How Much Does Media Coverage Influence What We "Know" About Basketball?

We all have opinions about basketball, things that we "know" to be true.  But how much of what we "know" is actually influenced by how the media chooses to disseminate information?  Today I read about the "Player of the Decade" and participated in a blog conversation about "clutch scoring" that re-emphasized to me just how large of a part the media has in telling us what to "know"...whether it is actually true or not.  I had planned to use this space to follow-up on yesterday's best clutch perimeter scorers post by looking at how the big men perform in the clutch, but I think this topic is more interesting.

Example 1: There is an article on ESPN about the Best of the decade in the NBA.  On the question of best player, they choose Kobe Bryant as the Player of the Decade.  Regardless of whether I would agree or not, what I found interesting was their stated reasoning.  Here are some quotes from their final paragraph where they make their case for Kobe:

"No one has ever shouldered the Next Jordan burden like Bryant"...
"He's been the consensus top talent in the league for years..."
"the NBA player you're most likely to remember when someone asks about the first decade of the new millennium is not O'Neal or Duncan. Close as this call is, Kobe Bean Bryant has to be the choice. Has to be."

In other words, Kobe is the best player of the decade because he has almost lived up to the hype of the media calling him the next Jordan, because "we all" agree that he is a top talent, and because he will be remembered.  Not a word about what the players have done on the court, not a word to try to support who actually PLAYED the best or PRODUCED the most, just essentially a conclusion that Kobe is the best because...well...we decided he was the best, he is popular, and he is memorable.  That kind of stuck with me as I considered example 2...

Example 2: This morning on Celtics Blog, one of the writers listed several games to point out that despite his shaky reputation, Kevin Garnett has been absolutely huge in crunch time for the Celtics this season.  In the ensuing comments for the thread (as well as a forum topic on the site) there were several protests to the effect that we all "know" that Garnett isn't clutch, but in response there was lots of evidence presented from stats sites like that show that in crunch time Garnett scores about as much as Pierce and Ray Allen but at a higher percentage and that he compares very favorably to Tim Duncan as a crunch time scorer for the past 7 years.   But even after that, some said that regardless of the facts they just "know" that Pierce and Allen are clutch while we all know that KG isn't.  One person in particular gave an insightful post that tied together for me why what so many believe runs counter to the actual facts:

"look at all the stats numerous people have already posted here and on the front page. I think that is enough evidence to make you question whether this whole thing (KG being unclutch) may not have been blown out of proportions by specific incidents and very selective media coverage..."

So I ask you...what do you think?  Just on these two examples, I remember specifically how inundated we have been in recent years by the phrase "Kobe Bryant is the best basketball player on the planet" by the talking heads on TV.  I remember how we have been flooded with "King James" marketing.  But I very rarely see any spots about how Tim Duncan is the much does that play into how we subconsciously think of these players?  Likewise, I remember how big KG was for the Celtics during their title run, especially in late game situations without much fanfare but that the talking heads always emphasized that Pierce and Allen were the late-game performers...even though Garnett led that team in 4th quarter scoring.  How much of our "knowledge" on matters like this comes from what the press coverage tells us that we should believe?


By: cole0271
On: 12/18/2009 6:54:00 PM
Fair points all. I think several insights from the field of cognitive psychology have as much to do with the substance of conventional wisdom as actual reality does. The importance of "primacy & recency", groupthink, framing effects, and the impact of repetition are all good examples of this. Preach on.
By: Kevin Payne
On: 12/18/2009 7:21:00 PM
As much as I hate to admit it, it's gotta be Kobe. Duncan is very underrated and should be a close second in this race but it's Bean, four championships in a decade is amazing. That being said, he's always had a first-rate surrounding cast and a top-notch coach, I don't care if it's Duncan, Garnett, or whoever, no one else can match that over the last decade.
By: The Professor
On: 12/18/2009 7:56:00 PM
Well, my point in this post wasn't really to answer the issues in the examples. The point was to question how much of our thoughts on these subjects (and others) are affected by the way the media chooses to cover players.
By: Kenn Ruby
On: 12/18/2009 9:46:00 PM
One thing that always bugs me about the MVP race in all the sports (though it seems the worst in basketball) is that the media basically decides about 40% of the way through the season who the top MVP candidates are, and basically that's it. All MVP-candidates stories are shown through that initial filter. No one can really play their way into contention at that point. If we decide this is the year it's LeBron vs. Kobe for MVP, no amount of awesomeness from Chris Paul or Tim Duncan or whoever is going to break through. In the same sense, Kobe was probably deemed the player of the decade five years ago, and nobody was going to top him whether they deserved it or not.
By: Charlie Zegers
On: 12/19/2009 1:32:00 PM
The MVP race is sort of like the college football and basketball polls. If you aren't one of the players anointed by the media as a contender early on, you have to seriously outplay the competition before you get that sort of consideration.
By: qgp01
On: 12/22/2009 11:15:00 PM
just like the kobe-lebron thing, you cant prove anything (especially "clutchness") based on stats. you hav to watch the games.

one of the biggest reasons people perceive garnett to be "unclutch" is that late in big games when the score is close, he doesnt seem to want to take that open 18footer that he usually takes. so someone else ends up having to ruin their FG percentage.

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