- The Season's Over -

Something Smells Foul in Cleveland

January 26, 2010

LeBron James

LeBron James Photos Credit: Icon SMI

By: Zachariah Blott

LeBron James’ statistics are amazing. He’s putting up 30 points, 7 boards, and 8 assists per for essentially the sixth season in a row, and there are exactly zero players who can get close to that trio of numbers for even one season. But he’s doing something else, just as consistently, that no one else of consequence is able to do: not get called for fouls.

Look at the personal fouls column for the top-10 scorers in the league. Nine of them collectively average 2.7 fouls per, falling within the range of 2.3 – 3.4. These nine include some of the NBA’s biggest names who obviously have “earned some calls,” guys who can easily score 10 from the charity stripe in a night while getting the refs’ attention for only their two most obvious hacks.

And the tenth player? That would be James, who averages 1.8–and that’s rounded up. Many people suspect the league helps protect the Wades, Kobes, Anthonys, and other marquee players who keep those turnstiles turning, but how in God’s green earth does LeBron absolutely smoke them all in not getting whistled for defensive misdeeds?

And this isn’t the first time he’s been in the referee’s good graces to this degree. Last year, James averaged 1.7 fouls per. Going backwards from there, you have 2.2, then 2.2, then 2.3, then 1.8, then 1.9… then he was at his high-school prom. Not only is 2.3 fouls per the worst of LeBron’s career, it actually marks the best in the careers of both Wade and Bryant.

Is James, who happens to be the most marketable guy in the league, just that much superior to everyone at not fouling players? We’ve all seen him play, and he’s obviously a very good defender, but he’s no Shane Battier, Ron Artest, Gary Payton, Dennis Rodman, or Bill Russell. James, however, has done a much, much better job than any of them at not being whistled.

Breaking down in great detail LeBron James’ “amazing” fouls rate after the break…

Basic Statistical Comparisons

For starters, we should know how often fouls are being called around the league so we can see if there really is a big difference with LeBron. Through January 22, James played 1702 minutes and committed 77 fouls, good for one foul every 22.1 minutes of court time.

Everyone else in the NBA logged 298,868 minutes and committed 26,473 fouls, good for one every 11.3 minutes. Comparatively, James is half as likely to be called for a foul than the other 300-odd players as a whole. Without even picking up a calculator, it looks like most NBAers who would play 38.7 minutes a game, like James does, would accrue about 3.5 fouls per (remember that his 1.8 is rounded up).

But The Chosen One is no regular professional baller. He just happens to be supremely talented, score a bunch of points, and play on one of the best teams in the league. On top of that, James is the biggest marketing tool the NBA has as it expands its revenue base all over the world in China.

(Eastern Europe and South America have produced far more NBA players, but don’t vote for the All-Star team, aren’t having arenas built in their countries by the league, and don’t host preseason games.)

But the league has had other uber-marketable superstars over the past 30 years. Didn’t they get all the calls as well? Here are three players whose fame and status were similar to LeBron’s, and how their foul counts looked in their first seven seasons:

- As a Laker teamed up with Shaq, Kobe Bryant was a big deal from early on. He guards roughly the same players that LeBron does, and his defensive reputation has been better for most of his career. In Bryant’s first seven full seasons (following two as a reserve), his fouls per game ranged from 2.6 to 3.3, with an average of 2.9.

- Magic Johnson’s smile, collegiate exploits, and style of play made him an instant hit, which the NBA rode up to and beyond his untimely retirement. Magic’s foul counts in his first seven seasons ranged from 1.8 to 2.9, with an average of 2.5 fouls per.

- Michael Jordan was already well known when he entered the league in 1984. He was the NCAA’s consensus Player of the Year, and he had won a national championship at North Carolina. Not only that, I think it’s safe to say that Jordan’s defensive abilities and reputation far trump those of James (Jordan won the Defensive Player of the Year award in 1987-88). His first seven seasons (not counting 1985-86, when he was injured) ranged from 2.5 to 3.5, with an average of 3 fouls per.

Although these three had better foul counts than an average player, LeBron still registers far fewer. On top of that, Jordan and Bryant carried better defensive reputations during their careers, and James often guards big men inside, which almost always results in higher-than-usual foul counts.

Less Than One In a Million

Okay, maybe the Cavs star really is just that much better than the league, other current stars, and three of the most marketable superstars of the David Stern Era at not fouling the man he’s guarding. I’d say that’s highly unlikely, and thankfully math gives us a vehicle to measure how unlikely.

Using a chi-square test (it’s a pain in the ass to explain, so Google away if you’re so inclined) with LeBron’s foul data and the league’s foul data, one derives a chi-square value of 35.9, which translates into a P-value of 0.00000. The P-value is what’s of most use to us here because it tells us how likely something is to happen due simply to chance (e.g. 0.4 means it has a 40% chance of happening). This all means that the likelihood of LeBron’s foul counts occurring with his minutes is less than one in a million.

(A big thank you goes out to Dr. Bradford Crain, a statistics professor at Portland State University, who helped with the calculations and their interpretations.)

That astronomically low number has to be taken with a grain of salt since there are actually a few players in the league who fall into this category, but it’s usually pretty obvious why. For example, Steve Nash is committing a career-low 1.2 fouls per, but he’s such a bad defender, everyone he’s guarding simply dribbles past him and then he’s out of the play. It’s not so obvious with LeBron, considering he’s regularly guarding extremely dynamic players who routinely go to the line, and he’s often banging with the big boys underneath, where a majority of fouls are called.

A more meaningful way to look at the rarity of his foul counts is by comparing him to players who play similar minutes. There are 12 non-centers (centers’ foul counts are always high) who are playing between 38 and 40 minutes per. I decided not to look at their fouls per, since I already know how James stacks up here, but to look at how often these players get into foul trouble compared to James. If a player is in foul trouble, it affects how aggressively he can play in crunch time and if a coach needs to make substitutions, two things that can alter the outcomes of games.

These 12 players (not a slouch in the bunch – Bryant, Gay, Durant, Roy, etc.) combine for 469 games, during which they got called for 4 fouls 53 times, 5 fouls 31 times, and 6 fouls (fouled out) only 4 times. James has logged 44 games, 3 with 4 fouls, and 0 with more. In fact, 4 fouls is the most he’s been called for over the past two seasons.

Using a chi-square test on this data gives us P-values of 0.047 and 0.060 for games with 4-plus and 5-plus fouls, respectively (the calculations for 6 fouls are meaningless since they’re so rare for the entire group). That means that LeBron had a 4.7% and 6% chance of having so few games in those types of foul trouble due simply to randomness. Therefore, something else is at work here (most mathematicians consider anything under 5% to be “significant”).

Checking last year’s data, it’s even worse. There were 10 players who logged between 37.5 and 38.5 minutes per (James, 37.7), and collectively they played 777 games, 109 with 4 fouls, 48 with 5 fouls, and 13 with 6 fouls. James had 9 games with 4 fouls during his 81-game season. This data yields P-values of 0.023 and 0.0089, so he had a 2.3% chance of having so few 4+ fouls games and a 0.89% (less than 1%) chance of having no 5+ fouls games.

Yes, there is definitely something “significant” happening here.

