Tag Archives: NBA

Posties’ Problem? They’re Wearing the Wrong Type of Uniform

By Jason Menard

The problem with Canada Post? They don’t throw deliveries through a hoop into your mailbox or have to feint past a postal opponent to shoot your mail into a community box. If they had, supporters would have welcomed them back with open arms – a case we’ve seen repeated over and over in the sporting world.

The postal lock-out has now been over for a week, thanks to back-to-work legislation from the federal government. Despite the filibustering efforts of the NDP, the Conservatives finally got their chance to use a majority – and they did. Continue reading

Union Must Decide Who it Represents

If the NBA’s players’ association actually appeals the suspensions levied this weekend against noted bad boys Stephen Jackson and Ron Artest, then they’re doing a disservice to the rest of its constituency.

I get it. You’re a union. And unions protect their membership without fail. There’s something admirable in that for sure, but the positives are grossly outweighed by the negatives.

After all, there are no absolutes in life, and this is one case where the players’ association should realize that discretion is truly the better part of valour.

Jackson and Artest were each suspended seven games on Saturday for off-the-field incidents: Artest’s May misdemeanor domestic violence charge and Jackson’s June shoot-‘em-up outside of an Indiana strip club. And while Jackson, for once, has shown grace in accepting his punishment, his union representation is already floating trial balloons about the inherent unfairness of these punishments in light of past precedents.

Let’s just hope those trial balloons pop — and soon.

Maybe, when compared with previous suspensions for off-the-field transgressions, these suspensions are a tad harsher. But the union has to understand that this is the dawn of a new era in sport.

There’s a huge backlash against thug culture. What started innocently as the big, bad Raiders, morphed into the more gangster lean of the NBA. Tatooed bad boys with a heart of gold like Alan Iverson, for a while, were the poster boys of the league. Long gone were the days of crew cuts and nut huggers — piercings, ink, and baggy shorts were the style and the kids ate it up.

But now the pendulum’s shifted too far. Not a week goes by without some NFL player getting busted for some sort of transgression — usually involving alcohol, violence, or both — a fact that inspired ProFootballTalk.com to set up a Days Without an Arrest counter. NBA players have gone from Thug-lite Iversons to full-on, remorseless punks like Artest and Jackson. It wasn’t that long ago that these two were at the centre of a disgraceful display in Detroit — and they apparently haven’t learned their lesson.

Yes, the NBA Players Association has a mandate to protect its membership. But who needs protecting here? Two childish morons who think slapping women or endangering innocents with a firearm are just fun and games, or the majority of hard-working NBAers who are going to have their reputations tarnished simply through guilt by association?

Artest and Jackson have had chance after chance. Of course, this is also an association who felt that a suspension for a player choking his coach was unjust, when in truth jail time would have been warranted.

It’s a changing world. People are fed up with the inmates running the asylum. The average sports fan isn’t sitting on the couch, polishing his 9 and running down a list of people in whom they’re going to bust a cap. They’re not making it rain at the local adult emporium and then getting their posse to rough up a poor kid just for looking at them cross-eyed.

No, they’re at home with their kids, looking for an evening’s diversion with their kids. They’re looking to root for their favourite club without wondering if they’re supporting drug runners, rapists, and murderers. They’re looking to the LeBron Jameses, Shaquille O’Neals, and Ladainian Tomlinsons of the world to entertain them.

Unfortunately, too often they’re getting the Artests, Jacksons, Tank Johnsons, and Michael Vicks. Eventually — and arguably it’s already started – they’re going to get fed up and show their displeasure with the only resource they have at their disposal — their money.

When the fans leave, so too do the mega-million salaries — and that impacts each and every player, not just the goons who brought this cloud of negativity.

So the NBA players’ association needs to make a choice. Who is it protecting — the majority of players who are solid, hard-working players who are representing the union’s membership to its fullest, or the few bad seeds who are taking advantage of their position and poisoning the rest of the league with their selfishness.

