- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Basketball aficionados profess to enjoy the unselfishness of five players working as one and treat with disdain the one-on-one selfishness of Kobe Bryant and his kind.

These observations are expressed all the time, in various forms, whether a person is discussing the joy of the team-first college game or bemoaning the fundamentally deficient teens jumping from high school to the NBA.

Oh, yes, give us some of that old-fashioned basketball any day, and we will be there in force to revel in it.

So here are the Spurs and Pistons, a pair of throwback teams playing the right way in the NBA Finals, and yet the television ratings are in the tank, much to the chagrin of ABC executives.

Game 1 drew a 7.2 national rating, the second-lowest Game 1 ever in prime time and down 27 percent from the Lakers-Pistons Game 1 last June. Game 2 between the Spurs and Pistons was even more dismal, down 30.9 percent from Game 2 last June.

We want teams to play the right way. We apparently do not care to watch it.

It seems we would rather watch someone dining on maggots or watch Tom Cruise pretend to be so taken with Katie or listen to another talking head pontificating on the meaning of the Wacko Jacko verdict and the middle-aged blonde woman clutching her heart and releasing a white dove into the air with each “not-guilty” declaration.

We would rather watch lowbrow fare than an uplifting activity that shows what the professional game can be.

It is true that not one member of the Spurs and Pistons is contending with a rape trial. It also is true that neither Gregg Popovich nor Larry Brown burns incense and communes with Geronimo. It also is true that Jack Nicholson is not sitting at courtside.

The most dysfunctional character in the series is Rasheed Wallace, but his is a dysfunction limited to the referees. As long as you are not in stripes, Wallace is cool.

Wallace’s objection to the referees is amplified by Brown, who believes they are responsible for most of his team’s losses in the postseason, if not all of them.

This well-worn complaint is fine the first couple of times, but it really starts to grate the nerves at a certain point, more so because of Brown’s dead-man-talking whine.

If it is pizzazz you want, it is there to be found, if only you bother to look.

Richard Hamilton wears a mask, and Ben Wallace sometimes wears his hair in the fashion of Don King.

Tayshaun Prince undoubtedly was a praying mantis in a previous life.

Like Cameron Diaz, Popovich’s pock-marked face is exposed too clearly on HDTV.

Tim Duncan has a peanut head, Manu Ginobili a bald spot.

Tony Parker is dating Eva Longoria, one of the “Desperate Housewives,” which beats the showings of Woody Allen’s tired mug at Madison Square Garden.

One of the Barry brothers is in the series, although one of the Barry brothers is always in a series, which inevitably leads to the subject of Rick Barry, the so-called “Daddy Dearest” of the NBA.

Teammates swear the stoic Duncan is a 7-foot Jerry Seinfeld, but since the NBA does not award two points for a rib-tickling one-liner, Duncan is left to dispense his best material after the cameras are gone.

Ginobili is a serial flopper, no doubt because he is from Argentina, a soccer country.

As you know, soccer players are some of the best performing artists in the world. They do not merely fall to the turf. Their bodies shudder, their faces contort, and then their lifeless forms go hurling to the ground. Five seconds later, they bounce up ready to go.

There is always Robert Horry, who has evolved into a specialist’s specialist.

Horry does absolutely nothing for 82 games, except rest and relax, and then he reprises his Big-Shot self in the playoffs.

Horry alone should be luring the senior citizen demographic to the series.

But he isn’t.

And the two teams — and team is the correct word — are playing to a whole lot of indifference.

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