Monday, December 26, 2011

Monday's Musings on Sports - Napoleon, Joseph and the NBA

Sunday marked the return of the National Basketball Association. To some, this was a matter of life and death, like the two high school freshmen who host the 1050 ESPN Radio midday show on weekdays who were deeply depressed at the prospect of no basketball for the year.

To others, the possibility of a season without professional basketball was not all that scary. Some pundits have professed that they would not miss the NBA, as college basketball offers all of the action and skill and without all the strutting and showboating.

[I must confess that other than the NCAA Tournament or when I am sitting in the car and need a sporting event to listen to, I have very little interest in basketball - professional or college. This was probably the result of growing up in a home where the big sports were hockey and baseball, but I digress...]

As a result of the lockout and the long delay before labor and management came to an agreement (which was virtually the same offer made by management many weeks earlier), this year's NBA season has been shortened to sixty six games. Most opinions that I have heard on sports radio programs have not lamented the loss of approximately 20% of the season. Instead, these sports jocks have opined that the NBA regular season games only start to matter after New Year's, since the first part of the season is like an extended training camp when players are still learning how to play with their new teammates.

Personally, I don't understand why the shortened season would eliminate this feeling out period. Drawing a parallel to the NFL season, many teams suffered at the beginning of the NFL season as players (especially rookies) lacked a training camp where they would learn the coaches' systems. Similarly, coaches suffered from not having a period to evaluate their players' strengths and draw up schemes to accommodate their talents.

The debate as to whether the lockout and the shortening of the season was a positive or negative made me think about a story about Napoleon that I heard in a R' Mansour shiur. When Napoleon conquered a certain region in Eastern Europe, the local dignitaries came out to greet him and sing his praises. After the program ended, Napoleon asked -- how come no Rabbi had come out to meet with him. The local politicians began to look for a Rabbi and found one in a small shul. They brought him to meet with Napoleon, who asked the Rabbi to address him. The Rabbi said - I am not a man of words, I only know the Torah. Napoleon said to him - I have had enough false flattery, please tell me words of the Torah. The Rabbi responded with a vort about Yosef and the butler.

The Rabbi said to Napoleon - after Yosef interpreted the butler's dream, he said to the butler - Ki im zechartani - because you will remember me, you will be returned to your position of power. The Rabbi then asked rhetorically - what was the connection between the interpretation of the dream (that the butler would be returned to his position of authority) and the statement that the butler will remember him?

The Rabbi explained that Yosef was telling the butler - you were rightfully imprisoned for serving Pharaoh a cup of wine with a fly in the cup. You are now getting a second chance, but it is because of me that you are being returned to the king's court. Your second chance at serving comes so that you may remember me and cause my release from prison.

The Rabbi said to Napoleon - why do you need Eastern Europe? This land is poor and lacks the natural resources and culture of Western Europe. It must be that the reason that you have conquered this region is because the Jews were being oppressed and could not freely worship Hashem. As such, you have been sent to liberate the Jews of this area so that they can freely worship.

And it was known that Napoleon was good towards the Jews and allowed them to live their lives without government interference.

As to whether the lockout shortened season will be good or bad for the quality of basketball being played or the NY teams, I cannot hope to predict. But everything happens for a reason and it is only at the end of this season or possibly two seasons down the road, that we will be able to see who ultimately benefited from the lockout shortened season.

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