There is so much to say this week in the world of sports. Baseball opened, and our very own Wolverines are in Minneapolis tonight trying to prolong the magic. But I just have to say something about the Jeff Van Gundy situation. A report in the Orlando Sun Sentinel on Tuesday claimed that the former coach of the New York Knicks has decided to head south – not in terms of talent, although perhaps in that too. The story said that Van Gundy intends to take his coaching talents to Washington to coach the Mystics of the WNBA. That’s Women’s National Basketball Association.

Paul Wong
David Horn

Yesterday a spokesperson for the Mystics denied that the team had been in contact with Van Gundy, and that the report in the Sentinel was false. Let’s pretend that it was not.

It would be easy to be misogynistic and vulgar here, and make a remark that is derogatory to women and their basketball abilities. My friend made the comment earlier this week that it is probably much less likely that Van Gundy will get trampled by Alonzo Mourning, but there is a greater likelihood that he will get bitch-slapped.

I’m going to be above making comments like that, and speak beyond my natural tendencies as a season ticket-holding, American beer-drinking, cheese on top of cheese on top of cheese on top of cheese on top of nachos-eating, blue collar, armchair quarterback sports fan. There’s nothing wrong with Jeff Van Gundy going to coach in the WNBA, and if you think there is, you’ve allowed yourself to become seduced by the “I Love This Game” campaign. Take a look at the NBA: In my expert opinion as a sports fan, it sucks. And Van Gundy is right to have left it to search for a better gig.

Van Gundy, who compiled a 248-172 record as coach of the Knicks, left behind a team (and I use that word loosely) of overpaid, overrated and overgrown glory mongers, who would not allow themselves to be coached. According to an NBA source quoted in the Sentinel, Van Gundy was frustrated by not being listened to and frustrated by his team’s inability to play anything resembling good basketball. I imagine he hopes to find players in the WNBA who still do “Love This Game” and still aspire to achieve excellence on the court – as athletes, as professionals and as teammates. He hopes to find players who aren’t doing it for the money.

Which is why coaching on the college level was really not an option.

Let me apologize now. The comment before about coaching lesser talent was for cheap laughs (criticize me for being a poor columnist – not a chauvinist). Yeah, they can’t dunk and the game isn’t as fast, but who cares? What good do those subjective measures of athleticism do you in the NBA? I was at the airport last Sunday, stranded as I waited for a friend to pick me up. I had an hour to kill. I decided I would sit down at the bar, drink a beer, and watch some NBA basketball; it had been a while. I was treated to the third quarter of a Wizards-Mavs game, which ended up being more painful to watch than the cavity search the guy ahead of me in line at security had gotten. If you want good, smart basketball played by athletes who have trained harder and longer for fewer dividends than their male counterparts, check out the WNBA.

Van Gundy sounds like a guy who realized what everyone with their lips not on David Stern’s ass realized about three years ago: That the NBA in the post-Jordan era (it’s weird, isn’t it? You see that guy wearing No. 23 in D.C., but it’s still somehow the post-Jordan era) is probably the worst product in the sports industry. He sounds like a guy who really loves to coach basketball, and thinks he found a place where he can coach and have that sort of fun that one is supposed to have when he or she is involved with sports. I salute him for that, and I hope he finds in Washington what has been missing from Madison Square Garden – and the entire NBA – for years: Good, fun basketball.

David Horn can be reached at hornd@umich.edu.

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