Saturday, February 10, 2007

Getting the star treatment

Well, this little tangent kind of took on a life of its own under Comments for 'David Stern: Defender of Justice'. To review (and I'm paraphrasing here), Rus commented that the NBA needed to police the game equally for all players and I replied that would never happen because the NBA, more than any other league, is star driven. Rus then said that was why he couldn't watch the NBA and almost dropped it to NHL status. Pessimist Sam then asked if there was a league that was NOT star driven with the possible exception of hockey, and suggested that might be the cause of the NHL's current problems. Finally, PJ mentioned that the NBA has always been star driven, citing Jordan. He also said taking care of stars is acceptable to a point, but the 2006 NBA Finals were a joke.

Let's now begin with Pessimist Sam's suggestion that all leagues are star driven. This is true in the sense that the league markets its stars and sells the big names, but it doesn't always dictate how the game is called. In terms of officiating, I think the NFL is very clean. You might get a receiver or a defensive back that gets away with a push off or a grab, but that's about it. Peyton Manning is the best player in the game--what officiating advantage does he have? If he throws an interception, the officials can't ignore it and give him a first down.

Baseball is a little more star driven than the NFL, but not much. A big time pitcher is often given an extended strike zone, or a star batter might have a smaller strike zone, but that's about all. Again, if A-Rod's fly ball is caught at the warning track, the umpire can't say it was really a home run.

I think Pessimist Sam was correct about the NHL being the exception. They used to be more star driven, but the defensive techniques of past ten years have negated that for the most part. That has actually dictated how the league markets the game--the stars could no longer perform like stars, so the league moved away from player promotion to team promotion, and this has of course proved a monumental failure.

But in the NBA, stars still rule. The combination of speed, confined space, strength and athleticism make it difficult to call in the first place, so calls, particularly in the paint, tend to go the star's way. Stars don't get calls from the three point line; they get them slashing to the basket when they get in the crowd.

And everyone in the NBA gets by with traveling and palming, but stars especially so, because they are the one's most often taking the ball to the rim. Can you imagine if the league actually started calling traveling and palming again? There would be a whistle with every possession. You say the players would adapt, and I say they would adapt by not going to the basket anymore, and that would be a boring game no one would watch.

PJ is correct in saying the NBA has always been star driven, although you need to go further back than Jordan to prove this (yes, it was Byron Russell in '98, by the way). You don't score 100 points like Wilt without star treatment, I don't care how dominant you are. But I certainly never meant to imply that this was a new thing, just that it was.

In fact, fans like star treatment. A lot of Dallas fans, myself included, are angry that Nowitzki is for some reason denied this treatment, despite being one of the top five players in the league. Fans watch the games to see the stars do their thing, and if you call the game honestly, you lose some of that. Next thing you know, you are the NHL.

So PJ is right accepting a little star treatment, but yes, the 2006 NBA Finals went too far. This was especially obvious in the contrast of treatment for Wade and Nowitzki. Both were stars by name, but certainly not by officiating, particularly frustrating because Dirk had eight years to Dwyane's three. You say Wade had a better series than Nowitzki--true, but wouldn't it have been a little closer if a whistle blew every time Dirk got the ball?

In that series, I kept thinking, 'this is what those USC fans must have felt like in the Rose Bowl with Vince.'--I watched that game with a lot of them who didn't care about Young at the beginning of the game but sure took notice by the end. The difference, of course, is that Vince did his magic without any help from the officials, while Wade needed some help to dominate.


PJ said...

Your mention of the NHL obviously was to get me to comment some more. There was a big uproar in New York recently about the lack of star treatment that Jaromir Jagr (arguably the best Winger to play in this generation) gets. Brendan Shanahan certainly had a lot to say, but in these days, when everyone gets called for small infractions, I really find that hard to believe. I'd watch the next time that the Stars play the Rangers, but since they already played this year, I'll have to wait (unless they both make it to the finals) - and don't even get me started on the schedule (not that the anti-NHL faction here would care...)

Chris said...

Yes, I baited you, and you fell for it hook, line and sinker. I hadn't heard about the Jagr/Shanny talk until you mentioned it. I found an article about it--very interesting, particularly when he starts talking about calls in general, not just the lack thereof for Jagr. He suggests players are starting to get away with clutching and grabbing. Is this true? Not that I'm surprised--baseball talks about calling the strike zone by the book every spring, but that never happens, either.
But I would lolve to hear your thoughts on the
NHL sked.