The Basketball Review

A Weekly Podcast With Steve Smith & Anton Trees

Two Australian men discuss the National Basketball Association. 

How is R. Kelly Just Like Lance Stephenson?

Over the past two podcasts, Steve and I have tackled--with varying degrees of success--a difficult question: what moral obligation does a fan have to parse their enjoyment of an artist or athlete's abilities through the prism of the terrible things that person may or may not have done? (Or something like that). 

Credit:  R. Kelly publicity

Credit: R. Kelly publicity

Similar ground was covered in David Marchese's compelling piece in New York magazine last week. Though the form is different--music, rather than basketball--the fundamental question is the same. Kelly, like Kobe Bryant or Lance Stephenson or Metta World Peace or Jarred Sullinger, has been accused of abhorrent acts, but never convicted of them. How then does a fan, knowing this and morally weighted by this knowledge, negotiate their enjoyment of that artist's art? 

The calculus for Kelly might be different in two key ways a) his art--much of which centres around sexual acts--is closely tied to his alleged acts b) the weight of evidence against Kelly is so great that the balance of probability scales might just tip over.

(These spilled-over scales, of course, are easily forgotten when you're ten drinks down an Ignition (Remix) comes over the speakers). 

On a), I wonder whether the acts of sexual or physical violence which Bryant, Stephenson, World Peace, Sullinger, et al. are alleged to have committed are actually tied to their art form, albeit more obliquely. Basketball, like most sports, is a medium which centres, at least in part, around the exercising of one's physical agency over someone else's. 

It's worth reading all of Marchese's Kelly profile, but this paragraph really stood out to me (the bolding is my own): 

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said that the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at once. That, for example, a horrible person might make a wonderful song. That John Lennon, who expressed regret for being “a hitter” in his early relationships, can also be responsible for a song as beautiful as “If I Fell,” or that whatever Michael Jackson did or did not do with underage boys doesn’t turn “Human Nature” into a lie. Songs are better than people. And R. Kelly, in a weird way, through his sex obsession, makes that truth most obvious. The fact that his career hasn’t cratered, despite all the damning allegations, makes it clear that when people are listening to music, they’re not thinking about how powerful men often take terrible advantage of less powerful women. Or about how those men are surrounded by enablers for as long as they remain bankable. Or how the media is not responsive enough when troubling things happen to young black women. Or how legal settlements and NDAs are effective tools for suppressing damaging information. Or that part of the fun for some listeners is in how far a singer might be willing to go, lawyers and good taste be damned. Or how looking for rectitude from coddled celebrities is like looking for rainbows under rocks. Or how at the other end of our quotidian consumer pleasures is often another human being’s pain. So the answer to the question “How do you listen to songs by a singer who may be a bad person?” is devastatingly simple and sad. You just do.

Your Guide to Basketball Books

In episode 3, we talked about our must-read basketball books. Here are mine: 


The Breaks Of The Game by David Halberstam

Often imitated but never surpassed. Almost 35 years on and this detailed look into the workings of the Portland Trail Blazers remains THE must-read sports book.

Playing For Keeps: Michael Jordan And The World He Made by David Halberstam

Probably still the pinnacle of Jordan bios, although does get a little excessively flattering at times. An excellent bookend to Halberstam’s first basketball tome, it showcases just how far (and quickly) the NBA evolved.

07: Seconds or Less by Jack McCallum

Perhaps the modern-day equivalent of Breaks Of The Game, an incredibly detailed portrayal of the running and gunning Phoenix Suns and their unlikely superstar Steve Nash.

Unfinished Business: On and Off The Court With The 1990-91 Boston Celtics by Jack McCallum

McCallum’s first NBA book is an intriguing read on the Indian summer of the last great season for the Larry Bird-era Celtics. What might have been if not for Bird’s crippling back injury.

The Dream Team by Jack McCallum

The much-anticipated account of the USA’s all-conquering 1992 Olympic basketball team didn’t disappoint, providing in-depth profiles of all 12 players and great anecdotes of a moment when NBA basketball truly went global.

The Jordan Rules by Sam Smith

Explosive at the time it was released in 1992, it looks positively tame now. Smith utilised his contacts, particularly coach Phil Jackson and forward Horace Grant to great effect to give perhaps the first humanising account of Michael Jordan’s exploits.

When March Went Mad by Seth Davis

Superb read on the 1979 NCAA championship decider between Magic Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans and Larry Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores.

Season On The Brink by John Feinstein

Feinstein’s incredible access to Indiana and volcanic coach Bob Knight ensured a memorable book that showed how much Knight loved - and hurt - his players in the pursuit of an NCAA title.

The Last Great Game: Duke v Kentucky And The 2.1 Seconds That Changed Basketball by Gene Wojciechowski

Hugely underrated book that describes perfectly the epic 1992 East Regional final between the Blue Devils and the Wildcats that ended on Christian Laettner’s incredible shot.

Michael Jordan: The Life by Roland Lazenby

Grittier than Halberstam’s hagiographical account of Jordan, Lazenby shines a new light on the life and times of the NBA’s greatest player, at times disturbingly so.

The Franchise by Cameron Stauth

Good but not great look at the Detroit Pistons’ Bad Boys title teams, in particular the 1989 season. Some nice insights, definitely worth a read but also lapses with terminology and factual errors.

The Golden Boys by Cameron Stauth

In a similar vein to The Franchise, Stauth’s “unauthorised” account of the 1992 Dream Team is well worth your time, especially with the details uncovered in the selection process of the Olympic squad.

When Nothing Else Matters: Michael Jordan’s Last Comeback by Michael Leahy

When Jordan announced his return for the 2001-02 NBA season with - of all teams the Washington Wizards - the Washington Post assigned Michael Leahy to the Wizards beat. What eventuated was an outstanding look into the cocoon of the pro athlete by someone who didn’t care about access.

When The Game Was Ours by Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, with Jackie MacMullan

MacMullan does a superb job of blending the voices of Bird and Johnson throughout, with plenty of fresh insights and details of stories long since thought to have been told in every conceiveable way.

Follow Steve Smith at @stevesmithffx

On Medical Privacy

In Episode 2 of the Review podcast, Steve and I discussed the nature of medical privacy as it relates to professional sports. The conversation was prompted by the disclosures made by the Denver Nuggets following Ty Lawson's DUI arrest in July of this year. 

As is often the case, I went into the discussion ignorant. Google has rectified that situation.

Credit:  Getty

Credit: Getty

This 2014 piece from Michael McChrystal delves into the tensions which define medical treatment of professional sportsmen and the ways in which medical privacy is contorted by working in a highly-visible profession in which your body largely determines your value. McChrystal writes:

What we encounter [...] in considering the privacy or transparency of medical information about professional athletes, are complex forces of short-term and long-term interests on the part of various stakeholders. Players, healthcare providers, teams, and leagues all have their own complicated interests when it comes to discovering and disclosing medical information about players. 

It's worth a read, particularly when we contemplate that increased awareness of depression, anxiety, alcoholism and drug use within society will likely continue to lead to increased public awareness of (and thinkpieces dedicated to) the often profoundly private mental health concerns of the athletes we watch and read about.