May 6, 2009

Don't Worry, It's Just Malcolm Being Malcolm Again

It's easy to tell how good Michael Lewis's sports articles in the New York Times Magazine are by comparing them to Malcolm Gladwell's sports articles in The New Yorker.

Malcolm now has an enormous article up which, when you leave out his voluminous retelling of the little-known plot of an obscure movie called "Lawrence of Arabia" and an extended anecdote about some computer game that I didn't bother to read, consists of Malcolm arguing that basketball coaches are fools -- fools, I tell you -- for not using the full court press, which is, according to Malcolm, the best way for an underdog to defeat a superior team: by changing the rules! The article is based -- honest to God -- on a 12-year-old girls basketball team that had a lot of success full court pressing.
How David Beats Goliath
When underdogs break the rules.

When [Silicon Valley zillionaire] Vivek Ranadivé decided to coach his daughter Anjali’s basketball team, ... Ranadivé was puzzled by the way Americans played basketball. He is from Mumbai. He grew up with cricket and soccer. He would never forget the first time he saw a basketball game. He thought it was mindless. Team A would score and then immediately retreat to its own end of the court. Team B would inbound the ball and dribble it into Team A’s end, where Team A was patiently waiting. Then the process would reverse itself. A basketball court was ninety-four feet long. But most of the time a team defended only about twenty-four feet of that, conceding the other seventy feet. Occasionally, teams would play a full-court press—that is, they would contest their opponent’s attempt to advance the ball up the court. But they would do it for only a few minutes at a time. It was as if there were a kind of conspiracy in the basketball world about the way the game ought to be played, and Ranadivé thought that that conspiracy had the effect of widening the gap between good teams and weak teams. Good teams, after all, had players who were tall and could dribble and shoot well; they could crisply execute their carefully prepared plays in their opponent’s end. Why, then, did weak teams play in a way that made it easy for good teams to do the very things that made them so good? ...

As often as not, the teams Redwood City was playing against simply couldn’t make the inbounds pass within the five-second limit. Or the inbounding player, panicked by the thought that her five seconds were about to be up, would throw the ball away. Or her pass would be intercepted by one of the Redwood City players. Ranadivé’s girls were maniacal.

The second deadline requires a team to advance the ball across mid-court, into its opponent’s end, within ten seconds, and if Redwood City’s opponents met the first deadline the girls would turn their attention to the second. They would descend on the girl who caught the inbounds pass and “trap” her. Anjali was the designated trapper. She’d sprint over and double-team the dribbler, stretching her long arms high and wide. Maybe she’d steal the ball. Maybe the other player would throw it away in a panic—or get bottled up and stalled, so that the ref would end up blowing the whistle.

The Redwood City players would jump ahead 4–0, 6–0, 8–0, 12–0. One time, they led 25–0. ...

The trouble for Redwood City started early in the regular season. The opposing coaches began to get angry. There was a sense that Redwood City wasn’t playing fair—that it wasn’t right to use the full-court press against twelve-year-old girls, who were just beginning to grasp the rudiments of the game. The point of basketball, the dissenting chorus said, was to learn basketball skills. Of course, you could as easily argue that in playing the press a twelve-year-old girl learned something much more valuable—that effort can trump ability and that conventions are made to be challenged.

More likely, the 12-year-old girls who found themselves losing 25-0 without ever getting a shot off learned a simpler lesson: I hate basketball. You'd have to be totally gay to like basketball. I'm never going to play any sport again. Hey, I just realized that my dad can't force me to play sports if I'm pregnant!

This reminds me of when my kid was in a baseball league for 9-year-olds at the local park and his genius manager came up with a foolproof strategy for winning: "Don't ever swing! Nine year old pitchers can't get the ball over the plate enough to get you out on called strikes, so you'll almost always get a walk as long as you never swing." So, his team would get seven or eight walks in a row. The little boy who was pitching for the other team would be reduced to tears. He's be replaced by another little boy who would soon be crying because the batters would just not swing.

One time my kid disobeyed orders and hit a hard foul ball. He was pretty excited because it was the only time he got his bat on the ball all year, and he was under the impression that hitting a ball with a stick was more or less the point of playing baseball, but his coach bawled him out for disobeying orders. (He turned out to be a decent hitter in later years.)

My kid's team had the best record that year, but the parents got together and decided not to let that guy coach anymore.

Then Malcolm goes off on a rant but how practically the only college basketball coach who was smart enough to understand how full court pressing allowed underdogs to win by "changing the rules" was Rick Pitino who won the 1996 NCAA at Kentucky:
College coaches of Pitino’s calibre typically have had numerous players who have gone on to be bona-fide all-stars at the professional level. In his many years of coaching, Pitino has had one, Antoine Walker. It doesn’t matter. Every year, he racks up more and more victories.

Uh, what about Jamal Mashburn? Don't they have fact-checkers at The New Yorker anymore?

