Everybody Cheats, Teamwork Doesn’t Win, and Other Realities about Sports

Rajon Rondo.

(More on this later)

So, Kentucky is about to win the NCAA tournament, as Chuck Klosterman nicely surmises, and that means we have to face a fundamental shift in how college basketball understands itself. He’s totally right. After reading his column, I have shifted from ever-hating John Calipari to rooting for them to win tomorrow night. Kentucky’s got a great team, full of great guys. The coach is playing by the rules, exploiting them for what they allow. There is no hallowed amateurism of college sports, at least not in basketball and football. Stop pretending its about the Butler Bulldogs and VCI. It’s about a dozen teams playing minor league sports. I’m cool with that. Just pay the players.

Except, he’s wrong. This already happened and it’s not like a Kansas win is going to stop it. I know Calipari keeps losing, but even Coach K isn’t much different. He adds a few four-year hard workers to his lineup from time to time, he’s a good coach, and he even graduates first class guys like Grant Hill; but he’s got the same corrupt system. He’s just more polished about it. Kansas? Syracuse? Texas? UConn? Florida? UCLA? Arizona? Michigan? Ohio State? Louisville? Cincinnati? The only school that can maintain any pride and integrity is Cal.  They’ve refused to win, and they made Jason Kidd go not one year, but two years to school.  (People forget that he went two years; they forget this because he only attended class one year, but he was in the lineup for two).

So, the New Orleans Saints used bounties to maim QBs, and that means we have to face a fundamental shift in how the NFL understands itself. This makes no sense. These guys hit and maim all the time. They get paid salaries to hit and maim. Add some bar money and all of a sudden it interferes with the spirit of the sport? No shame, NFL. You can’t parade out most of your famous veterans because most can barely walk, and you single out one team for going beyond the rules? Would you feel better if they used letters of marque instead?

And Ryan Braun won the MVP last year despite being tested positive for performance enhancing drugs, and that means we have to face a fundamental shift in how MLB understands itself. How so? They’ve been doing performance enhancing drugs for decades. They only started then and not earlier because the players didn’t use to think muscle helped them hit and throw. And who complains about their ‘cheating?’ Congressmembers, of all people, who are so bloated and uncompetitive from all the cash they receive, that it’s harder for them to lose re-election than for a player to hit a homerun. Seriously. Check out the math.

And when LeBron, D-Wade, and Bosh pull off the NBA championship this spring, it will mean that we will also have to face a fundamental shift in how we understand NBA competition and the concept of the team. Three guys dictated where they wanted to go, and now basketball isn’t about building a team, but about individuals. Or at least, the morally virtuous founder of Quicken Loans accused them of this. And even he’s forgetting that the Celtics were 3 guys (in part because KG did the honorable thing and got out of the Twin Cities; and is it karma that 5 years later, the new power forward in Minnesota, Kevin Love, is being compared to a young Larry Bird and KG is being compared to an older Kevin McHale?), and the Lakers were 2 guys (because Kobe and Shaq wanted to play in Hollywood), and Bill Laimbeer, Isaiah Thomas, and Joe Dumars sulked until they could bring their talents together in the motor city.

Ok, the last one isn’t totally true. But basketball has been a star league since…like, at least 2004. Larry Legend often instructed KC Jones on lineup changes while he was on the court. Wilt scored 100 points in a game. Nothing spells team like 100 points by a single player. Scottie Pippen sat out a final play of a playoff game. Robert Horry threw a towel on his coach. And now ‘Melo screwed up Jeremy Lin’s knee because he was jealous of the publicity. Steve Novak better watch his discount-double-check.

The point of all of this is that we love it when all these asshole me-first competitors lose. We root for the Mavs over the Heat and Jeremy Lin over Kobe and everyone–even the morally bankrupt Rick Pitino–against John Calipari teams. But our entire system is set up to provide for the opposite, and its time we stop feigning outrage every time the system–as it is portrayed–is ‘exposed.’ It’s not corruption, it’s the rules of the game, and a lot more people are in on it than Calipari, ‘Melo, and Sean Payton. Let’s just enjoy the inequity of it all from our $100 seats in the fourth deck with our $9 4-inch ‘super dog’. (And while I’m at it–why won’t the announcers at March Madness games ever mention that 80 percent of the arenas are empty because the NCAA forces fans to buy a ticket to every game of the four day weekend set, meaning almost no one is at any game except for their own team. The only screaming and madness is in the bar–the arenas are empty).  Stop pretending it’s something else.

The Celtics have moved into first in the Atlantic–they now have a real shot to make it to the second round of the playoffs. 14 of Rajon Rondo’s triple-doubles are in nationally televised games. He’s awesome. He’s now the number 1 point guard in the NBA. Wait, I just saw this. Maybe, he’s number 2. But, when Rondo is on, the Celtics are energized, and that team is dangerous. If they can grab third place from Orlando, they could push hard on the Heat in round 2. I don’t like them against the Bulls, but the Heat…see the post directly below this.

On the other hand, this picture is awesome, too. If C’s lose, I might have to root for these guys.

A nice picture of the Heat, and Starbury wins an emotional championship in China in the same week? I might have to put the snark away for a while. Fortunately…

It’s spring time, and that means the elite snobs start promoting the various elitist virtues of baseball. George Will, the guy who made Moneyball and Field of Dreams, the guy who did the documentary 9 Innings.  Sappy, majestic, and really slow moving. Even the guy (Chad Harbach) who wrote the disappointing Art of Fielding–the president of the university is gay and he loves one of the players? In baseball, that’s considered shocking. In basketball, the player sleeps with the star’s mom. Much more interesting.

Michael Kazin, in particular, makes absurd claim after absurd claim. Part of the absurdity is that he thinks baseball is more internally competitive than other sports because the poor teams can compete with the rich teams. He even points to the Pittsburgh Pirates being competitive last year!! (They last were in the world series in 1979; in those 32 years in between, the New York Yankees have been to the world series 8 times and the Pirates finished last about 28 times).  He also claims that baseball has less racial tension, which he bases on the fact that there is a larger white population in the sport. Interesting. Michael Kazin is a very smart man. Maybe he’s writing tongue in cheek? If not, he and Piers Morgan should debate racial sensitivity sometime; they both seemed to have learned it by hanging out with lots of white people.


Goodbye, Linsanity 2012. It was a great run.


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