Death or Glory: Just Another Story

Published: April 3, 2012

Jason chimes in on the approach to winning a title.

Considerable debate has taken place essentially from the acceptance that Chris Paul was not going to be playing for the Hornets took hold, whenever that was for each person. As the battle raged, different factions formed.

At the heart of the debate, organizing the factions, as I see it, are two key issues. One issue is the particular goal of the fan or the franchise, with the other being the means to that end.

As far as the goal goes, there seems to be this idea that winning a title is the goal. I can see this from the fans perspective. I can see it from an owner’s perspective. This is not the goal of a franchise, however. That would be to make money. Winning a title helps, but there are ways to make money that do not rely on obtaining a distinction that only one of thirty teams will benefit from per year. So, why should we even expect this, especially at this juncture? We can ignore this, since if we don’t, the debate ends. We wouldn’t want that, would we?

The Clash said many great things including

Death or glory: just another story.

Beyond being a great tune brimming with zippy lyrics like “He who *&^%$ nuns will later join the church,” it really is a look at a part of a human, all too human, question that was raised long ago, first captured in the West by Homer in The Iliad. Achilles was given a choice between a long, quiet life as a regular Jopoulos, or be a flame that burns through the ages. He chose the latter, so we are told . . . and Brad Pitt played him, so . . .

This story is well-known, as it should be.

What is slightly less well-known is the story of Pyrrhus . . . not his son. He had a kid? Yeah, dude did ok at the bar . . . at least on par with Peja . . . Pyrrhus was conceived during Achilles’ cross-dressing days . . . dude was a wild child.

This Pyrrhus was a King who spent such great resources in fighting off the Romans in a particular battle that his kingdom ultimately fell. So the term “Pyrrhic victory” comes to us.

Why this is not an Achillean victory boils down to the glory achieved by Achilles, combined with the defeat of the Trojans, contrasted with the later defeat of the Greeks by the Romans . . . unless you count the preservation and elevation of much of their culture as a victory . . . the Chinese would . . . but that is neither here nor there, sadly. We have the framework we need. Achilles. Pyrrhus.

Is it death or glory? Is that our choice? No. At `best’ it is death or a chance at glory (death being metaphorical here and in the Achilles case, as he was going to die in either case) since the Fates aren’t sitting at the table with us.

I share the opinion of The Clash: It’s just another story. It’s played out. Try as anyone might, the second best team ever will be losers to the best team ever in a seven game series (in all likelihood), despite being able to take any other series against any other team. Measuring worth of a team by titles is simple, coarse, irresponsible, disrespectful, and lazy. There are so many factors that affect title acquisition that are arbitrary (e.g. length of the series) and uncontrollable (e.g. injuries), that title counts measure so much more than `goodness’, and what is measured is obscured to most people, myself included. To discount the talents, efforts, and sacrifices of the Steve Nash and Jim Kelly types of the world, and I can’t abide that. Nope. Unh-unh. You are wrong for that.

Beyond this, even discussing titles today is insane, and, I feel, irresponsible. We haven’t even parked the franchise yet. Can we stop the car before we jump out of it? Can we take the groceries in before we start cooking? Can we let one egg hatch? Just one. Please?!?!

Step one: team.

We haven’t completed step one, people.

Read that one more time, reprinted here for your convenience . . .

We haven’t completed step one, people.

The price we paid for having an unsettled franchise was reflected in our collapse after the move to New Orleans and after the 2008 Western Conference Semifinals. We accepted a franchise in disarray in 2002. This team shipped out a superstar, got worse, drafted a hall-of-famer / best of his generation at position X, put the cast around him over a couple years, got close . . . shipped him out amid disarray, etc.

Someone is going to say that Baron is not a superstar. Maybe. Maybe not. Let’s leave the attitude aside. He’s never been on a good team after the Hornets. Garnett won one division title in Minnesota. What do we say about him if he never moves to Boston, attitude and all?

So what about the teams with the `good’ superstars who can’t win? Knicks of today and the last however many years anyone? Look at their team and salary and their 0.500-in-the-Eastern-Conference record and tell me the organization matters less than players.

So give us Anthony Davis, forgetting the one-in-five to one-in-six sort of chances (some will say this is a big difference . . . with one roll of the dice, it isn’t; it’s a bad gamble, trust me). Now what?

Can we keep him? Or are we on another six year plan? Whether we are or not, we’ll hear it for six years. He’ll hear it for six years.

Oh? What’s that? Get another Anthony Davis, too. The odds of that, even two such beasts exist, are one in sixteen in the best of cases, likely worse than one in twenty-five.

Oh? What’s that? Not another Anthony Davis? Just a Daniel Michael DeVito to his Arnold Alois Schwartzenegger. Like D West? No, he came first and wasn’t good enough.

So what then? What plan should we enact and wait for the Wheel of Fortune to deliver for a chance a title that does . . . what for us? Ask Seattle how they feel about their trophy sitting outside of Bricktown and all it does for them while they cry into their flannel pillow cases.

While we wait for fate to deliver us the answer on a plate, we just anti-work our way through season after season while our fans applaud people who won’t be on our teams for falling on their . . .balls? . . . for the glory of a maybe title for someone else? Our Bizzaro fans become an army of Steve Bartmans who root for Bill Buckner to mishandle the ball over Dave Henderson for hitting one for a homer? We sit around and do everything contrary to the nature of sport and to the nature of the workers we hire? What honor is there in that? What is sporting in that? Plus, the team would have to pay people to attend.

Hoping for (our) losses disgusts me. It is an abomination and a crime against second nature.

Every time I hear it I feel pity for those who feel it. It’s not their fault they feel such revolting things as pleasurable. If it was, I wouldn’t pity them.

And, yes, I’m including my fellow bloggers here. Sorry, guys. It’s the truth.

Keep that title if it means we have to root for losses. Keep it, turn it sideways . . .

The characterization of perennial playoff potential as perpetual purgatory is unfair at this point. Recent history shows that there is a ceiling, but the ceiling was the created by the consistent tax-paying teams beating each other up for the title, turning the rest of us grapes into whiney wine in the process. That has changed with the most recent CBA, as evidence by other teams’ roster moves, leaving that past with questionable predictive value.

The cost of this, which is a title during that time plus a couple of years, can not be ignored, but neither can the cost of this ridiculous word and notion of “tanking.” How long will be keep the franchise is disarray? How long will be alienate the fan base? How long will the franchise not deliver value to sponsors? How long? That’s a real question. It’s been a year of eating it up and playing nice. That’s the job of the fan. But for how long?

All I hear is the supposed possible benefits of this “tanking,” but the lack of discussion of the real, tangible, and present costs has become annoying to say the least. “Tank” advocates, this is your warning. You will be asked to discuss the other side of your filthy coin.

The only discussions I see are centered around very small changes in very small odds, sometime recast a larger, but still small, changes in relative magnitudes, a sleight of hand that looks good to the weak of mind. Is that it? Is that really the best the “tankers” can do? Clinging to ping-pong balls from heaven? Plus, they aren’t ping-pong balls, they are combinations. Ugh. At any rate, is this the totem? This pathetic, measly difference in percentages is worth selling your sporting soul for without regard for the reality of the situation?

Life isn’t a video game. These are people’s jobs we are talking about. Those people have lives and families. They have health issues and need insurance. They have tires that need replacing. Think about the people that the years of “tanking” are going to cause to lose their jobs. Go tell them it’s worth it. 504 525 4667. Ask to talk to a rep about buying season tickets. Tell them. Better yet, go to the office on Poydras street and do the same. Or just ask them at the game . . . if you even go. Once you do that, I’ll believe you are truly behind the “tank.” If not, I’ll believe . . . something else.

Show me a team that “tanked” to get picks, then got the picks, then won a title. How many are there? At what rate is this successful? Is it worth it? If it was your money, is it worth it?

Some will point to the Thunder as a success story. Some Sonics fans will tell you they weren’t “tanking” to get better . . . they were tanking to get worse. And let’s not crown them yet even if they were “tanking” . . . the Heat are still waiting on their second title, after all.

Let’s assume they win their title this year or next. Now ask Seattle if tanking was worth it. Ask.

Oh, is that not fair? Oh, did you not mean to lose the team?

Well that’s what’s been happening here for 10 years “tank-genius.” Every day we’ve been losing the team, and now we want to just assume the deal is done, the team is here, and we can just abuse the fans in new and ever-more inventive ways? What gall. What myopia. Staggering, really.

What else do you want? Let’s just add on some other ridiculum. How about we call you president? Wouldn’t that be nice? I bet it would. What else? What other fairy tale nonsense should we add in while we’re on our dream safari?

Get real. No one is looking to “tank” and the data shows it. That’s because these smart people know it’s not a good idea.

This team needs a foundation. They need to focus on games now, not titles. They need to focus on a culture, not a legacy. As Nietzsche wrote (in German): He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.

What good is the championship-caliber team if you can’t hold it together? What good is the championship-caliber team if you can’t both know and execute the right moves to keep up with the Joneses of the NBA? Remember the Bonzi trade? Posey? Good moves? Maybe. The right moves? No. Best available? Maybe. Could we have been in a better position to have more moves available to us? Likely.

