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Old 06-08-2012, 03:52 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Simmons and Gladwell on Lebron and the twitter age

They go on about just about everything in a pretty lengthy piece. I pulled out the Lebron stuff. Grantland

Quote:
SIMMONS: You ever read something that makes you mutter to yourself, "Man, I wish I thought of that one?" Last weekend, I read the following paragraph about LeBron James:

He sneezes and it's a trending topic on Twitter. He is a fascinating study because he's really the first and most seminal sports figure in the information age, where everything he does is reported and dissected and second-guessed many times over and he handles everything with an amazing grace and patience that I don't know if other superstars from other areas would have been able to handle.
You know who wrote that one?

GLADWELL: Stephen A … No, wait a minute. If it were him it would be — "He. Sneezes. And. It's. A. Trending." I give up.

SIMMONS: That wasn't a guess. Here's the answer … nobody! It's a quote in some random Newsday story from Shane Battier. Repeat: An off-the-cuff quote! Was Shane sitting in front of his locker thinking, I'm sitting on one of the best points anyone ever made about LeBron; the next reporter that waves a recorder in front of my face gets it? Did Shane say to the reporter, "Give me your e-mail address, I'd much rather type out this point on my iPhone and send it to you, it's that good"? Does Shane have surprisingly insightful points bubbling inside him at all times? Since he can't join the media yet, is there any way TNT can pay him under the table to feed wisdom to poor Shaq? Let's hope Shane has been jotting down notes during his inaugural swim in the LeBron/Wade fishbowl — even if it's half as good as that quote, it would become the best book by an NBA player since Life on the Run.

...GLADWELL: ... If he hadn't been a basketball player, it sounds like there's a good chance he could have made a brilliant writer. The world of writing — up until now, at least, "missed" Battier …

SIMMONS: Instead, he decided to make a living by taking phony offensive charges from players who were much better than him. (Sorry, I couldn't resist. I'm in major homer mode thanks to this hostile Celts-Heat series. Keep going.)

GLADWELL: So how many Battiers are out there? How many people do elite professions miss? I think we assume that the talent-finding in the top occupations is pretty efficient. But what always strikes me is the amount of evidence in the opposite direction. There are huge numbers of people who clearly could play pro sports, but don't want to. And an even greater number who could, but can't. America has one of the highest incarceration rates in recorded history, for example. (We have six times more people behind bars, on a per capita basis, than Europe does.) That works out to about 2 million people — the majority of whom are young men, and a disproportionate share of those young men are young black men. Surely there must be hundreds — if not thousands — of potential professional athletes in that number, not to mention scientists or entrepreneurs or poets. I'm sure you saw that great piece by Jonathan Abrams in Grantland this week where he quotes Stephen Jackson on growing up in Port Arthur, Texas: "There's been a million basketball players to come out of there and I'm the second one to make it to the NBA."

SIMMONS: An organic Grantland plug! Nice!

GLADWELL: And then there is my favorite moment in Michael Lewis's The Blind Side, when Michael Oher says that if everyone from his old neighborhood in inner-city Memphis who could play football got the chance to play professional football, they'd need two NFLs. What he was saying is that the efficiency rate of the football talent-search system in Memphis was less than 50 percent. This is the most popular and most lucrative sport in the United States — and Oher is saying that based on his experience we leave half of the available talent on the table. That's unbelievable!

SIMMONS: It's a little different than Canada — where they somehow utilize 147.3 percent of the available hockey talent.

GLADWELL: Exactly right. Not to mention the Kenyans in distance running, and the Dutch in soccer, and the Jamaicans in sprinting. It's the flip side of the same point. In theory, big countries should dominate all sports because they have the biggest talent pool. But they don't, because societies squander their talent. If you are a tiny country you can hold your own against someone 10 times your size just by being slightly more efficient in finding and developing the Battiers and Kingstons of the world. Could Battier have taken our jobs, if he wanted to? It wouldn't surprise me. If our talent spotting in basketball and football is so lousy — and those are two areas about which, arguably, we care more in this country than almost anything else — how lousy must it be in journalism? You and I owe our livelihoods to the fact that this country doesn't have its act together.

