Category: Ground Game

Ground Game is the Layup Line’s reporting blog.


Nothing to Celebrate: Chris Paul and the NBA Imagination

I am a Lakers fan so any and all of my criticism should be seen through that window.  While Lakers’ haters have rejoiced over the draconian decisions from the league, it’s worth taking a moment to contemplate what exactly they’re celebrating.

For example, Dave Zirin is a brilliant commentator, with an amazing ability to both highlight the political dimensions of sport and use it as a way to elucidate the larger social issues of the day.  In his essay, “Sorry, Lakers: Chris Paul and the Clippers Now OCCUPY Los Angeles,” Zirin doesn’t just argue that a sea change is underway in Los Angeles.  He also connects the trade to a larger social upheaval inside and outside of the sports world.  “These aren’t two NBA teams. They are the two Americas. But in a 2011 where we’ve seen global revolutions from the Middle East to the Mid-West overturn accepted truths in thought and deed, it’s hard to think of a more appropriate way for the SportsWorld to end its year,” writes Zirin.

Zirin then makes his zeitgeist-tapping analogy more plain:

The Lakers have always been the ultimate team of the 1 percent. The Clippers are the also-rans, the afterthoughts, bottom-dwelling 99 percenters of the first order. One trade, and this sacrosanct truth has been turned on its head. To see an exhilarating symbol of the change 2011 has brought and 2012 will bring, you can do worse than remembering the names Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the soon-to-be almighty Clippers.”

David Stern’s decision to reward David Stern with a transcendent player such as Paul given his  given his history of racial discrimination is jarring enough.  After all we can not forget that journalist Bomani Jones once described Sterling in the following way: “That same man, who gives black men tens of millions of dollars every year, refuses to take a few thousand a month from folks who would like to crash in one of his buildings for a while? … . Sterling may have been a joke, but nothing about this is funny. In fact, it’s frightening and disturbing that classic racism like this might still be in play.”   Read in this context, Zirin’s position the Clippers as the 99% represents a troubling reimagination of the 99%. Can this really be the face, symbolic or real, of the 99%?

Yet, beyond defining the 99% as those who are not winning, what concerns me here is the failure to see how the Clippers won (and David Stern, Dan Gilbert, Michael Jordan, Nike and a host of other global corporations won) through the exertion of power and the adjustment of rules to fit the agendas, needs, and financial goals of these ultimate winners.  In fact, this entire Paul imbroglio is indicative of current economic policy, where rule -makers adjust games for their own benefit. Zirin’s assessment would have one believe that the Lakers were Lehman, and the Clippers Goldman Sachs, one got bailed out, the other didn’t.  But does anyone really believe in the possibility of an NBA landscape in which the Lakers’ aren’t somehow rendered as Goldman Sachs?

This Chris Paul debacle was the first clear sign that, post-lockout, the league’s agenda is to restrict player movement and contain player salaries while maximizing profits. This has been done under the guise of “achieving parity” but just like the “free market” the NBA is supposed to operate in, these are all illusions. The needs of public consumers – in this case, sports fans – clearly are not determining the marketplace. The oligarchs do.  Just as Lehman Brothers was allowed to fail while other banks were bailed out, the NBA made a decision to empower the Clippers at the expense of the Lakers, Rockets and others because of the larger effort to make the league more about teams and rivalries rather than stars.  In reimagining the NBA apart from stars, the NBA is attempting to rebrand itself thereby limiting the power and financial demands of the players themselves.   Josh Martin describes the situation as nothing to celebrate, especially since it’s illustrative of the unjust consequences of power:

 Hate David Stern for going Hank Paulson on his league’s marquee franchise, thereby setting a horrendous precedent that he might just do it again and bringing the business of player movement to a screeching halt as a result. . . .

Hate the owners who wanted (and still want) a hard cap AND salary rollbacks AND to prevent superstars from working where they want to, even after putting in years of service in smaller markets.

Hate Gilbert and Sarver and the Maloofs and all those other egomaniacs for screwing up YOUR favorite teams and then blaming their own missteps and bad contracts on their well-payed [sic] employees.

In other words, don’t hate The Player; hate The Game, the very same game that YOUR owners pushed for and that will ultimately cost YOUR teams in their pursuit of big-name free agents and NBA championships.

