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Sports Column: Same lessons are learned on gym class, NBA courts

“Ever wonder why this great nation of ours is lagging behind in the professional world? Take a look at our classrooms.”

That common political statement also rings true in sports. I was taken aback a couple of weeks ago when someone in my basketball class (go ahead and judge me) informed me about a defensive strategy that I had never heard before.

My team was playing defense, and somehow, the point guard got into the paint and drove freely to the basket for the winning layup as my esteemed teammate merely watched from five feet away.

“Why didn’t you pick him up?” I asked, unaware that I was about to be dumbfounded.

“Because he wasn’t my guy to guard.”

Dumbfounded, I turned my back to go vent elsewhere — but not before I noticed the Chris Bosh jersey my teammate was wearing.

Of course, this all took place in the very casual setting of a basketball class, but the mentality that my teammate had adopted blatantly contrasted the fundamental axiom of any sport: Defense wins championships.

Common sense should tell any defender to pick up the open man driving toward the basket. But what once seemed to be common knowledge is lacking in gym class. More disturbingly, it is absent at the professional level.

Take, for example, the NBA All-Star Game Sunday night, in which the Western Conference team defeated the Eastern Conference squad by the surreal score of 152-149.

The 301 points broke the record for the most points scored in an all-star game that didn’t go to overtime. The NBA’s superstar showcase has always been a high-scoring affair, but breaking the 300-point threshold in 48 minutes of basketball is ridiculous.  That means the teams averaged a basket once every 19 seconds for the entire game, and they took a shot every 12.6 seconds.

Fans love to see offensive stars take center stage together, but their talent is meaningless if no one is defending. Even Jeremy Lin probably could have gone the whole game without committing a turnover.

The problem is broader than basketball too. Last month’s NHL All-Star Game involved 21 goals, and the NFL’s Pro Bowl saw the NFC and AFC combine for 100 points.

Of the four major sports in the United States, only Major League Baseball’s all-star game features a somewhat “regular” contest on a yearly basis. The winning team has only reached a double-digit run total twice in the last 20 years.

So what’s the difference between baseball and other sports? In baseball, the offensive team never touches the ball, allowing the defense to control the pace of the game. The fact that the winning league in the Midsummer Classic gets home-field advantage in the World Series also helps.

Sports fans need to ask themselves if they would rather see a tie in a realistic game or a surreal contest that only features offense, not defense. If defense wins championships, and legends are defined by the number of championships they win, then why won’t players buckle down and play a little ‘D’ for the love of the game?

The all-star game should not determine which team gets home-court advantage in the championship series, but the fact that a game is meaningless should not lead players to bring only half of their talents to the big stage.

Sports have always been a microcosm of society, which makes this dilemma even scarier. What would happen if our businessmen, teachers and military only did what was fun instead of what was necessary? What lessons are our athletic role models teaching kids about responsibility and accountability?

Perhaps I should not get too upset about a missed defensive assignment in basketball class. But maybe everyone else should get a little ticked off when the best basketball players in the world decide to take the night off when it’s game on.

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