Let's look at Pitino's 1996 U. of Kentucky line-up in terms of their subsequent NBA careers:

Derek Anderson - 11 years - $56 million in total salary
Ron Mercer - 8 years - $35 million
Tony Delk - 10 years - $20 million
Walter McCarty - 10 years - $15 million
Antoine Walker - 12 years - $99 million

Mark Pope - 6 years - $4 million
Jeff Sheppard - 1 year - 0.7 million
Anthony Epps - 0 years - $0 million
Nazr Mohammed - 11 years (so far) - $38 million

A total of 69 years in the NBA and over a quarter of a billion dollars in salary. Heck, I could have coached those guys to, say, the Regional finals.

And it's not a fluke that an athletically awesome team won by full court pressing. Traditionally in basketball, the full court press has not been the underdog's weapon, it's been the overdog's way to insure that their superiority is manifested in the final score. The biggest overdogs in college basketball history were John Wooden's UCLA teams that won 10 NCAA championships in 12 years. They generally ran a 2-2-1 zone press with the 1 who played free safety often being Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Bill Walton, which helped a lot when the opponents would beat their press and get a fast break, only to run into an all-time shot-blocking legend.

Similarly, the Boston Celtics won 11 of 13 NBA titles with Bill Russell as centerfielder on their full court press.

In a book co-authored by Wooden and Swen Nater (who led both the NBA and ABA in rebounding despite never starting in college due to Walton), they write:
Why do teams use a pressing defense? At UCLA, we chose to use it for two primary reasons. One was to avoid getting stuck in a half-court game in which the opposition could dictate the pace and—even if outmanned—reduce the number of possessions to keep the score close. Two, we believed the press allowed us to exploit opponents who were not fundamentally sound in their spacing, cutting, passing, and dribbling.

In other words, UCLA had better players and a better coach, so they would contest every bit of the game to maximize the sample size by which the game was decided. In contrast, if you are an inferior team, the smart tactic is to slow the game down so that luck will play a larger role, as 11th seeded Villanova did in beating Patrick Ewing's #1 Georgetown in the 1985 NCAA final. Villanova only took ten shots in the second half, but happened to make nine of them, so they won.

In contrast, consider the spectacular 1983 NCAA semifinal game between#2 Louisville (The Doctors of Dunk) and #1 Houston (Phi Slamma Jamma). Louisville had a ferocious full court press, with excellent athletes, such as the McCray brothers, but Houston had great athletes, such as Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon. In the second half, Houston repeatedly went over the Louisville press for spectacular fast break dunks in a 94-81 win.

I don't know my basketball history well enough to say this with any confidence, but that Phi Slamma Jamma game might have been the beginning of the end for the full court press. It had worked wonderfully for Red Auerbach and John Wooden in the old days, but Houston's sensational 1983 win showed conclusively how vulnerable the press was to a high-flying team.

In the boring 1983 Final game, an inferior North Carolina State team slowed down the tempo and packed the inside and dared Houston to make enough outside shots and enough free throws to beat them. This gave NC State just enough of a chance to win on a fluke final play.

Malcolm draws large conclusions:
David’s victory over Goliath, in the Biblical account, is held to be an anomaly. It was not. Davids win all the time. The political scientist Ivan Arreguín-Toft recently looked at every war fought in the past two hundred years between strong and weak combatants. The Goliaths, he found, won in 71.5 per cent of the cases. That is a remarkable fact.

No, it's not all that remarkable because countries will generally avoid war if they are highly likely to lose. For example, recall the 1994 war between America and Haiti. What? You don't recall that one? Well, that's because there wasn't a war. The Haitian government surrendered to the American invaders rather than fight. Similarly, Canada hasn't got into a war with America recently. But if it had, it wouldn't have a 28.5% chance of winning.

My off the top of my head guess would be that wars would be most likely to happen when the odds are about 60-40 in favor of one side. The overdog would tend to think it's going to win while the underdog think it has a fighting chance so it would be dishonorable to cave in without a struggle.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

You could have made all those points in a respectable fashion, as many people do across the blogosphere. But got to keep the racists entertained with your feud against the uppity half-black fellow!

wooster said...

Wow this is really just beyond parody.....

He's resorting to schoolgirl basketball games for his research and examples now!?!

I'm no sexist, but it's important to point out that even college/pro women's basketball is so subpar relative to the men's game that it's fair to say that they're almost playing two different sports entirely.

The full court press is very difficult, and usually the athletically SUPERIOR team can use it to its benefit against an athletically INFERIOR opponent. Its success also depends to a large degree on its element of surprise, and to it being implemented randomly. An athletically INFERIOR team implementing the full court press will find itself on the receiving end of many a fast break slam dunk if it uses it more than very, very sparingly.

Does Gladwell actually know anything about basketball? Has he every played it in some sort of organized fashion? Does he know how tiring it is to put on a full court press? So tiring that if used too often it will negatively affect your offensive game? And doesn't he know that, as any guy who's played some sort of organized b-ball has learned, that there are like, very basic, simple plays you can run to defeat a press? No matter how quick and athletically superior the team pressing you may be, you can always pass the ball faster than any of them can run.

eh said...

