Archive for May 22nd, 2007

Beware the Sports Gods Wrath

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aingge.jpgThe Boston sports world, an all-consuming caldron of angst, emotion and eternal hope cruelly dashed, is awash in ranting and raving about tonight’s NBA Draft lottery. Not even the draft itself, mind you, but the lotto-like pingpong ball extravaganza, raised, in an example of rabid hype promoted into an actual event, somehow, to the level of talking heads, star-studded broadcast teams, exhaustive human and cyber-metric analysis and, for all we know, rampant off-shore wagering and secret animal sacrifices.

One would think that a place with as many alternative distractions as Boston, home to multiple world-class universities, a thriving music scene ranging from street performers to Symphony Hall, a cadre of entertaining politicianas continually involved in humorous hijinxs, spectacular scandals or outragous oration, as well as regular, dramatic and ultimately doomed runs for the Presidency, and the glorious New England weather would have better things to do than obsess over a bunch of over-paid, pampered and ocasionally psychotic or criminally insane professional athletes. However, we suppose that even with a billion distractions a dense conglomeration of ordinary Americans, hoodwinked into dead-end jobs and trapped in their homes by rampant debt and fear of violent crime will find solace in highly stylized violence and sweaty showmanship displayed on their as-yet unpaid for giant plasma TVs.

Despite all of this, and our heartfelt conviction that professional sports is emblematic of all that is wrong with our society and culture, from education through the economic system and into drug culture, the Dowbrigade confesses to being a die-hard Boston Celtics fan since our undergraduate days in the Bird-McHale-Parrish era. So it is with some regret that we say that if the Sports Gods do exist in any way, shape or form, the Celtics will get the worst pick possible for the team with the second fewest wins last season, which is to pick fifth.

For the vaulted Celtics have committed the one unpardonable sin in sports universally, and in professional sports in particular – they purposely lost games. They threw at least a dozen contests at the end of last season in order to improve their chances at one of the two can’t-miss picks in this year’s crop – a pair of 19-year-old saviors whose lives have become so distorted that thier only hope for any kind of normal existence is to fail abmysmally in a few years and fade back into obscurity with a few million in the bank.

The Celtic braintrust did it in a smug, we-aren’t-really-trying-to-lose, wink-wink, good effort boys parody of real basketball which was as transparent as it was shameful. As anyone who has ever truly loved playing sports at any level knows, competing means giving your absolute best effort every time you step on the court. For a coach it means putting the absolute best team on the floor to give your team the maximum chance to win. Both players and coach owe this to the team, to the fans and to themselves. It is the one inviolate rule. Anything less is a sham.

To abandon this wholehearted and honest effort is to reduce your sport to the level of Professional Wrestling, the Harlem Globetrotters, fighters who take dives, student-athletes who shave points or players who fake injuries for time off.

The irony is that the NBA draft lottery was changed specifically to eliminate that kind of deliberate losing. Finishing with the worst record no longer guarentees the first pick, as it does in the NFL. The whole point in the ping pong balls was to reduce the chances of the worst team getting the top pick to around 1-in-4. Truth be told, finishing the season 0-and-82 would only get a team about a 50-50 chance at one of the top two picks!

Which is why we are expecting a donnybrook tonight. Because the Sports Gods DO exist! At least the majority of Americans think they do. When we read the statistic that 75% of Americans believe that they can affect the outcomes of live, televised sporting events by what they do (or do not do) at home, we thought it was another invented stat. But then we started thinking about it.

Imagine you are watching the Red Sox locked in a series with the Yankees, and it’s the bottom of the ninth inning and the Red Sox are behind by a run and Big Poppi is at the plate and the bases are loaded and your cat jumps up onto your lap. Annoyed, absorbed, absent-mindedly you throw kitty onto the couch across the room while hissing “Not now!” Then, before you can say “Rumpelstiltskin” (which may or may not be your cat’s name), Big Poppi pops up weakly to Derek Jeter. Game over.

Then, say, the next night, a similar situation arises. Late in a tie game, men in scoring position, Ortiz at the plate, two out. When the count runs to full, suddenly Rumpelstiltskin jumps back up onto your lap! Are you going to throw him across the room again? Absolutely not! You are going to scratch him behind the ears and ask him is he wants a catnip canape! Because, obviously, the Sports Gods like cats.

This is an example of affecting sporting events via “mojo remote control”, as well as hard evidence of the existence of the Sports Gods. Accordingly, we are expecting, at about 8:35 pm this evening, an unnatural, anguished howling to arise from the over-the-top fandom in Beantown, like a wounded animal watching its last hope of escape evaporate forever. Serves them right.