Clippers fans are right to celebrate CP3’s arrival in Los Angeles, but I’m not sure anyone else has cause for joy.  Trading Chris Paul is a testament to the continued oligarchy of the NBA; it is not a triumph of the 99%. Efforts to push Chris Paul to one team over another, the meddling and public statements of owners, are just the beginning of a systemic reconfiguring of the NBA.  Is that really worth celebrating?


Enough is Enough #Afterthelockout

Time Magazine recently announced that its 2011 “person of the year” is the protestor.  Highlighting the Arab Spring and the Occupy Wall Street movements, Time clearly sought to celebrate the ways in which protest and resistance has defined 2011.  This spirit of protest was also been evident within the NBA in 2011.  From the lockout to recent decisions from the league office regarding the trade of Chris Paul and even the 2011-2012 schedule, David Stern and the league’s owners have turned the levers of power over and over again.  Yet, players, who in recent years, especially after the 2004 Palace Brawl (focus of my forthcoming book), have remained relatively silent about their frustrations and opposition to both policy changes and the overall culture of the NBA, are increasingly challenging those in position of power.  Even as fans and pundits gleefully celebrate the return of the NBA and the prospect of their team finding success in 2011-2012, players have taken a different tone, ubiquitously stating, “enough is enough.”

The spirit of protest and anger was initially evident during the lockout when Dwyane Wade yelled at David Stern challenging the commissioner’s perceived arrogance and paternalism  during a negotiating session.  Wade allegedly told Stern: “You’re not pointing your finger at me. I’m not your child.” The willingness to challenge Stern and the owners themselves continued during the lockout, evident by the condemnation of Michael Jordan from players who felt slighted and disrespected by their former peer.  This has continued since the lockout ended.

Upon hearing about the league’s (David Stern and his merry men) decision to block its own trade of Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers for “basketball reasons” (err- Michael Jordan and Dan Gilbert are tired of going to the lottery while others go to parades), Danny Granger took to twitter to announce: “Due to the sabotaging of the LA/NO trade by david stern, and following in the footsteps of my athlete brethren Metta World Peace and Chad Ochocinco, I’m changing my last name to ‘Stern’s Bi#&h” #effectiveimmediately.’”  While not as cutting and critical of the commissioner, other NBA players similarly used twitter to voice their displeasure with the situation.  Unwilling to sit silently, they used social media to protest, albeit rhetorically, which in this case an important intervention against the demands that NBA players “shut up and play.”

Player denunciation of Stern was not limited to Twitter, but was equally present within various media sessions.  “You’re fighting a bully,” noted Deron Williams. David Stern is a bully, you can’t really go up against him. He knows he’s a bully. It’s not a secret. You got to be. I think every owner of every big business is a bully. That’s how they become successful.”

Public criticisms has not been limited to the Chris Paul issue or even the lockout, but have been evident in player willingness to voice their displeasure with the upcoming schedule, focusing on the league and owner single-minded focus on revenues.  “I think what you see, we’re a rushed league right now,” noted Kevin Garnett. “Everybody is paying attention to the Chris Paul situation. But I don’t know why everyone’s shocked, because [David] Stern has been pretty adamant about when he wants to do things and how he does things.”

There is a lot of uncertainty in the air within the NBA.  From decisions in the league office to very dynamic and fluid player personnel issues, the NBA is facing the most unclear and unpredictable future it has seen in its recent history.  Yet, what is equally unclear is whether players will continue to challenge and protests the unjust and troubling choices made by their powerful bosses, individuals who have shown to be most concerned about “financial reasons” above any “basketball reasons.”

Cuccinelli Gubernatorial Bid Divides VA GOP

Yesterday’s announcement that Virginia’s Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli will run for governor in 2013 came as a surprise to no one.  A tea-party darling, Cuccinelli has been flirting with the notion of running ever since he anointed himself Virginia’s protector against Obamacare and everything else Obama.

As a hard charging AG Cuccinelli would appear to be in the mold of Eliot Spitzer, Chris Christie, and most recently Andrew Cuomo, all of whom made successful leaps from the AG’s office to a Governor’s mansion.  Unlike his predecessors however, Cuccinelli did not make his name fighting a practical state-wide issue.  It makes sense why constituents would reward Spitzer, Christie, and Cuomo for their respective efforts to reign in wall street salaries, entitlements for state-employees, and mortgage malfeasance.  But why on earth would Virginians rally around someone who will have spent the last two years of his term as AG fighting a law that does not go into effect until 2014.  Moreover, in a state that’s home for so many federal workers, Cuccinelli’s anti-government/Obama pandering will likely not go over well. Then again, Wisconsin and Ohio recently provided two vivid examples of the types of paranormal activities that often mire state-wide elections.

