My friend and Oskar Blues aficionado Yvon posted a thought on Twitter today whilst we both watched Celtics/Heat across a state that got me thinking. He typed, “I enjoy pro basketball more than pro football because I and it are just better than whatever it is you like.”
Jazzy egotism aside, what he verbalizes about basketball is similar to the reluctance and eye-rolling necessary to be a soccer fan in America (or basketball fan in suburbia). Both are beautiful, physical games whose brilliance and creativity now (and in some cases always) spring from the “peasant” parts of town.
And in the same way Jim Rome had to backtrack on NASCAR, American media will do with soccer what they did with basketball: come on board and reluctantly embrace what gets the ratings. Hoops and soccer have something in common: all it takes is a ball and a makeshift goal. The fellas and ladies paying thousands of dollars to improve their games in a gym or fieldhouse are learning and improving on the same skills as the kids in the streets. Do they have a better look at getting “noticed?” Of course, this is a money world, but in a sense the respective sports each play the role of great equalizer.
So now that all kids are playing, heading into college together and sharing interests, the TV is gonna notice. When the TV buys into the sport, as ESPN, ABC and Fox have done with soccer and hoops, folks have to give it respect. This is why hockey will never, ever move past football, basketball, baseball and soccer in America: it’s always going to cost too much to be universal. Baseball realized this with its RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program but getting kids nice ball diamonds, gloves and bats is always going to cost a heck of a lot more than helmets, shoulder pads, elbow pads, gloves, cups, pants, shin guard, skates and sticks (let alone ice time versus gym time). And so perhaps that’s the fight the NHL and NHLPA are having right now. The sport will barely get bigger, so dividing the recent past’s relatively explosive spoils is as important as it will ever be to both groups.