The 2014 NBA season tipped off last night, and the 2014 SCOTUS term argued-off A few weeks ago. In light of SCOTUS’s problems gaining attention, we came up with five things it could learn from the NBA. Here is Part 1.
The greatest strength of the NBA is that fans feel like they really get to know who the players are. And here’s the surprising part: it’s true. With 82+ games a season, constant interviews and microphones everywhere on the court, there is nowhere for an NBA player to hide his personality. A fan who watches closely can really come to understand a player’s personal strengths and weaknesses. I’m convinced that at this point Bill Simmons can see a Paul Pierce mood swing coming more easily than he can see a Mrs. Simmons mood swing coming.
The Supreme Court has the same strength. Those who read the argument transcripts and opinions really get to know each Justice. And the personalities are every bit as intriguing, frustrating and profoundly human as those in the NBA.
In fact, each Justice has an NBA counterpart:
Justice Scalia is Lebron James. I pointed this out at the end of my feature on Justice Scalia’s DOMA opinion. Suffice it to say that both are immensely talented, but among the most polarizing figures of their respective generations.
Justice Thomas is Metta World Peace. They’re both enthusiastic, bull-headed and almost incomprehensibly frustrated with the state of the world. Thomas is so far out of the mainstream that he thought the Citizens United case should have gone further. That position is the rough judicial equivalent of charging into the stands at a basketball game and throwing wild haymakers at unsuspecting civilians.
Chief Justice Roberts is Kevin Durant. They’re both in the prime of their careers, on top of the world, very talented, always composed, confident, and they both see things that other people don’t see.
Justice Kennedy is Kobe Bryant. These two are wildcards who are starting to get toward the end of their careers. The other Justices have trouble influencing Kennedy, just as Kobe is notoriously difficult to coach. You never know whether these two will command a majority of the Court and write an epic opinion advancing a struggling cause or get annoyed with the media and refuse to shoot the basketball.
Justice Breyer is Kevin Garnett. On their best days they are both idealistic veterans who can still teach a lesson to the younger generation. On their worst days, they are washed-up dreamers who outgrew the game three years ago. Either way, they’re fun to watch.
Justice Alito is Blake Griffin. These two have plenty of talent, but haven’t really hit their strides yet. Griffin needs to develop a jump shot. Alito needs to figure out a way to get out of the shadow of Justice Scalia. They are both in danger of having entire careers where they never really make their mark.
Justice Ginsburg is Tim Duncan. Many thought these two were finished years ago. Duncan is 37-years-old and just carried the ‘13 Spurs within millimeters of defeating Lebron James in his prime. Justice Ginsburg fought off cancer for the second time and heard oral arguments 12 days after the surgery.
Justice Sotomayor is Derrick Rose. These two are fairly new to SCOTUS/the NBA, and they bring a kind of flashy pizazz with them. Like Rose (who’s jersey is number two in the NBA in sales), Sotomayor connects well with average people and is one of the better known/liked Justices.
Justice Kagan is Kevin Love. These two are very good at what they do, but they are easy to overlook. They’re not flashy, not the best leaders, not looking for attention. They show up to work to get the job done, and they do that very well.
MVP. Coach of the Year. Defensive Player of the Year. Comeback Player of the Year. These make the NBA more fun and (more importantly) give writers something to write about. They can be debated to the heart’s content.
There is no reason that SCOTUS shouldn’t have similar awards. There should, without question, be an MVJ (Most Valuable Justice) named ever year. Same goes for Best Dissenting Opinion (which, in a post last year, I gave to Justice Scalia for 26 out of the past 27 years).
Other good awards could be Best Majority Opinion, Advocate of the Year (to the best attorney arguing in front of SCOTUS) and Ridiculous Analogy of the Year (who remembers Scalia’s bread analogy from the DOMA dissent?).
 I’ll work on that. Email me with some suggestions.
 Emphasis on “rough.”
 Having thought about it for a solid twenty minutes, I still haven’t decided which of those is more impressive.