The summer of 69 I was enjoying Ernie Banks leading the Cubs until the Mets ended it all – at least young 2016 Cub fans will have what we never did.
I think this sports story is as much about modern American culture than it is about professional sports in general. Pro sports in the U.S. has a significant presence. Many do not pay attention to the major sports, including pro basketball. Those that do have a fanatical attachment. The National Basketball Association – NBA – best of 7 game series championship is underway. The Golden State – AKA Oakland, soon to be housed in San Francisco – Warriors (relocated from Philadelphia in a previous life), have three wins while their opponents, the Cleveland Cavaliers, have zero. The first team to win four games is the champ. On Friday this series may be over and Kevin Durant could be named the MVP of the winning team. If so he will retain his title as NBA finals MVP which he earned last season, his first as a Warrior.
Durant spent his first 9 years with the same franchise, the Oklahoma City Thunder (born Seattle SuperSonics). By collective bargaining agreement, Durant was free to sign with any team that could afford to pay him. He chose the team with the best regular season record which had just lost in the championship finals to the Cavaliers.
And he has been harshly and repeatedly criticized for going to the one team that gave him the best chance of winning.
9 years. Kevin Durant lead the league in scoring multiple seasons. Won the regular season MVP one year. Came close to winning the championship once out of those 9 years. Once. Yet the naysayers claim he should have gone to play for Boston or Washington D.C. or stayed in Oklahoma City since these teams were not as good nor did they have as much talent as the Warriors.
Here are the realities. LeBron James is the most talented AKA best player in the league, still in his prime. He left his first team, Cleveland, because he did not win a championship there in 7 years. He created a super team in Miami by joining with a former championship star player Dwayne Wade, and another free agent all-star player Chris Bosh. Four years later, after two championships and seeing the aging Miami roster not good enough to win the championship with him, James went back to Cleveland, but only because they had the best young superstar in the league, Kyrie Irving, and traded for the top rebounding forward in the league, Kevin Love.
Because of those decisions, James has been in the championship finals 8 years straight. There is no doubt that James and the Cavaliers would have won the championship last year and certainly had a better chance this year without the presence of Durant on the Warriors. So then, here is your argument. When the best player can’t win the championship organically, it is more acceptable for him to manufacture a team good enough to win because he’s the best player. But if someone else does the same thing, they should be criticized as being much worse.
History tells us that only once has the best player regularly been on the championship team. Remember Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls? They did it 6 times. That is the only time we’ve seen it.
LeBron James doesn’t need your help. If he wants to be on a better team than Golden State’s believe me he will find one this summer and leave Cleveland like HE DID LAST TIME.
Let’s point this fact out for the critics. You blame Durant for going to a team that just came from behind to win 4 games to 3 in the semifinals against a team that lost one of its best players to injury during the series. Yes. The Houston Rockets would have beaten the Warriors in the previous round of the playoffs had Chris Paul been able to play the last two games. They only needed to win one. For the sake of all the critics, I hope Durant wins at least two more championships in addition to this year. I hope you just burn with anger and frustration because Durant did what you would never have done. RIIIIGHT
How dare you criticize Durant for going to Golden State because he wants to win? He would have lost anywhere else. This, in a league where his own team left Seattle and took Durant with them to Oklahoma City, just for more money. The same league where another team left New Orleans to land in Charlotte, for more money. Wait. The Los Angles Clippers moved from San Diego, after moving from Buffalo, for more money. There is more. Much more. The Nets moved from New Jersey to Brooklyn. The Utah Jazz, in Salt Lake City moved from New Orleans too! No, jazz is not associated with Utah.
When Durant leaves one team for another he only leaves the fans of that team behind. They still have a team of players to root for. When those teams left town, the fans were left with nothing. Seattle, San Diego, Buffalo and northern New Jersey have no team to watch anymore. But you want to rant about Kevin Durant. Spare us your self righteousness judgment. Durant won’t miss it.
Part 1 of a 4 part series on baseball, culture and social change
Much has been written about the pastime of baseball and the connection that it has to national culture. I will endeavor to add to the discourse.
I appreciate both participatory and spectator sports, I know many people might not share such passions. Of sports, baseball, for me, singularly stands above all the others. My experience is that if you play baseball, you learn its pleasures, which to the uninitiated, may be impossible to describe. You also know that a baseball player is simultaneously a spectator. In the dugout, awaiting your turn at bat, you watch the action, as the ramifications of what takes place will impact your potential contributions to the game. On defense, in the field, you’re found waiting and watching plays that you aren’t directly involved in. Eight position players watch the confrontation between pitcher and batter, prepared to spring in to action in a split second.
Major League Baseball, for many, offers the best of what the sport has to offer. It has the best practitioners, the best facilities, concessions, and perhaps the best atmosphere. One reason the sport as a whole and MLB in particular have been significantly woven into the fabric of our culture is that it has evolved alongside modern American history from the time of its earliest introduction in the 1800s.
Here let’s touch on slavery.
Some would argue that slavery has been in existence in various forms throughout human history. I would argue for the premise that an aspect of slavery exists within a symbiotic relationship. The slave and slaveowner share a commonality. The lives of both slave and slaveowner are closely connected. They have a shared priority, that being the quality of life of the slaveowner. Wrong or right, for worse or for better, there are potentially more damaging things than slavery. “Racial” segregation is one.
Slavery has as a fundamental characteristic, the role of status. The single dividing aspect between slave and slaveowner is social status. Remove status, and you are left with equals. I will not assert that people are basically equal, but I offer this fact, all people can be treated as equals. “Racial” segregation, on the other hand has no such purity, for it assumes people are different, and by implication are not equal, therefore should not be treated equally. It also assumes that these “different” people prefer to be separated from those who are “different” from them and integrated with those who are not.
Here is where it is not equal by any measure. Segregation means you will have no part of my life. I will have no part of your life. You are denied the experience of everything that I contribute to our culture, and I am deprived of everything you and your’s contribute. To the extent that people are not equal, winners and losers are born out of the denial of access that segregation causes. What is the implication in the difference created with segregation? If you are a slave you have value to the slaveowner’s life. If you are part of a segregated “race” you have no such value whatever. By extension you are of no value. If anything, you are a detriment. Welcome to my neighborhood. Segregation was the flawed solution to our post-slave society.
Back to baseball.
Our sport existed for a time in a state of separate organized competitive leagues. There were Negro leagues because baseball was completely segregated well into the 20th Century. MLB is a prosperous multi billion dollar industry today. The Negro leagues collapsed long before the first African American player was allowed into MLB in 1947. The success of professional baseball relative to other forms of entertainment is often underestimated.
The prosperity of the nation has parallels to the expansion of professional baseball. Thirty cities house major league franchises. That is double the number of the original 1876 league of clubs. There are close to 240 minor league professional teams. Their existence allows the profession to permeate throughout the country in the small towns and communities which lack the population density to fill 50,000 plus seat stadiums 81 days each year. Revenue is generated from live attendance of games at every level. Concessions, souvenirs/memorabilia (including licensing and merchandising of same), advertising, and broadcast media involve an almost exponential income stream. Forbes estimates the current value of the Los Angeles Dodgers franchise at $3 billion.
The first modern renaissance of the segregated MLB was highlighted by the career of home run champion George Herman ‘Babe’ Ruth who’s 1927 New York Yankees are considered by many to be the greatest team of all time. Flash back to the the economic frivolity of the 1920’s, which culminated with the crash of the New York Stock Exchange in 1929, signaling the beginnings of the Great Depression.
Fast forward through three wars and several economic and political crises to arrive at perhaps the historical peak of the sport. The integrated MLB of the 1980s decade not only had the best American players but a significant number from foreign countries. By the end of the decade close to 15% of the player pool was foreign born. 1993 reached a significant demographic milestone when the percentage of foreign players equaled that of African American players. Today, 228 players from 13 different countries comprise 27% of the league. While the number of African Americans has decreased to 68 players, less than 8%. In part two of this series, I will discuss some of the theories for these numbers and try to determine what role segregation played, if any.