Nothing fake about some NBA players' unrest over player-ranking lists

NBA.com Global on Sep 19, 2017 07:53 AM
Nothing fake about some NBA players' unrest over rankings
New York Knicks' Carmelo Anthony, left, gives a push to Minnesota Timberwolves' Andrew Wiggins as he drives during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

By David Aldridge, TNT analyst

Let’s say you’re a fairly competent dentist, in a fairly large city.

You went to dental school, did your residency, paid your dues. In time, you were able to open your own practice and grow your business to the point where you become profitable. People give you, mainly, solid to occasionally glowing reviews. You get referrals. Business is good.

And then, Dentist Magazine (I have no idea if there really is a Dentist Magazine) decides it’s going to rank the top 50 dentists in your hometown. The magazine comes out. Someone tells you about it. You don’t really care about it, because you’re actually, you know, dentist-ing. But you see a copy at the newsstand on the way to the subway and you thumb through it.

And you see you’re ranked … 37th.

Now, logically speaking, 37th isn’t bad. In fact, it’s very good, when you consider that there are hundreds of dentists in your town that didn’t even make the top 50. But you look through the list, and you can’t help it. I’m better than Johnson! He can’t fill a cavity like I can! And … Anderson? She has her assistant do all the work, her hands shake so bad! And I’d love to see Simmons do a root canal in less than three hours!! This is bogus!

But, your spouse says at home, the people at Dentist Magazine aren’t dentists. They just cover the industry. You shouldn’t take this so personally. They’re just writers. They don’t know what it takes to be a good dentist, to start a practice, or to make it profitable. Why do you care?

It’s hard to understand.

Why does Carmelo Anthony give the first damn that ESPN.com, in some click-bait collection on its website, has him 64th among NBA players in its ranking of the top 100 players, one spot below Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball? Why does any NBA player care where he’s ranked in SportsIllustrated.com’s top 100 list (SI is a corporate cousin of ours). Why do players get upset if they get a low NBA 2K rating (full disclosure: I’m in the video game, and they paid me for my time). It just, on first blush, makes no sense.

Anthony took to Twitter to express his anger, telling ESPN, “Don’t be so Blatant with the disrespect.” This, of course, drove people to the website, where they clicked on the story, thus helping ESPN drive more traffic to its site, and giving the network all kinds of fodder for its various shows where people disagree with one another about whatever’s going on that day.

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker was one player who didn’t rise to the bait, tweeting Tuesday "We still care about rankings nowadays?? I thought that was high school"

But the anger of NBA players to low ratings or rankings, in any setting, is a real thing. It doesn’t matter that the people ranking them have never put on an NBA uniform in anger, and likely never got past scrappy 12th man or woman on their respective high school/AAU teams, and cover basketball precisely because they cannot play it, they can only talk about it. (This list would start with me, by the way, and not just because my last name conveniently begins with an A.)

Of course, when you ask them about it, they don’t have the slightest idea what you’re talking about.

“I don’t care,” the Portland Trail Blazers’ two-time All-Star, Damian Lillard, said last week on the phone. “You should know I don’t care. I’m just going to talk my (bleep) because that’s what I do. I’ve always been given less, so I don’t pay it no mind.”

But Lillard did care about Anthony’s ranking, if not his own.

“I do think that ranking Carmelo Anthony that low is crazy,” Lillard said. “It’s not the ranking; it’s just disrespectful. There’s not 30 players better than Carmelo; how can there be 60?”

But, again: these people doing the ranking aren’t professional basketball players. It would be one thing if, say, Kenny and the Chuckster and Shaq decided to do a top 100 on “Inside the NBA,” and they ranked Anthony behind a rookie who’s yet to play a minute in the NBA. That would be disrespectful. Those guys achieved something in the game. Their voices and opinions would carry some weight. But … a bunch of writers?

Michael Jordan and Larry Bird could not possibly have cared less what writers thought of them as players. Jordan came to be weary and resentful of the media because he felt it was too intrusive into his private life; we can all be happy that he lived his life as an athlete in the pre-social media age.

“As an athlete, it’s all about confidence in general,” Phoenix Suns forward Jared Dudley said by phone Friday. “We as athletes want to be validated by your peers. If you look at this generation, we want to be liked. The Kobe (Bryant), (Russell) Westbrook personalities, those are very rare. LeBron, if he was ranked third, you think he wouldn’t be mad? Now, he might not say anything. But I think guys are looking for validation.”

Today’s players, Dudley said, are creatures of social media. And that primary means of communication cuts both ways. Dealing with trolls is part of today’s NBA player’s daily life. So criticism, both real and perceived, can cut closer to home than others may realize.

“How many times did KD tweet about his haters this summer?,” Dudley said. “And he just won a championship. The days of everybody being liked, those are over.”

