Sunday, February 8, 2009

Another reason to despise women's basketball.

As if you needed another one.

You've probably heard by now about the Dallas high school basketball game last month that ended in the score 100-0. One team of girls destroyed another team of girls and now the winning coach is out of a job while the losing team gets credit for "not giving up," which is about as perfect a story as there is for illustrating the absurdity of low standards in America. Yes, the losing team is comprised of girls who are learning-challenged and, yes, the losing team hasn't won a game in four years, but I've never understood the concept of "going easy" on an opponent if the opponent agreed to play in the first place. It's not good sportsmanship to put a team on the court that is utterly incapable of even pretending to belong there and then praising them for not bursting into tears and running off the court in the middle of it. Also, it's not as though the winning team won by playing dirty. They won by simply performing that much better.

In fact, were I on the losing side of a 100-0 game, I'd feel insulted if my opponent started to intentionally miss shots or stop trying to perform well. Is there anything more condescending and ego-crushing than making some grand scene out of one's ineptitude by saying to them, essentially, "You poor, poor girls. You are so awful we're just gonna dribble now. It'll be like a little mitzvah." You're probably thinking to yourself, "Oh, Kraig, you and your ridiculous hypotheticals. You can't possibly know what it's like to be on the losing end of a 100-0 basketball game." You're right. But I do know what it's like to be on the losing end of a 76-2 basketball game.

The year was 1994. Forrest Gump was running his way to box office records, my romantic ineptitude was also smashing records, and intramural basketball at the University of Texas at Austin seemed like a good idea. I was young then, naive in the ways of the world---but I was about to get schooled, and not just in Russian Lit. Along with some of my friends, among whom included a mathematician, a nuclear physicist, and a library sciences expert, we formed a team to compete in the annual basketball tourney. It turned out that our unique set of skills was not sufficient enough to be even mildly competitive---though I stand by my belief that we were the team most likely to be able to disarm a bomb should such need spontaneously arise. It did not.

These games were played in a full-court gymnasium with officials, a ticking clock, stands not-so-full of people, and a very visible scoreboard. Our very first game quickly turned into a disaster. Even though we were signed up in the "under six-feet tall" category, the opposing team's players all measured 5 ft 11 in. I, on the other hand, represented our team's second tallest player by comparison. I WAS THE POWER FORWARD. Up and down the court they went. They were taller. They were faster. They were better. They could dunk. THEY COULD DUNK. And I swear one of the guys was on the UT men's basketball team. Was the final result (76-2) embarrassing? Hardly. We were clearly outmatched and there was simply no shame in the demonstration of what everyone knew to be true before the opening buzzer even sounded.

Should the other team have gone easy on us? Absolutely not. They were having fun. WE were having fun. And the two points we scored, courtesy of a long-range jumper from yours truly, are far more significant because they weren't letting up at all. That team ended up winning the whole tournament, and our team ended up being mildly competitive in the other games, meaning the opening result was as much due to some bad luck as it was due to Matt's inability to make a pass without it getting stolen.

Kids are a lot tougher than adults seem to think. Losing 100-0 is not going to scar them emotionally. If anything, it'll make them take better inventory of their own talents. Not everyone can win, and not everyone has a good jump shot. The myth of "you can do whatever you want to do, and be whoever you want to be" is far more damaging than the result of a lopsided basketball game. Also, is there any doubt this wouldn't be an issue were it a BOY'S basketball game?


Blogger Wannabee Baller (Lauren Schwaar) said...

Thank you for your well-stated opinion. I'm a female highschool basketball player and I personally think the exact same thing about being "played easy" on. If I were beaten 100-0, I think I would feel pretty honored to be playing such an excellent team. Sure it wouldn't be fun to lose that badly, but when you play such a superior team all you can do is keep your sportsmanship strong, your game clean, and your eyes open for the things you can learn to make yourself better.

February 9, 2009 at 12:24 AM  
Anonymous Brian said...

Yes, but. It isn't like the Convent girls were playing normally. I don't think anyone would say that they should have played bad or missed shots on purpose. But they were trying to run up the score, using a full court press and shooting threes the whole game. Against such a weak opponent, that's called bad sportsmanship.

As for men's sports not being that way, maybe you don't remember when Chris Boniol kicked 7 field goals against the Packers, and the Packers complained about the Cowboys running up the score. And they are professionals, where the disparity in talent is not nearly as high as it is in amateur sports.

