S1: The following podcast includes explicit language not restricted to words, beginning with F. S, B and Q.
S2: Hi, I’m Josh Levine, Slate’s national editor, and this is Hang Up and listen for the week of March 1st, two thousand and twenty one on this week’s show, Meg Rowley fan graps will join us to talk baseball, including the resignation of Seattle Mariners President Kevin Mather, whose comments about foreign players, among other things, revealed a lot about the thought process of Major League Baseball. Executive Alex Kershner will also be here to assess NBA top shot, a new investment vehicle for people who love collectibles and GameStop style Internet bubble. And finally, Nick Green will be here to tell us what he learned from game designers, economists, ballet choreographers and theoretical astrophysicists as he reported out his book, How to Watch Basketball Like a Genius. I’m in Washington, D.C. I’m the author of The Queen, the host of Slow Burn Season four on David Duke. Also in D.C., Stefan Fatsis. He’s the author of Word Freak in a few Seconds of Panic. Hello, Stefan.
S3: Hi, Josh. Joel is off this week, but next week we will have to offer him the most fulsome possible congratulations for his usage of the word pack.
S4: Is that the right usage of the word fulsome, though? Is it is it not?
S1: I think it’s not. Hang on. You’re keeping us all in suspense here. I’m Keeping You Honest tonight. More quickly fulsome, characterized by abundance, copious, generous and amount extent or spirit.
S3: So it seems like I used it correctly.
S1: I think he used it in the third sense, which is the least since being full and well developed, get your statically, morally or generally offensive, which used to be, I think, the main sense there only to have served you.
S3: If you make me annoyed, if you annoy me today, if that’s us, then you don’t have you’re not an ally anyway. Usage of the word pack as elucidated on last week’s show, Jay is illicit. Right? You did also thank you to the very many listeners out there who wrote in with tales of their own PAX. More on that next week, stay tuned.
S4: The only real, surprisingly bigoted and anti player comments by the president of the Seattle Mariners at the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary Club might have been that Rotary Clubs still exist. After all, we’re used to older white male sports team executives saying and doing dumb things. But Kevin Mathers comments were a smorgasbord of offense. He slagged one of the team’s stars admitted to holding back the mediocre club’s best prospects to save a few bucks and mocked the English abilities of native Japanese and Spanish speaking players. Mather resigned last week, but his comments exposed not just the culture of one team, but reflected problems facing all of Major League Baseball. This offseason, the Miami Marlins hired the sport’s first woman general manager, but other teams were accused of harboring serial sexual harassers. Kevin Mather himself was disciplined by the Mariners for that to a decade ago, and MLB again has had to examine why there are so few African-American players and why those players often feel marginalized. Meg Rowley is the managing editor of Fan Graff’s. She’s a co-host with our friend Ben Lindbergh of the podcast Effectively Wild. Welcome back to the show, Meg. Thanks for having me. Glad you’re here. Spring training games began over the weekend in Arizona and Florida with fans in the stands just like in before times. But we want to talk about the Mariners and also about San Diego shortstop Fernando Tatis jr.’s huge contract extension. Let’s start with Seattle. Kevin Mather might be just one entitled old dude, but as Jeff Parson pointed out on ESPN, he was also just one of 30 people entrusted with running a big league franchise.
S5: There are Mariners specific concerns related to Mather and what he said. But I think that the really disheartening thing is that the reaction, particularly to his comments around your service time, are not unusual in baseball. Right. This is a tactic that we see a lot of franchises deployed to try to gain an extra year of control over their best prospects before they hit the free agent market. I think that when we talk about Fernando Tatis Jr., he’s sort of a market counter example to that trend. This is not an unusual bit of business on the part of baseball teams. I think that it’s particularly disappointing in the Mariners case. We on this show have talked about their prolonged playoff drought. They missed the expanded playoffs by just two games last year. I don’t know that having Jared Kalinich in the outfield every day for an entire season remedies that problem. The Mariners find new and interesting ways to get in their own way all the time. But you have to think that given some of the rotating characters they had running through their outfield last year, that he would have given them at least a better chance. And I think the part of it that’s particularly concerning is that he was offered a pre debut contract that would have bought out his arbitration years and have options for his future years into free agency. And when he decided that he didn’t want to take that contract, that he wanted to, in his words, bet on himself and his own talent, he was kept at the alternate site for the whole year. So I think that there’s always a conversation to have about the readiness of top prospects. I don’t think that it’s wise for us to assume that all of these guys are instantly ready to see big league pitching or to face big league hitters. But the Mariners themselves change the terms here, right? This wasn’t about his readiness, or at least it wasn’t entirely about his readiness, but his willingness to take what would have likely been a team friendly extension. So it is a revealing look into the minds of front office folks. I don’t think it’s one that particularly surprises anyone, but that doesn’t make it any less disappointing.
S3: Yeah, this speech at the Rotary Club was impressive and hitting like so many different hot button issues and and hitting the hot button in so many ways.
S6: I think it’s less about the comments being, quote unquote offensive and more about what they reveal about practice. It’s not that if I said things, I mean, it’s obviously not not great to say things that reveal bigoted attitude or a backwards attitude, but what it showed about what a top executive thinks about, you know, manipulating players for financial advantage and not trying to put the best team on the field, talking about another top prospect and Julio Rodriguez and talking about how his English is not good. You talked about Magg, the Mariners specific issues and the baseball specific ones, you know, trade to POTO, the GM and Scott Service, the manager obviously have a lot of messes to clean up here with their players and with that organization. And I would imagine that everyone in Major League Baseball is pissed at this guy for launching conversations around like everyone in baseball just thinks this way. And it’s not surprising. And I’m sure there are people in baseball who don’t think this way. And this guy is like a terrible representative for them. And so I guess I just like. Here you speak a little bit about the messes in Seattle and in the entire sport that this guy created, I can’t imagine that Commissioner Manfred or the other owners were particularly pleased with Mather.
S5: The league and the players association are at the end of this season about to embark on what we imagine will be a very contentious CBA negotiation. One of the issues that will be at the center of that is how young players are treated within the context of the collective bargaining agreement. You know, draconic is not a member of the union. Logan Gilbert is not a member of the union. Those guys aren’t on the 40 man roster yet. And so they don’t enjoy the sort of rights and privileges that union members do. But I think that the union is increasingly conscious of the fact that if it doesn’t do something to remedy the early career earnings of young players, we’re not guaranteed big contracts on the back end. And free agency sort of paradigm has shifted around that. And so for Mather to sort of arm the players association with, you know, a very candid and and obviously offensive set of quotes as they go into that CBA is something that I can’t imagine he’s pleased about. When you talk about the other folks in the organization that he has managed to offend with these remarks. And I think it might be faster to list the folks who escaped unscathed rather than then all of those that he managed to piss off. But, you know, for him to target players who are going to hopefully be a part of the next good Mariners team, as well as those who were sort of near and dear to fans hearts in a time when the Mariners were not good, just shows how far removed from putting a winning baseball team. His priorities seem to have been in this moment. If Julio Rodriguez wanted to speak through an interpreter for his entire career, that would be totally fine. But I just don’t know how you get, you know, a middle middle pitch, right. A just meatball of a question in tell us about Julio Rodriguez and managed to, in the space of your first two sentences, impugn his ability to speak English, which is the thing that he takes a tremendous amount of pride in. This is a guy who has a YouTube show that the team hosts, right. Where he he conducts all of his interviews and questions in English. So it just showed that he was not someone who was particularly either in touch with the people who are working for the team or cared about the issues that were close to them. But, yes, as you said, I think that, you know, the players managed to walk away furious. The other owners had to have been mad that he was putting these issues sort of back on the table from a labor perspective. And then, you know, fans in Seattle just sitting there saying, what on earth is it going to take for us to be able to watch playoff baseball? Again, you would think that a year’s worth of free agency from Kalinich would be worth it for them to finally be able to say that they broke the playoff drought and to welcome enthusiastic fans back to the ballpark when it’s safe to do so. But it’s clear that that just wasn’t a priority for him, at least not in the Rotary Club setting.
