(I worked as a Sports Editor from late 2004 until the summer of 2006. This is one of the many columns I was able to save that were originally published in The Sun-Times of Heber Springs, Arkansas.)
On Friday, the NBA said “Ok” and NASCAR said “No way” to two different branches on the same tree. Trash talking is welcome in pro hoops, while there is no place for bad boys on the racing circuit.
NASCAR officials told defending Nextel Cup champion Kurt Busch to start behaving like he’s worthy of his title. The warning came before last weekend’s All-Star race. Apparently, NASCAR didn’t want a repeat of last year’s event when Busch “accidentally” caused an 11-car pileup.
He’s on probation for throwing profanity-laced tantrums, refusing to lineup in the correct lane, throwing water bottles at race officials, causing intentional spins, and fighting.
All offenses which coincidentally break up the monotony of going in circles and give a reason for non-fans to tune in. Seeing someone flip out is entirely more entertaining than seeing a fiery crash that could result in a fatality or loss of mobility.
NASCAR’s going the wrong way. Publicly they should slap his wrists; privately they should encourage him to keep up the act. Controversy and drama are two stalwarts that professional sports depend on to generate ratings.
Sometimes the drama of how fast a pit crew can change a tire wears a little thin.
(Speaking of changing a flat tire in record time: My wife and I were forced into action when we had a blowout while doing 70 on the way to see Revenge of the Sith Thursday. Let’s just say I have a little more respect for pit crews and their power tools.)
Unfortunately, bad boys are a necessary evil in sports and the world of pop culture. Fans love to root against or for the bad guys, and it makes for more interesting contests.
Would Jordan have become the player he was had he not overcome the ‘Bad Boys’ of Detroit?
People loathed that team – and more specifically Bill Lambier – and naturally gravitated to Jordan and his Bulls. Ratings soared as fans tuned in to see if this was the series that the Pistons and their ‘Jordan Rules’ would finally get their comeuppance.
Every now and then evil will be victorious, which makes it that much sweeter when the ‘White Hats’ triumphantly ride off into the sunset. Everyone I know remembers when Jordan punched out Lambier, or when Robert Parish sucker punched Bill-bo in the back of the head during the Eastern Conference Finals.
It’s no secret that the Boston Red Sox finally won a World Series last year, but most Sox fans relish the fact that they vanquished their archrivals in order to make it to the Series. Just when the ‘Evil Empire’ looked like they were on their way to a date with October destiny again, Boston rallied back from an impossible 3-0 series deficit and made sure the Empire would not strike back.
Although it’s really not a sport – true sporting events do not have predetermined outcomes – professional wrestling has a good hold on this ‘good guy – bad guy’ thing.
Any wrestling fan will tell you they love it when their favorite guy throws a beat down on one of the heels that insult the audience and talk loud with volumes of flying spittle.
The gimmick works so well that they even take established stars who are good guys and turn them into ‘heels’ just so the fans will venomously cheer for their defeat. It often plays like a badly written soap opera – which is part of the appeal.
Trash talking is often a primary weapon of the bad boy crew in every sport. But no other provides as much opportunity as the NBA. It’s almost like an art form in the League, where master painters like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Gary Payton, and Reggie Miller paint broad strokes with colorful insults.
Not everyone can just hit the court and drop verbal jabs like it’s a layup line. You have to be original, creative, and most importantly, you have to be able to back it up with talent.
There’s no denying that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was one of the greatest – and some argue the greatest – players ever to suit up professionally. No other player has racked up more individual or team awards than the former Lew Alcindor.
Jabbar was known for many things: the goggles, the skyhook, the short shorts on his Lakers uni, the performance in Airplane!, the footprint he left on Bruce Lee’s chest in Game of Death; the list goes on and on.
But as overpowering as he was, he never seemed to be that intimidating. Opposing players didn’t dread going to war against him like they did Jordan or do now with Shaq. And it looked like he did way more whining than trash talking.
That’s why it’s surprising that the NBA’s all-time scoring leader will be holding camps in Shanghai, China to teach the finer points of the sky hook, intimidation and trash talking.
The camp’s focus, according to Jabbar, is to “approach cultural differences and prepare Asian players for real-life situations”.
Jabbar is a master of intimidation and trash talking like Dennis Rodman is a master of subtlety and good taste. Which is more curious, the fact that Jabbar is trying to change a whole sub-culture of people or the fact that the NBA is down for it?
The consensus is that if Yao Ming was a little nastier, the Rockets would be better, and an entire continent would continue to eat up NBA merchandise.
Ming will get better – at 25 he’s only been in the league three years, and 18 points, 8 boards and 2 blocks a night ain’t bad – and he doesn’t need to learn how to finger wag or scream “All day!” in broken english after a made shot to do it.
Maybe this is some subterfuge to start ruining international basketball so America can be dominant again. If we start tearing away at the team-first ideal that foreign players embrace, maybe we’ll have a chance once more.
In any event, the NBA is wallowing in its own filth, while NASCAR is trying to spit shine its bad spots.
Who’s right and who’s wrong? In the war of good versus bad, only time will tell.