Expectations, Dejection: San Diego Tradition, and Other Thoughts On Basketball

i believe it was the Charles Barkley curse.

San Diego State University lost to the University of Connecticut, 76-59, in the NCAA basketball tournament finals.

Barkley had been negative about the Aztecs and did not pick them to win any game, or at least the ones when i caught him in the pre-game folderol, UNTIL the championship game. Not only, did he pick the Aztecs to beat the Huskies, he went all in, praising them for their defense, and wearing a goofy looking red foam cowboy hat, looking as one of his talking head colleagues noted, like “Yosemite Sam.”

The tradition of San Diego not winning a major championship in any major sport at any level continues. Such a crown has not occurred here since the now gone to LA LA Land Chargers winning the AFL Championship in 1964. The streak is alive due to the Barkley curse. i am convinced.

As i watched the championship basketball game, i was entranced while thinking thoughts about a game i love.

UConn beat SDSU because they were better at the game they play.

Sports media has a love affair with the word “physicality.” i heard it a sickening number of times last night, enough to make my head burst into tiny pieces because not once was it properly used. i think they think its cool because it’s longer than “physical” or “athletic” and it makes them sound sophisticated. NOT. i know, i know, it’s a rant of mine, but dammit, speak correctly or it will lead to misunderstanding.

The game i watched last night was far from the game of basketball i knew growing up. Sometime in the ’70s, i was listening to sports talk show on the powerful Chicago radio station WLS. i don’t remember exactly when or exactly why i was listening. i expect it was because it was the rock and roll station for me in the weekday evenings up until WLAC began its blues programming. Regardless, the caller-in was expressing his idea about pro basketball.

“i think these NBA teams are messed up in their recruiting,” he opined, “They are recruiting the best college basketball players.” He continued, “They should be scouting the street games in Chicago. That’s where there are great athletes playing the game like the pros.”

Not anymore. i watched a street fight game of basketball all of the college season. The most physical, tough, team won. In fact, that was the what happened in all of the 32 teams in the tournament, as well as the 16 games in the National Invitational Tournament. The game is about physical toughness as well as basketball skills, tactics, and strategy (not “physicality”).

Grantland Rice, the king of sports writers in the “Golden Age of Sports” (the 1920s) and the mentor for my Fred Russell, once wrote the golden rule for sports: “For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, He writes—not that you won or lost—but how you played the Game.”

When i was a Navy lieutenant junior grade and the executive officer of MSTS Transport Unit One, i rode USNS ships carrying Republic of Korea troops to and from Vietnam. i quickly learned that in the Korean culture at that time, it was okay to get ahead by any means: abuse, payoffs, back stabbing, almost anything we consider heinous…until you got caught. When you got caught, you were cast into the lowest level of society and punished beyond belief.

Apparently, the Great Scorer’s thoughts on playing in an athletic CONTEST have been abandoned for cheating and the old Korean idea that anything is okay as long as you don’t get caught. A football coach has even been quoted, saying “…if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.” And it seems everyone has adopted another common quote among college and professional coaches: “Winning is everything.” i should add this appears the new way of living lives in our country, perhaps the world.

Fouling is not only forgiven but encouraged, as long as one doesn’t get caught. The aforementioned Barkley was adamant in his defense of the FAU player in the semis who, when the Aztec guard had gone up for the winning shot, reached up with his hand and grabbed Trammel’s side and pushed the guard as he was shooting, affecting the missed shot. Chuck’s reasoning, they shouldn’t call such fouls at the end of the game. This logic, or lack thereof, still stuns me: it’s okay to foul sometimes but not always?

Today’s players continually take more than two steps without being called for “walking” or “traveling.” Players continually dribble by putting their hand on top of the ball without being whistled, which was previously called “palming,” or “carrying.” And you weren’t supposed to touch the other player except when incidental going for the ball. None of these are called today, and touching an opponent is completely subjective by the referees or the interminable conference of the refs while watching video replays from every angle for…oh, about several days.

In spite of all of that, today’s game is fun to watch, exciting. The subjective nature of fouling and not fouling by refs, coaches, and players brings drama, if not honesty and sportsmanship. i had to laugh when in the FAU/SDSU game, the end was decided by the refs pulling out…a stopwatch because the technical timing had not been started correctly.

i, and many friends, have been concerned about the the “Name, Image, and Likeness” (NIL) rule changes for college athletes getting paid for folks using their image, was going to make the playing field for recruiting even less level than it already was, that the big name programs were going to cut off the little names from the big stars. We were also upset with the lack of loyalty and again giving the big boys an advantage with the “transfer portal.”

If that is true, it’s in the future, not now. To watch the underdogs win again and again in the conferences and in the tournaments was refreshing. The playing field was more level.

And most encouraging was, even with the big name programs and their alumni and fans throwing money at the stars like tinsel after a championship, there are programs who approach this in the right way.

i offer San Diego State as an example. The San Diego State Athletic Foundation determined their program shouldn’t chase athletes with money, but provide them with enough income allowed by the NIL ruling to live decently while playing a sport for the school. All athletes in a program on the mesa gets $2,000 a month. The school and the athletic department wants their athletes to play because they love the sport and want to win as a team. Apparently, that works real well, and the basketball program serves as a great model.

So the college basketball season is over. i am not shaking my head in dismay as i have in many previous seasons. Yes, part of that is because my two teams, San Diego State and Vanderbilt did very well, very well indeed. But more so, i am looking forward to next season for college basketball as a whole. Go Aztecs. Go Commodores.

But man, the rare drear of the Southwest corner seemed to return to its normal best weather in the world. Golf will be a bit more comfortable now.

And folks, it is time for baseball.

4 thoughts on “Expectations, Dejection: San Diego Tradition, and Other Thoughts On Basketball

  1. Great column! Particularly loved your take on the ridiculous made up word (physicality) and the “mind numbing” frequency it is used and misused by all these so-called pundits. These guys massacre the English language and make up words that are no more descriptive than perfectly good words they don’t know how to use – I won’t bore you with the numerous examples that come readily to mind – and then misuse their own made up words!!! Just loved reading and rereading your rant!

    1. David, thanks. i always appreciate your thoughts and am looking forward to learning of the other pundits abuse of the language. i, too, can thank of many.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *