Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sycophants

Color me curmudgeon, but I’m not infected with Madness anymore.

Not since Carmelo Anthony led Syracuse to the national championship in 2003 have I paid attention to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament from start to finish. While interest at that time was tepid at best, it has dropped to Dubya-like approval rating levels in the last six years.

In fact, this Scribe has watched a whopping total of thirty-five minutes of college basketball in the entire regular season.

It wasn’t always this way as for someone with a vested interest in professional sports, I was anxious to see who really had the talent to make it to the elite level. I wanted to see who would be grossly overhyped, overrated and overwhelmed when they arrived. I also wanted to unearth players that were not considered in the National Player of the Year race who would turn out to become solid, if not great pros. I studied the players with my own eyes as opposed drinking the Kool-Aid served up publicly or privately by the media and friends.

Yet, for every column, comment or conversation I have come across in regards to the collegiate game over the years, someone feels obliged to take a shot at the pros; specifically the NBA.

It’s something that has bothered me for quite some time for reasons too numerous to list. Yet at the core of this frustration are these tried-and-true exclamations:
  • There are too many teams in the NBA: The NBA features thirty teams, all made from buckets of what are the 500 best players in the known universe compared to 349 teams that consist of 95% Intramural All-Stars, 3% future collegiate assistant coaches and 2% that might get at least a Summer League invitation.
    And can you realistically believe that the hustle-for-cash expansion of Division I has been financially viable for every team?

  • They play with passion!: Ano unfair judgment that is made without knowing the individual’s psyche, routine and off-court life. Sure, there are pros out there who may not exude the telltale signs of passion; a lot of screaming and scowling, getting in people’s faces when game plans go awry, those head-in-hand moments as a senior realizes his athletic career ended on a buzzer-beater. Yet, if anyone besides media could ever witness a professional locker room in person after a close loss, you may discover that passion – like leadership, savvy and other intangibles we wax poetic about – isn’t always in full view of the public. In looking for the obvious and borderline-obnoxious signs (see Eric Devendorf), you’ll miss the more subtle and profound displays.

  • They’re more fundamentally sound than the pros: When you graduated from high school, were you more fundamentally sound than you were in college? For those who went to college, do you find that you are more fundamentally sound that you are now?
    Your answers should both be ‘no’. The idea that college players are better than the professionals because they “don’t dunk all over the place” is ludicrous. It’s ludicrous because when you are a professional at anything in life, the ivory tower ideals are continuously challenged and either supplemented or rejected with real-life experience.

  • It’s about the TEAM, not one player: If you’re sick of hearing about Dwayne Wade, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and the NBA’s other stars, think about this: when we suddenly fell in love with the sharpshooting Stephen Curry, did we take the time to learn the names of any other player from Davidson? Can anyone name someone on the snubbed St. Mary’s team besides Patty Mills? Who notched up assists for Gonzaga when Adam Morrison shot the lights out of Western region arenas at tourney time? Take your time in answering.

  • (My favorite) They play harder than the pros!: Really?!?! While there are certainly folks in this world who loaf through their days, one of the most unfair things we do as a society is to question someone’s work ethic from afar.
    When you’re a professional – especially one who had to fight amongst many others to earn a coveted job – your livelihood is at stake with every key stroke, every presentation, every brick laid and every mid-range jump shot taken. You improve because of one or more of the following: A) you enjoy/need that income, B) you see something that can be improved and need to correct it, C) being in the company of like-minded and/or skilled individuals breeds healthy competition and greater production or D) there are other like-minded and/or skilled individuals who will take your spot if you are unable to perform.
You have to understand again that I once loved the college game. As a young child, I watched both men and women’s (that’s right, equal opportunity viewing) amateur games just about as much as the professionals; in reality, it was as much as a non-cable household could watch sports. As I grew older and cable finally arrived at the Clinkscales’ doorstep, I discovered a gluttonous serving of all levels of the games I loved.

In particular, it was basketball that gained much more of my attention as I would be able to see some of the best teams and players from all corners of the country. While having an athletic program was not a consideration for my choice of college – Babson College is a Division III school, but actually quite good – I have a healthy respect for the school-wide camaraderie and pride a successful one creates for the student body and alumni. Some of the larger schools I was accepted to would have provided such experiences; experiences that admittedly would have kept my interest in the ‘old college try’ far stronger than it is today.

Yet, the continued claims of integrity by NCAA sycophants at the expense of the NBA and its fans, no matter how false and absurd, have weathered this soul. They truly believe that because their athletes are not (legally) paid that the virtues of the game show themselves basket after basket. They truly believe that the money professionals earn makes every play less meaningful and less aesthetically pleasing. They believe that the control wielded by the coaches - men who may lead amateurs, but have no qualms with parading down the sidelines in thousand-dollar designer suits – keeps the game of basketball pure and uncompromised.

Why NCAA basketball fans assail on their NBA counterparts is beyond me. The NBA fan – one who certainly is aware of the league’s perception issues and criticisms – is one who has a great respect for the game. That respect, more often than not, is shunned by their collegiate partners because a majority of those in the NCAA camp can’t move beyond the fact that a select group of players are handsomely compensated to display their talents and passions to the world.

So to everyone consumed by this year’s tournament, enjoy yourselves. This is your time to shine in the spotlight and there’s no doubt that one player or one team will provide an everlasting memory for someone in the masses. Yet, the next time you say to yourself that “this is why I hate the NBA”, consider this comment from today’s op-ed from the New York Times’ Timothy Egan, who extolled the ‘virtues’ of the NCAA tourney:
“Spare us the poetic waxing and shilling for a hypocritical sport that is a huge cashcow for everyone except the players, unless they cheat.”

2 comments:

Travis said...

Amen to that. I just don't have the interest. Though maybe it could be due to having no vested interest (since the ol' alma mater doesn't participate). Eh.

Anonymous said...

Great post! I agree with you.

There are many more perceptions about the NBA you didn't mention. Off the top of my head, regular season games are boring and meaningless (despite the fact I've seen countless amazing regular season games this year and despite the fact that almost every game counts now...just take a quick look at the standings and at the crazy playoffs race going on and I dare you to tell me those games are meaningless); or people saying that there's not much talent in the league (it's exactly the opposite, there's LOT of talent in the league), or people saying that NBA players can't shoot free-throws (which is kinda funny since the free-throw % in the league is at an all-time high this season, and is higher than in college hoops...so why didn't those people complain about NBA players not being able to make free throws 10-20 years ago when the F.T. % was lower than it is now? Or if they really want to blame players not making free-throws, they can always blame college players or, like the NCAA wants us to say, "student-athletes" but I disgress).

Or how about the complaint that the last minute of a close NBA game lasts too much? Maybe it's true but you can say the same about college. I was watching Missouri-Memphis today and the last 2 minutes lasted 20 minutes or something like that. I love how they conveniently ignore it. But if the same happens in the NBA they go all crazy.

Another complaint is that "they don't play defense in the NBA", which is ridiculous. Doc Rivers, the coach of the Celtics, said: "That's one you always hear, and then the [college] players get up here and realize they didn't play defense there [in college].''

As far as those people who say NBA players don't know the fundamentals of the game, well IF it's true then this should say a lot about the college game since most of the players in the league used to play in college before turning pro. And don't give me the excuse that high school kids jumping straight into the NBA is the reason you don't watch pro hoops because 1)you have to stay at least one year in college before joining the pros (I've seen people who still don't know about the age-limit...go figure) and 2) most of the players who skipped college are great players (did you ever hear about Kobe? LeBron? Garnett? McGrady?).

And one of the things I hate the most is when college fans or non-basketball fans say that NBA players don't care. Sure, this could be true for some players (and you can say the same thing for just about every other sport, not just the NBA) but you can't tell me that everyone or most of the players in the league don't care. So, are you telling me that players like Wade, Kobe, LeBron, Paul, Deron Williams, Roy, Nowitzky, Pierce, Garnett, Duncan, Ginobili, Parker, Yao and countless others don't care? Seriously? Or they don't care just because every now and then some players and teams have a bad game? Do people realize that, unlike college, they play 82 games in the NBA and players spend most of the time traveling from a city to another? So it's not humanly possible to have amazing performances night in and night out. It's obvious teams and players will have bad games during an 82-game regular season. You don't need to have a high I.Q. to realize it (unless you are in denial).

And do people realize that most of the players they are trashing are the SAME players they used to cheer for in college? So, are you telling me that players like Derrick Rose, Mayo, Durant, Westbrook, Brook Lopez etc. (players you used to cheer for until few months ago) are bums who couldn't care a less? Are you telling me that, say, Blake Griffin, Stephen Curry etc. are going to lose the passion they have for the game the day they'll become pro and you will start trashing them? Seriously? If so, don't call yourself a basketball fan and go watch something else.

And if those college fans really love basketball, how could they not be excited to watch the best basketball players in the world playing the game at the highest level possible? How could they not be excited to watch all the great young talent in the league? How could they not be excited about one of the greatest MVP races in sports history? I am sorry but I don't get it.


Personally, I don't hate the college game. I used to watch lots of games until 2-3 years ago but I noticed that everytime I was reading a college basketball article someone (the writer of the article or someone in the comments section) never failed to take the opportunity to trash the pro game. And the same is happening these days. Stuff like that started to turn me off and I started watching less and less games (note to college fans, that's not the way you promote your game: if college games are really exciting to watch you can say it without bringing down other sports leagues and their fans). So that's a big reason why I don't watch as many college games as I used to. I watch it every now and then (mainly to "scout" potential NBA talent) and I watch several games during March Madness. That's it. The thing I really hate is that when college fans witness a great college game many of them are so quick to say stuff like "that's why the NBA does nothing to me". But I rarely see NBA fans doing the same and trashing the college game when they see a great NBA game. So that's a thing that drives me crazy.


End of rant.