- The Washington Times - Friday, December 24, 2004

From the NBA comes the following two-part special on Christmas Day: the Bloods vs. the Crips and Shaq vs. “That Guy.”

The television ratings should be robust, if only because America enjoys the prospect of a head-on collision from the safety of its living room. Voyeurism has come to be America’s national pastime in the new reality TV order of wardrobe malfunctions.

“Desperate Housewives” and “Desperate Millionaires in Short Pants” are opposite sides of the same coin. Skin is on one side of the coin, mayhem and runaway egos on the other. Both are debasing to those they purport to represent.

The NBA cannot resist the opportunity to hype its incongruent offerings on Christmas Day, no more than Shaq can resist taking another verbal swipe at “That Guy.”

Shaq has warned “That Guy” to be careful around him. As Shaq puts it, “That Guy” is a Corvette and he is a brick wall, and we all know what happens to a Corvette after it runs into a brick wall. If “That Guy” is smarter than he has been acting the last 18 months, he may want to suspend his acrobatic forays to the basket for one game.

That leads to perhaps the most intriguing question going into the encounter. Just how many times, if any, will “That Guy” challenge the center he ridiculed as fat before orchestrating his exile to South Beach?

“That Guy” recently suggested it was his intention to extend an apology by telephone to Shaq, only to be stymied in his quest by the absence of his ex-teammate’s private number. That is the defense of a weasel who apparently never thought to call the Heat’s front office and state his request.

This is why “That Guy” has dissolved into “That Guy,” a player with no name, as determined by Shaq. It is a fitting moniker for someone who has burned all his public relations capital the last 18 months, topped off most recently by the dubious accusation that Karl Malone made a play on his wife.

NBA players are forever on the prowl, no doubt, and treat their part in the illegitimate birth rate as a point of emphasis. Yet not even the late Wilt Chamberlain was suspected of making a play on the wife of a teammate, which is saying something. It seems even Chamberlain, who claimed to be the NBA’s all-time leading scorer in the bedroom, had certain standards, however minimal.

The NBA might as well be peddling a good portion of its product in brown wrapping paper, with no return address.

Larry Brown, the behaviorally challenged coach of one of the gangs, is just “sick” that, by the coincidence of the schedule, the two fist-packing contingents are being featured on national television in their first meeting since the riot in Auburn Hills, Mich.

It is a date, inadvertent or not, that celebrates the worst element of the game. A steel cage would complete the scene, regardless of the whereabouts of all the culprits, one of whom whose sentence just has been commuted and another who was last heard promoting his singing group.

All of this would be amusing if it did not undermine the principal appeal of the game, which has a choreographed beauty and grace to it if the five parts are properly executing their assignments.

The beauty and grace are under assault from a me-first generation of players.

Whether it is about letting “That Guy” be “That Guy” or Ron Artest be Ron Artest — which is the euphemistic expression of letting fools be fools — the game loses.

Avarice, selfishness and violence may sell a few extra tickets in the short term. Yet those are not things any business should want to embrace if long-term growth is the objective.

The NBA’s timing could not be worse.

On the holiest of days, the NBA bears the gift of its un-holiest symbols, Shaq excluded.

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