NBA unjustly cast as bogeyman for ills across sports
Posted: Thursday November 10, 2005 11:18AM; Updated: Thursday November 10, 2005 11:20AM
After his role in last year's Palace melee, the Pacers' Ron Artest has become the face of everything some feel is wrong with the NBA.
Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images
The other night at the dinner table I opened a packet of reader mail from Sports Illustrated and there were -- lo and behold! -- several positive responses to an NBA story I had written. Fortunately, my wife reacted quickly, yanking my face out of the meat loaf and administering smelling salts.
OK, I'm exaggerating. We weren't having meat loaf.
Covering the NBA these days is not unlike carrying the mail: You're flabbergasted when you get a compliment. Whenever strangers find out what I do (a couple weeks ago it happened at a wedding reception), I inevitably get what I call the Old White Guy Sermon. (There may in fact be old black guys delivering the same sermon -- I just haven't heard them.)
The Old White Guy Sermon (hereafter the OWGS) begins with a paean to the past. The sacred names of Bird, Jordan and Magic are conjured up, and sometimes we go back to West and Robertson and sometimes all the way back to Cousy and Russell. Then we move to last year's riot at the Palace of Auburn Hills. Then it's on to Allen Iverson and how he has single-handedly destroyed the city of Philadelphia, if not the entire republic. There is generally a dissertation on how traveling and double-dribbling are never called by optically challenged NBA referees. A mention of corn rows and tattoos can be reliably predicted. And quite often the OWGS ends with a tip of the fedora to the sacred game of college basketball and a reverie on how wonderful the world would be if everybody played like Duke.
From time to time in this space, as well as in the pages of the magazine, I have criticized the NBA. It is unquestionably a league with problems, and over the years I've felt that the league office has been slow to deal with some of them. But this engrained, knee-jerk negativity to the NBA is not only getting old but it's also unjust. (Particularly when you have to listen to it at a wedding.)
For this week's five-pack, then, I thought I'd dissect the major points of the OWGS, see what makes sense and what isn't worth two cents.
1. The players are bad guys.
Whenever I hear this, I ask the sermonizer to be specific. He usually can't get much beyond Ron Artest, Iverson and, of course, Kobe Bryant. I respond thusly: Artest is a deeply confused young man, Iverson dresses like he's 14 years old and sometimes acts like it, and Bryant, though he wasn't convicted in a court of law, made a big mistake. But there are deeply confused young men in every sport, not to mention deeply confused young men in journalism. My sons, 28 and 26, sometimes dress and act like they're 14. And the list of pro athletes who have faced charges of assaulting a woman is long and by no means exclusive to pro basketball.