Regular Superstar Treatment?

Maybe the face-of-the-NBA stars ranked similarly low during their top seasons. It turns out Magic was close, but none of them could match what LeBron has been doing for most of his career.

LeBron James

It makes sense to assume Michael Jordan stayed out of foul trouble during his 1992-93 MVP season. In 78 games, he had 4 fouls 10 times, 5 fouls 7 times, and he never fouled out. The nine non-centers who played between 38 and 40.5 minutes totaled 681 games, 124 with 4 fouls, 56 with 5, and 7 with 6. This data yields a P-value of 0.285 for games with 4+ fouls, and 0.936 in games with 5+ fouls. Thus, Jordan had a 28.5% and 93.6% chance of getting into foul trouble at the same rate as these other guys, and he was second to Hakeem Olajuwon in Defensive Player of the Year voting.

Kobe Bryant was similar in his 2007-08 MVP season. In 82 games, he had 18 games with 4 fouls, 6 with 5 fouls, and 1 foul out. The 12 players who played between 37.7 and 39.9 minutes registered 908 games, 162 with 4 fouls, 68 with 5, and 17 with 6. This data produces P-values indicating Kobe’s numbers fit right into this group; he had a 52.3% chance of having that many 4+ fouls games and a 80.5% chance of that many 5+ fouls games.

Magic Johnson did better in his 1986-87 MVP season, playing in 80 games, getting 4 fouls 10 times, 5 fouls 5 times, and never fouling out. The 10 non-centers with 37.1 to 38.6 minutes per totaled 799 games, 128 with 4 fouls, 82 with 5 fouls, and 19 foul outs. The P-values indicate Magic had a 5.9% chance of producing the amount of 4+ fouls games he did with that many games, and a 9.4% chance for games with 5+ fouls. I should mention that these percentages are actually skewed low by the inclusion of four players who had more foul trouble than anyone in LeBron’s years.

None of these players had a percentage fall into the “significant” range, and these three seasons represent some of the best case scenarios of likely “star treatment.”

Conclusions

There is no question that LeBron James is a freakish talent that can do it all, including turning a 17-65 squad into a perennial contender. Not only does he get a lot of points, rebounds, and assists, but he producers these numbers at very good rates (55% eFG%, 11.1 Reb%, 2.2 A/TO).

Where I have some concern is how seldom he’s in foul trouble. This gives an unfair advantage to the Cavaliers, since he never has to watch how he plays or sit for any reason other than to rest. The P-values show how extraordinarily unlikely it is for James to end up with these low foul counts, and his style of play and comparison to more-defensive-minded superstars makes his counts even more unbelievable.

The numbers all come out so ridiculous, it’s undeniable that either a) we’re witnessing a defensive talent more capable than Bill Russell, or b) the NBA/referees are blatantly protecting him. That first one was meant to be a joke, by the way.

Considering there are multiple studies indicating various referee biases, there are several examples of really obvious butcher jobs from the officials that always just happen to help the big-name teams and players, and at least one guy—who the FBI confirms was able to win 80-90% of his bets simply by knowing who was reffing—alleges the NBA has its hands in the outcome of games, I feel comfortable assuming the league is protecting its biggest star to a degree we’ve never seen before… and might never see again.

Zachariah Blott cannot recommend Rick Telander’s “Heaven Is A Playground” enough.

If you want to beat the NBA odds this year then read the NBA betting articles at BetFirms.

76 Comments »Posted by ETB Contributor on Jan. 26, 2010 at 3:15 am in ETB Articles, NBA

76 Responses

Assuming for a second that James isn’t being protected by the refs: how do you make the leap from “LeBron rarely fouls” to “we’re witnessing a defensive talent more capable than Bill Russell?” Not fouling is certainly an important part of defense, but it’s hardly all of it. Why is it so difficult to believe that this is another skill that James possesses in spades? It’s not like he isn’t a one-in-a-million talent in other areas of basketball, too.

Posted by: Michael Stewart on January 26th, 2010 at 1:56 pm

You forget one thing. James is soooo freakishly athletic that he doesnt need to catch up on a play or make up for a mistake in the way most players do. He is bigger, stronger and faster than almost anyone.

If you beat him off the dribble, he has the quickness and footwork to move back into good position.

If you try to post him up (usually guarding someone smaller than him anyway) he just has to stand up straight and keep you from backing him in.

you can jump over him and with how long and strong his arms are, chances are you arent going to dribble around him.

I also see lebron giving up on some plays if a player does get past him and try to make up for it by elevating and blocking the shot from behind. A lot of players in the same scenario would try and muscle or hustle their way back in front of their player.

Posted by: Suga Shane on January 26th, 2010 at 2:05 pm

Michael, I think Zach was joking about the Bill Russell reference…

Posted by: Brian Spencer on January 26th, 2010 at 2:56 pm

Really thorough article, although I don’t think the data alone can present a strong case that the league is treating the King differently than everyone else. LBJ is a statistical outlier in just about every aspect of the game, so absent a diligent video breakdown of LBJ fouls and non-calls this isn’t terribly convincing. I am a Cavs fan, but watching the game you can see that LBJ really goes out of his way to avoid fouling – he’ll let players score uncontested before he hacks them. In addition, he actually generally plays a sort of free safety role on defense – for the first 3.5 quarters he usually checks the least effective perimeter player because he’s such a good weak side helper, which dramatically decreases his foul rate. In addition, your point about him banging with bigs is just flat wrong – he very rarely guards 4s or 5s, when he does its generally in short stints.

Posted by: Tom on January 26th, 2010 at 2:57 pm

OK, I’ll bite.

While I can’t argue with the stats, I do think there is a logical explanation for this.

Most fouls happen on the defensive end, I think we can all agree on that. Well, LeBron usually ends up guarding the worst offensive player on the other team. In other words, the player least inclined to try and attack LeBron. Since most fouls occur when a player attacks the basket, the fact that LeBron hardly guards an “attacker” is obviously going to limit his chances of drawing a foul.

Second, when LeBron is playing defense, he almost never reaches. When you reach, you are more likely to pick up a cheap foul. By avoiding this altogether, LeBron also limits his chances of picking up a cheap foul.

Finally, the majority of LeBron’s “great” defensive plays come on chasedowns and weakside blocks. The weakside block is less likely to draw a foul because the odds of making contact with the shooter are low. However, in the chasedown, LeBron has found a hole in the officiating. For the longest time, officials have all but ignored body contact below the block during a chasedown, I can remember Michael pulling this off on more than one occasion.

In addition to the chasedown loophole, LeBron doesn’t actually amp up his one-on-one defense (typically when he starts guarding the other team’s best player) until late in the fourth quarter. This is also known as the period of time when refs decide to swallow their whistle no matter what so fans can think the “players decided the game.”

Basically, while it may appear troubling that LeBron is getting called for a lack of fouls, and even I’ll admit that less than two is unusual, I think it’s more of LeBron knowing exactly how the game works. We sometimes forget that, in addition to being the most physically gifted player in the league, LeBron is also one of the smartest players out there. He picks up on things like officiating.

Posted by: Colin on January 26th, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Considering that the league had one of it’s worst finals ratings-wise when LeBron actually got there (because it’s Cleveland and SA), I highly doubt that it’s the league protecting him.

