My old friend and former colleague Michael Wilbon – we haven’t spoken in years, since he ascended to a higher social and professional stratosphere – used to often talk about how Washington, D.C., was a bad sports town and Chicago was a good sports town, and he’d go on and on and on about bad sports towns and good sports towns.
Actually, I should consider it a blessing that Wilbon no longer associates with me because I was tired of hearing his [fill in the blank]-is-a-[good-or-bad]-sports-town routine, not to mention his woe-are-Cubs-fans soliloquy.
Back in the day, Wilbon particularly exasperated me with the following take on sports fandom:
He would denigrate Washingtonians who drove to Baltimore to watch the Orioles – their closest MLB option after D.C. lost its franchise – because, he argued, a real sports fan would stay loyal to his hometown team, even if it no longer exists, and not patronize another rival city’s team.
I swear, this guy should have his own TV show.
Anyway, if I ever see Wilbon again I would make a simple point to him:
I don’t particularly care if some place is a “good sports town” as much as I care if it’s a great city.
Before getting to that, let’s consider the critical question – what makes a place a good sports town?
If the local teams draw big crowds all the time, that’s a start.
Example: When 16,951 folks show up for a midseason Coyotes-at-Predators NHL game, I imagine that makes Nashville a good sports town. Congratulations.
If the crowds are very loud and knowledgeable, that also helps.
Example: New York fans often are called “the most sophisticated in the world,” partly because they chant “DEE-FENSE!” when the Knicks are on defense and partly because they spell out, “J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets!” at their Oxford of sports palaces, MetLife Stadium. Congratulations again.
(Column Intermission: After averaging 8.1 points and 4.9 rebounds a game at Division II Gannon University in Erie, Pa., last season, my Stepson of Destiny, Isaiah Eisendorf, is taking his talents to … well, not South Beach, but to Syracuse, N.Y. To the Dolphins of Division II Le Moyne College! Apparently, the 6-foot-6-inch junior forward only likes cold-weather campuses, forcing me to take in most of his games online from my well-worn, warm-weather couch in Los Angeles.)
Now, being a good sports town and a great city are not mutually exclusive – you can be both – just like being a great wine-producing nation and a great beer-producing nation are not mutually exclusive, though I’ll take Italy, France and Spain on wine and Canada, Mexico and Germany on beer; I also should give a nod to my native United States, which remarkably has become top-notch in both grapes and hops.
But touting your town’s sports championships should not trump taking care of your town’s basic conveniences. I mean, what’s more important – an NBA playoff berth, or good schools, nice parks, dependable public transit, safe streets and a great community?
Wilbon’s beloved Chicago took to the streets to celebrate the Cubs’ once-in-a-century World Series success last week. Indeed, the Cubs were a great pick-me-up for Chicago – I even experienced a feel-good glow about me, and that seldom happens without a Yuengling in my right hand.
Still, if you’re dwelling on being a good sports town, you might be disregarding the town’s more urgent needs.
The thing is, if you took away the Cubs, White Sox, Bears, Bulls and Blackhawks, Chicago would still be a toddlin’ town and a mostly great city. And, heck, if you took away Ditka, it might be a truly great city.
Then again, if Michael Wilbon ever moves into my neighborhood, at least I’ll figure I’m in a good sports town with skyrocketing home values.
Q. I want to give you an idea for free. It’s similar to the genius the NFL owners exhibited in making the extra point more exciting – if and when No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em becomes stale, suggest moving the chairs back four feet. (Wilbur Lazernik; Rockville, Md.)
A. You, my friend, may just have ignited the next poker boom.
Q. How is it unsportsmanlike conduct for the Seahawks’ Earl Thomas to hug an official after scoring a touchdown? That seems sportsmanlike to me. (Bob Rees; Spokane, Wash.)
A. Similarly, you cannot hug Ruth Bader Ginsburg before or after a favorable Supreme Court decision.
Q. A la Cam Newton, have you ever dabbed after finishing a particularly good column? (Steve Simon; Indianapolis)
A. No. I am a professional – I just hand the column to an editor and act like I’ve been there before.
Q. Since MLB games now last about an hour longer than the days of old, shouldn’t they have a fourth-inning stretch and a seventh-inning stretch? (Ron Berger; Silver Spring, Md.)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.
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