by Ryan Meehan
So I’m sitting here Monday night after the Iowa State and (6) Kansas game and I witnessed the overtime matchup, in which I was once again reminded how gentle of a culture we actually are when it comes to competition.
Iowa State had been playing very well. They were playing against a 6 seed that is a very familiar rival. They were at home. They got hosed on a call at the end of the game. But the real story here tonight was Kansas guard Elijah Johnson, who scored 39 points in a huge road victory for the Jayhawks. Iowa State simply had no match for his shooting ability, and Johnson carried his reign of tyranny well into the overtime period.
When the game was approaching the end, it had already been won. Kansas was up 106-96 and there were only less than 30 seconds on the clock so if they got the inbound the game was over. As Johnson caught the inbound pass, he sprinted straight for the basket and dunked in an explosive manner. The crowd booed as expected.
Now it might have been because they felt they got cheated at the end of regulation, it might have been because they were just plain bitter, or a combination of both. They should have been directing their negative attention towards a team that had blown the game to the point where they could be showed up.
My take on this whole “running up the score” thing is a little bit different. Most of the “soft” sports fans would tell you that sportsmanship is the key element towards perfecting competition. They’re wrong. It’s close, and although good sportsmanship is important you wouldn’t pay good money to see pro athletes shake each other’s hands. (Unless there’s a fetish for that, in which case – Go nuts!)
Running up the score does not mean that the other team has become a “victim”. Every sporting event that’s set up (with the exception of Browns games) is done so assuming that each side is capable of competing at that level. Think about it: Have you ever seen the Jacksonville Jaguars play a bunch of junior high school kids? Of course not, because that’s not fair for the Jaguars.
Running up the score isn’t wrong at all. Don’t hate the Patriots for being up 45, hate the team that just assumed they didn’t have a chance in hell and mailed it in. That’s who you should have a problem with. Not Johnson, who was scrutinized for simply finishing his job and doing exactly what he was supposed to do. He even apologized after the game…But why? Bill Self told him he shouldn’t have done it, but without him in that game they lose to fucking Iowa State by 27 points. Isn’t the point of sports to score as many points as possible?
Sadly, the answer to this question is “Yes, just so long as it doesn’t hurt anybody’s feelings.” That’s what we seem to be concerned with. They even showed the football coach’s son crying on television when the game had gotten out of reach. Why show that? I want to see the glory of competitive battle. People’s feelings are on other networks. I want to see this kid score crazy points in a college game at the highest level, and I’d be goddamned willing to bet the farm that there were NBA scouts who said to themselves “I like that kid’s killer instinct”. And that should be the case.
Failure is a part of life. If sports was devoid of failure, everyone would be undefeated. Not only would is piss off mathematicians for jacking up their program, none of us would watch it because it we’d be swooned by hours of surveillance footage of women clipping their toenails. In other words, it would suck and be full of “Summer’s Eve” commercials.
Sports can’t be like this. Look, I get the NFL head injury stuff. I get the concern about designer drugs that enhance performance because they can kill you. I’m not debating any of that. I’m just saying that it’s not from the same “group of problems” that running up the score is. Scoring at the last minute is in the “Dinosaur Safety Month” pool of issues that threaten sports that are so far down the totem pole they haven’t been above sea level since Karl Malone thought the parade was for him. Analysts who say we need to address stuff like this are digging a hole for themselves, and for their sake I hope they made sure a ladder was nearby first.
That kid doesn’t have a single thing to be ashamed of. He had a hell of a night, and his performance may have resulted in Kansas getting a one seed when it’s all said and done. He might have showed them up when it was too late, but he put on a show and that’s what people came to see.