Jun 10, 2012

Sports Frustration

I have been frustrated as a sports fan of late.  In case you are not sure why, let me recap.  First of all, my favorite sport has always been football.  However, I am quickly becoming disgusted with it.  There was the stupid labor disagreement last year, with billionaires and millionaires fighting over who got more of the gigantic pile of money on the table.  Then the Saints - a team that I had somewhat gotten behind in recent years - was shown to be a bunch of cheating cheap shot artists.  And overreaching all of that, there is the concussion fiasco which (in my opinion) has a legitimate shot at ending the existence of the sport for good within a few years.  [Just for fun, you should go read this exchange between Bill Simmons and Malcolm Gladwell, especially page two.  The whole thing is interesting.  But the section about concussion is nauseating.  My favorite part?  The illustration about how the hits kids get in Pop Warner football being the same as having your child sitting in the front seat without a seatbelt and getting in repeated 25 mph accidents.  Go sign them up!]

In addition to this, I have apparently developed a nasty tendency to pick team that fail to live up to their potential.  This is played out in just about every sport with my beloved UCF Knights.  Our football team last year does great, wins its first bowl game, and comes back largely intact.  They start off the year great and then proceed to drop faster into the toilet than ... never mind.  Then there was the basketball team, which raced out to a stunning record - even beating UConn at one point.  They too decided to stink it up, ending up missing the NCAA tournament and getting waxed in the NIT.  Then in baseball, they team was ranked in the Top 10 at one point.  They actually went into the final month of the season with a chance at hosting a regional bracket.  Then after unexplainable losses to mighty Presbyterian and Memphis they starting to list to the side.  Then they went into the final weekend with the chance to take the conference title away from Rice - who had won it for 19 years in a row.  Keep in mind, this series was AT HOME.  Choke.  Then they got into the regional in Miami and promptly won their first two games.  First seed Miami got booted immediately, which meant UCF had to lose two games to Stony Brook - which, as far as I know, is an apartment complex in Tampa.  Now, they had already beaten Stonyfield Farms once in the bracket.  And they lost two in a row by a combined score of 22-11.  Go Knights.

I have tried to get into hockey.  This year I was fervently watching the playoffs.  Thanks to NBC's excellent coverage, I was actually able to see my Nashville Predators for all of their games but one.  They finally vanquished their nemesis, the Detroit Red Wings.  They were one of the hottest teams in the NHL.  They had a top-notch goalie playing out of his mind.  And they were an outside pick to go on a run and make it to the Stanley Cup (like the Kings ultimately did).  So, naturally, they got destroyed by Phoenix and went home early.  My other fringe sport hasn't done well, either, with the US Men's Soccer team missing the Olympics all together.  Combine all that with the fact that I can't stand baseball, only caring enough to keep track of the Rays, and it spells sports disappointment.

Then there's basketball.  For years I have been a Magic fan.  That comes with living most of my adult life in or near Orlando.  Apparently, being a Magic fan means you will never experience sports joy.  You will be teased off an on.  You'll have ridiculous luck with the lottery.  You will see your team grow and strive and blossom.  They will draw you in and get you to care about them.  There will be one superstar and several other good players.  You'll get close, but never close enough.  And then your superstar will jerk you around and toy with your emotions.  He will claim to be loyal and sneak around trying to find ways to leave.  He finally will get so irritating you, as a fan, will find yourself pushing him out of town.  As he lands somewhere else and wins a bunch of titles that should have been yours, you will wonder what just happened.  You will spend the next few years watching an AAU team wearing Magic uniforms.  Then you'll win the lottery again and start the process all over.

I've been pretty ambivalent about basketball for a while.  This year, I literally did not watch a single NCAA tournament game.  I think that hasn't happened since I was a baby.  Somehow one of my brackets won in one of my groups.  How I managed that is beyond me.  I would watch the occasional NBA game, but I didn't follow it much.  I kept up with the Magic soap opera because the local media covered it with the ferocity of the Casey Anthony trial.  [Side Note - what is it with Florida and bizarre trials and news items?  Bush/Gore, Anthony, now Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman and the Miami Zombie.  There must be something in the water.]  I found myself watching the playoffs, though.  I would put my usual kiss of death on a team.  Once I started cheering for them, they would collapse.  Exhibit A: Orlando.  Exhibit B: San Antonio.  Now we are sitting here, waiting for the Finals to start.

As with most sports fans, I will probably watch some of the series.  But I honestly don't have any idea who to root for in this matchup.  Between Oklahoma City and Miami, you have just about everything wrong with professional sports on display.  The natural villain is Miami.  I detest the Heat.  First of all, they are in Miami.  To my sports mind, if a team plays in Miami, New York, LA, or Boston they automatically are the "bad guys."  I can't stand any of the teams from South Florida.  Maybe it is because I have unresolved issues with growing up down there, I don't know.  Miami has geography against it.  The second reason I hate the Heat is because they highlight one of the biggest problems with the NBA - the officiating.  More than in any other sport, the refs in basketball can hijack a game.  The officiating is deplorable in basketball.  There are two sets of standards - one for regular players and one for stars.  Things like travelling, fouls, technicals are called differently depending on the name on the shirt.  It works both ways, though.  Dwight Howard has to get hit with a steel chair before the ref blows the whistle; Kobe Bryant gets blown on and he goes to the line.  I hate it when there are two sets of rules.  It is like Ancient Rome in the NBA.  If you are a player of high status, you can get away with anything.

People will always say that I only say this because I hate the Heat.  No, I say this because it is true.  This has been part of that team's history for years.  When they beat Dallas a few years ago for the title, Danny Ocean wondered how they pulled off that heist.  Once LeBron and Bosh showed up, it only got worse.  The foul discrepancy in the Boston series was ridiculous.  Wade travels on every play.  He and James draw fouls on just about every play they want to - and by draw, I mean they draw up an IOU for the ref for $50 after the game.  It drives me nuts.

The biggest reason I hate the Heat is LeBron James.  I grew up in the day when a player stayed with his team forever.  You liked a player and a team and couldn't separate them.  That hardly happens any more.  Yet, James had the right to go play wherever he wants.  And so did Shaq and so does Dwight Howard.  But in sports there has always been this agreement between the fans and the players.  The players play their hearts out and do their best and are loyal, and we will keep paying the money and heaping on the love.  That has always been the way.  But that isn't good enough now.  These player movements are not about getting a better chance to start or even make more salary.  Shaq took less to play with the Lakers than Orlando.  LeBron took less to take his talents to South Beach.  Howard will make less anywhere else.  It isn't even about titles.  It is about these other cities give them more opportunities - to act, to get endorsements, to build their brand.  That is hard for me as a fan to stomach.  I always felt that the way Miami went about getting James, Bosh, and Wade smelled funny.  There is no way it was on the up and up.  I didn't like the way James left Cleveland.  And I don't like the way he plays.  To me, he isn't a player I can get behind.  I know that there are huge LeBron fans, especially in Florida.  But I am not one of them.  Ordinarily, that would be enough to swing me into Thunder Country.


Let's not forget how Oklahoma City landed their team.  If Miami is the poster child for how poorly players treat franchises and fan bases, then the Thunder are the poster child for how badly owners do.  Seattle was a franchise with a great history.  They had won the title.  They had been there several other times.  There was a rabid fan base.  This wasn't some city that didn't support the team.  But the owner say an opportunity.  He got the NBA leadership to back his play.  And he bailed on the city right when they team was about to explode.  They had just scored Kevin Durant in the draft and had started to stockpile talent.  There was hope for the future.  And then they were gone.

I remember when the Colts left Baltimore in the middle of the night in Mayflower trucks.  I remember when Baltimore returned the favors and stole the Browns from Cleveland and left them with some pathetic expansion team - and then promptly won a Super Bowl.  Owners go to their home city and say, "I am a billionaire.  But I am not going to build my own stadium (unless they are Jerry Jones).  I want YOU to pay for it.  I want YOU to give me tax breaks and special considerations.  I want YOU to market my team and support it.  I want YOU to put up posters and banners.  I want your citizens to cheer for us.  BUT, if you don't do that, I will take my team and move to some other city who will."  How is that right? Again, going back to that trust between fans and their teams.  I will cheer for you if you will stay here and put out a good product.  There have been times in the not too distant past where the Magic threatened to move if they didn't get their huge new Amway Center.  The Bucs threatened to leave (to Orlando) if Raymond James wasn't built.  The Jaguars still are threatening it.  It happens everywhere.  It just happened with the Minnesota Vikings.  Can you imagine the Vikings playing anywhere else but Minnesota?  But it almost happened.

So the Sonics bailed on their fans.  Well, the players didn't; the owner did.  And now Seattle is looking on at this series, knowing that this should have been their team to support.  The worst part is that the Thunder are such a fun team to like.  They at least present themselves and market themselves in the right way.  As Bill Simmons said in that article I mentioned, they are the Anti-Heat.  Kevin Durant is the Anti-LeBron.  But their ownership is the other side of what is wrong with sports.  Basically, you have all three things that make it hard to love basketball at play in this series.  You have horrible officials who ruin games.  You have players who have no loyalty.  And you have owners who are willing to do anything to earn a few extra dollars.  Sure, I'm old fashioned and expect too much out of sports personalities.  But I'm not the only fan out there who feels this way.  Instead of being the highlight of the season, it makes me not want to watch.  I'm kind of burned out on being frustrated by sports.

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