The Botched Assassination of John Wall by the Mythomaniac John Feinstein | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

The Botched Assassination of John Wall by the Mythomaniac John Feinstein

By
Updated: February 11, 2015

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In 2006, the New York Times published a review of John Feinstein’s eighteenth book, “Last Dance: Behind the Scenes at the Final Four.” The review was scathing, and surprisingly so given Feinstein’s innocuous prolificacy in his role as a rapid-fire sports-word generator for a readership that, one might unfairly assume, is happy to consume without question or criticism. After all, Feinstein’s previous book, “Next Man Up,” had been published just four months earlier. Asking fans of his work to spend an additional tenner for yet another “behind-the-scenes” look at the wide world of sports did not seem to be one of Feinstein’s, or his publisher’s, concerns.

Before expressing a hope that “Last Dance” would also be Feinstein’s last book, Jay Jennings’ (a sportswriter as well) penultimate paragraph of the New York Times review contained this passage:

“Feinstein’s latest and lamest shows a disdain for intelligent sports-minded readers, who, in a world where endless flickering highlights are excised from game contexts and ‘Boo-ya!’ passes for commentary, look to books about sports to dignify and explain the depth of our obsessions.”

Feinstein, by all measure a respected sportswriter and long-time paid columnist at the Washington Post, provides a useful example of sports mythomania. He’s a patient zero for the promoted, tolerated, expected, and incredibly banal quasi-journalism in sports that frustrates engaged fans and reinforces the opinions of the echo chamber built for people who knew something about basketball once upon a time, but haven’t cared enough in a while to do anything more than pop in occasionally with a comment based on limited information and a glut of preconceptions.

★★★

On an unremarkable morning in June 2012, Feinstein called into 106.7 The Fan to appear on a D.C. area sports-talk radio show, “The Sports Junkies.” He managed to, remarkably, say something that sounded insane, which everyone thought was insane, which was also in fact insane.

“If I was the Wizards, I swear if I could pull off a deal, I would trade down. I would take John Wall, trade down, get a player or two, and use the first pick on Kendall Marshall. I swear to God I would do that, I think that highly of Kendall Marshall.

“They’re not gonna do that because that’s thinking out of the box. And they’ve made such a big deal out of John Wall they can’t afford to trade him. But I think that would be a good move. I think Kendall Marshall, in terms of running a team, potentially, is a lot better than John Wall.”

Dan Steinberg naturally transcribed the appearance and posted it on his DC Sports Bog. His lede was typically apt:

“If the mark of a good sports-talk radio guest is the ability to say something that comes not just from out of left field, but from out of a carefully hidden hole in left field that rabid gophers have built using robotic acorn-tipped drills imported from secret Manitoban gopher breeders intent on discombobulating world carrot futures, well then, John Feinstein is a good sports-talk radio guest.

“Great, even.”

At the outset of this season, in a Washington Post column about how D.C. still isn’t sold on the Wizards, Feinstein had this to say:

“John Wall, who entered the arena giving the Johnny Manziel ‘money fingers,’ was schooled for much of the evening by Brandon Knight, who finished with 24 points and six assists, blowing by Wall early and often. Wall ended up with deceptively decent numbers but was outplayed by the man who succeeded him as Kentucky’s point guard.”

This was asinine. It was far from clear that Wall gave the “money fingers” to the Verizon Center crowd, and much more likely that it was his normal request for crowd noi—wait, why does it matter?

Here’s the trap that idiots like Feinstein pull fans into when they put match to gasoline and walk away from their silly, unresearched, overly suggestive takes. When you debate the veracity of nonsense in the thick wool of sports opinion-weaving, you risk losing sight of the truth. And Feinstein isn’t looking for a debate, anyways. He’s just looking to get in, make a quick, bad faith observation, get out, and soak up the relevance it brings. Once you’ve engaged, you’ve already lost. As I lose, here, today.

