Curtis: Moneyball II, sports media and the second statistical war

From Bryan Curtis at on February 26, 2015, with mention of SABR members Rob Neyer and Brian Kenny:

When Charles Barkley sank his teeth into analytics this month on Inside the NBA, you could almost hear the whole Internet groan. “I’ve always believed analytics were crap,” he said, later adding, “They’re just some crap that some people who are really smart made up to try to get in the game ’cause they had no talent.”

It was a familiar script to Fox Sports’s Rob Neyer: “Ten years ago, even five years ago, if the whole Barkley thing would have occurred, we could have said, ‘Charles Barkley is wrong about this. How ridiculous is it that someone on national TV is saying this?’ But how many times do we have to write that story?”

People wrote it anyway. Barkley’s rant was “unintelligible” and “wholly useless” (SB Nation); his target — ostensibly Rockets GM Daryl Morey and his apostles in the media — was a “straw man” (ProBasketballTalk); and Barkley himself was a “doofus” (Deadspin).

Barkley wasn’t just wrong about advanced statistics. Speaking weeks before the ninth-annual Sloan Sports Analytics Conference (which kicks off tomorrow), he seemed to be fighting a rearguard action. “The war’s over,”’s Matt Moore declared. “The nerds make the decisions whether Barkley likes it or not.” Keith Olbermann concurred: “Most of the dinosaurs like Chuck don’t even realize the war is over … ”

To which I’d ask: What war is that? The war that pitted writer versus writer, and GM versus GM, to prove once and for all that advanced stats are valuable? Sure. That war — let’s call it Moneyball I — is over.

But Barkley was firing a shot in a second war. Let’s call it Moneyball II. This clash doesn’t pit a blogger versus a newspaperman in a debate over the value of PER. It pits media versus athletes in a battle over who gets to tell the story of basketball.

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Originally published: February 27, 2015. Last Updated: February 27, 2015.