Amico: Rose is right — ex-players not getting equal shot at GM jobs

Since retiring as a player, Jalen Rose has served as an in-studio analyst for ESPN's NBA programming.

I’m with Jalen Rose on the topic of analytics. I think they have their place. But as Rose indicated in an interview with The New Yorker, analytics should be a tool for teams to use — and not the entire toolbox.

Like Rose, I often wonder why so few former players are in positions of power in the NBA. More specifically, why are there so few African-American general managers in a league that thrives off African-American men?

I’m not here because of some sort of agenda. On this website, I have to answer to just one person — me. So I write what I want when I want without fear of repercussion. People who love basketball will visit this site, period. It’s been proven over time.

And for the record, I have no real political views. I rarely vote. Almost never. To me, politics divide. They create hate speech, endless streams of propaganda, wars and things in which I have no interest.

I’d rather get along with my brothers and sisters. In my eyes, we are all God’s children. He created all of us. He wants us to love one another and treat each other as equals. Politics muck that up.

My views on politics are my own. I don’t expect you to agree. Frankly, I don’t even find politics interesting enough to debate.

So vote. It’s a good thing. You should. But I am exercising my right not to care.

That’s all a really long way of saying I love God, my family, my job and basketball, and I am not writing this column for any purpose but one question. And I stated it above.

Here it is again: Why aren’t more former players represented as the main men in NBA front offices?

Well, I think Rose gave us some answers. And like him, I think analytics may play a role.

THORNY ISSUE

Rose made his name as a member of Michigan’s Fab Five team in the 1990s. He went on to a successful NBA career and is now an analyst on ESPN.

In case you missed the interview, Rose answered a question about why many former players may not like the increased focus on analytics and advanced stats used by so many of today’s teams.

Here is how Rose responded in The New Yorker piece:

“No. 1, there are many people that feel like it has a cultural overtone to it that basically suggests that, even though I may not have played and you did, I am smarter than you, and I know some things that you don’t know, and the numbers support me, not you.

“Two, you notice that, when it is a powerful job in sports — whether it is an owner, whether it is a president, whether it is a general manager, whether it is a coach — usually in football and basketball, sports that are primarily dominated by black Americans, it’s also an opportunity to funnel jobs to people by saying that, ‘I am smarter than you because the numbers back up what I say, and I am more read. I study more. I am able to take these numbers and manipulate my point.'”

Rose later admitted that when he said “cultural” overtones, he meant “racial” overtones.

Now, I don’t think the majority of teams give a lot of thought about the skin color of the people they hire. And I’m certain that is not what Rose was suggesting. Most people throughout the league fervently believe teams hire the absolute best person for the job. But when you make analytics the basis in which you do absolutely everything … well, you’re not giving every option (or person) an equal opportunity.

And truth is, only one team wins a championship each season. Everyone else who used analytics failed. Sometimes, it’s best to try another method.

Sometimes, former players know more than the people who crunch numbers, or the people who can tell you who is great at shooting left-handed in the final 30 seconds of a game. Granted, analytics goes way beyond that, but you get the point.

Anyway, I would say former players know more about the NBA than people who didn’t play in the NBA. I don’t care who they are.

Rose supported this point.

“When you play — for example, somebody like me, who has been playing my entire life — for some strange reason that experience gets diminished when it’s time to talk about powerful positions in sports — like, He doesn’t have experience,” Rose told The New Yorker.

“There is no bigger experience than being in the foxhole, in the huddles, and out on the floor — being a part of the game plan and being game-planned against. But also all the people you learn from: your teammates, the coaches, how to navigate with the media, how to navigate with the fans.

“Instead of it being, He doesn’t have experience, it really should be, He has more experience than almost anybody walking the earth.”

Now, there are some former players in GM and team executive roles. Some have most certainly failed.

But so what?

So have a lot of analytics guys. Yet, doesn’t it seem like analytics-types are still all the rage?

It is a fair question and I’m glad Rose had an opportunity to talk about it. Not every former player deserves a position as a team’s head of basketball operations. But they at least deserve an equal opportunity, and as someone who has covered this league for 20 years, I can say without a doubt they have not gotten one.

Analytics aren’t bad, and that’s not what I’m implying. It’s not nearly what Rose tried to imply. He clearly doesn’t think every GM has to be a former player, either.

But the men who have shaped this league know a lot about how to make it work. It is way beyond time for team owners and others in charge to acknowledge it.

5 Comments on "Amico: Rose is right — ex-players not getting equal shot at GM jobs"

  1. One big change not mentioned is the fact that very few NBA “stars” have much more than a high school education these days. This has to at least be part of the equation when looking to manage a multi billion dollar business. Street smarts can take you far but…

  2. Wow!! Unbelievable!!

    Thank you SOOOO much for writing this article!

    I love the game of basketball almost to a fault. I am irresponsible with how much time i spend either playing and watching basketball, and following the NBA. I grew up starting with watching Lakers vs Celtics in the 80’s, and haven’t been able to look away since.

    Sometimes i feel like I have a 6th sense for the game, and im seeing things that the casual fan next to me isnt seeing. For example I could see in the first and second quarter that the Raps were going to take game 4, despite the fact they were losing up through somewhere in the third quarter or later. The casual Raptors fan next to me was so in doubt and I had to keep reassuring them. Im not just tooting my own horn, im going somewhere with this.

    I also have a degree in a hard science. I am very comfortable with numbers and have a sense for statistics, and have success in a field that requires analytical thinking. I understand the ideas of analytics, and how they can be of value even in areas where what they suggest might be counter intuitive. My point is that i know a little about the argument on both sides.

