Sports Nut

Why I Root for Brent Barry

Brent Barry, Steve Nash, and Manu Ginobili in a Suns-Spurs game


This morning I received a copy of the following memo. It’s weird that they knew we were in contact. And that they were aware of my travel plans. And that the man who delivered it was wearing a feather boa.

Begin MemoTo: Neal Pollack
From: The Department of Player/Fan Relationships for the National Basketball Association (where we’re working on brevity)Dude, we don’t care.You see, we don’t need you. Do you understand that living, breathing human beings are willing to pay upwards of $1,000 for a single front-row seat to a Phoenix Suns basketball game? US Airways Center has nearly 50 such locations available. Last time we checked, the Suns weren’t having much trouble filling them. There are 41 home games in the regular season alone. Do you know what 50 times 41 times 1,000 equals? Neither do we. But it’s a big number.Turner Broadcasting appreciates the 63 cents per month that it derives from the inclusion of TNT on your cable package. Here at the DoP/FRNBA, we are grateful that you chose to buy that Dan Majerle jersey for $21.99 back in 1994. (We remain sympathetic to the plight of the same jersey. We are truly sorry that you spilled Lea & Perrins on it while trying to impress your fiancé with your ability to “put together a mean marinade.”)Regarding your complaints about the tone of the Suns/Spurs series … well, sir, we share your outrage. We cannot believe that an organization like the San Antonio Spurs, one that encourages fast-paced, fluid basketball, would have any part in such circumstances. We also want to make it clear that we deplore violence in sports. The tactics used by the National Hockey League, a group that explains away extracurricular aggression as a natural extension of the sport, are deplorable and, frankly, beneath us. We have contacted ESPN and have informed them of our distaste for the additional exposure we have received because of the mild confrontations between certain of our players. One more thing: If possible, please convince your friend Paul Shirley to contact us. We are fascinated by his story and are thinking that banishing him from the league might have been an error in judgment. To be honest, we have been appalled by the behavior of some of our erstwhile employees—so much so that we immediately stopped selling those players’ replica jerseys to inner-city youths who seemed drawn to the anti-authoritarian attitude displayed by the players in question.Again, we don’t thank you for your support, but we’d like to have it anyway.Not yours, although we’d like to pretend that we were,The Department of Player/Fan Relationships for the National Basketball Association End Memo

Pretty strange, right? It’s like they don’t even care about you. It’s almost like they’re a cold-hearted, cutthroat business. Very Wal-Mart-like … if Wal-Mart paid its employees an average salary of $5 million a year. So, Wal-Mart with Santa Claus running the payroll department.

After a long day of worrying over the Amazon ranking of my book, I settled in to watch some of those employees in Game 5 of the Suns/Spurs series.

I can’t imagine how anyone could root for the Spurs. It would be like cheering for cancer. Of course, they’re really effective (unfortunately, so is cancer), but I don’t know if a roster of such easily disliked basketball players has ever been assembled. Tim Duncan might be one of the greatest players of all time, but the constant bug-eyed complaints and the mumps-cheeks make him borderline unwatchable. Manu Ginobili was one of my favorites when he played in Italy. Here, he seems determined to bring a soccer-style sissification of basketball—along with a strong belief in the power of the bald spot—to our shores. Tony Parker looks like Gargamel. And everybody knows that Gargamel is evil. Bruce Bowen’s dirty play is well-documented; his resemblance to Mr. Potato Head isn’t. Oberto plays like a dump truck, Elson couldn’t get off the bench when I played in Spain four years ago, and Robert Horry—while a hell of a good guy—seems to consistently play on my least favorite teams and then help those teams win in dramatic fashion. The only guy I find remotely interesting is Brent Barry. And while most of my affection for him is derived from his go-to-hell attitude and his unique skill set, I fear that some of it comes from his status as a white American in the NBA.

My previous sentence implied guilt. But should I feel guilty for rooting for a white American in the NBA, just because he’s a white American in the NBA? Upon further review, I don’t think I should. I think it’s natural. A recent study reported that the NBA is 75 percent black and 19 percent foreign. They left out the remaining percentage. Six percent of the NBA is white Americans. We’re like endangered gorillas, left to scratch our simple, blocky heads while our jungle is slashed and burned to make room for logging trails. It’s hard not to feel sympathy for the gorillas. Especially if you’re one of them.

I retract my statement of apprehension. It’s okay for me to root for Brent Barry. But it’s not okay for me to root for the Spurs. Not because they don’t have enough white Americans, but because they’re no fun to watch. Neal, now that your Suns are losing 3-2 in the series vs. the Imperial Forces, have you given up hope? (Given up again, that is. I’ve assumed that a day spent in the company of your angelic children has returned your affection for the NBA.) After watching Game 5 wire-to-wire, I don’t see a turnaround in the works. I think we’re stuck in a trilogy made up of only The Empire Strikes Back.

Regarding book promotion: I’m doing my best to remain as even-keeled as I can. Using my new philosophy, I took the bumping from live to “tape for later use” on the ESPN2 program called First Take to be a compliment. Do you have any advice for a first-timer like me? And one more question, to get us back on track: Assuming that the venting of your rage has allowed you to return to your Suns-loving roots, how would you fix the NBA? Because I have a few ideas …