Unpleasant business to begin an unpleasant off-season

June 2nd, 2009 by John Krolik

The fact is this: it’s going to be a long off-season. The team fell short of expectations, and we’re going to be hearing stuff like some of what’s leaked its way into the comments sections here over the last couple of days. And even if we were to trade Pavlovic for CP3 tomorrow, there’s still going to be a weight of expectations unfufilled that are going to hang over this team for a long time, and without any games to fill the void, it’s going to be rough for a bit.

So it’s perhaps appropriate to begin this off-season with a truly unpleasant bit of business. Around these parts, I’ve made a point of not going out of my way to play Gotcha! journalism, taking up a disrespectful tone, or resorting to personal attacks when it comes to talking about other journalists and their articles, even when they write things I don’t agree with.

So I’m definitely not happy about the fact that I got home for the summer today and was greeted by an email from a friend of mine alerting me to an article that had mentioned me quite unfavorably at David Friedman’s blog, 20 second timeout. Here’s the paragraph in question:

“Forgive a brief, slightly off topic digression, but isn’t it strange how someone who can neither think clearly nor write coherently (hello, John Krolik) ludicrously asserts prior to game seven of the Lakers-Rockets series that this will be the defining moment of Bryant’s career but after Bryant and the Lakers prevail over the Rockets that person suddenly loses interest in speaking about Bryant’s alleged defining moment? Isn’t putting up 35-10-6 in a game that propels the Lakers to the Finals a defining moment? Does writing for ESPN.com’s corporate basketball blog and Slam Online’s amateur hour commentary section mean that you can only define Bryant by what you expect/hope to be his failures but if he surprises you and succeeds then you simply direct your sloppy grammar and poorly reasoned arguments toward another target?”

Okay then. In the comments of the post, he goes on about me despite the fact none of his commenters made any comments regarding me or communicated having any idea which post he was talking about. Responding to a comment which had an issue with a recent Slate article on Kobe Bryant, Mr. Friedman brings me up, unprompted, by name, again:

J:

I have long since stopped trying to figure out what the editors at ESPN, Slam Online, Slate and many other publications are thinking. The Krolik article, the article about Kobe’s scowl, the nonsense Slate article–how can any intelligent editor believe that such garbage is worthy of publication?

As I indicated in another post, one of the things that I most like about the competitive chess circuit is that if you bring weak garbage into that arena you get taken out and it does not matter how many buddies you have in the business.

In case you’re wondering, this article is the one in question, which Mr. Friedman sort of cryptically doesn’t link to or specifically mention in his post, which I found extremely flattering in a deranged way-apparently there’s an expectation that people recognize my name at this point in my career, which is new. Either the expectation was that everyone reading his blog would know who I was or that I was reading his blog. The first I doubt, and the second I know not to be true.

I don’t like to get into this for a number of reasons, chief among them that some quick googling of David Friedman reveals that getting into internet confrontations with bloggers and media members in general is kind of his thing, sometimes in instances where he has a legitimate point and seeks to capitalize on it and sometimes just for the pure hell of it.

But while the last thing I want or need right now is to get in some sort of ridiculous back-and-forth with a man who certainly, at the very least, doesn’t mind dragging folks into the mud if the opportunity presents itself, the comments made about me-me personally-were so ridiculous and over-the-line and affronting to my professional reputation, my beliefs as a journalist, and the values I was raised with that I find myself compelled to respond despite what I may think is my better judgement.

1. A quick list of David Friedman’s enemies list would seem to include:

Kelly Dwyer (“I learned a while ago to never pay attention to anything that Kelly Dwyer says or writes. I have not seen the article in question and have no intention of reading it but I’m sure that any intelligent fan who wasted the time to read his take and then looked at my take on that game and this series can figure out pretty quickly what is up.”)

Slate

ESPN

SLAM Online

Those are the highlights, but there are more. A google search gets you pretty quickly to Mr. Friedman’s ballhype comment activity, which is delightful in the sordid little stories it tells.

