July 26, 2010

Face of the Future

About a week ago, I saw a poll on ESPN.com that asked the question,

Who will be the face of the NBA in
10 years?

This may not have been the exact question, but it was along these lines. It then offered 3 choices:

-LeBron James
-Kevin Durant
-someone else

Before I tell you which of these options I chose, I think it's worth discussing what it really means to be "the face of the NBA." Being the face of the league (or at least being viewed this way) is obviously a big deal; it's an honor of sorts that isn't just bestowed on some average player. There are several criteria that any candidate for this figurative position must match, in my opinion. Along with each, I'll give an example of a current player that particularly epitomizes the category. These are roughly ordered by importance.

Excellent player, good stats, shines on the court

Any player that is going to be viewed as the face of the league must be, above all, a star player and athlete. After all, the face of the league is a beacon to fans and outsiders to the league, he must be a player that represents the game well. As viewers we notice players' activity on the court first and foremost. Therefore, a player must shine and stand out during games to represent the league well. Additionally, for better or worse, we turn to stats (this is happening more and more as the statistics grow in complexity and how representative of the actual sport they are) to judge a player's worth first. While sabermetrics and much of the statistics revolution that have thrived in baseball have not yet reached basketball, stats are increasingly the way to judge players in modern sports. Therefore, the face of the NBA must have great stats along with an awe-inspiring, highlight reel style of play.

However, he must balance his high-flying style with an unselfish attitude, and a devotion to playing the game the way it was meant to be played. He doesn't just dunk the ball, he shoots, passes, and has overall fantastic fundamentals.

Example: LeBron James, Miami Heat SF/PG/who knows what he'll play...

LeBron, despite having outraged an entire city and organization, and crushing the dreams of numerous others, is the epitome of this first criteria. His stats speak for themselves.

He's averaged a near triple-double his entire career, and manages to mix in a few steals and those full-court, pin the ball on the backboard blocks that consistently make highlight reels. Anyone who looks at these stats can tell he's a fantastic player.

Of course, LeBron is on at least 300 SportsCenter Top 10s every season, and simply put, nobody plays like he does. This was actually what convinced me to choose LeBron as the example for this category over Kevin Durant. Durant also brings it in the stats category, and manages to do so with slightly less talented teammates than LeBron (in the past, and most definitely in the future). Unfortunately, Durant is no comparison to LeBron in what viewers see on the court. Let's face it, Kevin Durant is a skinny guy who barely stands out from other players. He's the kind of guy who makes you wonder at the end of a game how the hell he just scored so many points when you didn't notice him doing anything special. LeBron just takes over, scoring in bunches, dunking over anyone in the way, and on top of it all he's probably one of the 10 best straight up athletes in sports. LeBron stands out , and that's what the viewers notice.

Team leader, well-respected by league peers, well-thought of by his community and the media

The face of the league must be a player that is respected by literally everyone involved in the league. He must be an important figure in his team's community, and in the locker room. Additionally, the media must respect this player, because NBA fans are fed the majority of their opinions by random media personalities, and these opinions are what we use to base our judgments of players. As I've mentioned indirectly, the face of the NBA must be viewed as such by the fans and the general public, or else they do not deserve this position. Finally, he must be respected by the majority of the other players in the league. He can't have any kind of "beef" with other players, he has to stay out of trouble off the court, and he must be seen as a worthy person to represent the league by all.

Example: Chris Paul, New Orleans Hornets PG

Note: Again, Durant is closely edged out by Paul because I believe Paul is more respected by other players in the league, mostly due to his experience.

Despite the recent trade-demand rumors that are surfacing around Paul, he exemplifies this criteria very well. First-off, he is extremely well thought of by his teammates and those around him in the Hornets organization and the community of New Orleans. Here's a nice summary of what he's given to the community, notably in the time of crisis after Hurricane Katrina. While he's very respected in his community, the respect given to him by teammates is even more noticeable. In his book, "The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to the Sports Guy," Bill Simmons mentions a story about Paul's teammates going to a commercial shoot of Paul's and then accompanying him to his interview on the Leno show. This kind of comradery and support is only given to players that show great leadership qualities, and have demonstrated to their teammates that they are worthy of leading the team.

