The Bandwagon of Gold

It is the sad fact that we, the modern sports fan, the media and all who are involved expect superhuman things from mere mortals. Contrary to popular belief, driving around in an expensive hummer while flashing the best in “bling” makes one no more a human than cappuccino Joe down at your local coffee distribution centre (expensive way of saying “Starbucks”). And yes folks, Shaq’s little superman tattoo will do his aging mass no good when he’s pushing 40 (although, it seems to have worked for Jon Bon Jovi). So why is it that the sports fan can get so down on one player? How can one player go from being tomorrow headlines to yesterday’s punch line in such a swift swoop? Easy, it’s about the hype.

Often construed as a good thing, “hype” in reality, is just a bad four letter word. A stamp of expectation, a limit set so high that only the few can reach. It is the reason why we see so many prime athletes come and go before we can even snatch a bit of whatever and sell it on eBay. And in these recent months, that “hype” has reached previously unseen proportions, so much so that the hype itself has “hype”. If you’re a sports fan, or most accurately a basketball fan, you will undoubtedly have heard of a young and multi talented man-child who will soon make the big leap. Like so many before him, the call of mega bucks and bright lights will see him don an NBA jersey come this summer’s draft. We of course, like everyone else for the past few months, are talking about LeBron James, or as Sports Illustrated calls him, “The Chosen One”.

His high school games were nationally televised, he drives a VERY expensive hummer and his mom is already making Allen Iverson’s mom look like the dispirited cheerleader. Yes, there was all the flap about the throwback jerseys he received that ultimately led to his suspension – but his jersey, the #23, has already been RETIRED by his high school. At the age of 18, the amount of pressure put on his shoulders is astronomical – the expectations he will have to face when he is (most definitely) selected as the #1 overall pick will be like no other before him. While other 18 year olds will worry about performing adequately on prom night, James will try to live up to all the talk, all the potential and hoopla that surrounded him. True, those who have received attention before him took awhile to develop – Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett took a few seasons – but neither got the microscope treatment LeBron is getting. They will be expecting him to make a big splash – every move he will make, every shot he will take will be analyzed, scrutinized and Sportscenter-ized. Every bad game taken as sign he is underachieving, every mediocre performance a sign he was not all he is cut out to be … all the makings of what could very well lead to the biggest bust in NBA history, if not sports history altogether.

While a little hype can do wonders, too much of it can place a burden of unsurpassable expectation. While hype itself applies to almost all aspects of life, it is in the sports world where its head is the ugliest. This NBA fan will hope for the best when it comes to LeBron – because only the greatest achievements in the sport will satisfy all that preceded him. Whether or not he will live up to all this hype remains to be seen, and it will without a doubt, be seen. It is the world of today’s sports – there is no escape from the hype. It is an entity of its own, devouring those in its path and making rich those who see the bandwagon of gold.


Moments and Tradition

When I saw the clip of Penn State cornerback Adam Taliaferro leading his team out onto the field just 11 months after a paralyzing injury – it almost brought a tear to my eye. His story is one of miraculous triumph and perseverance that will undoubtedly remain not only in his heart and all the viewers who saw it, but also to the thousands upon thousands who filled Beaver Stadium. It was that sea of Nittany Lion blue that got to me most – just the sound of all those voices sent chills throughout my body … and that was at home, in front of the television.

Just imagine the sound in unison of thousands of screaming fans that in spirit share the same feelings with you, even just for a few hours. Exceptional moments often shared by those who call colleges of great sporting tradition their temporary abode – the North Carolinas, the Dukes, the Penn States and the Notre Dames. It’s in their brochures, their alumni, their student body … it’s in their name. It’s a spirit and tradition unmatched by professional leagues – the notion of pure camaraderie and brotherhood, often untouched by the poisons of megabucks and MTV cribs.

For those who enjoy sports, there is nothing more exhilarating than being in the cheering masses as your school’s warriors head into battle with their fiercest rivals (unless of course, you are one who dons your school’s uniforms). To be there as the ‘6th man’, the extra weapon in your team’s arsenal who provide a certain intangible quality known as ‘home court advantage’. A quality tested best when highlighted by the intense rivalries akin to the Florida vs. Florida States, the North Carolina vs. Dukes, and the UCLA vs. USCs.

So why did I end up going to Pacific?

