Finding Mudville

  • Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Summer officially begins this week, which means days will start to grow shorter. It will eventually cool off, but here, in the midst of this summer heat, two winter sports are finally wrapping up their seasons.
The Stanley Cup playoffs will finally crown a winner in a strike-shortened season that almost killed the sport. The Chicago Blackhawks and the Boston Bruins, two of the NHL’s oldest teams, are playing for Lord Stanley’s cup and nobody south of the Mason-Dixon Line cares.
How can you be a hockey fan in a climate that forbids the formation of ice on creeks and ponds in winter?
I grew up in Ohio and never owned a pair of ice skates. I remember standing on ice capping a frozen pond one time in my life, and did not like the queasy feeling settling in the pit of my stomach as I knelt there and knew there was lake underneath that opaque layer.
That queasy feeling falls under the fear of heights and deep things phobia I have enjoyed over the course of my life. I figure it is not a phobia but a heightened sense of caution. You can’t fall through the ice and drown if you’re never out standing in the middle of a lake in December.
Even in Ohio nobody followed hockey. You had to go even farther north for that.
The NBA will put a wrap on its season soon, too, and then LeBron and D-Wade will go away for a while.
I don’t know what basketball has become, but it’s no longer the basketball I knew when the likes of Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Bill Russell, and Jerry West roamed the hardwood. These guys could play, and score. A typical NBA game result would be something like 120-113, and if a team failed to hit the century mark on the scoreboard, something was seriously wrong.
Today’s NBA games are nothing like that.
If the final score eclipses 100 points it’s by a bucket or two. Unless it’s a dunk, some of these guys can’t shoot.
Remember, the NBA back in the 60s and 70s didn’t have the benefit of the three-pointer, and when the ABA came around and introduced the trey, you had to heave one up from the suburbs.
Larry Bird often said if he had the three-pointer in college . . . well, at that point Larry would usually snort in derision and leave the comment hanging for you to figure out the devastation he’d have brought on college basketball.
I don’t know what’s happened to the NBA, maybe it’s the Quick Fix Syndrome where it’s easier for these giants to dunk the ball – and more exciting too – than to throw up a couple hundred foul shots a day. Bird would shoot up to 500 free throws a day so he wouldn’t draw iron at the line.
Maybe Shaquille O’Neal should have taken a page from Larry’s book.
As a result of fans’ fascination with the slam dunk, defenses have been allowed to adapt to defend it, which means they collapse into the paint and if a player opts to drive, there is so much hacking going on second degree assault charges may be filed once he’s done.
Besides, you haven’t seen a slam dunk until you’ve seen one of Dr. J’s.
The best thing about the basketball and hockey championships is when they’re done, you can say, “Just six weeks until football starts.”

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