A union is supposed to be a collective working together to support each other’s best interests. So before they rush to a negative judgment, maybe the union should consider in whose interests Artest and Jackson have been working.

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Fans Pay for Players’ Mistakes

By Jason Menard

The latest NBA brawl is notable mainly because of the harsh reaction by the league. Of course, as is the case in all of these situations, the only true loser is the fans.

Think about this. The NBA’s leading scorer, Carmelo Anthony, has been rightly suspended for 15 games for his involvement in a recent on-court dust-up between the New York Knicks and Anthony’s Denver Nuggets. Anthony, of course, is one of the leagues “next ones,” drafted behind only Cleveland’s LeBron James and Orlando’s Darko Milicic (originally chosen by Detroit) and before Toronto’s Chris Bosh.

The length of the suspension shows two things: one, the league is serious about cracking down on violence, even if that means suspending one if its young, marquee talents; and, two, the league really doesn’t care that much about its fans.

That’s right. By suspending Carmelo Anthony (and, to a lesser extent, the other players who received varying degrees of penalties), the league has said to the NBA fans in general – and Denver fans in particular – that it doesn’t care about providing value for the entertainment dollar. Discipline defeats customer appreciation every time.

Of those 15 games that Anthony has been suspended, 12 of them take place in Denver. With the team clinging to seventh place in the Western Conference, there’s a good chance that after 10 games without its top two scorers (J.R. Smith received 10 games off for his involvement in the fracas) the club will find itself on the outside looking in. That means you’ve got two sets of losers: the team and the hard-working, money-paying fans.

By suspending Anthony, who is already rich beyond most of our wildest dreams – no matter how wild your dreams may be, the league has done minimal damage to the player. Sure, his endorsements may falter a little bit, but they’ll come back (Kobe Bryant, anyone?) In the end, Anthony suffers little more than a 15-game break that will end up leaving him fresher in the long run – perhaps bestowing an advantage to him during the end-of-season grind.

But imagine if you’re a Nuggets fan, who has saved up all year – or longer – to earn enough to pay for a couple of seasons’ tickets. You sacrifice on other things for the right to go to the game to see one of the league’s elite players on a nightly basis – only to have that taken away from you because of one player’s selfish act.

Or what about those dedicated fans who may have planned a holiday trip to Colorado, partly to catch their beloved Nuggets in action. The value of their trip has gone down, but I don’t see anyone in the NBA offering a reimbursement.

Sure, Anthony’s the one getting punished, but why does it have to hurt the fan so much?

Like the punk kid in school who looks at a suspension as nothing more than time off of school, the NBA’s form of punishment here is ineffective at best – and punitive to the fans at worst (don’t believe me? Try asking some Indiana Pacers’ fans about their experience a couple of years back).

So what’s the solution? Simple. Anthony doesn’t miss a single game. He continues to play for the Nuggets, providing the fans value for their money. However, he does not earn any salary for the duration of his suspension – essentially working for free. And then, at the end of the season, he is compelled to perform various acts of league-imposed community service in the Denver community as a way to make up for sullying the club’s name. And the same goes for the players in New York.

The other alternative is to make players financially liable for the losses incurred by the franchise or the fans as a result of their actions. If a player’s suspension results in the loss of playoff revenue, then perhaps a percentage of the player’s salary should be returned to the club in the form of compensation.

In fact, why not open up class action suits for fans who can prove that their investment has been devalued by these actions? A season ticket holder can argue that his 40+ game investment has lost over a quarter of its value – and the player could then be responsible for reimbursing every fan who makes a claim (within reason of course). Maybe a nice hand-written note of apology could accompany each cheque.

Of course, this will never happen. For a Player’s Association that defends its members, even if they choke management (and, yes, I’m looking at you Latrell Sprewell), doing the right thing comes second to protecting its dues-paying members.

