The Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento is a fine place to watch a basketball game. I went there Friday evening to watch the McClatchy girls’ team play for the Division 1 state title. Given the small crowd, the steep upper deck was closed off, and a $10 senior-citizen ticket put me in a prime viewing area. I enjoyed the intensity of the players and the excitement of the crowd. The game was tight until Windward, from west Los Angeles, went on a run in the final six minutes to take the title. Still, it was a pleasure to see McClatchy at the championship level.
I can’t say I had a world-class, $255 million experience (the starting cost to Sacramento taxpayers to build the arena), although the $10 hot dog and $5 bottled water gave me a taste of the pretentious ambience that envelops the venue. The thing is, I was perfectly content watching high school playoffs at Sleep Train Arena, the former home of the Sacramento Kings. Heck, I was excited watching McClatchy play in its small school gym just a few blocks from my home.
Who needs a sparkling arena loaded with high-tech equipment, an 84-foot-long scoreboard and farm-to-fork organic produce to watch a ballgame? What kind of value system is at work here and what’s it say about the city of Sacramento, where homeless people die on the grounds of nearby City Hall?
The NCAA Tournament has provided some terrific basketball games, but I find it hard to keep the unsavory stuff in the background. All through the Kansas-Oregon game in the Elite Eight round on Saturday, I kept thinking about the criminal investigations involving a number of Kansas players.
There was an alleged rape at the team’s on-campus dorm; a player was suspended in December after he was arrested on a charge of domestic battery; another player has been accused of vandalizing the car of a female student. Kansas coach Bill Self circled the wagons and downplayed the multiple problems. Oregon’s 74-60 victory over Kansas seemed to have some karmic significance.
Sunday’s game pitting North Carolina against Kentucky, a classic thriller with an astounding final minute, involved two universities doing their best to compromise the idea of college education.
North Carolina, the 75-73 victor, has been mired in an embarrassing six-year! investigation into academic fraud involving basketball and football players. Instead of being ashamed of a phony-class scheme, the university has the effrontery to claim the NCAA is blowing the case out of proportion.
Kentucky coach John Calipari, bless his heart, is quite willing to defend his one-and-done recruiting approach as a benefit to players caught between competing interests of the NBA and big-time college programs. Los Angeles Times writer Mike Hiltzik aptly says universities that tolerate such a system are “prostituting their academic standards.”
Meanwhile, let the Final Four drumroll begin.