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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Basketball Smoke Dreams

Wisconsin Badgers
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Everybody goes a little basketball crazy during the NCAA tournament, but some of the talk around basketball in Milwaukee these days sounds more like pure lunacy.

Despite two absolutely thrilling games by the Wisconsin Badgers—one a last-second win and the other a last-second loss—the most amazing thing about this year’s college tournament was how little it told anyone about the top draft picks entering the National Basketball Association.

That’s important for Milwaukee, of course. As the Milwaukee Bucks lock down the worst record in the NBA—and the worst record in team history—the Bucks could have the first pick in a player draft we’ve heard all year could be one of the best and deepest of all time.

But most of the top names—Duke’s Jabari Parker, Kansas’s Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid or Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart—weren’t even factors in the NCAA tournament. Only Kentucky freshmen Julius Randle and sudden last-second shot specialist Aaron Harrison made it to the Final Four and beyond.

But anyone who pretends to know which of those players could turn the Bucks from worst to anywhere near first is smoking something right along with Bucks center Larry Sanders.

Sanders, who’s had a few issues this year, passionately defended using marijuana in a remarkable public statement after his third positive test led to a five-game suspension by the NBA.

While apologizing to fans for the suspension, Sanders was honest enough to say using marijuana was “something I feel strongly about, just to let you know something personal about me.”

Needless to say, personal honesty is the last thing Bucks owner Herb Kohl and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) want from a player while they’re lobbying publicly for a new $400-million-plus arena to replace the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

“I will deal with the consequences from it,” Sanders said. “It’s a banned substance in my league. But I believe in marijuana and the medical side of it. I know what it is if I’m going to use it. I study it and I know the benefits it has. In a lot of ways, we’ve been deprived.”

Never mind Sanders may be on the right side of history as states begin to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Certainly, no one can seriously argue that marijuana is a performance-enhancing drug in sports, except possibly in Extreme Twinkie Eating.

 

‘Journal Sentinel’ and MMAC Team Up

One of the consequences Sanders no doubt will face will be a campaign to run him out of town by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the area’s leading shill for spending hundreds of millions of public dollars to benefit its own broadcast and circulation interests.

The NBA itself is pressuring Milwaukee to build a new arena if it wants to retain a franchise after its current Bradley Center lease expires in 2017.

But that sort of public blackmail by professional sports may finally stop working as Milwaukee’s business leaders experience their own absurd smoke dreams.

When the MMAC should be working to create jobs and revive one of the worst economies in the country, it has made its top priority building more luxurious surroundings for executives to watch basketball.

Because that’s the only reason to build a new arena. A new arena wouldn’t contain any more seats. The Bradley Center seldom fills the seats it has. A new arena would only add more expensive seats and what supporters euphemistically call other revenue enhancements.

That’s simply higher priced seats and services out of the reach of most ordinary Milwaukeeans. And the executives themselves won’t have to pay. Their corporations and law firms pay for those amenities and then deduct them from corporate taxes as business expenses.

Not even Scott Walker, the governor corporations bought for themselves, is going along this time.

The only way the $400 million Miller Park got built in 1996 was because Wisconsin had a powerful activist Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, who twisted arms to pass a five-county sales tax.

Needless to say, Walker won’t be pressuring Republicans to raise taxes, least of all to do anything that would benefit Milwaukee.

And the surrounding counties MMAC executives drive back to after Bucks games are loudly opposed to paying any share of the cost of their new corporate sports palace.

So not even the most MMAC-pliant politicians, Mayor Tom Barrett and County Executive Chris Abele, are about to stick Milwaukee taxpayers alone with the bill.

Meanwhile Kohl is looking for new owners while promising to contribute an unspecified amount of his own money to a new arena as his legacy. Hey, there’s a thought: Millionaires paying for their own arenas.

That’s what millionaires Jane and Lloyd Pettit thought they were doing in the late ’80s. They never imagined Milwaukee would consider throwing away their gift of the Bradley Center to the community just 25 years later.