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Sports Writers are So Cool, They are Oblivious to Their Role as Hype Merchants

Raymond Garcia

I write this essay as the NBA finals are set up for their first deciding game seven in eleven years. Eleven years! Yet to gage the national sports media, this series has been as boring as a John Kerry speech. ESPN's vaunted "Page Two" on the net had a picture of a sleeping idiot missing the action today (June 21) as their depiction of public interest. The lead sports columnist in the Chicago Tribune today wrote an essay of how he couldn't be bothered to tune in to game five, due to a lack of interest, even as their NBA beat columnist (on page two) lauded the same game as a classic for the ages. The NBA finals story on a national level seems to be "TV ratings are down, so who cares?"

The hilarious thing is that these brilliant wordsmiths who decry the "cult of celebrity" in professional sports are collectively jamming exactly that down our throats. What could be more compelling for sports scribes than a contested championship of the proven two best teams in a sport? Ah, but therein lies the rub: I said "teams". There's no Lebron, Kobe, Shaq, or any other one-named mega-star in this series. There is in fact the best single player in the league involved, Tim Duncan. But he's not "Tim". Or "Duncan". And he's about as exciting on a hype level as my friend Bonnie Bucqueroux, who vanquishes all comers in games of Boggle, but couldn't sell a basketball shoe or sports drink to save her life. Non-charismatic stars are not really stars in our pathetic culture of hero worship. And teams don't really work for hype in the cult of individualism USA.

Witness the storylines that have dominated the coverage of this series. Games one and two were all about "Manu-mania", as a new star was born in Spurs guard Manu Ginobili, a native of Argentina. And everyone is agog over Spurs forward Robert Horry's 3 point heroics in game five, never mind that he didn't score a single point until the 35th minute of the game. This is not to degrade these performers, as Ginobili is an exciting player, and Horry is a cagey vet role player. But what about Tim Duncan's reliable 20 points, 15 plus rebounds? No real mention in the national media, as it's just expected (just like Bucqueroux's Boggle dominance). In fact, the same totals in game six earned Duncan a "B-" from's expert Marty Burns. No marketable star quality, no exciting jump-cut highlights to tie to top ten music blaring out from the TV.

Taken to another level, what about the Piston's success, thus far written off nationally to thuggish play and home town referee favoritism? Why, no national media stars, of course. How do you market true team play (seven players in double figures in game four -- seven! – with only three turnovers in the entire game)? Well, you don't, not in Lebron/Kobe'Shaq-mania NBA culture.

The heart of the team, defensive player of the year Ben Wallace, is only known to true NBA fans (and Detroit nutbags). How many commercials featuring Ben Wallace has anybody seen? Yea, I thought so. The media star of the Pistons is their carpet-bagger coach, assisted of course by his brother doing color commentary on ABC. But how many NBA coaches besides Zen-Fuck Phil Jackson sell products? Or are as greedy as Phil to do such ridiculous bullshit? What an asshole! If Larry Brown could hawk carpet bags, he'd probably do it, however…

The absurdity of all of this is illustrated by a number of sports writers claiming that Duncan and Ginobili are the two best players in the series. Come on! Duncan, for sure, but both Pistons guards, Richard Hamilton and Chauncey Billups, are far more established than new media star Ginobili, not to mention Ben Wallace. This absurdity was taken to extreme by ESPN "Page Two" columnist Bill Simmons, who proclaimed Robert Horry "the third best player in the series" (after Duncan and Ginobili). It makes me wonder if these idiots paid to write about sports even pay attention to the arena they claim expertise within.

It would seem these fuckwits just watch ESPN highlights of dunks and three point shots like the rest of us unwashed masses, and spin their pearls of wisdom between commercials for viagra and cialis. How can they not notice Ben Wallace dominate a game, with rebounds at both ends, blocked shots, steals, and even double digit points? Well, he doesn't sell shit on TV commercials, does he? Thus he's anonymous.

So there you have it: sports writers covering the NBA are a bunch of hype-meisters, Sam Smith of the Tribune excluded. They can't be bothered with something as uninspiring as a contested championship featuring solid team play by the two best teams in the league. They want their Kobe/Shaq soap opera. They want mega-watt stars like Lebron, or else they proclaim a lack of public interest. Yet they are in fact the ones telling the public not to be interested.

Again, I write this as the Pistons have defeated the Spurs in San Antonio, setting up game seven for the championship, for the first time in eleven years. This is the kind of drama one hopes for in professional sport, everything on the line in one game, yet the yawning national coverage has inspired little or no interest beyond parts of Texas and Michigan. Keep in mind these sports scribes pride themselves on being immune to "the hype". That's the biggest joke heard since Bush administration justifications for a losing war in Iraq. Maybe even bigger, though with far less negative ramifications.

Yet here is lead Chicago Tribune columnist Rick Morrissey in today's (June 21) top of the fold column: "My sense is that people would rather spend time crocheting potholders than watching the Pistons and the Spurs play in the NBA finals". I suppose we can expect hype-deluxe tomorrow and Thursday, when boneheads like Morrissey notice a real sporting contest broke out while they were watching Survivor or their Paris Hilton porno tape for the 20th time. Hey, at least they can continue to play the Eva Longoria angle. After all, a Desperate Housewife is far more marketable in the USA than solid team play or a Ben Wallace. Maybe even lame-ass Morrissey of the Tribune will watch as well. You can bet he'll write about it, either way.

Postscript: Here's Frank Deford of Sports Illustrated, writing on game seven day: "The two teams who will play for the championship tomorrow night, San Antonio and Detroit may well be the best two teams in the league, but, sorry, nobody's paid any attention to them. It's a ghost championship. The NBA would've fared much better if, say, Cleveland had played Philadelphia. No, the Cavaliers and 76ers aren't much good, but they are led by two stars, guys whose shirts sell: LeBron and A.I. -- Messrs. James and Iverson. San Antonio and Detroit may be talented ensembles, but the NBA needs big names up in lights to stay in the public consciousness." Wow. Screw the best teams, we need the biggest celebrities to sell the game. Gee, Paris Hilton is six feet tall, why not get her in the league? I thought Deford had a clue about sports. Apparently, even to him, hype is all that matters. Selling shirts. Breathtaking.

Drawing by Steve Willis; doodle by John Schilling

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