Who’s a Poor Sport?

Although I didn’t play basketball seriously until I started teaching high school at twenty-seven, it became my favorite sport and a week seldom went by when I didn’t play once or twice for the next thirty years. Never a good shooter, I learned to rebound, to block shots and to pass to players who could shoot. I became a good team player, and the teams I was on were more apt to win than to lose.

For a while my love of b-ball even transferred to professional basketball. Although I lived closer to Portland, Seattle, my hometown, still held my allegiance for quite awhile. I was one of Seattle’s most ardent fans the year “Downtown” Freddy Brown, Dennis Johnson, Paul Silas and Jack Sikma, among others, won the NBA title. Slowly, though, my allegiance turned to the Portland Trailblazers due to the iconoclastic Bill Walton, Maurice Lucas, and perhaps, most-of-all, Clyde Drexler, a classy, soft-spoken player.

Unfortunately, this allegiance to the Blazers hastened my growing disgust with the NBA in recent years. The Jail Blazers as they popularly became known in Portland came to represent all that is wrong with professional athletics. Many of the players, as noted in the Oregon article, were just plain criminals who apparently felt above the law because they were “stars.” When caught breaking the law, they inevitably blamed the police rather than accepting any responsibility for their own actions.

Rasheed Wallace, a gifted athlete who miraculously hadn’t had any run-ins with the law, was an absolute disaster on the court, collecting more technical fouls than any other NBA player for several years in a row. Despite his obvious raw talent, he lacked the self-discipline you’d expect in a junior high athlete.

Unfortunately, when I started looking around, such behavior didn’t seem confined to the Blazers as trash talking and showboating seemed to dominate the game. I soon realized I didn’t want watch a game I wouldn’t watch with my grandson, and I found it impossible to cheer a team when I couldn’t identify with a single player on the roster.

This distaste for professional basketball soon spread to other professional sports. Apparently even my definition of sportsmanship is archaic. Too many players seem to have an inflated sense of their own worth. They taunt opponents, forgetting that you can only know your true worth by the measure of your opponents, that to demean your opponent is to demean yourself.

Shall we watch
what we want to become,
or just become
what we watch?