Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Bleachers' Brew #103 Breakfast, the Beijing Olympics, and Losing

(This appears in the Monday April 14, 2008 edition of the Business Mirror)

“Dad, is the Dalai Lama an animal?”

Thus asked my son over a late breakfast the other day that gave me pause from alternating reading the newspaper and watching the US NCAA Championship game. I have to chuckle at the innocence of a child who even in his young years decided to win it back for Arsenal in his video game not long after his cherished Gunners were knocked out of the UEFA Champions League by daddy’s favorite, Liverpool FC.

But how do you answer a question like that? Human rights activists might argue that China has treated Tibet’s spiritual leader as such and believe that Beijing has no qualms about reprising Tiananmen Square in Lhasa, but it isn’t as simple as black and white.

When you talk of “empires” or “dynasties”, it seems more appropriate to describe centuries-long Chinese empires rather than sports teams who will win two or three straight and land on the list of some critic’s all-time best. Chinese history has shown how every emperor has tried to expand the nation’s borders so recovering lost territories like Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, and even the Spratlys is a big thing. They need look no further than the break-up and dissolution of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia to see what awaits them. You think that the United States will cede California and the other southwest states back to Mexico?

This year – 2008 – is a long-awaited year. It’s the formal coming out party of China. The success of twenty-ninth Olympiad means a lot to the world’s most populous country. Already in 2007, it has supplanted the US as the world’s largest consumer and contributed more to global growth for the first time. But there have been trade-offs for the quickest economic turn-around in human history, China too is the leader is greenhouse gas emissions.

“What are greenhouse gasses, daddy? Are they really green?”

Oy vey. I forget I am in the midst of explaining things to my son. It takes me a minute how to explain it. “These are the gasses that keep the Earth – the world we live in – warm enough for us to live in,” I declare in my best Einstein impression as I sip some hot java. “And no, they are colorless.”

“So the summer is hot because there are lots of greenhouse gasses?”

I smile a befuddled smile as I’m suddenly unsure of what to say. “Well the summer Olympics will be hot.”

Literally in more ways than one. With worldwide protests about the continuous and violent crackdown of demonstrators in Tibet, it puts a wrinkle on the face that China has put on. In a culture that values “face” – a sharp contrast from the society we live in when thieves, terrorists, and so-called nationalists refuse to step down despite being embroiled in scandal after scandal – there are more than gold medals at stake. Any boycott will tarnish the games.

International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge (who is a former Olympian with the Belgian yachting team in the 1968, 1972, and 1976 games) said that they would not press China to enter into talks or conferences regarding human rights violations or political issues. “This is a line we do not have to cross,” declared Rogge after a relatively quiet Olympic torch relay in Buenos Aires despite threats of mass protests. “This is a sovereign matter for China to decide. I have no crystal ball but I'm optimistic the games will be a great success.''

So much gray matter. You’d think the National Basketball Association would have learned from the flack that Nike got over its factories and workers’ conditions. Hey, they’ve got billions to protect. It’s not just about sport. It’s a business.

At that point, I couldn’t help let out an anguished cry over the Memphis Tigers loss in overtime to the Kansas Jayhawks in the US NCAA Finals.

Martina Navratilova pegged it right, “Whoever said, ‘It's not whether you win or lose that counts,’ probably lost.” Sports has a dichotomous nature that I both love and hate. It can be an uplifting experience that some say can be better than sex. Yet at times, it reminds me of a bad break up. You move on. You get over it or you think you do, but every now and then you stop and say, “Damn.” And your mind wanders through myriad roads of “what if?”

It even plays with your heart rate like it was a pinball game.

Not every one feels like Jo-Wilfreid Tsonga who made it to the Men’s Finals of the Australian Open where even in defeat he was glad to be there. Or even like Barnsley which eliminated Liverpool and Chelsea in succession the FA Cup Finals be damned. It was quite a ride, eh, lads?

The Beatles put it so well in Golden Slumbers, “Boy, you’re gonna carry that weight a long time (you know it's a Paul McCartney penned song when it starts out so peacefully then ends up in a deranged rocker)."

Ask Rudy Tomjanovich about 1977 when his Houston Rockets were one foul call away on sending their series with Julius Erving’s Philadelphia 76ers to a seventh and final game. With Philadelphia up by two 111-109, Rockets guard John Lucas drove inside the lane but was met by Sixers guard Doug Collins underneath the basket. Lucas made the shot but a charge was called on him by vet referee Jake O’Donnell. Collins made one more free throw to ice the game and send Philly to the Finals where the Portland Trailblazers and Bill Walton awaited them. Tomjanovich may have won as the Rockets coach later in 1994 and ‘95 but he can never exorcise 1977 (a few months later that year would become even more infamous, forgettable or unforgettable when Los Angeles Lakers forward Kermit Washington nearly killed him with what has since become known as “the Punch.”

I saw it up close in 2003 as my beloved New York Yankees took it on the chin from the Florida Marlins. I watched in silence as the Bronx Bombers watched the victorious National Leaguers whoop it up on that hallowed patch of earth that in many ways was the godfather of Boston Garden’s leprechauns. I felt that sickening knot in my stomach as I was the last one to leave Araneta Coliseum when the UST Tigers snatched what was a sure victory for the Ateneo Blue Eagles.

Someone asked the transplanted New Yorker in me if I root for the New York Knicks. I responded with, “Now why would I want to flagellate myself? No one can be such a masochist.” Then again I realize that Isiah Thomas is nothing more than a prophet of doom so woe to the Knicks faithful.

Times like this, I wish I wasn’t a sports writer. Everything remains in vivid high-def color in my mind and my keyboard. I reside in the church of the poisoned mind.

But life goes on and move on I, we, must.

Until I encountered the Memphis Tigers who went down in defeat to the Kansas Jayhawks in the ultimate game of US college basketball.

"Boy, you're gonna carry that weight a long time."

“Dad, if it’s the ultimate game, then why is it going to be played again next year?”

Kids. Now you know why hope spring eternal. I ruffled his hair and we finished off the last of our breakfast.


Things I’d like to see happen in sports as soon as possible:

  1. Scrap the offside rule in football. Not only does it not make sense, but it will open up the game completely.
  2. Place some sensor along the goal line or a chip inside the football. That way we will know if it crosses the goal line and will eliminate controversial goals or non-goals.
  3. The number one pick of the NBA Draft be awarded to any team at random. This way we avoid tanking by the bottom feeders. Why should the lousy teams be rewarded for their mediocrity?
  4. The revival of the Northern Consolidated concept when it comes to the Philippine National Team. That way, they stop poaching the PBA and PBL for players and the unit is kept together for at the most four years before they’re allowed to move to the pros.

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