Sports Talk with Chris Grant: That’s Entertainment

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CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 7: J.R. Smith #5 of the Cleveland Cavaliers in action against the Houston Rockets during the first half of their game on January 7, 2015 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images)

I read an article this morning documenting Cleveland Cavalier J.R. Smith’s latest lapse in judgement. It seems that during the Cavaliers’ game with Milwaukee on Tuesday, Smith decided to take some time out to greet a friend on the Bucks’ bench.

The only problem was, he did it while the game was in progress. As you can imagine, the player Smith was supposed to be guarding scored an easy bucket while Smith was shaking hands with Jason Terry. After the game, Smith stood at his locker wearing a ski mask and a hoodie and answering questions as his “alter ego.” When asked to explain his lapse, Smith said “I didn’t even know I was in the game. My bad.” Yes, this really happened.

I recall when I was a little kid, I really liked the NBA. Magic, Bird, Dr. J, Moses Malone – what was not to like? This was not the case with my father. He was a basketball purist and only paid attention to professional basketball once college hoops ended. When I asked him why he didn’t like pro ball, he always replied, “because it’s not really basketball. It’s just entertainment.”

At the time I think he was mostly talking about the 24-second shot clock and the fact they had to play man-to-man defense. I am sure he wasn’t so fond of the dunking either, but at least the game then bore some resemblance to the version he coached in gyms from Texas to Oregon. Still, I am guessing he never figured pro basketball, or pro sports in general, would become what they are today.

Smith, like all professional athletes, is an entertainer just as much as he is an athlete. If you don’t believe this, then you are not paying close enough attention. When he does something like walk off the court to shake someone’s hand and then answer questions as his “alter-ego,” it is funny. Because no one takes the NBA regular season all that seriously. Of course, it would be a different story if it were the playoffs. The playoffs are still sacred. There is far less preening, or posing for the camera, or silly “mental” lapses during the playoffs. That is when business is taken care of and the game, if only for a brief period of time, moves back closer to it’s roots. For the rest of the year, however, all bets are off.

It’s not just the NBA either. Watch a football game and look at what the players do after they make any sort of play. They aren’t doing that to advance their team’s cause. They are doing it to entertain the people watching.

I have always believe JJ Watt to be the perfect modern-day football player. He is talented. He is good looking and he plays to the crowd following everything he does and the crowd loves it. It is no coincidence Watt is taking Peyton Manning’s place as the face of the NFL.

The same is true in baseball, every time a pitcher jumps around after a strikeout or when a batter flips his bat after a home run. Bryce Harper says this is putting the fun back in the game. I say it is just an evolutionary step for professional sports. I am not here to tell you it is good or bad, but it is happening. And if you don’t like it, you had better learn to, because it is the only thing going today.