Stuart Gray was not a Stiff!!!

Posted on November 20, 2008 by

11


Today’s post is going to make a simple point. 

Stuart Gray was not a stiff!!!

Why am I commenting on a player whose career ended in 1990-91 and consisted of only 3,457 minutes played (and five starts)?

For an answer, we turn to JC Bradbury (yes, The Baseball Economist). 

Bradbury recently wrote a post on Stuart Gray (a comment motivated by the fact Bradbury grew up in Charlotte, where Gray spent one season). Within this column is the following statement:

“(Dick) Harter felt that the Hornets could be competitive if they could get a good big man, and that big man was Stuart Gray, a man Harter felt was being underutilized by his former team, the Indiana Pacers.

The Hornets eventually did acquire Gray, I believe for a second-round pick, for the 1989-1990 season. Gray came to town and was nothing less than the pure embodiment of a “stiff.””

Gray Responds

Two weeks after this column was posted, JC Bradbury received an unexpected comment from none other than Stuart Gray.  And Gray was not a happy camper.  And his response gives a remarkable level of insight into a neglected part of player transactions:

This post is in response to your post about Stuart Gray. Have the guts to post it or don’t. I don’t care. At least I have the satisfaction of responding to this nonsense. I wish my friend never showed me your wesite.

First of all, get the facts straight before you publish “crap” as fact. One of the things I do not miss about sports is self serving individuals talking out of their rear end and thinking it is factual!

You have no idea what transpired at the Hornets in 1989. You have no idea of the petty team politics and you have no idea why I was brought to the team. Loyalty was not the reason, it was to fill a specific deficiency in the roster. I am pretty certain that Dick Harter knew that he could not “sell” me starting in front of the ACC prodigy, J.R. Reid. The team was soft and they could not win unless they established that they would stick up for themselves.

My career stats never suggested Dick Harter was looking for a franchise player as you would suggest. You are looking to paint me as a “stiff” to try and make a point but that would only be accurate if Dick brought me in to be more than a role player. Nice writer’s trick but less than honest representation of the reason Dick traded for me.

He was looking for a center that would stand up to the other teams’ players that were beating the living crap out of his players on a nightly basis. Funny how the refs started calling fouls on opposing players once I went “berserk” as you referred to it. You think it was so easy? Then you do it!

Finally, Dick didn’t lose his job due to bringing me on board. He lost it due to political infighting and back stabbing that defined the team and organization in 1989. My job was to protect players like Rex Chapman and Dell Curry from getting beaten up each game and literally being hurt by the rough play of the other teams. That is why I came to Charlotte.

Please do not change the facts to make a point on your website. Your writings about Dick Harter and me show a profound ignorance to the finer points of basketball strategy. Dick is “Old School” and coached by a certain code that not all players understood or were willing to follow. Many chose not to.

By the way, I was traded to the Knicks to back up Patrick and protect his back. Different NBA back then but you wouldn’t know that would you? One final note, my career was defined by my rebounding and defensive skills against other centers. I also played for so long because I could get shooters open by setting picks that defensive players could not get through. Just a few more of the finer points of being a “Role Player” that you probably do not understand.

To the other posters, sorry about the rant but I felt JC’s comments warranted a response! Also, Dick Harter is an honorable man and deserves better than to have this inaccurate version about what “happened” at Charlotte in 1989 being told. This post is disrespectful to me and to the real reason for Dick losing this job.

Dick did the honorable thing and left quietly without making the bad situation the organization had created worse. I have no desire to discuss or does anyone need to know what happened out of respect for Dick Harter and to the sheer fact of “who cares.”

Enough time has past that this issue should have been relegated to the trash heap. Since it was given a new life, then get it right! You may run a small website but others read it so professionalism dictates that you don’t pretend to have knowledge of something you probably know nothing or little about.
One final word, loyalty to former players is not a bad thing, especially if you know they already fit into your system and can fill certain roles. Doesn’t this happen in business all the time? The problems arise when the player cannot fulfill the role due to team politics.

Many players are traded into a situation without a consensus in the upper management team. Politics takes over and the player is “caught” in the middle of a power struggle that they neither understand or want to be involved in. Players go where they are sent for the most part unless they are the fortunate few that have trade approvals in thier contracts. For the rest, you hope that everyone wanted you when the trade was finalized. If not, good luck, your career could be over!

And Bradbury responds:

Gray’s comment led to a response from Bradbury, a response that highlights the nature of criticism in public forums.

Dear Stuart,

Thank you for your response. While, I would like to respond “I meant no disrespect” I did call you a stiff. I was 16 at the time that you played for the Hornets, so my memory may be a bit hazy. Although, I do have a vivid memory of the Michael Cooper fight, and I believe I was actually at the game to witness the most bizarre sports fight that I have ever seen (though it could have been televised).

Like all sports journalists and bloggers, I write about the quality of players’ play. I don’t think it’s incorrect to say that you were not a very good NBA player. There is not shame in this in that you were clearly one of the best basketball players in the world. It’s a laudable achievement as I was once schooled in a pick-up game by the 12th man my college’s Division II basketball team. Compared to me, and most basketball players in the world, you are very good. The term “stiff” may be a bit harsh; however, I doubt I am the first person to use that term to describe you. I can only imagine what you must have said to Tom Sorenson or Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer. Still, that doesn’t defend my use of the term, but I will defend it.

