Titles are overrated
Join Date: Aug 2006
Location: I love me some me.
Re: NBA scorekeeper discussion. Im just that bored.
Alex was new to the game, however, and the request pissed him off. "I was immature," he says, "I was 20-21 years old, and some dude was telling me I needed to do something."
Which is perhaps why, a little more than a year later, with Nick Van Exel and the Lakers in town, Alex decided to act out. "I was sort of disgruntled," he says. "I loved the game. I don't want the numbers to be meaningless, and I felt they were becoming meaningless because of how stats were kept. So I decided, I'm gonna do this totally immature thing and see what happens. It was childish. The Lakers are in town. We're gonna lose. **** it. He's getting a shitload of assists." If you were to watch the game today, you'd see some "comically bad assists." Alex's fingerprints are all over the box score. He gave Van Exel everything. "Van Exel would pass from the top of the three-point line to someone on the wing who'd hold the ball for five seconds, dribble, then make a move to the basket. Assist, Van Exel."
No one noticed. From his chair, Alex could hear the legendary broadcaster Chick Hearn calling the game. Van Exel's having a great game! He's moving the ball exceptionally well! And in the next day's writeups, Van Exel was of course the hero. Alex thought, What the ****?
"This is a bad analogy, but it's like a husband cheating on a wife in such a way as to guarantee he's going to be caught," Alex says. "There's nothing to justify it. It was stupid. And there were no consequences." He figured he'd at least get scolded. He wasn't. In fact, a management guy congratulated him. The game was sure to get on SportsCenter now.
* * *
Everyone cooked the books, and the tendency, by and large, was to overcount — with a few notable exceptions. "Why would you underrerport? The only reason is to make your players look bad," Alex says. "Normally, you wouldn't want to do that. If the players look good, they're more likely to be All-Stars and generate trade value. You don't want to undervalue your own assets. But if you're a stupid franchise, and you don't intend to make deals, and you want to depress your own players' signability — well, which franchise is stupid enough to do that?"
In the latter half of the 1990s, the Clippers held down their own players' assists with an almost suspicious regularity. Between 1987 and 2009, home teams assisted on 61.8 percent of their field goals; away teams, 58.3 percent — a gap of 3.5 percentage points in favor of the home squads. Year after year, the Clippers reversed the trend. In 1996, the Clips' scorekeepers credited the team with assists on 47 percent of its field goals (with only Pooh Richardson averaging more than five assists per game); in other arenas, the same Clippers team assisted on 60 percent of its field goals, a difference of 13 percentage points. No team since 1987 has underreported its own assists by a larger margin. Second-largest: The Clippers in 1999, with a difference of 12.2 percentage points. Third-largest: The Clippers in 1998, at 12.1 points. Fifth-largest: The Clippers in 1997, at 9.1 points.
"The numbers are huge," Alex says. "It's pretty amazing. This is total conjecture. But do I think someone from management went to them and said, 'You need to underrerport stats'? There's no way — even with an organization as dysfunctional as the Clippers. That would expose them to civil liability, if they're intentionally diminishing the market for a player — that's almost criminal. But if someone goes to a statistician and says, 'We're being way too liberal on steals, blocks and assists,' that's probably legitimate. You can define that as, 'We want the numbers to be correct.' But as a practical consequence, your own players look worse on paper."
The question, ultimately, is whether this really matters to anyone beyond the people who had the misfortune of playing for the Clippers in the 1990s and those handful of figure filberts who've dedicated themselves to building a science on the whims of a few people sitting courtside. It certainly doesn't matter to the NBA.
"Teams have a legitimate, vested interest in stats being inflated, just like the league does," Alex says. "Ten assists is way more interesting than eight assists. As humans, those are more appealing and interesting numbers. The NBA benefits and every team benefits from bigger, flashier numbers."
In the end, the league has little incentive to address the issue, even now, in this tight-assed, post-Donaghy era, when the NBA wants desperately to convince you there are no magnets in the pinball machine. And so the scorekeepers will continue doing the professional equivalent of rolling their Dungeons and Dragons dice, perhaps saying, "**** it" now and again and giving a guy a shitload of assists, mostly for the hell of it, and Chris Andersen will go on looking like Larry Nance every Nuggets homestand. The NBA: Where Fudging Happens. "It is," as Alex says, "an entertainment thing."
But there are still people who insist the stats have to come first. Even if you cant trust them.