The Friday Night NBA fights, Detroit vs. Indiana, have been submerged by the newer sports scandal, the win-at-any-cost steroid use in the major baseball world. And the question: should these "new men" be allowed in the record books along with the old boys who played without the advantage of "clear and cream"?
Leaving that question to the chemists and sports physiologists for the nonce, let's consider a moment the propulsive force that has got us here.
It is perversion. A contorting of what games are about. And the people who play them.
Time was in America when, at the college level, a visiting team was that, a visitor, a guest. One to be beaten certainly, but not denigrated. Readers under 50-- make that 60-- may not believe this, but there was a time in collegiate life when, if these visitors didn't bring their band with them (or didn't have a band), the host team's band would learn their song and actually play it at the game. In this long-ago era, teams were actually introduced as equals, equal emphasis placed in the introductory roster announcements. To boo these visitors would be a breach of etiquette not tolerated. The visitors were to be beaten on the field or on the court, not in the stands.
Today at the college level, the visiting team is introduced swiftly, perfunctorily. The home team is hurrayed at the announcer's encouragement and likely as not the home school's anthem is played in conjunction with the introduction. The pep squad or cheer leaders, having ignored the appearance of the visiting team, has rushed to adulate the home squad. In the case of football, pro and college, there is likely to be a pyrotechnic display reserved for the homers' appearance that would rival a county seat's Fourth of July output. In domed and closed stadia, this can mean a cordite-drenched atmosphere that ill affords a clear view of the field until the second half.
In college basketball, nine times out of ten, both teams will have retreated to their dressing rooms while the National Anthem is played or sung for those in the stands. This may be a throwback to the days when the players could not be trusted to give respectful attention to the anthem playing. Ofttimes, an a cappella performer renders a melismatic rendition that would make Francis Scott Key enlist with Cornwallis. But the fact that the teams' attendance is not really required is a story in itself.
Back to the NBA and the Friday Night fights. Consider the uneven treatment accorded by grown men to the visiting and to the home squad. The starters for the visitors are swiftly enumerated by the home announcer. Booing is commonplace. It is denigration.
Then -- ah, then -- the houselights blackout. Ear-splitting music fills the arena. Scores of strobe lights blast the darkness. A spotlight plays on the floor. Emerging one by one to the announcement of their names are multi-millionaires clad in ghetto-length shorts trotting into the limelight, to perform leaping chest bumps in the pool of light. "ANNNND NOW !!! The hysterical announcer screams their names at full public address volume. It is deification.
Who can doubt that these interlopers are to be squashed like bugs and their remains eliminated from the sacred court? Guests, hell. They are defilers of the hallowed hall, which is defended by our noble knights of the dribble. Gimme something to throw.
It wasn't the cup in the face that spurred Pacer Artest in the Friday Night fights. It was the disrespect for divinity that made allowances for whatever might follow.
The conditioning of the fan was begun long ago, in high school, college, and finally in the pros. And so has the education of the player, as a supreme species, abused when away but adored at home. Exemplar of a cause, a quest, that has no impermissible limits.
What youngster, viewing the exploits of those heroes of the cream and clear stuff and deafened by the thunder accorded the home team, can fail to draw the lesson? And why should he listen to the fading crackle of a bygone time saying, "It is only a game..."