Meanwhile, On the Prairie Sports Pages

As much as we hate to see another summer pass, one of the compensations of autumn is that it soon brings basketball season. That’s a big deal here in hoops crazy Kansas, where all the universities and colleges and the big city and small town high schools and all the local playgrounds pride themselves on how well they play the beautiful game.
The big political story of the moment in is the ongoing argument about whether President Donald Trump or former Vice President and still front-running Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden should be hanged for treason because of the Ukrainian thing, but what caught our eye is the news that the University of Kansas Jayhawks are under scrutiny from the National Collegiate Athletic Association. On a calm and temperate autumn evening here in Wichita there’s a palpable feel of both the dismay and schadenfreude around here.
For those of you not who are blessed to be living in here in the heart of God’s country, we should explain that basketball exposes some class divisions around here. We grew up in the golden age of Wichita’s City League, when it was producing future professional stars, but these days the suburban leagues are holding their own in non-conference games, the small towns still continue to impress and come up with the occasional division one star and professional player, and for the most part it’s a friendly rivalry. The junior colleges in the Jayhawk League of community colleges produce a surprising number of professional players who couldn’t pass the pathetic minimum test scores for a division one are the big sporting attraction in a number of small Kansas towns, but that’s also mostly a friendly rivalry.
At the D-1 level of this hoops crazy state it’s more of a blood sport. The Kansas State University Wildcats have won numerous conference championships and often been top-20 teams, with a couple of Final Fours thrown in, and we don’t think that there are more than 40 states who can claim a college with a more impressive record. Our most beloved Wichita State University Wheatshockers also have a lot of conference titles and top-20 rankings and a couple Final Fours to brag about, and given our coach’s coach-of-the-year-award-winning record there’s hope that they’ll be back in the top 20 and the tourney next March, when we hope Spring will arrive.
There’s no denying, though, damn it, that the KU Jayhawks sit atop the state’s basketball ¬†hierarchy. They’ve been playing the game so long that basketball inventor James Naismith was once the coach, and over more than a century they’ve won a couple of contested and a few more un-contested national championships. They won 14 Big XII championships in a row before falling just short in the injury-riddled last year, routinely send players to stardom in the National Basketball Association, and along with Duke and North Carolina and Kentucky they’re one of the most blue-blooded of the sport’s perennial dynasties. Such a consistent record of excellence does demand some respect, of course, but to a Wildcat or ‘Shocker fan those Jayhawk fans can be damned annoying.
One wonders how they do it year after year, and we won’t be surprised if this latest NCAA probe provides some embarrassing explanation. KU’s basketball team and our still-beloved and similarly blue-blooded University of Oklahoma Sooners football team have occasionally been caught breaking rules. So have all the other blue bloods in the college football and basketball rackets over the past century or so, as well as both major party players in the political racket.
Perhaps there’s some perfectly reasonable explanation for everything, as there occasionally is in both the sporting and political realms, but we’re not bettors and will wait and see. In the meantime we’ll be rooting for the Wildcats and especially the Shockers, and wishing no malice against the Jayhawks, and hoping that it all the rest of everything ends with the the best team winning. Here’s also hoping that the ‘Shocks have a good run.

