Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Tool

Boston, with a side of rain

I'm not sure what I enjoyed more last night; the Chicago Blackhawks hoisting their first Stanley Cup in 49 years, or Philadelphia fans roundly boo'ing one of the most despised commissioners in sports -- Gary "The Tool" Bettman. Now, Philly fans are notoriously tough on anyone from out-of-town, but Bettman gets hammered everywhere he goes. And with good reason. Hockey fans can't stand him, because they know he's not one of them. He's a tin-voiced little weasel who pretends to care about the game he oversees (OK, the "league" he oversees) because he's all about appearances. But, in truth, any real fan of this glorious game can see right through The Tool's insincere charade. The emperor, in this case, not only has no clothes ... He has no credibility.

Let me be absolutely clear about this. Bettman doesn't give a rat's ass about the sport. He has no passion for hockey, and remarkably limited knowledge of its nuances, the skill involved, the rules, its history, or its cultural significance. He's an expensive suit, with an over-inflated ego, and nothing more. Bettman's arrogance probably blinds him to the fact that he's almost universally despised. He works for the owners, and his only job (for which he is paid quite handsomely) is apparently to save them from themselves. We lost an entire season of the best sports league on the planet because the owners couldn't agree, and Bettman somehow tried to flip responsibility for the lock-out on the players. Again, it was so transparent that it was laughable (except for the reality that we lost that aforementioned season). The best thing to come out of the lock-out was an enterprising attempt to have a Stanley Cup playoffs among non-NHL teams. But Bettman and the NHL owners, brandishing their financial clout and legal brass-knuckles, squashed the idea like a misguided chipmunk on the Mass Turnpike.

And why did we lose that season in 2004-05? So selfish owners like the Bruins' Jeremy "Greed is Good" Jacobs could guarantee themselves "cost certainty." You want cost certainty? Put a great product on the ice, and try capping the cost of a ticket to $45, and a 10-ounce Bud Light to, say, $5. That may not guarantee you billions, but you'll make a profit.

Bettman likes to think he's the master of marketing, bringing the lessons that he learned at the feet of his mentor -- David "I'd rather be a tall black man" Stern of the NBA -- to the National Hockey League. Only two problems with that. First, have you seen an NBA regular-season game recently? Just brutal. This is a league that has managed to suck the life out of a potentially great game. Compare it to college hoops sometime. No contest. Second, the NBA isn't the NHL. While the NBA glorifies the individual ("How's that ring looking, Lebron ... Oh, sorry."), hockey and the NHL are about team, first, second, and always. There are great players, to be sure, but even the greatest -- from Howe to Orr to Gretzky -- understood the team was always the primary focus. And the secondary focus was a distant second.

But Bettman doesn't get that. He thinks, "Worked for the NBA, should work for us." And that's why Pittsburgh is playing in the Winter Classic again, to match superstars Sid the Kid vs. Ovie. Funny, but neither of those two guys (great players both) made the semifinals this season. Karma? I like to think so.

So keep boo'ing, Philly fans. I cringe every time I think of how your Flyers turned the tables on my Bruins this spring, but you made up for it last night. Bettman had the post-game microphone, but he certainly didn't have the gumption or the backbone to work the crowd. He knew he'd get torn apart. He'd get the same reception in Boston, Montreal, Chicago, Toronto ... anyplace where hockey is part of the social fabric. The NHL commissioner is nothing but a tool, and he's got to go! The sooner, the better.


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