Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Shower Thoughts - NBA Salvation

"Because whose mind doesn't work better in the shower?"

My summer has been full of great stories, wonderful walk-off moments, and loads of Pirates losses, but I couldn't help but remember one bay-side encounter that reinforced what I love about sports: for the most part, they are pure and full of emotion.
Even the NBA.
Now, even if you've only spent a few hours in my presence, I've probably ranted about how much I dislike the Association (yes, I talk about it that much). I've never seen the excitement in professional basketball and its' loose traveling rules, lackluster defense, and scores combining to equal 500. It has honestly never interested me. Ever. Until this past June, when a fateful cab ride brought ESPN's favorite sport and me together for the first time.
My family and I took a vacation to San Francisco a few months ago (the first time I've been anywhere near California), and I loved every minute of it. From the actual city to nearby Pebble Beach and Napa Valley, the trip was a total success. On our first day in the city, we got in a taxi with a driver named Shane. Shane was quite the character - diehard San Francisco Giants fan (claims to have denied Manny Ramirez and Orlando Hudson access to his cab because they were members of the Dodgers), extremely talkative, and outrageously hysterical. He explained to us how he makes a living outside of driving people around; he is a sports bookie for people around the city. And he sure does talk like (or maybe simply act like) he knows what he's doing.
He continues to explain his philosophy on that nights' huge NBA Finals game 5: the Lakers, up three games to one, were, according to Shane, going to intentionally lose the clinching game of the series in order to prolong the series.
Shane believed there was too much money to be made by having a game six for L.A. to win the title that night. He was convinced that Kobe Bryant was going to throw a game in the Finals. Can you process that? I could not, and still cannot. I was curious, so I asked, "How can you be so sure?"
Shane replied quickly, "It happens in every sport. Take baseball for example, all managers bet on their teams. You can always tell if they've bet on their team to lose or win depending on which reliever they put in the game. He puts his recent call-up right hander in to face Pujols with a lead? He's bet on his team to lose. Torre puts in Mo' in the 8th to pitch six outs for the save? He's bet on the Yanks to win. Simple as that."
That couldn't possibly be the way sports worked. I just shrugged it off and went about my business for the rest of the day. But it lingered. I was still horrified that sports may be inherently corrupt. "Nah, impossible."
"But what if he's right?"
There was only one way to find out, I had to (shudder) watch the Lakers/Magic game that night. Caring about an NBA game was a small price to pay for redeeming my hope in humanity.
Unfortunately, we were out being tourists for the day, so I had no way of knowing what the score was. We didn't get back to our hotel until later that night, and those questions had been bugging me so much all day that I raced into the lobby and asked the first person at the bar what happened in the Lakers game.
He replied, "Lakers won! 99-86! Kobe did it!"
Sporting integrity challenged, sporting integrity restored.
Thank you, Kobe.

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