February 15, 2005

NBA Humbug

What's wrong with the NBA? Maybe nothing.

David Goldenberg

What’s wrong with the NBA? Michael Sokolove writes in the New York Times Magazine that the NBA is suffering from a cancer of overhyped, underskilled Americans who have been told for so long that they are so good, that they cannot function as part of a team nor bother with learning fundamentals.

Sokolove is generally a good writer, if a little preachy. And it must be hard for him to write seriously for a publication that feels the need to define an assist as “a pass that leads directly to a basket.” But in his quest to bash the NBA and present a paean to all things in international basketball, he seriously undermines his case. My first indication that something was wrong with the article came when Sokolove states that his online search of the keywords “N.B.A.” and “thug” yielded over 400 hits. Actually, it’s more like 87,000 (try it yourself here). But more egregious errors were to come.

When he criticizes the U.S. Olympic team for their losses in Athens, he picks on Stephon Marbury (granted, a worthy target) for shooting only three-pointers in a loss to Argentina, and praises the inside-outside game of the team’s international foes. In fact, Sokolove argues that the three-pointer should be banished from the sport altogether. He writes: “The three-pointer is a corruption of the sport, a perversion of a century of basketball wisdom that held that the whole point of the game was to advance the ball closer to the basket.”

What he fails to mention is that some of the best teams outside the U.S. live and die by their (shortened) three-pointer much more than the Americans do. In Argentina’s great victory, it shot twice as many three-pointers as the Americans. When the U.S. defeated Lithuania in the bronze-medal game, a stupefying 58% of the Lithuanians’ shots came from behind the arc.

Certainly, it’s ridiculous to see millionaires fail to attain competence as free-throw shooters. But Shaq’s foibles haven’t stopped him from winning championships (along the way, often beating Sokolove’s beloved Spurs, a team that boasts several foreign-born players), nor have they turned off fans. So when Sokolove ends his article by saying, “the players are paid, but the fans, and the game, are being cheated”, what he really means is that he’d forsake success for style.

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Article by David Goldenberg

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