Suga Shane hit the nail on the head. A lot of fouls come from reaching, and LeBron does not reach. He slides his feet well and stays vertical and in front of his man, and that verticality results in a small number of fouls. Also, he’s good at avoiding contact on the drive, so it’s *really* hard to draw a charge against him, and most players wouldn’t dare get in his way when he’s running full force anyway…

Posted by: Pete on January 26th, 2010 at 3:20 pm

The conclusions you are drawing from the chi-square test are not valid. All you can say is that it is highly improbably (pretty much impossible) pure chance is the reason for the foul discrepancy between LeBron and the rest of the league. That could mean many, many, many things. It does not leave us with ONLY the two possibilities you offer at the end of your article. There are far too many factors in the game to draw such specific conclusions. Please use math responsibly.

Posted by: Steve on January 26th, 2010 at 3:29 pm

I’m a Cavs fan, so you can take my opinion with a grain of salt. I have watched a lot of Lebron’s games over his career, and I rarely remember instances in which Lebron blatantly fouls someone and he is not called for a foul (the block of Jason Richardson’s 360 dunk was a foul, no questions asked). He plays great position D. As another commenter mentioned, if he gets beat he generally lets the player go (perhaps realizing that it’s not worth picking up a foul), he doesn’t reach a lot, and his blocks come off the ball and usually the ball has long left the shooters hand. He and the Cavs play position defense with very little gambling. All of these details add up to a physically freakish athlete that plays excellent-but-safe defense. I would challenge anyone to watch Lebron play and consistently notice that he’s being protected by the refs. And if I’m wrong, I’ll admit it.

Posted by: Joel on January 26th, 2010 at 3:32 pm

Very explosive article. Fantastic read with good evidence to support claims. I cant believe some1 else was thinking the exact same thing I was about LBJ. Yoy took it 10 steps furthur with scientific calculations but all in all, smae result I could already “WITNESS” with my own eyes. You got to get this talked about on ESPN so it can get full appreciation. I will refer people to your link in comment section for all the LBJ lovers & haters.

Posted by: Miles on January 26th, 2010 at 3:53 pm

If we look at the much simpler fouls per 48 over the career, Kevin Durant averages slightly less per 48 than LBJ. Joe Johnson’s isn’t too far off.

Unique size/speed= less fouls?

Garnett’s is low for a big. Joe Johnson’s isn’t too far off.

I think it’s just as safe to assume that LBJ’s athleticism makes him an elite non-fouling defender as it is that there’s some sort of conspiracy.

The great defenders you are comparing him too aren’t anywhere the athletes he is.

Posted by: Ringomon on January 26th, 2010 at 3:57 pm

Lotta good reasons here why this “issue” is a non-issue. I’d like to second one of Tom’s points — for most of the game, LeBron will play tough D right up to the point where he’d have to commit a foul. Then he concedes the shot/drive/basket (but not late in games).

He’s been doing this from almost the time he entered the league. Why, it’s almost as if he realizes he’s his team’s most valuable player and thought about how to approach playing defense to stay out of foul trouble.

Posted by: Phil Hubbard on January 26th, 2010 at 4:00 pm

Give Brandon Roy or Joe Johnson LBJ’s size, don’t take away any quickness (or arguably add quickness), have them guard the same players they’re guarding now, and you don’t think they’d foul less?

They both only average less than .25 fouls per 48 minutes than Lebron now.

Posted by: Ringomon on January 26th, 2010 at 4:04 pm

All of you whom commented thinking this is just hearsay are drinking the LBJ Kool-aid too heavy.

The bulk of fouls that LBJ commits occurs on the offensive end when he puts his head and barrels over the defensive man or men in his way. Its 99.9% of the time called a defensive foul on the defender everytime. LBJ is 6’9 275lbs, he doesnt need this protection from refs. He is physical more gifted than every1 plus most big men are even scared to challenege him in at the rim. If LBJ runs a guy over who is set and giving up 50+ lbs to LBJ, then its impossible for LBJ to get the call in his favor. But he does and thats why he can post these ridiculous numbers. If the refs officiated him correctly he would average 3 or 4 fouls a game.

Just last game vs OKC = you hear people praising LBJ for his block on Durant. However when you review the video its clear LBJ uses his forearm to push Durant = listed at 230lbs = Reality he couldnt be 210 lbs soaking wet with boots and clothes on on his side while Durnat was in the air. This helped nudge Durant over from in front of the basket = all the way to left side of hoop where he had to take a contested left hand layup over a Cav b4 LBJ came in and threw that weak attempt. Durant would have had LBJ beat to the rim if LBJ didnt push off. Of course the refs wont even think about calling that, but in closing minutes of that game, LBJ was getting call after call for any player just being next to him on his approach to rim.

Its clearly not the same game LBJ is playing. HE has his own set of rules that are even more dammning the old classic MJ rules. Its unfair and it makes for frustrating way to watch Cavs game. Especially makes the debate worse for fans who dont think LBJ is the best in the game. As long as he gets this much help, it should be even more easier for him to win a championship! But if he cant close in on a Championship this year, and the trend continues with ref assistance for him, then he should go down as over-rated because he couldnt close when everything was done in his favor for him to be able to win.

Posted by: Miles on January 26th, 2010 at 4:05 pm

Brian: read what Steve said. That’s what I meant: that it’s not at all true that those are the only conclusions to be drawn from this.

Posted by: Michael Stewart on January 26th, 2010 at 4:07 pm

Sorry- I meant they buth average slightly under.25 fouls MORE than LBJ.

Per 48:
LBJ= 2.4
J. Johnson= 2.6
B. Roy= 2.6
KD= 2.33
(Career numbers)

Posted by: Ringomon on January 26th, 2010 at 4:08 pm

I agree, that LeBron likely benefits from some non-calls. However, I also agree that there are other contributors to the variance here than just ‘he gets protected by the ref.’ Some very good ones have already been pointed out. But if you watch LeBron, you are not surprised that his fouls are low. When he is not one-one defending, he frequently plays a free-safety type defense, which lends itself to less fouls. He also rarely fouls to send a message, which I think you would find Jordan doing. Jordan used his fouls, and knew how to play long stretches without fouling when he wanted to. LeBron’s goal is to simply not foul. And he is athletic enough and smart enough to pull this off. Though one could argue that it is smart to use the fouls you have during the course of the game.

Posted by: ctownexpat on January 26th, 2010 at 4:36 pm

Wow – just re-watched LeBron block of Durant. Nothing resembling a push-off on that play. In fact, while “Durant was in the air,” there is actually another Cav between LeBron and Durant, making the block even more impressive. LeBron’s other hand is no where near Durant.

Posted by: ctownexpat on January 26th, 2010 at 4:42 pm

“The bulk of fouls that LBJ commits occurs on the offensive end when he puts his head and barrels over the defensive man or men in his way. Its 99.9% of the time called a defensive foul on the defender everytime.”

So based on your numbers above, and given Lebron averages 2 fouls per game for his career, this situation occurs somewhere in the league of 150-300 times per game. (The bulk of 2.4 fouls are offensive, but he only gets called for it .1% of the times= it must happen hundreds of time per game).

