Where Damon Stoudamire gets his pot.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


To clarify a poorly-written sentence near the end of the last post, when I mentioned that athletes in individual sports are "hung out to dry," I was referring to the opponents of athletes like Nadal who, without the option of compensation from teammates, stand little chance against an athlete who imposes a style of play without reference points. Although it could be read that someone like Stoudemire is hung out to dry, so to speak, as his skill-set isn't able to reach its full potential in his respective sport. But that's not what I really meant.

Today's post is about nostalgia, but first, a few notes about this video:

-I was never old enough to see the Arsenio Hall Show, but where does it rank on the scale of 1 to 10? (10 would be Letterman in his prime a couple decades ago, 1 would be Mike Bullard). I'm leaning towards Craig Ferguson territory for the sole reason that Arsenio had Tom Chambers and Cotton Fitzsimmons as guests. Granted, Chambers was a good NBA player, but worthy of a booking agent saying "Hey, you know what? I think our show tonight could go for some Tom Chambers and Cotton Fitzsimmons."
-Arsenio's interview skills are akin to sideline reporters at the half. On a more obnoxious level, he continually sighs "Yeah" after his guests finish a statement.
-Who in wardrobe allowed Fitzsimmons to waltz out in a leather licorice sweater? I hope his clothes are kicking around a Phoenix-area Value Village and inspiring a new generation of middle-aged dads to dress like Color Me Badd.

The topic of nostalgia is one that frequently intersects with professional basketball. Many count some of their favourite athletes as those having played before their viewing era. I was a viewing fan of Michael Jordan for the final three of his championships, yet, despite calling myself a fan of MJ, never saw his most dominant years (pre-baseball). I harbour intense nostalgia for tennis players of yore, from McEnroe to Borg, Nastasie and Connors. Some sporting fans consider Muhammed Ali their favourite athlete, yet how many in my generation have seen an Ali fight in its entirety? (For most in their 20s and younger, many would turn to Mann's Ali as a testament to Ali's greatest and legacy. Which is ridiculous, by the way). How about Bobby Orr, Carl Lewis, Maurice Richard, Chamberlain, Russell, Dimaggio? Further, and this is somewhat along the same lines as the question of 'favourites,' but most people, when you ask their opinion of the greatest athlete in a given sport, will give the name of someone from a past decade, often before they were born, or old enough to fully comprehend his/her respective impact upon their sport. To answer the question 'Who is the greatest basketball player of all-time?' I would answer 'Michael Jordan,' yet, like I said earlier, I never saw him drop 63 on the Celtics in the playoffs, or witnessed the season he averaged 37. My opinions are completely based off my elders, older sports writers, my father, whoever's viewpoint I value as having merit in the debate.

This is getting further and further away from my initial subject, which was going to discuss my nostalgia for Tom Chambers based solely on YouTube videos of his play, most notably the dunk over Mark Jackson, which continues to amaze and reverberate with white-boy hilarity. But the subject I find most troubling in regards to our opinions of 'greatest-ever' and 'favourites,' especially when the players in question pre-date our birth, is how these opinions are really just based off years of repetition by the media and the sporting public. There are individuals in sport whom the media loves (ie. Jordan) and those who the media is less than enamored with (ie. Kobe). To say that Jordan was the greatest player of all-time has become the cliche. Was he the greatest? It's likely, but it also helps that every sports journalist in North America had a man-crush on the guy. Kobe's flare for theatrics and balancing act between arrogance and confidence yields disdain from the media. Here's the thing: Jordan was an even bigger asshole than Kobe. We all know that. The guy punched Steve Kerr the fuck out in practice. He told his teammates not to pass to Bill Cartwright. His gambling was out of hand, his infidelities just as bad. Speaking of gambling, most other athletes (ie. Pete Rose) are lambasted in the media for their indiscretions. Jordan, in the midst of his myriad of character flaws, remained a subject of adoration for the media.

Another example: Bill Russell. There's been a big lovefest for this guy over the past few years, especially with the Celtics revival. But who actually saw Russell play? I sure as hell didn't. We have some black-and-white grainy footage of him, but once again, it comes down to the media loving him. Yes, he has 11 rings, but so did Henri 'the Pocket Rocket' Richard with the Montreal Canadiens, playing a sport that (okay, I'll admit it) has a more taxing and grueling off-season. Russell played against short white guys. Nobody places Henri Richard in the same category as Maurice Richard, Gretzky, Lemieux, Orr, or Howe, yet he's the most accomplished hockey player in terms of Stanley Cups, which is the same criteria many use when anointing Russell the greatest basketball player of all time, or greatest 'team player.' Bill Russell has an incredible personality and boat loads of charisma. His laugh is infectious, he wears a bright smile. You'd have to be an ingrate to find anything wrong in him. He's also a retro media darling. Did you see all those spots with him and Garnett during the Finals? He offered to give Garnett one of his eleven rings if Garnett retired with none. How do you dislike a generous, charismatic guy like that? And how does that bias affect our judgment of NBA talent?

If our opinions are largely influenced by the NBA-covering media, then the legacies of certain players can either be heightened or lowered as per their dictation. Another instance: Reggie Miller. The media loved this guy. He played late into his career at a reasonably high-level, broke a few records, and - here's the kicker - played for one team his entire career. The media, and sports fans, command a high level of respect for accomplished athletes who opt to start and finish their career in the same jersey. But really Reggie Miller was never a top-tier NBA player (though very close) and never won anything of substance. A player like Carmelo Anthony possesses a far more polished offensive game than Miller (this talk would be blasphemous in Gary, Indiana) yet I sincerely doubt Anthony receives the same level of accolades in his career, or accrues a legacy of similar value, despite sporting a better all-around game. Chalk this up to the media. They aren't huge Anthony fans. I could bring race relations into this, but I'll keep it short: Miller is "white-friendly". How else do you sustain a storied career in Indiana for upwards of two decades? (Especially when the Pacers faithful are pushing towards a more "white-friendly" team, hence no more Artest, Harrington, Jackson, and others.)

With all due respect to Tom Chambers, there is no time remaining. I'll leave you with this.

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