Tuesday, November 8, 2005

I Ain't Got No Basketball Jones

I am not a basketball fan. Never have been, never will be.

A simple enough statement don’t you think? In fact, you could say it would fit nicely on a set of business cards that I could hand out to all my male acquaintances that, in my view, are way too enamored of this sport. I’m not sure where the attraction for this game comes from; sometimes I think my peers are relieving themselves of pent up sexual frustration, with an unhealthy focus on this and other sports. Any five minutes spent listening to sports radio tends to confirm this view, and when you think about it my theory would also go a long way to explaining the outbreak of violence at that Pacer’s game last year.

Whatever it is, there is one definitive truth in the world today, and simply stated that truth is that basketball, in any of its forms, sucks.

In the spirit of full disclosure I probably need to acknowledge that me and basketball, well, you could say we have a “troubled” history. I’ve always been very competitive and as a boy enjoyed playing in all the big sports. Football was by far my favorite, but I also enjoyed baseball and had an interest in playing basketball as well.

So it was with great enthusiasm, and perhaps less talent, that I went out for the team in fifth grade. Of course, as a natural athlete of uncommon skill I was able to make the team despite a lack of basketball specific knowledge or experience. I quickly grasped the basics, rebounded with the best of fifth graders, and my shooting skills, while not accomplished, demonstrated a certain level of promise.

So what was the problem? Well, I’m sorry to say it but the sport seemed to be populated with a bunch of wussies who couldn’t take a little contact! As a result of these timid little momma’s boys, me and the officials became quite familiar with each other early on in each game, and I resultantly received the proud designation as the team’s “hatchet man”.

Unfortunately, this also resulted in a reduced amount of playing time for young Pursuit, a situation to which I had been previously unaccustomed. None-the-less, I was undeterred. When I entered the game to “slow down” (my coach’s words) an opposing player who had the hot hand, I remained committed to demonstrating the promise of basketball as a semi-contact sport but found no avail. It seems the referees were just as determined to enforce the draconian standards of the game that were, no doubt, dreamed up by Dr. James Naismith’s mom. In fact, anybody here want to bet that Dr. James nailed that peach basket to the post in the first place as a direct result of the fact that his mom wouldn’t let him play football?

I didn’t think so.

Well by now you all can see were this is going. I was determined to play the game as I thought it should be played, and the officials were just as committed to thwarting my attempts at improvements to the game. The back and forth of this joust continued until that fateful Saturday morning in February of 1972 when I received my fifth foul in the first quarter of the game against the Pioneer Park Pirates. I remember it like it was yesterday. I stood there, an incredulous look on my face as I was whistled for “reaching in”.

Think about that…..”reaching in”. What kind of sport has a penalty for such a move? My goodness, if I were writing the rules there wouldn’t be anything special for reaching in because PEOPLE DO THAT WHEN THEY WANT THE BALL! Reaching in….geez if I were in charge of the game, clothes lining would be a border line call and reaching in would mandatory.

So as I walked off the court that day, it was with the full knowledge that my nascent career in the sport of wimps was over. Oh, I played out the year, and to my everlasting credit I lived up to my nom de honour, “The Hatchet Man”, but it just wasn’t ever the same. I gave up the sport.

I became the guy who went to our high school games to socialize, but I could never muster much enthusiasm for the team, since my respect for the voluntarily meek of this world has never been great. I went on to matriculate in my undergraduate studies at Indiana University where we even won the NCAA tournament during my sophomore year. While I gleefully participated in the mad partying that accompanied the victory celebration, I never set foot in Assembly Hall until I was there to receive my diploma on graduation day.

I walked away from basketball completely.

Never again could I honor the sport with my presence or attention; it simply wasn’t worthy. In January of 1972 my father, before The Day That Shall Live in Infamy and in support of my basketball interest, obtained tickets to go see the Chicago Bulls at the old stadium. We had a delightful time, and as I recall the Bulls, who included Norm Van Lier, Tom Boerwinkle and Bob Love, beat the Milwaukee Bucks that night.

It was the last Bulls game that I ever saw. Michael Jordan? Never made it to the Stadium or the United Center to see him. All those NBA Championships? I might have caught one or two games on TV when it couldn’t be avoided, but I made great efforts to ignore the whole sorry spectacle otherwise. Most upsetting about those games that I did happen to see was the realization that NBA players now played the game physically and aggressively – ala Pursuit you could say. One might think I would have found some satisfaction as a player who clearly, in my own small way, helped instill some respect and honor to the game, but to this day I remain uncredited for this advancement and therefore, unimpressed.

Last night I returned, after 33 years, to a Bulls game.

My only reaction is, “what in the name of all that is good and pure about sports have these people done?” Oh sure, I have to admit that it was fun, but the actual game hardly seemed to be the point. The contempt that the players, owners and fans thereby show for the game itself should be criminal in the eyes of any real aficionados of the game, but last night made clear that there a very few of these types left.

It was like I went to a carnival where they happened to have a basketball game as just one of the events. There were dancing girls (the Luv-A-Bulls), dancing kids (The Bull Kidz), horny mascots (yes, horny), weird break dancing McDonalds cashiers with T-shirt cannons, a Benni the Bull dirigible that dive bombed the crowd. There were races between coffee cups, donuts and bagles. There was a race between water trucks (win a free gallon of Hinkley-Schmidt water!) and worst of all there was “Rubber Boy”.

Rubber Boy. Man this was one scary dude. As you can imagine Rubber Boy, the main event at halftime, was a contortionist who was brought out to center court in a very small box, from which he slowly unbent his body to emerge and begin his performance. Rubber Boy was quite flexible. He put his whole body, one appendage at a time, through very small orifices such as a toilet seat (which he but humped while he gazed at the crowd with a wicked look in his eye) and a tennis racket. He bent his limbs into all sorts of unnatural positions, seemingly able to dislocate and relocate his joints at will. The crowd was alternately horrified and amazed depending on what body part was being bent into what position to perform what act. I found the whole thing to be bizarre and more than slightly obscene.

As the horror that is the Rubber Boy experience continued to reveal itself at center court I found myself wondering exactly how I would explain Rubber Boy’s act when he became quite infatuated with the spectacle of his own ass. There in front of Benni the Bull and everybody he gleefully examined his butt, close up, from the vantage point of bending his head down between his legs and back up towards his posterior. Thank God my daughters weren’t there, for I am sure that I will be experiencing repressed memory syndrome and wouldn’t wish this experience on them.

To be candid, the whole evening had a weird sort of Acid Trip feel to it that I hadn’t felt since my college days. The only thing that was missing was T-Rex on the stereo and my buddy saying things like “Life is different through a plastic bag”…….”Man”.

For me, this was fine. I hate basketball and was glad for the diversion which was so distracting that at times the game had resumed after a break, and few in the crowd really seemed to notice. Were I a fan though, I would have found this monstrosity to be an outrageous crime against an otherwise noble sport.

However, that really is the crux of the problem isn’t it? Basketball at its heart is a charade. Players run up and down the court for 60 minutes tossing a ball in a basket and unless things get really out of hand, none of the points during the first 50 minutes count. It’s all just an elaborate fake. The only real action is in the last 10 minutes of the game when the clock threatens to arbitrarily cut the time short and leave one team out in the cold because it missed a few baskets at the wrong moment in time. If you think about it, basketball is really no more sophisticated the children’s game of musical chairs except that it’s played by really tall people with over protective mamas.

I don’t know about you, but I’d never pay to watch musical chairs, but then again, I’ve never seen Rubber Boy perform at a musical chairs game either.

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