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.

Vancouver wins Bowl despite Grizzly record (Toronto Star)

Vancouver wins Bowl despite Grizzly record

Spirit of the West

VANCOUVER – How many Super Bowls is one team expected to win in a season?

The Grizzlies split the cross-country rivalry with the Raptors, but if you take into consideration the exhibition Super Bowl won by Vancouver in Calgary, the Grizz are the unofficial champs of 1996-97.

Yes, they have a worse record than Toronto. Indeed, they have the worst record in the whole NFL, er, NBA. But as any betting sports fan knows, the team with the best record doesn’t necessarily get the ring.

Raptors head coach Darrell Walker is surely wishing he had never used the football analogy after his team lost in Vancouver on Jan. 19. And the comments Damon Stoudamire made following the game were seen to be sour grapes. Mighty Mouse said that his team was a much better team than the Grizzlies.

With only 40 losses, as compared to Vancouver’s 52, one can see that the Raptors are head and shoulders above Vancouver. Certainly Toronto’s Super Bowl would have to be against such powerhouses as Dallas, New Jersey, Denver and Golden State.

“I believe that they’re playing like a much better team,” says forward Pete Chilcutt about the Raptors. “I don’t know if they have a better team. We have a lot of talent here that we haven’t really shown this year, I don’t think. We’re better than our record. We just haven’t been playing as well as they have.”

An interesting distinction, to be sure. “Yeah,” he concedes, “the team that plays with better chemistry is a better team. So as far as that goes, yeah, I think they are better.”

Blue Edwards agrees. “If you look at their record, it indicates they’re a better team. They haven’t had too many blowouts. And they’ve been competitive against a lot of the good teams and I think we have, at times, too. They may be a half step better than we are, but certainly not that much better.”

As for the rivalry, some embrace it, while others deny it even exists. When asked if the matchup is the Grizzlies’ Super Bowl, Anthony Peeler, whose hot shooting kept Vancouver close in Sunday’s loss, said, “No question about that. We gotta get up for a Canadian war.”

Eric Mobley concurred, although his ge0-politics leaves something to be desired. “To me it was (like our Super Bowl),” he says. “They’re from Toronto, we’re from Vancouver. It’s an inter-state game. We want to bring that trophy back here. So it’s definitely a rivalry.”

Chilcutt wasn’t buying into it, however. “I heard what they said about the Super Bowl. It was just funny. I don’t think players buy into that as much as the media thinks. We don’t say, you know, ‘For Canada! Let’s go!’”

Edwards sees the game as just another in a long list of potentially winnable games. “We went into the game thinking that we could win if we played well,” he said. “It certainly wasn’t like, ‘We have to beat Toronto.’ Some of the fans said that. We kind of laughed it off. Here we are getting beat by 40 to Utah and the fans are like, ‘That’s okay. Beat Toronto.’ We’re like, ‘Okay, okay.’ But we didn’t get especially up for it. It was no big game.”

Maybe that was the problem this time around. Watching the Grizzlies stand around watching the Raptors grab every loose ball, one could only conclude that this was indeed not Vancouver’s Super Bowl. Not even their Grey Cup. I’m not even prepared to say it was their Vanier Cup.

But the way Toronto managed to avoid the sweep, I’d be more than willing to say that it was definitely the Raptors’ Scott Tournament of Hearts.

Spirit of the West will appear regularly throughout the NBA season.

Feistiness replaces calm at helm of the Grizzlies (Toronto Star)

Feistiness replaces calm at helm of the Grizzlies

Toronto Star, Spirit of the West column, January 28, 1997

VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Grizzlies have been around for what seems like longer than 1 ½ years. But it wasn’t until Friday afternoon that it really felt like the team was in the big leagues.

It took the firing of the only head coach in franchise history to achieve this feeling of belonging, but that’s what professional sports is all about, isn’t it?

Gone is Brian Winters, the soft-spoken former all-star who, it is said, couldn’t reach his players. Whether anyone can is now up to Stu Jackson, who immediately gives street credibility to the young cubs, having once coached the New York Knickerbockers. So what if his former players revolted? Some say his new ones are revolting, too, in their own sweet way.

Jackson adds the title of head coach to his already full résumé. There is some concern coaching will take away from his duties of president and general manager. Whether he will have time to continue not trading and not signing anyone remains to be seen. (They don’t call him Inaction Jackson for nothing. Okay, they don't call him that at all. But they might unless he starts bringing in players or getting the ones he has to win more than they have been.)

What Jackson offers is a feistiness heretofore unseen in these parts. And that is not, in and of itself, a good or bad thing. It is just the way he is.

“I feel very strongly that when you coach and you make a decision to lead, you have to be yourself,” he said following his first game Saturday, an 83-82 home loss to the Denver Nuggets. “That’s who I am. I hope they respond to it.”

Which is not to say quiet is wrong. Winters, too, was who he was.

Blue Edwards is largely held to be the catalyst in the firing of Winters, a charge he denies.

“The only thing I think was Brian’s fault,” he says, “was that he gave us probably too much respect. Brian would have been an excellent coach for a veteran team with guys that really want to play. With this team, maybe he wasn’t the right coach.”

For now, the game plan Winters instituted will be run – the only difference being who gets to run it. In his first game, Jackson gave considerable time to second-year guard Lawrence Moten, who had been in Winters’ doghouse since this team was born.

But Moten respected the job Winters did.

“A lot of people probably think I didn’t like him or he didn’t like me,” he says. “I got along with Brian. Brian was a very nice person. I don’t have any bad memories of him at all. I thought he was a good coach. There was not one point that I can say we didn’t get along at all. He was a very good man.”

Now all eyes will be on Jackson. One of his former players in New York describes him as energetic and smart.

“Stu’s gonna do a great job,” says Mark Jackson. “I think the main thing is he’s going to have those guys working.”

Stu Jackson hopes so, but concedes there’s only so much he can do.

“It’s not my basketball team. It’s their team,” he says. “And it’s really their decision to make who they want to be. We can be the type of team we were (against Denver), or we can be the type of team that wilts. Tonight, they decided they didn’t want to wilt. If we can continue that mentality with a fresh start, we’ll be okay.”

A fresh start and the team has finally arrived. Look out world, here come the Grizzlies.

Spirit of the West will appear regularly throughout the NBA season.