There’s a first time for everything. I visited the Air Canada Centre for the first time today. I’ve only seen the Maple Leafs at Maple Leafs Gardens. In most cities where the “new” arena opened in the last millennium, one would pity me; but in Toronto perhaps it’s merciful. The Leafs are a train-wreck, the quickest cure for a losing streak (ask my friends in Boston). The sign above the door to the players’ quarters should be “abandon all hope ye who enter here”.
Toronto is an odd town.
Many still worry about being world-class, even as polls & stats regularly place us among the top few places to live. If they’d only stop worrying about being great, we’d actually be the best. But never mind, I suppose those anxieties are a sign of humility. When I visit NYC I enjoy a few things about the city, then start to get homesick; and by the time I get home I am becoming ecstatic, thrilled that I live in an amazing place. We are so lucky here.
But there is one aspect of this town that’s troubling, and that’s our experience of team sports. No, this isn’t important. Team sports are just slightly less important than what happened on the last episode of Coronation Street: which is to say, absolutely unimportant.
So tonight I caught up somewhat with the way sports are presented in big arenas. I recall when I last saw the Leafs back in the 90s, I was already irritated by the incessant music every time the play stopped, the apparent lack of faith in the product on the ice, or perhaps their lack of faith in our ability to concentrate on the game being played.
Now? I guess it’s what I see in our post-convergence world. Content can be re-purposed on any platform for any audience, which means it’s all carefully constructed to offend no one, to work for any demographic, with a slick edge, a caffeine buzz, and nothing under its surface. Music plays throughout the game, and I have to say it’s so good that at times the game’s on and nobody seems to notice or care.
Which is idiotic considering the quality of what i saw. For a first basketball game in person, this game will be hard to top.
I saw Lebron James and Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh and Andrea Bragnani, and was totally blown away by the skill level in front of me. Thank goodness Miami tussled with Dallas last night, a game likely meant as a kind of pre-playoff statement game. I was hoping the Heat would be drained emotionally from their major smack-down + their travel. A guy in the john was joking that maybe Lebron would be exhausted from his exploits with various ladies last night.
At times in the first half they did look tired. In the first… minute? Miami popped 10 points in before the Raptors even seemed to get into gear. Wow.
I felt the difference was simply talent. Or maybe the Miami coach knew his team was coming off this major game and were tired and needed to start fast, to break the youthful Raptors’ confidence. By halftime, the Raptors were fighting back, likely because the Heat were tired from last night’s battle. At times Bosh and James seemed rubber-legged, as they let the Raptors claw back to a tie and even to get a few points ahead. One, two, three? I think that was the largest margin they achieved.
And then James & Wade & Bosh took over. Never mind the questionable calls (and i doubt they mattered). The talent level on the Heat, the manifest sense that at any time they could move the ball and wipe the court with the Raptors, gradually became so clear that the contest was no longer a contest. I found myself applauding Lebron’s drives, his soft touch around the net, Wade’s moves…
Perhaps the oddest moment was in the last minute. Bosh gets booed in Toronto by some of the crowd. Not me, not anyone I respect, perhaps some kids who don’t know better? I say that because the older Toronto fans wouldn’t do that: the ones who remember that Toronto fans applaud when an opposition player goes down, because to do so is simply honourable. Bosh had every right to leave Toronto. On one of his last touches –after an impressive basket—was to mouth “boo yourself” at the crowd. Of course that drew an even bigger crescendo of boos.
Here’s an irrelevant irreverent little bit of video featuring Bosh and Lebron.
I suppose the part that’s odd about Toronto as a sports town is that we don’t have the usual male ego madness. If we win, great. If we lose, that’s okay. I think it’s kind of weird when I think about it, that winning is such a big deal. I had a great time watching the Raptors lose, watching Calderon & Bargnani make good plays, while Lebron & Dwayne and Chris blew me away with their talent. The booing of Bosh is part and parcel of the neurosis some in Toronto feel because our teams haven’t won anything in ages.
Are people nuts to be frustrated? That’s not me out there playing hockey or basketball, it’s a hired entertainer. And whether we lose or win, I am genuinely entertained. Those aren’t us out there playing so why is so much ego invested in the outcome? Those are paid millionaires, wearing costumes, in some strange ongoing tournament. Who cares if they lose?
Now I have another problem. It’s 11:30 pm, and I am hoarse. I have a musical to see tomorrow afternoon, then a hockey game Saturday night. Chances are I will have even less voice available for Palm Sunday.
The cheering is cathartic, but I have to figure out how to do it without losing my voice. A couple of days ago I was writing about stamina, thinking about how Stewart Goodyear might play all 32 Beethoven sonatas in one day. Speaking of stamina, how am I going to get through this weekend?
Perhaps I should take a vow of silence.