I don’t have a favorite NBA team. Not really. I’m from Wisconsin, and I try (really I do) to get fired up about the Milwaukee Bucks, but they are such a dysfunctional organization that it’s tough to keep interest. In fact, since 2006, I’m not sure there has been a team with a worse combination of injury problems (Redd, Bogut) and draft picks. All of their draft picks since that year: David Noel, Ramon Sessions, Yi Jianlian, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Joe Alexander, Jodie Meeks, Brandon Jennings, Tiny Gallon, Jerome Jordan, Darington Hobson, Larry Sanders, Jon Leur, and Tobias Harris. That’s bad. Zero All-Star selections. And I’m not crazy about this year’s selection either, John Henson.
I also sort of like the Portland Trailblazers and the San Antonio Spurs. But not because I have some loyalty to those cities or those franchises. Actually, it’s because I like a certain player on each of those teams (Wesley Matthews (Marquette alumn) and Manu Ginobili).
And that’s my lead-in. Sports fans often like the athletes in a sport as much as they like the teams. How many people really hated the Heat? Or was it that they didn’t like LeBron? Is anyone outside of the Carolinas who is wearing a Panthers hat actually a fan of the team, or are they just enamored with Cam Newton?
There’s nothing wrong with liking players over teams. It actually should reduce your blood pressure (if I watched a Marquette game every day I would be dead in ten years). True, not having a team you’re ‘all-in’ for can take away some of the value of watching sports, but that’s for an individual fan to decide. Athletes give us good reason to like them. Besides the incredible feats of athletic ability they achieve on the court/field/pitch/ice/etc., they have swagger, they make us laugh, they have heart-touching stories. There are nice-guys, villains, goofballs and straight-men. Sports are nothing without the players who play them. It’s certainly one of the most important criteria when grading the games, so where do the NBA and NFL stack up?
The NBA: The Big Constellation
Full of stars. That’s what a constellation is (my favorite is Canis Major, what about you?) and it’s what the NBA is, too. All you have to do is list off the one-namers and you have enough stars to make Scorpio. LeBron, D-Wade, Melo, KD, CP3, D-Rose, Rondo, Dirk, Kobe, and so on and so forth. When it comes to talent, the NBA currently has:
1. Two top 10 (at worst) all-time players, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant
2. The best and fourth best (at worst) power forwards ever, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett
3. The leader in three point field goals, Ray Allen
4. A kid on track to be the all-time scoring leader, Kevin Durant
5. Arguably the most physically gifted center of all-time, Dwight Howard
Not to mention Chris Paul will be one of the best point guards ever, Carmelo Anthony will probably reach the top-ten in scoring, and Anthony Davis is being compared to Bill Russell before he even steps onto the court.
Never mind that there is a host of other very good players who can’t even make an All-Star team consistently. As far as talent is concerned, the NBA is currently loaded. However, there’s more to great players than talent. The character and personality of the league’s players is also important when grading their overall quality. Once again, the NBA does not disappoint.
I really don’t know where to begin when it comes to the personalities in the NBA. You can start with the ultra-charismatic players that fans can’t get enough of. Kobe Bryant, the Black Mamba, has this aura about him that any NBA fan just has to respect. Who else can stand on a stage and lecture Jerry Rice, Larry Fitzgerald, Richard Branson, and Kanye West on how to be successful? Then there is Kevin Garnett, the Numenorean himself, butting his head to the basket support, muttering who-knows-what. He plays with such fire, swearing at himself, his teammates, his opponents, the fans. Few players can be described as fearsome, but Garnett certainly fits the bill. Any other player could yell out “ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE” and I would probably shake my head and say “Calm down,” but not with Garnett.
Moving on to the lovable goofballs. JaVale McGee running back on defense while his team is still on offense and bludgeoning a shot 84 rows into the stands for a goaltend is just great sports humor. Metta World Peace (MUCH more on him in a later article) is not totally sane, but he’s good for a few laughs, is he not?
What about the flashy and friendly guys, like Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James? Everyone knows LeBron was the villain last year, but he didn’t really want to embrace that role. He’s really just a likable guy with a million dollar smile. D-Wade always makes it work, whether it’s dressing up nicely or appearing on Jimmy Kimmel. Dwight Howard is some unique combination of Atticus Finch and Darth Vader (I’m not sure if that makes any sense at all, but ponder it a minute).
The NBA’s variety goes beyond personality. Where else can black guys, white guys, half black half white guys, racially ambiguous guys, huge European guys, and one Chinese guy all contribute at an extremely high level? As one blogger wrote, “In 2010-11, the rookie of the year was half white and half black; an African-American won the MVP; the most improved player and leading rebounder was a white American; a Chinese all-star center retired; the leading shot-blocker was an Australian; and the best player on the championship team was German.”
The behavior of players will be discussed more in a future article about scandals, but the amount of badness (not like street cred, like being a miscreant) should be factored in when you look at the quality of the league’s players. The NBA doesn’t escape this category unscathed. A Peter Griffin quote from the one episode I’ve ever seen of Family Guy basically sums it up: “Wow, I thought you had to be in the NBA to hit a girl in the face.”
