The problems with NBA media today

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Photo courtesy of Fox.com

There are a lot of sports fans in the world. I am one of them. I put a lot of time and energy into the consumption of sports, specifically National Basketball Association (NBA) basketball. I have opinions about every team in the league. I listen to podcasts. I read articles. I know a lot about the sport, and spend hours consuming content about it and I do it for fun. So why do I know more about the NBA than multiple sports television personalities and journalists who are paid to cover it? 

That is not to say that those people are not qualified for their jobs; I am sure everyone has the proper credentials and/or experience to be able to talk about basketball. They are just so bad at it. 

Three of the most popular sports talk shows on cable television are Skip and Shannon: Undisputed, First Take and The Jump. First Take is on Fox Sports, and the rest are on ESPN, two major sports networks that the casual fan often tunes in to. What these shows tend to offer is murky; they are  painted as sports analysts, with multiple former NBA players sharing opinions as guests and famous personalities hosting, but their takes are tired and quite honestly, irrelevant. Most go for the shock factor and what will in theory get views, but lazy nonetheless. 

In the past couple of days, Skip and Shannon: Undisputed have run multiple segments regarding LeBron James. Do not get me wrong, LeBron is an incredible player and on one of the best teams in the league, but that does not mean his legacy and value towards others should be debated every week, especially since he has not played in over a month due to injury. Skip Bayless, a co-anchor on the show, tweets about James constantly. Shannon Sharpe, the other anchor, used a fake statement from Kevin Durant (another one of the league’s marquee players) in order to orchestrate some sort of controversy. It is never-ending, it is not based in fact and yet people still tune in and believe it. 

In addition, it is not like there is not anything else going on in the league. If these shows tend to exist in only the supposed parameters of national media, i.e. only covering the teams in bigger cities with the most popular players, then they cannot pretend they are covering the whole NBA. This does not leave the smaller market teams with much though, and I think that is a disservice to the entire league as well as these small market teams. All league markets have good players, storylines and things going on, and I just don’t understand how in good conscience the collective media can pass off their coverage as relevant. 

Here, I will examine the narrative surrounding the NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP) this season, and why I think it is an embarrassment. 

The MVP stands for Most Valuable Player. It is usually awarded to a player with good stats on a team with a good record; specifically not the best player on the best team, or the best player overall. 

Over the course of the season, the criteria for many national media members’ ballots have been inconsistent, to say the least. One week, it is James Harden (probably a top seven NBA player), even though he has two other elite players in Kyrie Irving and Durant on his team, which was at the top of the seeding. Not to mention, Harden ditched the first two weeks of the season, essentially, because he did not like the team he was on then, and forced his way to the Brooklyn Nets, with the aforementioned Irving and Durant. Having two other elite players on one’s team should omit all three from the MVP conversation, but Harden was still considered at some points in the season. Another week, it is James, even though his team does not have a top record and Nikola Jokić (a small-market center) leads him in every shooting split and statistical category. About a month ago, the MVP was Steph Curry because he made a lot of threes even though his team was nearing a .500 record (the seeding, apparently, was the case against other candidates).The MVP should be on a good team. 

Most notably, though, was the MVP debate between Jokić and Joel Embiid, both centers, that bothered me the most. Jokić is averaging more assists than Embiid and is the best passing big man of all time, Embiid is not. Embiid is averaging four more points than Jokić. At the beginning of the season, everyone seemingly thought Embiid was the better candidate because his team had a better record, and everyone had made TV segments about it. Now that their teams have the same record, Jokić is not receiving the same praise, or any at all. Former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal still has Embiid as his MVP, even though he has missed around fifteen games and Jokić hasn’t missed any. O’Neal says Embiid plays “the right way.” What does that even mean, especially in this context? 

I believe that there is a bit of a big-market bias going into this debate, and the coverage in general. It is disheartening, as a fan, to see that this is what casual fans may view in order to become more interested in the league. There is so much better coverage out there than the stuff that is the most popular. Hopefully, these national TV shows can stop talking about only the most popular players and start covering the entire league with integrity.