THE PALLILOG

Pallilo's View: Why aren't the Rockets creating more of a buzz?

James Harden is doing historic things. Rockets.com

Houston is in a bit of a sports malaise phase right now. That is in largest part on the 4-8 Texans, playing meaningless games other than to employees, their family members, close friends, and of course…gamblers. It certainly isn’t on the Rockets, their phenomenal start at 19-4 headed by the best offensive player on the planet these days in James Harden. So the other part of the Sports Houston ennui is on…Houston. On the individual level there are always plentiful reasons (not excuses, reasons) to not be in to a particular team, but on the broader scale it’s a bit of an indictment of a sports town when a team kicking tail and taking names has very little buzz attached to it.

No doubt the Astros’ dramatic run to World Series glory drained the emotional tank for many. It’ll be tough to ever have a Houston team generate the emotional investment that so many poured into the Astros earning history. So tough that I doubt that the Texans winning a Super Bowl would match it.  I just hope if the Rockets are playing in June most at least deem them worthy of paying attention.

The Chicago Bulls are an atrocity this season and going on 20 years removed from their last championship, yet they sell out every game in an arena much larger than Toyota Center. The Sacramento Kings last made the playoffs and last finished a winning season in 2006. The Kings are outdrawing the Rockets this season, barely, but they are. Yes the Kings are the only game in Sac-town but it’s a small town compared to Houston. The Dallas Mavericks have sold out every game this season. The Mavs stink. They stunk last season and haven’t won a playoff series since winning the championship in 2011. Uncomfortable reality for the south end of I-45: Dallas rates as a better sports town than Houston. Heck, the Rangers outdrew the Astros this year. And Dallas has the NHL. Pull it off Tilman Fertitta!

This is a Rockets town, when the Rockets win big. Wait, they are winning big…and…  

There is some hangover from the way the Rockets went out last year. James Harden was so awful in the humiliating elimination loss vs. the Spurs that until there is on court atonement in the postseason some just won’t pray at the Rockets’ altar. But that seems throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Three guys in the NBA are averaging 22 points and seven assists: LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden. Harden put up at least 22 points and at least seven assists in the Rockets first 22 games! Durability is a component of greatness. The three seasons before this one Harden missed two games total: one because of a suspension for a below the belt shot to LeBron, the other because the Rockets basically made him sit out one late last season.

Harden is ascending toward all-time top 10 shooting guard status.  Michael Jordan is the unchallenged #1. Then come in either order Jerry West and Kobe Bryant. Then the tier with Dwyane Wade, Clyde Drexler, George Gervin, Ray Allen, Reggie Miller, old-timer shout-out Sam Jones, and a few other plausibles. To Houston-ize it: James Harden or Tracy McGrady?

So cool that Jose Altuve and JJ Watt this week shared Sports Illustrated Sports Person of the Year honors. Not the first time two guys in different sports in the same city share it. In 1979 Willie Stargell and Terry Bradshaw won as Pirate and Steeler. Altuve and Watt get there in some ways at diametrically opposite points in their careers. What a 2017 for Altuve. MVP, World Series champion, at or darn near the peak of his vast abilities. Altuve does good works off the field but fundamentally his SI salute is for his season on the field. 2017 for Watt on the other hand is the lowest point of his playing career. Just last week walking for the first time since his October tibial plateau fracture, on top of two major back surgeries, it’s unlikely that Watt will ever be an on-field superstar again. But what he did in the aftermath of Harvey laying waste to Houston, a noble goal of raising 200-thousand dollars for relief efforts, multiplied more than 185 times to more than 37 million raised, all on the back reverence for Watt?  Superduperstar.

Altuve has work to do to be a Hall of Famer. You know, if he bangs out 200 hits for another nine consecutive seasons Altuve would total 10 fewer hits than Craig Biggio? Altuve is the best second baseman since Joe Morgan, who is generally considered one of the four best second basemen of all time. None of the others (Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, Nap Lajoie) played more recently than 80 years ago.

Watt meanwhile is probably a Hall of Famer already. With Terrell Davis in, Watt’s three Defensive Player of the Year Awards (only Lawrence Taylor matches that) should do it. Watt has no shot to match the quantitative stats of the all-time greats. He has more than 125 fewer sacks than Reggie White and Bruce Smith. Watt’s 76 sacks are exactly half as many as has Julius Peppers.  Ray Childress finished with 76 ½. But during his window of greatness Watt could hang with anybody who ever played. 15 years from now is there a Texan whose career you’d rather have had than Watt’s? The Texans sure need that answer to be DeShaun Watson. Or Rick Smith’s 26 years as General Manager will really have underwhelmed.

BUZZER BEATERS: 1. Thumbs up for egg nog, fruitcake not so much   2. LaVar Ball: Shut up and go away.   3. More appealing than committing to three hours of Texans-Niners: Bronze-watching paint dry.  Silver-watching grass grow.  Gold-snail races.

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This is getting out of hand. Photo by Ronald Martinez/Allsport/Getty Images.

Dr. Rick warns his patients, young homeowners who are turning into their parents, you can expect to pay more for snacks and drinks at a movie theater. It's the same deal at a professional sports venue. Three years ago, I put a down payment on a cheeseburger at Toyota Center ... I still have three more payments to go before I get it.

But this is ridiculous. The PGA Championship, the lesser (least) of golf's majors, is charging $18 for a beer, a 25-ounce Michelob Ultra, at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa. It's $19 for a Stella Artois. You can buy a six-pack for less at the supermarket. Aren't there laws against price gouging, like during a hurricane? Isn't Tulsa where the Golden Hurricanes play? Get FEMA in here. Did tournament directors get together and ponder, how can we piss off our fans? Sure, it's Tulsa and there's not much else to do, but that's no excuse.

Charging $18 for a beer makes the concession stands at Minute Maid Park look like a Sunday morning farmer's market. A 25-ounce domestic beer during an Astros game is $13.49. A 25-ounce premium beer is $14.45. Yeah, that's high for a beer, but at Minute Maid Park there are lots of hands in the till. Aramark wants to make a profit, the taxman has big mitts, and the Astros want their cut, too. Look, you want to sign Kyle Tucker and Yordan Alvarez to an extension or not? Then drink up and don't complain. Some quiet grumbling and head-shaking is permitted, however.

You know the PGA Championship is charging too much for a beer when even the rich pampered players take notice. "18 (!!!!!) for a beer ... uhhh what," former PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas tweeted. "Good thing I don't drink a lot."

Like he will be in line for a beer at a public concession booth, anyway.

Of course there will be fans sneaking in beer in baggies strapped to their ankles, like stuffing your pockets with store-bought Snickers before going to the movies. It doesn't have to be this way. The Masters, the most prestigious golf event, charges only $5 for both domestic and imported beer. I know it's a gimmick, part of The Masters mystique along with pimento sandwiches for $1.50, but still it's a welcome gesture. You never lose when you treat the public fairly. When Mercedes-Benz Stadium opened in Atlanta, Falcons owner Arthur Blank insisted that food vendors charge the same inside the stadium as they do at their regular restaurants. Same thing when Denver International Airport opened, fast food restaurants couldn't jack up their prices to their captive customers. Here? There needs to be a loan window outside the Cinnabon booth at Bush-Intercontinental.

Except for the Masters in Augusta, golf's majors aren't tied to a city. A major comes to a city maybe every few years or in most cases never. There's no need to ride into a city like the James Gang, rob the local bank, and high tail it out of town. Golf should be the last professional sport to stick it to fans. While the game has made strides to open its arms to lower-income youths, golf remains an elitist, extremely expensive sport for regular folk. Equipment is expensive, private courses are exclusive and country clubs are exclusionary. Public courses are less expensive but still expensive and crowded. Plus there's never been a professional sport more dangerously dominated by one person than golf. I can imagine network executives on their knees praying that Tiger Woods makes the cut and plays on weekends. Otherwise, TV ratings go straight into the toilet, you know, like whatever team Mattress Mack is betting on. (I joke because I love, and frankly a little scared.)

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