Feinstein followed up on his column with these comments on a subsequent appearance with 106.7 the Fan’s “The Sports Junkies” on November 7, 2014:

“I’m sorry, I was at the game Saturday night, unfortunately, and Brandon Knight kicked his butt. Made him look bad. You know, Wall ended up, you know, the Bucks are terrible, the fourth quarter was basically up and down with nobody playing defense, so Wall padded his numbers.

“He had good numbers the other night, I know that. What did he have, 31 and 10? I think they keep assists at the Verizon Center the same way Dean Smith used to keep things. They give two on every basket. But, he got killed on defense again by a guy I’ve never heard of!”

Jake Whitacre (a must-follow on Twitter) of Bullets Forever broke down and mythbusted those Feinstein comments on Wall (in print and on the radio), and rather than duplicating his efforts, I’ll just say that Feinstein’s commentary on Wall is so full of factual inaccuracies and self-serving spin that it should, should, render it meaningless. Every sentence was wrong, which is hard to accomplish. But there he was, on the radio, and there it is, in the archives. And everyone knew he’d be back again.

With no way of knowing whether Feinstein is watching Wizards games that he does not attend, and no way of knowing whether Feinstein is watching Wizards games he does attend in his capacity as a member of the media or otherwise, it’s tough to explain his position on Wall. It reads, and sounds, like the most molten of opinions, either uninformed or wilfully blind.

My plea: Stop it. Cut that shit out.

The knock on The Blogosphere has always been that anyone with a computer and access to the internet has a voice. The great potential “evil” of the untrained member of the media is that their opinion may not be worthy, that they may not know enough or have enough experience to provide anything but hysterical fan-pattern analysis, and that their readers will suffer for it. Surely, the sheer volume of #content that flows from basketblogs demeans the craft of traditional sports journalists like Feinstein. There are countless ill-conceived Web homepages to point to, countless blog slideshows to moan about, and countless trade rumors with no sourcing that add to the sense of doubt.

And yet, in 2015, whose voice is the most obnoxious? Where does this flagrant, distressed mythomania spill forth from? Feinstein is afforded a prominent voice in print, on the Web, and on the air (even after his radio show was canceled), on an athlete he seems to aggressively, and recklessly, misinterpret. And he’s presumably paid, occasionally, for the trouble. For a follower of the team, reading Feinstein on John Wall is like an environmental scientist reading the opinion of a climate-change denier on an anti-emissions bill. Facts are selectively purloined from reality and perverted for ill use, if they are welcome at all. Which begs the question: why does this keep happening?

D.C. is the seat of politics in the United States, but Wall’s quality should not be such a partisan opinion.

★★★

If someone on the other side of an argument denies the existence of an objective reality, then any contrary argument that the reality does exist involves citing widely available facts to prove that it does. This unnecessary recitation formulates the facts as part of your argument, and therefore part of the debate, even though there is no debate to the reality’s existence. It drags established facts into the swamp of opinion, and it’s an unfortunate byproduct of “good radio” and bad sports columns.

Of course, Jason Reid’s now infamous article about max contracts and maturity, a terrifically bad sports column, is still linked frequently today because it was so daft, so out-of-left-field that it became a touchstone for referencing the clammy, hand-wringing, patriarchal criticisms Wall has endured. If you don’t want to click the link (bless you, child), it might be helpful to know that one of Reid’s major gripes is that Wall posted a picture on Instagram showing off his new tattoos. The other one was that Wall answered a question regarding whether he was a “max” player in the affirmative. Reid, for his part, wants to move on. Meanwhile, better writing comes and goes, is promoted, and then forgotten to make room for next week’s piece.

The Washington Post hosts brilliant NBA writers like Michael Lee and, and runs a statistics outfit that features relevant, fair criticism of Wall’s play. It also hosts a columnist as out of touch as Feinstein. Because you’ve gotta hear both sides. The side that engages with the day-in, day-out facts, in both criticism or praise, and the side that has a shtick (as Dan Diamond put it in reference to Colin Cowherd) and a political opinion rather than an informed one.