Additionally, he is well-thought of by other players in the league. He can be seen having fun and goofing off regularly during All-Star weekends with stars from other teams, and other players view him as a great player and a good person. Additionally, he behaves well for the media, and is never a spectacle during press conferences or interviews. This behavior has earned him great respect from members of the media.

Paul is a good role model, and is not only a fantastic player, but a worthy choice to represent the NBA as the "face of the league."

Very marketable, able to make money for the league

We must face the facts about sports at some point: they're about making money. Basketball is no exception: with its million dollar show deals and accessories from shooting sleeves to headbands, basketball is a business. The NBA is out to make money, and they need players that are marketable and popular in the wider world to help gain publicity for the league. Any player who is viewed as the face of the league must be marketable. He must be well-known and popular in other countries and among people who aren't serious NBA fans. He must advertise for a variety of products and must put on a show on the court (touched on in the first category) so that games are fun to watch. Overall, he has to make money (and lots of it) for the league through his play and his image.

Example: LeBron James

How can this be anyone but LeBron. Easily the most well-known athlete in America, he is also the most marketable and one of the most fun to watch. Many people said after his "Decision" special on ESPN, which was watched by millions around the country, that only LeBron could pull off something like that. No other athlete in any sport could do such a thing successfully. LeBron has hundreds of sponsors and advertising ventures, and is extremely popular in the general public, even after the whole "decision" spectacle. There really isn't a whole lot more to say. For years, to come, LeBron will make money for the league, starting this year with Miami Heat games that promise to be very, very popular events.

There you have it. Three important criteria that a star must match to be viewed as "the face of the league." We also must consider that the original question was: Who will be the face of the NBA in 10 years? Therefore, it can't be a player like Kobe Bryant or Tim Duncan, it has to be a rising star who will continue to perform in the future. Considering all of this, I put a vote down for Kevin Durant. He may not be the epitome of any of these criteria, but he is a close second for the first two and in the top 5 for the last one (behind, say, LeBron, Kobe, Dwight Howard, and Dwyane Wade). Additionally, he got my vote over LeBron because there is absolutely no way that LeBron will stand out and lead on his current team. Forget the fact that it's already Wade's team, LeBron just won't be a one-man show like he was in his Cleveland days. Durant is in OKC for the next 7 years and has only Russell Westbrook to compete with as that team's alpha dog. He is their hands-down leader (he has been since his rookie year in Seattle) and will be for years to come.

Therefore, you can count on Kevin Durant to be your face of the future in 2020. If only we can get Usain Bolt in the league by then...

July 19, 2010

The First Post

The First Post

According to blogging tradition, the first post of a blog is a pretty big deal, right up there with the 100th post, the 1 year anniversary, and many other landmark achievements bloggers reach as they ascend the ranks of bloggerdom (should definitely be a word, don't you think?)

The first post seeks to identify and explain the purpose of the blog. Why does the writer think anyone will be interested in reading his or her blog? It also establishes a certain tone, feel, and writing style that become trademarks for individual bloggers. It can be humorous, dark, witty, mocking, but whatever it is, it again tries to answer a question. If the writer is confident enough that people will be interested in reading his blog, what about the blog should stand out? And, more importantly, what about their writing style and general knowledge or experience makes them not only the ideal writer for this kind of blog, but an entertainer, and someone that will make you come back again to visit? After all, who writes a blog they aren't even remotely qualified to write?

In my opinion, a perfect first post puts the answers to these two questions into prose, although the first one can be answered by simply stating the purpose of your blog. Then, the answers are fused together and edited briefly (we're not writing a novel here). Ideally, you answer the questions about what you're writing about and how you're going to write it all in one chunk, without actually stating the answers straight up. This, while a lot easier said than done, makes a great post.

I'd like to think that I just established a nice formula for a well crafted first post for any newbie blogger. However, I am hardly experienced myself. I blogged for about a year on the network of blogs provided for fans and players alike by Major League Baseball, MLBlogs. It's a friendly blogging environment (also has a clever title, always a plus) and a nice idea by the MLB to get fans involved in the league through blogging. I wish leagues like the NBA or NFL could wise up and embrace this idea as well. I have absolutely no qualifications for advising young bloggers on their first post, especially considering I was never that popular on MLBlogs and am a complete rookie on Blogger. But I don't think this formula is so bad, and who says we can't try in life? I'm going to try to use this formula in my first post, and I'll see how well it really works. Knowing me, it will probably crash and burn worse than the '09 Cavaliers in the playoffs, but like I said, it's worth a try.

Maybe you've noticed a few subtle basketball references so far in this post; the one in the previous sentence is easy to spot. These references and a little bit of explaining lead me quite clearly to the purpose of this blog. I am a huge basketball fan (I'm also a big baseball fan, explaining the baseball blog, but after a year of blogging baseball I realized it wasn't really my thing). I love certain teams, players, even a few coaches (Doc Rivers, Larry Izzo, Mike D'Antoni, definitely not Phil Jackson and John Calipari), but most of all, I love the game itself. I love almost everything about the game, and I love that I can criticize whatever I don't love and think of my own alternatives to it that would obviously work better (this is one of the great things about sports, that feeling of power and good judgment a knowledgeable fan draws from their immense knowledge of whatever team or sport they love).

I love in-game action: crisp bounce passes that find gaps a cat couldn't slip through, a last second jump shot that seems suspended in mid-air, and perhaps most of all, a sports sound that is surpassed only by the crack of the bat in baseball: that heavenly "SWISHHH" the ball makes when it drops perfectly through the twine. I love both monster dunks and running floaters, both clutch threes and those ridiculous half court shots players seem to make at will as long as the game isn't on the line. The in-game action is what we see most of all, and when played right, basketball is a truly breathtaking game.

I also love off-the-court stories and events involving NBA players and teams (their antics, not so much): 10 guys from one team going out to dinner and a movie, tearful and outrageous press conferences and interviews, photos of teams in the locker room right after winning a championship. I love this stuff because it's as much a part of the game as what happens on the court (and can sometimes influence players' careers even more than their in-game play ever does).

I don't always love the way the league is set up: like any fan, I am sometimes outraged by All-Star voting (Dwight Howard is going to lead the league in this category every year for the next ten years), management decisions, and ridiculous player behavior (this all brings me to the main purpose of this blog). However, I never lose faith in the game of basketball because as a fan, I have the ability to voice my anger, joy, utter outrage and confusion, or whatever other feelings possess me at the time through this blog. The blog is a way for me to get my opinion on all things basketball out in the world and vent about anything that annoys me at the time involving this sport I love so dearly.

With this blog, I hope to recap recent events in basketball with my own opinionated (and hopefully somewhat humorous) take on them, to discuss possibilities for the future or stories from the past, to predict things (an ultimate goal of any sports fan is to be successful in even 60% of their sports-related predictions), and anything else that pops into my mind as I go. I haven't thought of a regular scheduling format for myself yet (leaning towards some sort of every Monday and Saturday plan) because my life is hectic, but I will do my best to post as often as I can on whatever interests me.

I don't know how many people will be interested in what I have to offer as a blogger, but the purpose for me in all of this is not to accumulate readers or make money, I simply want an outlet to share my thoughts on basketball and the NBA (college ball is fair game as well). I am beginning a journey that could take me anywhere, but I know it'll be fun. Along the way, I've already botched a formula for a first blog post that I thought of myself. Who knows what I'll screw up next? I'm like Isiah Thomas as the GM for literally any team in the NBA.

But anyways, here goes nothing. Wish me luck!