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Now is a fine time to be a critic of professional sports. Rare is the American who cannot work up some manner of righteous anger about the state of balls and bats and pucks. It's the equivalent of tee ball critique: how tough is it to come down hard on steroid abuse (bad!) or players punching fans (uh, let's see, not for it)? So we throw out a name and then groove that stationary fastball: Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Ron Artest, Latrell Sprewell, Terrell Owens. Their transgressions are disturbing. They portend awful, horrible unspeakable things. They sully the (take your pick): integrity of the game, fan-player compact, venerated records we so cherish. Action must be taken, solutions proposed. The sky must be repaired before it falls. The games are sick; we must heal them. Or ... well, or what?
Or the games will die? (no)
Or we won't watch? (again, no)
Or we might be forced to take these games a little less, ahem, seriously? (getting warmer) Sports are, after all, entertainment. And last time I checked, entertainment benefited from drama. What is a story without characters, anyway? That's why Dennis Rodman was so wonderful when he was around. That's why we loved Jim McMahon. That's why Artest appearing on the Today Show and turning the broadcast into a QVC taping was one of the best entertainment moments of the fall. From a fan perspective, I can't stand Owens, but I'm thankful he's around. Villains just make the story better.
We pay athletes to put on a show. If the show sucks, we don't have to watch it. No one's forcing anyone to buy skybox seats, tune in to Monday Night Football or plunk down a Ben Franklin for that replica jersey. Hey, I loved the first three Star Wars movies, but felt no compulsion to pay to see the last two. In the same vein, I wouldn't pay good money to sit in an arena while part-time gymnasts shoot T-shirts into the stands and a team like the Atlanta Hawks muddles its way through a game. (Turns out, judging by the Hawks' attendance, I'm not the only one who feels that way). If we didn't watch sports, it wouldn't matter what the athletes did. They only affect us because we care. It's a choice.
Have a question or opinion for Chris? He might answer or address it in his next blog.
I'm not saying that steroid use in baseball isn't troubling, or that the Detroit melee wasn't disturbing, or that Owens isn't a jackass. It is and it was and he most certainly is. But there's an awful lot in this world that's far more troubling and far more disturbing. Sometimes that gets lost amid all the condemnation and doomsaying. They are, after all, just games.
Speaking of Entertainment..
Here are the top five NBA players I would pay to see play (apologies to Tim Duncan, Andrei Kirilenko and Ray Allen).
1. LeBron James: Watching him go up against Carmelo Anthony last week, the contrast couldn't have been sharper. Carmelo spent the game trying to prove how good he was. James did just that by trying to win the game. Nothing's more entertaining then watching a player who makes his teammates better. James has it all --- great court sense, explosive, remarkably mature for his age. No one's ever been this good this young.
2. Jason Kidd: Any fast break led by Kidd is worth watching. It's just a shame Kenyon Martin won't be topping off those alley-oops alongside Richard Jefferson. Not sure Brian Scalabrine brings the same authority to his finishes.
3. Kevin Garnett: It's great to see someone so good and so successful playing with such desire -- watch his facial expressions over the course of the game and it's like a one-man Masterpiece Theater. Like James and Kidd, Garnett makes his teammates better (notice a theme here?)
4. Manu Ginobili: Wonderfully unpredictable. He has the ability to flow down the court, seemingly never moving at a right angle and rounding off every turn. Great passer, good shooter and plays defense like a free safety, waiting to pick off long passes.
5. Steve Nash: The Suns are this year's version of last year's Nets and Nash is the reason. Watching him play is like watching a motorcycle weaving through a freeway of slow-moving traffic. Nash shoots the runner and floater better than anyone in the game.
Important Sports Thought from my Friend Owen
This week, Owen -- who wants to make it clear that he has not been offered the position of "The Czar" now that Mike Fratello has gone to Memphis, and that he wouldn't take it even if he were -- weighs in on Texas.
"So I see Mack Brown had to gin up a pity vote in the polls, rather than actually win his first big game (defeating Georgia Tech in 1993 does NOT count) during the season, or a conference championship, to go to a BCS bowl. The voters should print up a bunch of bumper stickers that say "PROUD PARENT OF A TERRIFIC KID AT UT-AUSTIN" because this honor is about as meaningful, about as merited, and similarly based on no standard of achievement."
So there you have it. And to those of you who wrote in last week with thoughts on the college football playoff scenario, thanks for the e-mails. Until next week, don't let all Christmas music drive you mad...