SIMMONS: Please don't call me a journalist — you make it seem like I'm credible. Speaking of not identifying talent, couldn't we blame the sports media for failing to identify which athletes have something to say? Are we provoking them with the right questions? Are we making excuses by falling into that "It's not like the old days, we don't have the same kind of access anymore, the leagues and agents and PR people are too savvy now, you can't get anything" trap?

GLADWELL: There's been a million sportswriters to come out of Boston and you're the second one to make it to ESPN.

SIMMONS: More like the 409th. Anyway...Why are we covering teams the same way we covered them in 1981, just with more people and better equipment? If I could watch any Celtics game and press conference from my house (already possible), and there was a handpicked pool of reporters (maybe three per game, with the people changing every game) responsible for pooling pregame/postgame quotes and mailing them out immediately, could I write the same story (or pretty close)? If we reduced the locker room clutter, would players relax a little more? Would their quotes improve? Would they trust the media more? Why haven't we experimented at all? Any "improvements" in our access have been forgettable. Seriously, what pearls of wisdom are we expecting from NBA coaches during those ridiculous in-game interviews, or from athletes sitting on a podium with dozens of media members firing monotone questions at them? It's like an all-you-can-eat buffet of forgettable quotes, like the $7.99 prime rib extravaganzas at a Vegas casino or something. There's Russell Westbrook at the podium for $7.99! Feast away! We laugh every time Gregg Popovich curmudgeonly swats Craig Sager away with four-word answers, but really, he's performing a public service. He's one of the few people in sports who has the balls to say, "This couldn't be a dumber relationship right now."

I don't blame athletes for retreating into their little sports-cliché cocoons. We've pushed them there, especially because we (and by "we," I mean ESPN and every other media outlet, newspaper or sports blog that blows stuff out of proportion for eyeballs, page views, ratings or whatever) have a tendency to blow provocative quotes out of proportion. For instance, you might remember Larry Bird mentioning on my podcast that he'd rather play with Kobe than LeBron, if only because ESPN ran that answer across our ticker for 24 solid hours. If you listened to the podcast as a whole, his answer wasn't that simple — Bird was saying that, as a player, he gravitated toward other players who were obsessed with winning. That's what he valued most. Kobe seems similarly obsessed, so that's who Bird picked. It wasn't a pick against LeBron — in fact, he believed LeBron was the best current basketball player "by far." But Bird was an overcompetitive weirdo, and so is Kobe, so that's why he picked Kobe.

GLADWELL: Although surely Bird isn't telling the truth here. On the court, he fits much better with LeBron than Kobe. Kobe's ideal teammate is a ball boy. But go on …

SIMMONS: Yeah, Kobe would have stolen one crunch-time shot from Bird, followed by them fighting to the death after the game. And Bird would have won that fight unless Moses Malone and Charles Barkley were holding him from behind. Anyway, was it fair that "BIRD WOULD RATHER PLAY WITH KOBE OVER LEBRON" got thrown into the talking head/sports radio cycle for 24 hours? Obviously not. We screw these guys over time and time again, then we wonder why they won't say anything interesting. You know what else doesn't help? It's a little disconcerting to talk to anyone recording your spoken word. Anytime I've been interviewed, I'm scared of saying something dumb that could come back to haunt me … you know, like every single comment I made in the ESPN book. The best conversations happen without a tape recorder or a notebook, anyway, but especially with sports figures, who always become more candid when they're not worried about getting burned (or burning themselves). I actually think that's how the old days of sports media coverage may have worked — after games, you went out to dinner with these guys, or maybe even got sauced with them, and they spilled insights and trusted you wouldn't hang them.
Quote:
SIMMONS: We need to circle back to fellow jockosopher Battier's quote that LeBron is a "fascinating study because he's really the first and most seminal sports figure in the information age." That's actually true. I have been writing my column since the spring of '97, back when you told people you wrote sports columns on the Internet and they paused for a second before responding, "Do you make money doing that?" It took six more years before the Internet started to resemble today's Internet — by 2003, everyone had e-mail; everyone knew how to navigate the web, forward URLs and anonymously slander people on message boards; people weren't terrified that their credit card would be stolen if they made an online purchase; modem speeds and web designs didn't feel like they were trapped in the 1950s anymore; the blogosphere was slowly rounding into form; and life-altering things like "wireless" and "streaming video" were being perfected (and even better, everyone knew they were coming).

