Friday links

1) Kobe’s final game has inspired some really lucid, critical evaluations. One such entry: Josh Levin’s “Synecdoche, Kobe Bryant,” in Slate.

Levin pulls no punches at the outset:

Kobe Bryant is not the best basketball player of all time. He is not the best basketball player of his generation. He is not the greatest Laker ever. Or one of the three greatest Lakers ever. Or maybe even one of the five greatest Lakers ever. (Kareem, Magic, Shaq, Jerry West, and Elgin Baylor were all pretty great. There are more great Lakers than Great Lakes, which is why the franchise has won 16 titles.)

On the morning after his final game, Bryant is deserving of one superlative: He is the greatest performer of greatness in basketball history. Wednesday night’s 50-shot, 60-point showcase against the Utah Jazz was a flawless imitation of virtuosity. Modern NBA franchises prize efficiency. Kobe delivers basketball tonnage. He is an album’s worth of great songs in a Lucite-encased, seven-disc, digitally remastered box set.

Levin also draws an interesting comparison between Kobe and Pete Rose:

It’s more than the stats, though. Like Rose, Kobe is a relentless self-mythologizer. And like Rose, his greatest skill is his ability to discern what fans and sportswriters want to see. Rose, aka Charlie Hustle, got his uniform dirty because that meant he was playing hard; he collected more hits than anyone in major-league history because getting hits is what baseball players are supposed to do; he played for 24 seasons because he loved playing the game, and also baseball statisticians don’t allow you to collect more hits after you retire.

And the piece de resistance:

Of course, the big winner against Utah was Kobe Bryant’s personal brand. After it was over, he got on the microphone at center court, thanked the Lakers crowd, and said “Mamba out” as he laid the mic on the floor. Within the hour, he was selling “Mamba Out” merchandise on his personal website.

I know I’m coming across as a Kobe hater. He’s receiving *far* more than his fair share of hagiographic coverage, so a tiny bit of a corrective isn’t the worst thing in the world.

2) Patrick Minton has a good reflection on the NCAA’s continuing inability to avoid twisting itself into a pretzel when it tries to defend its absurd amateurism rules, Reflecting on the recent comments of former Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones, who criticized the NCAA for barring athletes even from profiting off their own likenesses, Minton writes:

If you are one of those people who still are not convinced that the NCAA’s refusal to pay athletes is exploitation, and are trying to understand the NCAA’s “unfair” rules, then you need to understand this: all of those rules exist purely to prop up the ludicrous and tenous assumption that all of its players are amatuers. If, for instance, the NCAA had ever allowed Cardale Jones to take money for his jersey’s sales, or to do a commercial for a car dealership, or to take money for an autograph session, then this would have provided legal precedent for the fact that a) Jones’ name and likeness was, in fact, worth money and b) that Jones was, in fact, a professional, which, to borrow the NCAA’s language, means that he was, “by definition”, not an amateur.

Minton also has some words for those who think they’re being clever (I think “concern trolling” is the proper internet age term) when they invoke Title IX to tsk-tsk about the possibility of compensating some college athletes:

Also, if you bring up Title IX, I’m going slap you with wet chicken broth noodles. The vast majority of colleges are currently not compliant with Title IX.

3) and that brings us to our third link. Katie Lee, of the Ladies’ League, looks at why colleges and universities cancel men’s teams. She finds that one of the standard arguments, that they do so in order to be compliant with Title IX, is bogus. Briefly, the popular argument is that Title IX requires that NCAA schools field equal numbers of men’s and women’s teams and/or athletes. So, if a school has more male varsity athletes than female (and the large size of football teams means schools start with a pretty significant gender skew), it needs either to increase the number of female athletes or reduce the number of slots for male athletes. In reality,  there is a more complicated three-pronged test, and balance is interpreted to mean that the schools are offering opportunities in proportion to the overall gender split on campus. At UNC, there are 15 varsity women’s teams and 13 varsity men’s teams. But men comprise 55% or so of all varsity athletes. And this is on a campus where the undergraduate population is 60% female.

UNC is not an isolated case. As Lee notes, according to a 2013 study, 75% of schools are Title IX non-compliant, and there is no obvious consequence for that fact. In other words, it’s hard to argue that canceling men’s teams is required by the law, when the law is apparently not being seriously enforced with respect to athletic opportunities.

 

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