My generation has unprecedented access to sports information yet is subservient to the cool Vine of the day on forming their opinions on athletic competition. The highlight culture I’ve grown up in is killing intelligent sports debate. I had this epiphany after reflecting on one of the many sports arguments with my roommate at Mizzou. He is just over two years younger than me, and we have vastly different opinions on sports yet both avidly follow them in our own ways.

Some of the things he believes:

  • Kobe Bryant is the best NBA player of all-time
  • Wilt Chamberlain would be an average NBA player in today’s game
  • Tim Tebow should be a starting NFL quarterback.
  • Russell Westbrook’s triple-double run should of had him finishing 2nd in this year’s NBA MVP voting behind James Harden
  • This is the first year Aaron Rodgers could considered a better quarterback then Tom Brady
  • Russell Wilson is just as good as Andrew Luck.
  • LaDainian Tomlinson is one of the five best NFL running backs of all-time

The running theme with those statements is that most of those players are known for making impressive singular plays that in a SportsCenter highlight package or Vine can mask the truth. That truth being that they toil in the land of inefficiency. Players like Westbrook are known for high volume attempts that result decent production. Looking past a generic point total will give the audience a more complete picture of who these players really are.

Bite sized consumption kills nuance, while subverting advanced metrics and progressive statistics. The effects lead to people my age propping up highlight athletes and aid in older generations having revisionist history. How many of Michael Jordan’s misses do we see?

None.

We are no longer students of the game. Dunks and 20 yard scrambles are the subject of recollection, not the games they happened in. The modern sports fan would rather fire off a tweet about how Tom Brady is dick for frivolous reasons instead of appreciating the fact he executes the best game plan specific offense the NFL has ever seen (go back and watch how drastically different the Patriots attacked the Ravens and Colts these past playoffs if you don’t believe me). The opinion and perception riddled arguments that a sizable portion of people base their sports discussions off of could easily be deconstructed by a high school freshmen, after finishing their first semester of speech and debate class.

We live in a world where SB Nation sponsors team specific sites that have groups of writers dedicated to intelligently deep diving into their coverage subjects. Spotrac.com gives anybody the tools to teach themselves how professional salary caps and payrolls work. It is easy to scream racism when the Philadelphia Eagles let Jeremy Maclin sign with the Kansas City Chiefs, and still have Riley Cooper on their roster. Studying the Eagles salary cap, and Chip Kelly’s history of devaluing the wide receiver is harder.  I have grown up with people valuing style over substance. It is reflective in who my peers’ idols were, and how they approach forming opinions on sports in the present day.

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Athletes of a Generation

I often say Allen Iverson and Michael Vick are the most influential athletes of my generation for all the wrong reasons. Both men embodied reckless arrogance and counter culture soaked in swag. I can pull up clips on YouTube that will make your jaw drop, but how many championships did each of them attain?

Zero.

How many championship rounds have they participated in between the two?

One.

Yet, they still gained same traction with people my age as Kobe Bryant. Bryant, a man who most people feel is one of the best players to ever lace up some sneakers, and has truly earned his influential status.

The Iverson Effect correlates with infusing hip-hop culture into basketball. When growing up the branding, cross-promotion, and media imagery of hip-hop with basketball was everywhere I turned. Companies like Reebok capitalized off the opportunity by pairing Iverson and successful early-‘00s rapper Nelly for an advertising campaign. When someone is crossing beyond their sport they become a figure representative of culture and thus hold sway over the youth.

Nelly-Iverson-618x375

I have played many classic games of asphalt court basketball with my classmates that featured the one kid who learned how to cross-over dribble and go behind his back before everybody else. Of course he had to hold up the entire game to screw around for five minutes, and end by jacking up a shot that had about an seven percent chance of actually going in. Why? Because that’s how ball dominant Iverson played.

Before I fell in love with the Mavericks I was a Lakers fan due to being eight and having flooded exposure of Shaq and Kobe. I bet candy with my friend childhood friend Dominique on the ‘01 Lakers vs 76ers NBA Finals. He was an avid 76ers fan due to Iverson. That tube of M&M minis never tasted better.

In contrast to the Iverson Effect, I was not immune to Vick fandom. I still have my Michael Vick Christmas ornament that still goes on the tree. Admittedly, in a more ironic hipster way, but he still finds his place next to my 90s red Power Ranger (I will stack my ornament collection against anybody’s). Vick gained huge traction when the Madden videogame series jumped in popularity. The in-game version of Vick was a lot better than his real life production. The Madden-Vick was a cheat code player. You could call Hail Marries the whole game, and thus force a defense to cover five receivers and Vick’s running. I never lost a game playing with Atlanta. The Vick Effect also found itself carrying over to the youth football field.

