Country Much Too Small for Pip & Me (Sports Vue)

Country Much Too Small for Pip & Me

“On the Town” Sports Vue, December 7-14, 1995

There’s nothing quite so disillusioning as meeting a hero and finding out he or she’s a jerk. You then have to reassess your values and judgments. This, thankfully, has never happened to me. I don’t like most people, and my heroes are either long-retired or long dead.

Another type of disillusionment, albeit of a lesser intensity, is when you meet somebody well-known whom you had previously disliked, and they turn out to be a peach. What do you do? Take, for instance, Michael Jordan. I’ve never liked him as a player. Don’t ask why. Can’t explain it. The only shoe salesman I like is Al Bundy.

It doesn’t make sense, but that’s the way I feel. The one time I ever had personal contact with him, however, he was kind and gracious in turning me down. I didn’t speak with his Baldness on his most recent trip to the Wetlands, as he was being mobbed by the adoring media every step he took. Who needs the trouble? But I did poke my head in the media scrum and noticed MJ sitting patiently, answering politely all the inane, unoriginal questions reporters love to ask. Why couldn’t he just be a jerk to justify my dislike for him?

Thank God for Scottie Pippen. He was another player I never cared for. I don’t deny he’s a great player. I just sensed something about him that I didn’t like. Maybe it was because his teams were always beating my Lakers.

Scottie didn’t disappoint. I have no self doubts about my abilities to pick and choose heroes in this case. Scottie’s no little softie.

The last reporter left Pippen, while all the others were still hanging on every word at the stall next to his, where Jordan was repeating everything he has ever said on any stop in the NBA. I sidled up next to Pippen and settled in for my brush with grateness. It started out fine. He seemed like an OK chap.

“I think we just played poor basketball,” he started out, explaining the surprising closeness of the Grizzlies-Bulls contest. “Not taking anything away from their team, but we just didn’t play up to our expectations.” Blah, blah, blah. He was in Bull Durham-style athlete autopilot.

Then he opened up a bit more, perhaps by mistake. “I don’t see anything good about their team right now,” he said as my eyes popped out of their sockets. “I mean, they’re just a team that’s playing with a lot of pride and playing hard. You don’t want to call them a young team, but they’re a team that hasn’t had the opportunity to get together.” Yada, yada, yada.

Hang on there just one second, I thought. Was he really as forthright as I thought he was? Maybe he can clear things up. You don’t often hear an athlete outside of professional wrestling and boxing put down an opponent, even if he thinks the opponent is hopeless.

“You don’t see anything good about the Grizzlies?” I asked incredulously, because you would have. This is when the mood of the interview changed slightly.

“I don’t see anything good? Are you telling me something?”

“You said earlier, ‘I don’t see anything good about the Grizzlies.’”

“I answered your question, man. Don’t try to put words in my mouth, all right?”

“That’s what you said, though.”

“I don’t foresee them being no playoff team, if that’s what you asked me.”

It was obvious at this point that I wasn’t going to be ghostwriting any book of his. But I had to get to the bottom of this.

“What kind of positives do you see for this team?” I continued, asking the same kind of tired, moronic question that my colleagues were asking of Jordan.

“They’re playing hard,” he answered. “I mean, they’re struggling now to win a game, period.”

And with that, my audience with the Pip was over.

“Any more questions, man? You can leave, please,” he intoned.

“Listen here, you arrogant snot. Don’t blame me for remembering what you said. Next time think before you speak, if that’s not too difficult a process for you to handle. And I’ll leave when I’m good and ready to leave,” I shot back bravely. Only I didn’t use those exact words. What I actually said was, “I’m sorry sir,” and meekly walked away.

The timing, as it turned out, was perfect because no sooner had Pippen dismissed me than the brilliant coach Phil Jackson dismissed the rest of the media pack.

“Come on everyone. Let’s go!” the pop-philosopher said. “They close down the border at 10:45.”

I was almost going to tell him that this is a free country, too, and we can come and go as we please, but I thought better of it.

This country isn’t big enough for Scottie and me. One of us had to leave. And it wasn’t going to be me.

Not again, anyway.

A Great Time To Be A Sports Fan (Sports Vue)

A Great Time To Be A Sports Fan

The Sports Guy, Sports Vue, March 23-30, 1995

Spring, the sweet spring, is the
year’s pleasant king:
Then blooms each thing, then
maids dance in a ring.
Cold doth not sting, the pretty

birds do sing: Cuckoo, jug-jug,
pu-wee, to-witta-woo
              – Thomas Nashe (1567-1601)

I couldn’t have said it any better myself. Spring is upon us. The cherry blossoms are in full bloom and the birds are singing that strange wonderful bird language we all know so well, “Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to-witta-woo.”

