Skip

If X is Kobe Bryant and Y is the ball...
February 14, 2009 9:20 AM   Subscribe

The selfless NBA stats geek, by Michael Lewis. Michael Lewis previously on mefi

Battier, even as a teenager, was as shrewd as he was disciplined. The minute he figured out where he was headed, he called a sensational high-school power forward in Peekskill, N.Y., named Elton Brand — and talked him into joining him at Duke. (Brand now plays for the Philadelphia 76ers.) “I thought he’d be the first black president,” Wetzel says. “He was Barack Obama before Barack Obama.”

Last July, as we sat in the library of the Detroit Country Day School, watching, or trying to watch, his March 2008 performance against Kobe Bryant, Battier was much happier instead talking about Obama, both of whose books he had read. (“The first was better than the second,” he said.) He said he hated watching himself play, then proved it by refusing to watch himself play. My every attempt to draw his attention to the action on the video monitor was met by some distraction.
posted by jourman2 (32 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Has Michael Lewis previously been known as a sports journalist of this caliber? This is really good stuff.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:34 AM on February 14, 2009


Has Michael Lewis previously been known as a sports journalist of this caliber? This is really good stuff.

He wrote a book called Moneyball that's pretty highly regarded in the baseball world, as well as one called The Blind Side about football.
posted by mesh gear fox at 9:40 AM on February 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


He loves stories about analyzing data, financial data, sports data especially and teasing out trends that might conflict with conventional wisdom.
posted by caddis at 9:44 AM on February 14, 2009


Well, he wrote Moneyball, about how statisticians changed how baseball teams were managed on the cheap, and the Blindside, which was half human interest story about a very poor southern African American who was taken in by an affluent white family and half about how since quarterbacks are paid so much and they're usually right handed, the guys who take them out on their blind side get paid a bunch too. And football's transition from a running game to a passing game on a professional level.

It's probably a bit pseudointellectual of me but I've always been impressed by Michael Lewis, especially after such an awkward first sentence. But he has written at least two good books on sports.
posted by christhelongtimelurker at 9:46 AM on February 14, 2009


A NBA player who actually plays defense is now an anomaly.

How sad that league has become.
posted by Zambrano at 9:47 AM on February 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


And an article or two on horse racing for Slate that was pretty good. Too lazy to link, it's not hard to find. I'm a fan. And his wife is Tabitha Soren, who tried but is no Kurt Loder. They must have the best dinner parties.
posted by christhelongtimelurker at 9:51 AM on February 14, 2009


The Blind Side blindsided me. Surprisingly good book. I've been wanting to read Moneyball but forgot about it; thanks for the reminder.
posted by painquale at 10:01 AM on February 14, 2009


Its nice to see someone other Rocket that's not Mr. Glass, Yao or batshitinsane Artest getting press.
posted by Asbestos McPinto at 10:02 AM on February 14, 2009


What mesh gear fox said. Moneyball was an extension of Lewis's writing about money on Wall Street, showing how certain players, like stocks, are undervalued, and certain teams — even though they may never win a championship — spend much less for each win during a season. The book was such a success that he's continued with football, and on into the backstory of basketball.

Now that I am twice as old as most professional athletes, I've mostly lost interest in sports, but I find Lewis's books on sports (and the linked article as well) well written and totally fascinating. It's interesting how the usual blowhards on radio and TV, and even the experts in the stands or front offices, think they understand these games, but the reality often is something different.

p.s. One of the little-known players featured in Moneyball, Boston's Kevin Youkilis, has since become a major star; Lewis cited him as an expert at one thing baseball bosses had never thought much about, on-base percentage. (In the minor leagues, Youkilis at one point tied a record by getting on base 71 games in a row.) He became known (even though he's Romanian) as "the Greek god of walks."

