INTERNET BASKETBALL

by Ellie Cutler

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Opening Tap

1992-93 was a landmark season for basketball. The game with humble peach basket beginnings celebrated its 100th anniversary. The Dream team showcased the world's elite players to an international audience at the 1992 Summer Olympics. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson retired, and an ultra-marketed rookie named Shaquille O'Neal appeared as the Ghost of Basketball Future. Basketball's stock continues to rise, and its appeal is broadening world-wide.

Enter the Internet. Mirroring life at large, the Net has its own basketball underground, the rec.sport.basketball* newsgroups. A few years ago, rec.sport.basketball was the lone hoops newsgroup. Increased traffic resulted in a split into three groups: rec.sport.basketball.pro, rec.sport.basketball.college, and rec.sport.basketball.misc.

The pro newsgroup covers primarily the NBA, with some collegiate, CBA, and Olympic overflow. The college newsgroup follows the US college basketball scene (men's and women's). The miscellaneous newsgroup charts Australian and European league postings, reports of long lost NBAers and collegiate stars, and the Luc Longley fan club.

According to net traffic reports, the basketball newsgroups consistently rank in the top 40 newsgroups in terms of readership size and number of postings (right up there with comp.unix.questions and alt.sex).

With its non-technical focus, rec.sport.basketball* casts its web over a wider audience than many newsgroups, but the technical flavor of the Net is never far away. Scattered amid the "Duke stinks, so there!" and "Shaq attack" postings are algorithms for player rankings, lottery probabilities, and stat reports for rotisserie managers.

The Net shrinks the world by making global information local. For instance, my source of Phoenix Suns news is no longer restricted to AP wire stories in the Boston Globe, but is expanded to include coverage from columnists, coaches, players, and fans in Phoenix. In return, I can post a scouting report on Boston College forward Bill Curley for the UseNet NBA Mock Draft, or details of Larry Bird's latest back operation for a Celtics-starved fan in Finland.

What follows is an in-depth look at life on the basketball Net: sample postings, regular features, net resources (for things like player statistics and basketball cards), and interviews with rec.sport.basketball* regulars.

Sample Posts

Besides providing a place for hoop fans to chat, brag, and bemoan their favorite teams and players, the basketball newsgroups are a fountain of information. Here's a cross sampling of the types of postings you'll find on the groups, followed by sample headers from real articles that appeared on the Net over the past year.

The Latest Schedules

The Celtics/Knicks game in Hartford is still on despite the blizzard. (I-86 and the Mass Pike are closed). It will be blacked out within a 40 mile radius of Boston - except for SportsChannel - and carried on Fox 25 in the Hartford area. For diehards in northern Vermont, it will be carried via satellite.

Injury Reports

For those who watched Kevin Johnson head down the tunnel before halftime in last night's game against the Sonics, Ahmad Rashad was speculating about a recurrence of KJ's hamstring pull, surely a blow to the Sun's playoff hopes. But the Phoenix Gazette photographer who was sitting in front of me said Kevin winked and said he had to go the bathroom.

Up-to-the-Minute Scores

It's 12:30 AM, and I just returned from watching Florida State beat the UNC Tarheels in double overtime. Bobby Sura missed eight 3-pointers in a row, but had a beautiful behind-the-back bullet to Doug Edwards for the winning dunk.

Inside Scoops

A friend of my cousin's works out at the UCLA gym and saw Chris Webber playing pickup ball with Magic Johnson. Webber also showed up at the Laker game that night with Jason Kidd. So Webber is either a) leaving Michican early since the Lakers are in the lottery, or b) transferring to Cal. to play for a real team. (haha Wolverines ;)

p.s. He also said that Webber was shorter than Magic, so how is he going to guard power forwards in the NBA??

Hi-Tech

NBA coaches will soon be replacing their clipboards with 8.5X11 notebook-size computers. The inch-thick computers will provide coaches with instant access to their team's and opposing team's stats in different play situations, and allow them to draw plays on either a half-court or full-court diagram. So what we want to know is: How's the interface? How much does it weigh? How is arena lighting on an LCD? And, won't the coaches fight over who gets to use it?

Hi-Tech II

WordPerfect Corp. announced that Karl Malone will be working for them in advertising. The '93 theme for WP is "WordPerfect Delivers," and they have signed the Mailman to do the delivering. Malone was live from Cal. via satellite, and gave a little speech, including the revelation of his famous mumblings at the free throw line: "Karl Malone and WordPerfect kick Microsoft butt."

Hollywood

A new Klingon, in the form of Laker star James Worthy, makes his debut on an upcoming episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation." Last night, James was interviewed on KCAL news in his Klingon suit and makeup. He looked very much the handsome warrior, and said that as an NBA player he was basically an entertainer, and saw little difference between hoops and drama.

No word on whether or not it is a speaking part.

Also no word on whether or not Cedric Ceballos will play a Romulan.

Humor

>Have Phoenix fans given Oliver Miller the nickname "Ollie?"

Then they could trade for Frank Brickowski and Toni Kukoc, giving them a front line of Kukoc, Frank, and Ollie.

Sample Headings

Here's a sampling of subject lines from real articles that appeared on rec.sport.basketball* over the past year.

rec.sport.basketball.pro

rec.sport.basketball.college

As you can see, the postings are an eclectic mix of information and entertainment. Sometimes the sheer volume of postings is overwhelming. If you aren't a speed reader, you can manage your load by using KILL files to weed out authors you can't stand, or delete discussions that should have ended weeks ago. For instance, I know someone who is so sick of all the banners hanging in the Boston Garden that he keeps the following lines in his KILL file:

/Celtics/h:j

/Auerbach/h:j

/Green/h:j

/ellie@ora.com/h:j

Basketball Newsgroup Features

Aside from discussions, opinions, and updates, the basketball newsgroups sport regular features such as the mock draft, NCAA tournament, and player ratings. These are postings by devoted netters who share their knowledge - basketball and technical - to make the net more fun and useful for all.

Here are some of the more popular features:

UseNet Draft

Netters take on roles of scouts and General Managers in the UseNet Draft. This annual parallel to the NBA draft is run by Craig Simpson of UNC. Prior to the net draft, a request is sent out over the net for scouting reports of players coming out in this year's draft. The reports are compiled and re-posted as a complete package. Volunteer team GMs use the scouting info, their own expertise, and the input of fellow netfans to make the actual draft picks.

Sample UseNet Draft Pick

The Boston Celtics have the 19th pick and are represented by:

leprechaun@garden.com (J.Most)

(i) Team at a glance -

In a Nutshell: With McHale retired and Parish in limbo, the C's depleted frontcourt boasts a bigman trio of Alaa Abdelnaby, Lorenzo Williams, and Joe Kleine. Not a McFilthy or McNasty in the lot! On their way to Lotteryville, do they cut their losses, release Parish, and see if Dee Brown and Rick Fox can really play?

(ii) And the Celtics select:

Ervin Johnson, 6-11 C, New Orleans

The C's desperately need an inside force. Thanks to Shawn Bradley and Luther Wright jumping into the draft, Ervin Johnson slipped to #19. He's a bit of a project, and older than most draftees (the 26-year-old did not play in high school and was bagging groceries when discovered), but can play the post, rebound, and run the floor. Besides, you've gotta love the irony of an Ervin Johnson playing for the Celtics...

UseNet Scouting Reports

Before the UseNet draft, a request is sent out over the net for scouting reports of players coming out in this year's draft. The reports are compiled and re-posted as a complete package.

Sample Scouting Report

Poop: Opinions on Baker range from "potential NBA all-star; handles, dishes, shoots with range like a guard, and in his free time rejects shots like Hakeem," to "another tall skinny type - fairly quick but not physical enough to be an NBA center." Baker prefers to play facing the basket. He's highly skilled; can dribble, shoot, score, and has excellent shot-blocking instincts. Could've been a sleeper pick, but league GMs have caught on.

Scout: Ellie Cutler

NCAA Tournament

This is the net pool for March Madness. It is accompanied by much lively discussion, woofing, and inside info from the computer labs of schools chosen for the Big Dance. Who are the Cinderella teams? Who are the Chanticleers? What's a Hoya?

Minkoff Player Rankings

Tony Minkoff from UCal San Diego blends an intricate web of player stats to produce weekly rankings for all NBA players. For fans who love to argue stastistics, Minkoff is a must.

Sample Posting

WARNING: The following contains heavy statistics analysis and may cause drowsiness or disorientation in some readers.

A player's value is computed by multiplying the value of his per-minute statistics by sqrt(min/gm). Consider two players whose total statistical contributions are S1 and S2. To analyze their per-minute statistical performances, we compare S1/min1 and S2/min2. To analyze per-game statistical performances, we compare S1/game1 and S2/game2.

Minkoff Player Rankings uses (S/min)*sqrt(min/gm), or S/sqrt(min*gm). This is a monotonic transformation of S*S/min*gm, or (S/min)*(S/gm). I.e., (S1/min1)*sqrt(min1/gm1) > (S2/min2)*sqrt(min2/gm2) if and only if (S1/min1)*(S1/gm1) > (S2/min2)*(S2/gm2). Thus, to do well, a player must have good per-minute stats and good per-game stats.

Internet Basketball Resources

Newsgroups

Here are all the basketball related newsgroups on the Net as of September 1993.

The ClariNet hierarchy consists of newsgroups relayed from commercial news services and other "official" sources. Getting the ClariNet groups requires a fee and a license. More information may be obtained by sending mail to "info@clarinet.com".

Team Mailing Lists

There are a few ways you can find out if a mailing list exists for your favorite team. You can get archived postings from the ftp server on pit-manager.mit.edu [18.172.1.58]. The hitch here is that only mailing lists that have been registered are listed. To cover all the bases, you can ask around in the newsgroups.

The archived postings include all the Frequently Asked Questions posted to the news.answers newsgroups, as well as the most recent lists of Usenet newsgroups, Usenet-accessible mailing lists, group moderators, and other Usenet-related information posted to the news.announce.newusers and news.lists groups.

To get the material by ftp, log in using anonymous ftp (userid of ftp and your e-mail address as password).

The archived files, and FAQ files from other newsgroups, are all in the directory: /pub/usenet/news.answers

Archived files from news.announce.newusers and news.lists are in /pub/usenet/news.announce.newusers and /pub/usenet/news.lists respectively.

Following is a sampling of basketball-related mailing lists.

Purpose: Detailed coverage and discussion of the Boston Celtics. Get the local scoop on Marcus Webb, Dave Gavitt's draft connections, and Bird sightings.

Purpose: Covers the University of Nebraska sports. The major in-season sports (football, basketball) usually make up the majority of posts.

Purpose: Covers the Cleveland Indians, Cleveland Browns, Cleveland Cavaliers, and teams from Ohio State University. Anything related to the Cleveland Sports scene is fair game here.

Purpose: For people interested in collection, speculation and investing in baseball, football, basketball, hockey and other trading cards and/or memorabilia. Discussion and want/sell lists are welcome. Open to anyone.

Databases

For all the numbers you can crunch and then some, including records, drafts, playoff trees, schedules and scores, from 1990 playoffs up to the present, do anonymous FTP to:

wuarchive.wustl.edu

and browse under: /doc/misc/nbastats/facts

This connects you to Washington University at St. Louis (also known as ftp.wustl.edu, internet address 128.252.135.4)

Interviews with Basketball Netters

Following are random thoughts about rec.sport.basketball* from the netters themselves.

Terra Goodnight, a biochemistry grad student at UCLA, writes: "I think the basketball groups, and likely all the sports groups, are great for everyone with even a passing interest in sports. The latest information is usually there. Stuff like scouting reports for other than my hometown team is great, as well as just the regular day-to-day coverage of the teams outside of L.A. It's more accessible than the newspapers & you get to talk back. Plus we all get to play Monday-morning-quarterback and relive the games and overanalyze all the coach's decisions."

Software engineer Toni Morgan, a UVa Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves fan, says: "I go to r.s.b.p for discussion as opposed to current information about games, etc. The latter is fairly readily available via newspaper, although I am frequently amazed to find that the net is the first place that I hear about things like trades and coaching changes. I met someone through r.s.b.p. who does stats for the Timberwolves home games, and has locker room access. He comes by to chat with me before most home games, and sometimes gives me a copy of the press package that includes rosters, stats, etc. I learn some interesting inside information and rumours through him!"

Hilary James Liang, a physics grad student from National Taiwan University in Taiwan, the Republic of China, shares his thoughts on the basketball newsgroups: "You meet a bunch of warm-hearted fans in bball groups. I have friends reporting the latest playoff news to me everyday. I would like to see a FAQ for r.s.b.p. I think it would be interesting to foreign fans. For example, I hope to see a list of the home stadiums of the 27 teams, and a list of the past NBA champions. Many of us foreign fans are too shy to ask such trivial questions."

Net regular Gidi Avrahami, a PhD student from Stanford University, writes: "It's like reading the sports page or, more precisely, like listening to a call-in sports show, except that you have a wider range of personalities on the net. Last year's UseNet draft was fun, and by running the scouting department I got to know Jazzy and Craig Simpson (who I later met when he was in Palo Alto on business). It was the kind of large-scale project that you can really only get with the net, and it worked really well."

Example Session

Here is a step-by-step blow of what a rec.sport.basketball* session might look like, using the rn newsreader.

  1. Type "rn rec.sport.basketball.pro".
  2. Type "=" to see a list of headings.
  3. Type "n" to read some postings.
  4. Use k to delete all references to a particular header ("Let's Improve the LA Times Boxscores")
  5. Use K to put a particular header ("Pistons are thugs") in your KILL file.
  6. Type "F" to send a reply to an article over the entire net
  7. Type "q" to exit the session.
(Go to next article...)

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