Thursday, June 18, 2009

On Things I Am Just Not Buying Today

Like everyone else who is engaged with these here Internets, I find myself besieged by a flurry of contrarian analysis. I often wonder if contrarian opinion is in fact the primary reason the Internet--well, at least Slate--was invented.* And if someone endeavors to convince me that, in fact, Paul Shirley is a more effective post player than Shaq, or that Kevin Faulk is the primary reason for the Patriots' success, or that we should think without thinking, or that we should not decide anything, ever, or that pineapple is the root cause of most cancers, I wish them well. I will still eat pineapple; I will still feel indifferent toward the Faulk family; I will still struggle to decide what to eat for dinner. But today, I stumbled across a pair of well-crafted contrarian opinions that simply ceased to convince me.

On, Scott Howard-Cooper makes a valiant and well thought-out attempt to persuade me that it is not necessary--and, in fact, may be a waste--to choose a point guard with a top-10 pick in the NBA draft. "Two starting point guards among the last 12 champions have been All-Stars," Howard-Cooper wrote. "No Hall of Famer was in the role since Isiah Thomas with the Pistons in 1990." And these are fair points, but then Cooper lists the past twelve point guards to win a championship, and while it is true that none of these men were the best player in their starting five, certainly none of them were the worst player in their starting five, either. In fact, nearly every one of them--from Derek Fisher to Chauncey Billups (who might wind up in the Hall of Fame) to Tony Parker (ditto) to Rajon Rondo (who appears on track to be a perennial All-Star)--is actually quite good (even Jason Williams did not detract from Miami's title run).

At the moment, Ricky Rubio, the Spanish phenom, is projected to go with the third pick to Oklahoma City, and my question to Cooper is this: If Rubio has as good a career as any of the four players listed above**, wouldn't he be a pretty solid pick, even at No. 3?

In fact, here are the No. 3 picks in the draft since 1998, grouped by results:
That Worked Out All Right--Deron Williams, Ben Gordon, Carmelo Anthony, Pau Gasol, Baron Davis
Eh/Oops--Mike Dunleavy, Adam Morrison, Darius Miles, Raef LaFrentz
Undetermined--O.J. Mayo, Al Horford

So: Of the five No. 3 picks that have worked out in the past 11 years, 2 1/2*** were point guards in college. And if Mayo pans out, it will be 3 1/2 out of six.

And none of the busts were guards.

To quote Isaac Mizrahi, who appears on the pale imitation of Project Runway that my girlfriend insists upon watching, despite the notable absence of Tim Gunn: "I'm just not buying your design, Scott."
And then there is Deadspin's resident contrarian, Tommy Craggs, whose indignant screed centers around journalist Steve Wilstein, who broke the McGwire-androstenedione story in 1998 and has now been nominated for the Baseball Hall of Fame's J.G. Taylor Spink award, given for "meritorious contributions to baseball writing." Somehow, Craggs (an undeniably talented writer/reporter, who seems gifted with the ability to see the hypocrisy in everything, a skill I sometimes wish I had), argues that Wilstein's story was the kickoff of a decade-long witch hunt which has "helped create a phony atmosphere of crisis." At one point, even Nancy Reagan gets swept up in this whole argument.

Having spent the past two years of my life writing about the mythology of the drug war in the 1980s, I certainly sympathize with Craggs' point: There is reason for cynicism on all sides in baseball these days, and there is certainly a case to be made that the steroid argument is itself based on a phony/flimsy/questionable premise, and that exposing the results of tests that were never supposed to be revealed is in fact a violation of privacy, a travesty, the end of civilized humanity, etc. But all Wilstein did was expose an issue that probably should have been opened up for public discussion five to 10 years earlier; if it had been, maybe these issues could have been handled in a more rational and sensible manner, without the ensuing witch-hunt (though given that this is baseball we are talking about, probably not).

I mean: Would it have been best to act as if the issue did not exist? It is true that andro was legal at the time but raising the question of whether it should be legal--or if perhaps this was only the exposed tip of a Titanic-sized iceberg--was not unreasonable, and this is all Wilstein did. It doesn't matter whether we care or not; given that we are subsidizing this sport with our season-ticket purchases, we at least deserved to know what was happening so we could judge for ourselves, didn't we? This is not about the moralizing that followed in Wilstein's wake; this is about exposure of information and examination of the issues, which, last I checked, was still our job. And I happen to think Wilstein did just that.

Then again, I probably would have dropped out of baseball either way.

*If I were forced to summarize the overarching impact of the Internet on the past two decades of American culture in just two words, it would be these: You're Wrong.
**Presuming Rondo does not devolve into Harold Miner.
***Gordon played both guard positions in college.

(Photo: Associated Press)

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