The NBA, which is enjoying a micro-renaissance these days (higher TV ratings, better teams, fewer nitwit sociologists blaming its alleged ills on the high melanin content of the employees, etc.), endured a serious setback Thursday, one which happens every year at this time.
It announced the remainder of its two All-Star Game rosters.
|East coach Doc Rivers likely won't have to worry about players bailing on the All-Star Game. (AP)|
It is a tradition like no other, one which has reached such proportions that the starting quarterbacks for next Sunday's Pro Bowl are A.J. Feeley and Billy Volek, and that's only because they haven't been able to get a note from their doctors.
It has recently spread to the NHL. This year there was a flurry of replacements to cover actual injuries, potential injuries, family issues (Roberto Luongo) and poultry-related allergies (a chicken convention drew more people to Atlanta than the All-Star Game) conspired to leave a trail of cancellations, most notably the game's new designated godhead Sidney Crosby, who is out at least another month. There are even nasty rumors that the All-Star Game itself might be canceled due to lack of a coherent format -– next up, "Players Whose Surnames End in V Or '-sson' Against The World."
In fairness, players have injuries in these sports, especially football, where the offseason has as many surgeries as golf outings. Any excuse to avoid extraneous collisions is gleefully seized upon, all the way from "reconstructive knee surgery" down to "bad pedicure."
Major League Baseball's All-Star extravaganza is not quite so marked by absenteeism, but it ranks a healthy third behind the two run-into-people sports. Its problems are dreadful ratings and boredom with (and pathological fear of) the Home Run Derby, which has destroyed more swings than rotator cuff surgery.
In other words, the All-Star Game in those other sports has been nearly reduced to a payday for players who know how to skip school. It's also a dreadfully dull trade show in which everything costs full retail and then some, and only people who are either nuts, kin or can charge everything on the corporate card attend.
And then there's the NBA. Now we all know about the scandalous goings-on of a year ago (most of which, near as we can tell, went on without contributions from actual basketball players, though that's a skullbuster for another time), and how it sparked a long and largely stupid discussion about racism, the nouveaux riches, police work, making it rain, tourism, Las Vegas and "Why doesn't somebody DO something?" It was not, we remind you, America's finest forensic hour.
But the game? It worked fine. It always does. The players showed up, and they played -– even on defense once or twice. Just like the players named to this year's team will. Oh, a few who could be on (Hedo Turkoglu, Ray Allen, Baron Davis, Jose Calderon) aren't, to the point where Charles Barkley nearly gnawed off Ernie Johnson's entire face on air over the Marcus Camby omission.
It is, in fact, the only All-Star Game in which there is no room for sentiment, undeserved kindness or those Irving R. Thalberg Award inclusions for guys who are in their 40s and have been on 20 other All-Star teams. You get on only because you earned it, and because there are so few roster sports and therefore it is so hard to make the team, the players end up showing up, if only to show their peers they are indeed peers.
In other words, none of these players have the time or have developed the inclination to blow the game off at all. They're actually happy to go, and even show up at the largely silly dunk contest, thus setting back the frivolous sick-call movement years, if not decades.
This pathological attendance fetish is exactly the kind of thing that puts the NBA in a bad light. Whatever it was originally designed to be, the modern all-star game has become a doctor's appointment, a hunting weekend or (Lord forgive us) family time, with a hastily scribbled "Thanks for the bonus, but my client is knitting cozies for his car collection that weekend" note from the agent.
But NBA players simply don't get it. In fact, the ones who didn't make it but very well could have will be envious while pretending that they're not, because their priorities are badly skewed. They want to go, and they can't, and then they feel bad.
This is not good for an athlete's self-esteem, and we all know how much of a problem that can be in the modern player. Better, it seems, for David Stern and his cabal of pixies in the NBA office to invite 50 from each conference and then sit back and wait for the excuses to flow in -– "My knee hurts;" "My friend's knee hurts;" "I have a charity event;" "My kid's got a dance recital;" "I lost my visa;" "I lost my Visa;" or this oldie/goodie from former shortstop Garry Templeton: "If I ain't startin', I ain't departin'."
All this attendance might make for a better event, true, but all the other kids are blowing it off, and you don't want yours to get unmercifully teased at the clubs now, do you Dave? Do you really want to turn your All-Star Game into a meeting of the high school chess club? Well?
Ray Ratto is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle.