I love sports.
So, to say the least, the Dallas Mavericks' win over the Phoenix Suns last Saturday night thrilled me and lots of other Dallas sports fans!
The Western Conference Champion Mavs advance for the first time to the NBA finals beginning on Thursday against the Miami Heat, Eastern Conference Champions.
I'll be watching every moment I can of the best of seven championship series. It promises to be a classic--two first-time teams in the finals, veteran coach Pat Riley versus rookie coaching sensation Avery Johnson, Shaquille O'Neal against the defense of the quick and deep Mavericks, Dirk Nowitzki against Dwyane Wade.
Across the years I've thought quite a bit about the impact of sports on urban areas.
Okay, okay. I admit that part of the process is likely an effort to justify my own passion for sports. It has always been that way with me from the time I six or seven-years-old.
But, the fact is, sports can play a huge role in urban community life and development, at least symbolically, as well as socially.
In general, I am not in favor of providing sports franchise owners huge public abatements, tax breaks or inducements to build stadiums that cost in multiples of hundreds of millions of dollars. In almost every case such public "investments" do not provide the expected return usually promised. This is especially true for football stadiums that are utilized in such a limited way over relatively few dates.
(Though, I have to admit that stadiums located in downtown areas create an atmosphere that is exciting and add to the positive bustle of an urban core. Denver comes to mind just here. )
But, sports matter in the city.
The team spirit surrounding the Dallas Mavericks today helps us uncover a community pride and a latent desire to pull together across all kinds of lines that normally divide us.
This week the buzz on the streets of Dallas will be Avery, Dirk, and all the rest of the team and the entire organization.
People who never speak to one another will enjoy surprisingly lengthy conversations about this team and who knows what else before they are done! All good.
In the case of the Mavs, I have to tip my hat to owner Mark Cuban. Cuban created a special new section of seating and seating prices that allow lower-income working families to enjoy an evening at the American Airlines Center. He also assembled a great team to put on the floor!
Way to go, Mark! You're often "crazy" in just the right way!
Yes, sports provide a diversion. That can be a negative, if taken too far.
But for me, sports provide a necessary and brief respite, an escape, if you will, from the press of the city. Lost in a game, surrounded by fellow citizens, cheering on one common cause--it is like a living, graphic display of the untapped potential, the resting capacity of community soul and energy. Not everything about such experiences are positive, but much is.
The challenge comes back at work, in the midst of the reality of a city with lots of problems.
What might be possible if we all pulled together in working to support other "community teams" in their ongoing quests for success and championships of a slightly different sort?
You know. . .our public education team or our public health and wellness teams or our public safety team or our workforce housing and neighborhood development teams. . .the list is almost endless.
Think about what effect community spirit mobilized to accomplish agreed upon community objectives could have on mutually beneficial outcomes.
Call me crazy, but the game, the experience of the game just gives me hope and renewed energy. Maybe we can find or recover a larger heart for our city while watching some great basketball and cheering on this exciting team that we've grown to love.
Of course, the test will come when the games are over and we get back to life in the city we love.
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