Saturday, January 1, 2005

2004: The Year in Sports

By Greg Wyshynski

There's no point in offering a review of 2004's sports stories because the Boston Red Sox won the World Series. They won the damn World Series. That's bigger than Janet Jackson's right breast and Nicollette Sheridan's shapely backside. It's the most momentous athletic achievement of the last quarter century, a story that will be passed down through generations of fans like a Wawaniki tribesman regaling his oldest son with the tale of "How Glooskap Found the Summer."

The Red Sox beating the Yankees, and then winning their first championship since 1918, is the only sports story in 2004 that, in my mind, rises above the "controversy of the week" news cycle that has hijacked sports journalism. Maybe BALCO comes close, but here's the difference: we knowingly embraced these cheaters for years; outside of more stringent testing policies and a few tarnished reputations, what changes now that the cream is clearly in the open? This isn't the Black Sox scandal. It isn't even Pete Rose getting kicked out for gambling. The integrity of the game remains, even if the integrity of half of its players is in question.

But BALCO was just one story in over a dozen that crafted what was the overall theme of 2004 in sports: that finally, after years of abuse, fans have finally had enough of the players they pay to watch.

It's just that we don't know what to do about it.

Barry Bonds' time as a mythic slugger is over. He will be booed, mightily and consistently, in every ballpark he enters next season — perhaps even his own. But what change do we, as fans, what to affect in Major League Baseball? The majority of us care about better testing for performance enhancing drugs, but that same majority knowingly paid to see these juicers (don't deny it) and were glued to the television every time ESPN broke in with another Bonds at-bat.

If it was good enough for us then, why bitch about it now? All of this talk about how baseball players were role models and responsibility to America's youth and yadda yadda yadda ... where was it when daddy took little Billy to see Barry? Did daddy just choose not to notice Barry's head had grown larger than 12 of Jupiter's 16 moons?

In the NBA, fans were treated with a variety of reasons to loathe the players, staring with the pathetic Team USA men's basketball squad falling to Puerto Rico in the Summer Olympics. I could have found 12 Puerto Rican guys in the Bronx and beaten that team.

Then there was Kobe, who managed to alienate his wife, his fanbase, most of Colorado, and break-up the best team in basketball in the span of about 16 months. Let's see Michael [Jordan] do that!

But, of course, the biggest fan story in the NBA this season happened not on the court, and not off the court, but near the court: the Melee in Motown. Know what's funny? They stopped, for whatever reason, showing the genesis of the Pacers/Pistons fight after the first 24 hours of coverage. Here's how it started: with his team winning handily, Ron Artest fouled the toughest S.O.B. on the Pistons, Ben Wallace, from behind. Wallace shoved him back, and a brawl on the court started.

After a few tense moments, Artest decided to lay down on the scorer's table near the sidelines. Let me repeat that: Artest, after participating in a fight on the court with 45.9 seconds left in the game, feigned taking a relaxing snooze on the scorer's table on the sideline, in front of the fans. He was mocking the Pistons, mocking their fans. And he paid the price. It wasn't as if some knucklehead in the stands hit Artest while he was standing at midcourt, or even sitting on the Pacers' bench. He was sprawled on the scorer's table, in a "ho-hum, my work here is done" act of immature defiance.

If you think getting hit with a cup of soda is akin to assault, that's your own shortcoming. It's not. It never has been, over the last 20 years of sports. Remember when Dolphins linebacker Bryan Cox gave the finger to Buffalo fans as he walked off the field? Guess what was tossed his way. Guess what charges were never filed.

Nevertheless, Artest decided to go into the stands and beat up the skinniest, whitest guy he could find. Too bad it turned out not to be the same guy who throw that Weapon of Mass Saturation at him. Then the other Pacers and Pistons went into the stands, and we were left with a brawl slightly less ridiculous than the one at the end of Blazing Saddles.

There wasn't a time this season when I was more offended as a fan than watching ESPN's postgame show after The Brawl. Hearing these idiots putting the entire onus on the fans. Hearing Stephen A. Smith chastise paying customers as thugs, and characterizing the thugs as victims. WHAT KIND OF BIZZARO WORLD IS THIS WHEN PLAYERS CAN PLAY JUDGE AND JURY AND BE DEFENDED FOR IT!? WHY NOT EXTEND THE SAME CONSIDERATION THE JAYSON "THE RIFLEMAN" WILLIAMS?

