Monday, May 12, 2008

Letting the Baby Have His Own Way

In the sports world we hear lots of talk about biases. In college football most people believe there is an East Coast Bias which makes it difficult for teams on the West Coast to attain a favorable national ranking. As an avid student of the game I can tell you that there is no bias. There are simply more people living on the East Coast which means there are more high schools, more student athletes and more colleges.

The population density of the west gets pretty spare when you move eastward from the coast. All you have to do is compare the number of athletic conferences from region to region. The reason it seems that the East Coast has more nationally ranked teams is because they have more teams in the first place. If there was a bias USC wouldn’t have produced three of the last six Heisman Trophy winners.

There does seem to be a bias in major league baseball and that bias favors the Yankees and Red Sox. It’s not really that there’s a conspiracy afoot to ensure the success of these two teams so much as there’s a complete lack of vision on the part of Major League Baseball to protect the interests of smaller market teams. Baseball has always been a corrupt enterprise ruled by greedy men with selfish agendas which is why the Yankees and Red Sox can spend nearly half a billion dollars on payroll. The NFL doesn’t allow money to give teams an advantage and the NBA utilizes rigid salary caps to keep the playing field level.

Of course the NBA is the one place in sports where there is a true bias. The NBA as an organization has a relentless desire to see its big market teams succeed. The reason is because the NBA believes that big market teams bring big television ratings. The statistics bear that out but it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the NFL can enjoy fantastic ratings for the playoffs, regardless of where the teams are from, why can’t the NBA?

The problem is the NBA markets individual players rather than the league as a whole. Kevin Garnett has always been an outstanding basketball player but now that he’s in big market Boston the NBA is hell bent for leather putting his face out there. It’s obvious that the league wants to see Boston and LA back in the finals. To the NBA that symbolizes the entire country: East Coast versus West Coast…to hell with everybody in between.

That bias was part of the recent MVP voting. Kobe Bryant won it in spite of the fact that he spent the entire off season trying to force a trade. When that didn’t go through he threatened to skip the season and when the Lakers called his bluff he played, but not without holding a daily press conference to whine about being stuck in LA.

Kevin Garnett was hyped as the MVP all year because Boston went from being a joke to winning 66 games. The problem is that Boston didn’t miss a beat when Garnett was out of the lineup. It’s hard to call yourself the MVP when your team does so well without you.

LeBron James (and I’ll cop to my Cleveland bias now) finished the season with the scoring title. He also was at the top of the leader boards in assists and rebounds averaging close to a triple double yet again. Through sheer will power alone he kept a banged up team in the playoff hunt and carried a new look roster into the playoffs in hopes that they’d find some consistency.

All the while, LeBron kept his mouth shut. He wanted the Cavs to get aggressive in the trade market but he didn’t throw tantrums or call his teammates out in the media. LeBron just went out night after night and played his best. He’s always respectful of his teammates even if those teammates, like Larry Hughes, aren’t worthy of it. When the Cavs entered the playoffs people asked LeBron how it felt and he immediately talked about new teammate Joe Smith who, in all his years of playing, had never advanced in the post season.

Kobe Bryant is a phenomenal athlete and a multi-faceted basketball player but LeBron is better. In head to head matchups LeBron takes Kobe to task and when you sit back and look at the big picture LeBron is the kind of guy who you want leading a team. You know LeBron is always going to stand up for his team. Kobe has proven that he’ll throw them under the bus if he thinks it’s best for him.

So how does a certified jerk like Kobe win the MVP? Big City Bias. The NBA embraces columnist and commentators who refuse to hold players accountable for being jerks. Kobe’s getting credit for leading the Lakers to the top seed in the west when the Lakers succeeded in spite of him. It was the addition of Pau Gasol that made the different down the stretch, and the subtraction by addition stunt the Suns pulled in acquiring Shaq. The Lakers posted a better record than LeBron’s Cavaliers but without LeBron the Cavs would have been vying for that first pick in the draft.

Even if Kobe had to win the MVP because of seniority, which is not how it’s done, the voting should have been close. LeBron wasn’t even in the same ballpark. Kevin Garnett and Chris Paul finished ahead of James in the balloting. You could make a great case for Chris Paul, who was almost as important to his team as LeBron but KG’s finish was another example of that bias.

The message this sends to everybody is that class, poise, and tireless effort don’t matter nearly as much as making a scene and playing in a big market. Kobe was awarded the MVP because he whined the loudest. Let’s hope LeBron doesn’t follow suit.


Anonymous said...

Well you're right you are biased. Kobe didn't win the MVP because of what happened last summer. He won the MVP much to the dismay of the media and general public because he lead his team to the Top of the Western Conference. And had to deal playing without Bynum and adjusting to Gasol for half a season. The media set the category up as to who would lead their team to the top of the conference for a while it looked like CP3 but he blew it at the end and Kobe lead the Lakers to the top. Ergo they pretty much had no choice but to give it to him. Doing otherwise would show they were biased.

Kobe isn't exactly a media darling if you haven't noticed. They didn't vote for him because they liked him they voted for him because he fulfilled the criteria that was in place. Had LeBron done that he would've won instead and I'm sure they rather have seen him win than Kobe.

The MVP shouldn't be a politicized popularity contest but the fact of the matter is. That's exactly what it is so it really doesn't matter who wins it because the media votes for you. Not much credibility as far as I'm concerned.

claw71 said...

That doesn't take away fromt he fact that Kobe was still pulling his team appart when the regular season started and to me, that's something that shouldn't be rewarded.

Kobe is a media darling when it comes to the people who cover the NBA. He also plays in a bigger market so there's an automatic bias there.

I won't argue that Kobe is an outstanding player but he's a selfish jerk and a spoiled brat. My problem is that everybody swept his behavior under the rug.

I never put much stock in these awards but it's sad when a guy gets rewarded in spite of being an ass.