Bedside and Butterworth: Why Sentimentality Has No Place in the Pros
[Note: I started writing this a couple weeks ago when the whole Brett Favre thing was taking shape. I was going to trash it, but as the Favre saga continues, I shall follow through with writing about a bunch of stuff that might be un-timely and non-FD-relevant before getting to Artest as the "topic du day." Also see Shoals' take on Sporting News although I'm not gonna read it till later today, because we wrote these pieces simultaneously and I am afraid of the overlap]
I watched the MLB home run derby a couple weeks and was probably the only person rooting for Justin Morneau. The story of course was Josh Hamilton, a god-fearing former heroin addict, whose redemption story is as good as any, and upon whom endless gushing praise and wonder was placed. I'll spare you the easy [(GASP) Josh-Howard-smokes-weed (!)] double-standard angle on this story, because what I want to focus on is the discrepancy between the treatment of Morneau and Hamilton.
Morneau won. Nobody cared. When Morneau came up the first time to bat, Rick Reilly was asked what he thought about Morneau, and Reilly responded that he didn't think that he belonged to be there and (more highly publicized) that there were too many white guys in the competiton. "It looks like a Kiwanis club meeting," Reills said hyuk hyuk. (The same outrage fell upon Morneau when he quietly won the MVP award in 2006 over Derek Jeter. ESPN and others called it one of the worst MVP selections of all time even though Morneau pretty much single-handedly propelled the Twins into the playoffs and had far better numbers than Jeter)....Oh, also, the guy who presented the big winner's check to Morneau (the Vice President of MLB) called him JASON.
Contrast that to the Jesus-Walks treatment of Hamilton. As the competition progressed Karl Raveich and the boys, as well as the entirety of Yankee Stadium, were willing Hamilton to a victory that never came. Raveich predicted he would hit one OUT of the park. "The Final Countdown" played on the speakers. Everyone was on their feet, wanting to see the the dreams of the saved drug abuser fulfill his dream of winning the derby at Yankee Stadium.
And of course he didn't.
And that's why sentimentality is inherently bad for sports.
And that's why this Brett Favre thing is more complicated than just the annoyance of his "I don't want to cause a distraction" distraction. It's about how Brett Favre captured the hearts of Wisconsinites and is now--no matter what he does--completely incapable of riding off into any sort of snow-melting sunset and providing that satisfaction to his adorers. There are such a finite number of "things to be won" during each sports season (all-star appearances, championships, rookie of the year awards) that sports is inevitably often disappointing. At this stage in Brett's life, he isn't going to win a Superbowl, so the best he could do was what he did last year: break a bunch of records, bring the Packers back from the dead, and go out with a gutsy/foolish pass like the "gunslinger" he always was. Sentimentality, though, reaches for more of a narrative, and more of a cinematic ending--something that Favre, Iverson, and even KG in winning his championship (oh, how he should have won it in Minnesota where it all began--or even Chicago would have been better) will never be able to attain. Jordan couldn't do it either. Jerome Bettis barely got his.
Let's bring this on back home and talk about Gilbert, his big ole contract, and the legendary pre-signing piece that Sally Jenkins wrote on him. Jenkins' argument for Gilbert's importance was a sentimental one--what Gilbert BRINGS to the District is immeasurable and intangible goodness of character. Gilbert is love, and Gilbert is loved. And so it basically becomes a non-decision for Ernie Grunfeld to sign Arenas for whatever he wants, one that has little to do with basketball. Does the core of Arenas/Butler/Jamison get you to the ECF in a conference filled with establishments like the Celts and Pistons, up-and-comers like the nu-look Bulls/Heat/Sixers, and the Lebrons?
Who knows. But, letting Gilbert leave the Wiz would be like choosing to die rather than shelling out a little extra money for a pacemaker (NOTE: Gilbert is the HEART in this metaphor, not the pacemaker). And for a team like the Wizards, that has completely transcended traditional metrics of wins, losses, and +/- , making the sentimental decision is a relatively safe choice no matter how the Wizards do this year.
Take a team like the Denver Nuggets, on the other hand, and sentimentality becomes a huge burden. I've been saying it for years. Denver will never ever ever ever compete with the elite Western teams under the current permutation of Melo-ball. The guy (Carmelo) might be a top six talent on his own and might win a couple titles before it's all said and done, but something about Denver and Melo is just spiritually unsettling. The chi is not right. And you have to wonder whether Denver could have sent Melo to the Kings for some Artest (I'm getting there) in some sort of super-swap (+ a first rounder? + Kevin Martin? + Brad Miller?). What about Melo for Bosh straight up? Melo for Shawn Marion in some sort of sign and trade situation? I know any jackass with a keyboard can come up with a million of these permutations, but you know what? They all make sense in terms of bringing a bit more toughness and defense to the Nugs without sacrificing the (tremendously flawed) style of play that George Karl is so fond of.
But Melo is to Denver what Arenas is to Washington, their emotional centerpiece. An untouchable commodity regardless of his skill on the court (or in the playoffs). Even after Carmelo's DUI, you just couldn't see the Nugs parting with the guy. The jersey sales, the loveable baby fattened grin, the youthful vigor he bestows upon a team of aching knees. Forget that in Karl's current system he's basically playing the role of a glorified Zach Randolph, what Carmelo symbolizes in his metaphysical essence is a much larger thing: It symbolizes a departure from 17-65.....actually, bigger: a departure from 11-71. And so it's gonna take a lot more than stop snitchin videos, playoff flubs, bronze medals, weed incidents, and DUIs for Melo to lose his emotional hold over Denver...
Which somehow brings me to Artest... I guess keeping with the theme of sentimentality, you have to start talking about the implications for McGrady. This is a very similar situation to the KG trade last year where--the conventional wisdom was that--if KG didn't win it all with Pierce and Ray Ray by his side, his legacy would take a huge, huge blow. Thing was, nobody knew if Pierce and Allen were that good....but they sure as hell covered KG's ass in the end, and it all turned out gloriously. Artest is an even bigger question mark. He kind of screwed up Jermaine O'Neal's life, and maybe even the Maloofs' lives to a certain degree (although the general consensus on this thing was that Sac got a pretty good deal....[ make sure to peep Ziller setting shit off from a Sac-town POV]). Who knows what havoc he could wreak on the emotionally unstable T-Mac. Not to mention Yao.
On the heels' of Shoals' redundancy theory, the obvious question is how do Battier and Artest coexist? As Shoals asked me to posit, What the hell is the lineup? Do you put Artest at the 4 (leaving Yao with scant rebounding help), do you make Battier the sixth man? Do you trade Battier for Rashad McCants, Craig Smith, and a second-rounder? (yes please). Does anyone remember what Adelman did with Miller-Divac-Webber-Christie-Peja-Bibby? (I seriously can't recall). At any rate, Artest and Battier on the floor at the same time is the NBA equivalent of Two-Face, which is inevitably leading me to pick the Rockets to win it all for the fourth year running.
And if they don't, what of T-Mac's legacy? Can we not say that he "had his help?" Does anybody on Houston really match up with Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Nowitzki, or Amare? Or are the Rockets the new prototype? The fragility of this situation makes me long for the days when McGrady was a fourth-tier upstart all the way up in Toronto. He could skate through the season relatively undetected, and at least when times got tough and playoff series got lost, he could find comfort in the arms of his cousin, Vince.