I digress ... the brawl and the suspensions reinforced what fans already hated about the NBA, which is this generation of players like Artest, Jermaine O'Neal, Ben Wallace, and Rasheed Wallace that are more infamous than famous. It's one thing to cheer on a team full of Bad Boys; it's another to have to root for a league full of them.

But as fans, what can we do? Take the Larry Bird route and hope that the NBA gets some new white, wholesome stars because "the majority of fans are white America?" Stop going to the games? (Yeah, right.) We've yet to figure it out. We're at a crossroads.

When we do figure things out, it can be frightening. Look at what hockey fans have done during this lockout. We've done the unthinkable: siding against a labor union, and with the owners. The same owners who are the root of all the financial inequity in the league, along with their co-conspirator agents.

But in siding with management (as the majority of fans do), we've acknowledged a truth we are starting to face in baseball and basketball — that these people we pay to see, and the people who pay them, are greedy, ego maniacal miscreants who don't give a damn about us. So we have to pick our fights wisely. In the NHL, the fans have backed the owners because we know they're not smart enough to stop spending money, so we need a salary cap or some other control in place to thwart them. Even if it means dancing with the Devil, and rooting against the players we'd otherwise root for.

Maybe this stance by NHL fans is the dawn of the unified fan front. Maybe one day, Barry Bonds will play in front of an empty stadium ... you know, besides the one in Miami. Maybe one day, fans won't stand for their team banning fans from an arena but allowing Ron Artest back in.

Anything can happen in sports.

Ask the Bambino's ghost about that.

Random Thoughts

The Heat/Lakers Christmas Day game was the most entertaining regular season NBA game I've seen in years, both for on-the-court feats and off-the-court storylines.

It's amazing that the NBA remains the only league that can consistently market human drama. It goes behind Shaq vs. Kobe — it was also Pat Riley vs. L.A., Dwyane Wade vs. Kobe Bryant ... hell, it was even ketchup vs. mustard from a uniform standpoint. It didn't get any better than that for a basketball game played in December...

Speaking of the NBA: how weak is the Eastern Conference? How about the fact that Vince Carter is second to Shaq in the all-star voting amongst all Eastern players? More votes (938,817) than LeBron James (843,363) and Allen Iverson (825,179). But compare him with the West's top forward, Kevin Garnett (1,142,804). If Vince Carter is a star, what does that make Garnett?

I had high-school girlfriends who teased me less than the New York Jets...

One issue with the Randy Johnson-to-the-Yankees trade that hasn't been resolved: what's the over/under on the number of pigeons he kills in The Bronx next season?

In watching A Christmas Story about a dozen times last weekend, something new occurred to me:

Ralphie's mom is a MILF.

Not for the entire movie. Just that one scene in Ralphie's classroom, after he gets that C+ on his theme essay about the Red Rider B.B. gun. He has that brief daydream about his teacher dressed like the Wicked Witch of the West mocking him. And then he has a second daydream — dare I say, fantasy? — where the witch is joined by his mother, dressed as a court jester. They start singing "You'll shoot your eye out!" and Ralphie's mother has this hazy look on her face, like she just dropped some serious "X." And then she does this little nuzzle against the witch's face while they're singing, and I'm thinking we're finally going to see that long-awaited rendezvous between Margaret Hamilton and Harley Quinn. It was quite erotic.

I nearly shot my eye out...

Finally, I just wanted to extend a big thank you to everyone who has read, published, corresponded with, or simply acknowledged the column this year. The entire "The Jester's Quart" archive can be found on SportsFanMagazine.com's website, and there are a few outstanding pieces from this year that, if you missed them, I hope you'll get a chance to read.

Have a safe and healthy New Year, everyone ... see you after the split national championship.

Oh, and one more thing:

Gary Bettman

"Do we have any douchebags here tonight? What about dickweeds? Any bottom-feeding scum-suckers? Sir, you can put your hand down now. Sir..."


SportsFan MagazineGreg Wyshynski is also a weekly columnist for SportsFan Magazine. His columns appear every Saturday on Sports Central. You can e-mail Greg at [email protected].

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