Coach's Corner

The room is dark, eerily illuminated with blues, reds, oranges, yellows, and whatever other bright primary colors the teams are wearing. On my 36-inch screen -- bought for occasions like this -- are two games: ice hockey and, in the tiny picture-in-picture, basketball. I'm alone. My girlfriend, to whom I haven't talked much since the playoff season began, except to say, as I whacked her goodheartedly on the back, "Did you see that fucking goal!?," was exiled upstairs to watch Friends or whatever. I'm intently hunched over the coffee table, a cold slice of pizza dangling limply from my hand, some cheese (pleasing the dogs) dripping on the floor. I wonder how I got this pizza. A sportsfan, totally, perhaps disturbingly, immersed in his work.

A bright light illuminates my lair like a thousand suns. Pizza now hanging from my mouth, I think, "What the fuck?" Cat-quick, I refocus, turning to the tube shouting, "Oakley, you scumbag, eat shit!" Is someone talking to me? I hear only sound, no words, so intent am I on finding the little swap button which turns the hockey big and basketball, now in a Ford commercial (Fords are tough), small. As I do so often, I push the wrong button. I'm viewing Washington Week in Review and, in the tiny little square, McHale's Navy.

The girlfriend, the person talking, is amused by this bungling. I'm badly rattled and pissed. I'm pissed because I can't handle my remote and, more troubling, because of the interruption in my cave. The room goes black. I've found both games. I'm happy. I have no real interest in these games. Could I be drifting over a dangerous psychological edge? Now, the soothing voice of Chuck Daly, gently explaining the multiple options Karl Malone has in Utah's pick and roll scheme. I take a bite of icy pizza. "Foul him, foul him," I scream, those moments of concerned introspection cast aside for the moment. Later, I ask if maybe, just maybe, I'm a little too into this stuff. "I dunno, honey," the girlfriend says, "Maybe just a little."

You're familiar with the It was just doing it phenomenon. As in telling your mechanic, "I can't believe this. It was just doing it!" A corollary is, The game's over, I'm going to mow the lawn. As in, the Boone City Beavers are down by three touchdowns with a minute-five to go. You say, "Fuck the Beavers, I'm going to mow the lawn." Only to be stunned and sickened the next morning when the entire world is talking about the miraculous Beaver comeback.

It's later the same night when she says, "Time for Law and Order, turn the goddamn game off." I'm already feeling guilty from my earlier, insensitive display, it's her favorite show, maybe I could score some make-up points... and besides, there's only two minutes left, the game's over, I'll be a good boyfriend. The next day, and for the next week, the main story in the sports world is the brawl that broke out, seconds after the switch, in the waning minutes of the Knicks/Heat game.

I can't stand the Knicks, for years the NBA's most obnoxious team. They embody many of the traits I find most abhorrent in professional basketball: a haughty arrogance, juvenile, macho-woofing, chest-butting, standing triumphantly over fallen opponents they just elbowed to the floor, and the ludicrous display of we-won-the-championship celebrations (which they never have), every time they go on a 4-0 run. Their "style" of play, border line dirty and all-the-time confrontational, greatly contributed to the very rule which, ironically, probably lost them a shot at the Bulls in the conference finals. If you looked at every brawl over the past decade, you'd find the Knicks involved in 90% of them. They provoke trouble and then hold out their hands, wondering why everybody's out to get them: a team of Rodmans. They got exactly what the Knicks Rule dictates and what they deserved. They provoked the incident, and stupidly -- so Knicks-like -- left the bench to join the brawl. Occasionally, justice does prevail.

Woofing and chest-butting aside, the biggest single cause of NBA violence is what commentators euphemistically refer to as "the battle in the paint." This battle, usually between the two centers, goes way too far. The violence is more damaging, on any given night, between any two teams, than anything I saw in 12 rounds of De La Hoya-Whitaker. It's absurd. It's ugly. I'm surprised fights don't break out every night.

Where in the basketball rulebook does it say you can shove someone out of position? Since the NBA tacitly says it's okay, huge men push, shove, grab, and elbow their counterparts relentlessly and with malice. All NBA fights begin in the pivot. Enforce the same defensive rules in the paint as on the perimeter. It would result in a lot of fouls early in the season, until everybody adjusted to playing defense instead of committing assault. If he were playing today, Abdul-Jabbar would be shooting his unstoppable skyhook from the top of the key (and not very well). How did this come to pass? I'd blame it all on the Knicks, but I don't want to be accused of being irrational.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle