I try to live my life in an honorable way. As those who know me can attest, I believe very strongly in the virtue of honesty and integrity. A huge component of such a core belief, to me, is giving credit. I believe giving credit is the right thing to do.
Providing proper credit can be difficult, for various reasons. Sometimes people may not even realize that they’re using someone else’s ideas as the basis for their work. Sometimes people may realize that they’re doing it, but are motivated more by the fact that giving off the impression that the ideas being leveraged are their own can produce advantageous results for themselves; people are sometimes motivated by self-serving intentions, and that, as you might imagine, has the potential to yield rather ugly results. Sometimes various other factors are at play.
I believe I always try to provide proper credit when I leverage the ideas of others.
I also believe that others may not always choose to live up to that same standard. I tend to believe that my ideas do sometimes get leveraged without proper credit being provided. I believe that sometimes my ideas just get taken, while other times my ideas get presented to a source, confirmed as accurate by the source, and then get taken with reference only to the source.
But please note that establishing that other people may be leveraging your ideas is difficult. Just because I, for example, come up with an idea does not mean that someone else can’t independently come up with the same idea. There are a lot of people in this world. There are tons of ideas. And most aren’t unique.
So sometimes I just don’t write at all – nobody can take what I don’t put out there. Other times I use various tools to help me assess whether my ideas are being leveraged, whether they be simple (e.g., waiting for others to break down a particular situation before I provide any unique insights of my own) or more clever in nature.
As an example, after the Ellington/Johnson trade on Feb. 6, I waited three full days, until the morning of Feb. 9, to fully disclose (both on twitter and in the post below) the mechanics of how the Heat could drop below the tax line as a result of the trade (i.e., with Kelly Olynyk bonuses, 10-day contracts, and two-week periods at the center of it). I waited the three days, quite a bit of time in the real-time analysis world of today, in order to give others the space of time to write their own stories about the trade, to ensure that none of them had written about the idea, and to analyze whether any of them would do so in the aftermath of my writing.
As another example, I wrote about how the Heat would likely not convert the contract of one of their two-way players to meet their 14-player requirement in the aftermath of the trade. In doing so, I provided a rationale that was accurate (and would therefore be confirmed as such by any sources), but inconsistent with the above example (i.e., that it had to do with their qualifying offers). I did so because people who leverage the ideas of others without a true understanding of what they’re leveraging sometimes don’t realize that, if they aren’t careful, doing so makes their work inconsistent, and thus makes it easier to establish that they are doing so.
Of course, whether the evidence uncovered by deploying such tools provides definitive proof that my ideas are being leveraged is inherently subjective. We make our own judgments. But here’s what always gets me – the people doing it, if indeed they are doing it, know the truth. They know they’re causing pain, and apparently just don’t care. It’s a world I hate.
In some ways, I am an ideal person from which to leverage ideas – I hope you feel I have good ones, I present them openly, I am relatively passive about protecting them, I have a relatively small following, and I have no direct affiliation with any media company. In other ways I am not – I am fortunate enough to have access the resources and contacts (which can perhaps easily be verified by anyone who chooses to look) to do something about it if I choose. I have chosen not to thus far. All I ask is that we all try to be respectful of each other.
So I, yet again, make one simple request — please don’t copy my work without providing proper credit.
Idea theft is a common problem, certainly not exclusive to me. It’s far more pervasive than you may realize. It permeates every aspect of the NBA’s media landscape.
The unfortunate truth is that, for some, providing proper credit would effectively mean sourcing numerous (if not every) aspects of their writing. So some pick and choose – within articles (they’ll source one sentence, so they don’t have to source other sentences), across articles (they’ll source someone in one article, so they don’t have to source him or her again in another), etc. Others ignore it altogether.
So what can readers do to help? Question everything.
Don’t focus on tenure or contacts or employers (which are favored deflections). The NBA landscape is changing. Meaningful content requires far more insight than in years past. It requires skill. It requires creativity. It requires subject matter experts as much as it does eloquent writers… Just for fun, pick an article at random from a decade ago (one that breaks down a trade, a free agent signing, or whatever else interests you), and compare it to a similar article from today, to see what I mean.
So, when you’re reading something new:
- Ask yourself if you believe the writer even has the ability to provide the insights you’re reading. When you’re reading about, for example, even the most basic financial aspects of a trade (like how it impacts the team’s luxury tax situation), let alone the more complex aspects (like that, as a result of the trade, a team might potentially be able to avoid the luxury tax if it were to: (i) miss the playoffs, (ii) not play one of its players more than specified period of time, and (iii) only sign certain types of contracts going forward), ask yourselves if you believe he or she has the creativity (to be able to realize it’s even possible, and therefore investigate the possibility), skill-set (to be able to sort through all of the countless, highly intricate salary cap rules, find the relevant ones, and analyze them accordingly), and knowledge (to gain access to the salary details of the various players, to apply the rules that have been analyzed) to even be able to generate the sentences you’re reading.
- Take note of timing. To get a better sense for the providers of original content versus the ones who leverage it, take note of timing. Is the content you’re reading original, or have you seen it somewhere before? If you’ve seen it somewhere before, what are the chances that the writer has too? If a big event has transpired (e.g., a trade or free agent signing), who are the people tweeting about it in the moments after it occurs, and who are the ones pausing for several minutes or hours (i.e., after the original ideas have been disclosed)? If you read a truly original piece of content on one random day, and then spot another article on the very same topic in the next couple of days, question it… And don’t get fooled by references to “sources.” Sources can be incredibly valuable. But no source is going to just give a journalist an article to write. So even if an article credits “sources,” how did the writer know what to ask? Where did the idea come from?
- Focus on the details. Unfortunately, some people who steal the ideas of others have the skill-set but not the creativity. They can’t always generate the ideas on their own, but they can take them and break them down. But, other people can’t do even that. Often times, people who steal ideas don’t fully understand them. And that leads to inconsistencies in their writing. One sentence might be correct, but another may not be. Or, perhaps both are correct, but they don’t make sense together. For example, nobody who has the ability to break down a complex trade and distill it into a concise article about how a team can avoid the luxury tax would then follow it up by making a suggestion as to how to the team can fill out its roster in a way that destroys the very premise of his or her article; that makes no sense.
When you free your mind of all distractions and focus purely on who even has the creativity and skill-set to produce the ideas you’re reading, I believe you’ll be able to more accurately access where the original ideas are coming from. And, hopefully, when you find that out, you’ll respond accordingly.