Friday, August 10, 2012

A Sports Fan Grows Up

When I was a kid, I was a big reader. And I often read biographies of famous men throughout history. But I noticed that I usually lost interest in the story after the subject of the biography reached my age. As a pre-teen, I couldn't really relate to things that happened to adults so I often dropped the book and never finished. As soon as Benjamin Franklin turned 12 or 13, I stopped reading his autobiography (although I'm told it's one of the best ever written). This continued throughout my teen years as I kept interest in the person later and later in his life until today when I can pretty much keep focused on the person throughout the story of their life.

Well, something similar has happened to me and my interest in professional sports.

At age 9 or 10, I was fascinated with the spectacle of professional sports, especially the flashiest and most controversial players. Those players with funny nicknames or off-the-field antics that the media loved to present to me (in order to get me hooked, I suppose). Those that immediately come to mind are "Hollywood" Henderson, Mark "The Bird" Fydrich or Darryl Dawkins. They weren't the best in the league, but they were in the news a lot for breaking backboards or talking to the ball or otherwise providing highlight reel material and that was all I cared about.

Then as I became a teenager, I began to notice how championships were won and who the most valuable players were and like everyone else, I became interested in these all stars. This would include Julius Erving or Franco Harris, among many others. These players weren't very loud or boastful but they put up Hall of Fame numbers over the years and I knew these were the guys that sports history would remember better than the colorful characters that the TV broadcasts spotlighted during halftime.

I watched all 3 major sports as a teenager and twenty-something. But into my thirties I started to develop other interests and didn't have time to watch 6 hours of football on Sundays or to attend  multiple baseball games (although in 1989, I lived a few blocks from Baltimore's Memorial stadium and along with my roommate, made an appearance at over 50 home games.) As I matured I saw even the best players developing a sour attitude toward money, competing for the largest contracts and engaging  in some disgraceful off-the-field activities. And although I understand that the professional sports industrial complex is an abusive system and frequently drives overgrown but still immature young men to do foolish things with drugs or weapons or their girlfriends, I lost my boyish enthusiasm for most players. Besides I was older than most of them, anyway.

Rather, I began to become more interested in the coaches. I knew where many basketball coaches had played when they were in the league, where they had coached previously and under whose mentor-ship they were assistants and their coaching style was influenced. I began to believe that championships are won by coaches more than I had ever previously considered. I knew about Coach K. and working for Bobby Knight and Joe Gibbs being an assistant with the Dallas Cowboys, for example. I guess when my own body started to slow down and I began to be responsible, I started to admire strategy and leadership among pro sports figures.

One of the real tragedies (among many) in the professional sports industrial complex is that when a team is losing badly, it is frequently due to players poor performance. But unfortunately the vast majority of teams respond by firing the manager or coach. (The Washington Wizards did this twice in the past 6-7 years).

So as I aged further and I held a job for more than a summer and I bought a car on credit and eventually a home, I started to understand more about commerce and economics. Naturally my continuously shrinking concern with the professional sports world turned mostly to the general managers who were *really* the ones (I soon decided) who won the championships. Not the most valuable players or the team captain or the coach; it was the GM or whatever they called themselves.

These were the guys, mostly in the 40s or older, who scouted personnel, made draft and trade decisions. When a team started winning and  it wasn't because they traded for the MVP or hired the best coach, it was because of the older guys upstairs.

Clearly my opinions are biased since my reasoning for a winning team has advanced up the age scale as I have aged myself.

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