There are two “genuine” services provided here. One is that Feinstein’s opinion grants readers who don’t watch, and don’t follow, Wizards basketball a reason to keep not watching and not following.

The other genuine service provided is not to the informed listener or the uninformed listener, or to the informed reader or the uninformed reader, but to the host of that bad opinion. Wherever a hot take lives, clicks will follow. Like rubbernecking lemmings falling off a cliff while surveying a collision between a fight video and a BuzzFeed listicle, we click, become outraged, and link this madness to other people who we safely know will feel the exact same way that we do.

And so, there’s a secret, third service being provided. It isn’t a service anyone asks for, and the need for it is born with the bad opinion. It’s the need to be assured that someone who is published in print, or heard on the radio, given a pulpit to preach from, can also be dead fucking wrong.

★★★

John Wall is having a pretty good year. He leads the NBA in assists per game and total assists (two classic hallmarks of good point guard play), has improved his shooting (46% compared to career 43.2%), is second in the NBA in Real Plus-Minus and first in the NBA in Defensive Real Plus-Minus among point guards, and averages almost two steals per game.

As the season has worn on, Feinstein has chimed in to tell listeners that John Wall is the fourth best player on the Wizards, behind Bradley Beal (who would not have been Feinstein’s choice had Michael Kidd-Gilchrist still been available in the 2012 Draft), Nene, and Marcin Gortat. No one needs me to cite any Charles Barkley-dreaded analytics to know that this is a take that’s only remotely digestible if you haven’t bothered to watch a lick of the team you’re speaking about during this season or any season since any of those players joined the team.

It’s easy to say something like:

“He had good numbers the other night, I know that. What did he have, 31 and 10? I think they keep assists at the Verizon Center the same way Dean Smith used to keep things.”

But it’s slightly more difficult to be correct. At the time of that comment, Wall was averaging the same amount of assists on the road as he was at home.

Instead of humbly backing off, or worse, fading into deserved irrelevance, today (less than a week from an All-Star Game in which Wall will start) Feinstein clapped back at a Bullets Forever post about Wall’s play and leadership. The post contained a Vine from TAI’s Kyle Weidie, which imagined (in the caption) a defeated Feinstein eating a heart from a paper plate (hello, Stephen Crane’s “In the Desert”) as Wall, in the waning minutes of a game that had already been won, went hard for a loose ball.

There’s nothing more embarrassingly sad in the world of “takes” than faulty sarcasm. Here is a man so possessed with righteous indignation, so full of larval thoughts that he appears to (and I only say “appears” because it’s difficult to fathom this being the way a real-life person would interpret John Wall and the Wizards) believe that he was right all along! That if John Wall really were a good player or a good point guard or worthy of a starting nod over Kendall Marshall, the Wizards would be first or second in the East, rather than third.

Truth is: The Wizards couldn’t possibly be the 11th best team in the NBA without John Wall. When the Wizards started 0-12 in the 2012-13 season, and went 5-28 without Wall overall as he recovered from an injury, it wasn’t because Bradley Beal had failed, or Nene had failed. It was because Beal, Nene, Martell Webster, Trevor Ariza, and the rest of those Wizards were almost non-functional with Wall out of the game. The same is true today, where John Wall ranks fifth in the NBA in wins attributed to individual players.

And I’ll stop there. I could list more stats, or more witnessed instances of quality, and take more down after downing more takes. But I can’t make John Feinstein watch a basketball game, much less enough of John Wall to admit that he was wrong. Mythomaniacs deal in stories, and there will be another chapter.

 

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Conor Dirks
Reporter / Writer / Co-Editor at TAI
Conor has been with TAI since 2012, and aids in the seamless editorial process that brings you the kind of high-octane blogging you have come to expect from this rad website. The Wizards have been an assiduous companion throughout his years on the cosmic waiver wire. He lives in D.C. and is day-to-day.




  • Alex Knobel

    Well done, sir.

  • matt

    This feinstein sounds like a real jabroni