This stuff may not be as important for winning a title as having that key player, but not having the right foundation will stop you no matter who you have on your roster, and screwing up that key player’s shot almost ensures he’ll leave (Paul, James . . . Nash had legit shots . . . Howard is a work in progress).

Pyrrhic victory? Yeah, that’s the other story I was talking about above.

There was a guy who used to post here . . . he’s not posting any more and he certainly frustrated me, but he was right. In the end, he was right. That, more than the loss of Chris Paul and the wasted chance, upsets me. This negative guy’s reasoning was flawed, but he said the right thing and is, by that measure, right. We couldn’t hold Chris, and there was nothing to be done. Trying to make it work just made the situation we’re in worse than it needed to be, likely, at least in terms of winning titles. As far as saving NBA-ball in this city, it was necessary. Do we really want more of the New Orleans can’t hold its stars jibber-jabber? Do we really need to stoke these fires when we could put them out for good? Do we need to dynamite our own levees (again)?

I’m all for winning a title, but pursuing a title `now’ at the cost of removing, over the next few years, established, definite threats to a team that we will not be likely to field in the next few years is unwise. Then we get into splitting hairs on odds about the first pick of the draft when our likely position is either four or five (perhaps a difference that makes a difference there).

Using the draft with maximum efficiency is important, but hoping that we beat the odds so we can fool the Fates and win a title is an untenable position. If we get a great pick, so be it. As the percentages say we’ll need to be the worst team for three season to have at least an even shot at getting the top pick, this just is not feasible for a billionaire spending hundreds of millions for the privilege of paying tens of millions on players, for season ticketholders, or for anyone who wants to enjoy the ride to the eventual title in any way prior to that final season.

Beyond this, I’ll take a team here for me to enjoy who will never win a title, rather than the title-bound team that may leave. I’m not Achilles. Never was. I wrote a paper praising Hector (his Trojan counterpart) when I was a freshman (A on that one) and never looked back. I expect no one who does not attend games to `feel’ this, and I recognize this.

Also, someone like Johnny Depp will play me.

This team needs to win games, play Eric Gordon, play their vets while developing youth, but not develop them at the expense of wins. They need to play this season like any other: hard. The possible, not guaranteed, cost in the draft is worth it to me.

All in all, I’m more than happy with a 40%-60% chance to win each game every night for the next five years with no title shot. I prefer our chances at building that foundation to our chances to winning a title at this point in time. We can take our shot when ready and when the next star falls into our lap we don’t burn our double-covered body parts.

da ThRONe
da ThRONe

As a sports fan I don't think it's about winning titles as much as being a title contenders. I think of what Utah put together with Stockton/Malone. Just to have a team that can compete is what I mean by title contender. As much as I enjoyed the magically year we ended up the 2nd seed I never truly thought that team was a title contender. One of my largest complaint about being a basketball fan is the way the salary and season is stuctured fans have to sit through far too many medicore to awful season if you aren't a fan of a glamour teams.


I am pretty firmly in the camp that believes the Hornets are better off next year and in the future if they lose as many games as possible this year. We all know how the value of a draft pick plummets the further it gets away from no. 1 overall, so if the playoffs are not an option, anything the helps our chances of getting that No. 1 (or as close as possible to it) is something that I think is ultimately good for the team. Unfortunately, that includes losing games right now. All that being said, I have not watched a single game, either in the Arena or from home, and hoped for the team to lose. I just can't do it. The team plays entirely too hard for me to watch them and justify rooting for them to fail. That knowledge in the back of my head helps to alleviate the pain/annoyance when they inevitably collapse in the fourth quarter, but I still don't want it to happen. As I was telling Mason earlier today, there's no way I would ever be able to tell any of these players "Hey I know you are playing your ass off, but I still hope you lose so we can have a .02% better chance of getting that skinny kid with one eyebrow." I guess what I'm saying is that I'm not hoping for them to lose on any given night, but when all is said and done, I'll be happier with a 14-52 season than a 24-42 season for this year. Next year? We're in for wins.

