armchairquarterblog

SPORTS LANDSCAPE Bill Sullivan

In THE SPORTS LANDSCAPE Bill Sullivan on November 22, 2011 at 12:05 pm

The NBA’s been dormant for a month and now that college basketball is underway, do fans miss the pro game? I don’t because I haven’t followed it since the late 60s. I relished match-ups between the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers in the championship round. Sure, New York had flash with point guard Walt Frazier. But the team seemed more about the hobbled but able Willis Reed in the middle as well as outside shooters Bill Bradley and Dave DeBusschere and heralded sixth men Cazzie Russell, Phil Jackson and Mike Riordan.

The “team” concept drew my interest. The Lakers’ Wilt Chamberlain didn’t  – whether it be his point or blocked-shot totals  or off-court conquests for that matter. As a fan, I was concerned with the Knicks thwarting Jerry West’s outside jumper and Jim McMillian’s baseline drives. Those series usually took seven games to decide and every game was interesting.

Since then, there’s been Magic, Michael and Larry. Nowadays, it’s about LeBron and Kobe. The stars today are on a first-name basis. Teams today seek to “buy” titles. Boston tried with Paul Pearce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. More recently, Miami tried and failed with LeBron, Dwayne Wade (should I say D-Wade?) and Chris Bosh. Try and name the other two starters. Sixth man? Don’t even try to guess who.

Sure, the skill level of the pro game is high. But the game’s about acrobatics, clear-outs, one-on-ones, spin moves, dunks. It’s like “Dancing with the Stars” in sneakers. It’s about showtime, not gametine. Then again, the NBA’s always been about flash and the dominant player. Back in the 70s, halftimes of televised games featured 1-on-1 contests which Houston’s Mike Newlin or the Jazz’s Pete Maravich regularly won.  So much for promoting the team concept.

I think of the NBA and I see headbands, tattoos, fights and the latest player to date a celebrity. I don’t see starting fives, unselfish back courts, body-sacrificing screens or the legendary coaches (John Wooden, Coach K, Bob Knight, Don Haskins, John Cheney, Eddie Sutton, Tom Izzo, John Thompson, Jim Boeheim, Jim Calhoun, Gary Williams, Dean Smith, Roy Williams, Rick Pitino, Ray Meyer, ) whom players not only respected but listened to. The college game is unified, the NBA divided, individual and therefore, sterile.

Here it is, November, and there’s already brimming excitement in the college game. The MEAC’s Norfolk State was a soft-rim away from upsetting nationally ranked Marquette in a Virgin Islands tournament. Maybe there’ll be another “Hawaiian Punch” similar to Chaminade’s upset of Virginia and Ralph Sampson. I can’t see the L.A. Clippers ever doing that to the Mavs or Heat.

The NCAA Tournament, itself is a showcase of David, not Goliath. The little guys who led their teams to new levels — Billy Donovan’s Providence team advancing to the 1987 Final Four. The heroics of Cleveland State’s Mouse McFadden, N.C. State’s Monte Towe, Valparaiso’s Homer Drew and a service academy led by David Robinson which toppled mighty Syracuse. Or the CAA’s George Mason and VCU each advancing to a Final Four in the last five years. Then there’s Butler, giving life to the Gene Hackman-led Hickory HS team in “Hoosiers.” It’s all storybook stuff absent in the pro game.

What else makes the college game better? Maybe it’s because college players have no agent or harem or paycheck or weapons arsenal or shark tanks in their living rooms or garages full of Bentleys. Maybe it’s modesty and a degree of innocence the fan prefers to embrace. For the ‘love of school” is a better attraction than “love of self.” During this two-year recession when the average Joe fears for his job and no longer looks at the mutual fund statements, it’s healthier to root for the “regular ” guy. Does anybody feel sorry for Kobe missing out on a million-dollar paycheck? OK, maybe his wife does.

Too bad the CBA isn’t healthier. That used to stand for the Continental Basketball Association but today is more commonly knows as a collective bargaining agreement. I once saw ex-Maryland guard JoJo Hunter play for the Albany (N.Y.) Patroons for Coach George Karl at the downtown Civic Center. Small crowd, rickety old gym, a heating system that didn’t work, cold hot dogs and meager pay-day for the CBA players. Those things, alone made it appealing. It had a small-college atmosphere. The lights in the ceiling weren’t all working. The public address system was scratchy and the uniforms on the same team didn’t match.

It was fun to see the starting lineups announced without erratic strobe lights, decibel meters on “tilt,” billowing smoke, seductive dance girls jiggling, ribbon lights gone wild and sirens blaring. Just give me the game of basketball and save the glitz for when the circus comes to town.

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