The Greatest Year In Gaming

When I first set out to write a series of blog posts outlining the “greatest years in gaming,” and then to pick one at the conclusion of the series, I expected it to be a hard choice.

It wasn’t. Continue reading

It Almost Seems A Shame

It Almost Seems A Shame

Tracy McGrady, the NBA player under contract to the Houston Rockets, is back.

T-Mac, the NBA star whose spectacular scoring ability earned him that contract, along with seven All-Star appearances?

Two games in, the jury is still out on that one.

Two months ago, McGrady’s return looked like a ray of hope amidst the doldrums of an injury that ended Yao Ming’s season before it began. In what looked like a year for the Rockets to compete for a good lottery pick, not a good record, the return of an oft-ailing superstar sounded like basketball gold. MacGracy would have had time to work his way back into the lineup or, failing that, to show to best effect so Houston could move him either in a trade now or a sign-and-trade at the start of next season.

Preseason Power Rankings from ESPN and NBA.com had the Rockets well out of the playoffs, #20 and #18 respectively. Sad, for a team that performed so well the year before and had been built so intelligently – but tolerable, because it was an opportunity to build for the upcoming year.

A great situation for T-Mac’s return seemed like a foregone conclusion.

But that’s why the play the games.

The remaining Rockets, along with coach Rick Adelman, have stepped up their game. Undersized and, by conventional metrics, under-talented, they have competed with the best teams in the NBA by playing smart, hard-nosed basketball. It has put a team many were ready to write off squarely in the middle of the hunt (15th in both offensive and defensive efficiency, according to NBA.com).

Can it be a shame when a gritty team that plays the right way out-works, out-thinks and out-grinds its way into playoff contention?

For the Rockets, it just might be.

Their original season prognosis was: lose, work McGrady back, trade him for value or get value from him, draft well and match the T-Mac returns and a promising rookie with a rested and healthy Yao Ming. The biggest danger there? Management uncharacteristically jumping the gun on coach Rick Adelman, or the players tuning him out. (In fairness, Adelman is a great coach and this was a real risk – less so with the Rockets than with most franchises, though.)

Now, though, Houston will probably finish in the middle of the pack, with no time to work McGrady back into playing shape for either use or shopping, and receive only a mid-tier draft pick for their troubles.

The upside, of course, is that a Rockets team that always knew how to win will know it better than ever did – but when you’re already playing just about the smartest basketball in the game just to hang around, is there really room for improvement?

The Ball9000 Is Scared, Dave

Saturday’s Phoenix Suns/Denver Nuggets game should have been basketball at its most enjoyable. The league’s highest-scoring teams, both in contention (or at least seemingly so, at this point in the season), highlighted by the play of spectacular stars and energy-injecting reserves.

It should not have been an excercise in watching sub-par officiating turn each play into a coin flip.

Look, Steve Nash was pretty blatantly fouled on the last play of the game. I doubt anyone doubts that, except perhaps the three stripe-wearers who didn’t make the call. By that metric, this game, which has postseason implications, should have gone the other way. Nash shooting two free throws wouldn’t have guaranteed a Phoenix win, but it would have come pretty damned close. It wasn’t a case of the action being obscured by other players; Nash and Nene were the only ones down there. It wasn’t a case of a superstar being favored, because Nash is and Nene ain’t. It wasn’t a case of the refs swallowing their whistles, because Carmelo Anthony, a player for whom gifts from the referees are vanishingly rare, got free throws when he was blatantly fouled at the other end.

But was it a case of a makeup (no) call?

After all, just the play before, the Nuggets’ Nene had been fouled not once, not twice but three times under the basket on an equally critical play. For this battering, the 6’11” center received… absolutely squat. The whistle remained buried. During the run in the second quarter that put Phoenix ahead in the game, the Nuggets could not so much as look at a Sun without being whistled, while they were undercut, hand checked and occasionally clobbered any time they went inside the three-point line.

So was the outcome just?

If so, it can only have been by blind chance – and worst of all, short of extensive review of every play, there’s no way to know.

The game of basketball is so fast, though. You don’t want to slow down the game. NBA referees do the best they can.

I accept these excuses.

Sorry, explanations.

I accept all this.

We cannot better the refs we have? So be it.

Then let’s build better refs.

Specifically, let’s build computerized refs.

We have, if not the exact technology needed, then something very close to it. Thin, flexible and pressure-sensitive uniforms. A ball, floor and rim that check positioning. The actual software to coordinate the resulting data unquestionably exists; a primitive form is used in every basketball video game.

Let’s call it the Ball9000.

What would a basketball game look like, presided over by this technology? (Aside from fairer, I mean.)

A player sets up to take a charge. Another player barrels into him. Both players uniforms register the contact and transmit where, when and how it happened to the Ball9000. The ball tells the Ball9000 who had it, when he had control and when he last dribbled. The floor tells the Ball9000 whether or not the defender was in the circle. The Ball9000 puts this data together and calculates if the play was an offensive or defensive foul, and displays the information (along with a sinister, red, basketball-shaped light) on the JumboTron, which already sounds like something out of pulp sci-fi. (The coaches and scorer’s table would have their versions, too, and maybe the backboards would show the result.)

Hell, you could, and perhaps even should, have officials present in the flesh, albeit merely as a delivery system for the data and to prevent things from getting out of hand.

What’s lost with the introduction of this technology?

Well, TV networks and the mafia would have a harder time making sure the teams they want to make money off of advance in the playoffs. (Don’t worry, guys, we can introduce failure points in the software if the NBA gets too fair and isn’t itself anymore.)

Ladies who tune in for NBA beefcake would have to settle for skin-hugging pressure-sensitive uniforms rather than bare arms and legs. (Don’t worry, girls, you’ll always have the locker room report, or you can just put yourselves and the players in compromising positions in person.)

Players would have to adjust to wearing the equivalent of compression shorts as a uniform.

Only the last is any kind of an indictment of the system.

Fortunately, you can bring it in one piece at a time. The lowest-tech components are the floor (capable of measuring traveling, stepping out of bounds, the three point line and the charge circle more accurately than any human official) and the rim and backboard (capable of measuring at least two types of goaltending, along with shot clock resets). These could be incorporated without the pressure-sensitive uniforms, using no technology we don’t possess today.

Basketball is unquestionably one of the hardest sports for humans to officiate – but it’s one of the easiest for a computer to, because none of its rules require interpretation or even understanding. Just perfect knowledge of the game state. (American football, for instance, would be hell on a computer when so many calls are based on position on grass, and contact is allowed much of the time and in most situations.) We have the technology to provide the needed knowledge.

Now all we need is the Ball9000 to put it into practice.

Obligatory Opening Post

Is the opening post truly obligatory, or is this a waste of good electrons?

I may delete this post later, it’s mostly for testing purposes.

Note that I’m not going to be doing this blog “in character,” or at least not all/most of the time.  Sorry, Mog.

Mog Chastises!Not Mog, kupo – Moogle Emperor Mog!

MogHence the name of the blog, kupo.

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