But imagine if we could hit players where it truly hurts – in the pocketbook. Heck, these guys all say they love the game so much they’d play it for free, but I have a belief that when push comes to shove money matters. When you threaten those paycheques – or make them play without pay – chances are incidents like this will drop dramatically. In the NBA – as in any professional sport – money talks. So this solution could be used in all major sports: the NHL, NFL, and MLB!

Best of all, this would only impact a small number of people, as most athletes are fine, upstanding individuals. But if you’re going to step outside of the rules, you should be forced to own up to your transgressions.

After all, it’s not the fans’ fault, so why should they be forced to pay – both literally and figuratively – for someone else’s mistakes?

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

MVP Debate’s True Value? It’s on the Front Page

By Jason Menard

It’s the age-old debate that the leagues don’t want you to solve – what exactly does Most Valuable Player mean?

Every year around this same time, fans and pundits alike of both the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association bring up the same debate: is it best player or most valuable to his team? The wording of the award, Most Valuable Player, plays into that ambiguity itself. There’s no clear definition and the leagues like it that way.

After all, subjective post-season awards are almost as insignificant as all-star nominations. If it weren’t for this borderline-inane debate, we wouldn’t care half as much about these awards. And due to the vague nature of their criteria, any decision will be met with debate, discussion, and even derision.

All of which is good for the ol’ ratings and keeping the sport on the front pages of the newspapers, even when the on-ice or on-court action is a little thin.

However, at the end of the day few remember who or how many, they remember generalities and classifications. Few sports fans would be able to accurately tell you how many individual awards Wayne Gretzky walked away with during his career – but they’d, to a person, be able to identify that he was one of the game’s greats. Same goes for Michael Jordon on the hard court. The image of both is not one of them holding their individual awards aloft – it’s them holding the symbols of team supremacy above their heads.

And there, despite the desires of the professional sports leagues to suppress the answer, is the truth. Sports, despite their focus on individual accomplishments, are in their truest form a team game. Thereby, when we’re looking at a true definition of what most valuable truly means, it has to be done within a team context.

Of course, solving that debate only leads to more discussion. After all, can a player be considered the league’s most valuable player even if his team doesn’t make the playoffs? Conversely, is it easier for a player to dominate when surrounded by a stronger supporting cast, which would make the need for team success secondary to the overall dynamic?

Look no further than Canada’s NBA franchise for direction. While the pundits bandy about names like Steve Nash, LeBron James, and Chauncey Billups in terms of who will appear at the top of their ballot, the Toronto Raptors’ Chris Bosh’s name hasn’t even received a whisper of support. But, in the overall scheme of things, does any player mean more to his team than Bosh? The Raptors, with Bosh in the line-up, are a below-average team that’s capable of competing on a nightly basis. Take the lanky forward out of the line-up and what do you get? The recent multi-game losing streak and poor performances are indicators of that.

Billups, whose team’s starting line-up appeared in the All-Star Game, has the support of solid role players. He fits the role of best player on the best team, but the Detroit Pistons arguably could enjoy significant success without him. Nash? James? Dwayne Wade? All of them are on stronger rosters than Bosh.

The problem’s magnified to a greater degree when we look at the NHL. NBA players often play significant minutes in their games. Even the top NHL forwards will play just over a third of each game. The top defencemen may see half-a-game’s worth of action. Hockey’s team approach almost precludes the concept of one player – save for a goaltender – being considered a difference-maker of the nature that basketball provides. While a Joe Thornton has almost single-handedly revitalized the San Jose Sharks, one would be hard-pressed to say that removing him from the line-up would find his squad scraping the bottom of the NHL’s barrel. Teams like Carolina, Detroit, and Calgary show that the entire roster plays a role in the team’s success? So how does one define the most valuable in this race?

