February 27, 2003

Bigger, Better Athletes Create Parity

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“There’s too much parity in this parody.”

My old summer boss used to love saying this. He thought the wordplay was amazing and wanted to somehow insert it in a script he was writing. I used to laugh right along, winking, high-fiving, keeling over in humourific pain, “Yeah, parity! Hilarious!” Truth was, I had no idea what parity even meant. But he paid me rather well and was a great guy, so I continued this act all summer long.

Turns out parity is rather in vogue these days. I’m still not sure of the exact definition — and no, I’m not going to spend my precious time looking it up for the sake of this column — but it seems to be on every sports fans’ lips recently. It means something along the lines of (In sports terms. This is a sports column, thank you.) a league or sport has many teams of similar competitive capabilities. The term is usually linked to discussions of the unpredictability of outcomes in a particular sport at a particular level. Webster probably agrees.

So, why all the parity? Why the outpouring of talent recently and the concomitant rise in superstars for all to admire? Why can the Angels win the World Series and the Patriots win the Super Bowl? Why can high school athletes change the face of the NBA? Why, why, why? Answer: who cares.

What’s not to admire? I know, I’m asking an awful lot of questions, just bear with me here.

The whole notion of professional sports becoming increasingly competitive can only benefit any sports’ fans fervor for the game. Watching any pro game in 2003 makes an “epic sports battle” from the ’80s look like a family picnic softball tournament.

Hockey players skate faster and hit harder. Baseball players are stronger, flashier, and make the game look like a home run derby. Football players are also stronger, faster, more exciting and still maintain the team loyalties of old. Tennis players are hitting the ball harder and the women’s game has become the greatest display of female athleticism on Earth. Even golfers have begun working out and trying to increase their physical prowess. And then, there’s basketball.

The NBA has recently placed itself on a whole other level than its professional league counterparts. The Association has become the centerpiece of American athletics, and the level of play has simultaneously sky-rocketed on the court.

There are high-profile talents in every city and nearly every team has a chance of being carried into the playoffs by its cast of stars. On Tuesday night, for example, the Cavs beat the Nets, the Wizards beat the Pacers, the Magic beat the Mavs, the Knicks beat the Rockets, and the Clippers (yeah those Clippers) were the team that finally stopped Kobe.

At almost all levels of play, the talent in basketball has become superior and overwhelmingly ubiquitous. Many thought the college game would be hurt by the trend of early exodus. Instead, NCAA basketball has recovered admirably, and this year’s tournament will likely be one of the most exciting ever.

Many also thought that college and high school players leaving early would be a detriment to the NBA. While this leads me into an entirely different column, that should be written someday, I’ll simply point out something I noticed over All-Star Weekend:

Of the ten starters for Sunday’s main event, five had never been to college, and the other five averaged a measly 2.4 years of higher education among them. San Antonio’s Tim Duncan, Most Likely to be voted League Angel, was the only starter to have attended all four years of his schooling.

Why wasn’t anybody talking about this? Shouldn’t Charles Barkley have at least noticed? Sorry, I’m asking too many questions again.

Anyway, the point is that sports are certainly benefiting from the rise in talent that has come to characterize athletics at almost all levels. Sure, technological and health advancements have aided in this process, but that’s the way it should be. Sports must be progressive and always looking to improve themselves, just as its athletes do.

Of course, there are some side effects. Not the least of which are a lack of dynasties, athletes that take medical enhancers too far, ego explosions, and free agency.

However, such trade-offs (with the exception of such tragedies as that of Steve Bechler) are a worthy price to pay for the prospects of enjoying almost every televised NBA game TNT and ESPN ever show.

Traditionalists will scoff at my ignorance and some will call me a hypocrite (I’ve written about my love for the Glory Days of Sport) but I can only defend myself by saying that while the good old days had their own unique appeal, there’s nothing like watching Kobe Bryant drop 50 on the Knicks, only to see Allan Houston one up him the next time they play.

That’s parity. That’s why fans root for the underdog, because there’s always a chance that your team’s Tom Brady can have a breakout season and take you all the way home. That’s why sometimes there’s just too much parity in this parody. I guess it’s kind of funny after all.

Archived article by Scott Jones