Ho-hum hoops harangues | AspenTimes.com

Ho-hum hoops harangues

Man, it seems like the world of basketball can’t go a week nowadays without some idiotic controversy springing up. And I’m not just talking about the NBA and things like Portland players getting caught with weed. This hard-court brain fart has infected all levels of the game.

First, as you may recall, came the inane LeBron James affair. James, a brawny, freakishly athletic, 6-foot-8 high school senior from Ohio, is a lock to be the first pick in the 2003 NBA draft. First-round draft picks receive guaranteed contracts worth, in James’ case, about $3 million or more a season.

Knowing this, James’ mother bought her son a $50,000 Hummer as a birthday gift. The car was purchased, obviously, with money neither she nor her son has just yet, but you can understand why someone might give her a loan.

Some might look at this behavior and see it as merely an example of bad business sense, but since it involved an “amateur” athlete, a bunch of people just had to cry foul. They insisted that something was amiss, and an investigation was launched by the Ohio amateur athletic commission, and the story made national headlines … and ultimately it was decided that a mother can buy her son whatever she pleases.

Just when the whole fiasco seemed to be losing steam, it was revealed that James had been given two replica sports jerseys as a gift by a friend of his. The “throwback” jerseys, which are all the rage with those zany kids these days, were worth several hundred dollars, so naturally the watchdogs went berzerk.

“Aha!” cried those people with nothing better to do. “This time it wasn’t a relative! Clearly some shady character is trying to buy influence with the impressionable young soon-to-be millionaire!”

The investigation started up again with renewed vigor, James’ name was once again plastered across the headlines … and once again it was decided that nothing untoward had taken place. But just to show everyone they weren’t joking around, the commissioners suspended James for two games anyway.

And that’s just the latest news. I’m sad to say we probably haven’t heard the last of this dull affair. Ultimately, though, the whole dumb controversy boils down to this: Who the hell cares if somebody gave James a couple of jerseys? In about four months he’s going to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. You think he gives a rat’s ass if you suspend him for two high school games?

As insipid as the whole James scandal was and may still be, it pales in comparison to the latest controversy, this one involving an even less newsworthy level of hoops: women’s Division III college ball.

Out of Purchase, N.Y., and tiny Manhattanville College come reports that senior forward Toni Smith has chosen to express her political beliefs by turning away from the American flag during the playing of the national anthem. Apparently she’s been doing this all season to protest the Bush administration’s warlike tendencies, but nobody really cared until just recently.

Well, once the story got out, all the sports networks and other media outlets jumped all over it and started playing it up as much as they could. Everyone who has ever dribbled a basketball was asked their opinion of Smith’s opinion, and one Vietnam vet even ran onto the court at a Manhattanville game and held up a flag right in Smith’s face.

Smith’s form of protest is not without precedent. A few years ago in Denver, a Nuggets player named Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (ne Chris Jackson) chose to sit during the national anthem to air his newfound Muslim beliefs. It raised the ire of a few self-styled patriots for a while, but for the most part people soon got over it, just as they had during the handful of similar instances in the past.

The fact that a girl on a Division III college team would attract so much attention for her particular protest is hysterical. College kids express their political views all the time in all manner of ways. They’re college kids; that’s what they’re supposed to do. Most of the time, fortunately, everyone has the good sense to not care in the least what college kids have to say. I’m still not sure why this time it’s any different.

If anything, applaud Miss Smith for reminding us of what the flag really stands for: the freedom to express a political view counter to what’s currently in fashion, and the freedom to spend money you don’t have so your son can drive a brand-new Hummer through the slums of Akron, Ohio.

Todd Hartley will never stand for the playing of the French version of “Oh, Canada!” at hockey games. His column runs on Fridays in The Aspen Times. E-mail at todd@aspentimes.com

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