This Sporting Life (Festival magazine)

This Sporting Life


Festival magazine, Vancouver’s Arts & Entertainment Monthly, October 1997

Autumn can be depressing. Days get shorter, the clock goes back, and the weather… well, it rains harder than usual. In the words of William Cullen Bryant, “The melancholy days are come, the / saddest of the year, / Of wailing winds, and naked woods, / and meadows brown and sear.” As adults, we can at least be thankful we don’t have to go back to school.

Most of you are probably asking yourselves, Who is William Cullen Bryant and isn’t “sear” a verb? Those questions will go unanswered in this column. Instead, we can only assume that ol’ man Bryant wasn’t a sports fan. The impending darkness and gloom that has its genesis in October is appeased by the advent of the basketball and hockey seasons. Who needs to go outside when there’s always a game on the tube?

Unless you’re going to the game itself. But not to worry. Unlike barbarous baseball and feral football, whose combatants go at it in the elements, the genteel grace of hockey and the urbaneness of basketball are showcased indoors.

These gentlemanly pursuits are both Canadian games, but neither is our official sport. That honour goes to lacrosse for the very fact that no one would have heard of it otherwise.

While lacrosse is played in obscurity (or so rumour has it), hockey and hoops are played in front of adoring masses. All except the truly awful of the athletes are paid millions of dollars a season. This is sometimes used by jealous killjoys to discredit the game, as if paupers would provide better entertainment. But really, who among us doesn’t make millions of dollars? He who is without a Swiss bank account should cast the first loan.

The average fan comes to his or her love of sport honestly. That is to say, they are brainwashed at a young age, usually by fathers forced to babysit their offspring. Once the child learns to talk, daddy’s done all he can do. Move on. No point beating a dead horse. There’s plenty of sports to watch.

And so we all remember where we were when Paul Henderson scored his magical goal or when Canada won gold in basketball at the student games. Why, in front of the TV, of course.

The younger generation seems to be open to all sports. Or at least those whose athletes have their own line of clothes.

Years ago, it was one or the other. Canadians loved their hockey and Americans had to have their hoops. Now Florida and California have five NHL teams between them. Canada has six. At least we have two really bad NBA teams.

The Canucks and Grizzlies start their new seasons this month.

Despite a few similarities, there are more differences between the sports. If sports are foreign to you, but you’re thinking you might want to jump on the bandwagon while the jocks are still trendy, consider the following:

  • Hockey players will fight at the drop of a glove. But it takes more to rile a cager. Usually the mention of one’s momma immediately precedes any hardwood fisticuffs.
  • Hair and teeth are inversely proportional. The more an athlete has of one, the less he will have of the other. If you’re big into hair, the NBA might not be for you. However, if you’re enamoured with enamel, you might say hockey bites.

Of course, it wasn’t always that way. Take Mark Messier and Otis Thorpe. They are products of a bygone era. Thorpe has hair and Messier has teeth (or a reasonable facsimile).

The bottom line, though, is winning. So the aging veterans were signed to hefty contracts this offseason. The Canucks stole the 36-year-old Messier from New York and the Grizzlies traded a conditional first round draft pick for the 35-year-old Thorpe who arrives from the Detroit Pistons (even if Thorpe is rumbling to the media about wanting to play elsewhere). Each with “earn” about $6 million US a season. That’s about $8.4 million Canadian. And Lord knows how many lire.

Why spend so much money on players way past their prime? One word: winners. Each player has won championships with previous teams and Vancouver is hoping they’ll bring their winning attitude and the valuable experience they’ve gained elsewhere to their new Vancouver-based clubs. As Duke Ellington once said, “It don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that ring.” Or words to that effect.

Grizzlies GM Stu Jackson admitted as much. “Certainly they were acquired for similar reasons,” he says. “The Canucks felt they needed a veteran player, a more skilled player, somebody that walked the walk and talked the talk. And I think in that vein, yeah, there are some similarities.”

In the end, if they don’t win, we can live with that, too.

After all, it’ll be spring by then.