With the improvement in weather comes an uplifting of the spirit. For a sports fan, the spirit is uplifted by all the glorious sporting events and outdoor recreational possibilities. Mid March is one of the best times of the year to be a sports fan. So much happens in just one week that it’s difficult to keep up with everything. In most years there’d be even more to talk about; hockey gets going in a big way, and baseball readies itself for the regular season with actual baseball players. As it is, there’s still a lot going down. In order to cover all the bases, I’m forced to write my first ever dot-dot-dot column…

The BC high school boys basketball champion was decided at Vancouver’s Agrodome. The Agrodome is the perfect venue for this 50-year-old tournament, the air filled with excitement and the smell of horse dung. It’s a potent combination. The Ladysmith 49ers, behind the sang-froid of 6’6” Grade 12 guard/forward/centre Tony McCrory, captured the crown in a stirring come-from-behind victory over the MEI Eagles. McCrory was just one of many hoopsters to watch for at university in the coming years. MEI’s one-two punch of guard Josh Hall and post Joel Nickel, McNair’s amazing Josh Masters, and Prince of Wales’ lightning-quick Darcy Deutscher could also make names for themselves the way earlier participants of the tourney have, such as Steve Nash, Lars Hansen, Gerald Kazanowski, Howard Kelsey, and Chris Hebb. Hebb, you snicker? Hey, he was a decent university player before turning to the superficial world of television…

The Hebster himself hosted Friday night’s slam dunk competition. Regular readers of this space might note that I took a somewhat dim view of professional basketball’s version at their all-star break. My complaint about these contests is that you never see any originality. No one has built a better dunk. So I didn’t think I was going to see anything too thrilling from high school students. I stand corrected – and not just because I’m wearing corrective shoes. Josh Masters was a man among boys in the warm-up. His dunks were effortlessly incredible. Too bad for him he couldn’t duplicate any of them during the actual competition. Instead, it was Van Tech’s Yannick Jaune who wowed the crowd with a 360-degree two-fisted slam, then followed that up with the most creative dunk I’ve ever seen. While in full dribble toward the hoop, he used his free hand to flip his T-shirt up over his head before take-off, then threw it down with two hands. Kids these days – what will they think of next?...

One of the most successful coaches ever at the BC tournament was Oak Bay’s Don “Newf” Horwood, who won three titles in the 1970s with the mighty Bays. While Ladysmith was winning its first BC championship, Horwood was in Halifax with his new team, the University of Alberta Golden Bears, defeating Concordia for their second consecutive national title. Tournament MVP Greg Devries, from Nelson, never played at the Agrodome. His school was a small AA school whose championships in his Grade 12 year were held in the small Lambrick Park High gymnasium in Victoria. It was there that I witnessed him scoring the most unselfish 70-point performance I’ve ever seen. He’s not as prolific in university, obviously, but neither was another athlete who spent time in AA ball, Michael Jordan…

Speaking of his baldness, Jordan made his comeback while Devries and company were finishing off their banner season. I was left flipping between the two games. Jordan, wearing the new number 45 so he can be the first person to have two numbers retired by the same team, wasn’t up to his old tricks. But, of course, there were no easy fly balls to fumble. He did, however, miss 21 shots on his way to 19 points. His timing was off, but we shouldn’t write him off. He also had six rebounds, six assists and three steals in 43 minutes, showing glimpses of his former self when driving to the hoop, drawing the defense and dishing off to teammates like Canadian Bill Wennington for easy dunks. That’s certainly better than the .202 batting average he had in the minors. The Bulls lost to the Pacers in overtime, but the NBA was the real winner, as interest was piqued all over the world. No doubt the ratings will be huge until the Air is once again deflated…

While the team closest to Jordan’s pocketbook lost, he can take solace in the fact that the team closest to his heart won. His alma mater took a step closer to winning another NCAA championship, as they defeated Iowa State. North Carolina will meet Georgetown in the Sweet 16. The NCAA tournament provides upsets and exhilaration like few other sporting events. There’s only one I can think of that is more exciting…

While here on the wet coast, cherry blossoms beckon us to the softball diamond and tennis courts where we regularly throw out our arms until the winter solstice, in Japan the blossoms signal the return of the world’s fattest athletes to Osaka for the annual Spring Grand Sumo tournament. This tournament has everything you could ask for in an athletic competition, except real athletes. But you can’t get better entertainment. There’s a certain ineffable beauty in fleshy titans struggling head-t0-head, cellulite against cellulite. North Americans believe that might makes right, but that’s not always the case in sumo. Former Ozeki champ and Hawaiian Kinishiki weights 278 kilograms, which in Imperial measurement is really, really fat, yet he continually gets beaten by smaller, more skillful wrestlers like Kaio, with the strongest arms in sumo, the former senior high school teacher Tomonohana, or Yokozuna grand champ Takanohana, who just announced his engagement to a television personality. I realize that I should seriously consider getting a life. Still, I regret that it’s next to impossible to get sumo results here. With all the garbage sports on TV these days, you’d think someone would bring us this ancient sublime battle. They’re not maids dancing in a ring, but they’re a sure sign that spring’s upon us. Kinda makes a fellow want to sing, “Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to-witta-woo.”