Writing is difficult. Unless it’s a diary, you must get the point across but keep it interesting. I could use objective terms without positive or negative connotations like “three standard deviations below/above average” to describe play, but that would get tedious for readers. Stiff is short-hand for a tall basketball player who commits fouls and doesn’t score much. That may have been your job, and you did it well. If that makes you a stiff, so be it. That I might not understand the value in what you did is my problem, and you probably shouldn’t feel disrespect, but instead just brush me off as an idiot. I do it all the time when people with little statistical training “correct” my “mistakes”. I’m also sometimes called a “stat-nerd” who should get out of the basement and see a game. They don’t know what they’re talking about and have no influence over my life, so I ignore them. These people don’t know anything about who I am as a person, and I don’t take those to be criticisms that influence how I view myself.

So what I ask of you is not to take any disrespect from my calling you a stiff or describing your attempt to decapitate Michael Cooper as berserk. That’s how I view your play on the court. You have every right to dismiss me as an uninformed idiot. If I’m going to write about sports, I’m going to have to be critical of those involved in the sport unless I want to run a rah-rah rag. As a person, I care about those things that matter most to players. I’m sad for players when things go poorly (illness, death, getting cut, etc.) and happy when things go well (marriage, birth, award-winning, etc.). If I worry about hurting feelings, I can’t do my job. Just as you probably didn’t enjoy physically injuring players with hard fouls to protect Patrick Ewing, I get no joy from the fact that I might hurt Jeff Francoeur’s feelings.

I would like to add, that I agree with your assessment of Harter. He was treated badly by Hornets owner George Shinn. He was fired on a road trip while his brother was having serious health issues after the team said it would not fire him. Gene Littles didn’t fare so well either. The politics behind the team sound ugly, and I’m sure you know more about that than I do. Still, the positive spin he put on your acquisition is worthy of criticism, and it served as an example that sometimes executives are a bit too smitten with past players.

Thanks again for writing, Stuart. I wish you well.

And Stuart responds again

Within two hours of Bradbury’s response, Stuart indicated there were no hard feelings:

Stuart just followed up with a response that I very much appreciate.

You are truly an interesting sports writer, fan and now I am going to say gentleman. I also enjoy someone that sticks by their principles in the sports world. Don’t lose that quality as it is rare!

Your assessment is correct about how trades or draft selections are spun in the media. I knew very quickly that there would be no way for me to get the minutes necessary to make an impression that was “expected.” As you remember, the town was alive with Hornet’s Fever those first few years and expectations were just a “little” out of whack with the reality of the team’s abilities.

While I rarely back down from a challenge, I knew this one was going to be almost impossible to win. I should have taken Hurricane Hugo trashing the city the day after I arrived as a REALLY bad omen!

Thanks for your comments. I will visit the site from time to time. Internesting story brewing with Greg Oden. Similar story potentially (except for the 100+ million that I never made).

Stuart Gray’s Career

There are a few interesting points about this exchange.  Perhaps the least important is that I think Bradbury’s initial assessment of Gray- made when Bradbury was a teenager — is incorrect.  Gray – especially the year he played in Charlotte – was not a horrible player.  Here are some of his career marks:

  • Career Record: 0.022 WP48, 1.6 Wins Produced
  • 1989-90 (with Charlotte): 0.111 WP48, 1.1 Wins Produced
  • Year 4 to Year 6 (1987-88 to 1989-90): 0.085 WP48, 3.6 Wins Produced

An average player will post a WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] of 0.100.  So Gray was only above average the one year he played for Bradbury’s Hornets. 

When we look at the career numbers we see that Gray was well below average his first three seasons. He then posted respectable numbers from season four to six (with Indiana and Charlotte).  He then did very little in the 131 minutes he played in New York to finish his career.

When we look at the individual stats we see where Gray was good.

Table One: The Career Number of Stuart Gray

As Gray indicated, he was not a scorer.  His strength was rebounding.  As is often noted, the non-scoring aspects of the game are often undervalued.  So it’s not surprising that many people thought Gray – the quintessential non-scorer – was not well regarded.

Politics and Criticism

Beyond the issue of the quality of Gray’s contribution, Gray’s initial response highlights a key aspect of how teams are built in the NBA.  People outside of the NBA often act like general manager and coaches in the Association are simply well-paid fantasy league owners.  My understanding of the process – which Gray’s comments confirm – is that the personalities of the participants play a significant role in how a team is constructed.  Inter-firm politics are certainly a part of the NBA (as they are everywhere) and the politics often dictate the decisions teams make.

Let me close this discussion by moving past the lessons about the NBA to the lesson learned about criticism. Bradbury’s explanation of his initial critique was excellent.  And it was wonderful to see Gray’s response to this explanation.  Although the exchange between Bradbury and Gray did not begin well, it ended with both parties behaving like adults.  One has to note that often this doesn’t happen on the Internet.  Often people cannot agreeably disagree.  Instead, often things escalate into personal attacks.  Again, it is good to see that not happen in this instance.

– DJ

The WoW Journal Comments Policy

Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at wagesofwins.com provides substantially more information on the published research behind Wins Produced and Win Score

Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say

Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics

Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.