Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

NBA better than nothing

Pre-season game OK, but can't replace what NHL fans are missing Pro hoopsters put on a show at MTS Centre

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The Minnesota Timberwolves and Detroit Pistons didn't have a chance. They could have scored a thousand points. Could of dunked one from the rafters.

Had they rolled out Kobe or LeBron or Melo, it wouldn't have made a difference. I was destined to be disappointed.

No offence, NBA. But you ain't the NHL. One might argue that's obvious because the basketballers actually played a game in Winnipeg Wednesday night.


The Jets? Not so much. In fact, blue-liner Zach Bogosian cracked open his own wallet to purchase tickets for this event. No doubt, the irony was not lost on Zach.

His league is locked out and he's popping for hoops tickets. Gross.

The disparity in action, say this time last year vs. right now, did not escape 21-year-old University of Manitoba student Devon Kirkwood.

"I'm a Jets fan. I'd rather be at a hockey game -- hands down. This is better than nothing but really that's what we have right now. Nothing," said Kirkwood. "It really hits home when you look up and see the Fuelled by Passion sign. And we have nothing to be passionate about right now."

Game, set, match. Thanks for the column, Devon.

Maybe I shouldn't be so cranky.

The last time the NBA came to town for a pre-season game, the rest of the local media and myself were thrilled to have a look at the big show. It was 2005 and the Toronto Raptors played host to the Portland Trailblazers. NHL was still a bad combination of letters in Winnipeg. We hadn't yet begun to dream.

But the genie can't be stuffed back in the bottle. Winnipeg is an NHL town once again and while the distraction of a basketball game in the autumn of our discontent seemed like a good idea on the surface, it only served to remind me of what was missing.

Lots of people appeared to have fun at the game and I won't pretend to speak for them. Basketball is a great game and I'm sure on a sweaty night in L.A. there's nothing like it.

But this is 2012 Winnipeg and not 2005 Winnipeg. We've had another taste of the good life. Anything else comes up a gasping second.

Recently, a good friend of mine suggested I take myself a little less seriously in my column. This is where I would usually get on my sagging soapbox and rant and rave about the greed of NHL owners and players.

But I'm supposed to laugh a little more at myself and be a touch more self-deprecating.

So, yeah, the media meal was free and yes I hit the buffet twice and grabbed a couple cookies on the way out. So the night wasn't a total loss. Just ask my waistline. Insert rim shot here.

The Timberwolves Dance Team? I won't lie. I had a look.

The promotional contests were different than those at hockey games. Refreshing? Sure.

Visually, and even moreso from a seat down low where I was lucky enough to be placed, the NBA is appealing. Giants performing ballet with a ball. They leap and twist, mixing finesse with unmistakable power.

Complex and multi-layered strategy laid over a game with more street in it than any of our major sports.

Every move is planned out and then with the flick of wrist the ball bangs off the glass and it's a primal battle for possession.

All this, however, left me empty. The squeak of sneakers irked me. Only the shoosh, shoosh, shoosh of skates cutting ice could soothe a Winnipegger these days and that sound has been bottled up in a New York boardroom.

Oh, yeah, the Timberwolves beat the Pistons, 95-76 before an announced house of 12,163.

All in all it was fine. If that's what you want out of your night at the arena.

But painted against the backdrop of 15,004 people putting on their own rock show for the players to skate and bang to, it comes up a touch cold.

It's looking like we'll need to find ways to keep ourselves busy without the NHL for a while longer and we've had 15 years of recent experience with that so Winnipeg will figure it out.

But this was like salt in the wound.

A wound we thought we'd closed, once and for all. Twitter: @garylawless

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 25, 2012 C1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.


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