After the Super Bowl sports enter the dead season. That means no more Saturdays filled with college football, no more Sundays binge watching NFL games, and the MLB season is still two months down the road. You’ve still got the NBA and college basketball — which is not nothing — but as a Duke fan without any real loyalty to an NBA team it leaves a lot of days without much going on.
The dead season in 2019 has been worse than usual for a couple reasons. The first is that Duke’s star freshman, future number one pick Zion Williamson, sprained his knee against North Carolina on February 20th in the first minute of the game. The Blue Devils, who heading into the game were 23-2 overall (including 11-1 in the ACC) and 9-point favorites, lost to the Tar Heels by 16 points.
Williamson was absent for all but 28 seconds of Duke’s final six games, and the Blue Devils finished an uninspiring 3-3 in those contests (with two of the losses coming to UNC). It isn’t controversial to make the case that it’s an entirely different team without the presence of the best player in college basketball (no shit), and the reality is if R.J. Barrett (likely number two pick in the upcoming NBA Draft) and Cam Reddish (likely top five pick) aren’t making shots, then the Blue Devils are in serious trouble.
Zion Williamson isn’t only Duke’s best and most efficient scorer (68.3 FG%, 21.6 points game), he also plugs a lot of holes on the defensive end. He averages almost 9 rebounds a night (8.8) to go with 1.8 blocks and 2.2 steals. Because of his ability to run from coast-to-coast and handle the ball on fast breaks, many of those rebounds and blocks and steals turn into easy points for Duke. With Zion on the court, I don’t think there is a team in college basketball that can beat this squad. Without him, they are a fairly pedestrian unit whose identity is centered on R.J. taking 20 or 25 shots and hoping for the best.
The best-case scenario is Zion comes back — which is expected on Thursday for the ACC Tournament — and everything goes back to normal. That is what I am hoping for, obviously, since anything less probably means that Duke won’t win the National Championship. Zion Williamson is still a kid, and his best basketball is still in front of him. He is going to be the number one overall pick this June, and he has millions of dollars and a sneaker deal and other endorsements coming his way. For his best longterm interests, it might behoove him not to go a hundred miles an hour all the time. And that may mean Duke won’t win it all.
The second reason this sports dead season sucks is because I’m not really looking forward to the baseball season. A large chunk has to do with the Rangers — whose over/under win total is set at 71.5 — and the likelihood they won’t be any good. Another part is how fed up I am with MLB owners and their refusal to spend money. Even Bryce Harper — who signed for 13 years and $330 million — and Manny Machado — 10 years, $300 million — signed club-friendly deals. It’s a lot of money, but they were supposed to reset the free agent market. They should have gotten more.
Where baseball interests me most right now is off the field. It’s in preparation for 2021, and the Collective Bargaining Agreement expiring. I talk to a lot of fans who don’t want to see a labor war, and who don’t think anything is especially wrong with the contracts teams are signing players to. That’s why it’s generally hard for me to seriously argue or discuss sports in real life to the degree I’d like to, since usually I am arguing something completely different than what most people care about. In MLB, most fans spend their time liking or disliking where a certain player signs, and for how much money, while I stay on the island that says owners are penny-pinching and players deserve more of a share in the profits.
If you read my blog for politics, then I sound like a one-trick pony. The rich are screwing you over, and the workers ought to get a bigger piece of the pie. But really my philosophy works everywhere. It relates to MLB owners who use the public to finance their billion-dollar stadiums, and deliberately don’t spend money on labor. And also it has to do with NFL owners who grift the taxpayers into paying for their stadiums, all the while refusing to give guaranteed contracts in the most dangerous and violent sport.
It’s pretty sick, but I can promise you I’ve been bitching about owners of professional sports teams longer than I have been advocating for the working class. All I needed was to take it a step further, and realize that billionaire sports owners have a lot in common with billionaires in every other industry. It’s no one off when the taxpayers vote to build stadiums for these assholes. Taxpayers have been voting to fuck themselves economically for a long time now.
I know I’m in the minority, but I want to see a strike in both MLB and the NFL when the CBA’s expire. This is selfish of me, especially because we all know how it’s gonna go. Of course the media are going to be against the players, and of course the public will be against the millionaire athletes. Words like “spoiled” and “entitled” will get thrown around, ordinary people making $12 an hour will hate the fact the players want more money to play a kid’s game. And the owners will sit back, with very little media criticism or public outrage, and keep on being extremely goddamn rich. Let’s all pity those guys.
I want to see a strike for the educational angle. It just isn’t often that the national media pay very much attention when workers go on strike, most recently proven by an extreme lack of coverage the teacher’s strikes received in 2018. You can accuse me of going all tin-foil hat… but billionaires own the news, and it’s bad for business if the news puts a spotlight on everyday people coming together to fight against powerful interests.
The last strike in MLB came in 1994 — 25 years ago — and the last strike that affected the NFL regular season (shortened by one whole game) came in 1987. In other words: it’s been a long time. With nowhere left to hide, the national media will be forced to cover a labor war if it involves two of America’s most popular professional sports leagues. I won’t go so far as to say they will sway public opinion — because like I mentioned, the media will turn players into the bad guys — but I am positive it will flip some percentage of sports fans. That might not go for much, but I’d be all right with it.