I know you were exxagerating- but it doesn’t help your argument when you have to resort to hyperbole. No one takes it seriously.

Someone like Battier, who is nowhere near the athlete of LeBron, doesn’t have the size advantage of the people he’s guarding like LBJ, and is always guarding the other team’s best player, only averages a little over one foul per 48 minutes than Lebron.

It doesn’t sound so slanted when you put it like that, does it?

Posted by: Ringomon on January 26th, 2010 at 4:44 pm

My bad, I did my math correctly- in Mile’s scenario it actually happens over 1000 times a game that LBJ gets a Block/Offensive foul called in his favor. I forgot to carry the 1. ;^)

And Durant averages less fouls/minute for his career than LBJ- so the refs must have got the memo wrong at the end of that OKC game to favor LBJ like that.

Posted by: Ringomon on January 26th, 2010 at 4:50 pm

One stat that was overlooked was this;

Of the 1.8 fouls that LeBron is called for per game, he whinges like a complete douche 100% of the time.

And never has to worry about getting T’d up.

Posted by: Brendan on January 26th, 2010 at 5:07 pm

How about we look at Free throw attempts/48 minutes over the last seven years for LBJ, DW, and KB:

DW: 11.8
KB: 10.9
LBJ: 10.55

I’ll remind you of how much of a jump shooter Kobe’s been in the last couple of year’s of his career.

It’s so easy to just throw stats around…

Posted by: Ringomon on January 26th, 2010 at 5:17 pm

NBA players probably average 0.2 or 0.3 intentional hacks per game — the fouls to deny a layup and put the opponent on the line. Let me know the next time you see LeBron do it. You’ll have a long wait.

As for the Durant block, here’s what Durant had to say afterward: “He made a good play, but I was trying to be aggressive. I threw it up there pretty high, but he is the most athletic guy in the league. Give him credit. That’s why he’s one of the best shot-blockers in the game.”

OMG! Durant is part of the conspiracy too!

Posted by: Phil Hubbard on January 26th, 2010 at 6:26 pm

I agree with Steve. Math should not be used to assess a qualitative statistic, such as how good at defense a player is. If you’re measuring the number of free throw attempts, that’s one thing, but to measure one’s ability to NOT get called for fouls is something else entirely.

Look at it this way, your calculations take out the fact that each player plays differently. If you looked at these numbers for other players, I’m willing to bet that Andrew Bynum gets in foul trouble a lot more frequently than Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Is it because Ilgauskas is better at defense? Heck no, it’s because Bynum is more athletic and goes for blocks more often, while Ilgauskas shies away and plays soft defense more often.

If I watched long enough, I’m sure it would become apparent that LeBron just lets some guys go when he knows he can’t stuff it, or only goes for those blocks when the ball is well out of their hands. How often do you remember LeBron ever playing body-to-body defense against someone? He generally plays off-the-ball defense, which he is excellent at. I think Mike Brown, who is a defensive-minded coach, also thinks about this stuff and has taught LeBron to stay out of foul trouble.

This isn’t a very solid argument. Maybe if LeBron played more aggressive defense, he’d get called for more fouls, but then he’d probably be recognized as a defensive stalwart like Jordan and Kobe. You kind of make your own argument at times.

Posted by: Erik on January 26th, 2010 at 6:50 pm

Well written article. I wonder if this chi-squared data had any pickup on ESPN (aside from Abbott) you would see officials overcompensate the next time Lebron plays. Then you could tell if it was real or not. As to the issue of Lebron Fouling – according to his passionate Cleveland fans – he only plays as a help defender until the fourth quarter and then “turns it on” if it is close. This could be possible I dont know. I do know that the Cavs (5 minutes and under) have Lebron dribble for 18 seconds at the half court line (so Lebron can recover) and then have him bulldoze to the rim or just jack up shots as the clock is expired. This would limit the defensive possessions Lebron plays (again assuming he only plays D in the fourth quarter.)
That means he guards the other teams best player in a set offense 5-10 times a game. Not absurd to think his foul rate would be low.
All that said, when does the article come out of Cav Nation saying that Lebron is afraid of foul trouble the way Wilt was. So he has 2 fouls a game and is never into foul trouble but plays hard D only 1 quarter. Does this mean that Lebron would Average 8 fouls a game if he played defense…. Inevitably that will be an aspect of his game that is exposed…

Posted by: Cdog on January 26th, 2010 at 7:15 pm

“On top of that, James is the biggest marketing tool the NBA has as it expands its revenue base in China. ”

Over the last 3 years, here are how jersey sales for Kobe and LeBron compared in China.
09: Kobe #1, LeBron #2
08: Kobe #1, LeBron #5
07: Kobe #1, LeBron #7

Why would the league push LeBron and not Kobe? Maybe you could say that there is a trend, and LeBron will eventually pass Kobe, but the logical move would seem to be to promote #1.

Posted by: Chris Wehrenberg on January 26th, 2010 at 7:25 pm

Ringomon’s in denial and so butthurt that LBJ isn’t getting more fouls called against him

Posted by: YG on January 26th, 2010 at 7:42 pm

Chris: Kobe has won 4 ‘ships and has been in the league for what seems like FOREVER. I would go check, but I believe it’s been 7 years more than LBJ… not to mention he plays in LA vs. Cleveland. I certainly agree with the quote “James is the biggest marketing tool the NBA has.” whether it’s in China, the US or wherever.

As for this article, I think the use of chi-squared test was off… or at least the conclusions drawn from the test… i think the only thing i learned in statistics is that you can never just say there’s a __% of that happening-based purely on statistics.

I will say that I think the refs protect LBJ more than any other player in the league, although I don’t really know if that’s true. I also liked the comment above about the fact it seems that LBJ never gets T-ed up.

I can’t stand LBJ. I think he whines way too much, and I hate the way he and the cavs carry themselves during games. i understand they want to have fun, but it’s disrespectful to everyone involved.

The real question is, when will LBJ officially file articles of incorporation and become a legitimate Corporation? LOL.

Posted by: Nick on January 26th, 2010 at 8:08 pm

I will say it now I believe Donaghy’s assertions and have from the get go. If you are a long time NBA fan you know NBA refs have too much control over the outcomes and Donaghy’s story backs this up. He may have an axe to grind but to me it is all believable. Which means Stern at some time is going to have to address this issue and if he reads this blog, and I assume either he or one of his lieutenants does, this foul calling has to be changed. I never wanted to believe that pro sports was fixed in some way but basketball is the worst transgressors of this and the integrity of the game is at stake.

Posted by: Kent Sawatzky on January 26th, 2010 at 8:20 pm

I’m tired of people throwing out Tim Donaghy’s name and as some kind of proof that the NBA has a hand in the outcome of games. Abbott tore the claims in his book apart.
http://espn.go.com/blog/truehoop/post/_/id/11340/tim-donaghys-claims-on-trial
Citing yourself as a longtime NBA fan who somehow knows this is true doesn’t sway me.

@Cdog – No one has suggested LeBron doesn’t play defense in quarters 1 through 3, just that he plays off the primary ball handler/attacker.

