Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Pro ball returns

Professional basketball is back in Vancouver, baby! And by "professional", I mean just barely. And by "Vancouver", I mean, of course, Langley. But hey, let's not quibble. The Vancouver Titans are in business.

We are used to barely professional basketball here. We had the Grizzlies for five wonderful seasons, where they became the worst team in NBA history over a five-year period. And Langley is only a half-hour or an hour from various points in the city. A basketball junkie will gladly make the trek to escape the madness of the NHL playoffs.

I didn't quite know what to expect. About anything. I had never seen a minor league professional basketball game before. Who would possibly be there ever, let alone on a night when the local major league hockey team is in the playoffs? I was surprised. Pleasantly. I don't know the official count, but my guess is there were about 300 people there to cheer on the mighty Titans.

The facility they play in looks good from the outside. As soon as you enter, though, it's like you're in a backstage tunnel. In fact, on the way to the gym you pass the team's locker room. The door was open and you could see the players sitting around. Not something you'd see at an NBA game.

As for the play, it was entertaining. There were some great passes, bad defense, and missed layups aplenty. But I could watch elementary school basketball and be entertained if the teams are relatively evenly matched.

What I couldn't stand was the team's announcer. He was almost bad enough that I would consider never going to another game. I think they must have scouted him at the PNE. He had a ridiculous fake radio voice, cheerled during the game so you couldn't even talk to your friends sitting next to you, and had a cache of douchey stock phrases he'd pull out whether it had anything to do with the play or not.

Although there was comedy to be had. Every single time the Slam got the ball on offense in the high-octane fastbreak game, the announcer would scream into the microphone, "When I say D, you say Fence! D!" and then wait for the three people who were into it to shout back "Fence!" It actually made me cheer for a quick Bellingham basket. Nothing better than when he'd say, "When I say--" as the opponents would score on the break.

More good comedy came from reading the players profiles in the program...

STOP THE PRESSES! I just picked up the program again and took a gander. Get a load of this, which I didn't notice until this very second: The announcer, Jason Cook, "... got a job at Playland where he was able to continue his dream of announcing while working on the Music Express ride. He continues to work at Playland entering his 20th year." (italics mine, for obvious reasons) Seriously, that's exactly what he sounds like, as I mentioned above. Every word he uttered (and he uttered lots – way too stinking much for my tastes) was said in the exact same manner he'd shout, "Does anybody wanna go faster?!" at the PNE.

... Okay, enough about him. Back to the player profiles. Without a media presence, and this being my first game, it's hard to know who was who. And I couldn't remember all the names. It set up conversations like this: "Oh man, did you see that pass by the guy who specializes in drawing portraits? He set up the guy whose mom cooks delicious Nigerian food beautifully!" Or "I can't believe the guy whose favourite movie is The Godfather is on the team."

In the end, the Slam lived up to their name with not one, but two slam dunks in the game, handing the Titans their fourth straight loss after three straight wins. I'll go again. But next time I'm bringing earplugs.

I didn't interview any player at the game, but I'm betting they'd all be engaging, which is more than you can say for some NBA players. Reminds me of the time I had a bit of a run-in with one of the 50 greatest players of all-time (or so they say). This column was from the week of December 7-14, 1995:
The Sports Guy

by Guy MacPherson

There’s nothing quite so disillusioning as meeting a hero and finding out he or she’s a jerk. You then have to reassess your values and judgments. This, thankfully, has never happened to me. I don’t like most people and my heroes are either long-retired or long dead.

Another type of disillusionment, albeit of a lesser intensity, is when you meet somebody well-known whom you had previously disliked, and they turn out to be a peach. What do you do? Take for instance Michael Jordan. I’ve never liked him as a player. Don’t ask why. Can’t explain it. The only shoe salesman I like is Al Bundy.

It doesn’t make sense, but that’s the way I feel. The one time I ever had personal contact with him, however, he was kind and gracious is turning me down. I dind’t speak with His Baldness on his most recent trip to the Wetlands, as he was being mobbed by the adoring media every step he took. Who needs the trouble? But I did poke my head in the media scrum and noticed MJ sitting patiently, answering politely all the inane, unoriginal questions reporters love to ask.

Why couldn’t he just be a jerk to justify my dislike for him?

Thank God for Scottie Pippen. He was another player I never cared for. I don’t deny he’s a great player. I just sensed something about him that I didn’t like. Maybe it was because his teams were always beating my Lakers.

Scottie didn’t disappoint.

I have no self-doubts about my abilities to pick and choose heroes in this case. Scottie’s no little softie.

The last reporter left Pippen, while all the others were still hanging on every word at the stall next to his, where Jordan was repeating everything he has ever said on any stop in the NBA. I sidled up next to Pippen and settled in for my brush with grateness.

It started out fine. He seemed like an okay chap.

“I think we just played poor basketball,” he started out, explaining the surprising closeness of the Grizzlies-Bulls contest. “Not taking anything away from their team, but we just didn’t play up to our expectations.” Blah, blah, blah. He was in Bull Durham-style athlete auto-pilot.

Then he opened up a bit more, perhaps by mistake.

“I don’t see anything good about their team right now,” he said as my eyes popped out of their sockets. “I mean, they’re just a team that’s playing with a lot of pride and playing hard. You don’t want to call them a young team, but they’re a team that hasn’t had the opportunity to get together.” Yada, yada, yada.

Hang on there just one second, I thought. Was he really being as forthright as I thought he was? Maybe he could clear things up. You don’t often hear an athlete outside of professional wrestling and boxing put down an opponent, even if he thinks the opponent is hopeless.

“You don’t see anything good about the Grizzlies?” I asked incredulously, because you would have. This is when the mood of the interview changed slightly.

“I don’t see anything good? Are you telling me something?”

“You said earlier, ‘I don’t see anything good about the Grizzlies.’”

“I answered your question, man. Don’t try to put words in my mouth, all right?”

“That’s what you said, though.”

“I don’t foresee them being no playoff team, if that’s what you asked me.”

It was obvious at this point that I wasn’t going to be ghostwriting any book of his. But I had to get to the bottom of this.

“What kind of positives do you see for this team?” I continued, asking the same kind of tired, moronic question that my colleagues were asking of Jordan.

“They’re playing hard,” he answered. I mean, they’re struggling now to win a game, period.”

And with that, my audience with the Pip was over.

“Any more questions, man? You can leave, please,” he intoned.

“Listen here, you arrogant snot. Don’t blame me for remembering what you said. Next time think before you speak, if that’s not too difficult a process for you to handle. And I’ll leave when I’m good and ready to leave,” I shot back.

Only I didn’t use those exact words. What I actually said was, “I’m sorry sir,” and meekly walked away.

The timing, as it turned out, was perfect because no sooner had Pippen dismissed me than the brilliant coach Phil Jackson dismissed the rest of the media pack.

“Come on everyone, let’s go!” the pop-philosopher said. “They close down the border at 10:45.”

I was almost going to tell him that this was a free country, too, and we can come and go as we please. But I thought better of it.

This country isn’t big enough for Scottie and me. One of us had to leave. And it wasn’t going to be me.

Not again, anyway.