Monday, February 24

Al Tucker, The Alley Oop, and An Idea

Al Tucker (photo via Gasoline Alley)
Al Tucker would have been 71 years old today, and if he's remembered for anything today, it's for being credited (with his brother, Gerald) with the invention of the alley oop.

I've long had a soft spot for Tucker, who, despite his meager career statistics, always seemed to be someone who could've been a more memorable NBA player and, at the very least, someone who I would've love to have spoken with. He loved poetry and the music of Sam and Dave, could shoot 3's and dunk with equal aplomb, dominated the NAIA, and made the all-rookie team.

But it is the alley-oop for which he is most known, and that leads me to an idea. If you're a basketball fan, you know how poorly received the NBA slam dunk competition has been the past, what, 20 years? At times it feels as though more words have been written about how to fix the darn thing than there have been to actually talk about it. So, if your eyes begin to roll back into your skull at the thought of yet another hare-brained scheme, well, your skepticism is well earned.

Next year's contest will be held in New York City, and one would hope the league would be able to parlay the notoriety of the world's biggest basketball stage into something more than yet another boring missed-dunkfest.

Yes, you ask, but what does Al Tucker have to do with that?

Well, how about a tribute to the alley-oop? What if, for one year only, the NBA required all entrants to dunk via alley-oops? What if, rather than ignoring its history, the league invited David Thompson and Gerald Tucker to be guest judges? Would that not be at least somewhat more interesting than the typical fare we get at the dunk contest?

And, to piggyback on that idea, how about inviting non-NBA players to participate? How exciting would it be to have two brackets - one for NBA players and one for New York streetball players, with the winners of each bracket meeting in the championship? Wouldn't you be more likely to watch a contest that featured a bunch of amateurs trying to knock off the NBA players?

Who knows, maybe these ideas will be as successful as Al Tucker's brief NBA career, but they're worth thinking about.

Wednesday, February 5

A Perfect Storm

With the Seahawks' Super Bowl victory parade set for today, most Sonic fans of a certain age are spending the day cheering on their new heroes while simultaneously playing back the memories of their old heroes, the 1979 Seattle Sonics.

One group left out in that reminiscence are the members of the Seattle Storm, and some of them are, well, less than enthusiastic about their neglected place in Seattle's sports history. Both Lauren Jackson and Karen Bryant took to social media to decry their removal from the city's championship pedigree. After all, they argue, the WNBA has been around for more than a decade, the Storm won two titles, and they are professionals - do they not count as much as the Sonics and the Seahawks?

It's a difficult debate to deal with, simply because both sides have persuasive arguments.

On the one hand, the WNBA checks many of the boxes that indicate that it is a "major" sport. It is televised nationally, players are paid enough money that they don't have to work in the offseason in other lines of work, and the top stars - while not celebrities like LeBron or A-Rod - are at least somewhat in the cultural sports lexicon.

On the other, the WNBA is continually surrounded by "how long will it be able to exist financially" articles, the extent to which the NBA is propping up the league is always in the background, and, quite frankly, the ratings for the WNBA are not in the same universe as the NBA, MLB, NFL and NHL.

The biggest problem is that, by definition, "major" is an ambiguous term. To a WNBA fan, the WNBA is a major professional sport, and much more important than the NHL. To a non-WNBA fan, the WNBA is like pro bowling or NASCAR or anything else he or she is uninterested in.

Is it sexist? Perhaps, although it is also true that many of the same people who ignore the WNBA also ignore the MLS. And, to be honest, the MLS' TV ratings are even worse than the WNBA's, meaning that anyone who claims the MLS is a "major" sport had sure better include the WNBA on that same list.

Thankfully, the decision as to whether the WNBA and the Storm have the right to place their championship trophy alongside those of the Sonics and Seahawks won't be decided today, or even next year. It will come if and when the WNBA continues to exist for another decade. If, in 2030, Lauren Jackson is part of a trophy presentation at Starbucks Arena to the Microsoft 17.XL Storm, I don't think anyone would begrudge her argument that her former team is a member of Seattle's proud professional sporting history.