I believe that I am typical of boys who grew up in America in the 1950s and 1960s. We were a family of four. Our father had been in the United States Navy during WWII. Our mother moved from Idaho to Seattle during the war and was literally “Rosie the Riveter,” working for Boeing.
My maternal grandparents, one Uncle, and my entire family, father, mother, myself, and a younger brother, moved from my birthplace in Idaho to Los Angeles, California, before my sixth birthday in 1951. Jobs were plentiful in Los Angeles, and like many post-war families, we were in survival mode.
I learned to love the west coast. Our first apartment was within walking distance of Venice Beach, and I quickly acclimated to the lifestyle.
Television had become a reality, although we had only three stations. However, sports broadcasting became profitable in the late 1960s, and I was able to see the New York Yankees, the Brooklyn Dodgers, and other professional baseball teams on television. The Boston Celtics were the greatest team in professional basketball, and I idolized a six-foot guard by the name of Bob Cousy. He, and his team, which included the man I claim to be the greatest player in history, Bill Russel, excited many other young men who dreamed of becoming like them and me.
Professional football took me a little longer to love. The Green Bay Packers were dominant, thanks to Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, and other Hall of Famers, but individual players displayed abilities few professionals have today around the league. Many of the greats in those days were required to play both offense and defense. Paul Hornung played running back and defensive back.
In 1957 the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles. I was just 11 years old. This was a dream come true for any typical American boy.
Then in 1960, the Minneapolis Lakers brought their franchise to Los Angeles. I was in my first year of high school, and because I had chosen basketball as the one sports team I would join, I was ecstatic. Jerry West, “Zeke from Cabin Creek,” and later “Mr. Clutch,” was drafted in that year and became my professional idol.
The Los Angeles Rams moved to L.A. from Cleveland in 1946. They were a disappointment for decades, and I, like many others, chose to support another team in another city.
As I earlier noted, I played both baseball and basketball but eventually chose basketball as my primary sport when I entered high school. However, as a fan, I continued to love both sports. I was a skinny kid and never offered up my frail body to football.
I had my heroes, but what was most exciting was the hope that professional sports offered in those days. If the Dodgers had a bad season, I would look forward to the next when the team’s star players would have a better season.
I watched Jerry West not only become an all-star, but one of the greatest of all time, and watching his greatness develop kept me involved with the Lakers, although they could never defeat the Celtics in my younger years. That changed when Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Ervin Magic Johnson became the legendary duo that changed the game forever.
I ended my love affair with the Dodgers when free agency began in 1975. The team concept was over. Professional baseball became a game of individuals who happened to wear the same uniform. I have not watched a game in more than 40 years.
In 1988, the NBA joined professional baseball, and once again, the idea of supporting a team disappeared. Professional sports have become primarily about money, and the joy and love of sports is a dream only men and women my age will remember.
Money became more important than the games. Today’s players receive salaries that are outrageous. This hurt the fans and ended my enthusiasm. When I was young, $2.50 would buy me a great seat at Dodger Stadium or a seat at the Los Angeles Sports Arena to watch the Lakers.
I have only one team I follow today, and they are not professionals. The USA Women’s Soccer Team is the greatest team in the 21st century. They are everything the word “team” means to sports enthusiasts.
I was given a great present on my 73rd birthday in 2019 when these enormously talented and dedicated women won the World Cup for the fourth time on July 7th. As I watched the game, I knew that any gift I received on that day could not offer the excitement I felt watching them achieve greatness.
The end of this story surprised even me. I don’t miss watching professional sports. I do admit to watching an NFL game if the Pittsburgh Steelers are playing and the Kansas City Chiefs with Patrick Mahomes when they are televised. However, if those games are not competitive, I watch something else.
Op-ed by James Turnage, Novelist
History.com: The 7 Boston Celtics Who Powered the NBA’s Greatest Dynasty; by Pat Heery
NPR: U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Wins World Cup Title For A 4th Time; by Russell Lewis
Britannica: Jerry West
Los Angeles Rams: Team History
Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Phil Roeder’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
First Inset Image dabruins07’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Second Inset Image by EJ Hersom for the Dept. of Defense Courtesy of DVIDS – Public Domain License
70 Years Later Professional Sports Lost My Interest added by James Turnage on July 23, 2022
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