There was a time when I could name the starting players 0f every team in the NBA. Today, I can’t name one player on the Philadelphia 76ers, or the Boston Celtics. Not one.
Come to think of it, I can’t think of one player on the New York Knicks– a team that once had class acts like Willis Reed, Dick Barnett, Bill Bradley, Dave DeBusschere and my all-time favorite, Walt Frazier. The only sports autograph I ever sought was from Frazier who showed up at an Elks Club dinner in New Rochelle many years ago when I was a high school sophomore.
Frazier epitomized grace under pressure. In truth, the whole Knick team of that era lived up to Hemingwayesque principles of selfless stoicism in the face of adversity. They were intelligent, methodical and they played as a team because that’s what basketball is; it’s a team sport.
Now, this isn’t the wailing of an old fogey. All things weren’t better in my day.
And it’s not that I outgrew basketball. It’s still a great a game.
The problem is that the hype, greed and glorification of outlaw personalities have ruined it as a team sport. It’s just a circus now, barely better than professional wrestling.
I can’t root for any franchise, or care about any individual player.
Last Thursday, at about 9:25 p.m., I tuned in to the LeBron James reality show on ESPN, figuring that the carnival hucksters who put on that production would milk the thing for at least 25 minutes before asking the Money Question. I was right, and in less than a minute the soft-spoken James sleepily and anti-climatically replied that he was signing with the Miami Heat.
To be honest, if he had gone to my once beloved Knicks I would have tuned in to watch some games next season. At least I finally would have had a reason to tune into the MSG network, which accounts for part of my extraordinarily expensive cable TV bill. Cablevision, as you probably know, is owned by the Dolan family who also own the Knicks. They’ve done a cracker-jack job of ensuring the team’s continued mediocrity.
Well, the good news is that I can think of other things next year.
The James announcement was an empty-calorie spectacle, typical of the age of hype which concentrates less on actual athletic achievement and more and more on off-field events like zillion-dollar contract signings. This trend probably began 40 years ago with the advent of free agency in baseball. But it has certainly accelerated with the artificial suspense surrounding such events as the NFL’s annual college draft, involving the selections of “top prospects” who may never be heard from again.
My favorite over-the-top moment, however, has to be sportscaster Suzyn Waldman’s orgasmic celebration over the announcement that Roger Clemens, a thoroughly unlikeable man, had returned to the Yankees. As it turned out, Clemens contributed only a few wins to their effort for millions of dollars.
I can’t blame the smart guys who know there’s a sucker born every minute. No, the most bizarre aspect of the LeBron James snore-fest was the reaction of the fans all over the country, particularly in the suitor cities. In Miami, live cameras set up in sports bars captured the joy and hysteria of young, post-adolescent doofuses in sports jerseys jumping up and down as if they had been delivered from purgatory.
How sad. Sadder still, was the report that a disappointed Knick fan broke down and cried in the middle of Times Square.
This is what it has come to. We really are in trouble as a nation.