Got Your Number

Why Kings fans should look beyond stats

By R.E. Graswich
February 2020

Being a Kings fan is one of the toughest jobs in sports. The team is awful. And it’s hard to find relevant, intelligent media. Lots of web platforms carry information on the Kings. But when it comes to deeper insights, the sports media landscape quickly turns barren.

Three decades ago, I was The Sacramento Bee reporter assigned full time to cover the Kings. My job was to cultivate insight. Unlike today, when player availability to the media is tightly controlled, access wasn’t a problem. I would attend practice each morning and go to shoot-around sessions on game days.

For road trips, I often traveled with the team. I stayed in the team hotel and rode the team bus. Players and coaches were almost always accessible, either around the locker room or the hotel bar.

Seeing the same people everyday, it was easy to build relationships. Players knew they could use me to send messages to Kings ownership, coaches, fans and the rest of the NBA. They would tell me things. Many of these conversations were self-serving, but they served me, too—I got plenty of gossip, dirt and scoops.

Sports journalism doesn’t work that way today. Fewer professional reporters cover the Kings, and they rarely share beers with coaches and players. Websites such as Sactown Royalty, Cowbell Kingdom, Bleacher Report and SacBee have mountains of Kings content, but most of it reads like devoted fans swapping opinions—a digital sports bar without booze.

I had another benefit in the old days: feedback from players and coaches. While I was threatened a few times and physically attacked by one player for something I wrote, the majority of feedback was constructive. Sactown Royalty, the Bee and other media that cover the Kings today could use some of that feedback.

The biggest problem with today’s coverage is the reliance on statistics. Fans love to discern wisdom from arcane numbers. They believe stats make them smart. In fact, citing stats in a game report or social media feed is a bad sign. The reliance on numbers shows how little the writer really knows.

Danny Ainge set me straight about stats. Ainge is president of the Boston Celtics, but in 1989 he was a disgruntled Kings point guard. One day he gave me a journalism lesson. He told me I was dumping too many stats into my stories. I was ignoring essential parts of the game.

For example, he said certain players would base their performances on stats. Once they hit a certain number of shots, they would stop taking chances. They didn’t want to hurt their average, even if it meant losing. I studied those players over a few games, and Ainge was right.

Ainge said many rebounds and blocked shots meant nothing. He said assists and points scored during certain moments were far more valuable than other assists and points. “That’s what you should write about,” he said. “Don’t get bogged down with stats.”

Stats all but disappeared from my reports. I would mention the score (the ultimate stat) and newsworthy numbers, but that was it. I would not write about where the Kings ranked defensively among NBA teams. Instead, I would explain why some players were lousy defenders.

When I examined Kings-centric websites, social media and the Bee for this column, I was buried in stats. I found one Kings reporter with real insight and minimal dependence on stats: Jason Jones, a former Bee sportswriter who works for a website called The Athletic. He knows the story is about people, not numbers. The site costs $60 a year. I might sign up.

R.E. Graswich can be reached at regraswich@icloud.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

 

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