The politics of professional sports teams
Is California winning?
Sure, everybody loves a winner, although just as surely everybody can’t and everybody won’t always win.
And winning itself is a relative thing, come to think of it. Winning does not always mean just taking home the final trophy or crystal bowl. Sometimes, winning is getting to compete for the thing in the first place. Ask all of the teams that did not make the NBA basketball playoffs this year. Would each of them choose to stay home, as they did, or fight and eventually die as Denver, Houston, Cleveland, Boston and Atlanta did. For each of the ones that did not make the playoffs, it is guaranteed that for them “winning” would have been to at least stay in the mix for as long as your team could go. Each would have gladly traded places with a playoff contending team.
Ask the Clippers.
The Magic stayed on the big stage longer than it ever had before, so clearly, to that team, it had a very successful winning season. So did Denver, achieving its best performance in the playoffs since 1985. Cleveland looked like worldbeaters for all of the last season and for most of the playoffs, finishing with the league’s best overall regular-campaign record. Its season was certainly a winning one, although it did not take home the ultimate trophy.
If Cleveland gets Shaq for next year, even in this sub-prime part of his career, and he and most of the Cavaliers stay healthy enough to participate fully in the playoffs, Cleveland may even get to the finals next year. Wouldn’t that be something, if the Lakers also show up a third time for a two-peat? Shaq and Kobe, together again at last, both vying for ring number 5 and eternal bragging rights. Hmmm. Now that’s a thought.
And what does this really mean for people in the grand scheme of things, living vicariously through gladiator testosterone, when in actuality none of it will get bills paid or mortgages unforeclosed? It means real people (not just sports fans) get a chance to vent, howl, shout and exhale to the universe. A winning professional sports team in an area is a legally addictive drug for folks there. It is a shared community high that for just a frozen moment in time allows everybody in the vicinity to forget the 800-pound gorilla perpetually on their backs. People all get to exuberate as if they got the dunk, made the three-pointer, hit the homerun or caught the winning pass. It is blood sport that gets people crazy enough in the winning to feel human enough to carry on.
Like Hollywood blockbusters that invite and enable folk to fantasize life outside of their immediate troubles, a winning professional sports team takes residents temporarily away from Governor Arnold’s threats to close down every meaningful social program in California because the state says it’s broke. The Lakers (and hopefully, the Dodgers in a few months), keep hope alive.
Politically, that’s a powerful ticket. Keep the constituency upbeat in its outlook. Don’t let a perpetual June gloom snatch the voting public into a depressive state about this state. That’s why every nearby politician, and those far away who can get quick red-eye flights or train rides into L.A. this week, will be waving and cruising in the Lakers’ victory parade. “All Hail the winners!! Remember them and remember me with them! They are me!!” “We are the Lakers!!” our leaders will proclaim.
No, they are not, but as usual, in the hour of public jubilation, folk will let it go. Well, can the public find a way to translate Lake Show teamwork, camaraderie, discipline and defense to the current City Hall legislators and mayor? What about to the State Senate and Assembly in negotiations with the Governor? Clearly, cooperative teamwork works in professional sports?
Why not in political circles?
Shouldn’t the public visualize their elected leaders as teammates who may need to adjust their half-time game plans in order to stay tough down the stretch? Shouldn’t the constituency remind them that there is no me in this, but us? We win when we think, work and perform together. We lose, however, when one player hogs the ball and takes all the shots.
Certainly, Governor Arnold isn’t Coach Phil, but Sister Bass is surely as much of a floor leader and in-the-trenches strategist as Kobe is. So, if we, the people, have to do some last minute trading or hiring to bring in some inspirational Shannon Browns, and some new Assistant Coaches with different expertise (Kareem as a personal tutor for Andrew Bynum, for example), let’s remind these leaders that they indeed are answerable to their public: the ticket-buying, voting public. These leaders need to get their political game-playing thing on and show the people some teamwork wizardry. Or, they need to be benched. The game—the real-life I-can’t-find-a-decent job game—is on, it’s tight, and it needs a surge of positive scoring. Winning, effective political leadership is effective teamwork and that’s an everyday truism..
So, to our California political leadership, listen up!! Stop merely telling us how bad things are for us in California. We elected you to be in charge and to make the decisions necessary to adjust and correct things. So get it done! We are in this mess partially because of political miscalculations and flawed diagnoses that some of you participated in, and partially because the rest of the U.S. is enmeshed in an economic firestorm. However we got here, we are here and the game’s afoot, the ball is bouncing and the clock’s ticking. We expect to see some brilliant offensive and defensive moves out of you that will engage all the team’s talents. We expect you to lead us to another California win!
After all, we know what winning tastes like and looks like, and we need to feel that jubilation of California victory once more. So get back out on that floor and, as our leaders, play like you mean it!!
- David Horne, Ph.D., is executive director of the California African American Political Economic Institute (CAAPEI) located at California State University, Dominguez Hills.
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