03:02:54 am on
Saturday 05 Dec 2020

Covid-19 and Basketball
David Simmonds

According to the Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, physical distancing and social isolation, in one form or another, will become the new normal, at least for a while. If that’s the case, we have thinking to do. Let’s think.

One million people attended the Raptors victory parade in 2019.

It was only a little more than one year ago, 14 June 2019, that the Toronto Raptors won the National Basketball Association (NBA) championship, beating the Golden State Warriors in six games. Days later, the Raptors victory parade literally ground the city to a standstill; a crowd, estimated at well over a million, thronged the streets, of Toronto, to celebrate the victory.

The current NBA season is suspended, temporarily. The possibility of a repeat championship is up in the air for the time being. If the season resumes, there is a real possibility the Raptors may win the whole shooting match again. 

Authorities are concerned. Should the Raptors win, again, a victory celebration, the size of 2019, may break out. That can’t happen in 2020; public health officials won’t allow it.

The possibility of spreading cov-19 (novel coronavirus causes cov-19) is too great. A crowd of a million couldn’t keep two metres apart no matter how hard everyone tried; is there an urban space big enough for that to happen. Therefore, there are plans afoot to order the team not to win the championship this year.

Yes, you heard it right. The team will be ordered to lose. How unCanadian is that?

Public health trumps the sporting instinct to win. Tanking, losing when a team could win, will be the new watchword. How is this going to go down with the players, each of whom has the ultra-competitive gene in his body?

How do you tell them to send a slam dunk off the rim, launch that buzzer-beating three pointer just a split second too late or pass the ball, unintentionally, to the opposition? With great difficulty, I imagine. James Naismith must be rolling over in his peach basket. 

This raises another question. Toronto isn’t the only NBA city with a cov-19 problem. What if the New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets decided they too couldn’t risk a victory parade? What if every NBA team raced the same conclusion? There would then be a race to the bottom.

How deeply can a team tank will be the challenge?

Player competitiveness would motivate one team to beat the other teams at tanking. Tanking might not suit the team owners, who pay their star players astronomical salaries. If the object were to lose, you could stock your roster with journeymen and forget the stars.

Of course, if NBA games became exercises in mediocrity fewer people would come to watch. Although this may have a negative effect on the franchise owners, it would at least help achieve the public health goal of keeping proper distance between spectators. One just hopes the cost of a seat won’t jump to ten times the current price to make up for the revenue lost on unsold seats. It’s a fine balance, but so long as the product is mediocre, the power should lie with the paying customers.

In fact, there may be a widespread demand for mediocrity once public places, such as concert halls, reopen. Keeping to the two-metre rule may require the booking of acts who don’t sell tickets. It may go over better than a multifold increase in seat prices.

The anomaly lies with the Toronto Maple Leafs. A perennially mediocre team still sells out every game at Scotiabank Place. At least public health officials don’t have to wire about a parade breaking out after a Leafs Stanley Cup victory.

Perhaps mediocrity is more of a social good than we give it credit for. I am reminded of the defence, mounted by Richard Nixon, for the failed nomination of the unremarkable G Harold Carswell to the United States Supreme Court. Senator Roman Hruska, a Nebraska Republican, stated, “Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren't they, and a little chance? We can't have all Brandeises, Frankfurters and Cardozos.”

Even the late John Prine, who was far from mediocre himself, once put out a duo recording, with Mac Wiseman, entitled, “Standard Songs for Average People.” If mediocre was good enough for Prine, it’s good enough for the NBA.

Maybe the Raptors won’t have to tank.

Let’s hope the NBA season resumes soon and that Raptors don’t have to go into tank mode. Let’s hope the Raptors get to the finals and get off a buzzer beater to win the championship if it swooshes the netting. This year, I hope it bounces twice off the rim and is gathered up by an opponent, so there is no parade and Toronto can avoid a public health crisis. Everybody goes home happy.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Pete Hamill and Mike Barnacle; the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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