Good Defense

In team sports, it is axiomatic that good defense beats good offense. A basketball team which plays tenacious D will disrupt its opponent’s plays, create turnovers, and get a lot of easy fast-break baskets. A football team that forces a lot of 3-and-outs gives itself an edge. The best example I have seen in my lifetime of pitching beating hitting was during the 1988 World Series, when the L.A. Dodgers pitching staff systematically dismantled Oakland’s heavily favored Bash Brothers.  


It is natural for us to want to defend things that we value, but sometimes the way we play defense is counterproductive.  I am unable to express the great relief I felt when I saw that the church had discouraged boycotts and letter writing campaigns as a means of protesting the HBO program this Sunday.  I have learned through sad experience with my own defensive reactions to perceived slights that it is easy to play bad defense.  I share with you now some of the steps I have followed in the past which I now regret, and which I hope you are wise enough to learn from.

1.  First, work up a good snit.

2.  Put on a clown suit, and put a large chip on each shoulder.

3.  Enter a public forum with a determination to lay the smack down.

4.  Address your listeners with exagerrations and overwrought hysteria.  This proves to them that your righteous indignation is genuine, and that YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO BE OUTRAGED OVER THIS OUTRAGE!!!!!

5.  Remember, there is no such thing as overreaction.

If you follow those simple steps, your reward will to bask in the reflected glow of your own self-righteousness and pride for a short time.  Take it from one who knows.

It is more difficult to play good defense.  Often, the best response is no response at all.  I have always admired people who have the self-assurance to remain calm, even when they are being maligned.  It’s hard to cheat an honest man, and you can’t insult someone whose dignity is earned.

Sometimes an offense is a manifestation of our wounded pride, and is a result of an inflated sense of our own importance.  While we can readily see that the upcoming HBO show holds the potential for offense, is it necessary to actually take offense?  I think it is much more productive to acknowledge that the potential for offense certainly exists, but to allow for the possibility that it was not intended.  How many of us, when watching Fiddler On The Roof, wondered if Jewish people might have objected to the depiction of some of their religious practices?  Probably none of us, even though I am almost certain that at least some Jews were squeamish about the way the film portrayed their lives and their beliefs. We can also be assured that many Jewish people would prefer that we goyische Christians didn’t re-enact the Passover Seder in Sunday School class, and yet we go right ahead and do it anyway.

In the past, I have sometimes treated perceived slights the way Gollum treats The Precious.  I have carefully nursed grudges, even when I knew they were damaging to me.  One of the points that Elder Bednar made so effectively in his sermon is that being offended is a choice, and that when we choose to take offense, we damage ourselves.  That is something to think seriously about.  We should also consider the aphorism about why you shouldn’t argue with a fool.

Bookmark Good Defense


  1. You are wise, Mr. Brown. I especially liked this:

    “Put on a clown suit, and put a large chip on each shoulder.”

    That’s called seeing yourself as others see you. Brilliant.

  2. nasamomdele says:

    Well put.

    It is generally a myth that one can wield power to achieve a “good” purpose- power being a stronger argument, a louder voice, and with those- an appeal to rights or morality. I recently saw a definition of meekness as “power subdued”. And we know what the meek shall inherit.

    While Jesus underwent torture and affliction of every kind, he did not open his mouth. That has always been an incredible example of power in self-control stemming from self-assurance and purpose.

    Of course, conflict is unavoidable in life as it gives the opportunity for choice, but it does not have to be a negative. Avoiding negative conflict creates space for rationality and reason, by-products of self-control, I think.

  3. Sorry Mark, but good pitching can never beat good batting in baseball. The best good pitching can do is give you a Zero on the scoreboard. Only batting can win. ( let’s forget about walks and errors).

  4. Peter LLC says:


  5. nasamomdele says:


    True you can only win with points on the board, but probabilities overwhelmingly favor good pitching to win. Besides, good batting is far easier to come by.

  6. Mark,

    Thanks for this – now I don’t feel as bad for deleting all the forwarded emails about this over the past week :-)

  7. Awe, the 1988 Dodgers….Not only did Hershiser pitch well, he also batted 1.000! I’m not sure where that fits in your analogy.

  8. Bro. Brown,


  9. Wes Brown says:

    I was playing Tenacious D last night on the guitar…Oh, were you not referencing the band? regardless, I’m sure Jack Black would agree with me that this was a great post. I think we can learn a lot from Jewish tolerance and humor.

