Saturday, April 28, 2012

Harrison Smith

It's been 26 days since the end of the 2012 college basketball season, although it's been 28 days since I stopped caring about it. Since then, I've been a little lost. I pick up a basketball every now and again and toss it hopelessly at the hoop, trying to fill the emptiness in my stomach. I scan the headlines briefly each morning before moving on to read far more intellectual articles. I've found myself aimlessly flipping through sports channels, only to get to the end and repeat the process, searching for something I won't find for roughly 6 months. When I reach ESPN, I hear a snippet of conversation between the announcers, which includes "point guard". I flip back quickly, my hopes impossibly restored for a moment before I realize that I'd rather go watch "Storage Wars" with my brother than what they're suggesting: the NBA.

Perhaps I'm one of the few who feels this way, but nothing the NBA does can convince me to watch any of the games. Jeremy Lin? I'll catch the highlights. Michael Jordan's Charlotte Bobcats? Who'd want to watch them? Lebron James? I see enough of that drama on Sportscenter. Ron Artest/Metta World Peace? That's so November 19, 2004.  So 26 days after the college basketball playoffs ended, the NBA playoffs have begun. In fact, as I'm writing this, the Indiana Pacers-Orlando Magic game is playing on the screen next to me....on mute....unnoticed. What is it about college basketball that makes it so much more appealing than the pros?

I'll tell you what it is for me. I'll start at the bottom: the length of the season. In college basketball, I have time to watch my favorite teams play. My time is invested in my favorite team and a few others that I watch on a fairly regular basis. I know all the wins, all the losses, which games are considered "big", and which games I can predict the outcomes for without checking the score. And I have time for that because there are only so many games during the season. I can't keep up with the NBA. They play too often for too long. I can remember the outcomes of the last two or three games for one or two teams but that's it. The significance of each game is downplayed for me because I don't know what's at stake. But, really, there's not much at stake. With 82, teams can lose 11 of 14 games and still make the playoffs (Hello, New York Knicks, I'm looking at you).

Reason number 2: the drama. And the NBA has more drama than a soap opera. I'm not saying there aren't divas in college basketball - but those divas aren't paid (right?). Grown men who make millions playing a game for a living do not earn my sympathy when they miss the playoffs due to a back injury when they've spent the entire season demanding to be traded to another team. The sense of entitlement that comes with these 'superstars' in the NBA makes them impossible to root for. I recently read "The Punch" by John Feinstein. In his book, he tells of an exchange between Kermit Washington and his agent shortly after Washington was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers in 1973. During the exchange, the agent explained to Washington what was meant by a "guaranteed contract" - that he would received four hundred thousand dollars over the next four years regardless of whether or not he played. Washington refused. He said, "No, I don't want to do that. I don't want to be paid for not working. If I'm not good enough, they shouldn't have to pay me." Legally, Washington had to accept the 'guaranteed' part of his contract, but Washington wasn't entitled. He was good and he wanted to prove he was good and if he wasn't, he didn't want to be treated any differently. Can anyone imagine an NBA player today, mere months after a disagreement about salaries between players and owners caused a lockout and a 66 game season, saying such a thing? Turning down money because they wanted to prove themselves? Playing only because they were passionate and talented? Today, the Lakers pay Kobe Bryant $25,244,000 a year. Kermit Washington hesitated to take $400,000. Times have changed.

Which brings me to my final reason: I missed the great age of the NBA and I'm resentful of that. The NBA had great players and the players today can never live up to those standards. They'll never have the same passion, the same drive, the same love of the game that players like Magic Johnson and Larry Bird had. Bird and Magic made the NBA. They made people care. And they didn't do it for attention or for money - they did it for respect, they did it for the sport, and they did it because they hated losing. Everyone loves to win, but what players and teams today lack, I think, is that hatred to lose. That willingness to do anything to avoid losing, even if it means not being the star.  Bird and Magic didn't have that complacency - Knicks executive Donnie Walsh said the difference between those two and everyone else was that "Everyone says, "I don't want to lose." Magic and Larry said, "I'll kill you if I lose". Players today are complacent - they make their money even if they don't play, their teams make the playoffs, if not, there's always next year. College players don't have that privilege or the complacency that comes with it. They have 4 unpaid years of playing with passion to accomplish their goals....before they get sucked into the NBA.

With the 29th pick in the NFL draft, the Minnesota Vikings select......Harrison Smith from Notre Dame University. Therefore Harrison Smith is my 29th blog honoree. Smith is 6'1 7/8", 213 lb, has an arm length of 32.5", and a hand size of 10.2". In his college career, he forced 2 fumbles and recorded 85 tackles. His new team, the Vikings, acquired Smith by trading their second round pick (35th) and fourth round selection (98th) to the Baltimore Ravens. They still came away from the draft with 10 new players on their roster, including another safety from Notre Dame, Robert Blanton.

The Sports Nerd