    Where I fall is with Jalen and yourself Sam. The human brain is amazing. Whether its something you can show on a piece of paper or something youre able to do with your hands and feet, the brain keeps learning. That sixth sense i claim to have comes from somewhere, experience and learning. The brain picks things up, tendencies, patterns, and how the variables at play affect those patterns. It haopens whether youre on a playground or in a classroom.

    When the subject is basketball, people that have been doing it all of their life are going to have these types of senses. They’re actually mathematical and statistical in nature if you want to talk about them that way, but the former player doesnt need to. They’ve already calculated what is going on in the floor, and in real time.

    The problem i see with analytics is that you have to create a formula to follow. When you create a formula in basketball, you have to weigh the importance of things. Even basing your weights on previously played game data isnt going to show the entire picture. Yes we can quantify what we see into numbers of rebounds, steals, etc. But those statistics dont draw the picture of how those numbers came to be. And it does matter. Any analytics GM at some point has to put weighted values on statistical outcomes.

    The problem with weighing the values of numbers to create your philosophy is the stagnancy of the formulae. What many proponents of analytics fail to understand is that game conditions and circumstances can instantly change the weights or significance of values of within a supposed winning formula. You can creat formulas that are better than other formulas, but there is no consistent formula for success in the NBA. A good coach and a good player makes adjustments with instant awareness as to how the formulas of the game are changing. There is no way to have somebody on a computer, or a thousand guys on computers calculating the next step that needs to happen. You need people who are able to follow the game in real time the way a human brain does. The conditions in a game just change too fast. There is too much to be calculated by an outside source, the time lapse is detrimental to the result. Also, what one can quantify into a formula is limited. Human emotions for example, cant be crunched by computers, especially in real time.

    Im with Jalen and Sam and others on this, and thats even from an analytical standpoint of observing all the variables. I think where the staunches analytics supporters go wrong is in not acknowledging the limits of what they can contribute to a real live game. And maybe its because they didnt play or dont know how hard it is to find success ON the court or some other reason, but those same people also don’t always acknowledge the complexity of an NBA game, All of the instantly changing variables involved, and dont acknowledge the unquantifiable intelligence of those who have had on court success. If they did they would humble themselves a bit.

    Isiah Thomas on NBA TV has said some profound and brilliant statements about the limits of analytics. I wish I had a quote to share. Listen to that man! And Sam if you want to write more about this in the future I hope you can get in touch with him. Either way, thank you so much for this article. And what a shame that in todays world one feels the need for all the disclaimers about agendas and politics to make a more than fair point. So thank you for having that courage to bring it up and actually write about on your platform.

    • You make excellent and very astute arguements about how ex-player’s experiential intelligence makes great preparation…for coaching.

      GMs don’t make realtime decisions in basketball games. GMs hire people that are better at it.

      I absolutely agree that playing NBA basketball educates the players in a way that is very hard to attempt to replicate from study. The problem again is that that isn’t the education GMs need. While those players are working out, watching film, practicing, and negotiating the intricacies of being a professional althetes there are non-players that absolutely LOVE the game that never had a chance to make the league because of a plethora of physical limitations. There are people of every race (and gender) that are too small, chronically ill, physically disabled, and all have kinds of other physicsl limitations they may have been saddled with even since birth. Some of those people study contract law, negotiation, business management, talent evaluation, cost benefit analysis, human psychology, history of the game, and yes, even analytics.

      Pretending that the gate keeper to the GM position is just the math of analytics is incredibly myopic. Analytics haven’t even been embraced for all that long now.

      I don’t devalue the education or intelligence of NBA players, and sometimes that can help a player become a good GM…but how can you devalue the lifetime of effort, education, work, study, and experience that many people go through to prepare for a job like GM? It’s still basketball, but the jobs have vastly different skillsets and requirements (despite the overlap).

      As an example, Engineers study for years to learn their professions. Some spend years designing and building skyscrapers, streets, bridges, and everything inside a city. They understand the structural makeup of that city in a way most people could barely scratch the surface of. Does that make those engineers inherently qualified to run the city? Collect taxes, write and enforce laws, hire city officials, propose budgets and steer the population’s social and economic future? Of course not. Their experience gives them part of the picture. I’m sure some engineers have even turned out to be great mayors or elected officials, but that doesn’t change the fact that other people were learning all those other skills while the engineer was learning to be an engineer.

  3. RAY HORCAJO | June 9, 2019 at 11:26 am |

    Dell Demps? Dave DeBusschere, Danny Ainge, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Bill Russell, Vlade Divac, Danny Ferr. Ernie Grunwald. MJ. The list is long. As far as current players; I think very highly paid men will want to take the pay cut and increased workload. Players put in the time to be successful on the court, but when do they put in the executive time to perform the thankless job of a GM.

    dell Demps?

  4. Michael Monea | June 11, 2019 at 5:35 pm |

    Hmmm. Interesting. Personally, I despise analytics. Smart, geeky nerds who can’t dribble a basketball without it bouncing off their feet create stats, and stats on stats, and then stats of those statistical stats and then intimidate the owners that they know something about something they know nothing about than a man or woman who fought in the pits for years.

    Personally, if I was an owner, I would search for the smartest ex-player who exceeded his analytics projections and survived for years in a league that is populated by the greatest athletic prodigies on the planet. Guys like Matthew Dellievidova. I would hire him with the provision that the geeks in the front office would be fired and told to go home to mom and dad’s basements. And if he ever showed me an Excel spreadsheet that justified a decision he made, he would be fired on the spot.

    MJM

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