Writers are So Cool, They are Oblivious to Their
Role as Hype Merchants
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.
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 SICNN.com'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
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
Drawing by Steve Willis;
doodle by John Schilling