Well, when did Cleveland draft LeBron? June 2003. From that point forward, the following things were created: MySpace (2003); Facebook (2004); Gmail (2004); sports blogs (2004); YouTube (2005); podcasts (2005); Twitter (2006); iPhones (2007). By 2009, all of those mediums and devices had rounded into form with the exception of MySpace — which only survives in To Catch a Predator reruns — and all of LeBron's triumphs, foibles, highlights and failures could be dissected AND watched immediately. The most famous American athletes from the last decade were probably LeBron, Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning, Michael Jordan (even after he retired), Shaquille O'Neal, Tom Brady, Brett Favre, Alex Rodriguez, Lance Armstrong and Derek Jeter in some order. But only LeBron showed up right as the "information age" was taking off and blossomed along with it, so Battier's first point is correct … right?

GLADWELL: Agreed. And how bummed are you if you are LeBron? He was born in 1984. In every way, his life would be better if he had been born 10 years earlier. I don't believe that the world was always better in the past. But I do believe that there are moments when the particular mix of available technologies don't actually combine to make your life better — and I think we're in one of those moments now. I can remember when I worked in the New York bureau of the Washington Post, and Jackie Onassis was near death and I was responsible for writing the story if she died. What I really wanted to do was go to dinner. So what did I do? I went to dinner, and she died — and the office had no way to reach me.

Can we pause, for a moment, and recognize how magical that fact was? I actually remember where I had dinner — The Odeon in Tribeca. There I was in the middle of one of the most important cities in the world, having steak frites at a well-known restaurant two blocks from my apartment, and to the editors of one of the most prestigious newspapers in the world I was effectively invisible. And when they finally tracked me down the next day, I simply apologized for being … out of touch. No one has said the phrase out of touch for at least a decade. There is an entire generation of young people out there who don't even know that those three words can be used in combination. This is on par with that long-lost moment in, like, the 17th century when if you said to your teacher, "The dog ate my homework," there was a reasonable chance that the dog actually had eaten your homework. God I miss those days.

SIMMONS: Don't worry, those days are still alive … if you want them to be. I call it "going in the bunker." If I have to get something done, I just pick a coffee place or restaurant, turn off my cell phone, tell my wife and Grantland's Dan Fierman that I'm "going in the bunker" and spend the next few hours pretending it's 1988 (and nobody can reach me). It's the only way sometimes. My wife hates the bunker. In her defense, it probably seems weird when your husband says the words, "I'm going to be out of commission for the next four hours, I'm going into the bunker." Just ask Eliot Spitzer's wife. But there's something about the sanctity of being out of touch. Especially in 2012, when everything centers on being IN touch, right?

GLADWELL: If I had to pick a perfect technological moment, it would be 1998. You had FedEx — and, if you think about it, at least half of what we love about the Internet is actually what we love about FedEx. You had the Internet and e-mail, only they were cool. Your parents weren't on them yet. Cell phones existed, but it was perfectly legitimate not to have one, or to have one and have it turned off. We had the fax machine, which meant you could send information anywhere in the world — instantly. Imagine! If you wanted to watch a TV show, you watched it at the same time as everyone else — which meant that TV had the same sense of cultural immediacy that today only sporting events have. And if you are LeBron, the total number of words written about you at any given moment falls by a factor of 10. If LeBron is born in 1970, he makes just as much money as today, only he gets to live a normal life. How is this not better?