You could have made all those points in a respectable fashion,...Relax. I don't think there was anything particularly objectionable here, although I agree the tenor of the piece could have been mellower. Sailer does pretty well at that considering he spends (way too much of) his time trying to explain the obvious (as well as the less obvious) to politically correct and intellectually dishonest buffoons who call him names and in the end still despise him no matter how patient and polite he is.

Anonymous said...

This (Steve's) piece is a real mess but Gladwell is at least partially right. When you have a common, stable strategy under certain rules it opens the door to non-compliance becoming a winning strategy in certain instances. This is a tenet of game theory, think the Hawk and Dove simulation. It seems like Steve really wanted to talk about basketball on this one regardless of the underlying issue...

Stopped Clock said...

I feel sorry for those poor little boys. I remember when I was in elementary school there was both a no-walk policy and a no-strikeout policy just to prevent a situation like that from arising. But that was just in the PE class, which everybody took; I never played on a team against another school and I don't think we even had any teams in elementary school.

Anonymous said...

"...he spends (way too much of) his time trying to explain the obvious (as well as the less obvious) to politically correct and intellectually dishonest buffoons who call him names and in the end still despise him no matter how patient and polite he is."

I'll say it again: Remember where nice guys finish.

Anonymous said...

Girls high school basketball team and ethnic coach guy good, pro basketball players and white coaches bad, gotcha Malcolm.

It was a coincidence basketball was even invented by a white person; what if 100 million blacks had the same opportunity as James Naismith to create rules for a game with a ball and two nets? What if 100 million school girls did? What if 100 million Jayson Blairs were given the same opportunity?

Anonymous said...

I've come across a variation of a Little League strategy that takes advantage of the kids lack of skills. A team at my local YMCA will not try to throw out any runners until the bases are loaded. Then they make three quick force outs at home plate.

Anonymous said...

Get em Steve!

baffled NAM chick said...

Every time I read you I think: White guys know every freaking thing. Seriously, is this how your average White Male is or is it just a male thing. How can you know such detailed knowledge about so many diverse subjects?

WLindsayWheeler said...

My take is on Vivek Ranadivé observations of basketball. Mr. Ranadivé is not European. His observations about basketball, this "He thought it was mindless. Team A would score and then immediately retreat to its own end of the court. Team B would inbound the ball and dribble it into Team A’s end, where Team A was patiently waiting."

His conclusions of "breaking the rules" is very interesting. Europeans are very law-abiding people who do not (normally) seek the over advantage but seek to contest honestly over a point. What this non-European seeks to do is "break the rules", the standard. This is what is wrong with all sorts of immigration. They change the nature of the culture. Games fit people for the society they live in. Mr. Ranadivé is importing not gamemanship into the mix but importing the "dog eat dog" mentality of capitalism into the sports arena.

Sports is peculiarly European thing (Or European sports are). It is about teaching an aristocratical value system of honor, and law-abiding. Mr. Ranadivé brings in this "dog eat dog" mentality and it destroys the nature and purpose of European sports competitions.

Anonymous said...

"Don't they have fact-checkers at The New Yorker anymore?"

I already told you, Steve: "Facts" are just a cultural construct used by the oppressive patriarchal elite to control people. Why the hell would you want to "check" them, unless you're some kind of fascist who wants to control people?

Hunsdon said...

Wow. I read the Gladwell article, and I thought, "This is a longwinded retelling of Chapter 6 of the Art of War."

If you are weaker than your opponent, don't play their game. Hit them where they're not. Go all Boyd on them (i.e., get all up in their OODA).

Revolutionary stuff, that.

Anonymous said...

I don't think this blog post can be too denigrating. That 1996 Kentucky error was so egregious that I wouldn't expect it to pass the copyeditors at my local paper.

My 6th grade b-ball team got destroyed when the other, superior team implemented a press. Final score: 60-6. Afterwards our coach complained and the league added a rule that banned presses.

After many years of playing and watching b-ball, I've observed that a great athletic team with longish players puts on the best press, but a team with a couple of speedy guys with good ballhandling skills can easily beat the best press.

Gladwell's major point: "David can beat Goliath by substituting effort for ability—-and substituting effort for ability turns out to be a winning formula for underdogs in all walks of life, including little blond-haired girls on the basketball court."

Doesn't The War Nerd say that modern Goliaths could always win wars if they wanted to? Just drop a few nukes and forget about it. The issue in this case is really Goliath's unwillingness to try to win, not David's pluck and tenacity.

rob said...

For games, Gladwell is certainly off. They have rules and accepted styles of play so that they're fun to play and watch.

Chances are the middle school girls full court press worked because other teams had never seen it. Given a few months, other coaches will figure out counter strategies.

In terms of strategy, or war, he makes much more valid points. It's related to why the US, which should be a Goliath, loses. Our enemies don't fight like we want them to. An enemy might adjust.

Steve's kid's coach came up with a great strategy from a war perspective. It neutralized the enemies advantages by focusing on their weakness. But as a fun game to watch and play, it failed.

Maybe we're so bad at war because the military promotes athletic men who look at war like sports, not like war.

For whatever reason, we don't seem understand that enemies can find strategies that mitigate our advanced tech, etc. Insurgents attack at night. The US issues night vision goggles. Sean Hannity brags that night attacks won't work. Then the insurgents start attacking during the day.

On computer models of games: it's important to understand the limits of the model. But if it's reasonably good, evolutionary algorithms can indeed produce novel, workable solutions in a wide variety of fields.

Svigor said...

David’s victory over Goliath

...lost its luster for me when someone pointed out the simple fact that it's antiquity's version of a sneaky little guy going and grabbing a gun and shooting the heavyweight champ from cover.

Svigor said...

I'm a racist, but I've never been particularly entertained by Sailer's serial trouncings of Gladwell. On one hand it's like watching someone beat a puppy. Then you realize the puppy makes a zillion a year for crapping on the carpet and it doesn't seem quite so cruel.

Anonymous said...

Another possible factor in the decline of the full court press is the introduction of the three point line in the 1980's. A team that presses can now easily find itself out of position to defend and give up lots of open looks for threes to a good shooting team.

The press works best late in a game when your team is trailing and your opponent is just going to hold the ball until late in the shot clock and isn't going to try for a three anyway.

Chris Anderson said...

I read the article yesterday, and remember thinking that watching a kids game with lopsided scores like that would probably be cringe-inducing. Except for maniacal win-at-any-cost parents.

And speaking of New Yorker fact-checking, Gladwell at least twice in the article refers to David using his "slingshot" against Goliath. It was a "sling," a somewhat different tool. Can't believe they didn't catch that.

Anonymous said...

Gladwell is a one trick poney selling his patented hope elixer in a vareity of blank-slate flavors.

Ah-ha insight, practice and hope are all that count for success. Talent, facts and the historical record are insignificant to meaningless. He's a shrewd businessman albeit not very clever, original or ethical thinker as Steve has so often noted.

Malcolm's magical thinking approach to "success" pushes a lot more paper and makes for more lucrative corporate speaking gigs than the hard cold reality he usually more deftly avoids.

onetwothree said...

Okay, the intriguing part of that was the whole "don't swing" strategy. I want to know how that coach managed to not get lynched within half a game's time, much less a season.

Reticent Man said...

A couple points about the full-court press.

1) It saps energy from the pressing team at a much faster rate than the other team. If it doesn't lead you to an easy 25-0 domination right away, you'll need to have 10-12 players that have the endurance to play it and that are skilled enough to otherwise belong in the game. The last criteria is very limiting in the NBA.

2) As the skill and athleticism and coaching level increases, the press loses advantage relative to the offense. You might surprise an NBA team effectively with a press a couple times a game and get a turnover or a ruined possession but if you tried to press Chris Paul and any capable teammates repeatedly the results would be simply awful. Note also that skill athleticism and coaching level have increased throughout the years at all levels, which explains why pressing was more common decades ago than now.

James Kabala said...

A Moneyball Little League team!

Anonymous said...

Do you ever get the impression that Malcolm Gladwell knows very little about sports, which he seems never to have played?

Evidence in favor of his thesis: a biblical story; a fictionalized movie version of T.E. Lawrence's account of events; a relatively non-competitive girls youth basketball game.

Evidence in opposition to his thesis: the actual composition, as well as athleticism, of Pitino's highly skilled Kentucky teams; the physical toll imposed upon those players whose team employs a full court press; the wisdom of pretty much anyone who knows anything about basketball.

On the bright side, though, at least Malcolm is no longer writing defamatory pieces in which he claims that eminent social scientists--of libertarian political bents, no less--want to segregate the low IQ into concentration camps.

So, uh, there's that.

stari_momak said...

I do suspect this article will lead to a new demand for H1-Bs. We need those best and brightest from India to coach our pre-teen girls.

Or, maybe not,

i am the walrus said...

That's pretty embarrassing observation by Malcolm. For years, Pete Carril's Princeton teams overachieved (including beating Steve's UCLA Bruins 43 - 41 in the NCAA tournament) by SLOWING THE GAME DOWN and employing the Princeton offense. It's the only strategy that gives high IQ types a chance against athletically superior opponents.

Maximilian said...

Regarding your title, "Don't Worry, It's Just Malcolm Being Malcolm Again," one can't help wondering if there is a similar cause to today's breaking news about why "Manny is being Manny" on a regular basis.

Regarding overkill on Gladwell, let's face it, we all get more exercised about affirmative action when it affects us directly. A fireman is more concerned with AA in the fire department than in academia. Steve is naturally more outraged when he sees a mind-boggling level of affirmative action that pays huge amounts of money to minorities to write such drivel in Steve's own field.

Regarding the basketball question, I have personally witnessed exactly what you describe while watching my daughter's 12-year old team. The good teams would use a full-court press against the bad teams who often were unable to inbound the ball. But any efforts by the bad team (which happened to be my daughter's team) to use the full-court press in return immediately led to easy lay-ups so that the good team looked like they were going through a warm-up drill: pass-pass-layup, steal, pass-pass-layup, steal, pass-pass-layup, etc.

The only hope for the underdog team was to crowd the box, allow the better team to take easy jump shots which even the good teams miss much more often than they miss lay-ups, and get the rebounds.

Lomez said...

Steve has mercifully left out the part about how the coach of this so-called "underdog" girls basketball team, "RECRUITED" the daughter of NFL running-back Roger Craig to be their star player. We might expect the progeny of a pro-athlete to be a pretty good athlete herself, and indeed, according to the article, she played D-1 basketball at Duke and USC.

Duke and USC!!!!

How can you possibly call this team an "underdog," when they have one of the thirty or so best players in that age group in the ENTIRE state of California? One dominant player, especially in girls basketball where the overall talent pool is shallow, can single-handedly determine the outcome of every-single possession. In fact, if Craig's daughter didn't single-handedly dominate her opponents at that level, she would -- de facto -- not be good enough to play at USC.

This, of course, reverts back to Steve's point, that full-court presses are actually most advantageous to superior teams.

Forget that Gladwell's arguments are stilted and lame, his entire premise is a complete joke.

Anonymous said...

Thank God Ranadive showed up from India. Not only has he revitalized the US tech industry, he has revolutionized basketball. Obviously more immigration is needed, much, much more. This story proves it...If only we could get Friedman involved too!

Figgy said...

Maybe Malcolm is just this fact challenged when it comes to sports?

Anyway, NCAA and NBA courts are 94 feet long, High School are 84 feet long and Junior High courts are 74 feet long. Given these are 12 year old girls, he is probably 20 feet off on the court length.

One of the first things one learns when basketball competition starts to get serious is that the athletically superior team will always win in a full court press scenario. If a team with "less ability" tries to press an athletic team, they will be sliced and diced faster than Wolfgang Puck does carrots. You use the full court press when you have an athletic advantage. What Malcolm calls "changing the rules" is a very basic concept in basketball called "coaching according to your talent".

Also, a common "mercy rule" in youth basketball declares that once you are up by 20 points or more, you call the press off. Malcolm's crowing over a "skill challenged" team going up 25 - 0 not only shows ignorance, but a lack of common courtesy as well.

Larry, San Francisco said...

I think Malcolm Gladwell and his incredibly stupid (yet superficially plauible) ideas deserve mores scorn than the reasonable well tempered scorn Steve gives them. Many of my friends take his ideas seriously. One told me that he wanted his daughter to become a great musician so all he had to do was look her in her room and make her practice for 10,000 hours before she is 18! Another told me that if GM just employed more people than it could easily support its retirees (from an awful New Yorker article, Gladwell wrote a few years back). A third said that Bill Gates would have been nothing if not for the computer in his high school (he did not respond to my arguement that we had a computer in my high school and I did not beome Bill Gates). The idea that smart professionals like basketball coaches would make obvious mistakes for long periods of time is not only stupid but insulting.

Anonymous said...

I haven't read Gladwell's article. Does it mention Pitino's professional coaching career? His fast-paced, full-court press style fails at the NBA level, probably because very few professional teams have a big enough edge in skill and athleticism to make pressing a winning strategy.

I know the early 90s Bulls teams used pressing very effectively. They had Jordan at shooting guard, and both forwards were very quick and athletic. So if a big guy with poor passing/dribbling skills (say, Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley) got a defensive rebound the Bulls could swarm him and try to force a turnover, and still usually get back on defense if the press failed. The were also often taller and quicker than opposing teams' ball-handlers, so they could also often press on the inbounds pass and making the other team work to get the ball across half-court.

The moral of this story is, if you want to run an effective full-court press make sure you have a few players as big, quick, and athletic as Scottie Pippen, Michael Jordan and Horace Grant. Or make sure your opponents are pre-pubescent girls.

Truth said...

"I'm a racist, but I've never been particularly entertained by Sailer's serial trouncings of Gladwell. On one hand it's like watching someone beat a puppy. Then you realize the puppy makes a zillion a year for crapping on the carpet..."

Which probably means that the puppy is a full-grown Doberman and that someone needs his eyes checked; but I like the fact that you admitted that you are a racist. That takes guts, there may be a future for you yet young man!

Regarding the press, Paul Westhead, who coached the Lakers to their first Magic-Kareem championship, resurfaced as a college coach with tiny Loyola Marymount University in the late 1980's. He had a good degree of success considering the size of the school and defeated many good teams with a 40 minutes of full-court pressure style. He made it to the Elite 8 one year if I remember correctly. They routinely scored well over 100 points in victories

One of his very good players, Hank Byars died on the court and it kind of jinxed the program, and he was hired to coach the Denver Nuggets. He brought the same system to the NBA, and his philosophy was, that you press but if they break the press easily don't worry about surrendering a layup, because as long as you get more shots off than the other team, you should win.

Both the Nuggets and their opponents that preseason (but more often their opponents) scored over 150 points in games. I remember Dominique Wilkins and the Atlanta Hawks scoring ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY FOUR POINTS in one game and Wilkins being interviewed after the game: He said something to the effect of "all we got all game long were wide open jumpers and dunks; is he going to play like that for real in the regular season?!"

Anyway, the Nuggets were the highest scoring team that year, Orlando Woolridge, a so-so player led the league in scoring because of the style of play...and they had the worst record in the western conference. It turns out that NBA guards did not get nervous at the sight of a full-court press and NBA players don't miss open shots. Westhead became something of joke after that.

Lucius Vorenus said...

For the record, white people can actually compete with black people in the game of basketball IF THE RULEBOOK IS ENFORCED.

You can still see it in FIBA/Olympic basketball, where the [almost 100% black] NBA All Stars struggle to defeat the [almost 100% white] teams from tiny little nations like Spain & Serbia [which are now so small that they've almost gone extinct].

But here in the states - in the NBA & the NCAA - they no longer enforce the rulebook, and haven't enforced it for a good 20 years now.

In fact, the NBA - with a David Stern situated in apposition to legions of blacks in the NBAPA [& the disaster which ensued for the game of basketball] - provides a pretty good analogy to our nation's current economic crisis.

Svigor said...

It was a "sling," a somewhat different tool. Can't believe they didn't catch that.Damn, I managed to miss that, and I was this close to belaboring the difference in case anyone didn't know!

A slingshot can be nasty, but can really only permanently damage a man if it hits him in the eye. A sling is a weapon of war, and can definitely kill with a shot to an unarmored head. Huge difference.

testing99 said...

Steve, you mention that you think wars are more likely with a 60-40 expected win split.

That is an astute observation and undercuts your prior assertion that war is less likely now.

Consider: use of the international press, guerilla tactics, nuclear arsenals (to prevent conventional war escalation to domination, see India/Pakistan), the AK-47, cellphones, GPS, Blackberries, UAVs, and the like, and wars become more rather than less likely.

Because no one, not even the US, can have it it's own way now. Look at Afghanistan, or the low-level proxy wars in Somalia, or the low-level "wars" between India/Pakistan. Heck not even far militarily superior Russia can easily crush Georgia.

Seems like more of a stalemate, ala the Western Front 1914-1917, or Gettysburg, rather than decisive victory fore-ordained.

AllanF said...

Hahaha. Gladwell is pwned!


SKT said...

I sucked hard at hitting the baseball, both with accuracy and power. I didn't mind getting walked, because I could usually steal 2nd and then 3rd base. By the age of 13 though, I wasn't get much playtime so I quit.

Anonymous said...

For the record, white people can actually compete with black people in the game of basketball IF THE RULEBOOK IS ENFORCED.You sound like a racist crank. What "rulebook"? And how is not being enforced"?

I know you won't have a good answer, but I thought ask the question anyway.

Anonymous said...

"Because no one, not even the US, can have it it's own way now. Look at Afghanistan, or the low-level proxy wars in Somalia, or the low-level "wars" between India/Pakistan. Heck not even far militarily superior Russia can easily crush Georgia."

We could but we're too nice. Think about it...You are mistaking will with ability.
It was hard to crush the Georgian Army when tripping over their gear they tossed as they ran. And Russians, being Russians leiasurely looted as they went as well. Not in a hurry to smack the Georgians around.

"A sling is a weapon of war, and can definitely kill with a shot to an unarmored head. Huge difference."

You bet, The Greeks used lead sling "shot" for their slingers. Deadly stuff. DEXA! I actually remembered that from school. But the coolest thing out there are bolos. Tried one on the dog. That was a mistake. Then I tried one on the cat. An even bigger mistake. I learned my lesson!

airtommy said...

As the skill and athleticism and coaching level increases, the press loses advantage relative to the offense. You might surprise an NBA team effectively with a press a couple times a game and get a turnover or a ruined possession but if you tried to press Chris Paul and any capable teammates repeatedly the results would be simply awful.Absolutely!

Tactically, NBA teams do not use the press with hopes of generating turnovers. They know it's virtually impossible. The only reason they ever use it is because of the 24-second shot clock. If you can slow down the progress of the ball into the front court, you do have a genuine chance of preventing the team from executing a play and getting off a good shot. But even this lesser goal (slowing the ball down rather than actually forcing turnovers) is difficult to achieve in the NBA.

Alex Spong said...

Isn't following basketball, in America, at least, just a SWPL pastime?

Jokah Macpherson said...

Little league baseball when the kids first start pitching is a joke. The innings take forever since no one ever throws strikes. I swung at the first three pitches every time I came up and although I usually struck out, I held my head high with my moral superiority for playing the game the way it was meant to be played ;)

riprock said...

Regarding the "computer game" - it wasn't just entertainment, like World of Warcraft, it was a tournament. Doug Lenat and the wargame of Traveller are famous names in some portions of the artificial intelligence community.

Traveller is founded on a general-purpose space opera simulation. The broader game covered interstellar trade and so on. Lenat's ships were very bad fantasies, but they were optimal for the particular rules of the tournament.

Lenat used to brag (and he might still be bragging to this day) that the organizers asked him not to participate after his second win... however he never expressed any remorse for making bad space opera simulations.

derek sutton said...

I had a little league coach that instructed us to always go half way to second, third, or home whenever we got on base during a live play. This would compel the other team to try and whip the ball around the infield in an attempt to throw us out. The ball would inevitably end up going over one of the kids' heads and we would advance to the next base and do it all over again. Pretty brutal strategy, but we almost always won. In hindsight, I think my coach was probably a dick.

Also, I tend to agree with one of the comments about the rulebook in basketball not being enforced. I would point to the carry (a players hand going under the ball during a dribble, this has led to the "crossover" dribble that is, technically, illegal and offers a huge competitive advantage to quick guards), traveling (obviously), moving screens aren't called anymore, over the back is rarely called. These de facto rule changes have worked to benefit the athletically superior, rather than the fundamentally sound. As a result, the game is less about strategy and more about athletes. It's a shame, in my opinion. I enjoyed watching the game more when there were actually plays, now teams just space their players way out and take turns dribble-driving to the hoop and either scoring or kicking it out for a three. I blame it on Michael Jordan. He was so electric that the NBA did everything it could to increase his legend, including allowing his crossover dribble and push offs, etc.

Incidentally, these rule changes, I think, are the reason American whites have been phased out of the game. Another reason is the AAU system. Black kids tend to develop physically faster than white kids. (google an image of Larry Bird in high school, rail thin and gawky looking) The AAU system targets kids at an early age and becomes a sort of feeder system to the colleges. A tall underdeveloped gawky white kid (like Bird was) might not be good enough at an early age to get into the most visible system and might decide to focus on Baseball instead. That’s just my opinion though.

riprock said...

Also, several persons argue that the New Yorker misrepresented the computer wargame story badly here:

In particular, see post #2:
Mr. Maclean,

A similar article was discussed on the TML several years back and Mr. Wiseman commented on the story then.

IIRC, Doug Lenat's version has the same facts but draws different inferences from them. The article in The New Yorker mentions that the "rules" changed between the first TCS tourney and the second. That strongly, and incorrectly, implies that all the HG2 rules were changed while weakly, and also incorrectly, implying that the rules were changed because of Lent's success.

We all know, of course, that each TCS tourney had different criteria with regards to pilots, refueling, fleet drive ratings, and so forth, and those were the rules that were changed. People who've never heard of Traveller or TCS before reading this article will know nothing of the sort and infer something completely different.

When Lenat tells the story he naturally emphasizes how well his computer's designs did despite the "rules" being changed while also not explaining exactly what those rule changes actually were. That's entirely human.

The talk GDW had with Lenat after he entered again is also open to interpretation. Lenat claims GDW was going to cancel the tourney if he remained in it while LKW remembers something rather different. The point trying to be made was probably something along the lines of "Hey, this is a convention tournament and not a science experiment. What say we all just have fun?". Both sides, being human, remember the conversation differently and then infer different things from those memories.

The fact that it happened nearly 30 years ago is an important factor too, as is the fact that Lenat has been "dining out" on his Eurisko triumph for that long.

Lucius Vorenus said...

Anonymous: What "rulebook"?


Truth said...


Lucius, there is a problem with you. I would suggest acknowledgment as the first step to recovery, then I would suggest drugs, therapy or both.

Anonymous said...

Steve, are you sure UCLA used a 2 2 1 press. I remembered it as a 2 1 2 press, with the 1 leaning toward the side where the ball was to get the ballhandler to pass cross court in the mid court area.

Anonymous said...

What I found most interesting about the Gladwell article is the blase acceptance of that coach's highly unsportsmanlike tactics. Gladwell seems to be implying that 'gaming the game', if you know what I mean, is fine so long as you come out ahead on the scoreboard. This is not very SWPL-friendly, what with that worldview's general approbation for non-competitive games, lame sports where no one cares who wins (e.g. kids' soccer in the USA), etc.

But then I suppose once he'd cast that CA team as 'underdogs', anything goes?

guest007 said...

For decades, the easiest way to become a good high school basketball coach is to run a full court press and have an offensive strategy of letting the best player take all of the shots. A high school team that has been practicing the press in Freshman and JV basketball will not how to run the press and will be in shape enough to run it. The offense is designed to rest the player and to take only high percentage shoots. Look up a high school like Canyon Texas where the same coach has won more than a dozen state championships running the press-low post system.

Soul Searcher said...

So tell me again, you white-supremacist morons in the crowd, why black Americans are consistently recruited to European basketball leagues who use FIBA rules, even though the NBA is supposedly employing this exemplary PC strategy in not enforcing the rulebook, purely to pump up black players? One of the most purely athletic players on the Pistons, Will Bynum, just came into the League from the high-IQ wasteland of Israel's Maccabbi Tel Aviv. Didn't Josh Childress, formely of the Atlanta Hawks, sign a large contract in the last off-season with Olympacios, the Greek ball-club?

Curiously, these are the same people arguing that the Jewish cabal are completely responsible for the downfall of the West - whither the Jewish Question? -, East Asians don't have a respectable or enviable form of civilization, and whites would really be winning at the major professional sports, if, sob, the rule book were only enforced. They can go on and on about the hard mathematics of the behavior of the Gaussian distribution at the tails of IQ, but like the ad-hoc mental dunces they are, refuse to engage that same rationality towards physical attributes like speed, or quickness. Strange, that blindess.

Mock them.

Lucius Vorenus said...

Truth: Lucius, there is a problem with you. I would suggest acknowledgment as the first step to recovery, then I would suggest drugs, therapy or both.

In other words: In Soviet Russia, RULEBOOK ENFORCES YOU.

Anonymous said...

Ok Truth, pay attention...

NBA players have been the MAN on every hoop team they've played on since they were middle schoolers. Basketball, of all the sports, is about physical skills (the racist code for a physically-talented black star is ath-a-lete) and these kids dominate the game from Day One. Because they dominate, the referees tend to keep the whistles down, because hey, they are the best on the floor, why should they have to violate the rules? Which is why the modern game allows guys like Lebron James, this year's MVP, to stop dribbling somewhere north of the key to throw down one of his crowd-pleasing monster dunks.

As Hall of Fame guard Jerry Kramer wrote in his memoir about the Green Bay Packers heyday in the Sixties, the Packers O-line used to practice anticipating the snap to get the jump on the defense. It got to the point that they were, in his estimation, offside about 40% of the time. But because of he and his All-Pro partner on the line, Fuzzy Thurston, they hardly ever got whistled. After one patented Green Bay sweep led to another score, he recounts one referee saying to him, "Boy, it looks like you're offside every time, but I know it's because you guys are so quick." Yep, that's it...

Your Loyola Marymount screed is specious; the guy's name was Hank Gaithers, and if you had bothered to check, you'd know that he was a big program guy (USC) who transferred along with his 'SC teammmate Bo Kimble to LMU. Neither was exactly a scrappy little underdog...

I'll leave you with one of my favorite stories underscoring the rules as applied to superstars. Hall of Fame umpire Bill Klem was working a game where a rookie pitcher was facing Rogers Hornsby, one of the greatest hitters ever. First pitch caught the corner, and Klem called it a ball. Rookie pitcher glared at the ump. Second pitch was a curve that broke right across the plate. Klem called ball two, eliciting another glare from the pitcher. Third pitch was a belt-high fastball, which Hornsby promptly deposited over the left field fence. Klem then strolled out to the mound and tossed a ball to the rookie pitcher, saying, "Don't worry kid. When you throw a strike, Mr. Hornsby will let you know!"


DCS said...

I was a mediocre hitter in high school baseball, but I could run like the wind. My coach simply had me bunt every at bat and then steal second and third. This usually worked because the opponents didn't have the skills to field the bunt or to throw me out or pick me off. We never played teams that were very good. If we had, the strategy would not have worked.

Truth said...

"Your Loyola Marymount screed is specious; the guy's name was Hank Gaithers, and if you had bothered to check, you'd know that he was a big program guy (USC) who transferred along with his 'SC teammmate Bo Kimble to LMU"

Whoa, they played at USC, in the 1980's no less, now that's was a powerhouse program. I think the best player who ever played there was Tom Selleck.

Sideways said...

On a rather pedantic note, yes, you could easily kill someone with a slingshot. The thing is, we haven't had a reason to make slingshots with the sort of pull strength that we used to make longbows with.

Yeah, you could easily kill someone with a 21st century slingshot, but no one has bothered to make the ties as strong as they need to be.

The very obvious reason there were no slingshot weapons in history is that there were no high-strength stretching string-like materials until there was no practical point to a lethal slingshot. If there was a reason to, we could have a slingshot with the pull power of a short bow in a week.

Svigor said...

Curiously, these are the same people arguing that the Jewish cabal are completely responsible for the downfall of the West - whither the Jewish Question?

Curiously, I belong to neither group, yet somehow I don't think I'm getting an exception from your opprobrium.

Or am I?

Jim Showalter said...

Where in this post does the author refute the facts about the girls' basketball team? It starts out railing against using 12-year-old girls to make a point, proceeds to argue that Gladwell's article is false
because NCAA and other teams have used the full-court press successfully, to
which I would say yes, fine, but getting back to the girls who had
never ever played basketball before and them making it all the way to
a third game in the national championships...

ben tillman said...

I see we have a nominee for most-misanthropic comment ever.

Henry said...

steve i've never read your blog, but you really do seem like a tool.

GDN said...

Mr. Sailer, saying 'Lawrence of Arabia' is an obscure film is like saying the White House or the Statue of Liberty are obscure American monuments. This is a shocking example of cultural illiteracy; certainly for someone professing to be a film critic! Try doing a little more research next time; there's a whole world of information out there...