TMM Christmas Vacation: The Greatest Laker



Christmas wishes to one and all in Macro Man World...I trust anyone on the trading desk this week falls into one of a few categories: 1) junior guys left behind to helm the ship, 2) senior guys that generate a few extra bucks picking off the weak members of the holiday-trading herd, 3) those that figure this is a good time to clean out inboxes, tidy up excel models, or otherwise clear the decks for a clean start in 2018.


As such, there isn’t much going on...and since I not the type of poet that can summarize the year’s economic events in the poetic pentameter of T’was the Night Before Christmas, I’m going to put my spin on the tradition of a seasonal digression from macro events.


I’m going to talk basketball, philosophy, leadership, and life.


Shortly before Christmas, I took my six-year-old daughter to a birthday party at a friend’s house. I had never met the family before, and after introductions we walked downstairs to the basement where the girls were watching a movie. At the bottom of the steps was a beautifully framed Magic Johnson jersey.


“Magic….nice!” I said.


“The best of all time,” my host exclaimed.


“I agree,” I responded, “but did you hear what he said at Kobe’s number retirement? He said Kobe is the greatest Laker ever.”


“He had to say that,” he said.


“Sure, I guess that’s true,” I said, just to wrap up the conversation. But later in the day it got me thinking. Who really is the greatest Laker of all time?


With all due respect to Jerry West, who I am too young to have ever seen, and Wilt Chamberlain, who only played five seasons with the Lakers before retiring, there are only three names in the conversation: Magic, Kobe, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.


I think a lot of people overlook Kareem. Kareem was a supernatural force on both sides of the court. He had the size, touch and skills that had never been seen before in a big man. While he won the MVP award in Magic’s rookie 1979-80 season, Magic’s versatility, charisma and charm overshadowed Kareem’s effective but taciturn efficiency.  Magic was the guy everyone wanted to be like, a natural and undisputed leader.


Unlike Shaq and Kobe, Kareem and Magic made it work. The Lakers went to the finals eight times in ten seasons, winning five. And that was during a time when the Celtics were putting out some all time great teams as well.


It is tough to evaluate Magic and Kareem separately. An all time great point guard and dominant presence under the basket was a combination very few in the league could deal with. They were more than the sum of their parts.


And then there’s Kobe. If there was ever a player that defined the term “shooting guard,” It was Kobe. Where Magic averaged 11.2 assists per game, Kobe averaged 4.7. Indeed, Kobe averaged an insane 25 points per game for his career, which is 12th all time. His playoff record is similar to that of Magic and Kareem, winning five titles. Of the three, Kobe was the one you’d want on the team if you were down ten in the fourth quarter. While Magic might be able to rally the troops, Kobe could simply take over and make basket after basket while the defense watched helplessly.


If you’re into advanced stats, the folks at basketball-reference.com calculate “value over replacement player” which seeks to aggregate various stats into one objective number. Kareem comes out on top at #7 compared to #12 for Magic and #17 for Kobe. But this probably owes as much to Kareem’s longevity (and non-Laker history) as anything else. If you take out Kareem’s time with the Milwaukee Bucks, he slides in at #18 right behind Kobe.
There is also something called “Player Efficiency Rating” which seeks to normalize total performance and minutes played. Here again we see Kareem and Magic running basically even, one order of magnitude ahead of Kobe.




Then there is the one place where Kareem crushes everyone. Acting. Best athlete movie cameo ever.



Taken all together, I agree with the party’s host...the greatest Laker award has to go Magic. The Showtime Lakers are clearly ahead of Kobe….but with a few of Kareem’s best years being in Milwaukee, and Magic’s role dishing the ball to the big man for dunk after skyhook throughout the 80s, it clear that none of it would have been possible without him.


But I keep coming back to his response to Magic saying Kobe was the greatest Laker of all time.


“He had to say that.”


Well, no...he didn’t. Magic said that because he’s Magic. He said that because one of his greatest attributes was humility.   Magic understands that the team is capable of more when leadership involves everyone….even Kurt Rambis.  Magic not only has incredible court vision, unrivaled ball skills and the ability to play every position, he understands people.


Does it hurt Magic to say Kobe is the greatest of all time? No. Was it the right thing to say at a ceremony in Kobe’s honor? Absolutely.  It was gracious, kind, and 100% Magic.


That personal touch has translated into a successful business career since Magic retired, once he realized coaching and late night tv wasn’t his gig. Just as he did on the court, Magic the businessman has the skills to identify opportunities, build a team, and then inspire people to follow him.


Magic is what you want in a boss. He’s brilliant. He has vision. He’s a genuine leader, not prone to give you a line of bull just to get you to do what he wants. He has a demonstrated history of making people around him better, and when success comes, he gives credit to those around him rather than seeking it for himself. Even today, his twitter feed is stocked full of shout-outs to both stars and role players that played well the night before.  If you can join a company with that kind of leadership, you’re going to be happier at work, happier in life, and in the long-run, probably more successful too.


Compare that to the “people skills” Kobe showed during his playing career. The guy had a singular focus: winning. If you weren’t bringing it 100% all the time, he would destroy you. He didn’t suffer fools, and didn’t share the spotlight.  If you were on board with that, you could go along for the ride, perhaps to great success. If you weren’t, well, hasta la vista.  Fans love that kind of devotion, but it’s a dark, brutal work culture. The odds of Kobe turning into a successful and inspirational business leader are long, to say the least.


This type of personality is custom made for the hedge fund industry. This business attracts them like moths to a flame. In fact, I think hedge fund investors look for this type of personality profile….one that is nearly psychotic in its pursuit for alpha. I’m sure everyone reading this in the financial industry can think of more than one person that reminds them of Kobe.


With any luck, you’ve had the fortune to work with a Magic as well.
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18 comments

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johno
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December 27, 2017 at 10:33 PM ×

I don't get it. What's the trade? ;)

That was a delightful setup in EURCZK today. Thank you Mr Market.

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Shawn
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December 28, 2017 at 3:18 AM ×

I'll put you in the category of picking off the weak members of the herd...EMFX has been all about the idiosyncratic stories. Better entry point to sell usd/ars here. easy $ in post-election long zar trade is done, but still a lot (or all, i guess) of the heavy lifting to do on the reform front (both govt and ANC). And congratulations Banxico, you hiked 25bps to temper volatility in the peso and managed to convince every long MXN true believer you are petrified of what 2018 might bring--quite the contrast to the reputation for steady hands and cool-headed orthodoxy. Short MXN not done, not by a long shot (but may take a breather).

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johno
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December 28, 2017 at 6:09 PM ×

It's me getting picked off in Argentine LEBACs today! Ah well. Best for me to stay in products I can trade quickly and at low bid/ask, where my edge is. Live and learn.

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Macro Man
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December 29, 2017 at 12:06 AM ×

While I have no love for the Lakers, I must take issue with your casual dismissal of Jerry West. He bests Kobe in ppg, apg, and rpg...all as a Laker. While his career was a couple of years shorter than Kobe's on either end, he was only 10 win shares shy of Kobe for their careers...and that's a stat that automatically adjusts for era. He trounces Kobe in win shares per 48 mins played. I think at worst you would say that they're close to a push.

Then add in the fact that West was Laker GM for nearly 2 decades, when the team won 6 championships. He oversaw the acquisition of 4 of the top 12 Lakers of all time (per bb ref), including a draft day trade for a promising high school player out of Philly called Kobe Bryant.

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December 29, 2017 at 9:04 AM ×

Macro Man, is back in town! What happen, didn't work out. Getting out of NYC. Detective Donga Mackay was looking for you on the Sydney trading floor. We told him you were last seen with "Leo Wanker" in the chicken wings futures pit. Detective Donga was 15 years too late. With the rest'em.

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December 29, 2017 at 1:39 PM ×

Anyway, Macro Man. Its good to see you back. Detective Donga Mackay said if I was ever see you again to tell you he doesn't have the motivation , nor the willingness to build a case against the trading disparities he found in your chicken wing futures books from the US and UK trading pits. Happy New and an auspices 2018 to you. As for me......2017 is done and dusted. Will not , and cannot be bothered building trades these wankers in high towers. Past the threshold. Erosion will get'em one day.

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December 29, 2017 at 4:36 PM ×

"Leo Wanker" exhibit one:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-WqJkWntgSg

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IPA
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December 29, 2017 at 5:45 PM ×

There is nothing else left to do in oil but trail the stop and take the final profits at $62. This has been the trade of the year for me, surrounded by singles and doubles (well, except some home runs here and there like ULTA and XRT). The losers earlier in the year (by far) would have kept me down at the ground level had it not been for crude. One has to be humble and honest.

MM, we miss you...

Happy New Year!!

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Shawn
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December 29, 2017 at 10:51 PM ×

@MM, I dismissed Jerry West not because he was inferior, but because I never saw the guy play....heck, I'm not sure I've ever seen much of him on a highlight reel. The advanced stats I looked at had him in line with Kareem and Magic, and all three of them were a material gap higher than Kobe. Tough choice between West and Magic (and worth noting there was no small amount of luck involved in the magic draft pick). Re: post playing career, you could probably also add that after he left the Lakers their success was due to the sheer force of Kobe's will among mediocrity rather than any brilliance from West's successors. When that was gone, they promptly went in the tank.