S7: And isn’t that the problem here is that it fosters this idea that the people that run baseball don’t like baseball. People have written that about Rob Manfred. And what we saw here is a guy that seemed to have some sort of grievance with everything, you know, Kyle Seager, Mariner for Life, probably overpaid. Evan White, first round draft pick who signed a long term deal. You know, the union didn’t like the deal. Hisashi, you were Kumul beloved Marinho player, decided to come back to the team and he, like, goes after him because he didn’t want to pay his interpreter and sort of questioned his need for an interpreter. It’s the sort of instead of talking about what we love about my team, the team that I run in baseball, it was all grievance. It’s just so weird that that mentality persists.
S8: Can I can I jump in here and say, I think this guy has a terminal case of Astros brain and that. Yeah, I think prioritizing I guess not not necessarily prioritizing winning, but just sort of like financial ising everything. And I don’t want to get into the realm of like the green grass and what we love about the game. But like this is the franchise of Ichiro and Felix Hernandez. And like even when the Mariners weren’t making it to the playoffs, Meg, those guys brought a lot of joy to a lot of people. Right. In Seattle, you know, it seems like what he didn’t understand is that there are ways to kind of build trust and build a kind of feeling of love and community between a city and a team and saying that the most longest tenured player is overpaid and saying that the foreign players don’t speak English well enough. It’s just like that’s not really getting getting at why people like the games.
S4: Right. It’s not just tone deaf, it’s counterproductive. I mean, to go off about the seventy five thousand dollars you’re paying to a Japanese interpreter. I mean, seventy five thousand dollars is couch cushion money.
S5: I think that you’re right to say that it’s sort of. Misunderstands an opportunity to foster connection, you know, rather than looking at someone like you, Ohkuma, and saying, you know, this is another player and then a member of our front office who can further one of the really great things about this franchise, which is the connection that it has fostered with Japanese fans both in Seattle and in Japan, and saying what a tremendous opportunity to let this guy speak in his native language, be comfortable in his conversations not only with the press, but with other folks in the organization and continue to build that relationship. He just views it as a burden. And so I think that it fundamentally misunderstands the connection that fans can have with players and with a franchise even when they aren’t winning. And if you’re discounting all of that and then you aren’t prioritizing winning, what is supposed to incentivize Mariners fans to come back to the ballpark when they’re able to? Right. Especially when you are on the precipice in theory of having a really exciting young core if that stuff doesn’t matter to this part of the front office. And here, I do think it is worthwhile to sort of separate the financial goals and budgets of ownership from some of the folks who actually work in the front office. There are plenty of people who work for this organization that want to see winning baseball in the field. Right. That work really, really hard to help these players sort of actualize their potential and really reach the heights that they want to. And so I think it is important to keep that in mind, but it does sort of suggest that the organization writ large doesn’t understand what’s important to the fan base and doesn’t really have a vested interest in fostering that, at least not to the extent that they could.
S3: Let’s talk about the Fernando Tatis deal. 14 years. Three hundred forty million dollars, longest contract in major league history. Tatis as a young star, which I think understates a young superstar, super duper star who’s being paid like he’s going to be one of the best players of all time Hall of Fame level contract.
S8: And I feel like when we talk about baseball on the show, it’s often because something bad happens or something seedy and the underbelly of the game. But like even and we’ll get to like the company that, like, invested in Tatis earlier on in his career. I don’t see anything to really get mad at here. I think this is a really good deal for everyone. It’s a franchise that has not had a history of winning or paying, showing an extreme interest in trying to bring a winner to its city and paying handsomely to do it. It’s a young player, the team, the Padres is buying out his free agency, but he’s getting a crap load of money and he wants to stay with the team for his whole career. And the team wants him there his whole career. And they’re talking about statues. And it’s like a young Latino player that they want to be the face of their franchise, just like everything seems good here.
S5: We will talk about the one percent of the story that is less savory, but it is one of those rare stories that is 99 percent good when this came across the transom. Ben Lindbergh and I rejoice for finally we get to talk about a fun thing on effectively while we felt like we had been starved for it. Now, I agree with you. I think everything about this deal is good. Tatis is he is not only a tremendous baseball player, but he is wildly charismatic. He, I think, is emerging very rapidly as the face of baseball. We’re constantly in search of a face of baseball and here we have one in tatties. He gets a deal that, you know, you could argue, maybe left a little bit of money on the table, but is incredibly lucrative to him. And the Padres get to sort of stake their claim as a real contender in the West. They have this incredible, exciting career that’s on the field now. They still have a robust farm system, even after all of the off season traits that they did to bolster their rotation. So I think that this is one of those times when we just get to be unequivocally happy and there’s not, you know, a huge professional sports presence in San Diego. And the Padres looked around after the Chargers left town and said this should be a baseball town. And they sort of rose to that occasion. And I find that so exciting because we just don’t really have a good come for that anywhere else in the major league landscape right now. And so we get to see a really good, exciting team that, you know, looked at the Dodgers and all they could do and said, yeah, we’ll try to match you. It’s very exciting for San Diego fans. It’s exciting for baseball. It’s really good to see a player who, unlike the Mariners situation we just talked about, did not have his service time monkeyed with. He came up when he was ready. He made the opening day roster, despite the fact that San Diego wasn’t quite ready for contention. They said he’s one of our twenty six best players. We’re going to start him right away. We’re not going to get into this weird back and forth. And, you know, not every player is Fernando Tatis Jr, and not every team is going to sign players like him to a long term extension. But I think it shows that, you know, when there’s fair and honest dealings between both parties, it can work out really well for everyone. And I think that they’re in a. And to be really in contention for that Allen West title, which is not a thing that we could have said about them a couple of years ago.
S4: OK, now let’s pivot to the less savory part. Yes. So the Padres scouted Tatis when he was an amateur in the Dominican Republic in 2016. They traded James Shields, one of the better pitchers in the game for Tatis. Before he had even played in the minor leagues. He had been signed by the White Sox, not the Padres coming out of the Dominican Republic. He is the son of a former major league player. And at age 18, a couple of years into his minor league career, he signed a contract with an investment firm called Big League Advance, which pays minor league players money up front in exchange for a percentage of their major league earnings. I mean, this is a system that’s existed in soccer in Europe and it’s been clamped down on. There have been lots of cases of exploiting young Dominican, especially baseball players as young as 12. Where does this fall into that area, MEGG of is this OK or is this really shady?
S5: So I don’t know the particulars of tatties case in terms of why he felt that this sort of a deal was necessary. It’s a little surprising, given his background, that he did, although I don’t want to claim knowledge of his father’s finances either. It’s concerning if for no other reason than it reveals the sort of abject state that minor leaguers often find themselves in. If you’re not signing a big bonus deal and tortoise’s wasn’t terrible, but if you’re not signing a significant bonus, either as an international player or as a first round draft pick, you are in a precarious financial state prior to reaching the big leagues because you’re making sub minimum wage amounts in the minors. I think that this is an area where I would like to see major league teams pay their minor leaguers a living wage. But absent that, this seems like a space that it would be better for the union to be in, where it might be able to make, you know, very low interest loans to players that are then paid back when they’re able to do so out of their their major league earnings. But I think it’s pretty shady. I mean, there’s clearly a need that is being sold in the market by this organization, but it isn’t the sort of thing that we should really have a necessity for, first of all. And the rates at which they’re being compensated seem pretty excessive, at least to my eye. So this is the less savoury part, right, where they’re just making pretty pure profit off the guys who make it to the majors. They don’t require that their loans be paid back if these guys don’t make the major leagues. But they’re betting pretty well in terms of guys who are going to at least make the major league minimum, if not signed deals is as lucrative as tortoise’s. So this seems like a bit of shadiness that the market has created need for it, but that we really ought to be able to close in terms of the necessity for it. But that would require major league teams paying their minor leaguers better than they do now.
S4: And before you jump in, Josh, let me just say that big league advance isn’t some like some fly by night firm. Its investors include Paul DePodesta, a former baseball and football executive, a son of George H.W. Bush. This is a business that sees a market.
S9: I think that this is less shady than what is typically taken place in Latin America. I mean, there’s a big USA Today investigation and 20 20 around teams, including the Padres, appearing to make deals with kids before they’re 16, in violation of rules and potentially in violation of law. And then also like reneging on those deals and like that, to me, seems shady. This is actually, you know, I agree with the system that’s in place could stand just an enormous amount of improvement and regulation. But given that system and given the different options, this seems actually like a better and more fair option than a lot of what exists. And I think the key is that for players that don’t make it, they don’t have to pay anything back. And it’s a it’s like kind of a blockbuster model where with this latest deal, if they get eight percent or whatever of his future earnings, then that’ll pay for a lot of guys who never make it to the majors. It’s, you know, a system that shouldn’t need to exist. But given the world that we live in, you know, said to somebody who’s, again, his dad was in the majors, I feel more comfortable with him having the kind of advice that he would need to decide to take or not take this deal like this, that the reporting on this and with him specifically, it doesn’t make me feel like super sad.
S6: Or maybe everyone didn’t win, but there’s not like some clear loser here.
S4: And we don’t know whether Tatis views this as sort of a Robin Hood situation that I’m going to make it. And this is my give back to my fellow countrymen who.
S5: Might not make it you know, it’s hard to look at this one and say that things went terribly, terribly wrong. It isn’t as if, you know, 50 percent of his contract is going to this firm. But I do think that there are instances of players who have gotten less sound advice or perhaps have not understood as well as they ought to of what they were really signing up for. This firm and others like it have been the subject of litigation in the past. So I think that you’re right to say that on the spectrum of all of the shady dealings that can go on in the international market, this is hardly as egregious as, you know, signing 13 year olds to to deals that they shouldn’t be in a position to sign because they’re literal children. But it does expose, I think, a pretty significant issue in baseball’s wage structure that these are viewed as necessary on the part of some of the players who sign them.
S4: Meg Rowley is the managing editor of Fantagraphics. She’s also the co-host of the podcast, Effectively Wild. Meg, thanks for coming on the show. Thanks for having me. Last week, a group of tech pros paid two hundred and eight thousand dollars for a video of LeBron James dunking over Nemanja, biathletes of Sacramento in twenty nineteen. What the hell, you ask? Well, this wasn’t just a random LeBron dunk over a Serbian journeyman that you can pull up on YouTube in two seconds. It was an NBA top shot, legendary LeBron James moment from the cosmic series. One set NBA top shot moments like the LeBron Dunk or digital basketball cards, short clips, 3D animation stats and design blitz produced in limited quantities and sold, traded and auctioned in an online marketplace that has drawn more than one hundred million dollars in transactions in just a few months, as well as licensing deals with the NBA and its players union. Right now you can pay four thousand two hundred and ninety nine dollars for a top shot of Gordon Hayward making a layup on January 24th or two hundred and thirty five thousand dollars for James Harden, making a layup on February 4th. But there are also nine dollar packs aimed at people who once would have bought sports cards with a stick of stale gum. Top shot has gotten a lot of media attention recently, including a piece in Slate headlined The NBA Has Its Own GameStop Style Craze. The author of that piece is Alex Kershner, who’s with us now. Hey, Alex. Hey, gentlemen. Thank you for having me. Thanks for coming on the show. You wrote The Top Shot is a natural confluence of particular shifts that have been building for years in financial markets, the sports world and beyond. Explain a little bit more what top shot is and how it works.
S10: Sure. It’s a top shot is a digital marketplace that is put on by a Vancouver, British Columbia based crypto company block chain company called Dapper Labs. And it does exactly what you said. It produces these digital cards that are effectively glitched up, repackaged highlights that are sold in these limited quantities. Obviously, the highlight itself is not an unlimited quantity. You or I could go on YouTube and watch it for free right now. But some of the kind of touches around the edges, the animations, the authenticating mechanisms that this company puts on these cards make it to some extent a unique asset. And these are being sold for significant amounts of money. You can buy a Marcus Smart lab for someone did do this for ten thousand dollars. And I’m not even sure that Marcus Smart made ten thousand dollars on that lab. But you can if you’re the owner of that card and you sell it. And I do think that it is kind of the confluence of some things that have been going on for a while in financial markets, as we’ve seen very recently with things like GameStop and also with the NBA’s very, how shall I say, boisterous social media following. And you kind of put those things together and you get something like NBA top shot.
S8: Explain to us why you think the GameStop phenomenon is connected to the Topshop phenomenon, like what are the common threads that you see in both of those stores?
S10: I think the common thread is that there are very obsessed Internet communities that can get behind a cause and agree that something has value and suddenly, poof, it has value. And, you know, the mechanism for that with GameStop is obviously very simple. It’s a bunch of people on Wall Street that’s who then attract allies elsewhere, including, you know, some institutional investors who are sort of riding the wave and they just decide to buy up the stock of this fledgling videogame company. Suddenly it has value. I think the reason that NBA top shop moments have value is that the NBA has an enormous social media ecosystem and a very devoted social media ecosystem. Obviously, you know, Twitter is now a primary prism through which I think a lot of people, myself included, consume the NBA. There is sort of a hive mind that can go on there and it gains popularity top does through word of mouth, through celebrity endorsements from NBA players. And suddenly you have a lot of people online who love the NBA and love doing Internet related NBA things, who think that this is a place where people are going to want to spend time, where people are going to want to go to get these cards. Obviously, the underlying value, it would appear, of both GameStop stock and NBA top moments pretty low. You know, I don’t think a lot of people are too excited about brick and mortar video game stores right now. And I don’t think a lot of people are necessarily excited on their own about highlights that can be reproduced in limitless quantities and are available for free. But you put them in these packages and you have this online community that pretty quickly coalesces around something having value. And look, you know, LeBron James dunk goes for two hundred eight grand, a dunk for 100 grand. That’s real money. Even if the underlying value doesn’t hold up that long.
S4: You know, it feels to me like there are. Marketplace’s here, and I alluded to that in the intro, I mean, one is this sort of manufactured marketplace where people with a lot of money are going because they think that they can outwit or outsmart someone else in this marketplace by by pretending, you know, that there is that there is value in the scarcity of these created products. Obviously, they’re manufacturing this inorganic marketplace at the at the extreme and they’re creating the scarcity that attracts dumb money. You know, it’s not like a T 206 Honus Wagner baseball card from, you know, a hundred and twenty years ago or whatever, or a 1952 Mickey Mantle card, which is actual physical scarcity. The value is in its rarity with the paper stuff. With this, it doesn’t feel that way. But then I started to think like, all right, I kind of get it a little more like the other end of the spectrum. Like, if I’m a kid today, I’m not probably I might not be interested in buying cardboard and sticking it in a in a ring binder. This would be kind of cool. I go on my phone, I’ve got my folder, and there are all my cards laid out and they’re affordable. So it feels like there’s an idea here. But there’s also this perversion of the marketplace.
S10: I think both are true. And I think that one of the smart things NBA top shot has done is it has moved to give sort of individual authenticating traits to certain cards. So if I go and look on NBA top shot and find a specific card, there are these things called series. And this is the first series of this card and this is the first round of this card. And there is a marker on the card that says this is the first, this is the original. Obviously, that is somewhat contrived because you are just putting that label on it on the Internet and you could make another in two seconds. But it’s somewhat analogous to how, you know, an original baseball card might work. And in some ways, the assets aren’t all that different. You know, I could go and print out a really great photo of Mickey Mantle on nice glossy paper or on cardstock and have that for myself. I could go on YouTube and download a LeBron dunk. In those ways they’re not totally dissimilar, but where they kind of just diverge is the medium. You know, it just depends on how it’s packaged and how high you’re able to convey that sense of scarcity and rarity.
S11: I think the only thing that doesn’t make sense about this is the valuations. I think every other aspect of it is actually totally reasonable and understandable. And it’s not new. I mean, you know, Stefan, we were swapping emails before we taped this about our friend John Hok working on cyber cards in the nineteen nineties. They came on CD-ROMs like Topps has been doing versions of digital cards, including one that had tried to sell and market is like a stock market as early as the early 2000s. They have this Bunte app that has been around for years. And so this notion that a kind of digital card is somehow weird, like we passed that for like decades, I feel like. And the idea that digital items could have value I think might seem weird to us because we’re old, not because it’s inherently are intrinsically weird. I mean, people pay lots of money for all sorts of different things that only live on our phones or on our computers. And so, Alex, I think we need to separate out the like use of this as an investment vehicle. And the idea that, like, you can buy and sell these like you’d sell stocks and like the six figure numbers we’re seeing from the just like. Concept here, which is like if not tried and true, at least try.
S10: Sure, it’s a good point that this kind of fits neatly into this growing tradition of digital things having value even where there might not be apparent underlying value. I think the difference between this and something else that uses block chain letters, which is, you know, Bitcoin or other cryptocurrency, is that people who are bullish on Bitcoin are bullish about it because they think that this currency is going to have a lot of use in the future. They think that this is the future of money and that it’s going to be a medium of exchange for a long, long time. I guess the disconnect for me and where where it starts to not make sense with these valuations of top shot moments, is it? I, I don’t see it as the same kind of investment intention, I guess by people making it. I think that, like, there is obviously if you’re buying and selling Topshop, unless you’re hoping to make money on them. But I can’t imagine that the kind of people who are doing this are doing it because they think if they hold it for a really long time, it’s going to just explode with timeliness like like Bitcoin. It’s not the it’s not I don’t think they’re expecting to be the same. I’m showing you guys with my hands because podcasting is obviously a great visual medium where everyone can see this, but where it’s not going to be a sloping upward line forever. I think that the hope has to be that you get a good time out of it and that I hope that most people just think they’re coming here for a good time and that maybe you can make some quick money if you’re in the right time frame.
S11: What what is a better time than a Marcus Smart layup, honestly, and stuff? And I think the thing that is revelatory or was reality to me was like reading in the Brian Windhorst ESPN piece. The Dapper Labs is behind top shot that their previous project was Krypto Kiddie’s and that one digital cat sold for more than one hundred seventy thousand dollars. So just a little bit less than the LeBron Dankova abuelita, only for the items to plummet in value after the fad passed bearing some resemblance to the Beanie Babies craze thing, people often compare the NBA to Beanie Babies.
S4: Not that I think that’s where we’re heading, but that’s the point, right? Who knows what technology is going to be available in 10 years or 20 years? You know, is there any enduring value? And that’s where I think that the difference with actual physical cardboard fades because we’re still holding on to those Honus Wagner cards from 1986. And it doesn’t seem plausible that this technology in 20 years is going to be the exact one that people are going to want to hang on to. John Hawks CD rom baseball cards and football cards have no value. You can get them for three dollars on on eBay. Sorry, John.
S3: Well, three dollars is value.
S4: I think I saw I think I think a Ken Griffey cyber card was gone for six. So there you go. One other thing I’m thinking about here, though, Alex, is the NBA’s role in this. And it feels like, yes, they’re capitalizing on this new technology, but they’re also sort of creating and profiting off of this fantasy market. I don’t know whether we should be admiring the NBA for sort of taking part of this in this or whether we’re we should be critical of the NBA for fostering what on some levels might look like a Ponzi scheme.
S10: Could it be both? On the one hand, I think the NBA deserves some praise for how it has been smart in leaning into Internet subcultures around its fandom. And Adam Silver, the commissioner of the league, has been pretty upfront about this for a couple of years. You know, the NBA is probably the least aggressive of the major American leagues about cracking down on people who are not licensed, sending out NBA highlights on Twitter, Instagram, the NBA and the analogy that Silver has used on this sees that as snacks. And they’re hoping that someone will see that clip, that some account with a couple of thousand followers tweeted, and they’ll be like, wow, I love this. I want to go and watch a game. You know, there can obviously be a lot of debate that I’m sure none of us are getting. None of us are interested in getting into about whether that’s been borne out in NBA TV ratings. But the NBA sees value in Internet things. They see value in people sharing things. And they’ve tried to capitalize on this before. They’ve done like exclusive streaming deals with Twitter and a couple of instances. And they have tried to kind of get a handle on this and make it part of their business, which is smart. But could you imagine Major League Baseball doing something like that and accidentally getting a fan who does not have an AARP card? MLB wouldn’t do that. So I think that it’s smart in the sense that the NBA has managed to be involved in this kind of viral sensation and make some money off it. And obviously, it’s good that it’s shared with the players. But sure, I mean, there are going to be people who lose their shirts on this. And it’s not you know, when you look at it from the standpoint that the NBA is 30 some teams owned by mostly billionaires and that they’re making more money while someone is going to lose six figures in this, not great. Doesn’t look too good.
S6: So a couple of things.
S9: Number one, you can’t spell poor Zangas without Ponzi. Number two, I tried to buy a Bismack Biyombo lay up before we did the segment because I thought it would be funny to disclose that I was a top shot investor and just try to pump up the value of my billion bailout. But my wallet wasn’t like by the computer and then by the time that I tried to put in the credit card number, it said that the site was down because they’re having some issue, I guess, with like bot activity on the site. Alex. And then I just while we’re recording this now, I just try to hit the buy button again. And this time it seems to have gone through. So I’ll let you guys talk for a second, because while you do that, I’m going to buy this Bismack Biyombo layout for nineteen dollars and twenty five cents so I will, I will be a top shot owner.
S4: I’d like to know who was the lay up against.
S3: I’ll let you know in about forty five seconds to a minute depending on my data entry skills so.
S4: Well I have a question here which Bismack Biyombo layup wasn’t Josh against whom. What day. I mean these are all factor into the value.
S10: I think there can’t be that many. He’s not a particularly high scoring player.
S4: It sounds like I was looking at through its Twitter feed and looking through its website and the way they’re sort of pitching these cards. It’s really like late night TV infomercial stuff, trying to make you feel that, you know, there is this value you’ve got to get in on this right now going fast. You know, I understand that, too. But there is a sort of you know, actually, I was talking to John Hok about this as we were, you know, we were talking about cyber cards. And he said there’s a there’s a shared hallucination where his words here you need buy in from buyers and sellers at the sort of the trading end of the market, not the not the kid collecting end of the market.
S1: Is that a reason to sort of think this is a little icky?
S10: I think it’s a little icky. I think it’s hard for something not to be a little icky anytime you have any asset that massively spikes in value very quickly, unless you’re pretty sure that it’s going to keep going up forever. And as anyone on this podcast, pretty sure that NBA top shop owners will keep going up forever, I am personally not.
S4: Are you sure that this company will last a year or two?
S10: Five oh oh, it seems it does seem like the company is on to a good hit here. I mean, they’re over a billion dollars in sales in US dollars and they’re getting a cut of all of that. And they have legitimacy that’s conferred upon them by being in this partnership with the NBA and with the NBA Players Association. So I do wonder if more leagues will try to get in on this. I mean, Jerry Jones has never seen a revenue stream he wasn’t interested in. Does the NFL try something like this at some point down the line? I’m not sure we’ll do collapse. Well, Alex, they do. They do. And sometimes when markets. But, you know, this is another thing that we’ve seen recently. Sometimes when there’s market cash, Jerry Jones loves being in a position, no matter who suffers, to make a significant quick windfall. And he just did that in Texas. Wouldn’t surprise me, given just kind of the ruthlessly capitalistic spirit of a lot of team owners in other leagues. If they attempted to do something like this, I’m not sure it would work quite as well in a league that did not have the NBA’s type of following.
S12: No look no problem Bismack Biyombo takes the sneaky feed from teammate Devante Graham then attacks the basket against Memphis Grizzlies big man Gorgui Dieng sorry three to one. No look no problem Bismack Biyombo takes the sneaky feed from teammate Devante Graham then attacks the basket against Memphis Grizzlies big man Gorgie Giang Biyombo finished with sixteen points and twelve boards for the Charlotte Hornets on January 1st twenty twenty one serial number fourteen to forty nine addition size fifteen thousand. There’s a. My favorite thing about this is that there’s like an enormous like you know Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor size headline here that just says layup and this was an a Grizzlies one eight ninety three win over the Hornets. The transaction history. Alex says that this first sold for eight dollars, then sold for ten dollars, and then I just bought it for eighteen dollars. And so the price has more than doubled just based on my stupid purchase. And so it has to double exponential curve is the trend. That’s what I’m seeing as well.
S1: Josh, when these three guys are all in the Hall of Fame, not just Biyombo the value is going to you know go up exponentially.
S12: Yeah I guess. I guess the question that I’d like to end on Alex is how do you see this going or what do you think the possible pads are.
S10: If we look at this and the order of like days, weeks and months, I think that within days you could continue to see people reaping massive windfalls off of this. I think that within weeks and months, obviously, it is a higher risk that a lot of these things plummet in value. But I don’t think that the products of NBA top shot is just going away. I think that the association with the product of the NBA and the union gives this thing a certain degree of legitimacy, a certain degree of wind at its back. That is unlikely to go away, so we cannot joke about it. It is hilarious that people are spending more than three thousand dollars on an Oggi and A.B. Crossover and Lappe. Sure. I mean, you can scoff at a laugh at it, but that’s still real money. And I suspect that there are still going to be some cases like that for a pretty significant period of time.
S4: And there might just be the broader market. I mean, look, you’ve got an unlimited supply of highlights and moments, you know, and it could be turnovers or fouls or bloopers or, you know, Steph Curry chewing his mouth guard or LeBron yelling at a fan or Grayson Allen tripping someone. I mean, I can actually see a real sort of digital marketplace for normal collectors and whether the high end craziness perpetuates, who knows? I agree completely. Alex Kershner, he’s the author of a piece about NBA top shot. You should read it at Slate Dotcom.
S13: We will link to it on our show page. Alex, thanks for coming on the show. Thank you so much.
S6: You can learn a lot by talking about basketball with basketball players, you can learn how they train, what they see on the court, how they think about their job and their skills. But what our colleague Nick Green shows in his new book, How to Watch Basketball Like a Genius, is that the game doesn’t truly reveal itself until you look at it from the outside. The subtitle, What Game Designers, Economists, Ballet Choreographers and Theoretical Astrophysicists Reveal about the greatest game on Earth. What the subtitle does not reveal is that there’s also a traffic expert, a TV ad creator and a bagel maker. Nick Green, welcome and congrats on the book. I hope you got some free bagels.
S14: Thank you. Rest assured, all my bagels were earned.
S6: Good to know we’re starting off on a foundation of hard work and trust. I love the premise of the book, Nick, both because it is full of fun and weird conversations with interesting people and because it’s a great way to forensically examine everything we think we know about basketball. You start with James Naismith, inventor of the game. In the nineties, he laid out thirteen rules for basketball. What did you learn about those rules when you spoke with modern game designers?
S14: Yeah, I, um, I reached out to modern game designers because I didn’t really understand how rules facilitate fun, which is the definition of game design. And I sent them to to the game designers and basically want to pick their brains on what they thought of Naismith original rules. And it was interesting. They they found it to be a great foundation. They found a few bad rules in there that I think appropriately were have since been dropped from the game. But mostly they sort of let me or help me kind of look at the rules as a rough outline and realize that the real sort of joy and fun comes when the players sort of experiment within the rules. And game designers are very good at letting their creations sort of exist in the world on their own and their hands off approach of letting people have fun within those boundaries I think is typified in basketball and how it’s evolved and and become such a wonderful sport we all love.
S4: And I think that’s true more so than other sports. I mean, baseball, there’s been some tinkering since the game was, you know, evolved in the in the late nineteenth century. But basketball, it’s really dramatic. And the one thing that really struck with me, that stuck with me, rather, in reading your book, Nick, is the way that everything we think of as a foundational part of the game today didn’t really even exist.
S14: Yeah, it’s it’s kind of cool because basketball is the only major sport that we can trace to a single inventor. Baseball, for example, evolved from cricket and other sports like that of football with from rugby, you know, all these sort of evolutions from ancient and old folk traditions. But basketball really was just one guy being like, OK, I need to create a snow day diversion for a bunch of my students. And you’re able to be able to sort of understand exactly where things change and how they changed. And I think that might be a reason why we allow change in basketball or we’re more open to it is because we’ve seen it. We’ve had a front row seat to its evolution, whereas something like baseball, we can kind of trick ourselves into thinking it’s sacred and, you know, oh, my God, a pitch clock, Sodom and Gomorrah is going to take over because we did that. But I think, yeah, basketball is is open to change because it’s sort of you know, we’ve we’ve seen it happen before our night. All rise. I mean, the game fifteen years ago looks completely different than it does today. And some people can complain about that. I do complain about that sometimes, but at least we we get to see it happen. It’s not being hidden from us.
S6: Yeah. Naismith, I think was not precious know about the game and about his rules, which is a credit to him. And I think something that the game designers note and a couple of the designers mentioned to you, this essay by Dave Hickey, the art critic, the heresy of zone defense. And I found that to be really interesting citation. And Hickey makes a really interesting point about Dr. James behind the backboard lay up and the way that you describe what Higgie Seznec is that Dr. J. Was doing a spontaneous response to restrictive elements of the game defense, the backboard, the out of bounds borders, creating a moment of joy. And that, I think, is a really simple and enlightening articulation of this idea that rules can create fun, right?
S14: Yeah. That essay, the game designers independently recommended it to me. And I guess it’s sort of like this kind of revered text in that profession and. I loved it and it’s right, it it’s the rules themselves aren’t fun, it’s what people can do within them. When you learn the history of the backboard, it’s fascinating because it was built not to provide a venue for bank shots, but because the YMCA had a balcony and basketball was immediately a popular spectator sport. And these very rowdy spectators would reach over the balcony and swat away gold bound shots. So they had to put the backboard to protect fans from messing with with the games. And the fact that Dr. J. Was able to sort of navigate around and under the backboard and make this beautiful, balletic play that fans enjoy now is a fun connection and interesting connection of of how things can influence something, you know, over a century.
S4: So the backboard was more like a backstop. There are other moments in the history of basketball where when the game bogged down, the innovation was, you know, was recognized and added. And I think the main one here and you have a great section about the shot clock and how 24 seconds came to be not only the amount of time that, you know, the owner of the Syracuse Nationals wrote down on a napkin as making sense for each possession, for each team, but also ended up being the perfect amount of time sort of on a human level, like in terms of our attention spans and keeping the game flowing. You talk to like a traffic expert about this on a TV ad creator, and that seems to be like the right chunk of time. That makes sense in this context.
S14: Yeah, I spoke to a traffic engineer because I was trying to think of what other scenarios, you know, people have to share time and time is split and you have possessions. And I thought about intersections and those, you know, time stoplights and and the way they kind of time those intersections. In an ideal world, both streets have to have a perfect amount of time. They have to wait not too long at the minimum amount of time to have to wait. And so they do that by basically observing over a couple of days or weeks the traffic on those specific streets. And that’s like a box score. And then they do some division. It’s more complicated than that. It’s much more complicated than the simple division. But they do that and they figure out, OK, this street should have a 13 second green light and the street should have a 15 second green light. And with the shot clock, it was kind of similar. Danny Bersani, who’s the owner of the Syracuse Nationals who owned a bowling alley, that was his main job, and he knew the game was boring because it was getting boring because teams were stalling so much. And so he knew there had to be a shot clock in the real literally. The only question was how long did it have to be? And he basically just took the box score of a game he enjoyed that he thought was fun to watch. And he said, OK, they shot X amount of times there. The game was this long little division and then each team had twenty four seconds per shot and it worked perfectly. And then I went on to talk to ad creators about it, about working within the confines of a roughly 30 second twenty four second shot clock, as it were. And one of them mentioned something interesting. They thought when they watched basketball, the sort of flow of twenty four seconds possessions as they go into commercial breaks with 30 second ad spots is very natural. And it’s almost like a gosh, like it’s a continuation of the same cadence and and back and forth of the game itself had. And it got me wondering, is that why it’s such a kind of ideal televised sport to it’s I do find myself getting lulled into almost a hypnotic state sometimes when we go in and out of commercials and possessions in basketball, that might just have to be with my brain problems. But I do think it’s very soothing or it’s just your brain.
S4: Right? One of the things that you discovered is that like twenty four seconds to sort of how we, you know, enough time to pay attention. You know, when I did my book about Scrabble, I learned from talking to memory experts. That’s the number seven units of seven chunks of seven or something that the human brain is really good at processing. So when the guy that invented Scrabble or the wonderful name Alfred Butts figured out how many tiles to use, he settled on seven, not because he understood somehow that those were good for for the brain, but just because he picked it and he turned out to be right. Like Belzoni figured out that twenty four was right, but not for it.
S6: But you still think Alfred Butts is funny after all?
S1: I don’t. But Nick is the one that laughed, so.
S14: Yeah. And yes, I’m going to continue to think it’s funny. It’s good to be on my deathbed. I’ll be chuckling at the name Albert Butts.
S6: I’m imagining like those graphics from from, you know, the biology tough about like the nitrogen cycle or whatever, because the thing that we have talked about in this conversation is you have rules that say. Parameters and then the players and coaches kind of figure out ways to, you know, misbehave or evolve within the rules, and then you need to develop new rules to deal with how people are dealing with the old rules.
S3: And the thing that you wrote about in the book, that’s like the twenty, twenty one version of that’s the problem that the NBA needs to solve is falling at the end of games. And that, um, ending just similarly to how the shot clock was introduced to deal with stalling, which made the game less entertaining.
S8: It does seem like an innovation has been needed to make the ends of games as exciting as they should be. It’s the time when, you know, the victory and defeat are decided. And we’ve talked about Nikki Lemon eliminating before. The basic idea is that you have a target score and so there’s always a winning basket as opposed to just having the clock covering everything at the end. And so it’s been interesting and fun to think about this as these kinds of evolutions and changes happening now as we’re watching and it being a contentious thing and not just a thing that happened in the 1950s and we’re reading about it retrospectively.
S14: Yeah. And when I talked to him about it, he made a good, interesting point. He said that there are two types of games, those that are determined by time and those are determined by a certain target. Baseball is innings are the target, volleyball, tennis that they have target scores and then you have games like basketball and and soccer and et cetera. And he said that Naismith was correct to have it timed and not a target score because in the beginning, people weren’t good at basketball. Obviously, the scores were one to nothing, three to two. Having a target score for that would would have taken forever. These poor people playing it would have died of old age before the games ended. But as people got better, the game itself changed. And he came up with this ingenious idea that was featured in last year’s All-Star Game, which was a great success of the Elm ending. And it’s one of those things that I’m kind of rooting for. I think it would be fun to see across the board. I mean, it’s it’s complicated to explain, but it’s the kind of thing that when you see it in action, it’s like, oh, yeah, that seems like a the next step for basketball. I think that would be pretty cool.
S6: Stefan, what are some of the other kind of innovations or or changes and also like occupations that you enjoyed from next?
S4: But one thing I’ve always loved that I love generally about sports is that it’s just watching humans do things that we don’t appreciate as much as we possibly could, that there’s this intrinsic beauty in athleticism that often gets overlooked because of the score and the result and the standings. I really liked how you deconstructed things like the jump shot and dunking and what they tell us about how we appreciate beauty and the human form with the jump shot. You know, you traced it back to some movie in nineteen twenty seven, maybe the first recorded jump shot. But then you talked to, you know, we mentioned the bagel maker Josh did, and you talked to a food writer about making noodles, about this idea of achieving beauty and perfection through repetitive motion. And that’s what we see in basketball.
S14: Yeah. With with the noodles. I’ve always been fascinated by noodle pulling in Chinese restaurants. They’ll often be the, you know, extremely talented chefs in the window making noodles by pulling them and kind of whipping them in the air and slapping them on the table. And it’s this sort of extremely dexterous and beautiful act and it’s something that’s repetitive. And it reminded me of going to a game early and watching jump shooters. And you’re seeing this very difficult, deceptively simple act over and over again. And and when you kind of see it so many times, it becomes act of mesmerizing beauty. And I kind of that was a connection that I had fun digging into because it let me eat and think about food. And then, of course, the food writer who’s also an expert on noodles, she was like, oh, no, you should talk to a bagel maker because it’s more like making bagels. And then I talk to a bagel maker and she was saying it’s probably to her in the wrist. I don’t think jump shooting is that hard on the wrist. And and I got interesting feedback from both of them and a lot of carbohydrates.
S3: So I loved also reading about the engineer who quote unquote solved free throw shooter. Free throw shooting is just such a fascinating endeavor, as you explained really well. You know, even some of the. Worst free throw shooters ever, like Shaquille O’Neal and Andre Drummond, have, like, if not solved, like they know how to shoot free throws, they shoot them incredibly well in practice, you know, 80 percent. And even if they shoot under 50 percent in games. And so thinking about the kind of interplay there and how you can actually it’s a simple enough act that whether you’re like an engineer or a player like Golden Adelaida, you can basically figure it out. Or, you know, there are old guys who’ve made like tens of thousands of free throws in a row. And yet it’s still so mysterious and complex and thinking about what happens when you actually turn on the game and turn on the fans and turn on the like. Scottie Pippen insulting you, the free throw line if you’re Karl Malone, just like such a such an interesting facet of human and basketball experience.
S14: Yeah. I mean, free throws are the closest thing we have to like a laboratory experiment in basketball. The conditions are, well, not while not always the same, but the best ones are your standing. The same amount of feet from the basket, the baskets, the same height. No, no one’s interfering. You have an open shot. And so, yeah, this engineer is a dynamicists at North Carolina State. There’s actually two of them who worked on these papers, a series of papers. And they do things like make navigation systems for spacecraft and whatnot. And they just love basketball and they’re for joking. They’re too old guys. They’re like basically free throws are all we can really do right now. So they worked on solving the free throw and they did it. They found the perfect angle hurts all the other sort of physical quantities and metrics that needed to be the perfect free throw and they solved it. The problem is that’s only once the ball leaves your hand. Everything before that is very human and some people have a knack for tuning things out and are able to kind of achieve that perfect arc and hurts and and whatnot and others when the heat is on and the pressure is on. Can’t do that. And that’s sort of the the very human element of this most laboratory like event in basketball.
S3: The book is How to Watch Basketball Like a Genius Neck. I’m going to put you on the spot. Yes. Can we give away a book to a listener?
S14: Yes, please. Can give away two books.
S3: Sure. So I was thinking we should have people email hang up at Slate Dotcom with their favorite free throw of all time. Yes, I like.
S14: Is there something is there something else that, you know, that’s my favorite, favorite free thrill of all time. Make or miss.
S3: All right. And then we’ll have neck judge, which of your favorite free throws is also one of his favorite free throws? So emails that hang up at Slate Dotcom and the book is How to Watch Basketball Like a Genius. It is by Nick Green. Nick, congrats and thanks.
S14: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
S7: And now it is time for after bawls, there’s some good stuff in Nick’s book about a subject we discussed on this program last week, dunking in his chapter on dunking Nick Name Drops Mikhail Baryshnikov, the poet laureate Donald Hall. He talks to the artistic director of the Oakland Ballet. He also gets into the history of the dunk and tells the story of Jack Inglis, who sometime in the 1910s was playing in a caged court. Courts often were in cages like in Washington. Square Park scaled the fence to the height of the basket where a teammate passed him the ball and he dropped it through the hoop. Some say first the dunk, some say bogus, first dunk. Anyway, the five foot nine Englis actually was one of the best players of his time. While everyone else was taking such shots, Inglis pioneered driving to the basket, leaping in the air and asking the ball into the hoop. Inglis made more spectacular shots with a varied degree of consistency than any other player will ever be able to duplicate, the legendary CCNY coach Nat Holman said. In 1922, Holman put Inglis on his all time team, as did others in the 1930s and 40s. Holman said Inglis was, quote, ranked in the premier category because he was a master of dribbling. An excellent shooter, a wonderful team man, steady, aggressive, sure, and fast on foot, and had a well regulated mind. Got to have a well regulated mind. After graduating in 1910 from RPI, where he was a four sport athlete, Inglis played eight seasons of basketball, mostly for the Troy Trojans and a semipro league in upstate New York. And when that league folded, bought with a teammate, the Carbondale pioneers of the Pennsylvania State League, he also played a couple of summers of minor league baseball and he coached the RPI, football and basketball teams and the Colgate football team. In 1917, Inglis decided to settle down in Troy. He joined an automobile business and played some basketball on the side. Then cue the dramatic music. In 1918, English entered the Naval Reserves. He was in training in Pelham Bay Park in New York and took a furlough to visit his sister back home in Troy. What was happening in 1918? That’s right. There was a pandemic. Inglis was stricken with influenza and died a month later. He was thirty one. Inglis’s death was big news in the death of Englis. Basketball loses perhaps the greatest player that ever graced a playing floor. The obituary that ran in multiple East Coast newspaper said it called him the wizard of the New York State League and the most popular player that wore a Carbondale uniform. Inglis had a way all his own on the court. A writer in the Wilkes-Barre Times leader said men who attempted to block him or take the ball away from him were sent hurtling to the extreme of the boundaries while Inglis sprinted to the basket to make a shot that would bring the spectators to their feet in amazement. Just as a magnet will attract metal, Inglis’s speed and strength had the opposite effect on opponents. They would charge him to stop him, and the next moment they would find themselves sprawling on the court through no evil of Inglis. His weight, plus a coordination of muscle, gave him absolute control at all times, and unfortunate was he who thought he would be different from the rest. He was idolized everywhere, but he never grew conceited and was the most likeable fellow that any person would want to find on the athletic field. He was a fiend incarnate when it came to playing the game. And the greatest tribute that can be paid to his memory is to have men say that he always played the game fair and clean.
S3: Jack Inglis seems like he cheated and fouled people.
S4: Yeah, he probably did. I mean, it was basketball in 1915, right? I also Josh, I looked at the rosters of some of his teams in Troy and Carbondale here, the names of some teammates, Blondie, Ernst, Dutch, Wise, Tubby Lamb Blob’s Albert Dang. The stretch MacIntire stretch was six foot four.
S3: Tallest guy on the way. Can we can I stop you before I forget that blood is like Albert? Yeah, I think we should do blubbers Albert Dang’s and we can retroactively declare what you just did a gloves Albertan.
S4: Okay, that’s fine. Yeah. And the last name I liked was Tom O’Neil. All right. So I guess that was not my Jack Inglis after all. It was my blob’s al birdwing. Josh, what’s your blob’s Albert doing by now?
S6: Everyone in America knows I am the proud owner of a Bismack Biyombo NBA top shot moment. When I said it was a layup earlier, I might not have mentioned it was a reverse layup. Now you know another thing we didn’t really get into when we were talking about top shot that there’s been a.
S3: Little boom in real life, physical, non, old timey, modern day, hold them in your hand, genuine sports cards. ESPN ran a piece by Dan Headachy back in October that noted that amid a pandemic that decimated the American economy, contemporary sports cards have attracted gargantuan sums from high rolling investors, dumbfounding investors and collectors alike. The piece went on to explain that today’s industry runs on manufactured scarcity, sort of like NBA top shot as well as chase cards, low print run, serially numbered cards, the most valuable of which are often rookies, usually autographed with memorabilia embedded. All right. Now, you know that background. I bring you to a YouTube video posted on May 15th. Twenty eighteen by a Florida based card shop called Leighton Sports Cards. In this video, a bearded fellow named Bryant is opening a case of twenty eighteen, twenty, nineteen Panini, national treasures, basketball cards. Forty cards per case. If you want a case for yourself, Stefan, the website Blow-Out Cards Dotcom has won for the price of seventy four thousand nine hundred ninety nine dollars and ninety five cents. By now, I don’t think I would have guessed that. High Baktir YouTube video. Bryant is opening this case live and there are three cameras to show the unboxing from all possible angles. He’s doing what’s called a group break, meaning the hall will be divided among different people, so the forty cards will go out. I don’t know how many people, but they’ve put money up to get a fraction of the cards that Brian is opening here. And this is a random team draw in which a random number generator decides which people get the cards that feature players from a given team. OK, if you don’t understand that, I am very disappointed in you. Not really. It is extremely confusing. But perhaps this will clear things up. Here’s a clip of Bryant announcing the card he just pulled and also discussing the desk chair that he is considering purchasing.
S15: Jerzy Carmelo’s ninety nine. Jase, no dice. Razors are good. Facts or wise, they have to nimesh ones right now. It’s like the super good lumbar support.
S3: All right, let’s now fast forward a few minutes. We’re past the desk chair situation and rejoin the stream as Bryant sees something he had not expected on a Ralph Sampson.
S16: Oh, my God, dude, no way.
S10: You know how much that’s worth, bro. How much?
S3: Oh, my God, I’m shaking. OK, Stefan. At this moment, Bryant is holding an NBA greats Ralph Sampson card, which features an image of the gangly Houston rocket center directly above Ralph Sampson signature in blue ink, but no Johal and Rockets Nation. Our guy Bryant is not having Ralph Sampson induced palpitations. He is reacting to what he saw out of the corner of his eye.
S16: The next card in the stack logo man patch on a one to one. Look at Donchak. Oh.
S3: Oh, my gosh, mom, that is a horizontal card, has a jersey patch featuring the NBA logo. That’s the logo MANPAD and Loukia Doncasters photo and signature. The signature actually reads Lulu and lowercase cursive, which is very cute. This card, as he said, is one of one meaning it’s the only one in existence. And this was Luchador his rookie year. The card went to someone named Doreen M, the person who had been assigned the Mavericks and the random draw of this group case brick, whatever it’s called. I am not certain what Andorian did with the card, but according to a poster on the seven hundred and seventy two page long official Donchak thread on Blow-Out forums, dot com America’s leading news source, it is rumored the Dorene M sold the card for one hundred twenty five thousand dollars. But that wasn’t the last time the card got sold. The reason I’m recounting all this is because this one of one, Luca Donchak collectible got sold again reportedly over the weekend. The price this time according to an invoice and a check that the user shine one fifty posted on Instagram was allegedly blank the all time record for a basketball card. I assume that this news item didn’t cross your desk, Stefan. I do not. All right. What’s your guess?
S4: One forty seven five hundred four point six million dollars.
