A discussion on the Mac Attack on WFNZ 610 AM The Fan last week prompted the question: “is the NBA the 2nd best sport in America right now?” There are a lot of reasons to answer yes to that questions. First the playoffs have
been entertaining. Derek Rose went down in game 1 of the Bulls/76ers first round series changing the landscape of the Eastern Conference side of things. Then the aging Boston Celtics valiantly came close to knocking off the stacked Miami Heat team behind a rejuvenated Kevin Garnett. The playoffs also gave us an incredible run by Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs that was only stopped by the Seattle Su… Oops I mean the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Finals are upon us with Kevin Durant leading the Thunder against Lebron James and the Heat.
The NBA also held its Draft Lottery (which is a horrible way to decide who drafts in what order) and created a lot of publicity and news by screwing the Charlotte Bobcats, but that conversation is for another day. On a side note: I must say it has been very disappointing to see the NBA Commissioner, David Stern, acting and saying the things he has been, like in his conversation with Jim Rome. Totally inappropriate. There is also intrigue and speculation that several team names could change. Included in those rumors are the Charlotte Bobcats getting the Hornets team name back (see Bring Back The Buzz), the New Orleans Hornets becoming the Jazz, the Utah Jazz becoming the Grizzlies, the Memphis Grizzled becoming the Blues, etc. etc. etc.
As exciting as this shortened NBA season and playoffs have been, it still doesn’t compare to my love of baseball. Being from Chicago I spent a lot of summer days walking through Bridgeport from my grandparents house to 35th & Shields, the location of Comiskey Park and home of the White Sox. If we weren’t at the stadium we were either watching or listening to the South-Siders.
The White Sox did not have much success during the mid to late 80′s when we would go to the games. They were typically in the bottom of the American League West and never contended for an AL pennant. It didn’t matter. We still cheered on Carlton Fisk, Greg Walker, and Bobby Thigpen. When Cal Ripken Jr. and the Orioles came to town, I cheered for Ozzie Guillen. When Roger Clemens came to Comiskey, I could not have cared less. All that matter was whether or not Harold Baines could go 2-4 with a home run, a single, and 3 RBI against him.
After we moved to Columbia, SC I realized there was more to baseball than just the White Sox. There was the hated team on the north side of town. The team my grandfather never talked about. The team my uncle, who was casted out of the family, cheered for as much as we pulled for the White Sox. Yes, I discovered the Chicago Cubs. At such a young age I did not understand ‘Sports Hate’ and started cheering for both teams. Little did I know this would cause such a problem in my family. People in Chicago and all over the world exclaimed “You can’t possibly root for the White Sox AND the Cubs!” That didn’t matter to me and every time we went back to Chicago for the summer I made sure it included a trip to Wrigley so I could see Ryne Sandberg, Rick Sutcliffe, and Andre Dawson.
It was in 1987 that I started collecting baseball cards. I didn’t have many but when I got some I immediately traded them for White Sox players. Trading an Ozzie Smith card just so I could get an Ivan Calderon card was a steal in my opinion. Swapping a 1987 Topps Mark McGwire card for a beautiful 1988 Topps Harold Baines card sounded like a no-brainer.
Now having TBS in Columbia I also started watching the Atlanta Braves. I wasn’t much of a Braves fan, but everyone in Columbia liked them and it was a chance to watch more baseball. I was able to see more National League teams and players than ever before. It was also in Columbia that I got my first taste of minor league baseball. The local team was the Columbia Mets and they were the single A affiliate of the New York Mets. My dad always got tickets through his work at WLTX – CBS Channel 19 so we went almost every night. We saw fun players go through there such as Todd Hundley, Butch Huskey, and various other future Mets players.
It wasn’t until I moved to Gastonia in 1993 that I discovered fantasy baseball. Here I could use my knowledge of the sport to beat my parents in the famous statistics game. Later leagues turned into friends and eventually the internet. Yes I still play.
I also continued to buy baseball cards. I stopped making the bad trades I did when I was a youngster but still collected a lot of White Sox and Cubs players along with a few Braves. During this time period Frank Thomas, Sammy Sosa, and Greg Maddux were the guys I was after along with a speedster I had my eye on for a few years, Rickey Henderson. Rickey was a great leadoff hitter and a stolen base expert. I believe he still holds the MLB records for stolen bases, walks, and leadoff home runs. The 1980 Topps Rickey Henderson Rookie Card #482 eluded me for many years until I finally got a hold of one. Yes I still have it, along with over 100,000 baseball, football, and basketball cards.
In 1994 when Major League Baseball went on strike, I stayed true to my sport. Yes I had a love for college football and basketball, but I missed baseball more than anything, and when the season started late in 1995 I was there waiting. I followed the Atlanta Braves and their consecutive playoff appearance streak. I watched as the New York Yankees made a return to the spotlight winning the World Series in ’96, ’98, ’99 and 2000. I was mesmerized by the home run displays of McGwire, Sosa, and later on Barry Bonds. I celebrated when stars I watched went into the hall of fame including Nolan Ryan, Mike Schmidt, and Tony Gwynn. I shed a tear when Cal Ripken sat out his first game in almost his whole career in 1998. I was amazed as Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, and Randy Johnson gave new meaning to the word ‘pitcher’.
Then in October of 2003 I, along with millions of other Cubs fans, watched in horror as the curse (yes I believe in the Billy Goat curse) reared its ugly head in game 6 of the NLCS. With Chicago up 3 games to 2 over Florida and home field advantage for game 6 and 7 (if necessary), Steve Bartman interfered on a foul ball that Moises Alou would’ve caught for an out. The Cubs may still have given up a run or two that inning and maybe even lost the game, but after that play they were so distraught, so emotionally drained (game 1 was emotionally draining for me) that there was no way the Cubs could hold off the Marlins, who went on to win the World Series over the Yankees.
The world of baseball was slightly ‘righted’ in 2004 when the Boston Red Sox exercised their own demons by knocking off their rival New York Yankees after trailing 3 games to 0 in the ALCS before besting the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, breaking the curse of the Bambino.
A second curse was broken in 2005 as my beloved White Sox made a playoff run. Not having won a World Series since throwing the 1919 World Series, Chicago tore through the AL playoffs beating Boston 4-0 and beating the Anaheim Angels 4-1. In the World Series they faced a team that surprised many by even being in the playoffs, the Houston Astros. They however proved to be no match for the South-Siders as they were swept 4-0 as well. Millions in Chicago celebrated and I watched the parade a couple of days later on my TV at my office.
Now, as a grown man, I still follow the game. I still collect baseball cards. I still cheer for both the White Sox and the Cubs. As a big South Carolina fan from my years in Columbia I am cheering for Michael Roth and the Gamecocks as they try to win their 3rd straight College World Series. And all three of my kids love the game as well. While visiting family in California this April we took in a Arizona Diamondbacks at San Diego Padres game and just last week we went to see a Triple A match up between the Indianapolis Indians and the Charlotte Knights. They love playing tee ball and baseball and they love to look the stacks and boxes and binders of cards. I might possibly have the world largest collection of Harold Baines cards and rookies.
So when you asked me if I think the NBA is the 2nd best sport in America, I say no. To me it is well behind baseball, and football (both college and pro). Matter of fact last night I had the choice between listening to game 3 of the NBA Finals on my car radio or listening to the Sunday night baseball match up between the last place Red Sox and the last place Cubs. Which do you think I chose?
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