Chester Frazier will get more minutes than anybody this year. That news may seem about as thrilling as the selection of Joe Biden to be Vice President.
Chet’s playing time is necessary for the same reason that Evan Bayh didn’t get the VP nomination. To remove Bayh from Indiana means the other team scores a Senate seat. To remove Chester means the other team scores, period.
Political analysts, positing the Biden choice, foresee him as Obama’s attack dog. That’s Frazier’s role, too. They’re both there to harass opponents.
The other thing that Biden brings to the ticket, and Chet to the hardwood: No surprises. Whether it’s Tom Eagleton’s electroshock, or Dan Quayle’s potatoe, your Veep pick should never be a distraction. Ideally, scholarship athletes can shape up for just four short years, too.
We learned this week that Calvin Brock has spent the last four years in Bruce Weber’s doghouse, hanging on to his scholarship by the skin of his teeth. We don’t know what he’s been doing, specifically. Maybe it’s skipping class. Maybe it’s smoking bowls. Maybe it’s loafing in the weight room. Whatever the behavior, or attitude, he just keeps pissing off the coaching staff.
We already knew about Shaun Pruitt’s attitude problem. We’ve learned about Jamar Smith’s battle with the bottle. Now we find out about Brock. Now we understand why the flashy leaper spends so much time on his ass, while stodgy Chet — not known to dunk basketballs — eats up all the playing time.
But while stopping one’s opponent is good enough to earn Chet a full-time position, great defense is not enough to elevate a program, nor to keep it at an elite level. It’s true for basketball, and it’s true for governance.
In 2006, a teensy majority of Americans sent Democrats to Washington to play defense: to stop the Bush Administration. It seemed exciting at the time — whether you felt gladdened or sickened about it. But that’s all it was — a defensive stop. There’s been no development, and nothing exciting, since.
A government can’t accomplish much when the legislative is at odds with the executive. It’s a draw.
But let’s say Barack Obama wins this year’s election, and returns a Democratic majority on his coattails. Americans will expect them to attack the goal — to show us that they have game. They can’t be any worse than the Goddy weirdos and closet sex fiends that occupied the Congress through 2006, but how can they be better? That’s what we’ll want to know.
The Republicans didn’t lose their majority for lining Haliburton’s pockets. They didn’t lose for pretending Ken Lay is dead, and finding him a nice island to which he could retire. They lost because they didn’t do anything good. They repeated homilies about fertilized zygotes while Parkinson’s patients withered and died. They gave tax credits for gas guzzlers while renewable energy researchers cried for a break.
You know all that. But think about it by way of analogy:
The Weber Administration has been playing defense for 4 years. If Weber is removed from office before the next presidential election, it won’t be about wins and losses. He’ll be the victim of our boredom. He’ll be axed for not doing enough to make Illinois basketball stunning to behold. (There’s no reason to expect such an eventuality. By the next New Hampshire primary, Brandon Paul will be mulling his professional options.)
Illini fans learned during Lou Tepper’s football coaching tenure — winning with defense is dull. We love offense. We get a chill recalling zone-busting jumpers from Eddie Johnson and Mark Smith. We loved anticipating the Bruce Douglas lob to Efrem Winters. We loved Kenny Battle’s take-offs and landings. We thrilled at the launch of a Kevin Turner rainbow arc.
We hardly noticed when Auburn put 100 on our guys in 1988. We weren’t outraged when LSU and Shaq scored 96 at the hall in 1990. We won. That’s what we remember. (We also think we recall Rennie Clemons going over the big guy for a basket.)
If we wanted to watch two groups of guys run back and forth between the goals, breaking up offensive patterns, stymieing the opponent, and not scoring — we’d watch soccer.
Wisconsin fans endured the brutal, desolate Dick Bennett era. Yes, they bruised and confused their way into a Final Four. But can you imagine watching that team play all year? For fun? Under-researched commentators — perhaps dealing with post-traumatic stress of witnessing Bennettball — still call the Badgers a grind-it-out team, eight years later. (They may also recall that Nick Smith was the tallest player in Illini history.)
In sports, if you are witness to an historic defensive moment — like a perfect game, or a goal line stand that decides a Super Bowl — you’ll have seen something. But very few baseball nerds enjoy watching a pitcher’s duel. Most of us like to see home runs.
Joe Biden was not a home-run pick for VP. In a sense, he was an intentional walk — a sensible strategy. The announcement of Joe Biden didn’t give the nation a collective boner. Maybe that’s why Obama waited until the bars had closed to text everybody about it.
But Biden is an intelligent, savvy politician. He won’t fuck up, he’ll discharge his duties in a timely fashion, and the Obama campaign will keep his speechwriters far and away from Neil Kinnock’s autobiography.
It was a safe choice by the Obama campaign. They think they have enough offense, enough mojo, that they don’t need a home-run Veep pick to spice things up.
Bruce Weber has spent two seasons preferring Chester Frazier’s defense to added offense from someone else . . . someone with scoring flare. Weber seems confident that his strategy will see him through. I hope he’s right. Frankly, I like him. And I consider Chester Frazier a personal hero. But I also like offense. And I hope to see some again before I die.
BTW . . .
Perhaps, as a word association game, you do not automatically link Chet Frazier and Joe Biden. But then, you probably haven’t considered how much Chet and I look alike — have you?