  10. Regarding basketball, I (and a plurality of stats folks) disagree with the conventional wisdom that good defense beats good offense. Most of the teams that people refer to in making this argument had… Wait for it… Great defenses and great offenses. Furthermore, one can easily make the argument that only injuries and one or two badly-timed suspensions prevented the Phoenix Suns (by many measures the most offense-led team in basketball history) from winning at least one NBA championship in recent years.

  11. esodhiambo says:

    I just hate sports analogies–and look how problematic this one has become–but I get your point and I agree.

    “when we choose to take offense, we damage ourselves”

    Who suffers when I cancel my HBO? ME.

  12. nasamomdele says:


    True. Good defense by itself can’t win a single game, in any sport. But the fact that the Phoenix Suns have not won a championship in recent years has less to do about wildly random events such as suspensions and injuries than events related to production- defense being a large part.

    There was recently a great article on Shane Battier of the Houston Rockets and his phenomenal defensive play. When he plays, he gaurds the opponent’s best shooter. Also, when he plays, the rockets win a greater percentage of their games, including a 22-game win streak last year. This is not overwhelming evidence of “defense wins” in basketball, but it helps build a case.

    In football, the statistics play out in favor of defense as well. Championships are most frequently won with good defense, a solid running game, and above-average quarterbacking.

  13. Mark Brown says:


    Thanks, I think. Is that really how you see me?


    Thanks. I agree, it is very easy to rationalize our actions because we think it is for a good purpose.


    nasamomdele explained it well in comment # 5.

    Peter LLC,

    I will not attempt to dissuade you from your strongly held opinion.


    It sounds like your email inbox looks a lot like mine!

    L-d Sus,

    It was indeed a great series, and Hershiser was magic. (btw, did you hear that he is taking the discussions, with Steve Martin?) The most telling stat is that both Canseco and McGwire were held to one hit each, over 5 games.

    John C.,

    How did you hack into my email and copy and past some of the emails I’m getting into your blog comment? Even the misspellings are the same.


    I guess I might have known that you would bring Jack Black into the discussion. The Kyle Gass project is out of control.


    I think it is hard to separate defense from offense in basketball. The ways we measure offensive production — shooting percentage, total points scored, assists — are often the result of defensive work. A takeaway on the defensive end very often results in an assist, a layup (thereby increasing team shooting percentage) and it of course adds to a team’s total points, while depriving the opponent of an opportunity to score.


    Please bear with me here. I just trying to move the chains and get the ball downfield.

  14. I’m no sports expert, but I know what I like, and it’s this post. Two thumbs up, Brother!

  15. John Mansfield says:

    I’m near the end of David McCullough’s Truman biography, and it has been very thought-provoking to consider the differences seen there between resolute defense and capitulation. When Stalin cut off Berlin, Truman didn’t force an armed convoy through Soviet lines nor abandoned the city, but showed that he was willing to do the monumental work of supplying a city of millions by air. When communists invaded South Korea, he neither withdrew American forces from the peninsula nor allowed the war to expand into China and maybe Russia, even though war limited to Korea continued to cost hundreds to thousands of lives each week. Then there was McCarthy, against whom Truman never figured out a proper defense, thinking such a fraud would ruin himself, but McCarthy didn’t for several years, while his targets like Marshall and Atcheson wore down from the constant abuse.

  16. Mark, trust me, I know that defense can help offense; the arguments aren’t new. But there are now pretty good measures of defense and offense that can be separated from each other — and the best conclusion seems to be that wins are basically equally produced by both. What you’re selling when you call one or the other the sine qua non is basically coaching mythology, I think — the data just don’t seem to fully bear it out.

    Nasamomdele, Battier’s hard-to-measure contributions don’t prove that defense trumps offense. Just that defense has historically been harder to measure than offense. I think you’re also a bit off about the Phoenix Suns. If all of their crucial defeats had been by wide scoring margins, you’d have a case. But many weren’t, and there’s substantial evidence that games won by narrow margins are dominated by chance events.

  17. By the way, for what it’s worth, offense also helps defense. Teams score less efficiently off of made baskets, which cut off opportunities for fast breaks and give the defense more time to get into position. So scoring can not only add to your own team’s scoreboard, but it can also burn time off the clock and reduce the opponent’s effective shooting percentage. The argument goes both ways. The excessive praise of defense is probably a good coaching tactic, though, since young players find defense boring.

