Becoming Birther



First, watch the vid.  Thoughts, questions, and comments below the fold.

There's no good way to start writing about this so let's start with the obvious: The most noteworthy quote in that entire exchange--at least in terms of the future of the Wolves--is that Kahn repeated his post-season presser tinkering nonsense.  It's still there.  Despite having a few weeks to think about the wisdom, optics and impact of telling a fanbase that has suffered through the fourth-worst two-year stretch in NBA history that their favorite team simply needs a bit of tinkering, he still went with that sales pitch.  Unfortunately, everybody has already heard the noteworthy quote and they moved on to the most newsworthy one instead.

This is one of those classic Rashomon-type quotes/situations--there are multiple angles, versions, takes, whatever, and each one of them has an element of truth to it:  David Kahn was making a joke.  A bad GM was trying to square the humor circle between a sick kid, a dead owner, and the legitimacy of the NBA lottery.  A guy was caught on camera making a silly comment to a bunch of reporters who thought it was funny.  A professional spokesman made a joke about the legitimacy of his industry.  Someone with no clear exit plan to an interview after a tough situation.  A former reporter trying to make a human connection with a bunch of newsmen.  A throw-away comment.  I'm sure you can come up with your own example. 

On its own, this specific incident is far too complicated to make any broad statement or argument about the efficacy/efficiency/whatever of the guy who made it.  It can be viewed in too many ways for it to stand on its own.  

Of course, the flip side of having an ambiguous event/statement is that you can use it to advocate for whatever viewpoint you happened to come to the table with.  If you think that David Kahn gets a bad rap, then you go for something like "The reporters were laughing too" angle.  If you think that he is an incompetent who doesn't know the first thing about basketball and who frequently says things before thinking (Mike Beasley smokes weed!), you can order up a big bowl of "He's making a joke about the legitimacy of his industry".  Whatever the case, if you subscribe to the idea that there are multiple angles and a significant amount of context, then you also should think about subscribing to the idea that the event can legitimately be used for multiple (and wildly opposed) ends. 

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"This league has a habit, and I am just going to say habit, of producing some pretty incredible story lines," Kahn said. "Last year it was Abe Pollin's widow and this year it was a 14-year-old boy and the only thing we have in common is we have both been bar mitzvahed. We were done. I told Kevin: 'We're toast.' This is not happening for us and I was right."

Perhaps something that every angle-taker can agree on is that the people asking the questions own some responsibility for the way in which this thing has played out.  From laughing with (at?) an interview subject to not following up on a few obvious points (Most obvious: Are you talking about bad karma or the lotto being rigged?), the assembled media displayed a troubling lack of....well, something.  

Maybe I've watched too many movies or read too many books about the plight of a detached journalist rising against all odds to break an important story, but one of the things that really amazes me about sports journalism is the chumminess between teams and the press and the willingness of the press to cash in on some of the fruits of this weird relationship's labor.  Kahn clearly thinks he's joking with the assembled media.  There are obviously people laughing (Was the AP guy one of them?). Is it fair to report on a quote as a straight line when it was eeked out as a humorous bit? If the guy who reported it wasn't laughing does that make it different? 

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Whatever the case, we know that Jonathan Givony from DX laughed.  He laughed hard. We know that he took exception to the idea that this was being played as a straight quote and that it was some sort of controversy.  He obviously thought it was funny.  Is it unreasonable to think that someone standing close to him did not?  Whatever the case, another question or two from the assembled media could have helped to flesh things out a little.  (BTW: You can read the AP guy's twitter feed here.)  The lotto is not rigged.  The Wolves did not get robbed by ending up with the 2nd pick (they actually bucked the odds).  They do have a long and proud history of being on the wrong side of what many of its fans view to be karma.  Was that what Kahn was clumsily referring to?  Was this his feeble attempt to move from talking about "our league" to referencing the inherent fatalism of Wolves fandom?  Was he trying to be one of us? Is this something you want from your GM? 

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Never trust the artist--trust the tale

My own personal view of this little escapade is that it should probably be filed away in the "par for the course" drawer.  What else can this man say--about personnel decisions, draft picks, basketball philosophy, so called mock drafts, coaching strategies, teams the Wolves are modeling themselves after, whatever--to make someone realize that he is largely unserious about the major requirements of his job?  You're going to Love Jonny Flynn.  Singular moves.  Ricky and Jonny can play together in our league. Long and athletic.  And so on and so forth.  

At some point, his constant and unending string of inanities became something that resembles the media drumbeat mentioned in Erich Fromm's Escape from Freedom.  We are bombarded with so much nonsense from the guy that it all blends together, making it a nearly impossible task to determine what is a solid target for ridicule and/or what should simply be tossed aside...hell, what is even deserving of praise.  Jonny has a great smile (boom), Mike Beasley smoked too much pot (boom), top 10 draft picks should be used on players that have a chance to be stars (boom), we'll make a surgical move (boom), I foresee some significant tinkering (boom), I like the players on this team (boom).  