I live in Minneapolis, so when people have this type of conversation here they bring up George Mikan. They have a statue of him in the timberwolves arena. I'm sure he was a great human being, but whatever, guys...

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Macro Man
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December 30, 2017 at 12:34 AM ×

@ Shawn, I hear you, but the eye can often mislead. (And I'd argue that you see Jerry West every time you watch the NBA...he's the logo fer chrissakes!)Kobe made a lot of great plays and was driven to win, but holy smokes he missed a ton of (bad) shots, which the statistical record picks out as being inefficient and detrimental to team success. Another modern player that the eye drastically over-rates is Carmelo Anthony, aka the black hole of Calcutta. The stats suggest that he's basically a pretty inferior latter-day incarnation of Adrian Dantley, which the "success" of his teams would underscore.

FWIW, if you line up their seasons on bb-ref win shares, JW's top 9 seasons each beat the equivalent Kobe season. Magic's top comp is...Jerry West! In the equivalent head to head , West comes out on top 6 times to Magic's 4. Personally, I'd call it a draw. (Kareem was the greatest of the 3, but lots of his value comes from his Milwaukee years)

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Gus
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December 30, 2017 at 5:59 PM ×

"Jerry West came up short so many times against arch-rival Boston, it’s hard to include him in a discussion with the others. Magic and Kobe are career-long Lakers. Both are five-time champions. But Magic was MVP three times to Kobe’s one."

http://uproxx.com/dimemag/nba-logos-as-all-stars/7/

I know next to nothing about NBA basketball, but the comment about Jerry West in the above quote was an interesting perspective.

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Shawn
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January 1, 2018 at 7:18 PM ×

@MM, totally agree on Carmelo. I've never understood the fascination with him, at least since he left Denver. If you want a good laugh, find a podcast of Barkley lighting him up on espn radio a couple weeks back. Classic Charles.

Between West and Magic in the playoffs you get into a subjective argument about "rings". If you again look at the b-ball-reference win shares/48 minutes in the playoffs, west and magic are a dead heat at #6 and #7 (Kobe comes in at #55, just behind Sam Jones and just ahead of Horace Grant).

Magic won more rings. West had to compete with some ridiculously talented Celtic teams. But one could argue Magic did too, but with more success. Magic had a great cast, but West wasn't exactly carrying a bunch of schmoes like Kobe did in the later years, with names like Wilt and Elgin Balyor around him. Given their "valued added" in the playoffs is basically equal I can't hold the "rings" argument against West.

Amazing how West and Magic are so similar and statistically equal.

Normal service resumes tomorrow...good luck in the New Year!

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Fairmead
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January 2, 2018 at 1:35 PM ×

I find it very difficult to understand why there is no reference in the article to Jim Laker!! Jim played cricket for both Surrey County cricket Club and England. During one test match he took 19 of the 20 Australian wickets to fall in the match, which is still a record.

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January 2, 2018 at 3:11 PM ×

Hard not to notice that one of the final qualities that made Magic a leader (and a leader OFF the court, too) were the very qualities that the present occupant of the oval office in Washington DOES NOT POSSESS. In other words, he lacks virtually everything that Magic possesses most obviously an ability to share the credit. In his case, he even grabs all of the credit when NO CREDIT is due and faults his associates and predecessors and everyone one else when fault is to be attributed. The final result is nothing for him and nothing for anyone else, too.

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Shawn
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January 2, 2018 at 3:58 PM ×

@Michael, at risk of taking the discussion off the rails, it's a pretty good point and begs the question, how did he become so successful when he demonstrates such lousy leadership skills? plenty of material there for a whole new post, but I think a lot of it is marketing. Trump identified a huge gap in the market: blue-collar democrats and rural Republicans had very similar interests and were looking for a candidate were buying what Trump was selling--and he had the charisma (and social media savvy) to single-handedly destroy every career politician in his path, each of whom refused to do anything other than play by the book.

If you stop right there and remove the baggage around the Trump name it is a real success story. But your points are right on and illustrate that the entire exercise was in the name of ego and self-interest rather than the advancement of the "organization". As you imply, if Trump had the ability to *lead* rather than collect power, it would be a completely different story and he could be a truly (positive) revolutionary leader. Instead, on current form he's going to wind up a historical footnote because of his own shortcomings--one that will eventually serve to further entrench the political elites rather than flushing them out.

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boonmee
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January 7, 2018 at 4:35 AM × This comment has been removed by the author.
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