Once upon a time, there was a pro basketball team in New York called the Nets.
Led by the superlative Julius “Dr. J.” Erving, it consistently made the playoffs in the old American Basketball Association (the ABA), and even won championships, in 1974 and 1976. But then, the team joined the NBA and—reneging on a promise to give Dr. J a raise—instead sold him to the Philadelphia 76ers before the start of the 1976-77 season. Then the team moved to New Jersey in 1977. After those two events, the Nets stopped contending. The franchise—which had won more than 65 percent of its regular-season games in three straight seasons just prior to the ABA’s merger with the NBA—never again hit that mark in any of its 35 seasons in New Jersey.
Of the two moves, losing Dr. J. was clearly the more important. He immediately became the 76ers’ most productive player and eventually delivered them a championship. But long after Dr. J. had left the game, the Nets in New Jersey continued to struggle. Life was especially bad in 2009-10, when the team lost their first 18 games, on the way to a record of 12-70.
Here, the story seemed about to turn, for when this dreadful season ended, hope appeared on the horizon. After the 2009-10 season, the NBA approved the sale of the Nets to the Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov. Prokhorov, it seemed clear, would not be selling off players to avoid raises.
Read more. [Image: AP/Sue Ogrocki]
Five years ago this month, the NBA released the Pedowitz Report, a 133-page tome authored by former federal prosecutor Larry Pedowitz that explored the extent to which real or perceived bias among officials permeates professional basketball. Like baseball’s Dowd Report in 1989, the NBA study was commissioned in response to a gambling scandal: NBA referee Tim Donaghy was found to be wagering on NBA games, including some that he officiated.
The Pedowitz Report suggested that “a substantial number of team representatives believe that referees make calls, on occasion, based on personal bias [and] the potential for referee bias remains a threat to the integrity of the game.” A year after the Pedowitz Report was released, Donaghy emerged from an 11-month stay in a federal penitentiary with a book alleging different types of bias—sometimes aimed at specific players, other times at team personnel—among select former colleagues. The most prominent example, as Donaghy explained in detail during a 60 Minutes appearance, involved certain referees having it in for Allen Iverson of the Philadelphia 76ers. For some fans, Donaghy’s book only served to strengthen a long-standing suspicion. Others ceased to trust the NBA officiating apparatus entirely—an attitude that’s still pervasive today.
Read more. [Image: Flickr/Keith Allison]
“I failed so many times it makes my stomach hurt.”
The NBA’s most fascinating backcourt is not in Miami, where Dwyane Wade is joined by pedestrian point guard Mario Chalmers. It’s not in Brooklyn, despite the billboards throughout New York featuring Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. It’s not even in Los Angeles, where Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant have five NBA titles and three MVPs between them (but have played a combined 2,315 games and more than 78,000 minutes).
No, the backcourt tandem to watch this year is in Houston, where Jeremy Lin and James Harden enter the season with a lot to prove. Those two kids, with a combined age of 47, are setting out to show their former teams and the rest of the league that they are worth every penny of their contracts and then some. And one of them just happens to be among the biggest breakout stars/cultural icons the NBA has ever seen.
Read more. [Images: AP]
Errrrrr…The “kiss cam” at last night’s USA-Brazil Olympic exhibition men’s basketball game found itself locked on Barack and Michelle, they declined, were booed, and it was awkward for everyone involved (Malia, Joe Biden, the Secret Service, and certainly the operator of the “kiss cam”). The second try went much more according to plan, but was probably still pretty tense for the “kiss cam” operator.
The very day New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson was introduced as the new owner of the New Orleans Hornets back in April, he mentioned that he wanted to make one long-overdue change to the NBA franchise the city inherited from Charlotte, North Carolina, a decade ago. He wanted to change the team’s name, he said, to something that actually means New Orleans. “The ‘Hornets,’” he said, “doesn’t mean anything.’”
Read more at The Atlantic Cities. [Image: New Orleans Hornets]
In a perfect world, they’d just trade names with the Jazz.
ESPN’s annual money survey of 278 teams across around the world found that we pay wages equal to $15.7 billion to the 7,925 athletes in 14 sports leagues in ten countries.
Of the 15 teams with the highest average salary, eight were European football (ahem, soccer) clubs. In the graph below, they are outlined in red. Baseball teams, led by the New York Yankees, took three of the top 15 spots, and they are outlined in green. NBA teams, led by the Los Angeles Lakers, snagged the last four spots. They are in solid blue.
One angle into this fun study is the “economics of superstars.” Real Madrid isn’t just a nice group of boys from the larger Madrid metro playing against their friends from around Spain. It’s an international team, comprised of international superstars, with a rabid international audience. That the top soccer teams from Europe have a worldwide audience means they have a worldwide revenue base, especially from TV deals and licensing. That’s why Barcelona can pay $217,014,221 a year to field their team, making them the most expensive sports team in the world. And it’s why the NFL and NBA can afford ever-rising salaries. If sports money comes down to audience, more televisions and internet connections around the world means the rights to broadcast the world’s most popular teams are getting ever-more lucrative.
The art: Paul Pfeiffer, Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (8), 2005.
The news: “Basketball players of the NCAA, unite!” by Patrick Hruby for TheAtlantic.com.
The source: Partial and promised gift to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington.
Critic’s note: Hruby’s essay notes that the NCAA financial model relies on the fondness fans and alumni have for their schools. The athletes themselves mostly do not participate in that success: They are the unpaid labor that enables a multi-billion-dollar annual industry. Pfeiffer’s Four Horsemen reminds us that when the identifying jersey is stripped away the player is almost always anonymous. The athletes are conditionally adored by the fans even as they are exploited by the schools for which they play. Jerry Seinfeld was right: We root for the laundry with which we identify.
This remains one of my favorite Tumblrs of all time.
You can’t help but feel some vicarious vindication for Ed Weiland, the low-key FedEx employee who saw Jeremy Lin’s potential when so many NBA GMs didn’t. Weiland has a humble background that’s the perfect fodder for Jason Gay profile of him in today’s Wall Street Journal: He’s a 51-year-old father of two, a college dropout, and amateur basketball sabermetrician whose 2010 post on Hoops Analyst predicting “Jeremy Lin is a good enough player to start in the NBA and possibly star” garnered so much traffic this past week that it crashed the site.
Weiland relied on statistics from Lin’s career at Harvard in his analysis, so mark this down as another example of the continuing Moneyball-ization of sports. And mark Weiland down as one of the few people Linsightful enough (that’ll be our only Lin pun!) to predict the Knicks star’s success. (Others include Pablo S. Torre, who fawned over Lin in a 2010 Sport Illustrated profile, and UConn coach Jim Calhoun, who said of Lin in 2009 “I can’t think of a team he wouldn’t play for” after playing him.)
Read more. [Image: Reuters]