It all sounds the same at this point.  At least it does to me.  This realization has made me a) view the franchise as a large-scale joke, b) use "32 wins over 2 years" as the be-all/end-all (i.e. trust the tale) of Kahn-based evaluation, and c) made me question whether or not this is what it feels like to become dogmatic.  

One of the things I try to do with people and viewpoints I do not agree with is to find stories from my life that may serve as an analogy to how someone came to believe or be this, that, or the other disagreeable opinion, person, or thing.  I'm not going for straight-up empathy; rather, I'm simply looking to see how people take logical steps to places I simply cannot imagine visiting.  I'm not looking to tolerate (who actually says "I tolerate you?") anything or feel anybody's pain.  I just like to have the forensics on the opposing thought process.  

One thing I have never, ever been able to grasp is the birther movement.  Without going too deep into the weeds on this (ridiculous) issue, I simply do not get how a single person (never mind in the aggregate) could come to this opinion.  Certainly, there are some very smart people who believe that President Obama is not an American.  Why would a smart person subscribe to something like this? 

I think David Kahn is a terrible GM.  I think he is driving the franchise into the ground.  I think that each and every single day he is allowed to keep his job is another week added to the amount of time it will take to undo the damage he has already done.  I think he says ridiculous things and has no clear or solid understanding about modern professional basketball.  

Now substitute President Barack Obama for David Kahn and the "worries" about sports entertainment for things that actually matter like health care, war, and the federal budget.  

Is this how something like birtherism happens?  (boom)  Am I on the road to Kahn birtherism?  (boom)  Did he really own a D-League franchise?  (boom)  Did David Stern stick his neck out for the guy?  (boom)  

Earlier today Myles Brown asked the following question on Twitter:

If anyone besides Kahn made those comments last night, would they be so 'controversial'?

After putting out a cheap The Snide-style answer ("If anyone besides Homer said D'oh, would they be so funny?") this remark got me thinking.  At what point do Kahn critics simply feed into the constant drumbeat of nonsense associated with the guy?  Is it even possible to take a nuanced position on the man anymore? Isn't talking about Kahn the best thing about talking about Kahn?  After all, Bill Simmons and Chad Ford just spent about 20 minutes on a recent podcast talking about the worst team in the league...mainly because of the business associated with the Wolves' POBO.  At what point do you simply tune out any notion of nuance about the actor and enter into a closed epistemic loop with like-minded people about the tale?  Is it possible to be reasonable in that loop?  Has Kahn created a loop or is he simply that awesomely awful to have created a massive community of Kahn-bashers? 

Whatever the case, today I found myself reading web reports and tweets about the quote that seemed to be on auto-pilot (my tweets included).  (boom)  Is this the result of a chummy media focused on behind-the-scenes access and webhits? (boom) Is it the result of massive-scale incompetence?  (boom) Is it a mix of the two? (boom) If so, how much of a mix? (boom)

I'll freely admit that I think I am at a point where there is no amount of new evidence that could change my mind about the ability of Kahn to make an informed and modern professional basketball decision.  The car has crashed in the ditch and it is on fire.  I do not want to take the time to find out if the guy who drove it there can now learn how to safely operate a vehicle.  Have I entered the loop or is that a legit position to hold?  Were there drums in Rashomon? (boom) 

What about non-political truths like anthropogenic climate change or evolution?  Is this the same road people walk down on their way to denying broad scientific facts with copious amounts of data?  Is the Kahn business a harmless/entertaining case study of how a single act or person can generate a response that snowballs its way through a series of individual and binary choices that causes population drift away from the mainland of consensus opinion and/or fact?  

Whatever the case, I only hear the drumbeat anymore.  The 4th worst two-year record in league history is more than enough to make me not want to hear any minor explanations about tinkering or bad jokes about sick kids, dead owners, and bad karma (which I honestly think he was referring to).  Trying to make sense of each beat only wears me out above and beyond 32 wins over two seasons.  Am I now operating in a closed loop (or, at the very least, am I contributing to one with the content of this site)?  I don't know.  I feel like the case has been argued and for some strange reason the jury has left the building.  We all know it will end soon.  (boom) We all know the guy won't be around much longer.  (boom) I can't even find humor in the drumbeat.  

It's getting old.  (boom)

It's getting acrimonious. (boom)

The case against him has been made over and over and over again. (boom)

It's time to act like the drumbeat isn't there.  Canis Hoopus: Kahn Free since May 18, 2011.  Hopefully the Wolves will follow suit in the very near future. 

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