Anyone think that a professional basketball team might be aware of the importance of the one good player on their team and plan their defensive strategy to keep him out of foul trouble and on the floor? The Cavs have consistently had a poor team around LeBron, a very weak second unit, and an inability to score or get stops when he’s off the floor (this season that’s started to change). Knowing how important he is to the team’s success, it’s logical to think that any reasonably intelligent coach would plan to keep him out of fouling situations as much as possible (although Mike Brown has not yet proved himself to be a reasonably intelligent coach).

Posted by: Daniel on January 26th, 2010 at 9:23 pm

Historically there are comparisons to LeBron’s foul totals. Wilt play 1045 games, committing 2075 fouls. That’s less than 2 per game over his entire career. A eye popper is in his 1961-62 season with the 50 point average, Wilt committed only 123 fouls, a tad north of 1.5 per game.

Your Bill Russell humorous comparison shows him committing 2592 fouls over 963 games for a 2.7 average.

Maybe great defensive players know when to foul and do so strategically. Sending an opponent to line rather than giving up an easy two is something that Lebron doesn’t do for the Cavs. So it might be more a defensive scheme that is reflected in the foul stats.

Posted by: Jeff on January 26th, 2010 at 9:59 pm

LeBron just doesn’t REACH as much as Kobe or Wade or Jordan did; they typically have averaged more steals per game because of this but more fouls as well. Simple explanation. It doesn’t mean he is a better defender than anyone in the game’s history, it just means he doesn’t reach as much and plays on the perimeter, which equals less fouls. Bill Russell played bigs every night, something that would lead to more fouls by your own argument.

Posted by: Anonymous on January 26th, 2010 at 10:09 pm

There are well-thought out arguments on both sides, really, and regardless of which side you fall in, it’s certainly something interesting to discuss. The point of this isn’t to detract from LeBron James, the player and/or defender; he’s the top talent in the best basketball league in the world. He’s an *excellent* defensive player. Still, whatever the reason, there’s no disputing that he does benefit from incredibly favorable whistles both when he has the ball and when he’s defending it.

Posted by: Brian Spencer on January 26th, 2010 at 10:19 pm

What does a chi-square test suggest is the likelihood of Lebron’s across-the-board statistical dominance?

Posted by: Chip on January 26th, 2010 at 11:44 pm

I find it interesting to see people saying that LeBron gets the favorable call on both ends. Have you ever seen the abuse he takes at the offensive end? I’ve never seen a guy get hit in the head (and have his headband knocked off) more times in a game. Smaller guys benefit from guarding him because when they hack it doesn’t look as if they are impeding him at all because he is so strong. On the defensive end, you are throwing out numbers blindly with no tangible examples to show how the original numbers are flawed. The basis of the argument is, no one else has the same numbers so there must be special treatment. Couldn’t it possibly just be that LeBron plays defense in a system that benefits his defensive style of play?

By the way, LeBron does not guard the same people all those 2 guards like the other 2 guards you mention. That’s where Anthony Parker and Delonte West set up shop. So….I guess that argument goes out the window too.

Posted by: John on January 27th, 2010 at 12:11 am

Wow. I can’t believe some of these comments. The NBA is clearly the most WWE-like professional league in America. I know several people who have completely stopped watching the NBA over the last decade because of how bad it has gotten.

Do none of you remember the Lakers vs. Kings series when Kobe elbowed Christie directly in the face and they called the foul on Christie? Or when the Bucks got completely screwed in the EC Finals against Philly in 01′ and Scott Williams was suspended for game 7?

The funniest thing is you Cleveland fans sticking up for the refs and the league. If you didn’t get lucky in drafting Lebron your small market team would still be getting screwed by the NBA. I can understand Laker fans being blinded by this but not you small market midwesterners.

Posted by: Bru on January 27th, 2010 at 1:01 am

“he’s regularly guarding extremely dynamic players who routinely go to the line, and he’s often banging with the big boys underneath, where a majority of fouls are called”

Do you have any evidence to support this? You shouldn’t make claims like this without any facts to back them up.

Posted by: Dave on January 27th, 2010 at 1:04 am

This is silly. How can you look at that guy run, jump or just stand around and then be surprised that he can be a 1 in a million outlier in a physical activity.
Look at his other stats – not exactly statistically likely either. The stats gap between Lebron and Kobe for instance is as wide as the gap between Kobe and the league average. (PER 31.4 vs. 23.3 vs 15.0)

Posted by: Anonymous on January 27th, 2010 at 2:31 am

Brian sez “…there’s no disputing that [James] does benefit from incredibly favorable whistles both when he has the ball and when he’s defending it.”

Uh, yes there is. Most of the comments here are disputing exactly that.

Posted by: Phil Hubbard on January 27th, 2010 at 9:35 am

Seriously its not even funny its seems like he has this magic force around him that prevents him from getting called for anything its soo fustrating to watch the only time he gets called for anything is when hes trying to get called for something

Posted by: Anonymous on January 27th, 2010 at 11:28 am

The Cavaliers defensive system is a help defense not so much a 1 on 1 defense. Opposing players are often funnelled to the bigs and Cleveland has numrous bigs to take the fouls.

Lebron doesn’t give statement fouls – He has Shaq or Andy to do that.

As for the whining – yes he does, but no more so that any other star. He also does the pleading for his teammates as well, but one thing he stays away from is “showing up” the ref.

Posted by: sososmom on January 27th, 2010 at 11:50 am

From the post: “This gives an unfair advantage to the Cavaliers, since he never has to watch how he plays or sit for any reason other than to rest.”

1) You only have to go back 10 days to find where LeBron went to the bench early against the Clippers because he picked up two fouls in the first quarter. So much for “never.”

2) To say he never has to watch how he plays because he’s never in foul trouble overlooks what many of the commments have said in one way or another: One of the main goals of how he and the Cavaliers play defense is to keep him out of foul trouble. In other words, it’s not that he doesn’t have to watch how he plays. It’s that he’s usually not in foul trouble because he’s watching how he plays all the time.

Seriously, I have to wonder if the author of this post has ever seen a Cavaliers game from start to finish in the LeBron era.

Posted by: Phil Hubbard on January 27th, 2010 at 12:22 pm

Loving the comments! A few general comments of my own:
1) Like most NBA fans, I’ve seen LeBron play a lot over the years.
2) It’s always been clear to me he’s benefiting greatly from not having certain contact whistled while opponents are whistled for damn near anything when he has the ball.
3) Two weeks ago is the first time I ever actively looked at his fpg for a season with a purpose, and the numbers only strengthened my suspicions.
4) I’m curious if people who think his foul counts are low because he a) plays free safety, b) doesn’t contest plays that could cause a foul, c) takes it easy for the first 3 quarters on defense, d) guards bad players because his teammates stick all the tough guys – also think he has no business ever being named to All-Defensive Teams.

I’d really like to hear your thoughts addressing that 4th point – and please nothing about him deserving it based on the small amount of time he does decides to turn it on and guard good players (your opinions, not mine). That line of thinking in no way qualifies him over the Battiers and Mbah a Moutes of the league who do that successfully all game.

Posted by: Zachariah Blott on January 27th, 2010 at 1:56 pm

I still have issue with point 2. What about all the times he gets hacked under the hoop with no call? do you honestly think it doesn’t even out? if anything, Lebron gets screwed because he’s so fast and defenders who swipe at him bounce off instead of the other way around.

