There was a time when I'd be able to sit back and watch a Laker game enjoying it from beginning to end.
There'd be the one-name players I loved of course—Kobe, Shaq, Magic, Worthy, Kareem—and there are players I really didn't like—Jerome Kersey comes to mind.
I'd always end up pulling for some of the role players for one reason or another. Rick Fox was definitely one of my favorites and Cooper might be my all-time favorite Laker.
But I'd be able to watch a game and not worry about Cooper's numbers. He could be 1-5 for five straight games and it really wouldn't matter, or bother me.
Once the game was over, it was over. Statistics appeared in the next day's box scores and the LA Times used to run weekly up-to-date season stats.
Shooting percentage didn't matter to the average fan. There was no such thing as PER. And John Hollinger probably would've been working as an accountant on Wall Street.
But today, every number is analyzed. How many times a player touches the ball on the offensive end. How "effecient" a player is offensively and how "efficient" that player is when guarding his counterpart.
A player is now judged according to the numbers, instead, of how the game is played. And this is ruining basketball.
Back in the 80s, when Michael Jordan and Dominque Wilkins were putting up similar numbers, there really wasn't any doubt who was the better player. Jordan, Magic and Larry Bird were the best in the league, period. Their sheer brilliance on the court proved it.
Back in that era when stats played a much smaller role in the game, a guy like Steve Nash wouldn't have received a vote for MVP. Yet in the Internet-driven stat era, the Phoenix Suns point guard has won the prize twice.
Want proof that Nash wouldn't have won in other eras?
John Stockton never won anything more than All-Star game MVP, despite probably being the best pure point guards in NBA history.
Between 1988 and 1990, Stockton averaged 17 points and 14 assists per game and was named to the second or third all-defensive team each season.
However, he wasn't named to the all-NBA first team any of those years. Magic Johnson, despite having lower assist numbers, made the first-team every one of those years because he was the better player.
Meanwhile, Nash had two very nice seasons of 19 and 11, but would never be accused of playing any defense, let alone making one of the all-NBA teams. Still, he won MVP twice and has been all-NBA first team three times
So what does this have to do with the Internet and how it's ruining the game?
The over-analysis of guys like John Hollinger, the ability to show replay after replay of Nash lobbing up to Amare Stoudamire on ESPN.com and YouTube and the emphasis of the PER statistic have pushed a stat-driven, highlight-laden sports world.
The better player in today's NBA is always the player with the better stats and the better highlights.
So, back to me. I don't enjoy the game nearly as much as I did in the 80s and 90s.
I'm a member of Lakersground.net, the best Lakers fan forum out there. It's a fun site with dialogue about everything from movies to individual players. However, like most of the Internet, the dialogue about the NBA is stat- and highlight-driven.
Sasha Vujacic is my favorite Laker not named Kobe or Pau Gasol. I love the way he plays the game, hustling after everything, playing aggressive defense—sometimes too aggressive, however—and knocking down the three-pointer with some regularity—35 percent isn't too shabby.
But on sites like LG.net, Vujacic is crucified as "not producing." Every three-pointer he misses is magnified 10 times. His shooting percentages are hailed as the be all end all of him as a player.
The other aspects, the ones that don't show up in the box score, are ignored.
During games, I feel myself sitting in my chair pressing for him to nail every jumper because I imagine all the crap I'll have to read on that site. When he gets pulled from the game without producing, I get upset because I think of what they're saying on LG.net.
After games, I go to ESPN.com and check out his stats. I compare his stats to those of other, similar players (Kyle Korver isn't playing much better than Vujacic) and I stress out about everything from Vujacic's offensive and defensive PERs to his true shooting percentage.
Tonight, I'm wondering how his 2-4 (1-2 from three), two assists and one rebound will effect his season stats.
So I've decided to actively ignore Laker talk online for a while. I want to just watch the games like I used to do. I'll miss the acquaintances I've made on that site, and will catch up with them during the off-season months.
But will I miss them more than I miss just watching Laker games? It's not even close.
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