  18. Good point, Mark, RE: Fiddler on the Roof. Remember all the Da Vinci code hullaballoo? Practically every Mormon I knew at the time read that book. Some were uncomfortable with some of the implications its claims had for Mormonism, but I don’t remember a single Mormon indignantly saying: “jeesh — this is horribly offensive to Catholics and really desecrates much of what they hold sacred. Shame on Dan Brown! WHY DO PEOPLE READ SUCH IRREVERENT, DISRESPECTFUL TRASH?!?!?!?”

  19. Peter LLC says:

    I will not attempt to dissuade you from your strongly held opinion.

    I was just seeing if I could provoke a response. Obviously I did, but so did everyone else. Oh well.

  20. Brad,
    For what it’s worth, that was roughly my second response to The Da Vinci Code, right after, How did his editor let this crappy writing get published?

  21. Eveningsun says:

    Defense or offense? It’s a pseudo-argument. Anyone can say this:

    A basketball team which plays tenacious D will disrupt its opponent’s plays, create turnovers, and get a lot of easy fast-break baskets. A football team that forces a lot of 3-and-outs gives itself an edge.

    But it’s just as easy–and just as silly an argument–to say this:

    A basketball team which passes the ball effectively will befuddle its opponent’s defenses, create open shot opportunities, and get a lot of easy three-point baskets. A football team that forces the opposing defense into a lot of second-and-shorts gives itself an edge.

    You don’t win by running up your own score, and you don’t win by holding down your opponent’s score. You win by scoring at least one point more than your opponent.

    Anyway, I think having “no response at all” is not “playing good defense.” Seems more like “playing opposum” to me.

    What I’d like to see the Church do is issue a statement saying that the subculture portrayed on Big Love does in fact exist, but has little to do with the mainstream LDS Church, and that the Church thus has no reason to be upset. Similarly, for the sacred rituals, the Church should simply say that while it would prefer those ritual be kept off the air, but we also respect the First Amendment and understand that HBO’s freedom of speech stems from the same source as our own, and we thus do nothing more than register our objection.

  22. 1) Only the batting team can win..period.
    2) When the Dodgers had their best pitchers,(Sandy and Don) they would always lose 1 to 0. If the best pitcher can only give you a zero, and the most average batting team averages 2 runs….who has the edge?
    3) Basketball games are won by points. If you possess the ball, you are on offense.
    4) The best team always wins…period. ( It made the needed adjustments).
    The Church should rate Big Love ‘R’, and it would lose it’s viewers. (A joke, no needed to attack it).

  23. Bob, when you say, “The best team always wins…period. ( It made the needed adjustments),” you’re making an argument that I think needs further consideration. I think this argument goes through by defining “best” to mean “actually performed the best during a given contest.” But I doubt that’s actually the definition most people have in mind when they use the word. Instead, I think most people, when talking about the “best/better” team, have in mind the team that would win more often in hypothetical repeated contests with circumstances varying in a reasonable neighborhood of the actually observed circumstances. With such a definition in hand, it’s quite likely that the “better” team loses sometimes.

    I really like Big Love. I think it’s one of the most nuanced portrayals of the Mormon culture region and of many aspects of the Mormon faith that mainstream American culture has ever really been offered.

  24. nasamomdele says:


    I agree that the Battier example does not support a claim that Defense trumps offense, in fact I said something to that effect in my comment. But the fact that defensive contributions are difficult to measure should tell us something about the validity (or lack thereof) of our offensive statistics.

    Any sport (or conversation in this post’s context) is a sequence of isolated events, some sports creating a more complex moment in time for each event in the sequence, but the events are nonetheless sequential. Every event and therefore, every game depends on each team’s ability to perform X, which as you must know, translates into a probability of doing X. Thus the ability to reduce one’s opponent’s probability of producing X is every bit as important as porducing X yourself. And if you’re very good at restricting an opponent’s probability of producing X, the less productive of X you have to be and less aggressive you have to be in your production of X. Thus you run less risks of random turns on your production of X, which turns have a high probability of producing X for your opponent (errors, turnovers, etc. increase opponents’ probabilities of scoring drastically).

    So when the Phoenix Suns enter the arena against the San Antonio Spurs, they must realize that the Spurs are well-practiced at challenging movement, passes, and shots every time such an event is attempted. In fact, they are so practiced, that opposing teams see their field goal average drop and turnovers increase when they play the Spurs. And the Spurs benefit from turns in terms of points scored. Thus offense may be less critical to their strategy, where defense reduces the Suns’ scoring and improves the Spurs by providing high-probability turns.

