WAITING GAME

Everyone is thinking it, we just need to bite the bullet

Composite image by Brandon Strange.

I certainly understand – and agree with – players who are refusing to go to Orlando to restart this NBA season interruptus. What I don't get is, why baseball is so hot to get a shortened, bizarre season with weird rule changes underway. And why not push the NFL and college football back to 2021, when there may be a vaccine for COVID-19 or at least a better handle on the pandemic?

When hopefully sports can pick up, where they left off, safely with stands filled with cheering fans.

Sports are dangerous in 2020. Coronavirus is a highly contagious, dangerous disease that we still know very little about. Testing is unreliable, with possible false negatives, and results are taking an extra-long time to come back. Six NBA training facilities have shut down because players and staff are testing positive. A bubble isn't 100-percent guaranteed to keep players safe from catching COVID-19. I hear the NBA say the bubble in Orlando will be "as safe as possible." That's not very comforting … "as possible."

Baseball is our most statistic-driven sport. With a season shortened to an unnatural 60 games, and teams' schedules based more on geography than rivalry, fans won't – or shouldn't – take 2020 seriously. What if a player hits .400 for the 60-game season, like when Chipper Jones was hitting .408 after 60 games in 2008? Would anybody accept that a player in 2020, not Ted Williams in 1941, is the last player to top .400 for a season? How will it look if a starting pitcher, who gets only 10 starts the whole season to protect his arm, wins the Cy Young Award with a 7-3 record? Every plate appearance, every pitch thrown, will have a big fat, silly asterisk attached to it.

The Astros won't be traveling to New York to face the Yankees and their angry fans. The current plan has no fans anywhere. You won't hear "Get your peanuts" and "kill the ump" and, depending on the city, "cheaters!" Baseball is a game that thrives on sound as much as images. Baseball will be a silent movie in 2020.

Unless you're LeBron James chasing Michael Jordan's six NBA titles, or the Freak going for back-to-back MVP trophies, or James Harden and Russell Westbrook putting an exclamation point on their Hall of Fame careers, what's to be gained by entering a boring, claustrophobic bubble to complete the 2020 NBA season?

You don't have to be a risk-management expert like George Costanza to know resumption of the NBA season is fraught with danger. San Antonio Spurs star DeMar DeRozan is 30 years old and can be an unrestricted free agent next season. The Spurs currently are 27-36, on the outside looking in for an unlikely playoff spot. DeRozan already has been paid $20 million of his $27.8 million salary for this season. He is on Forbes list of the 100 highest-paid athletes in America. He could be in line for another huge-money contract next year. So he's going to go to Orlando, probably to play eight meaningless games, and risk an injury that could cost him a long-term max contract in a few months? DeRozan already has made $121 million over his 10-year career. He doesn't need to travel to Orlando, live in a social experiment environment, to pick up a few measly millions. For what, for the Spurs to clinch a non-playoff spot?

DeRozan, and every other player, isn't just risking a career-ending knee or Achilles injury. We don't know everything about the long-term health consequences of COVID-19. The disease could leave behind lifelong kidney problems or reduced lung capacity. Basketball is a sport that requires ultimate cardio conditioning. Most NBA players will be eligible for free agency, and more and more money, in the next few years. The NBA says no player will be punished if he decides to pass on Orlando. I'd sit out Disney for sure. Pro sports stars are used to living privileged, posh lives. They live in mansions and drive luxury cars and eat in private rooms at the best restaurants. They're going to have trouble cooped up in hotels with guards at the doors to keep them inside. You really think Mrs. Star Athlete isn't going to the salon for the next four months.? I know "normal" women who can't go two weeks without getting their toes done.

I talked with a high school football coach recently. He said football is the perfect petri dish for spreading COVID. We do know that the No. 1 way to spread coronavirus is for an infected person to cough or breath on other people. That's the whole idea behind social distancing and wearing masks. We've all seen football games played in cold weather, where you see the cold, misting breath of opposing lineman collide only inches apart. Then the players huddle up with their helmets practically touching. Prominent college coaches reportedly are OK with delaying the season until spring. Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley describes a spring season as "very doable." So why not "doable" it?

A few baseball teams, including the Houston Astros, had to cancel practice this week because there was an unexpected delay in getting back players' coronavirus test results. Is this any way to run a major sport? Mike Trout, the best player in baseball, isn't sure he will play the 2020 season. Trout and his wife are expecting their first child. Other stars like Kris Bryant and Buster Posey aren't confident that their health will be protected if they play this year. David Price and more have flat out said no to 2020. One pro soccer team had to quit the MLS season because so many of its players have tested positive for coronavirus. Boston Celtics star Gordon Hayward's wife is pregnant. Hayward already has promised to leave the Orlando bubble when his fourth child is born in September. NBA players are physically fit young men. Many have wives and girlfriends, sometimes both. It's not natural, certainly not fun, for players to enter a biosphere without their partners.

And for what? To play games without fans, with fake crowd noise pumped into arenas to simulate "real game" conditions in crunch time? The games will be televised, possibly on tape delay because some players will be mic'd up and the league doesn't want fans at home to hear naughty language? Eavesdropping on what really is said on the court and during timeouts may be the best part of televising these games. And they're taking that away from us, too?

A big part of 2020 already is a washout. Sports, athletes and fans, should wait until it's safe to come out and play.

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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