Stay jealous Zach….

Posted by: John on January 27th, 2010 at 2:10 pm

“Stay jealous Zach…”???

I’m not Zach but your comment is ridiculous, John. Every single unbiased person knows the NBA is corrupt. Lebron isn’t the only one getting special treatment but he definitely does get special treatment.

I hate watching guys like Kobe, Lebron, and Wade run people over on the way to the hoop and get the call. Look back at the Heat vs. Cavs game the other day. Wade and Lebron each had at least three plays I can remember off the top of my head that were clearly fouls that weren’t called or were called on the opponent. It’s out of hand.

Finally, everyone keeps talking about defensive fouls. How about offensive fouls and traveling. 50% of Lebron’s dunks are three steps and every week I see a Lebron highlight where he takes four steps. He also consistently runs guys over that would be a charge on anyone else and he gets the call. Take your heads out of your butts cause your eyes are being covered by your bias.

I can’t wait until Lebron leaves Cleveland and all of you small market Cleveland fans begin to realize again how corrupt the NBA is. So keep defending the league and Lebron and just wait until he’s not on your squad anymore.

Posted by: Bru on January 27th, 2010 at 3:30 pm

Zach, your second point is incredibly subjective, like Brian’s earlier “there’s no disputing.” How many calls in any game are black and white? 50%? 60%? So every time you see one of the ambiguous 40% or 50% of calls go in LeBron’s favor, you may think it’s the refs favoring him, rather than a call that could have gone either way that happened to go LeBron’s way this time. We’re all prone to confirmation bias.

And the second part of point 2 is flawed, as John right before me and others have pointed out. LeBron is the mini-Shaq — he’s so strong that defenders who foul him often bounce off him or don’t affect his flight to the basket, so he doesn’t get lots of whistles that he should.

The conditions you’ve laid down on your last point don’t leave much room for discussion. But surely winning games with fourth-quarter defense counts for something. Kobe gets props for his buzzer-beaters. LeBron has had game-winning defensive plays in the final seconds twice in the past week (Durant block and Wade steal). Not to mention his shutdown defense on Joe Smith and others throughout the fourth quarter of other games.

If you want to leave him off your all-defensive team, fine. Just remember him for MVP!

Posted by: Phil Hubbard on January 27th, 2010 at 3:53 pm

Phil’s on a mission.

Posted by: Brian Spencer on January 27th, 2010 at 4:39 pm

Phil had to be on a mission to play in the league after the knee injuries. If only arthroscopy had come along a few years earlier!

Posted by: Phil Hubbard on January 27th, 2010 at 4:49 pm

@zach. You said: “4) I’m curious if people who think his foul counts are low because he a) plays free safety, b) doesn’t contest plays that could cause a foul, c) takes it easy for the first 3 quarters on defense, d) guards bad players because his teammates stick all the tough guys – also think he has no business ever being named to All-Defensive Teams.”

1.) Playing free safety doesn’t make you less of a defensive player. LeBron’s help defense leads to a lot of game changing defensive plays.
2.) People in the NBA confuse “on-ball” defense with defense. This is why Kobe gets so much love from traditionalists and so much “hate” from statisticians. The Lakers have been a worse team when he’s on the court than when he’s off it defensively the last 2 years. He plays defense completely different than LeBron does. He might be a great “on-ball” defender, but he is a terrible help defender and the way he ball-hawks leads to more potential fouls.
3.) To say he doesn’t belong on the all-defensive team is not being well informed. Statistically, Lebron has been near the top of the league in defensive win shares for a while now. The Cavs opponent PER vs the SF position was tops in the NBA last year (with Wally Szczerbiak as the backup sf!). The same is happening this year. The obvious publicity for LeBron getting DPOTY honors is the simple fact that he generally has at least 2 highlights a night now where he makes some insane chase down block. He’s also won 1-point games against two of the best scorers in the nba with his defense on them in the closing seconds. There is plenty of evidence that LeBron is an elite NBA defender, despite his unconventional approach to defense.

Posted by: Tsunami on January 27th, 2010 at 5:16 pm

Are You Kidding Me?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1
What about the player who holds his arm, or rake their hand across his face and gouge his eyes and the ref turns his head. LeBron get more fouls called on than Kobe ever have.

Posted by: Basketball Granny on January 27th, 2010 at 8:57 pm

Truehoop came back to this subject yesterday with links to some skeptics, including apparently the selfsame Tsunami who commented here a couple of spots up.

Posted by: Phil Hubbard on January 28th, 2010 at 9:38 am

That’s nice. We’re big fans of TrueHoop, and big fans of discussion.

Posted by: Brian Spencer on January 28th, 2010 at 10:07 am

It’s something I have noticed too. There are many many occasions where I see Lebron fouling a player and they don’t call it or hacking them to prevent a layup and they give him a block. I mean it is incredible to see the level of “defense” he is allowed to play and others not.

The Cavs fans who say he has good footwork are hilarious. Do you watch the games? This is one thing he definitely isn’t good at. No fundamentals.

It’s not a mistake his foul count mysteriously plummeted his MVP year. The league pretty much chooses who the MVP will be. You play by the rules like everyone else and you have an entirely different player. Lebron would have been schooled in college ball.

Posted by: Jason R on January 28th, 2010 at 12:40 pm

The study doesn’t even address the traveling Lebron gets away with. He even has a name for it…”crap steps”. I can’t even watch games with him in it anymore the officiating is so bad.

Posted by: Wakehead on January 28th, 2010 at 1:28 pm

Lebron doesn’t guard guards or slashers, and he doesn’t try to take a charge. He tries to stop them from in front, or tries to do a “chase down”, a technique and word that he’s made very famous :-)

You could actually argue that he doesn’t play much defense, and I would probably agree, that that’s the reason for not getting fouled.

Can you imagine David Stern and the NBA telling the referees, “Guys, you have to turn a blind eye to the fouls made by LBJ because he’s our golden boy”? Are you kidding me?

Come on. The US is not some nauseatingly corrupt 3rd world country where you have to bribe to go even pee in a public restroom.

- Ravi Jayagopal

Posted by: Ravi Jayagopal on January 28th, 2010 at 1:47 pm

Bru – Could you describe those 3 plays each that you were referring to? maybe some evidence. I could randomly throw out statements like that as well…but that doesn’t make a point credible.
Also, I don’t think you understand the “collection” part of the traveling rule. Either that or you just hate LeBron so much that you don’t care. The guys he “runs over” are the guys who are out of position and trying to foul but are the ones bouncing off of him because, again, he is so strong. This was my point about smaller guys fouling him and calls not being made.
And you aren’t jealous? Then why does the market size matter? Why is Cleveland undeserving of a player of LeBron’s talent? Especially if it is only because of league bias that he is so good anyways? He is either so good that you think he needs to be in a top market or he is a product of league bias. You can’t have it both ways.
Im not defending the league, if anything I think the league refs don’t understand how to call games he plays in because his combination of speed and strength are unprecedented.

If Kobe would have stayed in Charlotte and not BSed his way to LA, would you be making the same claims about a small market team not deserving the talent?