    This does not say that the Spurs block shots or always knock the ball off a pass. The offense may simply find their own practiced movements challenged and therefore they find themselves more prone to mistakes by performing in unpracticed ways. That is the best way to play defense- force the opponent to approach something from a way they are not practiced in.

    The impact of defense is unmistakable and I think it has been pointed out in this post- one person may end up in the clown suit with a chip on their shoulder.

    So even in Sport, when we approach a discussion about greatest players, the best approach is a thorough investigation of performance, rather than superficial, just as with this Big Love thing.

    So when the Church leaves out the statement “They shouldn’t do that!” and avoids preaching ethics or engaging the issue on the basis of rights or morals, the Church is wise. They simply say, “yeah, it will be shown.” And reassures members, “it will have net zero impact” pointing out that the show is entertainment meant to elicit response/ratings/whatever, a clown suit, and nothing more (to tie this back in). The Church prevents HBO from producing X (response), and produces X for itself (publicity, apparent tolerance and civility).

  25. I came for the basketball, but stayed for the Big Love.

    Mark, this comment caught my attention:

    “In the past, I have sometimes treated perceived slights the way Gollum treats The Precious. I have carefully nursed grudges, even when I knew they were damaging to me.”

    I think we are all somewhat susceptible to this practice. The church is leading the way, and we would all be wise to follow.

    The clown suit never worked too well for me on the basketball court anyway. That and the big shoes.

  26. I like this post!
    Here are a couple quotations from BY that I also like:
    If your neighbors talk about you, and you think that they do wrong in speaking evil of you, do not let them know that you ever heard a word, and conduct yourselves as if they alsways did tight, and it will mortify them, and they will say, “We’ll not try this game any longer.”
    — JD 19:70
    Who ever takes offense when offense is not intended is a fool
    and whoever takes offense when offense is intended is a damned fool.

    — (source not in my notes)

  27. Nasamomdele, there are now much better measures of defense (and offense, for that matter) than the box score statistics. I’m also not arguing that defense doesn’t matter — just that a great deal of statistical analysis has been done recently using improved data which suggest that the argument that defense is more important than offense is a myth. This doesn’t meant that defense doesn’t matter, just that it doesn’t matter more…

  28. nasamomdele says:

    I take it one step further- defense matters more, but only when it matters more. Otherwise offense matters most.

    Honestlly, I think there are two games in town.

  29. Nasamomdele, if that’s what you think, then I agree.

  30. #28: “defense matters more”. Only if the goal is to end selling tickets to the games. Nothing works better for that than a few 5 to 3 halftime scores in basketball. That’s why they have shot clocks. We use to have them in UCLA games when they were running off their 10 National Championships.
    NO ONE gets to sell underwear on TV by playing good defense.

  31. Left Field says:

    I’m trying to think of someone who sold underwear on TV besides Jim Palmer…

  32. #31: M. Jordon

  33. #31: That’s Michael Jordan.

  34. Left Field says:

    Perhaps it speaks to my age that I thought of Palmer, but not Jordan. I was a bit puzzled by the fact that the only guy I could think of who sold underwear was in the Hall of Fame for his defense. Besides, as a pro, Jordan has a career .202 average with 3 HR. He sure wasn’t selling underwear because of his offense.

  35. nasamomdele says:


    Jordan was exceptional on defense. It’s one reason he sells underwear.

    I don’t know how much your UCLA tickets cost, but I do know they were worth it. And John Wooden is a household name. And 10 championships might reflect the UCLA defense you speak of.

  36. #35: Yes, Jordan could play both ends as they say.
    But UCLA fans wanted their hundred point games to get a free hamburger.
    Wooden always played man to man defense. Other schools then, mostly a zone. His reasons? 1) The Pros played man to man. So if you wanted to be a Pro, you went where you could learn it and show you could play it (UCLA). 2) “Nice” (and I love him!) Mr. Wooden would only play with you if you went man to man. Otherwise, he would stall until you came out of your zone. Then he had yet another edge.
    We had Loyola Marymount a while out here who played no defense to speak of. They just stay in the paint, forced the outside shot, then sent three or four down court, hoped for the rebound, and averaged about 100% from the field. They were hard to beat.

  37. Tenacious D.
    Gotta love Jack Black.

%d bloggers like this: