A GRIP ON SPORTS
How does the cliché go? You can't teach an old guy new tricks? No, that's not it. You're never too old to learn. Ya, that's it. That's the one that applies today. Read on.
• Yep, I learned something yesterday. And it was all thanks to sports-talk radio. Nope, I wasn't listening to myself talk – because, after all, if I were listening to myself, I wouldn't learn anything, right? – as I wasn't fulfilling my fill-in duties yesterday. I was listening to Colin Cowherd on ESPN radio yesterday morning. The lesson I learned? If you like college basketball more than the NBA, you are probably a racist. OK, that's not exactly what Cowherd said, but it was what a caller opined and Cowherd, who fine-tuned his radio schools while attending Eastern Washington University, didn't call him on it, at least while I was listening. What Cowherd was saying was simple. The NBA is only a bit more popular than college basketball and racism has to play a part in that. After all, Cowherd said, the NFL is a lot more popular than college football, major league baseball is a lot more popular than college baseball and the NHL is a lot more popular than college hockey. In those sports the players are not as easily definable as in basketball, so the color of the players must play a part in the difference in acceptance.
• I'm not going to deny Cowherd's point (racism does exist, the NBA is dominated by African-Americans and, sadly, some folks have trouble with that) though I don't believe it has as big a role in the lack-of-a-gap between the sports' popularity as Cowherd seems to think. And his listener who made the other connection using faulty logic – all racists dislike the NBA, ergo if you don't like the NBA you are a racist – is just full of it. There are multiple reasons to like college basketball more than the NBA and it has nothing to do to with race. Yes, the NBA features the best basketball players on the planet. And yes, anytime you flip on an NBA game you may just see something so incredibly athletic, you won't believe your eyes. We understand all that. But that strength is also the NBA's weakness. Players are so good they oftentimes don't subjugate their own abilities for the good of the team. Not all, not all the time. But selfish, individualistic play happens often enough it makes the game hard to watch at time. And then there is the extended schedule, the back-to-back games, the strain on the body. There is no way every NBA player gives 100 percent effort on every play. Can't do it. They would break down. So there are games in which the coasting factor plays a huge part in the outcome. Too many games for my taste.
• College basketball features flawed athletes trying to win games. The best part of college basketball isn't the guy flying down the lane, legs wide a la Michael Jordan, throwing down a dunk. It's five guys working together as a group making sure that doesn't happen. Or five guys on the other end, all touching the ball, all passing up a good shot so that one guy gets a great shot. It's five guys who, individually, aren't nearly as good as the five guys they are playing, kicking their opponents rear end by outworking them, playing with discipline, executing, helping, leaning on each other. In other words, the best part of college basketball is watching five guys become a team. Doesn't matter who those five guys are, doesn't matter their color, their size, their background. All that matters is how they play.
• You know, I love watching track and field. When Usain Bolt blazes through 100 meters or Bernard Lagat runs someone down to win a 1500, I revel in that individual accomplishment. But basketball (and baseball and football and hockey) is different. Team sports always have been. The choreography of excellent play is what makes the game great. The individual plays are awe-inspiring, but it's the execution between five people on the court that gives the game its special grace. Each individual player in the NBA is the best of the best. No college bench guys here. Everyone a star, or, at least, real good players who worked hard after college to become stars. So good, in fact, they are often unstoppable no matter what the other team does. The individual talent so often trumps the team aspect. Nothing wrong with that. But it's not what I am looking for when I watch a basketball game. Never has been. I like to watch the off-ball action. The screen that frees a guy. The help defense that slows a drive. The actions that never show up in a box score. College basketball is built on such things. The NBA has, to a large degree, moved past that. Moved past it years ago. Fine. I haven't. It's why I like the less-than-perfect college game.
• One last thing. NBA players talk about winning rings. Nothing wrong with that either. Winning the ultimate prize is what everyone plays for. But, for them, it's about their legacy. Shaq never really cared if he won his rings while playing on the Lakers or the Heat. They are his rings. Same with LeBron or Chris Bosh or even Phil Jackson. Fine. College basketball is about championships as well. Winning a conference. Winning a regional. Winning the crown. Winning those titles for your school. For UCLA or Kentucky or Duke. It's being selfish – wanting that title more than the next guy – for a selfless reason. It's cool.
• Gonzaga: The Zags are trying to win another WCC championship and they could move a step closer tonight when they host Santa Clara. Jim Meehan has an advance of the game. ... If you missed the CBS Sports Network show on Gonzaga, you can watch a preview here. I saw parts of the show and was really impressed. ... Who are the best teams in the West? ... Can St. Mary's make the NCAA tourney? (Spoiler alert: it will be tough.) ... BYU was in action last night when its buzzer-beater sent Utah State down to defeat.
• Washington State: Christian Caple is en route to Tempe for tonight's game at Arizona State. Before he left, though, he put together a bunch of stuff, including an advance of the game (it's a homecoming for Royce Woolridge, who is pictured). He also has a morning post with more from around the Pac-12 Conference.
• Whitworth: Steve Christilaw has a feature on the big man in the middle for the Pirates, Taylor Farnsworth (pictured).
• Chiefs: Spokane was not in action last night but Tri-City, locked in a battle with the Chiefs for playoff seeding, was. And the Americans won.
• Preps: It's playoff time, of course, and we have Greg Lee's coverage of the Idaho boys battles along with a roundup of the action, a photo story by Colin Mulvany from the win by the West Valley girls and a blog post from Greg. ... By the way, more than 70 percent of you dislike Washington's new high school basketball playoff format. And only a bit more than 5 percent like it.
• Mariners: Though it is raining in Phoenix today, the M's made a trade, sending Mike Carp to the Red Sox. Carp had already been designated for assignment. ... The rain may delay Felix Hernandez's first scheduled bullpen work of spring camp. ... Tajuan Walker has worked on a new breaking ball. ... Mike Zunino is ready for whatever comes his way, whether that means he'll be part of the M's catching corps this season or not. ... Looking deeper at Justin Smoak's off-season training.
• Been at it for more than two hours all ready this morning, so we'll call it a day. As usual, we'll be here tomorrow. Until then ...