The Nash dilemma
Race not an issue when it comes to MVP voting
Posted: Thursday October 18, 2007 12:04PM; Updated: Thursday October 18, 2007 12:56PM
It's about four months too early for a discussion about the MVP voting and about 40 years too late for a discussion about race. But what the heck ... let's have one anyway.
A recent post on a Web site called Cosellout raises the point (not for the first time) that the Phoenix Suns' Steve Nash is praised too highly -- by media and fans -- because he is white, and that his skin color probably had a lot to do with the back-to-back MVPs he won in 2005 and 2006.
It's gotten a lot of play, including a mention on TrueHoop, the bible of basketball blogs, so I thought I'd get into it here, if only as a way to talk about the puzzling process of picking an MVP, an ongoing discussion in every season.
Since I hate it when someone summarizes something I wrote and gets it all wrong, let me be clear about a few things. The post (probably written by Charles "Modi" Modiano, the man behind Cosellout) is noninflammatory, cogently laid out and utterly respectful to Nash, giving him his due as a great guy and a great player. I encourage you to read it in its entirety.
Having said that, I think it's wrong on a couple points.
Modiano (I presume) gets into his argument by bringing up a recent Men's Journal cover article on Nash, in which the writer claims that Nash "saved" the NBA from itself, restoring teamwork and brainy ball for all that athletic stuff like dunking and one-on-one acrobatics. In other words, Nash made the NBA "whiter" and the republic is better for it.
I tend to agree with Cosellout on that point. An otherwise intelligent man (I hope he's at least reasonably intelligent since he's a doctor tasked with doing unspeakable things to my body from time to time) once said to me, "Nobody in that league you cover knows fundamentals except that -- what's his name? -- that white player in Phoenix." During a year I spent with Nash and the Suns writing a book (note: obligatory mention), I was urged any number of times to emphasize more strongly the idea that Nash and Company were introducing a different and unique element to the NBA, as if they had invented something never before seen.
Though many no doubt believe I was overly lavish in my praise of the Suns, and of Nash in particular, I resisted that notion. Nash is not the greatest point guard who ever lived, nor are the Suns the first team to be entertaining and fast-break-oriented.
But then Cosellout extrapolates his point about the MJ article to indict the MVP voters, suggesting that race was a factor among the "90+% white sports-voting body." As you can see by the photo above that I'm clearly in that 90+% (I have no idea if that figure is accurate, by the way), I understand the following point may lack weight. But here it is: By and large, we in the basketball press do not see color when we vote.
Understand that we do a lot of things wrong. Some of us make up trade rumors out of whole cloth. Some of us rely too heavily on self-serving missives from agents. Some of us give too much of a break to talkative sources and not enough to press-resistant ones. Some of us do not do well trying to understand young players, and the vast majority of young players are African-Americans.
But one of the few things we do well is vote. We do it extremely well. Cosellout suggests that MVP voting should be handed over to coaches, and I can tell you that coaches are no more objective than writers when it comes to voting. Coaches coach better (though sometimes we doubt that) and dress better (we don't doubt that), but they do not vote better.