You are right in that a vastly inferior team should not complain when they are put on the floor with a superior team. But it doesn't look like the losing team was complaining in this situation. The winning team (or the winning school, at least) felt remorse because they thought they did something wrong. I don't see a problem with that.

February 9, 2009 at 11:21 AM  
Blogger JMW said...

I agree with both Brian and Lauren. No, you shouldn't "play easy." But no, you shouldn't full-court press and constantly shoot threes when you're up 90-0. It's just a matter of class, really.

The exception to this is in the pros. It's one thing if a football team is up 62-0 with a minute left. Then, no, they shouldn't be throwing long passes into the end zone. But I've never understood most of the whining about pros running it up. You're pros! For instance, sometimes baseball managers will complain about someone stealing a base when they're up by as little as five or six runs late in a game. Now, seven-run comebacks late in games are rare, but they happen. Why the hell shouldn't somebody try to keep scoring?

February 9, 2009 at 12:58 PM  
Blogger Kraig Smith said...

Really? THIS is the blog post that inspires people to comment the most? Hell, this was really just a thinly veiled pretext for bragging about the time I scored the only points in a game for my team. But, since you all decided to actually talk about the merits of running up the score...

I guess the question for me is, why does it show a lack of class? Who's defining what's classy or not classy? To me, classy is defending your team and speaking your mind, even if your opinion is in opposition to the one stated by the school. And that's exactly what the winning coach did. And that's exactly why he was fired. He disagreed that his team acted inappropriately and, rather than offer up an insincere apology as the whole world seemed to demand, he declined and praised his players. Evidently the lesson being taught here is "do what you're told" and "don't have an opinion."

I didn't see the game, of course, and I've only read a few articles on it, but the problem with making a big deal out of this and other "classless" situations, is that the line between going easy and running it up is imaginary and subjective. For example, they were criticized for continuing to do a full-court press in the second half. I don't know if this is true, but it wouldn't surprise me if this is a pressing team. That's just what they DO. Remember the old Arkansas Razorbacks and Nolan Richardson's "40 minutes of hell"? If this girl's team suddenly stopped pressing, stopped playing the way they've been taught to play (hard, full energy), then they are "going easy" and that's downright condescending.

I fundamentally don't understand the argument that it's classier to tank it than to just keep playing. The only reason would be if "tanking it" was somehow helpful to the losing team---perhaps because it keeps their confidence from becoming shattered beyond all recognition? If that's the case, then fine. But I don't see any evidence, beyond conjecture, that a lopsided score like this is a BAD thing. The winning team didn't spit on the losing team or call them names. They didn't play dirty or cheat. They just kicked ass. THEY should be the ones being honored by Mark Cuban at a Mavericks game, not the ones on the other side.

I'm not as much of a Darwinian nutjob when it comes to sports as I sound like, but this should be a non-story.

February 9, 2009 at 4:47 PM  
Blogger JMW said...

I think we -- and by we, I mean you, Kraig; hee hee -- are losing sight of a really vast middle ground here. Who's talking about "tanking it"? Tanking it is losing a game on purpose to improve your lottery chances, or to make a gambling score. Winning 92-0 wouldn't have been "tanking it." Calling off the full-court press for, oh, the last few minutes of the game, isn't tanking it.

We're also talking about school-age competition here. The class comes into play because of the context. You're in the Super Bowl? Great, cruch your opponents if you can. Show them up in front of the world. But you're the coach of a bunch of kids and you want your lesson to them to be: When you're beating an obviously and completely overmatched opponent, step on their neck and humiliate them? It's just gross. I do think there's room for a more subtle approach without tanking. From the little I know, this coach sounds like a tool.

February 10, 2009 at 3:31 PM  
Blogger Kraig Smith said...


Fair enough--but let me share with you a letter written by the now-fired coach Micha Grimes. He may be a tool, but his letter certainly suggests otherwise. And, if his version of the game is to be believed (and it's certainly a credible one), I really think this is more of a media-created human interest story than anything else. I think it's a shame that the coach lost his job over this letter.

February 10, 2009 at 4:01 PM  
Blogger JMW said...

The letter is certainly not evidence of a tool, you're right. And if he called off the full-court press, used the deepest bench players he could, etc., then there's not much else he could have done. So.

Also, I definitely never meant to imply that he should lose his job for this. That's insane.

February 11, 2009 at 1:41 PM  

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