Mason Ginsberg
Mason Ginsberg

1) Why does making money have to be the only goal of owning an NBA franchise? Jake and I have discussed this, and he will likely go into much greater detail than I am right now, but guys like Cuban lose money on their franchises perpetually with the goal of winning a title in mind. Gladwell's psychic benefits piece over on Grantland comes to mind; in fact, back when I was writing on HoopDat, Andrew and I both addressed this question surrounding the profitability of NBA franchises: The main argument of that piece is different from the one you are making, but it incorporates the same theory that contradicts yours - owning a franchise in the NBA isn't just about making money. 2) You say that you would prefer a team that will stay in NOLA and never win a title over a title-bound team that may leave. That statement inherently assumes that a good team is more likely to leave its hometown than a bad one. Where is the evidence to support a claim like that? Furthermore, with the pending lease agreement that will bind the team to the city for the next dozen years, why is this topic even relevant? 3) You say that we simply look at the benefits, but not the costs of implementing this strategy; it almost seems as if you are suggesting that "tanking" means turning a good or even average team into a bad one, resulting in a complete revolt among the team's fan base, when this is not the case. In the Hornets' situation, the notion of "tanking" implies that a bad team is simply becoming just a little bit worse now and for a limited period of time, with the goal of being much improved later and over a much longer period of time. I understand your point when you question the motives behind "tanking" for merely an extra 5-10% chance at the #1 pick in the draft, which would still be just a 25% shot at best. I just don't think the costs outweigh the potential benefit in this situation. Either way, this is far from a black and white debate, as you seem to indicate with this post.

Mike P
Mike P

There's a big difference between hoping for a loss and hoping that the team plays to lose. Every time I watch the Hornets play this year, I am hoping for a close loss.. but I don't want the players to play that way. And they haven't. What has been overlooked this season is the culture that Monty Williams is creating: a culture of winning. Not in the box score, but in the way the players come out every night. The wins will come when we have better pieces. Jeff Van Gundy (when talking about a Hornets/Lakers game on NBA TV) said something like this: "At least the Hornets try. They're a bad team, but they compete." Gentry also praised the Hornets the other day, calling them the hardest-working team in the league. This is paramount. People are noticing what we're trying to do here. You want to attract free agents (good ones)? Show them that we're about winning. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what the fans are hoping for anyway: it doesn't impact the game whatsoever. Despite my wishes to get a high draft pick, I can't help but smile every time the Hornets win, because athletes need to remember what winning is like to keep striving for wins. Let's take our lumps this year, try to hit on our picks, and trust Dell to get what we need moving forward. I don't want to tank next year: why should we? There are plenty of ways to pick up quality pieces. If we suck next year, then so be it. I'll be clamoring for ping pong balls as the season closes. If we're stuck as a 6 seed the next six years, then that's the way it is. I was at game 7 vs San Antonio in 08 (when we were contenders) and I watched as the Hornets come back from down 15 and Pargo miss two looks from beyond the arc. It sucked, but when the ball was in the air (both times), I had hope. Fast foward to last year, when we got to watch Paul dominate the Lakers at home in game 4. I cried. I didn't think we had a shot at the title. But I had hope that better days were ahead. That's the life of a fan. You cling to hope. My point is this: it's okay to want ping pong balls, or combinations, or whatever the hell they are. As long as Monty has our players giving their best out there, we can stand behind the Hornets and hope that our day will come. It will.


Jason quotes Nietzche, I quote Dean Wormer," Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life son." No point here, just wanted to lighten things up for us shallow thinkers. I will admit that I cannot sit and watch a game and root for the Hornets to lose. Just can't do it. After they lose I try to rationalize that it's all for the best, but I still feel dirty.

Michael McNamara
Michael McNamara

As I have stated before, I am an all or nothing guy, but if I had to jump on Jason's argument I could do it easily by playing "The Ignorance Card". Here's what that means: Right now, there are fans of 5-10 teams enjoying the heck out of this season because they believe their team will win the title. Only one fan base will be right, but the other 4-9 won't know they are wrong until the very last second of their teams' season. Meanwhile, the team that wins it all will bask in the glory for a few days, but by late June, all fans will turn towards the always enticing "next season", which will create hope and happiness once again. Point is, how much more enjoyment and/or happiness does a fan of the title winner enjoy this season than say, the fan a team that loses in game 7 of the second round? And that is all that matters, right? None of us will receive anything tangible from our team winning the title, so all that really matters in the end is the joy we get from the current season, and the hope/promise we can project for the following season. The truth is each team only has a 3.33% chance of winning a title in a given year, but if we can be sold on the idea that the odds are in our favor, that ignorance will create bliss.

Joe Gerrity
Joe Gerrity

I want to maximize future possibility while minimizing pain, which is why I'm on board for losing the rest of this season and this season alone. I don't enjoy this. I would obviously prefer to be rooting for wins, but we're looking at a possible one-year rebuild whereas some teams have to sit through years of mediocrity and bad drafts. Rarely have a set of circumstances come about that lent themselves to a tankjob more than this one. A short season where the team has been crippled by injuries has led us to the brink of assuring ourselves at least a top five or six pick. All we have to do is keep the tank rolling down the hill for just a few more games.