In the end, the most value that the Most Valuable Player debate has is the fact that it gets people talking and invested in the league. As the games get fewer and farther between and golf season looms for a handful of clubs in both leagues, the Most Valuable Player race keeps these sports on the front pages of the sports sections and foremost in the minds of the sporting public.

To the league, it really doesn’t matter who wins. All that matters is you care and you’re talking about it.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Time for Raptors to Evolve

By Jason Menard

Is it too late to pick up the “loveable losers” tag from the Chicago Cubs because the 2005-2006 edition of the Toronto Raptors certainly need something to hang their hat on?

Alas, following a November that left the team 1-15 on the season is just pitifully bad. The eminently likeable head coach Sam Mitchell appears before the media’s cameras resembling Nero more and more, fiddling while the franchise burns behind him.

There are only so many times you can say your team is playing hard, working hard, learning well, developing in practice, or whatever other excuse Mitchell’s been using to deflect the fans from the hard and fast truth. This is a bad team.

Hope for the future is great and all, but we live in an instant gratification society. It’s easier to appreciate the aging of a fine wine when you’ve been able to taste a couple of batches along the way to test its progress. However, if you make that same wine aficionado abstain until the vintage is ready, chances are you’re going to have some cranky days along the way.

It’s fine and dandy to promise wins that will come one day, but the fans need the odd reminder of what a W looks and feels like.

Compounding this is the natural inferiority we, as Canadians, feel about our professional sports franchises. Whether or not we like to admit it out loud there’s always a feeling that these professional leagues, based south of the border, look at Canadian franchises as nothing more than annoyances better to be relocated to a more favourable environment. And it’s not a fear based on paranoia as NBA fans in Vancouver, MLB fans in Montreal, and NHL fans in Quebec City and Winnipeg will attest to.

Winning is the only way to ensure long-term financial security. The Toronto Blue Jays have started to figure it out, investing money into a franchise that’s not even a contender in its big-money game, but has a little potential for success. Remember, we Canadians support our teams win or tie!

But beyond fan support, the other aspect that we as Canadians have to deal with is American ignorance. Getting players to relocate north of the 49 th is as difficult as pulling teeth at times. So, once they’re here we want them to stay. Make ‘em happy, keep ‘em smiling and maybe more will come. Take a look at the World Series-winning Jays for example – they were a franchise that people wanted to play for, not a destination to be avoided at all costs.

Which brings us to the NBA’s Raptors. Blessed with the rights to a talented cornerstone upon which the franchise can be built in Chris Bosh, already the concerns are starting to rise. Will he stay once his rookie deal’s done? Can we keep him? Do we have the right management to build a contender before he bolts south of the border?

It’s not a lot of fun in Raptorland, either for the players or the fans. Despite the ever-gracious Bosh and fan-favourite Matt Bonner the team hasn’t been able to capture the fans’ imaginations as loveable losers – they’re just losers, and that has to stop.

It’s time for a complete overhaul of the franchise, only a decade into its existence. The team is burdened with a dinosaur-sized weight of past burdens left malcontents like Damon Stoudamire, Tracy McGrady, and Vince Carter, dismal seasons, and lost hope. The 2005-2006 Raptors have been crafted with the idea of starting from scratch and building together for a bright new future powered by Bosh and fuelled by rookies like Charlie Villaneuva, Joey Graham, and Jose Calderon. Why hamper their development by fitting them with ill-fitting clothes?

It’s time to finally make the Raptor extinct and create a new attitude and culture of winning. It’s not enough to just rearrange the furniture if the exterior looks the same. Open the concept of a new team name to the fans and let them feel some sort of ownership for the franchise. Choose a colour scheme and logo that kids can be proud to wear. And wipe the slate clean of the history of losing that the Raptors name carries with it.

The team has tried everything else: new managers, new upper management, new ownership, and new players. So why not start a new era with a new attitude and new mentality, prominently displayed by a new logo.

After all, the Toronto Loveable Losers doesn’t sound any worse than what they are now, does it?

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved