Basketball isn’t a metaphor for life; life is a metaphor for basketball
That’s what Phil Jackson, the coach of the two best players in the game during the nineties and aughts, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, which may somewhat explain his eleven NBA championships, is supposed to have said. But great players make great coaches. Life is a metaphor for basketball when your make your fortune at coaching a couple of the greatest ever in basketball. For the rest of us, not so much.
And that’s why I hate sports metaphors. Sports are entertainment. They are not life. Life is grungy and hard and bitter and random. In sports, when you combine effort and talent you can expect good results. In life, effort and talent won’t matter a bit if, for example, a tornado levels your house to its foundation, and it won’t make a difference if some biochemical anomaly in your genome yields an incurable disease. Sports are not a metaphor for life. There is no metaphor for life. There is only life.
So, when Maureen Dowd of the New York Times labeled her column, Is Barry Whiffing, lamenting the performance of her “Barry”, the president, I cringed. Whiffing is what you do at the plate at a baseball game. You swing and you miss. Specifically, she was talking about Barry’s inept foreign policy:
An American president should never say, as you did Monday in Manila when you got frustrated in a press conference with the Philippine president: “You hit singles; you hit doubles. Every once in a while, we may be able to hit a home run.”
Especially now that we have this scary World War III vibe with the Russians, we expect the president, especially one who ran as Babe Ruth, to hit home runs.
Dear heavens, someone please describe to me what a home run in the foreign diplomacy with the Russians might look like. Neville Chamberlain hit what felt like a home run with Hitler. It may have cleared the bases from the British perspective, but that didn’t really matter to Hitler. He changed the rules of the game rather quickly. Barry is a naïve imbecile when it comes to understanding power relationships internationally. But this ain’t a baseball game and Barry ain’t at bat. International relations are more like a marathon, but an endless one where the baton is passed from one generation to the next, which is sort of how Barry described things, from Dowd’s article:
But that being said, you are the American president. And the American president should not perpetually use the word “eventually.” And he should not set a tone of resignation with references to this being a relay race and say he’s willing to take “a quarter of a loaf or half a loaf,” and muse that things may not come “to full fruition on your timetable.”
An American president should never say, as you did to the New Yorker editor, David Remnick, about presidents through history: “We’re part of a long-running story. We just try to get our paragraph right.”
Yeah, Maureen, but the President is essentially right here. He is, if he is humble enough to understand things properly, just trying to get his paragraph right. Maybe he understands, better than Dowd and his acolytes, that he is no messiah; he is just number 44. Even in the short history of the American republic, there have been multitudes before him and there will be multitudes to follow. It must be hard for someone like Ms. Dowd when they see their demigod fall to earth, particularly when the demigod does it by his own hand. The Progressive assumption is that Barry should be forcefully leading the US to the utopian Progressive ideal. But that is not really what leading the nation is about. The nation is not going anywhere. It needs, particularly at this juncture in history, a manager more than a leader, unless you are one of those Progressive cultists who get orgasmic from the chance to impose on others what you believe is best for them.
But if you absolutely must use a baseball metaphor for foreign relations it would be this—pitching, i.e., defense wins championships. You can hit singles all day long and win, if you don’t let the other team hit anything at all. The first job of President is providing for the common defense, and Russia is only a threat to the republic if we allow it to be. Keep hitting singles, Barry—that’s fine, but don’t let them get on base, and neither Ukraine nor Iran nor Syria represent base hits for the Russians.
Another New York Times columnist, Timothy Egan, believes that sport is the most Progressive force in American society, dishing on the Los Angeles Clippers/Don Sterling controversy:
In issuing the sports equivalent of the death penalty — lifetime ban, probable forced sale of his franchise — to the basketball owner Donald Sterling, the N.B.A. showed every other institution that courage is more commendable than dithering.