S12: I was close to our colleague Derrick Johnson. This is how I found out about it, because Derrick tweeted that this was, quote, a ludicrous and, quote, high key insanity. Sounds like somebody is just jealous. Other people suggested without putting forward any evidence that something nefarious was afoot. I personally don’t know what’s going on here. If this was like a publicity stunt, the invoice lists the card for four point six million dollars, but the check is actually for four million because there were like other cards involved in the deal. I think we can say with confidence that this card was purchased for metric crap ton of money. I’m still I’m just personally still recovering from learning that people open packs of cards live on the Internet, that some of those cards could, I guess, sell for seven figures and that Luca Donchak signed his name Lulia, which was the name of one of our family dogs. Luca turned twenty two years old on Sunday. He’s making just more than eight million dollars this year. That means he could afford to buy his own autograph and still have more than three million dollars left to spend on Ralph Sampson cards. And of course Bismack Biyombo NBA Typewrite moments. Steph and I intend this is a perhaps a corrective to our earlier segment. Maybe not a cracker of an addendum. There’s insanity in all realms of American life and the American economy, news flash and also amazing investment opportunities.
S2: That is our show for today. Our producers this week were saludos and Mark Kelly, listen to Pasha’s and subscribe or just go to sleep. Dotcom slash hang up. You can email us and hang up at Slate dot com and please subscribe to the show and we can review us on a podcast. For Stefan Fatsis, I’m Josh Levine remembers on Moubayed and thanks for listening.
S6: Now it is time for our bonus segment for Slate plus members. And last Tuesday morning in Southern California, Tiger Woods, forty five years old, got in a horrifying single car wreck. He was driving an SUV, veered across two lanes, hit a curb, hit a tree and sustained. Stefan, what I have learned are termed crush injuries, a term that I had not heard before, but just had really horrifying damage to his legs. And a bunch of surgeries got moved to a more advanced trauma center. These injuries are not life threatening, but it seems like he’s going to struggle to walk if early reports are to be believed, much less to resume his athletic career. So, I mean, I guess we should just start by saying that this is an incredibly sad and terrifying.
S3: And we just came off, you know, watching this multipart HBO documentary that was fairly comprehensive in terms of looking at his life from from birth to the Masters win in that come back. And now that just feels like only a part of the story that that there’s a lot more coming back and life.
S1: I mean, like a lot of people, the first thought was, oh, shit, Kobe. And then you saw those images of the car and you thought, this is a nightmare. This is another athlete in a terrible year suffering, you know, life threatening injuries. I mean, those first hours, you really didn’t know if Woods was going to live. The Pivot’s that was so jarring and predictable was from will Tiger Woods live to what are the odds of him returning to the golf course? Because that’s what’s really important. I was disturbed in the first few hours to see the talking heads, of course, got so much wrong because that’s what happens in the aftermath of tragedies where we don’t know the details, but then hardened a little bit by some writers who were able to see beyond Tiger’s career. You know, I guess the other thing that was really upsetting initially was how quickly everyone pivoted to this is, you know, he was in another car crash in 2009 and conflating the tragic moments in his life.
S9: On the question of whether and how we should pivot to thinking about Tiger, the athlete and coming back to play the sport, I’m a little bit more forgiving than I think you are just because this is something that’s clearly how he is processed, his various injuries and setbacks. And he’s always talked about them in terms of when he is able to get back on the course. And the Masters victory after all of his back surgeries, after the reported painkiller addiction, that, again, by his own kind of measure and based on his public pronouncements, was incredibly meaningful and moving to him. And it did provide sort of a capstone and a full circle moment, like with the hug with his son at the same place where he hugged his dad.
S3: And so it feels a little bit like scholder to me, Stefan, really to to say like, oh, what? Like, we shouldn’t be thinking about golf now. There are things that are far more important.
S4: That’s not what I’m saying. And I’m not saying getting to that point either. You were totally saying it in. That was not that voice. But I do think that it says something about us as observers and fans. I mean, it’s natural, right? We think of Tiger Woods as an athlete, not anything else. We think of him winning masters and wearing green jackets and red shirts on Sundays. So that’s how we process Tiger Woods. And I think it’s true of almost any athlete. You know, when Alex Smith had those severe injuries to his legs, that’s always the first question. Can he recover? He’s an athlete with a giant contract and responsibility and fans love him and want to see him play and don’t want to see him injured. It took Alex Smith two years and what? Seventeen surgeries to find his way back.
S9: Yeah. And and the reports are that his injuries in some ways were less severe than Tiger because he didn’t have issues with his ankle. But I again, disagree. Like, I feel like that is the correct view on Alex Smith thing because people really didn’t know that much about Alex Smith beyond what he did on the on the field. But with Tiger Woods, we don’t think of him as just an athlete. We think of him as the guy. I mean, not necessarily in a positive sense. We think of him as the guy who got in that other accident and had all the affairs. And, you know, had the surgeries and has, like, transcended his sport and as a commercial pitchman and so all of that stuff is part of the blender and the mix when we see him on the course and see him walking up the 18th fairway at Augusta National, it’s not just because, like, oh, this guy is good at golf. It’s because he’s freakin Tiger Woods with everything that that encompasses. Again, I agree that it is far more important and we should try to focus on the stuff around like quality of life and health. But like we as observers and fans and watchers, the only access that we have to him and we’ll have him is as somebody who’s as an athlete and a golfer and so like it’s just much more abstract and there’s no real payoff to the like Tiger Woods come back around, like being able to lean over and play with his kids or his grandkids in the future. And like, it just makes sense that the only way we can really think about it is, you know, him wearing red, as his peers did on on various courses on Sunday and being back on the course.
S1: But again, I mean, I think it is normal and I think you’re absolutely right that because Woods is a transcendent, transcendent cultural figure, I mean, for everything, for his golf, for his race, for the volume and interest in him as a salesperson and sponsor, he changed not just a sport. He he affected all sports from the business side to the competitive side. And he really is a a one of the the greatest living athletes, both in terms of the way he has comported himself for the volume of his success and for his riches. So, yeah, of course, let’s process it differently. But I don’t know that processing a forty five year old athlete’s injuries, as when can he get back on the course is the right approach. There is a way to do it. And certainly a lot of commentators have done that. And I’m trying to do that because I don’t think at forty five it was realistic that Woods coming off a back surgery just a few months ago was likely to win another tournament, let alone one more major, let alone three more majors to tie Jack Nicklaus.
S9: So if he had had this accent when he was twenty five, you would have given me permission to speculate about the timetable of a return. Yes. OK, good to know for the future. No, it is interesting to see somebody come through an accident like this and have his peers kind of talk about him in the way that Kobe Bryant’s peers talked about him after his tragic death. I mean, you had people like Colin Morikawa, the young PGA champion, say, you know, that he wanted to take the opportunity to say, you know, Tiger means everything to me. Sometimes you lose people too early. I lost my grandpa about a month ago, and you don’t get to say thank you enough. And just based on, you know, reading quotes like that and from people like Brooks, koepka these people understand that Tiger Woods is the reason that they have the careers that they have and make the kind of money that they do. And so there’s no no kind of lack of understanding there, which I guess is good to see and will follow. I think Tiger Woods is lead when he begins making public statements around how he’s processing this and how he’s thinking about this. And it’s too early for us to know kind of what his goals are.
S4: But the fact that he did have that Masters win means that even the most caveman thinking commentators will not judge him based on what he’s able to do on the course, even if we’re thinking about it and if he has a successful recovery and rehabilitation, which some reports say could last as long as a year or longer, you know, would you put it past Tiger Woods to be back on a golf course in a show of strength and determination? I mean, whether it’s at the age of 47 or maybe on a senior tour at age 50, it might just be ceremonially, ceremonially hitting the first tee shot at the Masters. But my hunch would be that if Tiger recovers, well, he’s going to try to play.
S3: I agree. And also, how dare you for saying that. Thank you, Slate plus members, for your forbearance. We’ll be back with more next week.