Posted by: John on January 28th, 2010 at 2:37 pm

Zach, while you didn’t have to explain exactly how a chi-squared test works, it was disingenuous for you to not explain what it’s meant to measure. A chi-squared test is used to check if a sample is an accurate representation of the rest of the population. We already know that LeBron James is NOT an average NBA player, so it should come as no surprise that his stats are not likely to represent the rest of the NBA either. Furthermore, a chi-squared test is meant to compare random distributions and being called for fouls is anything but random. In fact, the NBA would have a huge problem if called fouls were a random occurrence.

While I can go into more technical reasons on what’s wrong with the way the chi-squared test was used here simple common sense prevails. You have a test that tells you averaging less than 2.2 fouls per 48 minutes has a ridiculously small probability of less than 1/1,000,000. Yet, stats at NBA.com show that 7 of 210 (3.3%) qualified NBA players fall into that range. The result of a test that has a 3,000,000% error (and that’s rounding down!) from actual data shouldn’t just be “taken with a grain of salt”; it should be burned, buried, and forgotten about.

Posted by: Tony on January 28th, 2010 at 4:07 pm

Great article.The things this man gets away with are unreal. Not to mention he’s also on the “juice”.

Posted by: Ryan on January 28th, 2010 at 5:09 pm

Something is foul in emptythebench.com. This is garbage. As a statistician, this is garbage. When the dataset is biased you cannot make valid inferences from it. The “results” were essentially made by selecting a dataset that had a bias already built in (the “regular” players were included). Anything to get more views right?

Posted by: sdsc on January 28th, 2010 at 7:33 pm

While I can go into more technical reasons on what’s wrong with the way the chi-squared test was used here simple common sense prevails. You have a test that tells you averaging less than 2.2 fouls per 48 minutes has a ridiculously small probability of less than 1/1,000,000. Yet, stats at NBA.com show that 7 of 210 (3.3%) qualified NBA players fall into that range. The result of a test that has a 3,000,000% error (and that’s rounding down!) from actual data shouldn’t just be “taken with a grain of salt”; it should be burned, buried, and forgotten about.

Whoa… I guess Tony said it right there.

Posted by: rav on January 29th, 2010 at 3:07 am

Okay. Let’s just say that I can make statistics look anyway you like. James is the best player in the league and one of the top defenders in the league as well.

Don’t reach and you save at least 1 foul per game. He is a very smart play who is better than all the rest. On the flip side of this stupid article is the FACT that he gets hammered EVERY TIME he attacks the basket and because of his size and strength, the crappy NBA refs refuse to call the foul. If he was some little stiff like Kobe, who can be bounced around like a sissy, he would get more calls.

Stop trying to find some reason other than he is great, that he leads the league in almost every category. Sit back and enjoy greatness people….

Posted by: CAVS FAN on January 29th, 2010 at 10:46 am

I’ve appreciated all of the thoughtful comments.

I’d like to point out how telling a recent event is in regards to this topic. We all know that LeBron’s water-tantrum on Wednesday against Minnesota cost him $25,000, but the video of what he thought was a foul (http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/blog/ball_dont_lie/post/Video-LeBron-James-wet-and-wild-temper-tantrum;_ylt=Amzq10n4WGWGlVRwUI86c728vLYF?urn=nba,216566) shows how he expects the game to be called for him. On a James drive, Sessions reaches in and clearly gets a hand on the ball, LeBron shoulder blocks him to the side, Pavlovic backs away from the action before LeBron nudges him out of bounds, and Al Jefferson collects the rebound. The announcers never indicate that they saw a foul, but LeBron is so accustomed to getting a call here, he earns a technical foul for a comment to the nearest ref and kicks cups filled with water into the stands.

Yeah, it’s one event, but it’s tough to watch a play in which he’s creating all of the contact, rightfully does not get free throws, gives the refs crap, and propels objects into the stands in disgust, and not think he is used to things going a certain way.

Posted by: Zachariah Blott on January 29th, 2010 at 11:44 pm

It’s clear that some of the statistics (particularly the chi-square) are being misinterpreted here. The numbers actually suggest that there is no bias, at all.

I’ve put together a rebuttal, with full explanation, here: http://howtowatchsports.com/2010/01/lebron-james-foul-issue-a-rebuttal/

Posted by: Roger pimentel on January 30th, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Those of you defending Le-BJ are overlooking all the OFFENSIVE FOULS he gets away with as well.

Posted by: g on January 30th, 2010 at 5:33 pm

The only thing that smells foul here is Blott’s (appropriate name, BTW) undisguised hate for LeBron James..The announcers for the Cavs certainly did say it looked like a foul and Contact was made with Sasha WHILE he was in the “restricted area”, which is generally an automatic foul on the defender…Whether James initiates that contact or not, which would be a smart move by him, is irrelevant…and why is Blott bringing up the cooler kicking incident in defense of some Bantha dung article supposedly based on “advanced statistics”?..That is a real reach even for an obviously hate filled jealous hack
and ti “g’..read it and weep:
A defensive player must allow an alighted player the distance to land and then stop or change direction when the offensive player is outside the lower defensive box.

A defensive player is not permitted to move into the path of an offensive player once he has started his shooting motion.

A defensive player must allow an alighted player who receives a pass the space to land when the offensive player is inside the lower defensive box.

A defensive player must allow a moving offensive player without the ball the distance to stop or change direction.

The speed of the offensive player will determine the amount of distance a defensive player must allow.

Posted by: Les on January 30th, 2010 at 9:29 pm

I have to correct you about the Donaghy stuff. Donaghy has claimed he was able to win 70-80 percent of his bets (not 80-90 percent) because of how he was able to predict how refs would call games. As far as I know, however, the FBI has not confirmed anything about Donagty’s winning percentage.

Donaghy gave several examples of how refs called backs. However, when people ran the number on these examples, they didn’t hold up. In other words, the refs didn’t affect the outcome of games as Doangty said they did.

Donaghy hasn’t been able to explain this contradiction. Some people have hypothesized that he was able to bet successfully because (1) he won games he called himself in ways to affect the spread and (2) he didn’t actually win 70-80% of his bets.

As far as I know, there is no record of the games he bet on so his actual winning percentage is unknown.

Here is one blog that pretty much summarizes: http://sabermetricresearch.blogspot.com/2009/12/did-tim-donaghy-really-win-70-of-his.html

In addition, I don’t know about this “mulitple studies of ref bias.” I am only aware of two studies. One identified that refs are slightly more likely to call fouls on players of another race, but it was so small it’s point was more about subconscious racism in society than about the NBA. There was another study about how refs call games based on home/away and in the closing minutes, but that one hasn’t been published or been subject to peer review and its results so negligible it’s debatable what the study meant.

It makes me a little suspicious of a writer when he’s so sloppy with facts.

Posted by: activeverb on January 31st, 2010 at 12:18 am

Something does seem foul here. I agree that Nash doesn’t pick up fouls because he’s such a bad defender. He’s also not one to really take a lot of chances on defense.

Posted by: Michael Schwartz on January 31st, 2010 at 2:30 am

Wow “Les”, I am weeping by your lack of presenting anything to challenge the fact that Le-BJ gets away with multiple offensive fouls a game. Good job.

