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Musings while picking through the driftwood of too-long seasons almost ended

Here’s some driftwood to pick through while waiting for the basketball and hockey seasons to end, hopefully before the fourth of July:

When the Celtics won their first championship in 1957 they beat the Hawks on the 13th of April, the Saturday after Easter. When Bobby Orr flew through the crease, finishing off the Blues to reclaim the Cup in 1970, it was the afternoon of Mother’s Day, the first Sunday in May.

Somehow it all made rather more sense that way.

Where this season is concerned we ought to be content with where each of them carried us this year. The proceedings subsequent to the second round eliminations of both the C’s and B’s comfortably convinces you that neither of them had an ounce left in their tanks.

It would not have been pretty watching the Penguins toy with the Bruins while a date with the Wings would have been ghastly, leaving us only to wonder if the Celtics might have found a way to contain Maestro James, enabling them to play the role of cannon fodder against the Lakers?

And there is this last question where the Celtics are concerned. Did the dilly-dallying over Kevin Garnett’s knee surgery strike anyone else as odd?

Maybe it wasn’t career-threatening, or even routine as sports injuries go, but it was harsh enough to deck him for four months, crushing the team’s hopes. Moreover, given all the mileage Garnett has accrued in this game, you’d think they’d have moved more swiftly on the surgery, allowing him as much time to rehabilitate as possible. Where such injuries are concerned, it’s all about the re-hab, you know.

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College-amateur drafts are vital to the achieving of equity and parity in professional sports, which is why the bad teams are supposed to get the top picks, with the very worst getting the very top. But in the NBA, they can’t afford that luxury because teams routinely cheat and literally throw games in order to move up in the draft.

It’s a shameful abuse that has been commonplace in NBA history, although nowhere near the problem in other leagues. The Celtics – sullying their glorious legacy – have been outrageously guilty of such tawdry scheming twice in recent years, most conspicuously when they tried – and failed – to bag games in order to acquire Tim Duncan. At the end of the season in question, their furious pursuit of losses was farcical.

To combat such scandal, the NBA stages ridiculously contrived lotteries designed to juggle the top picks. Once again the shabby gimmick results in the worst team – the eternally woe-begotten Sacramento Kings – getting rooked out of the top pick, alleged super-superstar-in-waiting Blake Griffin. So the Kings, who finished an abysmal 17-65, get to pick third and remain hapless. There’s no indication this preposterous situation embarrasses either the league or its Napoleonic czar.

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But if it is major-league shame that you crave – the real deal, as it were – you need only look to that enduring cesspool, college basketball. There you will find John Calipari, front and center.

You’ll recall that back in 1996, when he was still perfecting his act, good old Coach Cal lifted the U-Mass basketball program to unprecedented heights amidst a concomitant surge of ethical questions, and when the heat also rose he bailed out to the NBA, leaving the U-Mass program in a shambles from which it never quite recovered. But no charges were brought against the coach.

That was mere child’s play compared to his subsequent “triumphs.” This spring, having orchestrated a stunning revival at the University of Memphis, Coach Cal again sailed away from a potential mess, landing a $31 million deal at that basketball Mecca, the University of Kentucky. He escaped virtual minutes before the NCAA – notoriously blind to all but the most outrageous abuses – descended on Memphis to investigate three major violations and some 20 separate complaints concerning legal and ethical lapses. It all happened under Coach Cal’s watch, yet amazingly he stands accused once again of “nothing.”

Is Coach Cal bigger than the NCAA, bigger than the game itself? Could be!

He is said to have already landed the three best basketball recruits in the country for the Wildcats. But not a one of them has met the NCAA’s notoriously low standard for academic eligibility or even graduated from high school. Will Kentucky ultimately pay the price for giving this rascal 31 million bucks to run its basketball program? Could be!

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Is it remotely possible that baseball can make it through the season without the revelation of the names of the other 103 players who failed the so-called “private and unofficial” drug test of 2004? Thus far, as you well know, only Alex Rodriguez has been outed, thanks to the investigative reporting of Selena Roberts. You don’t have to be a card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union to wonder about the fairness of all that, but so far it’s been a matter of how the cookie crumbles without regard for what may be fair, unfair, legal, ethical, or otherwise.

But out there somewhere there are 103 other players who tested positively for having used performance enhancers in that allegedly secret testing done in the summer of ‘04 and there are too many people who know who they are. Among those who are believed to have the names are people in the commissioner’s office, people in the player’s union, members of at least one grand jury, and – most precariously – prosecutors in the Justice Department as well as possibly other arms of the law. It’s also suspected some media heavy-hitters may know. Roberts herself, whose day job is with Sports Illustrated, has let it slip that she knows all the names. But she chose only to finger A-Rod, presumably because he was the only one she was writing a book about.
You can’t muzzle that many people forever. If the story breaks –-and one fears that’s probably inevitable – the consequences for baseball and a whole generation of players will be terrible.

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Lastly, nobody asked me but don’t you think Michael Vick has paid a sufficient price for his crimes? Nobody in his right mind would minimize the meanness of his abuse of poor animals. But in the end the punishment needs to fit the crime. Vick has paid a tremendous price in the loss of a fine career, immense stature, and tens of millions of dollars along with jail time that exceeds what felons guilty of more egregious offenses against humanity routinely serve. He has been effectively ruined. Is that not enough?

Let the man go back to his business, which is football. And let him atone. If he can.

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