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It's all fun and games, really

There are certain phrases within the sports lexicon that bother me to no end.  "Consistency" is one.  "Confidence" is another.  But nothing grinds my gears more than someone telling a player or a team to be quiet because they shouldn't provide "bulletin board material" to their opponents.

It is in this light that I scoff at noted TNT analyst (and one of my favorite players of all time) Charles Barkley.  See, Charles was all set to pick the Wizards over Cleveland, but has recently changed his mind because he's down on the Wizards' "trash" talking.

"I think the Washington Wizards have got to be the dumbest team in the history of civilization," ...

 "I think for them to rile up LeBron, who's the second-best player we've got in the NBA . . . I think that's just stupid," Barkley said. "I thought [the Wizards] had a chance to win that series. I don't think that any more.

"I think it would be totally different if they had the homecourt. But, for them to think they're going to go into Cleveland . . . they just riled up LeBron, the Cavaliers and all the fans. I just think that was stupid."

So wait, Charles is saying the Wizards will lose because they publicly believe they can win the series?  They're going to lose because LeBron will be "riled up" not because it's playoff time, but because he's pissed off by what DeShawn Stevenson had to say?

Here's my problem with the whole concept of "bulletin board material."  It's the classic case of hindsight evaluation.  Suppose Cleveland won this series.  History will remember it being an example of LeBron vanquishing the punk-ass Wizards, who dared to speak about (gasp) winning the series.  In reality, it'll probably be because the Cavs will hit their threes, the Wizards won't keep them off the glass, and yeah, LeBron will play well.  But nobody's going to remember that.  Instead, they'll remember DeShawn Stevenson opening his mouth, when that really didn't matter all that much.

Let me make this more clear.  Considering the sensitivity of today's basketball stars, I know they take what others say about them very seriously.  I know they're going to play a little differently against them than against other people who don't say anything about them.  What I don't know is whether it's fair to then make the connection that they, and more importantly, their team will play better.  It's a jump too many people make, and it's crazy how it automatically seems to be the reason why one team emerged victorious.

Let's take an example that would seem to disprove this point, because it talks about teams close in ability.  In 1993, the Knicks won the first two games against the Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals as John Starks outperformed Michael Jordan.  In Game 4, Jordan dropped 54 on Starks, and the Bulls eventually won the series.  People blamed Starks for running his mouth and "angering" Jordan, but what really happened is that Jordan, knowing the Bulls needed that game to avoid going down 3-1, noticed his teammates playing passively and took it upon himself to score.  Was it John Starks?  No, it was the situation in the series.  We forget that the Bulls won games 5 and six with Jordan shooting a combined 19 of 48.  We also forget that Starks was 9 of 17 in Game 4, and had a brilliant series.  The Bulls won because they were the better team at the time, mostly because the Knicks could never really solve Chicago's press.  They didn't win because John Starks gave Michael Jordan bulletin board material.

Will LeBron be ticked off?  Yeah, probably.  Will he have been ticked off anyway?  I would hope so, otherwise he wouldn't be the player he is right now.  Can we honestly tell whether his anger will translate on the court?  Absolutely not.  That's something we can't do until he actually plays, and then we're acting with the benefit of hindsight.  If anything, you might see this energize DeShawn into having a series like John Starks had in 1993, except this time with the Wizards winning, since they have the better roster, the better coach, and have been playing better basketball late in the season.

So Chuck, you're on notice.  Don't get caught into the rabid fan trap, where you overemphasize what is being said.