Dudley added that the rankings could be viewed not as a slap at Anthony’s talent, but at his value -- or, one supposes, lack of value -- to helping a team win. “If reporters view Carmelo as the 64th guy, then a lot of other people view him that way, too,” Dudley said. “Now, do we think Danny Green (ranked 59th by ESPN) is better than you? No. But they view Danny Green as being better for their team.

Another veteran player echoed the notion that players are more sensitive about equating such things as rankings with not being respected.

“I'm probably one of the ones that care the least,” the player said. “But guys have a lot of pride. This game is about entertainment and the media/fans are the audience. So some guys care what the audience thinks more than others. But you the generation now, it's all about wanting people to like you. Instagram followers/likes Twitter followers all of that bs.”

But non-troll fans also get involved, too.

When Portland’s C.J. McCollum tweeted last week that he’d like players to rank NBA journalists, I responded that I’d be all for it, but expressed again my disbelief that the or anyone else would take any of this seriously. That, of course, drew fans into the discussion, whether they were asked to participate in it or not.

The invective that some had toward the rankings fell along the rather predictable lines of a) what do you all know about the game? You never played it; and b) you’re costing these guys money, standing, shaping narratives, etc., if you rank them poorly.

Let’s start with a): seriously, are you kidding?

A bunch of people spouting off about things they know nothing about? That’s all Twitter is -- an “I have an opinion no matter whether it’s supported by any basis in fact, and I’m entitled to express it in ALL CAPS, and it holds just as much weight as yours”-inator. (IHAONMWISBABIFAIETEIIACAIHJAMWAY-inator patent pending by Doofenshmirtz Evil, Inc., proprietor Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz.)

By this logic -- and no one ever has a rejoinder to this, everyone -- anyone, including basketball players -- who has ever said that Jay-Z spits lyrics better than Nas, or that the last Tom Cruise movie was crap, or that “Game of Thrones” is the best television series of all time, should shut up already and be quiet. Because none of you are rappers, actors or television producers/executives. You know nothing about the work that it takes for a rapper to piece together lyrics and beats, or how a producer can take a bass line and fix it perfectly to the words.

You know nothing about the craft of acting, or how hard it is for a man or woman to inhabit a character they’re playing, and how they do that in concert with other actors, the director, the sound and lighting people, and on and on, to produce the finished product you see on screen. You don’t know what method acting is; you don’t know the agony of adapting a novel into a screenplay. You don’t know anything about the TV business, and what sells, and what doesn’t sell, and why, and you have no frame of reference with which to compare GOT to “The Sopranos,” or “Hill Street Blues,” or “M*A*S*H.” You literally don’t know what you’re talking about, about anything.

And yet you spout off opinions every day -- about the president, about Al Roker, about the New York Yankees’ bullpen, about the spices that they use on The Chew, about global warming. Because that’s what people do. I do it every day, too. That’s part of living here, in a country where the government can’t throw you in jail for what you believe. But the only people whose opinions I really care about are related to me in one way or another, people that knew me when I vomited in their dorms or carpets outside their dorms, or work in buildings adjacent to one another in midtown Atlanta. Nor should you care what I think about what you do for a living.

As for b), let’s see.

Anthony, supposedly grievously wounded by being ranked 64th among NBA players, will make $26.243 million this season. If he so chooses, in 2018, he will make $27.928 million, or he will opt out of the last year of that deal and be an unrestricted free agent in ’18, soon after his 34th birthday.

Soon after that, he will receive a two- or three-year contract offer from an NBA team, which almost certainly will start somewhere between $20 and $25 million in the first year of the contract. As a player with more than 10 years’ experience, he could receive up to 35 percent of a team’s salary cap. That will add to the approximately $205 million in career salary he’s already earned.

Anthony founded a venture capital company, M7 Tech Partners, in 2014. According to Bloomberg News, M7 specializes in early stage investments in companies, seeking to invest in “digital media, consumer internet, and technology sectors.”

Anthony’s current endorsements include Haute Time, Panini, the Hospital for Special Surgery, Draft Kings, eGoo, Foot Locker, Samsung and Gillette. Forbes ranked him eighth among all active NBA players in off-court endorsement revenue, at $8 million last year; the magazine ranked him 29th this year on its list of “The World’s Highest Paid Athletes.” Last Saturday, he received the Chancellor’s Medal for Philanthropy from Syracuse University, the school he attended for a year before declaring for the NBA Draft in 2003.

There will be no need to hold a telethon for him.

It took Pelicans forward Solomon Hill to cut through the lunacy of it all, tweeting on Tuesday

“as long as hoopers know who's who, it shouldn't matter... 2k rating, NBA Rank, we just feeding them clicks... #asifeedthemagain”

Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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