While the presumed purpose of making an argument is to rely on logic and insight, T.J. Simers fails both tests with his usual alacrity when he criticizes Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's views on UCLA's troubled basketball program.
Where to begin? Well, how about Simers' use of innuendo. After referring to Abdul-Jabbar's description of Trevor Ariza's decision to leave UCLA rather than continue working with Ben Howland, Simers says,
"He (Abdul-Jabbar) doesn't mention it, but I wonder what Wooden would have said about that?"
Innuendo, of course, is criticism of an indirect kind. (One definition on the Web is "an allusive or oblique remark or hint, typically a suggestive or disparaging one.") So what Simers is doing is hinting, not saying directly, that Abdul-Jabbar has it all wrong. Since we don't KNOW what Coach would have said, here's another innuendo of sorts: If the allegation of bullying is true (and it should be noted that Reeves Nelson denies it), what would Coach have done about it? Coach will always rest securely in our hearts, but speaking from what I assume are the operative legal standards, again we don't KNOW the answer to that, either. See how easy this is? You don't have to provide proof at all; you simply hint at possibilities.
Now let's look at another aspect of Simers' column. I like to think of this tactic as a feint-and-dodge maneuver. Simers writes,
"The ideals of the Wooden era are just that — the ideals of the Wooden era."
Then, after noting that Howland has continually paid tribute to Wooden's legacy, Simers writes:
"But tell me today's kid, recruited to one day play in the NBA, gives a hoot about the Pyramid of Success. Tell me he should, as many emailers will, and there's no argument."
Again, this is an interesting point on Simers' part. Here's the feint, as I see it: No one on Bruins Nations demands that members of the basketball team "give a hoot about the pyramid." (That would be welcome, of course, but it's a relatively long list, as I recall.) What those of us who love and honor Coach's legacy demand is that our athletes respect what the pyramid REPRESENTS, and that can be summed up in one word — integrity. Are we demanding too much, Mr. Simers?
Finally, we come to the use of generalizations without supporting facts. Simers writes:
"Howland has made recruiting mistakes, and I suspect so did Wooden. Howland hasn't always responded as he should to problems, and I suspect Wooden stumbled on occasion."
One wonders: Did Simers simply forget to mention the mistakes Coach made or did he run out of room? Now let me be clear about this. I'm NOT saying that Coach made no mistakes, and Simers is probably right when he says Coach hated to be called "Saint John." But I am saying that when you write a column criticizing Abdul-Jabbar for misplaced idealism in contrasting the Wooden era with the current state of affairs, you have an obligation to be SPECIFIC when you suggest Howland's mistakes should be seen in a larger context — mistakes made by someone generally regarded as the best basketball coach in history.
In my view, one of the most vexing problems we face is the many leaders in all walks of life — I'm referring to politicians, religious leaders, athletes and policy "experts" — who are unable to meet the exacting standards that others have set and resort to the time-worn excuse that their critics are only engaging in idealism. It remains, then, to sum up the effect of T.J. Simers' column as distinctive on one level only — it is both a symptom of and contributor to the problem.