ARTEST - LET'S GET A GRIP
Why this injustice you ask? I think it has something to do with the fact that I’m not a very good basketball player. I stand 5’9’’ and have a vertical leap that hardly merits the adjective “vertical” let alone the noun “leap”. I’m also not a particularly good shooter, my frequent protestations on the subject to the contrary. If you’re seeking a blogger for your league team, you’d be better off turning to Jonathan Last than me.
Unlike me, Ron Artest does play in the NBA. This is in spite of the fact that over the past several years he has proven himself to be a particularly flawed human being. Aw hell, let’s take the gloves off – he’s a perfect ass. But he’s a perfect ass who happens to be wonderfully gifted basketball player. I believe this latter fact accounts for there being a professional basketball team willing to pay him a gazillion dollars a year to play for them and another 29 teams that would love to similarly employ him.
Sadly for doughy Jews who happen to be great team guys like myself, the coin of the realm in professional athletics is talent, not character. Always has been, always will be. So when you read lamentations of how our pro sports are being ransacked by scummy Artests who have somehow gained access to our athletic temples, it might be helpful to remember that Babe Ruth wasn’t noted for his ascetic devotion to his craft nor was the murderous racist Ty Cobb known as a warm humanist. If you can play, the pro leagues will find a place for you. This is nothing new.
Also nothing new is the players making the occasional foray into the stands to deal with misbehaving fans. 25 years ago a handful of Boston Bruins scaled the plexi-glass at Madison Square Garden to mete out some frontier justice, hockey style, to some particularly rowdy New Yawkers. Believe it or not, a generation later this event is now considered a golden moment in Bruins history.
Don’t believe me? Take the description of the above incident from hockey scribe Ed Seero writing back in 2001 three years before observations like this would become topical:
“I wish I was around to see this. Mike Milbury, Peter McNabb, Terry O'Reilly and virtually the entire Bruins team went into the stands after a game at the Madison Square Garden and just beat people up. The video is fun to watch. McNabb pins this guy in a suit onto a section of seating. He's holding the guy by his collar and then Milbury arrives on the scene. He proceeds to methodically take off the man's shoe and beat him with it. And the best part of the whole thing is there is a cop in the stands right next to the whole thing, and he just watches it happen. Oh, how I wish I could have been around in those days.”
I was around in those days – I along with Brother Soxblog actually saw the event in question on live TV. Ed’s got it pretty much right; the Bruins, in full uniform somehow got themselves into the stands and proceeded to kick-ass. The most memorable image was that of McNabb, oddly an extraordinarily gentlemanly player, racing up the stadium steps pursuing the fan/provocateur who, no longer protected by his plexi-glass shield, was in full flight mode. In spite of having the advantage of wearing street shoes, the frightened New Yorker managed to be caught from behind by the ice-skate wearing McNabb. It was actually the most impressive feat of McNabb’s long and distinguished Bruin career.
McNabb did pin the guy down. Soon he was joined by his teammate and ESPN commentator-to-be Mike Millbury. In a surreal coda to the episode, Millbury did in fact relieve the belligerent of his apparently useless footwear and pummel him with it. Once done with the pummeling, Millbury tossed the shoe on the ice. The guy went home in one shoe – that was part of the story.
Another part of the story was the media lamenting the imminent end of civilization that this event symbolized. There was consensus on this. I don’t think anyone anticipated that 25 years later this would be a cherished memory for Boston sports fans.
Surprisingly enough, society weathered the Bruins’ foray into the stands. But given the fact that some 60 years earlier Ty Cobb had almost killed a belligerent fan, maybe the Bruins’ shenanigans weren’t quite the menace an alarmed media made them out to be.
Sports are supposed to be passionate. Periodically, and indeed unacceptably, that passion will erupt in inappropriate ways. When the eruptions are occasioned by jerks like Artest, they are particularly unsavory. But Friday night’s melee is not indicative of societal rot; it’s indicative of a sociopathic jerk being given to much freedom by his employers (like Larry Bird who, by the way, followed his teammate Kevin McHale into the stands in Milwaukee in 1987).
The NBA right now is populated by a lot of unsavory figures. Is that news? Is that unprecedented in the annals of sport? Hardly.
The Detroit fans also acquitted themselves poorly. Again, nothing new. In 1976, one of my fellow Celtics fans decided that referee Richie Powers needed a pop in the nose during Game 5 of the Finals against the Phoenix Suns, a game that is commonly known as the greatest ever played. Indeed, for a frightening moment or two it looked like the game wouldn’t be able to continue into its third overtime because Celtics fans were refusing to leave the playing floor.
All I’m saying is, let’s get a grip on this Artest thing. Ron Artest is a jerk – that ain’t news. Pro sports sometimes turn ugly – again no news there. Society may indeed be going to hell in a hand-basket, but Ron Artest and the NBA are not to blame.
Responses? Thoughts? Please email them to me at email@example.com
James Frederick Dwight