Rick Reilly is one of the better sportswriters. I recognize this, despite never really being a fan of his work, which was at its best when he was writing about golf, a sport I can respect, but don't particularly care for.
He can even do good pieces pertaining to basketball - at least its peripheral edges - when he wrote an article exploring the trials and tribulations of George Karl's battle with throat cancer.
However, when it comes to writing about basketball, Reilly is an arrogant shill of who has an ignorant opinion about the state of NBA and conveniently ignores the sport's history (or rewrites it) to support his preformed thesis.
This piece of drivel for example: http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/news/story?id=6150136
In Reilly's world, men who are really kids play a game and are adored by fans, they serve as mythic figures to the testimony of the human spirit, to dedication, apple-pie, god and the American Way. Unlike you or I, they don't care about money, where they live, or the needs or wants of their family. God bless them.
This is just scratching the surface of the unsophisticated and naive way in which Reilly wishes to view the professional athlete. Never the less, as crass and self-serving as this is, it's not even the part of the article that I find the most offensive. After all, this is nothing new to Reilly and it's simply a matter of opinion.
What I do take most offense to is the lazy, careless and smugly confident way in which he creates and fabricates "facts" to support his argument. This is, by all accounts, an intelligent man. The 11-fucking-times-sports-writer-of-the-year. If this is really the best the sportswriting industry can do, I truly weep for journalism.
Indulge me as I destroy each of Reilly's 4-Pillars-of-Idiocy:
1. What we're left with: We gave up a surefire Hall of Famer, who is only 26, for four New York Knicks starters. This is like acquiring the four best mountain climbers in Nebraska. Among Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari and Timofey Mozgov (who, I believe, doesn't even exist), not one is in the top 35 in scoring or rebounding.
Anthony may indeed be a HOF (or at least the HOVVG). The hackneyed analogy aside, look at what the Nuggets brass was confronted with. Melo, a high volume, scoring SF with a huge contract did not want to play with the Nuggets. One need only to look at the Cavs and Raptors to get a sense of what happens when a player of Melo caliber leaves in return for nothing. Making this trade wasn't easy, it wasn't even wanted. But presented with the situation that the Nuggets were, what else could they have possibly done?
The Nuggets FO managed to get back young, relatively cheap players with some remaining upside. They cut costs, they maintained flexibility. Whether or not they are in the top 35 in scoring is besides the point and arbitrary besides. Reilly should know this information, the entire press-corp has reported on it since June.
Yet one more thing Reilly chosen to ignore.
2. The utter, sickening irony of it: Anthony insisted the most important thing to him was not (A) getting his starlet wife, LaLa Vasquez, to Broadway, nor (B) dunking with his friends, nor (C) cranking up his Q rating on Madison Avenue. No, he said his main priority was (D) "playing for a champion.
Lets ignore the suggestion that Anthony should somehow be vilified for wanting to change his career's location for the betterment of his spouse, for his own happiness and to be closer to his family (which dealt with the saddening loss of his sister a few months ago).
Melo wants to go to the Knicks to play for a champion. Why not? They are probably not going to go deep this year, but that was never the point. The whole purpose of this was orchestrated in the off-season with the CP3 toast. Melo is going to the Knicks to join Amar'e to get another superstar on board to compete with the Celtics (Pierce/Allen/Garnett) and Heat (James/Wade/Bosh). A team with three top-tier talents can do well in the NBA. The NBA is unique in that 3 very, very good players can compensate for a team of otherwise lousy parts. This is why the players want to do it. They want to win. Everyone knew this. Everyone knows this. Reilly does not.
3. The lousy thing all this does to Chauncey Billups -- our native son: Billups was sucked into the vortex of a trade he wanted no part of. He deserved to end his basketball career in Denver, where it began. Instead, at age 34, he's being fitted for a Knicks jersey and wondering how he tells his three little girls.
On this point, I mostly agree. Billups is nothing but a class act and I hope that we can resign him or let him join the FO/coaching staff at some point in the forseeable future. I will not belabor his over-priced contract, or the fact that it will probably be bought out. This is a business however. Both Billups and Melo understand this and are professionals. If it were up to Reilly we could sign Billups to a 50M/5yr contract and pay him to be our inspirational, gritty-eyed leader until he turns 39 and his legs literally fall off. Thankfully for the Nuggets, we have competent management with long-term vision and the ability to make difficult decisions with an eye to the long-term viability of the franchise.
4. The grinding unfairness of it all: The NBA used to work on a turn system. You will lose, but if you hang in there, you'll be rewarded with a very high draft pick like an Anthony, and your turn at glory will arrive.
This is probably the point that I most hate. You could forgive Reilly for not following the NBA this season and writing up a post so he can bank his paycheck and feed his family. But this statement flies in the face of the entire history of the NBA.
Lets take a look at the teams that have won championships, decade by decade, starting with the 60's's:
60's: Celtics (9), 76ers (1)
70's: Bucks (1), Lakers (1), Knicks (2), Celtics (2), Warriors (1), Trail Blazers (1), Bullets (1), Supersonics (1)
80's: Lakers (5), Celtics (3), 76ers (1) Pistons (1)
90's: Pistons (1), Bulls (6), Rockets (2), Spurs (1)
00's(+2010): Lakers (5), Spurs (3), Pistons (1), Heat (1), Celtics (1)
Does that look like "your turn in glory will arrive" to you? To me it looks like a system where a team with a core of superstars managed to put together a run of rather dominating stretches. Big Market teams at that.
The suggestion that the league has ever had parity anywhere near the NFL, or has ever had an adequate distribution of talent is completely wrong and it's amazing that any professional sports writer could be so clueless about the sport upon which he is opining (Woody Paige and Jay Mariotti aside)
You might argue that the 70's had some level of parity, and I'll admit that it did, but also take note that half of those wins (Lakers, Knicks, Celtics) were big market teams with a history of winning. Reilly may in fact be correct that the league needs some rearrangement of its CBA to protect its smaller markets - but he at least needs to use a rational argument when making it.
Mr. Reilly, the next time you want to write an article about the NBA don't.