Saturday, May 30, 2009

Anxious Times

With the Lakers defeating the Nuggets last night, and the Magic/Cavaliers within one or two games of ending the conference series in the east, many sports fans are becoming anxious.

The anxiety does not stem from looming concerns about who will prevail in the finals. The anxiety is fueled by the realization that within two weeks there will be nothing but baseball to occupy the hours that are currently spent anticipating, watching, and becoming excited by the televised games.

The six week period from the end of the NBA and NHL championships until the start of the NFL exhibition season is a trying period. Like a marathon runner who hits the wall at mile 20, sports fanatics who start counting the months after the Super Bowl until the next NFL season, hit a wall in late June and July because their sports fix is tough to come by. The days before and after the major league all star game are particularly stressful because on those days there is almost nothing to watch.

Not all sports fans are so monomaniacal. They/we have other hobbies but so much of the fan's life is filled with the joy of actually or vicariously participating in sports, that the void that is formed during this time can make a fan antsy, and make the spouses of fans who may not be similarly immersed, long for the nfl season as well--if for no other reason than to avoid being victimized by quirky withdrawal behaviors. My suggestion to those anticipating these throes is to start reading and/or purchase the Madness of March, for your loved ones.

theory Y and sports

Douglas McGregor described two contrasting perspectives about human motivation at work. Theory X, he explained, was the position that workers were inherently lazy, motivated by money almost entirely, and given the choice between work and play would nearly always choose play. Workers did not, according to Theory X, naturally look for something to do. They were content not to do.

Theory Y was the opposite. Theory Y was the notion that under the right conditions work could be just as much fun as play. According to theory Y, workers desire to do something meaningful with their hours. If someone had nothing to do, that person would look for something to do.

If during your first week on a job answering the telephone, the telephone did not ring, a theory X perspective would assume you would go home and talk about what a wonderful job you had. A Theory Y perspective would assume you would go home and complain to anyone who would listen--and then actively seek another job.

Many, if not most, managers operate under the theory X assumption. And they are very wrong.

Nowhere is the wisdom of theory Y more apparent than in the world of sports. Tonight I watched Kobe Bryant dismantle the Denver Nuggets by his intelligent and energetic play. Kobe Bryant makes millions of dollars each year. His team will earn an increased playoff share if they win a championship, but this bonus is relatively meaningless to a millionaire like Bryant. Yet during the game he was excited, enthusiastically encouraged his teammates, exulted when he scored a basket, and when he was victorious bearhugged a teammate.

Why does Kobe Bryant and the other millionaires who play professional sports jump like little leaguers when they are victorious? Why do teammates mob a player who has hit a game winning shot at the buzzer? It is not for theory X reasons. Basketball players earning millions of dollars do not earn more on the basis of the length of time they play during a game. Yet, if coaches do not give players "minutes" (i.e. playing time) players pout and spew their grievances to the scribes. If theory X was correct, why would players care about whether the coach put them in a game or sat them down?

Under the right conditions, people love coming to work. People want to work. And as is the case in so many ways, sports provides the context for understanding phenomena that exist beyond the world of sport.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

nba playoffs

They begin at 830 pm eastern at the earliest and do not end until past 11, but the NBA conference finals have drawn and maintained the attention of many fans who otherwise have not been awake at 11 pm more than five times in 2009.

LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, among others, have entertained anyone who appreciates basketball these last ten days. Conversations at work, in club locker rooms, at cafeterias often begin with, "did you see the shot LeBron made" and continue with moments of head shaking.

Even last night's relatively lopsided score with a 19 point differential was exciting. Gasol made a shot that was truly--as the announcers suggested--Erving-esque. The birdman often looked as if he was in flight. Kobe made a three with a defender inside Bryant's uniform.

In the Madness of March I make the point that true fans do not need gambling to make the game exciting. Sure, when in Las Vegas the gambling aspect adds a dimension to the spectacle, but those who go to Las Vegas in March are primarily fans who get excited by last second shots, acrobatic blocks, and alley-oop passes and catches that startle spectators--regardless of the spread.

Tonight there are people who are rescheduling their evenings because Orlando and Cleveland will be playing. Memorial day picnics and barbecues were scheduled around the games this past weekend.

