Sunday, November 21, 2004

Thugs on the Court...
Normally I don't follow basketball. It was not my favorite sport growing up and I was never really any good at it anyway. I believe that for that reason alone, I never took an interest.

However, I do watch SportsCenter on ESPN. I do watch the news (go Fox!) about 12 hours a day, as well. What I saw today made me a) laugh and b) wan't to vomit.

Here in Charlotte, the only sports talk you typically hear is about NASCAR or the Panthers, but today, everyone was talking about the nasty altercation that took place the night before in Detroit, where the Pistons and the Pacers decided to get down and dirty with under a minute to go.

By now everyone knows the story; Ron Artest of Indiana smacks Ben Wallace of Detroit in the back of the head. Why Artest had to foul him is beyond me (I know at least THAT much about basketball), and why he chose this particular way of doing it eludes me as well. Suffice it to say, that Wallace was not amused, and a shoving match ensued. The shoving match quickly degenerated into a bench-clearing brawl which eventually included the entire arena.

Now what struck me as funny about the whole thing is how basketball players fight. I was raised on hockey, where fisticuffs are as common as fleas on a dog (or at least they used to be), and boxing, so, I know a good fight when I see one. I know a good fighter when I see one too. Which is why this was comical.

Basketball players fight like spastic girls, merely pushing and slapping at one another. At least baseball players (the second worst sports pugilists) attempt to tackle each other and rol around in the grass. These slaps are typicaly delivered over someone's back (typically the poor referee who tries to get in between the combatants, or another player, preferably taller than the aggressor). When two players do finally get some room to throw down, they lunge at one another in a way that reminds one of an ungainly teenager making his first stab at a virgin's privates --- clumsy and usually inaccurate --- before they fall over one another or someone breaks it up. They then posture like pro wrestlers and display a nasty attitude to their would-be opponent, which is supposed to indicate macho, but it was obvious from the start that the aggressor's true purpose is to cover for the fact that he throws punches like a girl.

Now we've all seen boxers stand toe-to-toe and hockey players trade punches for what seems hours at a time, and they do so because one of the manly rules of their respective sports is that you have to show up. You can't take a punch and run to a referee, you can't give an opponent the idea that you're soft, or you're finished. So, if it means taking a bunch of stitches, or a broken nose, or losing some teeth, that's the price you pay for standing up and being counted, no matter how bad it hurts. It's part of being a man. Basketball players do not fall into this category, in my opinion, when it comes to being tough. In the NBA, attitude is supposed to substitute for real guts.

Now for the vomiting part.

Someone please explain this to me; Artest starts a mini-brawl, then lays down on the scorer's table? Where is the display of machismo in that? Where is the logic? What the HELL was that all about, showboating? Good idea -- start a fight, run away from it and then assume a position of total submission. Of course, laying out there on the table as if he was about to have prostate surgery, Artest became a target for that other retarded denizen of the NBA --- the fan. You know, the guy who paid an inflated ticket price to watch a man bounce a ball up a hardwood floor and then throw a hissy fit that the other girls couldn't help but join in?

A fan tossed a beverage at him. Why is a question. Fans are not suppposed to get involved, although I do understand that some sports fans do quaff adult beverages in unseemly quantities and they ocasionally do stupid things too. The beverage caused Artest to fly into a rage and make an attempt to assault the fan. His teammates joined him. More fans joined in. A melee reminiscent of the Zulu attack on Roark's Drift ensued, as assholes and elbows flew everywhere.

This will make ya sick when you watch it.

At the end of it all, we have a game cut short, three players suspended, at least two fans assaulted and children crying their eyes out watching a battle take place.

When something like this happens, I start to think about what the heck is actually going on here. How could a basketball game turn so violent? Now, I understand the competitive nature of professional athletes. I understand that Artest, although he's an ass for starting the whole thing, doesn't deserve to get beer tossed on him and disrespected like that. I understand that some fans (in any sport) are a little too drunk, stupid or obsessed with the personalities in the game, and often do dumb things like this. But heck, it's not as if basketball is a CONTACT sport!

Across the border in South Carolina, not 12 hours later, the SC-Clemson game was also marred by a sidelines-clearing melee. Now football IS a contact sport, and yes, tempers can flare. But at least in football, you get a chance to get even when you drill a guy on the next play, and provided it's done legally, I have no problem with that. But this is getting ridiculous.

A great number of athletes today are absolute punks. Manyof them just have that punk look to them and it wouldn't suprise you if after a game, they were waiting outside grocery stores for little old ladies to "escort" home. In the aftermath of the basketball brawl, I discover on the news that 40% of the players in the NBA have prior criminal records. Football has similar numbers. I remember last hockey season when the Pittsburgh Penguins signed a player who had served time for statutory rape and hockey fans were furious that he was allowed to play. The man played home games only, since he was on parole at the time. Still, that's one guy in the whole league. Yes, in recent years, we have seen incidents like the McSorely clubbing of Donald Brashear, the Pearl Harbor job Todd Bertuzzi did on an Avalanche player and the thuggery of Matt Johnson on Jeff Beukaboom, and a host of others. However, hockey has a remedy for those kinds of things: the game allows fighting, which is a safety valve on flaring tempers. The NHL, by cracking down on fighting in recent years, has removed that safety and we've seen ever more vicious incidents a s a result.

But your typical NHL'er does not usually come from an impoverished background (hockey equipment is VERY expensive), where his talent allowed him to sail through schools without producing, flirt with the criminal justice system and come away from it only slightly singed because of his talent, and then have millions of dollars in contracts, signing bonuses and endorsements thrown at him before he even finished high school.

This happens regularly in the NBA.

Consequently, the players have no self-restraint since they've gotten away with everything in life. They have attitudes that develop from zooming from street kid to multi-millionaire in a relatively short time, and the maturity level of the typical democrat. In this case, was it really a surprise that Ron Artest just coincidentally has a rap album coming out, too? It's par for the course --- get an immature illiterate, thrust more money than he's ever seen in his face and tell him he's something special 24-hours a day, and just expect him to NOT be a punk. All we see nowadays at what used to be pleasant events (sporting events) is spitting, punching, assaulting, trash-talking and taunting, designed to get a 5 second spot on SportsCenter. The raunchier and more disgusting the behavior, the more air time it gets. The integrity of the game, the pride of accomplishment, the thrill of comeptetion is gone: it's now all about attitude and self-promotion.

The NBA, and all sports for that matter, have to start holding players accountable. Commisioner David Stern did the right thing by announcing indefinite suspensions for all the major players. The DA in Detroit is investigating possible criminal charges. Fine. But in the end, you know what will happen: the players will be reinstated, if any charges are pressed there will be community service as punishment. The principals will be able to go back to making a shitload of money for playing a game. We go back to worshipping them as celebrities. The cycle begins again.

We all complain about our society going to hell in a handbasket, and that SOMETHING should be done. How about we clean up the crap that inhabits our sporting venues first?

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