In sordid sports world, NBA singled out

The Baltimore Sun

Last weekend during the NBA's All-Star festivities, players, executives and others rebuilt houses in New Orleans.

Disgraceful. No wonder that league is the epitome of all that's wrong in sports.

To be fair, the perceptions that preceded the NBA's trip to New Orleans were fueled - not created, but certainly accelerated - by last year's All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas, when drugged- and boozed-up hordes of NBA players grabbed tourists off the street and robbed them at gunpoint, then ate their babies. Or something like that.

However accurate the hysterical descriptions of that weekend are, the Vegas trip reinforced the average fan's opinion that compared with its competition, the NBA is garbage. That notion is reflected clearly by two polls released in the past two weeks.

The annual Harris Interactive poll, asking which sport is the responder's favorite, pretty much nailed it. The NFL is No. 1 by the third-widest margin since the first poll in 1985.

The NBA is tied for sixth, at 4 percent (the NFL is at 30 percent), with men's college basketball and men's golf - behind the NHL and way behind auto racing. Ten years ago, it was a comfortable third, challenging baseball for second.

In the current edition of ESPN The Magazine, the NBA scored far worse than football, baseball and hockey on questions about whether the players play hard every game, love their fans, respect their coaches, value image over the game itself and are "wholesome."

Now, this would be a good time to delve into why America feels this way about not just the NBA, but also the sports it prefers to it. But this will be a busy week, and I won't have time to read all the hate mail, threats and questions about my lineage.

Still, it is a great time to examine what has gone on in the other sports America feels much better about since the debacle in Las Vegas 53 weeks ago. The following is in order of preference in the Harris poll.

NFL: "Spygate." Michael Vick. Chris Henry and Tank Johnson. Pacman Jones (the athlete actually involved in shooting up a strip club at NBA All-Star Weekend). Gene Upshaw vs. the retired players, threatening to kill each other. Bill Belichick walking off the field before his team's Super Bowl loss was complete.

Baseball: Barry Bonds, indicted on perjury and obstruction-of-justice counts. The Mitchell Report, not just for all the players implicated, but for Bud Selig, Donald Fehr, a handful of owners and several other team officials implicated as well. Roger Clemens and the circus he created, and the way he used his wife as a human shield.

College football: LSU won a national championship that loads of people don't accept as legit. Reggie Bush's Heisman Trophy and Southern California's national titles are on the line, with a book claiming he was paid while he played. Nick Saban compared his team's upset losses to Sept. 11 and Pearl Harbor. Arkansas grabbed Bobby Petrino from the Atlanta Falcons 13 games into his first NFL season. Rich Rodriguez vs. West Virginia.

Auto racing: Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch fought in a trailer during Speedweek at Daytona, continuing post-race fisticuffs among drivers that is now routine. After the 500, NASCAR issued 11 fines involving drivers, owners, crew chiefs and others totaling more than $100,000 for various examples of cheating.

NHL: Chris Simon returned last week from a 30-game suspension levied for stomping on a player's leg, the eighth time in his 15-season career he has been suspended. He was the latest in a string of players suspended for some sort of cheap shot.

College basketball: Bob Knight quit on his team with a third of the season left. Kelvin Sampson is this year's pre-March Madness scandal, now an annual tradition.

Golf: Pretty clean year, if you exclude Kelly Tilghman joking that in order to slow Tiger Woods' dominance, tour players should "lynch him in a back alley."

Then there were Marion Jones, tennis matches possibly being fixed, and Hope Solo publicly blasting her coach and teammate after being benched before the women's World Cup semifinal. Their sports ranked lower than the NBA in the Harris poll. But not far behind.

It's easy to see why, in the ESPN poll, more fans say about the NBA than about any other sport: "It's a shame what is happening to this league."

No kidding. Why can't they just imitate what makes all those other sports so easy to love?

david.steele@baltsun.com

Listen to David Steele on Tuesdays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

David Steele -- Points after

That does it. Debbie Clemens definitely isn't getting into the Baseball Wives' Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

Yes, Andy Pettitte said, he used human growth hormone to speed a return from injury, and he knew it was illegal, but that doesn't mean he was cheating. Meanwhile, in Bloomington, Ind., Kelvin Sampson was nodding his head and scribbling furiously.

Matt Walsh just found another New England Patriots secret video of another team's practice, but he taped over the last hour of it with the season finale of Lost.

I had all these clever comments about Superman and cupcakes and stocking feet saved up, but everybody hates the NBA, so probably nobody watched last weekend's dunk contest.

Next time Roger Clemens pitches, I'm bringing a banner: "Marilyn Monroe and Halle Berry Did It Naturally."

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