What courage was required of Silver in delivering the head of Sterling on an eponymous platter to a seething crowd whipped into frenzy by social media run amok over some intemperate remarks? The courageous thing would have been to say that nothing of what Sterling said had anything to do with his ownership of the Clippers; that he made the remarks in confidence to someone who apparently had an axe to grind with him (hell hath no fury like a woman scorned), and that the NBA commissioner hasn’t the right to strip Sterling of his property in a summary dispensation. He may be the judge and jury in the court of public opinion, but that’s not where legal rights and obligations are resolved.
No, there was absolutely nothing courageous about Silver’s proclamation that Sterling was “banned from the NBA for life” as if such a thing had any practical meaning.
The whole Sterling affair is rather suspicious, and not just because of the protagonist who released Sterling’s taped conversation. It comes during the NBA’s playoffs, gift wrapped for generating publicity for the NBA’s most crucial money-making endeavor. Is it just an accident that it came when the LA Clippers were having their best run in franchise history, especially relative to their iconic neighbors , the Los Angeles Lakers? Who benefits from the scandal? The NBA, certainly. People who never paid the NBA any attention all of the sudden now know the history of one of its heretofore marginal franchises. The LA Clippers certainly benefit from the publicity. And so too do Sterling and his ex-girlfriend; the ex-girlfriend benefits because everyone now knows her name (though I refuse to help her along in her bid for publicity). She was even interviewed by Barbara Walters (who I honestly thought was either retired or dead—didn’t she just complete a farewell tour?). Sterling benefits because when he pretends to be forced to sell his Clippers, the notoriety of the scandal will have precipitated a feeding frenzy that yields immensely greater value for him. Being the one to buy the Clippers from under that uber-racist Sterling has become the coolest thing a capitalist or entertainment mogul could do, way better than saving the rainforest.
I find the NBA playoffs, especially in this first round, almost as suspicious as the Sterling controversy. Five of the eight first-round series went to seven games. Given that the pairings are best against worst according to regular season record, how probable is such a thing? It would make sense that at least four of them would be decided in less than seven games. How is Dallas pushing the San Antonio Spurs to seven games? The Mavs barely got in to the playoffs while the Spurs had the best record in the NBA. How did Atlanta push first-seed Indiana to seven? Atlanta qualified for the playoffs with a losing record while Indiana was the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
I love watching the best athletes in the world perform on the NBA stage, but the NBA is first and foremost an entertainment venue, and a seven-game playoff series is more entertaining, and exquisitely more profitable, than a series that lasts only four or five games. The only team that played like expected was the two-time reigning champion Miami Heat, who swept the woeful Charlotte Bobcats in their opening round series. But Miami, with the NBA’s best player in LeBron James, is by now almost bigger than the league. They must have figured they could ignore the memo to stretch things to seven games.
Considering that the NBA is, just like the NFL, in the business of entertainment, it only provides a metaphor, if at all, for analogous entertainment businesses. The NBA is perhaps a metaphor for Broadway? The show must go on. The Clippers kept playing. And that’s about as good as it gets so far as metaphorical life lessons provided by the NBA go.
But how about sports, particularly the NBA, as a Progressive force, as Egan claims? The NBA has no female players. Thus the NBA is not Progressive as regards gender equity, which Progressives presuppose should always mean equal outcomes for males and females. The black population of the US is heavily overrepresented in the NBA. Progressives see disparate racial outcomes as prima facie evidence of racial discrimination. The NBA, to be Progressive, should be comprised of roughly 52% females and 48% males; of whom 13% should be black, 65% white, about 13% Hispanic, with a smattering of Asians (not just Jeremy Lin). Then the NBA would be a Progressive cultural force. As it stands, the NBA is a meritocracy, and merit is the utterly last criteria which today’s Progressives believe should be used for determining outcomes.
Sports aren’t a Progressive force, not at least according to the Progressive catechism in real life. Which provides compelling evidence that sports are no metaphor for life. Life is its own metaphor. Sports are a happy, somewhat fantastical, diversion from it.