Back in March, when I skipped watching any of the NCAA basketball tournament, I figured I was cured of my pro sports addiction. Ready to move onto more useful interests. But then, mid-way through the NBA playoffs, I started going over to my father-in-law’s house to watch some of the games on his TV since I don’t have one. I watched the games right up until game 5 of the final series between the Dallas and Miami teams.
Game 5 is when I got this feeling of deja vu. Watching Game 5 of the NBA playoffs felt like watching the Superbowl all over again. What the two games had in common was — to the eyes of this particular apathetic former sports fan — referee bias so obvious that it dominated the game and determined its outcome.
The difference between the two games, however, was that the referee bias in the Superbowl seemed strongly correlated with the Vegas money, the media interest, and the league marketing efforts. These corrrelations don’t seem so apparent in this NBA ref bias case.
However, look deeper, and you’ll notice something. As a former sports addict, I had watched pro basketball since the 1970s. In the 1990s, with the emergence of Michael Jordan, the game took a marked turn toward the individual and away from the team. Jordan is probably the greatest individual performer the game has ever seen. But if you’ve listened to my podcast, you’ve heard my opinion that this status of Jordan was about more than simply Jordan’s awesome talent. Rather, the league and the refs and fans all wanted a basketball Christ and Jordan was ready, willing, and able to fill that role.
As I have blogged and podcasted, since 9/11, American pro sports seems to have turned the corner toward teams over individual stars. In other words, together with everything else that died on 9/11, Michael Jordanism was finally laid to rest. This Regis-slaying dynamic seems to appy to all the major American pro sports — baskteball, football, and baseball.
But although the respective games have made this transition nicely, the Corporate leagues that operate the games — NBA, NFL, MLB — don’t seem to have gotten the memo. That is, in their respective league marketing efforts, they still promote individual stars as opposed to teams. With the NBA, it looks like they are stuck in the 1990s, pining for the next Jordan. No surprise there since Jordan was Christ as far as NBA revenue is considered.
With all of that analysis, we come back to the Dallas-Miami series that concluded last night. I didn’t watch the game last night for the same reason I don’t suspect I’ll be watching any football this coming season. Here’s what I conclude from watching the first five games of the NBA finals: Someone or some people seem to want to anoint a fellow named Dwyane Wade as the Second Coming of Michael Jordan. Never mind that Dwyane’s dyslexic parents fumbled his first name. This fellow seems every bit as electric and breath-taking to behold as was Jordan. The problem, however, is that, flying straight into this post-9/11 headwind, Mr. Wade was granted Jordan-like treatment by the refs — at least for the last three games I watched. In the 1990s, this treatment was barely noticed; but in the Oh-Ohs, this treatment was as obvious as a loud fart in church.
It felt unseemly to watch. Sorta smelly, one might say. Surely, I can find more productive use of my time than to watch a game devolve into a puddle of retro-Regis worship.
Addiction is a terrible thing. I’d like to say that now with the malodorous NBA playoffs behind me, I’m finally cured of my sports addiction. But instead, I’ll just say: “My name is Peter, and I’m a sports addict. I’m taking it one day at a time.”
(Here’s my podcast elaborating on the above: Revenge of the Sports Corporations)