FIRE JOE MORGAN: Thank Your God Of Choice That Jemele Hill Is Not In Charge Of Rigging the NBA


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Friday, May 30, 2008


Thank Your God Of Choice That Jemele Hill Is Not In Charge Of Rigging the NBA

I'm sure when you pack up your bags and go to Official Sports Column-Writing School, the first thing they tell you is "Take a position and really argue it!" From what I've read, a lot of sportswriters are taking this rule of thumb and turning it into "Take a ridiculously, phenomenally imbecilic position and really argue it!"

(Also, as a corollary, should you ever get called out on the resulting column (say, on a sports metacriticism blog), you may claim, utterly disingenuously, "I meant for it to be controversial -- it got the Internet buzzing, didn't it?")

Case in point: Jemele Hill on

America should be pulling for Pistons-Spurs

Now hold on one second. No. No, they shouldn't. This is an example, like many many others, of when the conventional wisdom is absolutely, one hundred percent correct. A Lakers-Celtics Finals would further reinvigorate the NBA. It would captivate a national audience like no matchup since perhaps Michael Jordan vs. Anyone. It would draw in lapsed basketball fans with fond memories of Magic and Larry in the 80's. It would feature some of the sport's biggest, most beloved and most reviled stars. Outside of Detroit and San Antonio, I imagine a poll of Americans would run something like 80% "Lakers-Celtics all the way!" to 20% "Get out of my face and stop asking me about basketball, a sport I hate!"

But Jemele Hill is taking a stand. A contrarian stand. A lousy stand.

Forgive me, citizens of Easily Entertained, Need-Flash-To-Appreciate Nation for this blasphemous proposal:

Let's root for another edition of Pistons versus Spurs in the NBA Finals!

Note the immediate attack mode: if you do not agree with my ridiculous opinion, you are shallow. You are sheep. You are the Church and I am Martin Luther, here to tear down everything you thought you knew and enjoyed about basketball.

(Trying to block out the sound of 260 million people collectively groaning.)

Correctly groaning. Extremely correctly groaning.

I'm hoping that suggestion doesn't make NBA commissioner David Stern lose his lunch. But if Stern could overcome his nausea at the thought of another clash of these underappreciated titans, even he would have to admit that Pistons-Spurs would be the best thing for the NBA.

Here we are with the overreaching again. You can argue that you personally prefer Pistons-Spurs. You can even argue that a fan with a refined basketball palate, a connoisseur of the game who always knows what to order from the basketball sommelier whenever he goes out to a fancy basketball dinner, should prefer Pistons-Spurs.

It's absolutely insupportable that Pistons-Spurs is the best thing for the NBA. Think about how many more kids might get sucked into a Lakers-Celtics Finals. Think of the TV ratings. The news stories. The personalities. My mom might buy a Sasha Vujacic jersey if Lakers-Celtics happens.

Full disclosure: As a Detroiter, I would love to see the Pistons in the Finals for the sixth time in my lifetime.

You don't say.

But this isn't about me. This is about the league's credibility....

The biggest NBA conspiracy theory going right now is that the league is trying to make a Boston-L.A. Finals happen, because it would mean insane television ratings and a return to the time when the dominance of those two franchises overshadowed everything else in sports.

Jemele Hill is arguing that a crushingly boring Finals matchup is better than the possibility of a scintilla of an insinuation that there potentially could be a chance that the NBA is rigged.

If this were any other NBA season, the insinuation that the league was somehow working to orchestrate the return of the Lakers-Celtics rivalry would be considered a real reach -- but not when the Tim Donaghy betting scandal is still looming....

If there are any controversial calls that favor Boston or Los Angeles, or if there are games in which either of those teams makes a ton of trips to the foul line, the CTs (conspiracy theorists) will ask: What would prevent the NBA from urging the officials to call games a certain way to ensure a Finals involving teams from two of the biggest media markets in the country?

There already has been a controversial call -- Fisher mauling Barry at the end of Game 4. The Lakers made it through anyway. Outcry is audible but not deafening. Overall, America is ecstatic (I took a poll (unscientific, sample size=five of my friends, margin of error=0%).

But if it's Pistons-Spurs, the NBA Finals will be conspiracy-free.

And viewer-free. Last year's Finals with the Spurs and Cavs drew the worst ratings in NBA Finals history with a 6.2 average. The second-worst-rated Finals? 2004, Spurs-Nets. Sixth-worst? 2005, Spurs-Pistons. Notice anything?

America hates the goddamn Spurs.

I anticipate the crybabies will complain that the Spurs and Pistons are boring to watch.

Crybabies = America.

But most real basketball and sports fans won't think that way -- just those casual NBA viewers who want it both ways. You know, the ones who deride the NBA for promoting individuals, but whine when Kobe, LeBron or some other one-named superstar isn't in the Finals. The ones who claim they love underdogs, but won't give the Pistons or Spurs a chance.

I wouldn't call myself particularly casual in my NBA viewing. I've watched 43,285.5 of the 43,286 playoff game this year (had to miss half of the Toronto-Orlando games due to massive quadruple-bypass open-heart surgery -- still mad about that). I'm fine with the NBA promoting individuals, and I think the league is better served when its most famous players are playing on its biggest stage.

Common sense, people. Don't let being a sportswriter get in the way of that.

If you're someone who grumbles that NBA players don't play defense,

I'm not.

you should root for Pistons-Spurs

even though Boston may play the best defense of the remaining playoff teams?

(although Boston may play the best defense of the remaining playoff teams).


If you complain you're sick of seeing NBA teams that don't play hard,

I don't.

root for Pistons-Spurs. If you love teams that win because of their commitment to team basketball, root for Pistons-Spurs.

I don't know if this is aimed at Kobe Bryant or what, but the Lakers play some of the most beautiful team-oriented offense I've ever seen. Gasol and Odom are terrific passers for big men, and everyone on the team is unselfish enough to swing the ball to the open man for a clear shot. I'm not sure Tex Winter has ever seen a team execute this pure a version of the triangle, and Tex Winter has been coaching basketball for fourteen centuries.

The Celtics are team-oriented almost to a fault. Apparently, "ubuntu" means whip the ball twenty-five feet behind you to a guy standing on the perimeter even if you're wide-open for a layup.

If you're sick of seeing basketball dominated by And-1 wannabes, root for Pistons-Spurs.

You know what I'm not sick of? Watching Kobe Bryant somehow twist his way past a quintuple-team and gently lay in a double-clutch reverse layup.

Also, watching Kevin Garnett cry tears of joy.

These are two teams loaded with unselfishness -- and they feature players who are among the NBA's best citizens.

Like Rasheed Wallace, America's greatest basketball talent who also may or may not be the homeless guy you pass on the way to work. It could be him. You've never seen them in the same place at once.

When people call Tim Duncan milquetoast, it makes me want to break kneecaps. First, Duncan is a thoughtful quote -- as are most of the Spurs. Second, Duncan shouldn't be penalized because he'd rather frustrate his opponents with precise passing out of double-teams and unstoppable bank shots, rather than trying to make the Top 10 Plays on "SportsCenter."

He's not penalized. He's considered boring -- because passing out of double-teams and shooting 16-foot bank shots are things that look more boring than things that, say, Kobe or Lebron or Chris Paul does.

Besides, unlike the Lakers and Celtics, the Pistons and Spurs didn't get to the conference finals with the help of questionable blockbuster deals. Talk about your NBA conspiracy theories. The Lakers got Pau Gasol for 10 rubles and a John Tesh DVD. And Kevin McHale forked Kevin Garnett over to the franchise he just so happened to win three NBA titles with. Nothing suspicious about that, right?

So are you pro- or anti-conspiracy theory? It seems like you actually believe that the Lakers and Celtics were rigged back into relevance, which I don't really buy. McHale and Wallace seem more inept than diabolically devious.

Seriously, maybe we shouldn't root for outcomes based solely on whether they give conspiracy theorists less ammunition. Is that really how you want to live your life?

The Pistons and the Spurs built their teams the old-school way --

By having their superstar get hurt for a year, improbably winning the lottery, and drafting arguably the greatest power forward of all time. Old school!

Pistons-Spurs -- that's what we all should be dying to see.

Except that anyone who enjoys basketball and wishes to see it continue to succeed in the United States should be rooting extremely hard for the exact opposite of that. Other than that, good job.

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posted by Junior  # 7:39 PM
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