Sports Perspectives by Mark Elder

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

March Madness is here!

Filed under: College — Mark @ 15:48

Preface: The internet is full of haters.  It seems as though people spend all day every day spewing hate on perfectly good people who are just trying to make it.  I hope my weblog never depicts me as one of those individuals.  That said, back to business.

The biggest event in college sports beings again tomorrow on CBS.  The men’s NCAA tournament captures the attention of hundreds of millions, and business productivity plummets throughout North America due to college basketball viewership.  Yesterday NPR reported that tournament viewership is so important that employees subjected to a workplace crackdown regarding tourney viewing have opted for unnecessary medical procedures, namely vasectomies, to buy themselves a four day weekend during which they are physically limited to sitting in front of a television set.  It was even suggested that it is better if you have no real need or interest in the procedure, as you can get it reversed next year just in time for the first weekend of action, thus buying yourself four more days of peace from your employer and significant other (I say significant other because although no woman would ever get an unnecessary surgical procedure to watch more amateur basketball, I wouldn’t put it past any man, gay or straight).

Clearly, college basketball is important in American culture.  We all to come together over this annual event, as pundits and fans alike hyperbolize its greatness and hang on every turnover and missed free throw.  Hearing how great it is got me to thinking: why do people love college basketball so much?  A radio commercial I heard the other day had an interesting take – college basketball is BETTER than professional basketball.

Obviously this comment is ignorant and false on its face.  The worst NBA team would destroy the best college basketball team and wouldn’t need to prepare or even employ a coach to do so.  In a best of seven series, even teams like the Timberwolves or Bobcats would sweep UCLA or UNC.  Actually, the quality of play in college basketball is quite poor all things considered.  Offenses are sloppy, decision-making is curious when it’s not atrocious and shooting is laughable.  It’s not really in dispute that college basketball is bad basketball and the NBA is good basketball – so what is the real reason for this notion that college basketball is “better?”

J.J. Redick was a stud at Duke.

The commercial, thankfully, goes on to explain.  The listener is told that, in college, “players care more about the name on the front of the jersey than the back.”  This is true, especially in the case of USC, where they do not print the students’ names on the back of the uniforms.  Yes, college players care about the institution more than themselves, which is precisely why they abandon their school after their freshmen season in favor of NBA glory, or, in some cases, NBA mediocrity.  If they were looking out for number one, I’m sure they would continue to provide the school with free labor for four years while risking career-threatening injury every night.  Instead, they selflessly bolt as soon as the NBA will have (read: pay) them.  Granted, some are not good enough to play professionally, and they often stay to represent their precious “academic institution” for four seasons.  This prompts the question whose answer I believe speaks to the heart of the matter: “why would I value the alleged loyalty of a young man — to an institution to which I have NO affiliation — so much that I would prefer watching him to watching a professional, despite his overwhelmingly inferior talent level and evident lack of experience?”

Wojo Overreacts Again.

Honestly, ask yourself that very question.  Who cares if some kid is loyal to his school and that said loyalty prompts him to try hard?  Is it noble?  If so, is nobility an entertaining component of the game?  College students are annoying in part BECAUSE they love their school so much – why is it different for athletes?  NBA players care about their team as much as college players do.  I’ve never seen somebody play harder than Kevin Garnett (yes, that includes Tyler Hansbrough – sorry to all the drooling pundits in Bristol, CT) and he never went to college.  Let’s call this what it is.  College sucks and college basketball sucks.  College students are annoying and childish.  Fans rushing the court is insufferable and the players aren’t much better.  Adam Morrison cried DURING an NCAA tournament game just two years ago because his team was in position to lose late in the game and he didn’t have faith in his team to pull off a miraculous win.

The reasons people love college basketball are two-fold.  First, college athletes are uncompensated for their labor so there are no instances of young Black males flaunting their wealth, which many Americans resent.  Second, white players play a big role in college basketball. Remember Wojo for Duke in the early 1990s?  The aforementioned Morrison?  His counterpart across the country J.J. Redick?  In the words of Nasir Jones “where are they now?”  Well Redick is on the bench because he can’t play defense or rebound or dribble.  Morrison plays for a historically bad franchise, taking and missing a slew of bad shots every time he gets the chance, which is less and less often as time goes on.  Wojo?  Well not surprisingly he wasn’t quite Association material.

Adam Morrison and coach Mark Few share a good cry.

I’m not going to sit here and scream racism or attribute a particular sentiment to an entire race.  I don’t really care if a person, regardless of his race, prefers to watch someone that reminds him of him.  I seek only to call it what it is.

All the comments from people who “just can’t watch the NBA anymore” are ludicrous.  The NBA is not full of thugs.  Hip-hop has absolutely nothing to do with the NBA (players can’t rap and rappers can’t play and they will all get over it eventually).  The notions that NBA players don’t play defense and don’t play hard are unfounded and uninformed.  NBA basketball is worth watching.  Yes, college kids do try very hard in the NCAA tournament, but so what?  Allow me to quote LaDanian Tomlinson from the new Nike Sparq Training Equipment TV spot: “my better is better than your better.”  Such is the case with the NBA and college.  The NBA’s better – the playoffs – is better than the NCAA’s better – the tourney.  If you like college basketball better, fine, power to you, go watch, enjoy the next month of bliss, but admit, please, the real reasons why.  College kids don’t try harder, they’re not more noble, the basketball isn’t “fundamental” or “pure” – it’s mediocre, but you like it anyway because people that remind you of you actually affect the outcome.  The lower quality of play makes it possible for young guys without a lot of talent or experience to scrap their way to victory and bring glory to their school, which is inexplicably important to the adults who walk around wishing they were still in college so they could have no responsibility and could therefore do more drugs and sleep in until 11 am.

So grab a Pabst, sir, and live vicariously through the man you wish you were as he scraps his way to big man on campus status. I salute you today so that tomorrow you need not lie to me to justify why “college basketball is better.”  No, friends, college basketball sucks, and that’s okay, because you have a right to love it irrespective of reason.  To you, I say “let the madness begin!” though to me, it already has.


Tuesday, 18 March 2008

First Words / NYK

Not surprisingly the first words of a former college basketball player from New York City concern the NBA and the New York Knickerbockers, who are nearing the merciful end of, according to readers, the worst season in franchise history.  I wasn’t around to see it all begin for the Knickerbockers, but from what I’ve seen in the last 22 years, I’m inclined to agree.  The Knicks have managed to disappoint their fan base every season since the turn of the century, despite a steady slide of fan expectations.  Fans have turned on the players, the head coach, the President and the owner, leaving only the Knicks City Dancers to be considered worth the price of admission, which is, of course, as high it has ever been for any team in American sport.

Knicks City Dancers in Action

This season has been particularly devastating because the one thing to which every fan clings is gone for the foreseeable future —  we (that is New Yorkers and the NY diaspora lurking throughout the country) have no hope.  Perhaps if Mrs. Clinton takes the Democratic Presidential nomination then Barack Obama can swoop in and restore that which is the lifeblood of every true fan.  The Audacity of Hope is a bestseller, but unfortunately the suits at Madison Square Garden aren’t buying it.  Many citizens have high hopes for Obama because unlike so many American politicians he is not (yet) a proven failure, but what hope for change is there for fans in the Garden?  Isaiah Thomas has always preached a positive message of hope, but as a proven failure in Toronto, Indiana and New York he makes it impossible to continue to believe.

Don’t get me wrong here, Isaiah is not solely to blame for the failures of his team and organization.  The Knicks were lousy when he was hired and they’ll be lousy when he dies or gets fired – so why pile on him?  Well, I see it this way:  James Dolan, chairman of the Garden, hired Isaiah to fix the hole in the wall at MSG that was the failing Knicks franchise, and offered him an unlimited budget to do so.  He came in and made the hole bigger, but convinced Dolan it was part of a master plan to build a sturdy, more durable wall that would last this time.  Dolan, the sucker that he is, continued to oblige the persuasive Mr. Thomas.  Isaiah then waited until Dolan turned his back and took a sledgehammer to the wall, honestly believing it would fix everything, and here we sit today with no wall, no plan for how to construct one and the same mopes trying haplessly to figure it out (in their spare time when they’re not in court handling misconduct charges).

Knicks fans have been reduced to nothing.  We chant “M-V-P” for stars on once-hated rivals at the Garden, and talk about how much fun it is to watch the Lakers or the Celtics.  Why?  The Knicks are impossible to care about.  Fans and pundits alike are indifferent to their wins and losses.  After all, what does it matter?  If you have lost in the past and there is no hope of any significant win in the present or future, to what are fans expected to cling?

The fact is there is nothing tenable and there won’t be as long as the NYK business model of exerting NO effort toward the end of putting forth a quality product continues to turn a profit.  Knicks fans, if you, like me, have no hope for the future, vote with your dollars and abandon this team until they give us hope again.

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