Hardcore NBA fans are speaking a completely different language than the vast majority of basketball viewers, which is why so few understand the point, writes Jason "netw3rk" Concepcion.
Hey hoopheads, let's play a game called "You May Be A Basketball Elitist". If you have ever used Synergy Sports as a talking point in an argument: You May Be A Basketball Elitist. If you have ever used PER as a talking point in a blog post or Twitter conversation: You May Be A Basketball Elitist. If you have Basketball-Reference and Hoopdata bookmarked in your browser: You May Be A Basketball Elitist.
Now, there is nothing wrong with being an elitist. Elite consumers of NBA basketball often have a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the game. That understanding can lead to a greater enjoyment of -- and greater disappointment in -- teams, players and coaches as they execute or improvise, they work within the framework or freelance, and when they call a smart set or badly bungle a late game situation.
But the informed mindset of the hoophead also creates its own particular myopia: a distinct inability to realize that we are very much in the minority. Those of us that follow the league like a religion; who have used advanced stats to illustrate a point; who discuss the league on Twitter or have a basketball blog...we represent maybe two percent of sports fans with an interest in the NBA. The rest of the world does not think of the game as we do nor do they perceive the league as we do. We are the clerks in High Fidelity and everyone else just wants to buy the latest LMFAO album.
This myopia drives what is, in my opinion, the greatest rhetorical weakness of hoophead discourse: the use of the terms hype and overrated.
What do hoopheads mean when they say something or someone is overrated? Usually, we think we mean "everyone thinks Player X is better than Player Y but I know that's false because 100 > 98." How does the casual NBA fan perceive the same situation? Perhaps as "Player X scores a lot and dresses cool or acts cool or has a cool commercial or comes from a similar neighborhood as me or plays for my local team or played for my alma mater's team and I don't really know Player Y though I generally think he's okay or maybe I saw a YouTube video of him getting dunked on so he sucks."
Hoopheads are not even remotely speaking the same language as the casual fan. Casual fans prefer one player to another for a myriad of reasons that are often irrational. To the casual fan, sports is just entertainment, pure and simple. Hoopheads will argue one player over another using a limited arsenal of talking points relating to quantifiable characteristics of the player, team roster and team strategy. Casual fans like the dunks, buckets and narrative and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that (nothing illustrates this pointless crosstalk like the debates that rage around All-Star and MVP selections).
In the world we live in, sports is a product. Television, print, radio and internet sources for delivery of that product would go flat broke catering to the hoophead. The sports media in general does not cover NBA basketball as a scholarly pursuit of the hidden truths of the game. They do it to make money, and the big money is in the pockets of the casual fan. We can blame the media all we want for hyping a player or a team but that doesn't change the fact that the great mass of sports consumers simply want to be entertained, and that those reporters and editors want to keep being employed. The best of these reporters and editors can inform and entertain at the same time, but only the best. The rest of us are only talking to ourselves.
So how can this informed myopia be countered?
Firstly, hoopheads should try to read more things that they disagree with. The hoophead community can be an insular echo chamber that, at its worst, has elevated certain players into ideological cults and fostered the myth of "The Perfect Basketball Player." Too often we treat players like immutable objects, trapped in an amber block of their own stats, incapable of change and worthy of derision. Reading more things that you may disagree with can sharpen your thoughts and may even change your mind. How many times do you want to read the same piece about the same player that you agreed with three years ago?
Second, understand who you are arguing with and where the arguments with which you are countering come from. The discord arises from the hoopheads' use of stats and analysis and the casual fans can simply, inexplicably, illogically and very humanly be drawn to a player for any number of reasons not having to do with stats. Don't penalize players because a great number of people think differently than you.
Finally, just admit you don't like a guy. It happens and it's human and that's the casual fan inside you. Maybe you don't like him because everybody else does. Maybe it's because he hit a shot against your team. Whatever the reason, if you use stats as a Spock-ian front to mask that you simply hate Player X, you're not being honest. Nobody wants to spend time arguing about why one player is better than the other, only to have the the other person cut it off with "I just don't like that guy". Say that first.
Listen, stats are easy. Go to Basketball-Reference or to Hoopdata or to Synergy and add up the columns or use the player comparison feature or watch the video clips and count the dribbles, the possessions, the shots taken and from where. That's easy, y'all. That's just making a list. What's hard? Communicating your findings or your ideas to people in a way that's simple and that they can find interesting enough to spend time reading. Too many only do the easy thing and get annoyed when the world expects the harder one.