Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Bill Simmons talks some sense in his mailbag

Sports Guy's Mailbag -

Q: After reading your Dorkapooloza column and Hollinger's PER column about LeBron and MJ, I truly feel that no one is counting for the defense that MJ faced compared to what Lebron faces now. MJ's heyday was during an era when the hand-check was legal -- otherwise he would have completely destroyed the league. What do you think?
-- Nate, New York

SG: I disagree ... he would have completely and totally destroyed the league. You left out the other factor: Back in Jordan's day, teams could cream him every time he drove to the basket without any real repercussions. Remember the secret "Jordan Rules" that Detroit had? It was actually one rule, and here was the rule: Hammer his butt as hard as you can over giving up a dunk or layup. Riley's Knicks teams took it a step further and physically assaulted him with 2-by-4s and chainsaws, or maybe it just seemed like that. You can't do that stuff now. It's a little like how everyone's offensive stats went up in baseball -- everyone thinks it was PEDs, and to a large point it was, but they also changed the basebrawl rules enough that pitchers couldn't protect the plate anymore. Anyone could dig in on them, and if you were wearing arm guards and leg guards, even better. In baseball, hitters are now allowed to dig in. In basketball, players can now drive to the basket and not worry about getting decked.

Back to Nate's point: Hollinger's column was interesting, but I don't think a statistical comparison between 1988 Jordan and 2009 LeBron works because of the changes in hand-check rules and flagrant fouls. And don't give me the "guys deal with zone now" crap -- watch Bird and Magic in the '80s, they played a free-safety zone against everyone and it never got called. If pre-baseball Jordan played now, they would have to change the rules to make it more even -- like how they changed the foul lane to reduce George Mikan's impact or how they changed offensive goaltending rules and widened the paint to slow down Wilt. I really believe that. If you need a "statistical" way to tout LeBron's incredible season, go with the fact that he has an excellent chance to become the first player since they started keeping track of blocks and steals in 1973 to finish in the top three in scoring AND lead his team in total points, assists, steals, blocks and rebounds AND win more than 60 games. Doesn't that do a better job of saying, "We have never seen a season quite like this one before?"

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