Mixed feelings surround tomorrow’s (August 28, 2008) change in the MLB’s rule policy toward instant replay, which is noticeably only geared towards disputes on home runs. Most proclaim that its too little of a change, that baseball should suck it up and admit to the new age of technology, and forget all the old stuff. And very few, including me, argue the other way, claiming that baseball should stick to the original rules. 

Why? Baseball is all about the old stuff — the crack of the bat, the outdoors, the spitting on the ground like no one is looking, the game of gentlemen, the slow pace, the rain delays, and yes — the pile of chewed gum at the side of the dugout. But most of all, my favorite part about Baseball is letting the umpires call the shots. This game isn’t just like any other sport; its America’s pastime, and it deserves to be recreated every time the ball-players step onto the field. 

Personally, I am a huge fan of the JumboTron and its counterparts including Cricket and Tennis’s Hawkeye. Trust me as a die-hard Lakers fan, I’d die without correct calls, instant replay or not. But although Baseball isn’t exactly my forte, I can go this far — as a sports fan, and an American — the one sport that is ours entirely should stay entirely as it was meant to be, and if that answer is “old” — then so be it.

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In past years, USA basketball has come into big competitions with high expectations, and after “shockingly” being beaten by teams that trained together the entire year for these moments, one might wonder if they are destined to lose unless they play with a team’s mentality. Can this country, blessed with the most talented basketball players the world has to offer, ever assemble a group of ball-players to compare with Jordan’s historic 1992 Barcelona squad? Is this Coach K’s year to make a gold medal team? Can America put aside its troubles and rivalries, and instead of playing for themselves, play for the world? Is this their year? All signs point yes, but what do I think? No. And I’ll tell you why.

In today’s basketball, more and more of our best players are assembling overseas, and less are developing in America. Our young american players grow up under a coach’s eye, each and every one of them with tremendous talent, but most totally uncoachable. And this is the exact opposite over in Europe, with great, coachable team player being mass produced like Toyota Prius’s. So unless America can get it together NOW and play for the common prize, a gold medal (which I don’t think is going to happen this year), our future looks dim.

In contrast, the 1992 team consisting of the NBA’s legends who united once a year to play together as one, were much like Europe’s players today, but much more talented. Led by Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Charles Barkley, that team had depth too, their entire bench hand-picked from the nba’s greatest role players. Jordan, among his teammates, sacrificed points for assists (he rarely posted over 18 points in a game), and the team excelled more than any USA team could wish to do today (or ever again). My point is, unless the US can take away their star power and ego, we’re not going anywhere in the olympics. Do I think we can do it this year? Yes. Will we do it this year? No.

Professional sports is a business that thrives on its stars, some that are either skilled enough athletically or marketed well enough to end up as household names in places like China. And while these people sell tickets and fill seats, they don’t necessarily win, and sometimes, they even have a tendency to lose. This is one of the biggest misconceptions in my view about sports today – people expect the stars to perform well above their original standards. Being from the land of the Lakers, I have always followed my team as closely as possible. From attending Laker games from 2004 ‘till today, I have learned a lot, but most importantly, the only way they can actually win, with teamwork. In the year 2003, the Lakers stunk. If anyone remembers, with Kobe and Shaq feuding, team chemistry was not exactly blossoming. But that summer, Jerry Buss (the head of the club) brought in two wiser blockbuster players, Karl Malone and Gary Payton, who both never had a championship ring and was making one last stretch to get one. The team flourished up until the finals, but I didn’t like their style one bit. It was essentially an all star game, where the fans would cheer only if Shaq made an amazing dunk, and remain silent when Kobe made a great assist to a role player. And as I predicted, they faltered in the finals against a team who played well together and didn’t have any overpaid superstars. That year ended up being the end of Karl Malone’s illustrious career and the end of Gary Payton’s Laker stint.

Another effect like this is what I like to call the Jordan Phenomenon.  Ever since his rookie season in 1984, Chicago Bulls fans always predicted that MJ would always have a game better than his last and expected him to always have a few great dunks and always assumed he was a robotic basketball freak that made virtually every shot he took. And this is what made him so great and famous – he did. By living up to those standards he created an unwritten rule, a prestigious group if you will that includes the only athletes that can handle the fan pressure and live above it. Members of this group include Kobe Bryant, Jessie Owens, Michael Phelps, and Hank Aaron, just to name a few. These people really fed off of the pressure and rose above it, but their teams (with the exception of Jessie Owens and Michael Phelps who are in a class alone) did not do as well as they did. They did rise to the occasion, but their teams didn’t win consistently. My point here is that to have a great team you need a group of human beings who know each-other’s athletic abilities and have chemistry together. You don’t necessarily need great players.