(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.


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Monday, June 19, 2006

If You Can't Do It With Honey. . .


That's the advice of Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, who only has so much patience for the average sports reporter. He makes a point about the occasional and timely use of profanity.

You don't have to agree with his point, of course, but remember that without originals like Cuban we'd be stuck with boring owners as well as players. Despite David Stern's attempts to turn the NBA into a puzzling mix of basketball and entertainment, all the while trying to present a united front -- from dress code to behavior -- he hasn't been able to reign in the league's #1 Maverick.

And that, in my book, is a great thing.

No, the Mavericks aren't necessarily a flagship franchise, especially when compared with the storied franchises over the years (most of which have fallen on hard times recently -- Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and the Lakers, to name the most prominent). But they are a critical franchise because you have an owner who is uncompromising in his will to win and who by all accounts has done a good job. After all, name another owner whose team has let a subsequent two-time MVP walk and then contended for the title? I wonder if that's ever happened before.

Mark Cuban turned Steve Nash's departure into an opportunity.

It's funny how the NBA has let Mark Cuban become a thorn in its side, when the Knicks are the real thorn and laughingstock at the same time. Why worry about the accoutrements Cuban offers his players when the Knicks have a bloated payroll of players for whom pass is a four-letter word?

What's right with the NBA: The Mavs.

What's wrong with the NBA: The Knicks.

The NBA, of course, wishes it were the other way around.

Yet, it has survived with the Knicks being about as good as the '62 Mets.

As for the mainstream media, I can't defend them or be too harsh on them. The players play hard and are human, so it's not so easy to ask a player, "How did you blow that wide open fifteen-footer with five seconds to go?" The answer, for those who watched, is obvious: "I missed the shot." By the same token, asking players how it feels -- to win the close one or lose the close one -- is about as unoriginal as it gets.

It would be great to hear a player answer, in response to a question like that, something like this: "Well, when I was a kid I had a bad knee, this congenital thing, and I always was picked last for the teams in gym class. But I had this gym teacher, Mr. Spears, and he always winked at me and told me to work hard and things would work out. I don't know if he ever knew how much that smile -- and that wink -- meant to a shy eleven year-old who had just overcome a speech impediment. So everyday, after school, I went home, and there was this portable basketball hoop that someone put out on our courtyard. We didn't have much, and this thing was a gift from heaven. We could adjust the height, and my aunt came out and would adjust it, and every day I practiced 50 right-handed layups and 50 left-handed layups. Sometimes she would feed me the ball, and she played in her day so she zinged in chest passes. And she made me be creative, would ice my knee afterwards, and she wouldn't let me take just ordinary layups. No, I was dribbling by Bird and Kareem and Shaq, and I hit some good shots. Later on, in middle school, there was this teacher whose wife was an intern, wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon. One day, during recess, I stayed inside while the other kids went out to play. He asked me why, and I told him that I had this knee problem but my doctor couldn't solve it. It hurt too much to play. So he and his wife got me to her hospital, and they figured out that something was wrong with my knee that minor surgery and new basketball shoes could cure. After that, I started getting really better fast, and there were many others who took me aside, challenged me and said things to me that I think about almost every day. I'll never forget all of 'em, because they all told me to stay focused on working hard and good things would happen. But if it weren't for Mr. Spears, I would have just quit. If it weren't for my aunt, I wouldn't have developed any skills. And if it weren't for my fifth-grade teacher, I would be limping around."

Instead, all you hear is "great, what a great group of guys, best in the world. . . came together. . .hit shots when we needed to. . . made defensive stops when we had to. . .." All of which, by the way, may be said sincerely.

But it's not worth watching or listening to.

When the answers start becoming cliches, the questions do too.

Mark Cuban is right.

Ask some different questions.

And, in the process, teach us something that we don't already know.


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