Kevin Cody

Buster Sports: Pandemic Play is all about the Benjamins

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LeBron James at the start of the season, during happier times. Photo by Ray Vidal

by Paul Teetor

This could be the shortest and strangest season in the Dodgers’ storied 136-year history.

On Monday, one week into the late-starting season, the nightmare news dropped like a Cody Bellinger bleacher blast: 12 Miami Marlins, plus two coaches, had tested positive for Covid-19.

Miami immediately canceled its home opener Monday night. The Yankees-Phillies game was also canceled because Philly was scheduled to use the same locker room and dugout Miami had just used.

It got worse Tuesday morning when four more Marlins players tested positive. The Marlins responded by postponing their next six games. That decision rippled out to other teams, who were then forced to rearrange their own schedules.

The implications of the stunning news for baseball – and for all of professional sports — will take weeks to play out. It could stop the already drastically shortened major league season – from 162 games down to just 60 — dead in its tracks. And it could mean the end of pro sports – hell, all organized sports, high school, college, whatever — until some unspecified time next year or the year after when the pandemic is under control. 

So, as the Lakers, Clippers, Dodgers, Rams and Chargers — and yes, even the Angels – start their quests for a championship in this strangest of all professional sports seasons, there’s one basic premise driving the crazy-quilt attempt to revive pro sports.

It’s all about the money.

Were it not for the enormous sums coming in – from broadcast rights and sponsorships – and going out in guaranteed player salaries, all these big-league teams would simply cancel their seasons, walk away from their fans and recite the old Brooklyn Dodgers mantra.

Wait ‘till next year.

Without the buckets of money involved, no one would be saying yeah, great idea, let’s play ball in the middle of a once-in-a-century global pandemic in which our little Hometown U.S.A is one of the epicenters.

All that idealistic front-office talk about giving the fans what they want – and need — to restore some semblance of normalcy in the age of coronavirus is just that: talk.

And talk, as you may have heard, is cheap.

So let’s, as the lawyers say, stipulate certain facts so we don’t waste any time arguing about the fundamental forces at work here:  it’s all about the Benjamins.

The NFL announced Monday it has cancelled its entire pre-season schedule. That move will postpone its day of reckoning until the scheduled start of the regular season on September 10, thus buying itself another six weeks to see if a sport with brutal, human-to-human contact on every play can survive in the age of social distancing. 

But while baseball and football are struggling with the new reality of games with no fans or crowd noise, basketball appears to have hit upon a winning concept with its unprecedented idea of enclosing all its teams in a single bubble with stringent testing, severely limited rosters and strict limits on people coming and going. The NBA has even installed a so-called “snitch hotline” where anyone – player or support staff – can anonymously report social distance and mask-wearing violations. Lakers center Dwight Howard has already been snitched on for not wearing a mask. He promised not to do it again. 

The championship quest for our local hoops teams kicks off tonight when the Lakers take on the Clippers in the resumption of the NBA’s regular season, which had eight games left when it was suspended on March 11. Now the 22 teams  gathered at the Walt Disney World Resort “bubble” in Orlando, Florida will play out the remainder of the regular season to determine which 16 teams will make the playoffs and what the seedings will be.  

As of now the Lakers are first in the Pacific Division and the Clippers are second. That is unlikely to change before the playoffs, which means they will play each other in the Western Conference Finals if the seedings hold up and they each advance through the early rounds.

In the NBA Finals either the Lakers or Clippers would then most likely play the Milwaukee Bucks, who are heavily favored to win the Eastern Conference playoffs behind reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and a squad full of 3-point bombers.

All year long – and it has been almost a year since training camps first opened last fall – the two LA teams have relied on similar winning formulas. Both featured a two-headed monster – LeBron James and Anthony Davis for the Lakers and Kawhi Leonard and Paul George for the Clippers.

And both teams featured great depth behind their two stars. But now some of that depth has melted away. Underrated starting guard Avery Bradley – one of the five best on-ball defenders in the league – opted not to come back for health reasons, and point guard Rajon Rondo injured his finger during a practice and will be out 8-10 weeks. That leaves the Lakers short at the point guard position, but James has been known to take over that role whenever he wants. Now he will have to do it full-time.

Meanwhile, the Clippers have lost their star sixth man, scoring machine Lou Williams, for at least 10 days while he is quarantined after being photographed at an Atlanta strip club. He had been granted an excused absence to attend a funeral. Williams’ explanation: he just hit the club to sample its famous spicy hot chicken wings. Not to watch the club’s “entertainers.”  

Baseball Biz: After years of refusing to pony up for the kind of elite talent that can get them their first World Series title in 32 years, last week the Dodgers finally dipped into some of the $8 billion they have in TV rights money to sign Mookie Betts to a 12-year, $365 million extension after getting him in a trade from the Red Sox. The Dodgers are already off to a 2-1 start as of Monday night and appear poised to win their eighth straight West Division title.

An hour down the 405, the Angels are stumbling out of the gate. Two-way star hitter/pitcher Shohei Ohtani faced six batters in his first start of the season Sunday and didn’t get a single one out before being yanked after putting the Angels in a 4-0 hole they couldn’t overcome. And his hitting has been just as bad as the Angels put up a 1-2 record in the first week of a season that is shaping up as a sprint instead of the usual marathon.

Assuming there is a season after the latest Miami Marlins bombshell.

Contact: teetor.paul@gmail.com. Follow: @paulteetor  ER     

 

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