I don't talk all that much about my real life on this blog but I do want to bring up something to provide a bit of context about one of the most notable aspects of the entire Rubio circus that will continue to develop over the course of the off-season. Since it is largely a media critique, I will put the rest of the post below the fold so those of you who don't want to read it don't have to stare at a long and boring semi-rant.
I used to dabble in a business where developing, maintaining, defending, attacking, and manipulating broad narratives was an important tool of the trade. For those of you not familiar with modern communication techniques, let me boil it down to this: People process information by relaying bits and pieces of data into easily recognizable patterns. Much like how your brain adds information to the light gathered by your eye in order to process, say, the visual image of an apple (your eye doesn't operate like a video camera; much of the information contained in what you "see" is actually filled in by your brain), your noggin is very good at taking ideas, social trends, memes and narratives and placing them into easily recognizable patterns that you can then access, process, and use in a functional manner.
In short hand, when you blubber like a baby during the catch-with-dad scene in Field of Dreams, you are activating a narrative in your brain that works as a short cut to a particular emotion and response. If you really think about it, watching two grown men throw a ball in a corn field in Iowa isn't enough to set off the sprinklers. There are many other ideas at play here and it would be impractical for your mind to walk you through the process in a linear fashion.
You see, your brain is a busy place and it is constantly processing enormous amounts of information. It has to have some sort of mechanism that allows it to cut corners, bridge gaps and allow you to function as something more than a drooling idiot. Enter the activation of narratives.
While this little ditty is an indispensable function to help you through your day, it is also something that is surprisingly easy to manipulate by those who are either lazy, imbued with a touch of evil, or some combination of both. It is especially useful in getting people to give you things or to buy what you are selling. All you really need to know in order to do this is to take issue A, B, or C and frame it in such a way as to activate the appropriate response. Take Jesse Helms for instance.
For those of you who have seen the movie The Hangover, you are now familiar with the drunken comedy of Zach Galifinakis. What you may not know is that he is the nephew of Nick Galifinakis, a liberal congressman from North Carolina who ran against Helms in the 1972 Senate race. Helms defeated Galifinakis with the campaign slogan of "Jesse Helms: He's one of us!" Thanks to the wonderfully progressive culture of 1972 North Carolina and the evolution of our amazing brain, funny-sounding foreign name + not one of us = Helms4evah!. Again, this stuff is easy if you're evil.
Getting around to the lazy part of the equation, activating narratives is a wonderful way of taking conscious short cuts through sticky wickets. I myself plead guilty to doing this on a frequent basis. When I'm losing an argument with my lovely wife, I simply pull the "boy, you're just like your mom" card and sit back and watch the years and years of emotional childhood-based wreckage ease itself into the drivers seat and motor on down the road. You see, it's very hard to win an argument with that smart of a woman and I'd much rather activate...well, perhaps I should have used this example in the evil column. Moving on...
What does all of this have to do with basketball and Our Beloved Puppies? Well, to put it simply: National sports media is filled to the brim with lazy devils. From Draft Express to True Hoop to the New York Daily News, opinion peddlers around the country are taking the words Ricky Rubio and Minnesota Timberwolves and plugging them into a tried-but-true narrative that, funny, is amazingly popular with a national audience. Here's how it works:
1- Write a story that contains one or several of the following statements:
Sources tell us that Rubio thinks Minnesota is too cold. They think that Rubio believes the Wolves are not close to winning. People close to the situation tell us that Rubio was going to be fine with the pick but that the selection of Jonny Flynn changed everything. GMs from around the league tell me that had a coach been in the draft room, Kahn never would have picked a defensively inept back court pairing. Numerous league officials tell me that one of these players will have to go.
2- Sit back and enjoy as people combine seemingly reasonable and authoritative (and massively unsourced) opinions with the DYSFUNCTIONAL HISTORY OF THE MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES ®. Issue framed, narrative activated. (This narrative works because one of the most entertaining ideas of all is that Our Team may not be the best, but at least we're not as bad as those clowns. Everyone who doesn't like the clowns can relate.)
Let me be clear: I am in no way, shape, or form saying that it is unreasonable for someone like John Hollinger to opine that Ricky Rubio doesn't want to come to Minnesota because he thinks it is a basketball Hoth and David Kahn is his own personal Wampa. What I am saying is that if you are going to voice such an opinion, and you do so knowing full well that you are operating in the context of "there go those Timberwolves again", you are a colossal ass if you try to dress it up with the big-boy clothes of "sources," "league officials," "cave trolls," whatever. I get that you want your very important opinions to carry more weight, but how about actually sourcing your junk to people with first and last names? After all, Donnie Walsh and Dan Fagen surely have sources of their own, right?
Please, I beg of you: No more unnamed sources. How about setting some fairly basic standards about what types of information you are going to present. "I believe" or "I think" isn't all that hard to add to the beginning of a paragraph or sentence. Neither is telling a source to F-off if he wants you to carry his water. You can be as right as rain with your take, but you are going about it in a way that completely short-circuits the long-term credibility of both you and your outlet.
What are the details of the buyout? What is the time line? How about getting an interview with the Rubio family? Are there historical precedents for this young of a back court pairing being able to function at a reasonable level? Does the NBA need to allow its teams to be able to buyout European contracts? Is this a possibility? Did the Wolves draft Henk Norel to somehow help Rubio's team?
There are ways to get from, for instance, Rubio not showing up at the Wolves' press conference to he likely did so because the team drafted Jonny Flynn without resorting to slapping on a "sources tell me". It can be done.
Above and beyond the sourcing nonsense and the lack of searching for answers to the questions listed above, can we also stop framing this issue in the following narratives?
- Rubio just wants to end up in New York
- Rubio would be much better off financially in a big market
- Minnesota is cold
- Donnie Walsh is David Kahn's mentor
If you really sit down and think about it, these sentiments are meaningless gap-fillers. Lots of players want to be on the big stage. Of course there are more deals to be had in a huge city. Lots of places are cold. Lots of GMs earn their stripes under other active GMs. These things are not unique to this situation. Minnesota picked a kid who entered the draft and they don't have to apologize for things that are true but hardly unique.
So, in summary, let's agree to the following:
- No more unnamed sources. If you want to speculate about what is going on with the Rubio situation, say something like "I believe Flynn's selection really made it hard for Rubio to come over this year," instead of "Several GMs tell me that had the Wolves not drafted Flynn, Rubio would be much more likely to start the season in Minnesota." Also, even if you have a story with a legitimate logical progression (see this nearly wonderful post from Henry Abbott), a bad foundation is still a bad foundation and "sources tell me that GMs don't believe David Kahn" = a bad foundation. There is nothing wrong with expressing your own opinion.
- Please stop using the DYSFUNCTIONAL HISTORY OF THE MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES ® narrative. David Kahn 100% absolutely had to pick Rubio at 5. He is now trying to figure out how to make the situation best work for his team. We are less than 2 days removed from the draft and there are still several contractual issues that have to play themselves out with Rubio's contract.
That is all. We will return to our regular programming in the next post.
BTW: Here's a head-scratcher: Maybe I'm being somewhat disingenuous here. Perhaps this post is itself an attempt to reframe the dominant narrative by activating another narrative that is popular with people who read blogs. Is that what I'm doing? Has everything I've written been a gimmick? Could it be genuine and disingenuous at the same time? What say you?