October 19, 2011

Bill Simmons went to a hockey game and a basketball lockout broke out.

Bill Simmons is now a hockey fan. Hooray?

For all of Simmons's flaws, he's a very knowledgeable basketball fan and an excellent writer on the sport and its inner workings. But hockey? Him? I don't see it.

So let's examine Bill's first "hockey-oriented" piece of the season. Join me, if you will, for yet another Fire Joe Morgan-esque adventure on King Myno's Court.

During the NBA's latest "crucial" labor meeting in New York City yesterday, I was attending the home opener for the Los Angeles Kings 3,000 miles away.

Only a true hockey fan would skip out on, uh, tweeting about a labor meeting for the first regular season game of the year. Good start, Bill.

Let's leave the idiocy of the lockout aside for a second.

Oh, wonderful. Simmons and his lockout rants are certainly entertaining, but it'll be nice to read his opinion on a different subject, one that he can really sink his teeth into. The Kings are certainly an interesting team to write about: studmuffin Anze Kopitar, the trade that brought former Flyers captain Mike Richards to LA, Dustin Penner's struggles, Drew Doughty's post-holdout injury...

(one paragraph later)

Of course, I never would have bought Kings tickets without a lockout. And that's the part these NBA numbskulls are missing.

Fuck. Let's fast-forward a little here, as you probably know the drill by now:

(strained reference to new favorite television drama)

(attempt to speak for a sport's entire fanbase)

(brief anecdote involving chat with super plugged-in source)

...you know how in hockey when two guys screw up the faceoff - either they keep jumping the gun, or they keep hitting each other's sticks - and the official finally gets pissed off and kicks them out of the faceoff? That should have happened with this lockout weeks ago.

And there we are, back to hockey. Sort of. It's actually just a brief comparison that immediately leads into almost 1,000 more words on the lockout. This piece is entirely about the goddamn NBA lockout!

The fact of the matter is, he's probably right on all points. The leadership of both the NBA and the NBPA sound like they're being shortsighted and idiotic; there are no winners when a professional sports league cancels games; and only the NFL could survive a drawn-out work stoppage, because they're that big and powerful.

But if you say you're gonna write about hockey, Bill, write about fucking hockey. I bet a decent amount of people were intrigued by how you'd respond to being forced into a chilly arena, attempting to enjoy a sport that you've publicly sworn off in the past, but you spent maybe two sentences on the game itself.

Fans adapt. Habits change. People like me say, "Screw it, I'll give hockey a real chance."

You wouldn't be able to tell by reading these last 2,000 words.

Right now? The door has swung wide-open for the Kings.

It may have, for the Kings and every other prominent NHL team. Not since 1994 has the league had this kind of moment in the spotlight. Hockey leadership seems to finally understand how to market the sport; the rule changes post-lockout emphasis offense and talent; stars like Alex Ovechkin, Ryan Miller and Sidney Crosby (if he ever plays again) are ones that every sports fan now knows.

But, by using hockey mostly to talk about basketball, Simmons offers up the real issue: People won't start watching and discussing hockey, they'll just talk about how the possibility of watching and discussing hockey. For whatever reason, hockey isn't for everyone. Even if the NBA shuts down forever, I imagine hockey would get the same solid ratings on the same mediocre cable channel and draw the same 18,000 fans every single night.

This doesn't bother anyone who truly likes hockey; the sport and all its major teams aren't going anywhere. But to act like its about to explode, that America is going to embrace hockey, is just silly. I'm glad that it'll have a little more time on SportsCenter, and maybe a handful of fans will be quicker to recognize names like Henrik Lundqvist and Claude Giroux. For now, though, it'll remain more a talking point and less a surging enterprise.

Keep up the good work, Bill. Your first hockey piece was everything we expected and more.

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