On “clutch,” “choking,” and ships passing quietly in the night

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Those in and around the basketball community engage in debate on an incredible number of game-related topics. Yet in truth, most reasonable observers of the game share more common opinions than one might initially think. There are subtle differences — mostly relative ones discovered in the process of comparing one player or team to another — regarding skill and ability, but the most common source of debate and dispute lie in differences in rhetoric, even if those participating in said dispute fail to realize it. The sports world has become laden with particularly weighty jargon, and it’s those specific word choices that typically incite the fiery passions of die-hard fans. Those words reflect the values specific to sport itself: an ability to exceed perceived value, dominance over other competitors, and high-level performance under the most intense and extreme of circumstances.

That last aspect of athletic performance is held on a higher pedestal than all else; the “clutch,” are feared and revered, while the “chokers,” are turned into joke-a-minute punchlines in the over-diluted world of sports consumption and coverage. Any who seems to shrink from a late-game situation is put in the stocks for all to throw rocks and produce at, despite the fact that there isn’t anywhere near a universal understanding of what words like “clutch,” and “choke,” actually mean.

Case in point: a column from Mike Berardino of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:

Just last weekend, we saw the U.S. women’s soccer team become the latest to succumb to the massive pressure that often accompanies our games. Two blown in the leads in the late stages of a Women’s World Cup final against Japan, a team that had never beaten the top-ranked Americans in 25 previous tries. Three straight botched penalty kicks by the U.S., which had gone 5-for-5 in that same situation one week earlier against Brazil.

They choked, right? Of course, they did. Just like LeBron James in the NBA Finals or Rory McIlroy at the Masters or Scott Norwood in the Super Bowl.

“I think it happens to everybody,” says former Heat great Alonzo Mourning, now a team community-relations executive. “We, as professional athletes, when we’re put in that situation, the public, the team, everybody watching expects you to respond at that moment because you’re a highly paid athlete.”

But these are human beings, not machines, so more often than anyone would care to admit our sporting contests are decided by who blinks first.

“There are certain pressure points where the sense of responsibility rises,” Mourning says. “Anxiety increases and people, for lack of a better word, get nervous. People tighten up. You do things that you would not do when you’re at a comfort level.”

That’s not just a sports phenomenon either.

“All choking is,” says CBS college football analyst Spencer Tillman, “is when external situations impact what has traditionally been routine and normal for you.”

If only it were so simple. Individuals let external factors influence their decisions and performance at all times. If we’re restricted to basketball alone, it decides what shots are taken, what passes are made, how the defense chooses to cover certain players, how the clock is used, how the coaches elect to use the resources available to them, etc., etc., forever and ever. More accurately, “choking,” is whatever the public consensus decides that it should be, which usually serves to confirm a widely held belief of a player or is sparked and sustained by a single and brilliant irrefutable play.

Hit a game-winning shot in a big playoff game, and your reputation is made. Miss a crucial free throw with the game on the line, and that same rep is sunk…so long as the adoring public is willing to let the visions of clutch greatness go. The memory of the basketball fan collective is astoundingly selective, and whatever evidence is deemed admissible is twisted and spun in a way that simultaneously creates a clutch résumé and amends the very fluid definition of the term itself. Then come the arguments based on such a malleable foundation, a discussion that pretends to be based on a shared notion but only remains bound by the most abstract of concepts.

“Clutch,” is whatever we want it to be. It’s a word so powerful in the sporting realm that it is defined and guarded by every sports fan with a mouth or a Twitter account. We can rifle through all of the data in the world with all of the qualifiers and filters available, but individual definitions (and the perceptions that stem from them) will always dictate the discussion in a way that inconvenient facts cannot.

Bob Bass, former GM in San Antonio and Charlotte, dead at 89

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Bob Bass, the former San Antonio and Charlotte general manager who was an integral part of the front office for most of the Spurs’ first 20 years in South Texas, has died. He was 89.

Bass’ death was confirmed by the club Saturday in a statement from coach Gregg Popovich. The San Antonio Express-News reported that Bass died Friday at home in San Antonio after a series of strokes.

“Over the course of four decades, Bob Bass had a huge impact in both the ABA and NBA,” Popovich said in a statement released by the team. “BB was a true pioneer in the world of professional basketball. His knowledge, passion and dedication to the game were inspiring. We send our condolences to the entire Bass family.”

After getting hired as coach during the Spurs’ second season in San Antonio in 1974-75, Bass joined the front office as general manager when the club moved from the ABA to the NBA in 1976.

The two-time NBA Executive of the Year spent 20 seasons with the Spurs in various roles – returning three times as coach – before going to Charlotte as the GM in 1994. He spent nine seasons with the Hornets. Bass coached his alma mater of Oklahoma Baptist from 1952-1967, first joined the ABA as coach of the Denver Rockets in 1967-1968. He went back to college at Texas Tech from 1969-1971, then back to the ABA with the Floridians in 1971-1972 and the Memphis Tams in 1973-1974 before landing with the Spurs.

Bass had a 311-300 career regular-season coaching record in the ABA and NBA.

 

What is Jamal Crawford looking for in a new home? “Fit”

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It’s a little surprising Jamal Crawford is still available as a free agent. Yes, he is 38, and his skills and his efficiency have slipped in recent years, but the man can still get buckets off the bench and averaged 10.3 points per game last season in Minnesota.

He turned down an $4.5 million player option and is still waiting for a contract. What is he looking for? He talked about it with Percy Allen of the Seattle Times, in a story about the amazing pro-am Crawford runs in Seattle every summer.

The three-time Sixth Man of the Year is an unrestricted free agent, which he said is equally worrisome and exciting…

“Fit is first and foremost when I’m thinking about where I’ll play next,” said Crawford, who wants to play another 2-3 years. “Last year, I may have made the mistake of not thinking fit all the way through.

“You look at my career, when the fit was right, I contributed on the court. … I know people that care for me want me to win (an NBA title), but I don’t know if my career will be defined by that.”

Crawford’s name was rumored with contenders such as Golden State and Houston, but nothing came of any of it. At this point Crawford is not going to be able to be as picky about fit, he may have to look at any offers that come in.

Most teams’ rosters are set, and at this point in the summer most teams are happy with their rosters, or at least have talked themselves into being happy with it. Crawford may be a guy who gets a call a couple weeks into training camp, or a week or two into the season, when a team realizes its bench was not as impressive as it thought. There are teams he could still help, even if those teams don’t realize it yet.

Scout on Rodney Hood: ‘Cleveland can get him for a song and dance at this point’

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Rodney Hood is the best free agent still available.

Hood’s problem is he’s a restricted free agent, meaning the Cavaliers can match any offer for him. No team was interested enough in his skills — after last season when the Jazz traded him away to Cleveland and he struggled to get off the Cavs’ bench — to come in over the top with an offer the Cavs wouldn’t match, so teams never tied up their money with an offer. He still has no contract in front of him to sign.

Bleacher Report’s Greg Swartz, talking to a scout, asked about the Cavaliers (the scout agrees with those of us in the “why didn’t they just start the rebuild now?” camp) and Hood in particular.

“Cleveland can get him for a song and dance at this point. I don’t think anyone else wants him, which is surprising because I really liked him in Utah. Utah just let him fly. I was impressed with how he came back in the Finals as an ‘I’ll show you’ game.

“I always liked him. He’ll be good in Cleveland because Cleveland’s going to be bad, and they’ll need his scoring. Who else are they going to go to? He’ll get quality minutes on that roster. How could he not? I’m not sure how tough he is, though. He can put up big scoring numbers on a bad team.”

It’s incredible how far Hood’s stock fell in one season. Heading into last season he expected to be the go-to scorer of the Utah Jazz (Donovan Mitchell became that guy). By the end of the season he barely got off the bench in Cleveland (and in one case would not get off the bench), although once put into the Finals he showed by Tyronn Lue should have gone to him earlier.

Hood’s options at this point are to play for the $3.4 million qualifying offer and become a free agent next summer, or work out a deal with the Cavaliers for a couple of seasons at a number he likes.

 

Baron Davis vs. Glen ‘Big Baby’ Davis in Big3 championship showdown next Friday

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The Big3 finals are set — and there are a lot of names NBA fans will know.

On one side is Cuttino Mobley, Corey Maggette, Glen “Big Baby” Davis, and Chris “The Birdman” Andersen of top-ranked Power. They are coached by former NBA assistant coach and Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman — and they had to sweat out their semi-finals win.

On the other side are DerMarr Johnson, Baron Davis, Drew Gooden, and Andre Emmett of 3’s Company, the three seed, who are coached by Lakers’ legend and NBA/WNBA coach Michael Cooper. Emmett got them to the finals.

Power and 3’s Company will face off to decide the Big3 title next Friday night in Brooklyn (live on Fox at 8 p.m. Eastern). The semi-finals drew a record crowd in Dallas, and the league has seen its ratings climb on its regular live Friday night slot (they drew 1.47 million viewers this past Friday, roughly the same as an NBA regular season game). All of that has to make Ice Cube happy.

It will be an interesting matchup. Power has been the team to beat all season, with a balanced scoring attack led by Maggette, who has the second most points in the league (behind the legendary Ricky Davis, a player beloved by NBA Twitter, with good reason). In the clutch though Power has looked to Big Baby and his power game inside.

However, Emmett — the former Texas Tech standout from when Bobby Knight coached the team, who was a second-round NBA draft pick and has spent most of his career overseas — may well be the MVP of the league. He is capable of taking over the one-game Finals and making the upset a reality.