Sunday, February 19, 2012


I'm well aware over here that there's only a tiny subset of what is already a small group of Hedonist Jive readers that care about what I have to say about professional sports. Yet the cultural flag that I've chosen to fly out my digital window very much includes sports dorkery on an even and very respectable plane with music, film, books, politics and whatever else it is I choose to cover here. Just as pro sports is evolving to better places in some areas while backsliding in others, so too does my fandom ebb and flow in weird and unpredictable ways. I was thinking about it whilst running today and thought maybe I'd rap about it a little with ya, and see what your take is.

First, pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training this weekend. That's baseball talk, for those of you who don't know. No matter how hard I try to make the NHL or the NBA my "thing" through their respective playoffs, even early-season baseball trumps it every time. That's just how I was wired & weaned from an early age. Baseball's my sport, and everything else is a distant second. I get really wrapped up in the rhythms of the season and stay that way just about all year. I don't watch every game on TV, in fact I watch only a few......but I'll bet I caught at least 120-140 of last year's SF Giants games on the radio, for instance, and was enraptured by that incredible final day of the season in which the Red Sox and the Braves completed epic chokes. Game #6 of this year's World Series also blew my mind (greatest game I've seen in at least a decade), despite caring not a whit about the Cardinals nor the Rangers. There's a certain highbrow intellectualism that goes with baseball's lowbrow aspects that really appeals to me. The people that write about it in places like ESPN, Grantland and in the blogs are often extremely funny, self-deprecating and able to pick apart the "science" and stats of the game in fascinating ways, and I continue to feel that, unlike the NFL, the yahoos and the idiots are deeply in the minority out there in the greater baseball audience.

This brings me to the NBA, and contrasting it with the NHL. Careful readers may remember this piece in which I predicted the 2011-2012 NHL hockey season and offered all manner of commentary. I was fired up. Something elusive happened during the offseason to get me thinking, this year. This is the year I'm really going to get into pro hockey. And let's be clear - I am into it. My predictions may have been wildly off the mark, but I still check the winners and losers every day, read the Backhand Shelf blog, and definitely read (American) Katie Baker's weekly column in Grantland, which frankly is the only - and I mean only - piece of hockey writing I'd truly call world-class.

Mere weeks into this year's NHL season, and I seriously already started getting bored. Many of the complaints about this sport have been repeated in many forums ad nauseum, and let me say that it's really not the sport - the on-ice action - that I have problems with. It's these things:

1. Canadians are not interesting. They may be nice, they may be funny at times, but it's obvious after diving into it that just about every media outlet for hockey is comprised of the bland leading the bland. Canada absolutely dominates hockey talk and hockey writing as well. I compare this to the incredible richness of the NBA media landscape - from Ryan Russillo at ESPN to the Basketball Jones guys (Canadians!) to the FreeDarko collective to even Bill Simmons himself, and it's no contest. The NBA is just a better product to dish about and argue about.

2. The players are not interesting. See #1. Compare the "celebrities" of the NHL with the swagger and brashness of the Greek Gods of the NBA. Nice Canadian farm boys who talk in cliches 99.9% of the time makes for utter boredom. I tried to subscribe to The Hockey News this year before realizing that there's barely anything to talk about here, and that an actual player interview is like death by 1000 cuts.

3. The regular season sucks. In no sport but hockey does the 82-game regular season really feel like a training camp leading up to the real season. I try to watch Sharks/Flames or Sharks/Blue Jackets games in December, and sometimes I can indeed get worked up about it, but with the league's idiotic "you get a point for an overtime loss" rule, I can't even tell anymore who the great teams really are. I just wait for it to sort out come late March, and then we'll see what happens. The NBA is only slightly better on this count, truth be told.

4. Hot goalies are far more frequent than consistently great goalies. This really bugs me. Outside of consistent studs like Dominic Hasak and Martin Brodeur and the like, ever since I've been watching this sport is seems like the goalie is almost an afterthought. Some nights he makes saves. Some nights he doesn't. He's on a "hot streak" this week. He's "running cold" this week. I know there is such thing as goalie skill - these guys wouldn't be in the pros if they didn't have it - but more often than not it feels like Lady Luck rules most goalies' careers. And I hate it when something other than skill or coaching is regularly the deciding factor in a sporting event, I just do.

I was just getting warmed up there, but you get where I'm going. I converted over to the NBA right when they ended their lockout, and I'm having a lot more fun following hoops - and that was before Linsanity. Sure, the NBA's no MLB. The last quarter can either be amazing fun or a total drag - all depends how close it is and how much they're fouling. That's been true of the sport of basketball since it started, and it's not like a new revelation for me or anyone else. Yet on balance, I find myself way more interested in every aspect of the NBA than I do the NHL.

Finally, as I've written before and as it probably obvious, all this obsessive mania for these 3 pro sports leaves no room for any others. I watched the SF 49ers' playoff games out of local pride and that's about it. I gave up on the NFL years ago. College sports is a joke - why watch an inferior version of basketball when the good ones will be pros next year anyway, really showing how great they are against elite competition? This way I can focus laser-like on the intricacies of my chosen three pro sports. Then when baseball season comes, I can give lip service to how great the NBA and NHL playoffs are, when I'm really watching Blue Jays/Rays over on TBS.