A simple expectation

Just like any other site with a passing interest in the NBA, we dabbled in forecasting the NBA season (although chickened out of any WRG-branded predictions and left it to other blogs to make the actual calls). So here's this site's first real prediction: Some Free Darko readers won't like this post.

As a curmudgeon who thinks there's too much focus on the future at expense of the present, I just read an ambitious FD post on why predictions detract from our fandom with interest; it's a good point, even if the author, a new FD writer named Krolik, somewhat buries it in his prose. But to the evidence that Krolik marshals to make his point, to the conclusions he eventually draws...I'll respectfully disagree.

The article starts well. Krolik addresses how the art of predicting outcomes has become increasingly part of sports culture and, simultaneously, the ease in now holding a Barkley accountable for claiming that Yao would bust or calling out Bill Simmons for his regularly awful football picks thanks to video and the Internet's long memory. This is an intriguing duality and probably worthy of more exploration.

But as Krolik moves on to how predictions affect individual fandom, I think he starts to lose the thread. For example, he's a fan of LeBron James for actually living up to his hype but doesn't equally enjoy Kobe and Dwayne Wade, who rival LeBron's status as King. The first point makes perfect sense; the second--that because Kobe and Wade threaten the "prediction" of LBJ being the best, they're non-grata--stretch the details to fit the argument. Whether it's the Yankees versus the Red Sox or boring straight arrow Superman versus a more compelling Batman--don't we all love our heroes and hate their rivals, regardless of a predictive element?

Krolik also discusses how Yao and Dwight Howard get celebrated while a guy like Carlos Boozer--enjoying a stellar start to the season--falls under the radar for "his 2nd-round pedigree and injury-plagued early prime years [that] have relegated him to being interesting mostly as LeBron's lost companion." Couldn't it be more simple than that? Boozer plays in small-market Utah, which wasn't counting on him until last year, whereas the Magic and the Rockets have built their teams around their big men. Plus, the uber-athletic Howard and unique Yao are eye-catching players; Boozer's awesome and can finish like few big men, but I personally find him less interesting to watch.

Krolik closes by urging readers to set aside pre-existing prejudices in favor of "liberated fandom"--to watch without predictions of a player's ability hampering the enjoyment of their game. It's a fair point and I'd agree...except I think the post confuses "predictions" with "expectations." To predict implies an act of forecasting a player or team's performance or outcome, and while fans may do this on a limited basis with their favorites, very few would admit to having concrete opinions on how any given player should perform. To expect, meanwhile, is far more passive and that's where most sports fans fall. As a result, it's very easy to set aside "prejudices and vendettas," because for the most part, fans have very few.

Thus, when Krolik implies that a guy like Kwame Brown is more compelling than an Earl Boykins, he's right, but for the wrong reasons. It's not because "we all make predictions, many of them positive, about guys who have hype built up around them as soon as they come into the league, so we magnify their triumphs and faults because at some level it's a reflection of whatever thoughts we formed about them." It's much simpler than that. When we look at a Kwame, we see what could have been: His unrealized potential, all the players the Wizards passed on to select him at #1. When we look at an Earl Boykins, we see an undrafted free agent who's getting the most out of his talent, and a guy that cost his teams nothing. Fans always will be haunted by unmet expectations with Kwame; unless he signs an exorbitant contract, we'll never have any with Earl Boykins.

Rather, it's often the guys who's come out of nowhere who become the most intriguing stories of the season.

Here in D.C., there's just as much buzz about the emergence of Andray Blatche as there is about All-Star Caron Butler's excellent play. Sacramento's thrilled to have picked up Beno Udrih off the scrap heap. And especially, Krolik's argument that Jamario Moon (exceeding expectations) isn't getting enough attention while a sub-par Kevin Durant receives inordinate coverage doesn't fly for the following reasons:

  1. Isn't the story of Durant failing to meet early expectations as the franchise savior just as compelling as Moon's emergence, if not more so and albeit in a different way?
  2. The season's all of a month old--isn't coronating Jamario after 14 or so games, predicting his greatness, exactly the mistake we should avoid? It's a nice story, but let's not get carried away, because...
  3. Isn't Jamario Moon already getting copious amounts of attention, especially given his role (swingman and rotation player for the Raptors) as opposed to Durant (feature player and potential franchise for the Sonics)? Presently, the rotating headline stories/pictures on NBA.com go 1) Dwight Howard's 39 points against Seattle 2) LeBron's injury against the Pistons and 3) Moon's emergence. That's pretty heady company for an undrafted rookie to keep.
Being intrigued by a story like Moon's doesn't equal real investment in a player, of course. Krolik is correct: As a rule, fans -do- care more about superstars and phenoms than the fringe guys. Why? It has far less to do with predictions or assumptions, or some hype coefficient that multiplies how intriguing we find someone. It's because an Oden or Durant might win you a championship. No knock to Moon or Boykins, but they probably won't.

Krolik's a skilled writer and the entire FD crew is worthy of much respect, so here's hoping they continue exploring what this rise of predictions/the focus on next means for fans and how we interpret what we watch. For starters, I'll throw out one idea that bears discussion: What drives media outlets to issue so many predictions when we can so easily revisit wrong-headed forecasts or call them out for changing them?

Or perhaps, an even more salient question: At the end of the day, why am I so critical of one half-decent post? I guess I expect so much of Free Darko.

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posted by Doctor Dribbles @ 04:17,


At November 29, 2007 at 5:30 PM, Blogger Crucifictorious said...

You're overlooking how Free Darko grew out of a fantasy basketball message board. As the author points out...fantasy basketball is entirely about predicting performance, watching players based on expectations, and so on. Thus, since predicting performance is so essential to FD's DNA, makes more sense (to me) why the post is relevant to that site's writers and readers.

At November 30, 2007 at 11:06 AM, Blogger Jarrett Carter said...

Donnie Simpson thought this was going to be a post about starting or sitting Nick Young in his fantasy league.

At November 30, 2007 at 4:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How are there this many NBA fans left in the world?



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