Posted by: g on January 31st, 2010 at 12:46 pm

The columnist wrote the piece implying that the 1.8 fouls per game for his career against Lebron was unprecedented in NBA history. But then I decided to look up current NBA small forwards and immediately found Deng is also at 1.8 fouls per game for his career and Prince had only 1.4 fouls.

(There might be more SFs at sucha low foul level; I only looked at the teams in Lebron’s division, and found that 2 of the 4 SFs had similar lifetime foul averages).

Posted by: Bill on January 31st, 2010 at 4:48 pm

Zach, it’s pretty weak to respond to specific criticism by posting a clip of one play. It’s not hard to find a clip for any player showing anything you want to. Or do you think if I find a clip of Lebron being whistled for a foul he didn’t commit that that invalidates your article?

Posted by: James on February 3rd, 2010 at 12:22 am

I have been saying that to my lebron fans. we have 2 clear explanations:
1) he whines but rarely gets technicals, and the NBA wants him to win so bad even if he fouls it is ignored.
2) he rarely guards the best player except for last time when he was guarding Melo you saw how that worked out. he is always roaming on defense and plays the weakest player on the other team.

Posted by: Melo on February 24th, 2010 at 3:49 pm

1st point. To those claiming, oh well Lebron is really above average. He is special. Is he really that much better than Jordan? Is that your premise? That the consensus best player of all time is dwarfed by Lebron?

2nd point. You guys may have valid points about the way Lebron plays defense is different than the way other players play defense, hence his foul counts are different. But how many games of other players do you watch? How do you know they don’t do the same things you claim Lebron does to diminish the fouls?

3rd point. Despite all your claims about defensive differences and how Lebron doesn’t get preferential treatment, the brain forgets alot over a long season. Hell, the brain forgets alot over a game. Statistics allows us to take a large amount of data and make inferences. Yes it is possible Lebron James has a special talent at avoiding fouls. The statistics suggest that to be ludicrous. So while you as fans can say that doesn’t jive with my memory, you would be wrong.

Posted by: Zeke on February 24th, 2010 at 6:02 pm

Zach, I know you thought that video was supposed to back up your argument, but I’ll tell you what it really evinces. First, it shows you obvious wrote this article in order to back up your dislike for LBJ. A video of him throwing a tantrum has nothing to do with you original thesis that NBA referees bending the rules for Lebron James. In fact, this video shows that James doesn’t get preferential treatment by the NBA. He mouthed off to the ref, got a T, threw a tantrum, and then got fined, which is exactly what’s supposed to happen to any NBA player. Furthermore, it’s quite a stretch to go from “Lebron is mad because he didn’t get a call” to “Lebron is mad because he didn’t get his usual preferential treatment which is proof that such preferential treatment exists.” But then again, you obviously have no problem in vaulting over any logical steps that may stop you from reaching your preconceived conclusion.

Even worse, the video clearly shows Sessions fouling James! I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the rules of basketball, but just “getting a hand on the ball” doesn’t clear a defensive player of all fouling done before the ball is touched. In fact, watching it frame by frame (look around 0:24) shows Session committing a blocking foul and reaching foul SIMULTANEOUSLY!! Sessions is moving his feet to put his body directly in front of a driving James while reaching across James’ body, hitting James’ arms and chest. Anyone who has played organized b-ball past the age of 12 knows, reaching in will almost always get you called for a foul, regardless of whether you touch the ball or not, especially when you reach across the ball handler the way Sessions did.

Zeke, you must also be playing on the same “Jump-to-conclusions” mat as Zach. No one here has said Lebron James’ talent overshadows that of Michael Jordan, just like no one thinks a low foul count can be attributed to only one of Zach’s four options. We’re simply giving reasons of why James has such a low FPG average that are better than “the refs are cheating”.

Furthermore, as I and others have stated, Zach’s use of statistics was either incompetent or outright dishonest. Zach use of this chi-squared test doesn’t suggest that James’ ability to avoid fouls is ludicrous. It suggests that Zach’s understanding of a chi-squared test is ludicrous. I believe Zach realized this and is the reason he shied away from defending his number in either one of his retorts.

Posted by: Tony on March 14th, 2010 at 2:39 pm

< / rant>

Posted by: Brian Spencer on March 14th, 2010 at 2:54 pm

[...] Click the link to read the article in its entirety over at Empty the Bench. [...]

Posted by: Foul……. « The Census on May 3rd, 2010 at 11:37 am

I think there have been a lot of intelligent posts on this blog and astute observations. I think there is a bit of truth to what many people have said. The NBA, very clearly, gives the benefit of the doubt to “superstars” that can be faces of the league. However, Lebron is special and does limit reaching / guarding the opposition’s best defender.

There are two key factors here that haven’t been discussed enough:

1) Offensive Fouls – What are the total number of offensive fouls called on Lebron? As I watch games, and I’m a basketball nut/lifer, unfair treatment for Lebron mostly occurs here. For the number of FTs he gets per game, he most definitely should get called for more offensive fouls. Not just because there is a set FT/offensive foul ratio (I’m sure Durant get’s a ton of FTs without Off fouls), but more given Lebron’s skill set and how he is defended. Lebron’s main offensive weapon is attacking with power and he does everything from bump set defenders to dropping his shoulder. I do think he has great body control for someone his size and does avoid a good number of fouls … but not as often as the refs seem to think so. Also, what’s worse, is that there are many “50/50″ charge/block scenarios where Lebron will go to the line even though he created all the contact. Other guards (CP3, Nash, Wade) do this as well, however, but Lebron is more power than these guys.

2) Lebron’s OLYMPIC stats! – Nobody has mentioned that Lebron averaged 2.0 fouls per game in less that 25 minutes per game of international play!! And keep in mind, many of those games were against EXTREMELY inferior athletic talent. And, remember, Kobe defended like a ball hawk throughout the entire tournament and played more minutes in the later meaningful games against the better teams … and had only 3 more fouls in similar minutes. More importantly, why was Lebron’s foul rate per minute almost double his NBA foul rate??

I know there are a few generic retorts here … 1) NBA rules different along with court size, 2) Cavs allow him to roam and olympic team didn’t, 3)He played a different position at times on that team, 4) Zone defenses in particular made it harder for him …. etc, etc … but before you start going off on those retorts, do they really overcome 1) DOUBLE the foul rate, 2) Much weaker talent on opposition, much more talent on his own team 3) Most importantly, he attacked the rim much less and drew way fewer FT attempts (3 per game) … meaning he wasn’t even putting himself in position to get offensive fouls as often.

Finally, for those that try to objectively watch the games … Lebron was a totally different player when reffed by international rules. Granted, the zone rules and court size do affect him negatively to some degree … but the international refs treated him like everyone else and he was consistently frustrated by it.

Posted by: Hanes on May 3rd, 2010 at 7:39 pm

[...] for traveling or technicals or anything else. Some sources: Sam Smith: LeBron gets star treatment, LeBron’s Foul Issue, Real GM: Do Superstars Foul?. Undoubtedly, some of the perceived or real bias might be because it [...]

Posted by: -> One reason NBA Superstars don’t get fouls called on them? Because of the home crowd. on January 14th, 2011 at 11:36 pm

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