The reasons at the time seemed justified – it was a relatively small school, the female to male ratio was about 60/40 and my choice of major was covered.

This was of course until I settled in and realize that school spirit was dead, the football program was canceled a few years ago and our once magnificent stadium was rented out to high schools and marching bands. What did they expect us to do? Watch the girls’ volleyball team? (Although they were ranked consistently in the nation’s top 5 it was still girls volleyball – sometimes aesthetically pleasing, but as fun as watching a Kevin Costner movie on a Saturday night) So the Pacific faithful struggled with a hapless basketball team and the notion that the football team that was once ranked #1 in the country (sometime in the 50’s) while sporting a Heisman candidate had gotten so bad they had to cancel the program.

School sports were phased out of my Pacific mentality – instead I listened to a teacher from Michigan revel as his Spartans took home championship glory in basketball (circa 1999-2000) and I listened to stories of campus wide parties that spilled across the town. Something I knew, I would not be taking part in while at Pacific.

So for those of you college bound sports enthusiasts, my recommendation is to consider those big named schools with great sporting traditions. It’s something I missed out on for now, but who knows, maybe someday I’ll be able to revel in the glory of true school spirit. To someday pull down goalposts, tailgate with the best of them and maybe even upturn cars in after game partying/rioting.


Growing Up Without Sports

I remember standing out in leftfield in Williamsport and thinking just how beautiful the ballpark was. The clean cut grass blanketed by the cool blue sky while the wind blew just enough to lift the breeze. And then I thought just how amazing and lucky the kids were when they took the field at such a place. Each year thousands of people, mostly kids descend to Williamsport for the Little League World Series. It’s hard to imagine that such a grand place was reserved for 12 year olds – something that a lot of kids around the world aren’t blessed with.

There is no better place in the world than America to grow up in if you love sports. From the very first hoop your Dad installs in the driveway to the very first baseball glove you get for your birthday, kids across the country couldn’t be in a better place for it. The country is just perfect for it; from the wide open spaces, the ballparks and driveways to the acres of green that you can spend your days kicking, throwing and catching. Perhaps it’s the way sports is emphasized – the joys of triumph, the heartbreak of defeat and the lessons and memories that forever capture the hearts of both young and old. For whatever reason, it’s there – from the moment one can walk, throughout middle school and high school and all the way to college and the pros – sports is accessible, available and held in high regard.

Unfortunately, some kids, with that same glare in their eyes, the same passion and drive, just aren’t as lucky. While they dream of someday taking on the best, they can’t spend their days kicking, throwing and catching on clean cut grass, in nice driveways or parks. Outside the United States and the rest of the developed world – kids often are left growing up without sports.

Having spent most of my earlier days in Indonesia, I’ve come to see how important sports can be to growing up. Luckily for me, the school I went to emphasized sports greatly and while my genes (thanks Dad, thanks Mom) were never of the sports kind, with enough practice and hard work, sports became a big part of my life. It gave me something to be excited about, something to be passionate about and something to work hard for. A big part of that was how my parents were very supportive of that, unlike a lot of local parents who make their kids do only two things growing up – study and more studying. While there is no substitute for education, sports in my opinion is just as important when it comes to shaping who we are.

Another deterrent for sports being a viable option in such developing countries could be the lack of facilities and motivated participants. While such problems have been greatly improved upon over the years, it is still far from becoming an important part of the social lifestyle. Maybe younger kids see how difficult it is to make a living being a professional athlete in such countries and are put off by it. Maybe they are just more excited about playing the latest video games rather than making that last second buzzer beater. Perhaps, it is a cultural thing; most evident in how Asian people tend to be of smaller stature (body size! As in shorter, less physically present) when compared to their Caucasian/African American counterparts. It’s just not emphasized a lot during a youth’s tenure at school and the facilities that are given tend to be poor.

There are promising signs; more and more kids in Indonesia are becoming active in sports. The influx of American and European culture means that local kids are becoming more aware of different possibilities and options. They see just how incredible those sporting moments can feel like and they know that they too, can be part of the glory, sadness and memories.

While countries like Japan and more recently Korea are far ahead of places like Indonesia, time will only tell if sports will become such a huge part of the culture. Who knows, maybe someday some of the kids in Indonesia can share and experience just how amazing places like Williamsport can be. Hopefully, these kids will be last to have grown up without sports.