Feeding the Monster, a similar good book about the Red Sox (whose general manager Theo Epstein is a prominent believer in the Moneyball theories), mentions one time when a reporter asked Youkilis if he minded that designation, and he replied, "I suppose it's better than being known as the Greek god of child molestation."
posted by LeLiLo at 10:09 AM on February 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Battier's game sounds like the game "Go". In Go, if you try to slaughter your opponent, you will overextend yourself and become vulnerable. It's a sure way to defeat if you are playing a capable player. The best course is to wisely allow your opponent some room, but not enough room to win. Battier's attempt to render his opponents inefficient instead of crushed is not the American Way, but it is the better way, especially in a team sport.
posted by Xoebe at 10:15 AM on February 14, 2009


Shane Battier was in my first class at Duke. There is definitely no reason why the university's star basketball player should be friendly to a freshman girl (not an especially pretty one) with a strong North Carolina accent and weird clothes, but he was. I am not at all surprised that, years later, his unselfishness, intelligence and gravitas are still remarkable qualities.
posted by duvatney at 10:22 AM on February 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


One of my favorite sports quotes is Red Sox manager Terry Francona's response to Youk's Greek God of Walks designation: "I've seen him in the shower and, let me tell you, he's not the Greek god of anything."

Great article. Thanks.
posted by MegoSteve at 10:22 AM on February 14, 2009


I am thoroughly uninterested in sports but this is an engrossing story. Thanks for the great post.

(And it's stories like this that cause me to be mystified when people get excited about the possible demise of the NY Times.)
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 10:32 AM on February 14, 2009


An awesome article that doesn't peter out at any point. I highly recommend Moneyball to those who haven't read it as well. It's not really about sports, it's about curiosity and cleverness and thinking outside of the box, much like this article.
posted by abc123xyzinfinity at 10:44 AM on February 14, 2009


I've pretty much given up on pro sports, and there's a big hole left behind. But if I could read sports journalism like this on a regular basis, and maybe fill the rest up with sports movies, I'd be okay.
posted by padraigin at 11:05 AM on February 14, 2009


There is definitely no reason why the university's star basketball player should be friendly to a freshman girl (not an especially pretty one) with a strong North Carolina accent and weird clothes, but he was.

This sentence is probably what's wrong with athletes/stars these days. Your sentence should read 'there is definitely no reason why the...star...player SHOULDN"T be friendly'.

Anyway, I read all of Lewis' work. He's a fantastic journalist and if he moves into other realms like politics more often than he tends to, he could be our next David Halberstam. Fingers crossed.
posted by spicynuts at 11:18 AM on February 14, 2009


A NBA player who actually plays defense is now an anomaly.
How sad that league has become.


2 to 1 you're just a troll, but just for the record, the Boston Celtics won the NBA championship last year with a historically good defense, and the three best teams this year all hang their hats on defense. Meanwhile, the league is currently so "sad" that it enjoys perhaps its best rookie class ever, and perhaps its greatest collection of young stars ever, including Chris Paul and LeBron James, who have a chance to crack the all time NBA top ten.
posted by Kwine at 11:25 AM on February 14, 2009 [4 favorites]


Also, Steven Soderbergh is somehow trying to make a film out of Moneyball, with Brad Pitt (yes, Brad Pitt) as Billy Beane.
posted by xmutex at 11:30 AM on February 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Would not have read this if you hadn't posted. Thanks.
posted by pointilist at 11:59 AM on February 14, 2009


Anyway, I read all of Lewis' work. He's a fantastic journalist and if he moves into other realms like politics more often than he tends to, he could be our next David Halberstam. Fingers crossed.

Ditto, although when he writes about his kids, I kind of want to drive over the bridge, give him and Tabitha both a good shaking, and then take them under my wing. If I allow myself to read his upcoming memoir of fatherhood, that might be the straw that breaks my back.
posted by padraigin at 12:04 PM on February 14, 2009


One of the little-known players featured in Moneyball, Boston's Kevin Youkilis, has since become a major star; Lewis cited him as an expert at one thing baseball bosses had never thought much about, on-base percentage. (In the minor leagues, Youkilis at one point tied a record by getting on base 71 games in a row.) He became known (even though he's Romanian) as "the Greek god of walks."

Just to avoid confusion, Lewis' book was finding players that other teams undervalued, that he could sign for less money. Youkilis was a top MVP candidate last year, and the walks, what Lewis was impressed with, have gone down. Lewis is probably as surprised at anyone that Youkilis has reached the level he has.
posted by justgary at 12:40 PM on February 14, 2009


I'm an anomaly: a geek who loves basketball. This article was excellent. Thanks!
posted by sonic meat machine at 2:10 PM on February 14, 2009


I've read interviews where people swear up and down that Shane Battier will be a Bill Bradley-esque politician when he hangs up his high-tops.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:02 PM on February 14, 2009


A NBA player who actually plays defense is now an anomaly.
How sad that league has become.

2 to 1 you're just a troll, but just for the record, the Boston Celtics won the NBA championship last year with a historically good defense, and the three best teams this year all hang their hats on defense. Meanwhile, the league is currently so "sad" that it enjoys perhaps its best rookie class ever, and perhaps its greatest collection of young stars ever, including Chris Paul and LeBron James, who have a chance to crack the all time NBA top ten.


What Kwine said. People who don't actually watch like to say that NBA players don't play defense, don't pass the ball, and can't hit a free throw. All of these claims sound silly to anyone like myself who actually watches the games or looks at the statistics.
posted by i'm being pummeled very heavily at 3:07 PM on February 14, 2009


Michael Lewis, if you're reading: Please write a book about basketball. Please write a book about basketball. Please write a book about basketball.
posted by AceRock at 5:44 PM on February 14, 2009


Would not have read this if you hadn't posted. Thanks.
posted by pointilist more than 12 hours ago [+]


Who in this day in age does not take the Sunday New York Times? To each his own, but this is perhaps the singularly best expression of news, culture and very many other things that tickle the intellect still available (aside from MeFi of course).
posted by caddis at 1:44 AM on February 15, 2009


"I've read interviews where people swear up and down that Shane Battier will be a Bill Bradley-esque politician when he hangs up his high-tops."

The Duke admissions officer who is responsible for interviewing athletes who have been offered scholarships famously went home after interviewing Shane and told his wife he had met a future president, and a sportswriter is quoted in the Lewis piece as offering a similar assessment.

I can't speak to that, but I can say that in the one class we had together at Duke he was always polite and insightful when he spoke in class, and he had a reputation around campus as just being a really, really, really nice guy who also really was as smart as everyone said he was.

On Lewis: for those who haven't read it, Moneyball is not to be missed- not only is it a great read, it is certainly the most influential book written about sports in the past 10-20 years, having really changed how most professional franchises think about athletes. The process was already happening - as he documents in Moneyball - but his ability to put the process in non-geek terms really accelerated the trend and brought it into the mainstream.
posted by louie at 10:21 AM on February 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I am a Bill James fan from the days of the Baseball Abstract c. 1988 or so. It was by far the best information available on baseball at its time. Also I am a Houston Rockets fan.

I agree that the team plays better with Battier in the lineup. This Lewis article is not so hot. I am skeptical that any statistical representation of what Battier does is valid. And I vociferously disagree with any system that shows the team is better (the article claimed far better) with McGrady in the lineup. I do not watch every game but my impression is the team is better without McGrady. He is not tough. He does not hustle. And he is a ball hog. His salary hogging is an entire other can of worms, but I think the team should trade McGrady for whatever they can get, and I don't believe they can get much.

The man cried on camera after they lost the playoffs to Utah year before last. I'm pretty sure it was a sham for sympathy even though I suck at reading minds. He gets no sympathy from me.

Battier at least works his ass off. It's a pity this isn't contagious.
posted by bukvich at 12:07 PM on February 15, 2009




Lewis is the bard of business class. Moneyball is classic sportswriting and statistical analysis,
he's also written my favorite explication of The End of Wall Street, from Portfolio.
posted by doncoyote at 9:56 PM on February 15, 2009


His article "An Insincere Cassoulet" does not appear to be available online. It was quite charming and I heartily recommend it. The recipe though does appear to be online.
posted by caddis at 5:18 AM on February 16, 2009


Shane Battier's cerebral approach to his game basically makes him the basketball version of Raymond Berry, who, despite having poor eyesight, no speed to speak of, and one leg shorter than the other, not only caught a record 12 receptions in the Greatest Game Ever Played but also was named to the NFL Hall of Fame, all because of his incredible preparation and attention to detail. Berry spent hours and hours studying game film and taking meticulous notes about his opponents' tendencies, not to mention examining the field before each game to mark where mud and puddles were and decide which pair of cleats to wear accordingly. Berry's game was all about making up for his lack of speed by being in exactly the right place at the right time, much like Battier does. Berry also used his knowledge of the game to go on to a fine coaching career, and I wouldn't be surprised if Battier did the same.
posted by heffalump at 6:40 PM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


« Older it's good to be a banksta   |   I Love Jesus But I Drink A Little... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post