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Two NBAs

It's sad to have to talk about yet another questionable situation involving a Blazer, but it's raging everywhere, so you can't avoid it.   My two cents:

A lot of people seem eager to convict Zach of something and a few others are rushing headlong to his defense.  To my mind either response is premature at this point.  I agree with Canzano and Abbott that we don't know enough yet to make a definitive judgment, and the truth is we may never know.  No matter how it turns out, though, I think it's safe to say that this ain't good, nor can it be spun into anything positive.  Even if you eliminate the sexual assault aspect completely, whatever you think of the morality or propriety of hiring girls for a sex show, both history and logic suggest that it wasn't a smart move.  The Minnesota Vikings party boat scandal should have provided ample example of what could go wrong.  Besides, this is the first we've heard of this particular transgression associated with the Blazers.  That means one of two things is true.  Maybe nobody else on the team has ever done it.  One would assume there's a reason for that, leading you to believe that Zach doing so was by definition an idiotic move.  On the other hand maybe this kind of thing happens among the Blazers all the time but everyone else does it in such a way as to not draw attention.  In that case you have to ask how foolish Zach was for conducting himself differently and why it is that he keeps getting embroiled in these embarrassing situations.  Either way you end up with the conclusion that Zach is being monumentally, perhaps negligently, stupid.  And that's the absolute BEST construct that can be put on it.

This isn't just a Zach issue though, nor a Blazer issue.  In case you haven't figured it out, folks, there are really two NBAs operating in our midst.  

The first is the basketball-oriented, team-dedicated league that we all imagined we were growing up with.  It's the league where guys give up their bodies and time for the all-encompassing passion of getting that ring and being the best.  It's the league of the charge-takers, the tape-watchers, the gym rats and their crusty old coaches, all looking for that little edge that pushes them over the top of everybody else.  It's the league where people care about the sport, the fans, and where passion means something.  This is the league you see on the commercials and promos.  This is the league the commissioner trumpets in every speech...the league that owners want you to remember, believe in, and invest in.  This is the league that sustained Portland fandom in the early years.  It probably faded earlier than we thought it did, but we've never forgotten it.

Then there's another NBA right alongside it.  This league is populated by vainglorious jocks, administered by ex-jocks, and owned by fantastically wealthy business moguls, none of whom have grown out of that sense of entitlement that annoyed the crap out of the rest of us back in high school.  In this NBA you're measured more by stats than victories, more by shoe sales than shooting percentages, more by what kind of car you drive than how hard you drive to the lane.  It's an arrogant league where the tokens of respect are dollars, power, and privilege.  In this NBA saying that some girls simply exist for whatever enjoyment or personal gain you can get out of them is not only possible, it's redundant.  EVERYBODY simply exists for the personal gain you can get out of them...your teammates, the organization, the league, the sport, the world.  

No doubt some will want to mark this second league down to the influence of certain cultures or lifestyles, but don't fool yourselves.  No subculture is homogenous.  Besides, there's plenty of corresponding arrogance in league executives and team officials at every level, most of whom are middle-aged, middle (or upper) class, and decidedly Caucasian.  This has nothing to do with white or black, old or young, hip-hop or Fleetwood Mac.  It's all about the insulated, self-centered, consequence-free presumption that accompanies a make-believe world full of real money.

And make no mistake, in this second NBA fans are simply a "revenue stream".  They're, shoe-buying, replica-jersey-wearing, spin-swallowing know-nothings useful for their open wallets and not much else.  Not only do players and team officials have a hard time knowing how to connect with the public, they just don't see a pressing need to do so.  They view us with the same befuddled distain which we (in our worst, most crass moments) experience when approached by homeless people downtown.  "Things will be fine as long as you mostly stay out of our way and don't make too much noise.  Other than that, we're in different worlds.  Why should anything you think, do, or say affect me?  You want to belong in my world?  You want to matter?  Get a job buddy.  In this case that means, `Get a million-dollar job in the field of professional athletics.'  Oh wait, you can't, can you?  Bwah-hah-hah!  Next."  We fans can have all the angst, wring our hands day and night, and register all the complaints we want about people's behavior in this league.  It just...won't...matter.  It won't change anything, any more than the transient's tirade against you and your fancy, white-picketed house stops you from living there and enjoying it just the way you want to.  A friend who's in a lot better position to know than I am once summed it up this way:  "It's a rich man's game...we're just watching it."  I fear there's a lot of truth to that, and every time something like this comes up we're reminded of it.

Despite the temptation to be cynical, the first league is neither a complete illusion nor completely extinct.  You see it in guys like Golden State assistants Mario Elie and Buck Williams.  You hear it from a lot of the color commentators around the league.  Plenty of active players, even on this somewhat troubled team, are a part of it.  Steve Blake was.  Jarrett Jack, Martell Webster, and Joel Przybilla are.  The evidence is slight so far, but it looks like Roy and Aldridge might be headed in that direction, which would be a great thing.  There are also obviously prime examples of the "other" NBA on our squad, in our organizational hierarchy, and in many others.  We don't need a police blotter to tell us that.  The evidence has been there all along, on the court and off.

The details of what happened that night and the assigning of any culpability transcend the sport and the team.  Those are the most immediate and important priorities here.  But if it is ever going to get healthy again this club needs to address issues which cannot be resolved by a simple "guilty" or "not guilty".  Though the Blazers will want to--and will maybe be forced to--deal with this as strictly a legal matter, the more important question in the long run will be the philosophical one:  Which league do you belong to?

Let's hope they get the answer right.

--Dave (