This Week in Sports Entertainment History

Two weeks ago Tim Tebow was selected by Denver as the 25th overall pick in the NFL draft. It was a reach yes—at least he can sell shit—but it seems, at least to me, that this story was grossly overrun and over-hyped.

Tebow as a topic tends to polarize people and generate ratings, although this isn’t to say that this is new behavior for sports media. Remember those NFL off-season stories that ran incessantly with Brett Favre in 2008 or Terrell Owens in 2006 or that little row Tiger had with Elin last Thanksgiving? 

ESPN was the vanguard for airing this sort of stuff ad nauseum, but these days other sports media entities are fairly canted towards sensationalism as well.

ESPN has gotten to the point where their bald disdain for literate adults with demands on their time is staggering. It’s almost as if their target market is nothing more than jort-wearing, mouth-breathing troglodytes who want nothing more than to enjoy the inanity of discussing sports on a superficial level for 24 hours a day.

Ranting aside, this trend in sports media means many stories are understated or overlooked altogether, which is the impetus for this column.

Each week we’ll take a look back at media coverage of stories from either five or 10 years ago and reassess in our 20/20 context. Did Owens’ signing with Dallas in March of 2006 warrant coverage of leviathan proportions. A fun factoid: Drew Brees was signed by the Saints just four days before Owens’.  Which signing seems radically more important today?

This week we look back at the first week of May in 2005.

The Lakers were imploding while Shaq, who was second only to Steve Nash in MVP voting, and D-Wade were burgeoning, Barry Bonds was being evaluated for tax fraud, the ACC had to pay a miserly $5 million to the Big East for the BC defection, Tom Brady was considering a move to politics, and Larry Cochell, former Sooner baseball skipper, was forced to resign for calling one of his players “a good nigger.”  But that week one story stole headlines: officiating in the Rockets v. Mavs 7-game tilt.

Refresher:

The Rockets opened up the series by taking the first two games on the road in Dallas with the help of Tracy McGrady’s defense of Dirk and this:

McGrady dunk on Shawn Bradley

Then, after Mark Cuban placed a call to the league officials office re Yao Ming’s screen setting, Dallas would take two in Houston.  Jeff Van Gundy, correctly, accused the series officials of treating Yao in a different manner than other players.

David Stern, who doesn’t take kindly to people who threaten to expose the illegitimacy of his league’s games, responded to Van Gundy’s allegations with a cool $100k fine and the threat of banishment if Van Gundy’s comments were not rescinded.

Van Gundy eventually corrected himself thusly:

"When I referred to an NBA official, people inferred that I was talking about a working NBA referee, instead of an official with the league. I may have been purposely vague, but I made sure I was telling the truth. The implication from the start, that I might have fabricated the call, was disturbing and I'm glad the NBA confirmed that there were talks with league personnel."

Given what we now know w/r/t to Tim Donaghy and an official’s ability to surreptitiously affect the outcome of a game, it seems like Stern’s insistence that NBA referees are sans dirt, and that Donaghy is an isolated incident, is either the case of horse-grade blinders or PR tactics, but Stern’s history of crude business decisions has me inkling towards the latter.

It was also this fine with which Stern would send the message that challenging the legitimacy of the league’s officiating would result in exorbitant fines and threats of banishment, if only to protect the league from joining the ranks of ‘sports entertainment’ enterprises like the WWE.

Basketball, more than any other professional sport, has the flow and style dictated to it by the manner in which the zebras do their job, which is admittedly unenviable—the speed and athleticism of the Association is fucking x-men like and the league has so pandered to star-power to market the sport for the last twenty-five years that it seems livelihood-threatening for referees not to favor Names—but officials in the NBA are infamous for grudges against players/teams, see Joey Crawford v. San Antonio or Dan Crawford v. Dallas. Along with the tedious length of the season producing nearly five months of half-hearted basketball, the fact that 56% of the league’s teams make the playoffs, and the playoffs themselves getting closer and closer to the summer solstice officiating is a huge problem for the NBA’s watchability.

A possible, albeit grossly uninformed, solution: the Association needs to structure their contract with whichever network wins the next bidding war for the playoffs in such a way that the league does not get a kickback or any sort of bonus based on the ratings the playoffs produce. The NBA needs to remove any and all incentives for themselves from which team advances, meaning a Utah v. Toronto series nets them as much money as a Los Angeles v. New York one. This idea puts the financial risk and burden squarely on the networks, although the network would likely make more money in the case of high-profile markets squaring off.

Understated Story of the Week: Bud Selig’s PED proposal.

In my research this story was generally treated as back page blasé stuff, because it seemed more like reactionary face-saving than actual substance. After the congressional hearing Selig and his office produced a canine-bearing rules change that was based on a 3-strikes policy where the first strike garnered a 50 game suspension, the second strike a 100 gamer and the third a lifetime banishment, a change that was successfully implemented in 2006. Selig made one of his strongest plays as commissioner here (I, like most fans, haven’t cared that much for his tenure, but don’t find him totally deplorable or fully at fault for the steroids snafu, I mean, shit, the Wild Card is kind of cool). Selig marketed the new steroid policy as necessary for the survival of the league and basically refused Fehr the opportunity to use it as a chip during negotiations of the CBA.  It was one of the only times he has successfully outplayed the Players Association, and it was for the good of the league, even if it was face-saving.

In Longhorns news: Adrian Alaniz was honored this week in history for a no-no he threw against the Sooners a couple weeks prior on April 16th. IYI: he currently pitches for the Vermont Lake Monsters, a single-A club for the Nationals.

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