All posts by Ben Zeltser

Figures In Sports, The Media & The Fans: A Love Triangle

Aside from the Jersey Shore relationship of Ronnie and Sammi, there is probably no other relationship that has more ups and downs than that of the love triangle between the media, important figures in the sports world and the fans that support those figures. This was highlighted by the comments made by Steve Kerr at the end of Game 6 of the NBA Finals, for which he was fined for criticizing the referees. However, when a newsperson asked him about his thoughts of the officiating, was he supposed to praise it? Even if Kerr would be wrong in criticizing the officiating of Game 6, a man is entitled to his opinion. Or is he?

Enter the fans. Fan support when it comes to the practice of sports is absolutely vital to the supported team’s success. Players don’t just say, “we couldn’t have done it without the fans,” for no reason. It is a statistical fact that teams have a better chance of winning games when they play at home, where there are more fans cheering them on. Regardless of this, it is also undeniable that the vast majority of fans are unaware of a plethora of key details that would have them view certain discrepancies in the sports world in a different light. To the average Warriors fan, the $25,000 fine imposed by the league towards Kerr would seem absolutely heinous. Most Warriors fans, though, wouldn’t know that all athletes and coaches in the NBA have a clause in their contract in which it explicitly states that they are not allowed to criticize officiating to a certain extent, which is affirmed by the NBA as a means of protecting their brand. So, while Steve Kerr may not have been able to criticize the referees to the extent that he did, is the imposition of this rule ethical?

All sources point to no. First of all, the media acts as somewhat of a little brother to athletes and coaches in sports, in the sense that they egg their big brother on until they are forced into saying something that they will regret saying later. To contrast, a part of being a professional in the sports world is knowing how to deal with the media and not losing your cool. But at the end of the day, we are all human. It’s a complicated cycle where there is no right answer. Humans, however, have certain basic rights that continue to be denied by contractual obligations today. The freedom of speech, for one, cannot be exercised without a fine, even when the person “at fault” is asked a question that they choose to answer honestly.

The first step to fixing a discrepancy that clearly involves all three parties mention would be to either clarify or nullify the part of the contract that Kerr violated. Whether you think that sports figures should be able to say whatever they want, or that they should at least be able to honestly answer questions presented by the media, something needs to be changed. Because nothing is changing, a constant cycle is emerging where figures in sports say something that they shouldn’t have said because it is pushed out of them by the media, which forces a punishment from the league that they play or coach in. The fans then interject with their surface-level knowledge and add fuel to the fire by ostracizing that league for penalizing their favorite figures in sports – for what they see as no reason. Lather, rinse, repeat.

This cycle produces a bad look for every party involved – the media is always perpetuated as the antagonists (even though they are just doing their jobs), players and coaches are portrayed to have short fuses (even though they are only human) and the league is seen as the evil disciplinarians ((I had to look up how to spell that) even though they just want to clear their name)). And all of the criticism is generated by us, the fans.

As a response to this cycle of negativity, a certain message must be sent to each party involved.

Sports Figures – Stay calm. Stick through it. Sports figures who face adversity are (or at least were at some point) successful.
Media – Keep doing your job. Being a journalist is one of the most difficult jobs in the world because you will almost always be seen as the bad guy. And sometimes you have to be.
Fans – EDUCATE YOURSELVES. Before you share strong feelings about a certain subject in sports, understand why it happened. You may be missing an important detail that could alter your opinion on the subject.
Leagues – The fourth wheel in the love triangle. Stop limiting the free speech of athletes and coaches! Pittsburgh Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams was fined last season for sporting pink accessories in memory of his mother, who passed away due to cancer. THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE! Free speech should always be exercised.

Rules are meant to be broken, but some rules aren’t meant to exist in the first place.

Small Ball is Ruining the Game of Basketball

Regardless of who did end up winning the NBA Finals last season, game seven of the NBA Finals gave fans something that was seemingly nonexistent in all but one of the other six games: a show.

Last season’s NBA playoffs seemed to have a recurring theme – most games were blowouts. Whether the winners of individual games ended up winning the series or losing the series, it seemed unavoidable that most playoff games last year had been decided by double digits. The Western Conference seemed to be stronger than it had ever been, boasting the record-breaking Golden State Warriors, the star power-heavy Oklahoma City Thunder, the deep San Antonio Spurs and the unlucky but talented LA Clippers. For the first time in four years, the Eastern Conference’s playoff teams all boasted winning records, showing a considerable improvement in competition in the East, as well. Despite these landmarks, most playoff games continued to be decided before the fourth quarter.

Game 7 of the NBA Finals was only the second game in the series in which the Cavs and the Warriors actually competed with each other, and the evolving NBA strategy of small ball is to blame. In the past, when the game was based around getting to the paint and strong play from the center position, we would see games come down to the wire on a nightly basis. Today, as the three-point shot has become the go-to shot for almost every team in the NBA, we see the intensity of NBA games decrease substantially, due to the frequency of blowouts. This happens because when a team is centered around long 2s and 3s, it is easy to get into a funk. Every player has a bad shooting night here and there, which would normally prompt that team to look towards their big men for consistency in the paint. However, because they have stopped looking to big men as frequently, NBA teams have begun to focus on coming out of a funk by simply shooting through it. This results in horrendous shooting numbers, and, a blowout. Long range shots in the NBA are all about momentum; every team in the NBA has players that can hit 3s, but when they have no momentum, they will have no confidence, and when they have no confidence, their 3P% for the game will average under .300. When a game is all about momentum, it is easy to see why so many games in the NBA this season have been complete blowouts to one side.

The reason that the Warriors’ record was as good as it was could have been because of the fact that Steph Curry and Klay Thompson simply had less off-shooting games than the star shooters of other NBA teams, and when one of them had an off game, the other one shot the lights out. While small-ball is clearly the strategy that works in the NBA today, is it positive for the game of basketball as a whole?

The answer is, absolutely not.

Today, it is so much harder for a fan to get his money’s worth by going to an NBA game. Every fan of any NBA team loves to see his favorite team decimate their opponent, but not at the expense of being decimated by another team the next night. Fans want to see close, hard-fought NBA games, especially in the playoffs, when many fans find that their NBA team hasn’t made it into the postseason and they just want to see good basketball. Likewise, with every kid in America wanting to be Steph Curry, an unavoidable emerging trend in our youth will develop. Every kid who plays basketball is going to be popping 3s, nonstop, which will go well for about 5% of the nation.

The NBA has been going in a 3-pointer-centered direction for the past couple of years, and the results of this are beginning to materialize. It doesn’t take a mathematician to understand that three points are more than two, but it also doesn’t take an NBA analyst to understand that consistent blowouts are boring to watch. If the NBA hopes to retain its appeal as an exciting league where a comeback can happen at any second, NBA teams should revert back to mixing it up with post moves, rolling to the basket and high percentage shots. However, with the success of teams like the Warriors and with the early playoff exit of more old school teams like the Spurs, such a reversal of trends is unlikely to happen. Just wait until the 4-pointer is invented.

All NBA Team Voting in Dire Need of Revision

Every NBA season, “All NBA Teams” are chosen based on votes made by a panel of sports broadcasters & newswriters. It’s a given that they’ll miss the mark per occasion – like when Tyson Chandler won DPOY honors, yet found himself on the All Defensive Second Team listing, or when the same thing happened to Marc Gasol the following year – but last year’s All NBA Teams showed how the current system is flawed.

All NBA Teams insist on following the standard lineup, with two guards, two forwards, and a center. If this was a set rule that applied to every end-of-season NBA ranking system, this would be acceptable, but this is not the case. The 2014 All Rookie First Team featured a total of four guards and one forward. The 2012 All Rookie First Team, which featured a grand total of seven players due to ties, included five guards and two forwards. Perhaps the biggest head scratcher would be the 2014 All Rookie Second Team, which included a ridiculous four centers and one forward – not a single guard. Since the standard lineup rule doesn’t seem to be a general application, why should it only exist on the pinnacle All NBA Team? Why is DeAndre Jordan (who should be under Boogie and Andre Drummond in the first place), a center, on the first team over Kevin Durant?

Look, I get it. There’s a TON of talent in the NBA today. Enough talent, in fact, for all 15 players chosen to be deserving of an All NBA Team mention. However, some of this year’s snubs are absolutely absurd. James Harden, who is number one on the All NBA Snub Team, got more votes than LaMarcus Aldridge did! If the NBA wasn’t jam-packed with talented guards, Harden easily could have received a mention, which doesn’t sit well with me. It’s time to abolish the restrictions between position and to honor those who were deserving of a mention.

Anthony Davis’ slipping through the cracks was among the most unfortunate snubs. Coming off of an All NBA First Team season, Davis came into the 2015-2016 season as one of the favorites to win MVP. Much to the dismay of Davis fans, his season was cut short due to injury to his left knee. However, Davis only played seven fewer games than last season, boasted a career high in rebounding and even developed a three-point shot over the offseason. He ended the season shooting a respectable .324 percent from the three point line, which is most certainly a big step forward as a big man. Davis did not even make the Third Team, even though one writer even voted him onto the First Team this season. If he had made an All NBA Team, he would have received a $24 million bonus, which he most definitely deserved. Voters should have rewarded Davis with a spot, especially if they want to give DeAndre Jordan a First Team mention with such a low free throw percentage and PPG.

Regardless, there are snubs every season. The only problem that should be fixed involves standard lineup that All NBA Teams feature, which keeps some really good players from getting the recognition that they deserve. With all of the talent in the NBA today, the NBA should consider even adding a fourth team to the ranks. If the NBA wishes to honor its players for their regular season accolades, they MUST seek to improve their accuracy.