one cool dude! Here's the best analogy I can come up with- if all the commenters from this blog hung out at an arcade, you'd be the guy everyone wanted to watch as you played Dance Dance Revolution. How awesome is that?

Jeff- I had forgotten you were from New England. But now that you mention it, it definitely rings a bell. You're a real trooper for regularly commenting over here given how frequently we hate on your teams. And I'm sorry about that article that it looks like I poached from your blog a few weeks ago. It was a coincidence, I promise. Please don't hurt me.

JFF- He mentioned high school musical because Zac Efron bears a pretty striking resemblance to Tom Brady. Efron probably rates out at about a 7 on Bill's "Actor Who Looks Like One Of My Favorite Athletes, So It's Not Creepy To Have A Man Crush On Him" scale.

Andrew said...

Correct me if I'm wrong - didn't the Bulls win three straight titles with DENNIS RODMAN on their team? Nevermind how much of a whiny and jealous bitch Scottie Pippen was... or Jordan himself, who over the course of his career demanded players he didn't like were traded, referred to his teammates as "my supporting cast", and fistfought more than one of his teammates in practice. I guess winning 6 titles in 8 years doesn't count for much in the anecdotal world. God, do I hate Simmons.

Oh, and re: the Spurs - Bruce Bowen is a really class act.

Big Daddy Drew said...

But do they lead the league in smiles?

Anonymous said...

If any of you so called NBA fans bothered watching NBA TV you might have heard about this Ubuntu thing months ago. They discussed it when the Celtics went to Rome in the preseason. Watch for the replay of the show featuring the Celtics. I also heard Kendrick Perkins talking it up on ESPN Radio in NY during an interview with Stephen A Smith a couple of months ago. Perk was mispronouncing it though.

larry b said...

Andrew- Bruce Bowen and Duncan have a bet going to see who can make the saddest crybaby face to the officials without getting T'ed up. The contest has been going for years, and won't stop until one of them retires. Unfortunately, Manu Ginobili, who's not even involved n the bet, is way better at making said face than both Bowen and Duncan.

BDD- Thanks, Peter King.

Anon- I would get NBA TV, but that involves letting Ahmad Rashad into my home. And I'm just not comfortable with that.

cs said...

So, "much has been made" means it was mentioned on one show on NBA TV focused on the Celtics (maybe 25,000 viewers?) and it was brought up during a segment of S.A. Smith's radio show several months ago?

Wow, we were wrong. And I guess I have to have my NBA fan license revoked since I don't listen to the entire three hours of S.A. Smith's show every single day. There's just so many rules to this real NBA fan thing, its hard to keep up. Many apologies.

Lego said...

"But in the end, teams that have talented players whose on-court styles mix well is 95% of winning."

I hate Bill Simmons but you did the exact same thing you are accusing him off. You are an anecdotal buttfuck also.