By announcing early Cuccinelli is putting pressure on his opponents and prospective supporters in VA’s republican party to either go all in, or fold.  Cuccinelli knows that he’s at the height of his popularity and he’s vulnerable to being overshadowed by the upcoming Presidential and senate races in Virginia.  He also realizes that the current Republican presidential field is so volatile it offers him few bonafide options for how to position himself in 2013.  With no where to go but down, Cuccinelli has decided to push all his chips to center of the table to see who else is willing to go for broke.

It will be interesting to see how Cuccinelli’s gamble plays out.  As the Associated Press is reporting popular Virginia governor and prospective Vice Presidential Candidate Bob McDonell has reaffirmed his support for his Lt. Governor Bill Bolling as Virginia’s next GOP gubernatorial candidate.  The moderate Bolling is seen by many in the GOP as a stronger candidate, particularly in a race against a deep-pocketed democratic challenger like former Clinton aide Terry McCauliffe.  As the VA GOP continues basking in the glow of its recent victories in the state legislative races, the last thing that it wants to do is contemplate the prospect of losing the Governor’s mansion.


Cuccinelli will announce governor’s run within days, GOP sources say – The Washington Post.

By U.S. Air Force photo by Civ. Sandy Wassenmiller "Released to Public" [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Should Mitt Romney Worry About Rick Perry?

The current consensus seems to suggest that the answer to this question is yes.  But once you scratch the surface a bit, it becomes apparent that there’s a good chance that Rick Perry might not be the game changer in the Republican field that some are predicting.

Perry definitely has the social-conservative credentials and fundraising acumen that should make him a formidable opponent when he formally enters the GOP Presidential race.  That said, there’s a good chance that Rick Perry can turn out to be 2012′s Rudy Giuliani.  When the 2008 presidential campaign got underway most were sure that the GOP race would end up as a two man race between Giuliani and John McCain. Giuliani was a prodigious fundraiser, had great name recognition and fared strongly when it came to national security, which was a major issue throughout the race.  However, Giuliani’s decision to sit out the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries proved too costly and his campaign was never able to get off the ground.  Instead, it was former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee who ended up being John McCain’s strongest challenger.

By jumping in now and campaigning in Iowa and South Carolina Perry will avoid making the same catastrophic mistake that Giuliani did, but that doesn’t mean that he might not suffer the same fate.  Giuliani’s problem was not simply that he sat out the early primaries, but it was also that as people got to know him better, he was not as attractive of a candidate.  Perry’s straight-talking candor works well in Texas and when giving speeches, but it remains to be seen whether this persona can sustain the scrutiny that comes along during a Presidential campaign.  Unlike Huckabee, who Perry is sometimes compared to, few are bound to consider Perry a surprise.  Huckabee was successful because people found him refreshing and he did not have to battle with any other major personalities to raise his profile.  Perry on the other hand will have to contend with Michelle Bachman and the forever looming specter of Sarah Palin, two figures who will likely make it more difficult for his campaign to find its footing.

Democrats should fear Perry more than any of his Republican counterparts, because while he may be a flawed Presidential candidate, he’s second only to Marco Rubio in terms of Vice Presidential nominees.  Perry would help either Romney or Jon Huntsman roll to easy victories in the south and gives them a great chance of winning battleground states such as Ohio and Florida. According to the Miami Herald, Perry has a good chance at upstaging Romney in Florida if he decides to run.   In fact, Perry’s entrance into the race might even be a godsend for Romney because Romney will have gotten a firsthand look at how well the general public responds to Perry, if and when Romney has to decide on a VP.




John Huntsman Campaign Manager Resigns

Just when it seemed as if Jon Huntsman was poised to become the GOP’s no-drama candidate, his campaign was hit with a bit of Gingrich-esque turmoil.  Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza reported earlier today that Huntsman’s campaign manager Susie Wiles resigned.  Wiles is set to be replaced by Huntsman’s communications director and former George W. Bush and John McCain campaign aide, Matt David.

Huntsman campaign manager Susie Wiles resigns – The Fix – The Washington Post.