Every year from 2002 to 2006 there was a weeding out process of the ten kids on the team who all wanted to play quarterback. Were they interested in leading the team and learning base level one to two read passing plays? No, they wanted to be Michael Vick. They wanted to run around and be the guy everything funneled through. They had to try and bail the team out of offensive problems that they created by ignoring the set plays being called. It usually ended in failure, and a frustrated group of 4th graders. So, what happens when these highlight culture kids grow up, personal technology explodes, and social media is invented? I’ll take the upcoming NBA Finals between the Cavaliers and Warriors as a case study.

A Case Study: The 2015 NBA Finals

The 2015 NBA Finals will serve as another update in what seems like a never ending debate of where LeBron James fits in basketball history. James is the defining athlete for people my age, and deserves that standing. LeBron James is an empire, and to borrow from Shakespeare, “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” LeBron is criticized possession by possession. Don’t believe me? Just pay attention to Twitter during any Cavaliers game.

To start I’m going to get the James vs. Jordan take out of the way.

The LeBron James vs. Michael Jordan debate is not really rooted in basketball. It is about Millennials vs. those older then us. James is our guy. He is a prodigy like Mark Zuckerberg. Social networking was around before Zuckerberg, but it was he and his friends that invented Facebook. James became royalty before even stepping foot on an NBA court. James like Zuckerberg did not play the game in his respective field, he changed it.

Forever.

Older generations resent the instant gratification that my peers and I constantly seek. There is nothing James can do to change their minds because he is challenging their memories of Jordan. Jordan is their guy (like my fellow contributor other David says) and representative of their youth. James is competing against the memory of Jordan. We really should compare him to Jordan’s real legacy. One that on top of the accolades includes the Bulls’ win total only dropping off by two games after his first retirement and multiple first round playoff losses (LeBron has zero). LeBron James is evolution. Combining the transformative talent that James is with my generation’s inclination to pick style over substance leads to some ignorant Finals predictions.

My roommate and I have a Finals bet (notice a gambling theme), and he is supremely confident in the Cavaliers. Specifically, he feels they will “have their way with the Warriors.” He isn’t alone either. As we argued over texts he sent me a screenshot of his buddy’s uneducated analysis of the series base off assumptions and generalities.

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He followed that screenshot by saying, “I don’t need any stat or shit radio announcer or analyst saying, I don’t pay attention to that. I watch LeBron. I know what’s going down. Everyone in there (in the group text) agreed with him.”

Samuel-L-Jackson-Pulp-Fiction-1994

“Well Allow Me To Retort” 

I believe LeBron James when he is finished will be the greatest basketball player of all-time, and will lose the 2015 NBA Finals in five games to the Warriors.

And that’s okay. This Warriors team is one of the best of all-time. James was a David Blatt attempted timeout call without having any timeouts left from being down 3-1 against the Chicago Bulls in the 2nd round. That potential blunder was erased by the buzzer beating three pointer hit by James to win the game. That one shot has people ignoring his less than 20% shooting percentage from beyond the three point line in these current playoffs. Shooting percentages don’t make for great Vines.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DGNEllGyveo

The Cavaliers will be playing a hobbled version of all-star point guard Kyrie Irving and without fellow all-star Kevin Love. The big three have become the big one and a half. James will be taking the Cavaliers into the Finals with J.R. Smith as the team’s second best player. I repeat, J.R. Smith as the second best player.

Out of the five previous Finals that James has participated in he’s had the clearly inferior team twice. He went a combined 1-8 in those two series (Jordan never entered a Finals with the weaker team). The ’14-’15 Warriors are the best team James has had standing in between him and glory. Let’s take a look at their resume…..

  • A 67-15 regular season record (a feat only achieved or bested by nine other teams)
  • Won the Western Conference by 11 games
  • They have only lost three home games all-season
  • First in the NBA in defensive efficiency
  • Second in the NBA in offensive efficiency
  • Current NBA MVP in Stephen Curry
  • Klay Thompson is an all-star who scored an NBA record 37 points in one quarter this year
  • Together Curry and Thompson are the consensus best back court in the NBA
  • Draymond Green is 1st team NBA All-Defense and finished 2nd in Defensive Player of the Year voting
  • Andrew Bogut is 2nd team NBA All-Defense
  • Steve Kerr finished 2nd in NBA Coach of the Year voting

I could go on, but the point has been proven. Call Golden State a juggernaut, buzz saw, or any other key phrase. Barring four games of ’12 game six in the Eastern Conference Finals at Boston LeBron James, this series is not going to be close. People picking the Warriors are giving James the courtesy of saying it will go six games because he is a human outlier. But six is all it could go. Now, that may sound brash but my candor is rooted in a combination of the eye test, facts, and research. Form your opinions on more than a two minute highlight package and emotional guessing games.

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About The Author

David Hennenhoefer

David is hopefully a successful showrunner in the future.

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