On the whole, baseball is a pretty decent sport. Home runs, strikeouts, beer and sunny days at a ball park are all undeniably great things. Whenever I get too deeply into the sport, however, I am repelled by the sanctimoniousness of baseball fans, players and media. Whether it is the sacredness attached to arbitrary statistical achievements or members crucifying and refusing to vote roided-up players into the Hall of Fame after decades of glorifying, beatifying and deifying and those same players, I’m turned off by the pretention.
The absolute worst though are the “unwritten rules” of baseball: don’t run across the pitchers mound; don’t admire home runs; don’t bunt to break a no-hitter; don’t steal a base with a large lead. Sometimes there is more talk about respecting the game than about the actual game itself. It is with great sadness that I see this same mentality creeping into the NBA this season.
Just one week into the season, the Bulls were up six with a few seconds left. Specifically, they were winning the game 99–93. They didn’t have 100 points, the plateau at which Bulls fans receive a free Big Mac, because Joakim Noah and Kirk Hinrich had missed 3 free throws in the final 30 seconds of the game. To try and make up for it, Noah shot a 3-pointer with five seconds left in the game. He missed. Noah immediately regretted shooting the three, telling reporters after the game:
“You have to respect the game because you never know what can happen in a game. I just got caught up in the moment and I was trying to get the people a Big Mac. They really wanted a Big Mac (judging by how loud the crowd was getting) and I felt like, not only did I take the shot and miss the shot, we didn’t even get the Big Mac. Next time, I won’t take that 3-pointer.”
Two weeks later those Bulls were in Portland to play the Trail Blazers. With a few seconds left, the game in hand and the Bulls not playing any defense, Blazers’ rookie phenom Damian Lillard cruised in for a dunk. As The Oregonian reported, Noah and Taj Gibson raced over to Lillard right after the game ended and told him: “‘[you] can’t do that…In the future, you have to be smarter. A lot of teams aren’t going to let you do that.’” Besides the troubling, veiled threat of violence to Lillard, you’d think that Noah would have a little bit more sympathy for the rookie. But this wouldn’t be the last time that free food would cause a problem.
Like the Chicago Bulls and many other teams in the league, the 76ers have the same Big Mac promotion. Up 99–80 with under 24 seconds to go the 76ers Evan Turner, despite his obvious desire to shoot, dribbled out the clock as boos rained down. To head off angry fans, coach Doug Collins told the PA announcer that he would buy Big Macs for the entire crowd. It is unknown whether he has actually lived up to his claim.
To round out the end game stupidity, we have perhaps the most perplexing move of all. Up 27 with a few seconds, the Raptors Jonas Valanciunas was dutifully dribbling out the clock when Caron Butler came up to him, ostensibly to shake his hand. Valanciunas, obviously confused, sort of stuck his hand out as Butler stole the ball. In shock, Valanciunas fouled Butler who made them both to cut the lead to 25. Good job, Caron.
Every single one of these situations occurred at the end of obvious wins and didn’t change that outcome…so who cares? I don’t care at all, except that instead of talking about the blow out win, everybody—players, fans and the media—talks about the “unwritten rules” of basketball. Instead of talking about why the game was a blow out, we talk about “showing respect to the game” and “not showing up your opponent” and “doing what’s right”. You know what would be better? Winning the damn game. Instead of being pissy about Damian Lillard, Noah and Gibson should’ve been pissed about their team’s defensive effort. Instead of apologizing for his 3, Noah should’ve said “we already won, and I was just trying to help the fans out”. Doug Collins should’ve let Evan Turner try to win some Big Macs, and Jonas Valanciunas should’ve treated the end of the game as a live game situation. Let’s just play some basketball.