2. The article itself

Mr. Friedman’s central postulate for why I am incapable of clear thought and coherent writing, as he clearly is, (he linked to that article himself in the graph after the one insulting me) seems to be that I wrote my Kobe article, which was rooted in the possibility of Bryant losing a Game 7 to the Rockets and the implications it would have on Kobe’s “legacy.” As I noted in the article, a loss in that game would have been by far the most damaging loss of Kobe’s career.

David Friedman chose to ignore essentially the other half of the article, which said that the other reason this was the most important game of his career were that the matchups going hugely favorable for the rest of the way for the Lakers, and while many had counted them out as serious championship contenders, it was still very possible that Houston would end up having the best chance to stop them from winning a title. Not to mention that the upswing of the article was that it was written to encourage consideration of Bryant not as a failure if he lost or total success if he won but to embrace his greatness and contradictions in possibly the least certain 48 hours of his NBA career. Mr. Friedman seems to think the upswing was “Hey, if Kobe loses, we can say he SUCKS!” Why I would not have waited to write this article until after the Lakers would have lost is unclear if this was my only interest.

If I may quote myself in the article:

If the Lakers win, there’s a lot still to be written, but there’s a lot that changes. The Nuggets have played great basketball, but the Playoffs are about matchups…there’s an excellent chance that the Lakers will reach the finals behind a slew of 40-point barrages from Kobe.”

“Make no mistake—the Kobe Bryant that’s struggling to beat this depleted Rockets team is the same man who could easily be hoisting the Bill Russell trophy in a few weeks’ time.”

“Chances are that the Lakers are going to come out with that home crowd behind them and their backs against the wall and simply roll over the Rockets in Game 7, and the test the Rockets gave them will be forgotten as a footnote, a speed-bump toward whatever meaningful events Kobe will end up taking part in over the final two rounds of these playoffs.”

As it happened, the Lakers simply rolled over the Rockets in Game 7, not even needing a strong performance from Bryant, they rolled over the Nuggets behind a slew of 40-point games from Kobe, and the Rockets Game 7 became an insignificant footnote, especially with how uncompetitive the game ended up being. I did not think any of these events so outlandish as to warrant an extra column talking about how awesome Kobe Bryant is. Nobody outside of David Friedman has indicated that this reveals a problem on my part. Of course I also don’t think that Michael Lewis needs to do a followup to his Shane Battier piece, as Friedman seems to:

“after this series is over the New York Times should do a followup article detailing how Bryant overcame Houston’s defensive preparation by utilizing his skill set strengths to maximum effectiveness.”

Take note, SLAM during playoff time and the New York Times Magazine: If you don’t fufill your puff piece responsibilities on Kobe Bryant, the public will not stand for such a wanton disregard of their need to be informed. And as it were, I certainly would have written what likely would have been a complimentary Kobe Bryant article had the Nuggets/Lakers series gone 7 games, as I was credentialed for Games 2 and 7 for SLAM. As it were, someone else had their turn in the rotation in game 6.

3. As for Friedman’s insults of SLAM Online, which are odd as he seems to have written for them (in typical non-biased form) not that long ago, all I can say is that they’re a fantastic publication with a fantastic editing staff and colleagues and who haven’t produced a hatchet job in my memory. I suppose my misuse of SLAM and ESPN credentials to not write a puff piece about Kobe Bryant isn’t comprable at all to making a personal attack with all the authority one wields over at 20 Second Timeout. (Note: some people at the magazine seem to recall him writing a piece ripping the magazine. Google can’t find it, and nobody can really remember the specifics. So I’d imagine he’s said his anti-SLAM bit before, but don’t care. It’s been forgotten once already.)

4. “As I indicated in another post, one of the things that I most like about the competitive chess circuit is that if you bring weak garbage into that arena you get taken out and it does not matter how many buddies you have in the business.”

I posted this quote twice because it has implications that are extra-insulting to me. I can’t speak for any of the other journalists Friedman rails against, but I personally had never met or talked on the phone with either of my two current bosses before they offered me my jobs-I was found by my work, not by any social networking. And I started blogging at least two years after Friedman did, in 2007, as an 18-year old a month out of high school. I don’t even have a car. If I have a networking advantage over anybody, I’d like to meet them. Thanks for insulting the work I’ve put in to get where I am.

5. So why did I just turn a hair gray and do no favors to my already-destroyed back over an “aside” in a column from a guy who I previously could have cared less about? The first is because I just don’t like bullies. The way I was raised, you don’t judge a person or try to insult his character and intelligence just because you don’t agree with their opinions or even don’t like their style. Something about sports, and the internet, seems to have made us think that these things are sometimes permissable, but to me they just aren’t. So I’m not going to sit around and take that without responding.

Second, and this is where the point comes across and sort of maybe attempts to tie all of this together into something approaching Cavs-related cohesion and something possibly more meaningful for you, the Cavalier fan, than just reading far too many words of me airing out my dirty laundry.

It’s pretty clear that what I really did was make a percieved slight of Mr. Friedman’s favorite player-if that article had been about anyone else, I do not imagine my abilities getting publicly called into question. What Mr. Friedman is essentially attempting to do is to use Kobe Bryant’s considerable basketball proficiency to prove my essential worthlessness as a professional and a human being. Consider for a second how utterly ridiculous this is.

One of the things that made this series loss hurt so badly is the qualities LeBron James has taken on, and in conjunction with what Kobe Bryant means to Los Angelinos, the playoffs have taken even more of a “My Dad can beat up your Dad” bent than sports arguments normally take on, with the idea of LeBron and Kobe both needing some sort of validating ring to prove to everybody that all that they’ve meant has been real, that we were all right all along and weren’t being sold a monorail when we cheered all those dunks and arcing shots and game-winners. And when our guy does it, the other guy loses and he’s a moron and we get to say whatever we want to about him because the guy he likes the best was unable to manipulate a round ball two inches closer to the center a 10-foot high basket than our favorite guy was and of course we knew it all along and those two inches were an inevitable consequence of a fundamental truth that is key to our lives and something that he fails to grasp and not at all the result of a bizarre gust hitting the ball at the apex of its arc.

After Game 6, the best I could offer was to attempt to validate the good times of this season despite the ultimate disappointment it offered at the end, there. Now I do you one better. There was nothing wrong with believing. The shot at the end of game 2 was still great. Hell, LeBron in Game 1 was great. It is not your jobs, as fans, to be right. It is your job to enjoy the hell out of the game, to get swept up in what really is a very lovely game and makes all that much more sense that a lot of what happens in life, which is often very scary and nasty and doesn’t often feature winners and losers and too often seems to tip the balance of the two towards the latter. As a sports fan, as a Cavalier fan, you had a great season. Next year will be great as well. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with you if you believe this wholeheartedly to be true.

(I don’t even believe it’s my job as a writer/blogger to be able to accurately predict what will happen in the future, just properly contextualize and interpret things that have already happened. I would imagine this is something many losing bloggers say.)

Our editor on this network, Kevin Arnovitz, has possibly the finest basketball mind I have ever encountered, and voluntarily became a Clipper fan late in his life. These two things are not mutually exclusive.

We often feel as if our favorite players need to speak for us, as though they represent the better versions of ourselves or wish we could be. But they’re not us, and our favorite teams aren’t us. Sometimes, they let us along for the ride, and that can be just about the best feeling there is. But this mess, if anything, has shocked me back into the earth and forced me to see there’s a pretty clear line where Kobe and LeBron stops and I, fully realized human being with my set of talents and values and neuroses and people I care about, begin. In the end, it’s always important to remember that why you’re standing somewhere is a lot more important than it is to stand on the right side.

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