Friday, May 15, 2009

sport fan wisdom

Last night during waterbreaks in our regular Thursday night tennis game, each of us took turns darting into the club lobby to check on the scores of the Bruin and Celtic games. It turned out to be a disappointing night. When we finished playing we walked into the lobby and were greeted by a number of glum looking members pointing their thumbs down. As I proceeded toward the locker room, an acquaintance without so much as an initial hello said, "I think we'll win on Sunday."

Familiarity with fan subculture can explain how relative strangers can approach you in the locker room and ask "Who got the loss?" and immediately you know that the inquiry pertains to the Red Sox game and the need to know which pitcher had been identified officially as "the losing pitcher."

Before my tennis match yesterday, I overheard a man in a suit speaking with unmistakable irritation to another similarly attired club member. "So Ortiz is up AGAIN with men in scoring position in the 11th and what does he do--squat. Squat. He does squat. Tell me something. Just tell me something. What is he doing batting third?"

On the court during our match one of our foursome commented that the prior Sunday and Tuesday when one Boston team had won, all of the others had been victorious on the same day. He opined--not entirely in jest--that since the Red Sox had lost in the afternoon--the Bruins and Celtics would also fall. When as it turned out the Bruins and Celtics did eventually lose, the blame for all three games was attributed to the batting slump of David Ortiz.

Monday, May 4, 2009

7th game

I began watching the Celtics-Bulls 7th game at a tavern on 8th avenue and 50th street. To my left was a fellow from Greece and to his left a colleague of his from Italy. To my right was a rabid Chicago Bulls fan who assured me that it was cool that I was cheering for the Celtics.

I discover that the men from Greece and Italy have just completed their MBA degrees at Columbia. They look relaxed and are enjoying these last few weeks in New York before going home to their respective countries. In front of us were two screens, one showing the Red Sox Tampa Bay baseball game, the other showing the Celtics. These students are as friendly as can be. They ask me some questions about the games. The Italian knows more about baseball and the Greek more about basketball, but still they are newcomers to the games. They ask interested questions: "How many points do you get when you hit a home run" I answer and then when there is a dispute about a close play at third I explain the rules pertaining to the need to tag a runner out who advances when the player is not forced.

The interest in the basketball game is serious particularly for the man from Greece who played some in high school. He is impressed with the leaping ability of some players and the shooting prowess of others. I ask them who they are rooting for. They say they just want to see a good game.

Later at another tavern on 79th street I watch the second half packed like a sardine with a hundred zealots who also want to see a good game, but are rooting for the Bulls and Celtics with unrestrained enthusiasm. Again I am standing next to a fellow who roots for Chicago and with whom I exchange complimentary remarks about our teams. To my left is a fellow from Seattle who is rooting for the Celtics because Ray Allen, a Celtic, used to play for the Seattle Supersonics.

After the Celtics preserved the victory, I walk across the street for the post game show. Not much enthusiasm at this Irish pub for much of anything. The brogues in here are so thick that I have trouble making out what people are saying. I ask the young man to my left if he is a fan. "No fan" he says, but I have to ask him three times because it sounds like he says "No fun". Even if he had said the latter and meant it, he would have been the only person I met that night who was not having any.

Saturday, May 2, 2009


I find myself in a restaurant on 2nd avenue in New York between 49th and 50th street watching the final period in a triple overtime basketball game. It is sometime close to 11 eastern time. The Boston Celtics are playing the Chicago Bulls in a series that some have already called one of the greatest playoff series ever. This is now the fourth game of six that have been played to go into at least one overtime. A player for the Celtics named Ray Allen eventually will score 51 points in this contest. A fellow who is shouting for the Celtics at every shoutable opportunity gives me a high five when the Boston team takes the lead deep into overtime.

Paul Pierce--a star if there ever was one for the Celtics-has the ball when a second year player named Noah, the son of the tennis great Yannick Noah steals the ball from Pierce races the length of the court and slams a dunk as Pierce commits a 6th and disqualifying foul. The bartender who had spoken in nothing other than a thick brogue from the moment we arrived, sees the play and says sans brogue, "where the hell did he go to college." Another patron to my left is shaking his head while stringing a profanity laden sentence together commenting in general on the vicissitudes of sport.

I could have walked into any restaurant on second avenue at that time and observed/been an actor in a very similar scene. The Bulls won the game because of Noah's outstanding play (which has now been replayed on highlight shows nothing short of 100 times since the Thursday game). Tonight is the 7th game. I will find another restaurant at which to watch it and be part of a scene that will be almost as interesting (no credit to my abilities) as the events on the screen.