A little dishing on sports

All-Star Madness

April of 1999 was not a good time to be Jeff Van Gundy.  His Knicks were on the periphery of the playoff chase; he was in the midst of a major power struggle with GM Ernie Grunfeld; and Alonzo Mourning was continuing to refuse his increasingly desperate pleas for a steel cage rematch of their 1998 leg-grabber of a scrum.  By the end of the month, though, Van Gundy was well on his way to one of the most memorable runs in Knick history.  I was still a season ticket holder back in ’99 and I will always remember that spring for Larry Johnson’s “4,” the greatest single moment of my time watching the Knicks, the feeling of joy I had every night going to games and perhaps most of all, how Knick fans rallied behind the team, and how we rallied behind Van Gundy, culminating in fans chanting his name at various points during games to let management know who we backed in the power struggle.  I’ll never forget watching Van Gundy from Section 406 as he stood on the sidelines, trying to remain stoic, lower lip jutting out, afraid to shift any body part for fear that he would lose the moment.  He was visibly moved by the support from the fans, and despite the fact that Van Gundy’s offense was less creative than an episode of According to Jim, I remember thinking that he’s the guy I wanted coaching my team.

Fast forward ten years and, well, to put it bluntly, Jeff Van Gundy’s done lost his damn mind!  I’m all for rewarding individuals who contribute to team success in basketball, but Van Gundy’s assertion, which gains traction year after year, that players from sub-.500 teams shouldn’t make all-star teams  is beyond ridiculous.  I understand why JVG feels this way.  I remember watching those really good Knick teams of the early 90’s and seeing Patrick Ewing get a good deal of acclaim while valuable players like John Starks and Charles Oakley were overlooked (although they both did eventually make an all-star team).  Van Gundy was always a fierce advocate for those types of players who sacrifice shots, their bodies, their sanity, all in the name of team and deserved to be recognized.  But we’ve taken this too far.  Remember the uproar last year over Cavaliers guard Mo Williams not making the all-star team?  “Sure other guys have better statistics,” pundits said, “but Mo Williams is playing well on a great team.”  Then came the Orlando playoff series during which Mo Williams looked smaller than Hayden Panettiere and I wondered how good the guy really was. 

I admit that I have a particular interest in this matter.  You see, I’ve been watching David Lee all year and witnessed a basketball player who has completely transformed.  He’s gone from an athletic, energetic rebounder who was effective scoring around the basket to being a primary offensive option, a true go to guy, without whom the Knicks could not possibly on this 14-10 run in the last 24 games.  He’s also playing much better defense, thank you very much, Bill Simmons.   Go back to swirling around the bowl with your NFL playoff picks and leave the Knicks — who I’ll bet you only watch when it doesn’t conflict with your manicure appointments – alone.

I want to see the best players in the league on all-star weekend; not the guys who NBA coaches brainwash fans into thinking are better than they are; not the guys writers pimp because they’re living in 2006.  Really, Ian Thomsen, Vince Carter was your toughest omission from the team? 

The NBA All-Star game is played to honor the individuals who are having the best seasons.  Basketball is the sport in which individual dominance most often translates into team success.  But it doesn’t always happen that way and it’s simply unfair to punish standout individuals because their teammates aren’t able to match their proficiency.  It’s like saying Mike Breen won’t be allowed to broadcast the finals because his partner isn’t good enough.  Aw, don’t take me seriously, JVG, I’m just pulling your leg.


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