Kareem Abdul-Jabbar presented all sorts of conundrums for opponents, writes Brendan O’Brien
Standing 7’ 2”, the man rated by ESPN a decade ago as the second-greatest basketball player of all time held all sorts of NBA records after 20 years in the league. Leading points scorer. Most blocked shots. Most defensive rebounds. Most personal fouls. That last one is especially interesting here.
Johnny Kerr, a former player, coach and colour commentator, once suggested that the best way to counter the multi-dimensional threat that was Abdul-Jabbar was to get in as close as possible to him and breathe on his goggles. The great man himself seemed to understand that this sort of malarkey is just the way of things in sports.
“In athletics, there has always been a willingness to cheat if it looks like you’re not cheating,” he once said. “I think that’s a quirk of human nature.”
Sport may be bound by all sorts of rules and regulations but, while there are lines that are not supposed to be crossed, there has never been a shortage of people willing to walk up to the edge of them and stick a toe or two over, regardless of code, country, or what year happened to be showing on the calendar.
The footballer, cricketer, and athlete CB Fry was puncturing the pomposity of his English brethren over their famed attitudes to fair play over a hundred years ago when pointing out how, in football, there was a widely-held understanding that cheating was fair as long as both sides agreed to indulge.
The US journalist Heywood Broun positively revelled in baseball’s embrace of skulduggery when he suggested that the rule was: Do anything you can get away with. Joe Torre, a baseball Hall of Famer, admitted he had no issue with cheating. “I mean, we’re not going and robbing stores or anything,” he offered.
This is the kind of attitude found in vast tracts of the footballing world. It is ‘furbizia’ in Italy, the art of being sly, or using tricks or deception to gain an advantage. In Latin America, the idea is borne of a concept known as ‘viveza criolla’, but Torre was wrong to dismiss the consequences of all this.
Australian cricket has been consumed in a bout of self-flagellation this last week after Cameron Bancroft was caught on camera using a piece of homemade sandpaper to tamper with the ball during their third Test against South Africa, in Cape Town. As Ron Burgundy would say, it has escalated quickly in the days since.
Captain Steve Smith and David Warner have been banned from representing their country for 12 months for their part in the conspiracy to cheat. Bancroft for nine. Cricket Australia has lost a major commercial partner in the Magellan financial group and other blue-chip companies have severed ties with the three players concerned.
Smith alone is expected to lose out on AUS$5m (€3.1m) all told.
That’s an eye-watering price to pay and, though it is hard to avoid the feeling that a sense of perspective is needed over a controversy that has prompted condemnation from the Australian and even the British prime minister, there is a case for thinking what the outcome would have been had Bancroft’s sneakiness not been spotted.
Beating Australia is no small thing in any form of cricket and winning in any guise brings with it career advancement, salary bumps and a higher profile with potential sponsors. All that could have been denied the South Africans had the Australians benefited from their machinations and this premise stretches far beyond professional sports.
The same applies to events in Ballybofey last Sunday, where Mayo secured their Division 1 status by wrestling a number of their Donegal opponents to the ground in the dying moments, just as Dublin had done to them in last year’s All-Ireland final. Think for a minute what that denied Mayo, for example, even aside from the glory and the relief.
What would the knock-on effect have been to those players who could have added ‘All-Ireland winner’ to their CVs? Money may be a dirty word when it comes to the GAA and players, but how much, financially, did that cost them? Also, how much would the county’s economy have reaped, simply from the week of celebrations that would have followed?
If the reaction to Australia’s indiscretion has been out of proportion, then so has the reactions to the type of cynicism displayed by Mayo, Dublin and others. Some commentators — John Fogarty in these pages, for one — have attempted to prompt debate and action over this growing stain on the association’s reputation, but where is the widespread wave of indignation we have seen in cricket?
Of the opinions offered on this debate in GAA circles to date, Kevin McManamon’s take on Lee Keegan’s decision to throw his GPS monitor at the feet of Dean Rock as he approached the ball for what would be the winning point in the 2017 All-Ireland decider has been the most revealing.
“Fair play to him, I thought it was genius,” said McManamon.
How utterly depressing.
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