SIMMONS: I love the concept of athletes being born too soon or too late. Steve Garvey was born at the perfect time — in the '70s, first basemen were supposed to look handsome, drive dudes home and scoop errant throws. That's it. Nobody cared about Garvey's on-base percentage; if anything, elite hitters were considered selfish if they worked pitchers for walks over trying to drive home runners in big moments. (See: Boggs, Wade.) Meanwhile, poor Tim Raines played in Montreal before the days of the Extra Innings Package and MLB TV, back when everyone valued batting average over on-base percentage, "OPS" sounded like a computer company and nobody differentiated between "total steals" and "percentage of steals per attempt." If he came along 20 years later, he'd be the darling of the sabermetric community instead of the first mention in any pithy column about great players who stupidly haven't made Cooperstown even though Dave Bancroft and Rick Ferrell are there.

A better example: Michael Jordan peaked during the best possible time for an NBA superstar (the post-salary boom 1990s, well after the NBA became mainstream thanks to Bird and Magic). If you remember, Jordan bristled at the constant scrutiny even though things are more suffocating and mean-spirited today. Remember how MJ reacted to the unflattering stories in The Jordan Rules (a pretty tame book to reread, by the way), or the media's badgering about his Atlantic City trips and six-figure golfing losses to professional hustlers? Remember how bitter he became (rightfully so) when people wondered about the details of his father's murder? He retired in 1993 to play minor league baseball for many reasons, but mainly because he wanted out of that fishbowl. How would Jordan have handled the Internet age? Poorly. And that's an understatement. If we ever create a RESET button for life, I want to move Jordan's career 15 years forward, then sit courtside for Alternate Universe MJ's first playoff game after Alternate Universe Henry Abbott dares to write a "Why MJ Isn't As Clutch As You Think" column for Alternate Universe ESPN.com. Money is no object. I'm in for 50,000 futuristic dollars.
Quote:
GLADWELL: A quick thought experiment on LeBron. A young, white 22-year-old from a nice, preppy upper-middle class family graduates from Oberlin and goes to work for a small-market investment bank in downtown Cleveland. He quickly establishes himself as a brilliant trader, possessed of a freakish instinct for the markets. He makes his bank hundreds of millions of dollars. But he wants to take his talents to Wall Street, where he can be surrounded by other great traders and have access to global capital markets. When his contract is up in Cleveland, he shops around before agreeing to join the legendary trading desk at Goldman Sachs, at what turns out to be a slight cut in pay. On his first day on the job, he's interviewed on CNBC about his "decision," and he predicts that his skills in combination with the talent already at Goldman will earn billions of dollars for Goldman's clients in the years to come. Is there a single person in the financial world who would raise even an eyebrow about that guy's behavior?

SIMMONS: No way — especially if he went to Duke instead of Oberlin. (By the way, after successfully getting off a Princeton joke and a Duke joke, I'm ready to wrap things up whenever. Just say the word.) But even the most arrogant trader on the planet wouldn't have aspired publicly to become a "global icon," or obsessed over his brand as much as LeBron did these past few years, and really, I wonder if that's the biggest reason he's struggled in a few weighty moments over the years. You can't build yourself as a worldwide brand without constantly evaluating how the outside world is digesting that brand. You have to be painfully self-aware, completely in tune with the public's thoughts about YOU. (That's what made "The Decision" such a horrendous misfire — he wasn't in tune, even though he mistakenly thought he was. That's the recipe for just about every career suicide attempt, by the way. Here's one example.) When you're getting picked apart and you're aware of the criticisms — and even worse, there's truth in some of those criticisms — how can that not affect you? There hasn't been an NBA superstar who cared more about how people regarded him since Wilt Chamberlain. And look how that turned out.

Quick tangent: Two months ago, I recalled a friend's story from Game 5 of the 2011 Finals (a.k.a. LeBrondown II), when my friend was sitting near Miami's bench watching a zoned-out LeBron gnaw his fingernails as his teammates vainly tried to engage him. That anecdote disturbed a Chapel Hill reader named Jared, who e-mailed me wondering if "we killed LeBron." As Jared pointed out, once upon a time, LeBron could casually flick a switch and take command of big games (like Game 5 against the 2007 Pistons). That switch seems to have disappeared, leading Jared to decide, "I truly believe the media onslaught over the last few years has destroyed that switch."

If you're scoring at home, I'm about to debate a total stranger's reaction to a friend's secondhand story. (That's why I get paid the big bucks.) When you include Twitter and Facebook, I'd argue that LeBron wasn't dealing with a "media onslaught" as much as a pure onslaught. Whenever people ask me, "Whatever happened to the guy from that Detroit game?," maybe the answer is, "We happened." Maybe that's the same reason Britney shaved her head, Michael Jackson ruined his face, Whitney Houston destroyed her voice and Tiger risked everything for a steady series of bimbos and hostitutes. Maybe it's the same reason Battier made a point of saying LeBron handles "everything" with "amazing grace and patience." Battier was complimenting him while also pointing out that, "Hey, in case you didn't notice, LeBron James's day-to-day life couldn't be more unnatural and maybe we should cut him a little more slack." That's what makes him one of our premier jockosophers.
Quote:
GLADWELL: A quick thought experiment on LeBron. A young, white 22-year-old from a nice, preppy upper-middle class family graduates from Oberlin and goes to work for a small-market investment bank in downtown Cleveland. He quickly establishes himself as a brilliant trader, possessed of a freakish instinct for the markets. He makes his bank hundreds of millions of dollars. But he wants to take his talents to Wall Street, where he can be surrounded by other great traders and have access to global capital markets. When his contract is up in Cleveland, he shops around before agreeing to join the legendary trading desk at Goldman Sachs, at what turns out to be a slight cut in pay. On his first day on the job, he's interviewed on CNBC about his "decision," and he predicts that his skills in combination with the talent already at Goldman will earn billions of dollars for Goldman's clients in the years to come. Is there a single person in the financial world who would raise even an eyebrow about that guy's behavior?

SIMMONS: No way — especially if he went to Duke instead of Oberlin. (By the way, after successfully getting off a Princeton joke and a Duke joke, I'm ready to wrap things up whenever. Just say the word.) But even the most arrogant trader on the planet wouldn't have aspired publicly to become a "global icon," or obsessed over his brand as much as LeBron did these past few years, and really, I wonder if that's the biggest reason he's struggled in a few weighty moments over the years. You can't build yourself as a worldwide brand without constantly evaluating how the outside world is digesting that brand. You have to be painfully self-aware, completely in tune with the public's thoughts about YOU. (That's what made "The Decision" such a horrendous misfire — he wasn't in tune, even though he mistakenly thought he was. That's the recipe for just about every career suicide attempt, by the way. Here's one example.) When you're getting picked apart and you're aware of the criticisms — and even worse, there's truth in some of those criticisms — how can that not affect you? There hasn't been an NBA superstar who cared more about how people regarded him since Wilt Chamberlain. And look how that turned out.

Quick tangent: Two months ago, I recalled a friend's story from Game 5 of the 2011 Finals (a.k.a. LeBrondown II), when my friend was sitting near Miami's bench watching a zoned-out LeBron gnaw his fingernails as his teammates vainly tried to engage him. That anecdote disturbed a Chapel Hill reader named Jared, who e-mailed me wondering if "we killed LeBron." As Jared pointed out, once upon a time, LeBron could casually flick a switch and take command of big games (like Game 5 against the 2007 Pistons). That switch seems to have disappeared, leading Jared to decide, "I truly believe the media onslaught over the last few years has destroyed that switch."

If you're scoring at home, I'm about to debate a total stranger's reaction to a friend's secondhand story. (That's why I get paid the big bucks.) When you include Twitter and Facebook, I'd argue that LeBron wasn't dealing with a "media onslaught" as much as a pure onslaught. Whenever people ask me, "Whatever happened to the guy from that Detroit game?," maybe the answer is, "We happened." Maybe that's the same reason Britney shaved her head, Michael Jackson ruined his face, Whitney Houston destroyed her voice and Tiger risked everything for a steady series of bimbos and hostitutes. Maybe it's the same reason Battier made a point of saying LeBron handles "everything" with "amazing grace and patience." Battier was complimenting him while also pointing out that, "Hey, in case you didn't notice, LeBron James's day-to-day life couldn't be more unnatural and maybe we should cut him a little more slack." That's what makes him one of our premier jockosophers.
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