It was the NBA Championship - 1968 I think - Lakers versus the Celtics. Two
power-house teams with vastly different resources and skills that cancelled each other
The Lakers relied on grace, speed and respect for the rules of the game by its
competitive opponents in order to be successful. After all, basketball was originally
considered to be a non-contact sport. Freedom of movement is essential to the execution of
the subtleties of the game, which made the difference between winning and losing.
The Celtics, on the other hand, relied on controlling the floor with wide-body Kevin Mc
Hale blocking on the inside, and Larry Bird hitting 3 point shots from wherever his
blockers could provide him an opening.
The Lakers didn't know what to do. Sure, they were big, but, to the extent professional
athletes maintain discipline in showing respect for the rules, they refused to meet the
physical challenge (disregard the rules) and lost the championship.
The following year brought us meeting number 2 in the finals. Lakers and Celtics.
Only this time, the Lakers utilized their dominant size and took the Celtics game to
This time, the Celtics got muscled and beaten. This despite their complaints that the
Lakers weren't playing by the rules, that they were nothing more than bullies and thugs,
and that they were damaging the game of basketball.
The following year resulted in all out war on the floor, the Lakers won again. But
basketball was irrevocably changed.
And what of the referees, charged with enforcing the rules and setting the standards in
the course of the game? They were as shocked as the Lakers were in the first championship
The reaction was something akin to disbelief leading to paralysis. After all, referees
are not supposed to control playing style or form, they are supposed to enforce the rules
objectively so that victory could be determined by the skills and teamwork and honest
effort of the players and teams. They weren't mentally prepared for things like (modern
day) Hack -A-Shaq, a tactic as un-sportsmanlike as telling a football player to commit a
penalty rather than allow a touchdown. Whatever it takes to win.
Call me naive. Call me someone who believes in justice, in every part of our
lives. I honestly believe that the Golden Rule, if observed, would mean there would need
be no laws. But that's not the norm in human nature. So, we are called a
nation of laws.
Ultimately, order and justice in a game can only exist where the rules of the game and
the intent of the game are respected... not because they're rules, but because to play
this game, you have to agree to respect the game and play based on the philosophy of the
game, not just your desire to win. Otherwise, you're playing some other game.
In the case of the Celtics and the Lakers, they were no longer playing basketball. They
created the game I call tackle-basket. But it's not basketball. It's kind of fun to watch
when you have highly skilled players who don't have to play tackle-basket to win. But it's
It's an evolving game of "what boundary can I push next in ordinary to create an
advantage based on my own and my team's strengths such that it becomes a baseline for the
way the rules are interpreted in the future" (or, how to make sure the way you break
the rules becomes acceptable, at least for yourself).
The referees and the leagues can't stop what has become blatant, brazen,
un-sportsmanlike and increasingly violent behavior by the great American role models on
the courts... in fact, made heroes because they win... challenging and defying, destroying
if they can, anyone who challenges the legitimacy of their victory and their actions with
immature playground retorts like "You're just jealous", "You're just mad
because you lost", or "Get over it, move on." Anything but
acknowledge the truth.
And, due to popular support for winners, and the distaste for the tedium of rules and
ethical integrity, those who actually would win on an equal playing field lose, those who
seek unfair advantage win, and the uninformed public, who depended on the players playing
by the rules in order to get a fair match, a true champion, and dependent upon the
referees and the commissioners to keep it fair and honorable... they have been led to
believe that this is the way the game is going to be played now, and anyone who complains
or wants to go back to the original rules to protect the integrity of the game is labeled
a "spoil sport", weak or just plain stupid.
I miss the graceful elegance that occurred as the players swept around each other,
passing the ball to each other and scoring as a team, and setting up plays that allowed
competition at the highest levels of achievement based on effort and merit.
I think about the game I love to play most often when I think of this country and my
love for Democracy as our founders intended it. And I feel the same sadness when I realize
that all there is to get from it, as with tackle-basket... is that this is just the way
Democracy is, and we will never see real Democracy again.
And those people who never embraced true democracy will never know what they're
missing, as its players become more and more blatant and brazen under the new rules... As
the example to follow becomes more deviant and self-serving... as a government of the
people turns into a government managing the people.
In final reflection, considering all that happened in those history making games, I
think of them and say to myself "I guess that's just how Presidential Elections go
If George Bush dislikes Democracy so much that he believes he should turn it into a
dictatorship, then I would like to suggest a country more conducive to his style of
play... I hear there's an opening in Afghanistan. And they just leveled an entire
mountain range for his new home. J-Dam bombs are truly versatile devices.