In the moments after Dallas’ rough 100-97 loss to the Golden State Warriors, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban took to Twitter to trash TNT analyst Chris Webber while engaging in a conversation with well-respected NBA follower Haralabos Voulgaris. Cuban made sure all of his 1.5 million followers saw his complaint, literally making a point to put a period before Voulgaris’ Twitter handle so that anyone following Mark’s feed could see his screed.
In my defense, for the first time in a while I didn’t see a second of TNT’s Thursday night package, and didn’t hear what Webber was on about. With that in place, it’s important to point out that Cuban was referring to Chris’ work on the whole and not strictly in regards to his analysis from Thursday.
Cuban probably isn’t wrong. We doubt very much that in the days and hours leading up to airtime Chris Webber is looking at on/off court statistics. We’re sure that he isn’t up to date on Chris Kaman’s percentile ranking in terms of either low post or spot up play, and we’re guessing that he isn’t aware of the various cap holds and salary cap frustrations that would possibly make Dallas a more warming free agent target than Atlanta this summer.
What we do know is that in spite of possibly skipping on that homework, and in spite of the endless array of on camera types that skip just as much homework, Chris Webber is the most thoughtful, fluid and open analyst we have covering our game. Excluding Hubie Brown, because ranking basketball brains alongside Hubie Brown’s wealth of knowledge just isn’t fair.
This wasn’t always the case. As it currently is with ex-players like Jon Barry and (especially) Shaquille O’Neal, Webber started out in the Turner studios with a bone to pick. He was still in jock mode, venting over perceived slights as the recently retired often do.
In one notable instance, just before the 2009 All-Star game, Webber ranted about how he was looked over for an All-Star team during one unnamed year in favor of Tom Gugliotta, whose team was having a better season than Webber’s. It was later revealed that the one season Gugliotta made the All-Star team – 1997 – he was working in a different conference, and his selection would have had no bearing on Webber’s spot on the squad. Topping that off, not only was Webber working with a better team during that season, the playoff-making Washington Bullets, he was also working in a different conference (and, alas, a different All-Star team), and he was actually chosen to appear in that same 1997 NBA All-Star game.
Things have changed, though. Webber has mellowed in a way, while remaining one of the go-to guys that NBA freaks look forward to watching. Either on NBA TV or TNT.
In a lot of ways moving from clicking through endless local League Pass broadcasts on a Wednesday or Friday night and moving into watching a highlighted nationally televised game is a step down. We appreciate the humor and touch and lightness provided by the national crews, but as ardent NBA followers we’re aware that the broadcasts (even if they go on until two in the morning, Eastern) aren’t designed for us. This is why it’s often helpful to have on camera talent that couldn’t pick Sam Young out of a lineup. It’s not quite planned obsolescence, but it’s not far off.
Amongst the guys that might be sliding, though? The ones that develop their hot sports takes from personal NBA experience, the occasional national telecast, some League Pass viewership, and a whole lot of radio appearances? Webber’s still the best. By far. And though we constantly rail against television networks and radio hosts for lending credibility to those that just skim this league, it’s not as if League Pass obsession immediately leads to correct and cogent takes. ESPN’s studio show, for instance, features one writer that clearly watches a whole lot of regional games, and he doesn’t usually come away from those nights with a consensus that matches many of his professional NBA-obsessive peers.
(Was I kind enough in that sub-mention?)
Mark Cuban doesn’t appreciate the way that Chris Webber doesn’t appreciate the nuance and thoughtfulness behind restructuring parts of the defending champion 2011 Dallas Mavericks, and that’s fine. He probably didn’t like Webber’s take on the blown call that may have gotten in the way of a hoped-for Dallas Mavericks win.
He’s not “horrible,” though. And he certainly has plenty to add, as his years worth of both in-studio and sideline work can attest.
It’s the petulant fan that can be horrible, and provide absolutely nothing to add. Cuban, in his worst moments, reminds us all of this.