Gone are the days of the Jailblazers, and more often than not when your hear about a run-in with the law, it deals with a former player, but current players get into a fair amount of trouble themselves. The Gilbert Arenas/Javaris Crittenton gun incident, Marcus Camby’s marijuana, and the Monta Ellis’ sexual harassment scandal all come to mind. And yes, there are MANY cases that do not make it to the national media, generally because they involve a “he-said she-said” deal. Some people would have you believe that NBA players are primordial sex machines, and while their fidelity to their wives and the presence of consent may be in question, this notion simply isn’t true. Thankfully for the league, it is especially not true when it comes to the star players. For instance, take the top ten scorers this year (Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, LaMarcus Aldridge, Dirk Nowitzki, Deron Williams, Blake Griffin). Besides Kobe’s resolved rape case, what negative things have you heard about any of those guys? In fact, most of them are notoriously nice.
Still, the issue remains that people, like Peter Griffin, look at NBA players through a pessimistic lens. There are all sorts of reasons for this, and the fact that so many players are from Urban Black communities probably is one of them. I’ll stop there, because I don’t want to get into race issues, but don’t get mad at me for writing that, because our society is full of racism and classism, and you know it.
Bottomline is the NBA has an outstanding group of players right now. Their diversity, charm, and talent, all far outweigh the occasional behavior problem. The superstars, especially, keep out of trouble, and that is of critical importance. The NBA players get a grade of:
How many NFL players are there with the same type of draw as an NBA superstar? How many of the most talented players are funny, flashy, or just plain likable? Are any a combination of all three? Really think about these questions, and you’ll soon see where this is going.
There are four players in the NFL that can hold a candle to a baller like D-Wade. Don’t count the one who didn’t play last year and is in the twilight of his career or a certain backup in New York who draws more attention than Sarah Palin at an NRA meeting, and you’re left with two. And one of them hasn’t even played a single game yet.
Peyton Manning, Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, and Robert Griffin III. That’s it.
Their credentials are undisputed. Manning has been in thousands of commercials, won four MVPs, and had one of the funniest athlete appearances on Saturday Night Live. Tim Tebow is the most polarizing person in sports. Cam Newton just won Offensive ROY after racking up big passing numbers and running the ball very well. Add in that he looks the part and has a nice little touchdown celebration, and you have a fully-fledged star. RG3 has captivated NFL fans in the time between the draft and his first game like few people have, outshining the number one pick, Andrew Luck. He’s flashy, but humble. He’s articulate and genuine. And his play reminds a lot of people of Michael Vick.
And that’s it. Many readers are shaking their head and calling me stupid right now but let me dispel your disbelief. Aaron Rodgers, despite his improved acting and his reputation of being a clubhouse prankster, is too impersonal. Tom Brady is showy, but to the extreme. It’s like he keeps his fans at a distance because he’s too good for them. Jared Allen is very good at playing football, and he is funny, and he pounces on wild boar from out of trees and kills them with a knife. And that’s kind of the problem. He’s too unrefined, too much of a vulgar folk hero. Drew Brees is mired in the Saints Bounty Scandal and his only commercial is for cold and flu medicine. Terrell Suggs should be on that next level, but defensive players don’t become household names like offensive players do. He’s close though.
I could go on, so I will. Chad Ochocinco is irrelevant, Terrell Owens got cut by a football team not in the NFL, Michael Vick will always have a lot of people hate and fear him, Andre Johnson is too quiet, Calvin Johnson has nothing but a nickname, Adrian Peterson plays for Minnesota, and on and on and on.
So do you get the idea? It’s not that today’s players aren’t talented; I would never question their ability. However, they lack marketability, because many of them lack likability, familiarity, or relatability.
Let’s not forget their behavior. The DUIs go beyond the Detroit Lions. During the NFL lockout, 22 players were arrested, most of them for fairly serious offenses. NFL players have spent plenty of time in jail, with Michael Vick and Plaxico Burress leading the way. Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones just can’t stay out of trouble. True, there are many more NFL players than there are NBA players, but the number of dangerous incidents is out of place.
And that’s just off the field. Football is a game of violence, but the horrific, life-threatening plays we’ve seen made in the past often look intentional and malicious. As long as Ndamukong Suh and James Harrison are lurking on the other side of the line of scrimmage, someone is always in danger.
Side Note: I’m tired of people complaining about the new rules limiting hits in football. I don’t care if that’s how they used to play, it’s the wrong way to play. Those same ex-players who praise throwbacks like Suh are the same ex-players dying at age 56 or suing the NFL for brain damage.
There are some outstanding NFL players in today’s game. There are also some very interesting characters as well. Unfortunately, the lack of marketable superstars, along with the continuous problems with the law, means they aren’t getting a very high grade from me.
A lot of you have a strong opinion on this, I’m sure. Do you think I’m too harsh on NFL players? Next up for the report card: the environments. Like, comment, subscribe/follow, post to Facebook and Twitter, email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for reading!