John Havlicek died earlier this week. When I was starting my experience as a college basketball fan, he was on a great Ohio State team that included Jerry Lucas, Larry Siegfried and – first off the bench – Bob Knight. After that, John Havlicek was an integral part of the Boston Celtics’ teams in the 1960s which dominated the NBA. What I always liked about John Havlicek was the way he played; he never “dogged it” even for a moment; he was always into the game in addition to being in the game.
Rest in peace, John Havlicek.
With the first round of the NFL Draft consigned to history, you can find a jillion columns this morning giving out grades to the various picks. Please read any or all of them as “space filler” and not as a conclusion based on principles which are grounded in certitude. As I mentioned yesterday, I did not have my notes from last year to check, but there were about 4 players taken in the first round that I do not remember noting from my TV watching last year. Of course, the OL from Alabama State was one of them; the Hornets are not a staple on the TV menu here in the Northern Virginia area.
Moving from hope and extrapolation into something more imminent and real, please consider the semi-final round in the NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs. Bob Molinaro had this to say about those match-ups in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:
“The Final Four in the NBA East – Bucks vs. Celtics and Sixers vs Raptors – is a tossup. Should make for fun viewing.”
The Bucks have been the best team from start to present in the NBA this year while the Celtics have had a yo-yo season. When the Celtics are “up”, I can see them winning everything; when the Celtics are “down”, I wonder how they could possibly get to the second round of the playoffs. That series will be fun to watch…
Meanwhile the Sixers/Raptors series will be interesting on the court and off the court. The Raptors will have to deal with the deeply-rooted perception that the team is never as good in the playoffs as they are in the regular season. The Raptors have been in the playoffs 11 times in team history. Three times they finished first in their division and lost in the first round of the playoffs; in the last two years, the Raptors were swept out of the playoffs in this same conference semi-final round. Meanwhile, the Sixers have to demonstrate to their fans that “trusting the process” through those meager years from 2013 to 2017 was worth that trust.
Here is another observation from Bob Molinaro that invites a comment:
“With the Kentucky Derby little more than a week away, the media favorite is Omaha Beach, with Roadster and Game Winner also picking up healthy support. So goes my deep dive into the Run for the Roses. But what do any of us know? And unless Mel Kiper Jr., starts discussing the 40 times of these thoroughbreds, most of us remain contently clueless about the Churchill Downs field. Maybe that’s not a bad thing. Horse racing is such a holdover from a bygone era that it probably should be ignored, if not protested. Why should helpless horses risk their health for our idle amusement? And what’s even the point of racing animals in the 21st century? If people want to gamble, there are plenty of easier ways to lose money.”
I agree completely that horseracing is a “holdover from a bygone era”; there was a time when virtually every major newspaper had a racing beat writer – – and that assignment was one of the plum assignments to be had in the sports department. That is not nearly the case today; most papers do not even list the daily entries for the local track let alone devote real estate on the sports pages to the race charts at the local track.
I also agree that “there are plenty of easier ways to lose money” for those who are so-inclined to gamble. I guess the attraction is that betting on the ponies is the form of sports betting that gives the gambler the fastest feedback/results. If I bet on the Kentucky Derby, I am likely to know for sure if I have a winning ticket or a losing ticket in slightly more than 2 minutes. If I were to bet on a baseball game on the first Saturday in May, I would not know if I “had a winner” for several hours. The same thinking can apply to football games, basketball games, NASCAR races, boxing matches, soccer games, hockey games, darts tournaments – – you get the idea.
The fact is that this rapid-but-not instant gratification is not enough to grow the sport of horseracing. I think there are 3 reasons that create this situation;
- While horseracing provides rapid determination of winning and losing, there is a sameness to just about every horse race. That sameness means that fans who are not inclined to wager on the races are not sufficiently intrigued by the event itself to attend the races or to watch them on TV. I have said in the past that horseracing is sort of like sex; it is great as a participation event but not nearly as interesting as a spectator event.
- The rapid-but-not-instant gratification is not as concrete as it may seem. Yes, the Kentucky Derby will only take about 2 minutes to run, but the race before the Derby will have been well more than an hour before the Derby horses beak from the starting gate. The Derby will provide a festive atmosphere and a certain grandeur that the casual fan can find interesting and attractive; that same delay between races on a random Thursday afternoon at Prairie Meadows Race Track in Iowa is just a tad less “riveting” …
- There are upsets – longshots – in horseracing to be sure. However, there are few if any “miracle finishes” that will keep fans who are not betting on the races or small-time bettors keenly interested in the late stretch run for most races. In the NFL we have seen “The Miracle at the Meadowlands” and plenty of basketball games turn on the success or failure of a buzzer-beating shot. If “your horse” is 10 lengths back with a 16th of a mile to run, the fact is that he is not going to win absent a warp in the space-time continuum.
I would not go so far as Professor Molinaro to suggest that horseracing should be protested or banned. You can look at the horses as helpless animals who must do something strenuous and even potentially dangerous simply for our amusement and feel some sort of moral pangs about that. At the same time, consider that without horseracing as an “industry” there would also not be a breeding “industry” and those animals would not be part of our ecosystem. Thoroughbred racehorses have no practical value to humankind in the 21st Century other than to race; they cannot “pull a plow”. So, it seems to me that if we start to mosey down the path of protesting or banning horseracing, we would likely have to do something very similar to events like the Westminster Dog Show. And I certainly do not want to be a passenger on the train going down that track.
Finally, let me conclude this week of rants with a groaner from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times. Honestly, the man has no shame…
“In one of the stranger sights in English soccer last season, an Aston Villa fan threw a cabbage at beleaguered manager Steve Bruce during a 3-3 draw with Preston North End.
Apparently, he thought his team should’ve been ahead.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………