Bill Simmons was for some reason given the authority to vote on NBA award winners this season. He ended up giving up his MVP vote as he had made several bets on the MVP, some of which he had discussed on his podcast. Clearly, he had a conflict of interest. The issue is Simmons isn’t the only person that has this kind of issue. I recently got into an argument with someone on Twitter about Kobe (I’m very predictable). In comparing Kobe to Shaq, here was the justification I got for why Kobe was a better player (paraphrased):
Kobe has more points, steals, assists, All-Star Game MVPs, titles , All-Star Game Points, playoff points, All-NBA 1st teams, Defense 1st teams
Notice just how many of the “stats” listed are actually just awards. I hear a ton of Kobe arguments and the awards one comes up all the time. Awards though, are not decided by performance, they are decided by vote. The people doing the voting for many of these are a select group of sports writers. Over the course of the season sports writers tell stories. Their livelihood depends on people believing this stories, regardless of if they are true! Mosi Platt (@mia_heat_index) of the Miami Heat Index is fast to point out stories that lack substance or backing on twitter rather quickly under the flag of the “Dead Basketball Poets Society”
Of course, writers have a major benefit. When players are assessed writers know that awards are listed. And of course, media writers have a hand in who wins awards! Does no one else see the issue? Writers have an incentive to sell their story and in fact one of the most prominent basketball writers John Hollinger recently showed a great example of this.
Following up on Simmons’ bizarre footnote NBA champions, Hollinger felt the need to include the 2004 Pistons.
One more for @sportsguy33 asterisk list: ’04 Pistons. Nets, Pacers, Lakers all had key injuries against them.
— John Hollinger (@johnhollinger) May 3, 2012
The writers at Detroit Bad Boys had a very awesome reply to this, which included the fact that Hollinger’s line of reasoning in regards to “key injuries” was iffy. Ben Gulker at Pistons by the Numbers followed up that Hollinger’s very line of thinking was sketch. At both sites they pointed out the reason behind Hollinger’s tweet. The 2004 Pistons were not a good team according to PER. Hollinger has to sell PER as a meaningful stat. Despite the fact that people with much better statistical backgrounds than Hollinger have pointed out it is snake oil, Hollinger knows it is his bread and butter.
This is why a player like Kobe will still probably get an All-NBA spot this year. All season we have heard that he is still a meaningful part of the Lakers, even if his stats say otherwise. The writers know at the end of the year that except a select few, most people will not look at the stats in depth. They will look at awards. The writers can then go back and say “See I told you this player was great! They have an award to prove it!” And all they’ll have to do is conveniently leave out that they voted on the award. Many sports writers are in the exact same position as Bill Simmons. They are betting their credibility and are given a vote to influence that. It’s just a shame that they have to bet money too before people see the problem.