Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Character vs. Chemistry?

Eli brought up an interesting point in the comments section of the character discussion below. It made me think, so I wanted to bring it up to the main page. Part of his post said:

"As far as character goes, I'll take chemistry over character any day. Character is only important on a team of boyscouts. I for one don't want a team of boyscouts, I want a team that works well together regardless of how the community at large feels."

The first sentence struck me especially. What, if anything, is the difference between character and chemistry? How to they affect each other?

My first instinct was to say that character and chemistry don't necessarily have to go together, but it helps. I thought of the Jordan-led Bulls. Michael was described by many of his peers as difficult and even selfish, yet the team was the best in the last two decades, and some would argue ever. I speculated that a dominant talent could enforce chemistry (in the form of sticking to appropriate roles) without necessarily having character per se. But then I got to thinking that I was selling Jordan short. Along with his talent and personality came his famous drive to work on all aspects of his game, including defense. And it's not like he didn't pass up the final shot of the game to guys like Paxson and Kerr when he felt the chance for a win was better. So darn it! That Mike had a lot of character too!

So what is the relationship between character and chemistry? And what do they mean, anyway? Is it possible to have the latter without the former? Any thoughts? I'm toying with the idea that character is what we see in an individual and chemistry is just another word for character applied to a whole team. (It's what happens when everybody is working for the good of the whole.) I'd welcome more discussion on that.

But please keep in mind, I've endeavored here to keep basketball character separate from general moral character. The distinction may be somewhat artificial, but I think it's important to the discussion. Basketball character, as defined below, runs along the lines of believing in the importance of something beyond yourself (the team, championships, teammates, the game itself), working hard, and standing tough in the face of adversity. I am not as interested in the "strip club" aspect of the discussion because, whatever my personal feelings may be about that, I cannot prove that it helps or hinders play on the court. It may be more likely that a guy who evidences those qualities in daily life will also bring them to the job, but I know plenty of people who are darn good at their profession who have private lives you wouldn't believe. I also think that fans get pretty hypocritical about the moral character issue. There were rumors swirling around Jerome for years, but everybody embraced him because he went all-out on the court. Plenty of folks questioned 'Sheed's behavior, but nobody turned on him until his play deteriorated. If Miles were scoring 22, grabbing 8 boards, and was our defensive stopper, the late-night forays would be non-news. So please, let's keep the strip-club talk to a minimum.

Comments below or to



Anonymous eli said...

Well if your going to quote me I guess I'd better chime in. Something I've been thinking about a lot with regards to the Blazers is the distinction between character and personality. It seems to me that teams almost never do well without at least one strong personality.

I'll use the example of the Clippers this year as compared to last year. The main difference between the 04-05 and 05-06 Clippers is Sam Cassel, one of the stronger personalities in the league. Other than Sam they have a lot of soft spoken, good-character guys like Elton Brand and Chris Kaman. Very few people (last year in particular) would say that Sam was a character guy, in fact people seemed to think his carreer was done and that he was too much of a loud-mouth to mesh well on any team.

Fastforward to the present and I think the Clippers are a legitimate contender and its personality that has gotten them there, not merely the excellent play of Brand or the solid presence of Kaman. Sam seems to have brought them a unity of purpose and has shown himself to be a potent personailty and a great leader.

And its that kind of personality that the Blazers are currently missing. They've got kids with character, what they need is a leader who will have enough personality to bring a unity of focus to what is an extremely scattered group of young men. I think that's why so many people like the idea of Adam Morrison; say what you will about his game, he has a lot of personality. I'm not sure he should be taken with the first pick if we get it, but with him we'd definitely be getting something we need, a leader.

5:54 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Point well taken on what Cassell has done for the Clippers and what a difference one guy can make. But historically Cassell has also been a two-edged sword. He plays all-world his first year with a team but then he wears out his welcome quicker than a Jehovah's Witness selling encyclopedias because he becomes a raging "me-first" player. He and Sprewell absolutely torpedoed what was supposed to be a championship run for the Timberwolves. And that's what's gotten him traded all those times. To me, that's a character issue.

The classic example of this is the old Marbury vs. Kidd argument. I saw Stephon firsthand in his early years in Minnesota. He was amazing. It looked like there was no limit for this guy. But he's never won anywhere. Kidd, on the other hand, works hard, distributes, plays defense, and does all the little stuff that makes a team win. One's concerned about looking good, the other about actually being good and making his team better.

Would you rather have Marbury than a no-talent nice guy? Probably. But the reality is you're not going to win with either. You need a guy with talent AND character to make you better in the long run.

I would hasten to say, however, that character and personality and/or toughness are not mutually exclusive. Magic was the most dominant personality ever, and he also played right and forced others to. Buck Williams was a character guy all the way, on and off the court, but once the ball went up he would hit you hard. Character guys don't have to be choirboys, they just have to be showy and tough for the right reasons and with the right goals.


9:52 PM  
Anonymous Eli said...

I have to say I really like this discussion and feel that it is the most important thing facing the Blazers this summer. We need an identity in the worst way, and if we can't bring players with strong personalities here through free agency, we have to look at the draft.

Anyway, thanks for being a true intellectual basketball fan. Your a breath of fresh air in the ongoing Blazer discussion.

5:30 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Thanks! you think there are any players on the squad already who might have the kind of personality we need? I like what I've heard about/from Telfair, Jack, and Webster, but it's hard to tell from just a fan's point of view. What are your impressions? I swear, there have been times this year when I would have liked to tell everybody else to shut up and just listen to the point guards. Are they ready for that kind of thing do you suppose? Are they capable both talent and personality-wise?

10:21 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

By the way, if this year was about finding out about Zach and Darius, I think that's the question that will be answered next season.

10:21 PM  
Anonymous eli said...

Yeah, Zach and Darius showed their true colors this season, and those colors were obviously not red and black. I have to admit, I was worried before the season that Zach was going to be a chemistry-killer but I actually thought Darius was the one worth keeping. Sadly, I think its a bad idea to keep any player who really doesn't want to be on the team, and Miles is obviously of that mindset.

As far as the pointgaurds go, I think Jack could develop into a very solid leader for the team, but I don't think he has the personality to really give the team an identity. Bassy seems to have a strong personality on some days and seems not to show up on others. Not only that but I feel pretty certain that he will bolt for the east coast when his rookie contract expires. Again, I don't want players on the Blazers that don't want to be here. Martell is another story. I think next year will be a great year for him. He was little unsure of himself this year and seemed to play a little bit tenatively at times, but once he feels this team is truely his he may be able to give us that focus we so desperately need.

8:51 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

It's hard to look at Martell and Jack and not see a little bit of Clyde and Terry, isn't it? I'm trying so hard to be realistic, but at certain moments--when you see Jack hit a mid-range jumper or see Martell's posture as he goes up for a dunk--you just can't help it. If they only turned out half as good as those two we'd have keepers.

11:24 AM  

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