— Bud Norman

There are Tougher Jobs Than Yours

As much as you might hate your job at the moment, please take some comfort in knowing that it could be worse. You could be Jussie Smollett’s agent, or the head of public relations for the Nike shoe company.
We must admit we’d never heard of Smollett until he recently alleged he was attacked in Chicago by two white men wearing Make America Great Again ball caps and shouting President Donald Trump’s campaign slogans and homophobic slurs, but apparently he’s a black and openly homosexual actor on a reportedly popular show called “Empire.” His story seemed suspicious from the start, even if several news outlets were quite eager for politically correct reasons to believe every word, and over the course of the ensuing investigation the story seems to have fallen apart. On Thursday Smollett was charged with filing a false report, his bond was set at $100,000, and Chicago’s Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson rather angrily laid out what looks to be a pretty damning case against the actor.
Johnson said the Chicago cops are in possession of a $3,500 check written by Smollett to a black “Empire” extra and his brother, who have reportedly confessed to helping stage the attack, and can be seen on the only videotape of anyone in the area of the alleged attack at the time it allegedly occurred, which does require a lot of explaining by Smollett’s lawyers. If we were invested in Smollett’s career, the best we could come up with is that no one with any Hollywood experience would so ineptly stage anything. There are surely plenty of white guys in Chicago that Smollett could have hired to play Trump-loving racist gay-bashers — late night television wag Stephen Colbert suggested finding them at a Blackhawks hockey game — and what kind of cockamamie criminal conspiracy pays by check?
Smollett is still considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, but when that probably happens his agent will be getting 15 percent of no income. All the Trump-loving Americans will boycott the career they’d not previously been aware of, and all those less favorable to Trump will be angry that he handed a news cycle to the Trump-lovers. Superintendent Johnson, who also happens to be black, was understandably angry that Smollett has made it harder for his police force to successfully investigate and prosecute the very real hate crimes against minority Chicagoans that are bound to happen sooner or later. By now faked hate crimes are so common that we always wait a while for evidence before weighing in the matter, even though actual hate crimes seem somewhat more common, so we sympathize far more with Johnson than Smollett. Sometimes hate crimes are faked in a sincere if horribly misguided effort to draw attention the problem of actual crimes, but in this case Johnson argues that Smollett was attempting to exploit America’s racist history to get a bigger salary from his popular television show, and we can’t blame Johnson being especially irked about that.
Meanwhile, over in the sports pages, Nike was enduring some dreadful headlines as well. In the early minutes of a very big-time college basket game between the blue-blooded arch-rivals of Duke University’s Blue Devils and the University of North Carolina Tar Heels, star Duke forward Zion Williams’ drive to the basket caused one of his high-priced Nike shoes to completely fall apart and sent him crashing to to the hardwood floor. Williams is expected to recover from the resulting “Grade One” knee sprain in time for the Blue Devils’ inevitable appearance in the national championship tournament, but several National Basketball Association players and other experts are advising him to not risk the big bucks contract that he’s expected to get after being a top pick in the upcoming professional draft, and our guess is that he’ll sign a big bucks endorsement deal with some other shoe company when he does.
Nike is a hugely profitable company, despite that it’s long been considered a pariah by the political types on both sides of the spectrum. Although the company headquarters are based in Oregon and it’s formidable advertising machine is located mostly in New York, Nike makes its shoes in low-wage Asian sweatshops and markets them to poor but status-conscious youths in the inner city, so the left regards Nike as a corporate villain on par with Wal-Mart and Koch Industries and the Monsanto Company. The sorts of conservatives who proudly sport Trump-branded and made-in-Asia apparel also resent the offshoring, and lately they’ve been further enraged that Nike gave a big endorsement deal to former National Football League quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who seems to have been blackballed from the league after he started all that mishegas about players kneeling during the national anthem. The kids who overpay for Nikes don’t seem to care about any of that, but they’re more likely to notice that projected college basketball player of the year because one of his nikes completely fell apart on him.
We have to admit that our cutting moves to the basket don’t put the same stress on a pair of basketball that those of the six-foot-eight inch and conspicuously well-muscled 280 pound Williams do, but even when we younger and in somewhat better shape, and could actually hold our own in a Wichita or D.C. pickup game, we never blew out any of our ugly but affordable Chuck Taylor Converse All-Stars. To this day we remain faithful to the made-in-America brand, which remains a traditional favorite of both wholesome farm boy hoopsters and ironic punk rock fashion hipsters, and we’d urge those status-conscious ghetto youths to give them a try.
In any case, we’ll get through whatever today brings with the comforting knowledge that at least we don’t have to make any explanations for either Smollett or Nike to make a living. We’ll also be pleased we’re not one of Trump’s lawyers, but that’s another story for another day.

— Bud Norman