Viewpoint 1/20: Pride and basketball

Pride is powerful. It provides a drive to the world, one nearly as potent as money or sex (which, at their roots, can effectively be traced back to pride). Regular pride is that which we associate with yachting races, organic food and gated communities.

But there is a special type of pride that lurks ever-presently in the background, and at its heart, it is both worse and better than regular pride. In the words of a wise man, it’s called “pride-looking-up.” It pushes unions, fuels protests and drives the little man to become (or resent) the big man.

And nowhere is pride-looking-up easier to see than in the world of sports, specifically basketball.

Here in Utah, we live in what the sports world refers to as a “small market.” Small-market teams perform, at least on paper, just as well as any other team. For every San Antonio Spurs franchise — an NBA team which, according to Nielsen Media Research, is located in the 37th-largest U.S. media market, but has won four championships in the last 15 years — there’s also the Washington Wizards (No. 8 media market), who rarely even sniff at a winning record.

Conversely, in Los Angeles (2), the NBA has two teams: the Lakers (more than 15 championships) and the Clippers (less than one championship).

The problem, however, lies not in the performance of large- or small-market teams, but in the coverage of these teams based on their location. ESPN, America’s largest sports media conglomerate, is often accused of having a large-market bias. Ironically, these accusers don’t live in Miami (16), Dallas (5), Boston (7) or Chicago (3). They live in Portland (22), Charlotte (23), Toronto (too far north) and Salt Lake City (32), where no one is listening.

It’s a complicated problem. Sports media-ites want to cover the New York Knicks (1), even after they’ve just crawled through a decade of terrible basketball, because they’re in New York City. That means more eyeballs on their TV programs/newspapers/web pages. Nobody makes money if the Pacers (Indianapolis, 27) play the Thunder (Oklahoma City, 45) in the NBA Finals.

Which is why, on SportsCenter, you get to watch 10 minutes of discussion about Carmelo Anthony’s bad shooting night (in New York), instead of the thrilling finish to a Milwaukee Bucks (35) and Memphis Grizzlies (48) matchup.

The Utah Jazz play in a small market. Not the smallest in the NBA, but small nonetheless. Though the Jazz marketing team works hard to push basketball in Idaho and Wyoming, it’s difficult to broaden the team’s national appeal when Kobe Bryant and the Lakers play every night in front of Justin Timberlake, Jack Nicholson, 4 million other locals and hundreds of millions of national and international followers.

Speaking even more locally, we have the WSU Wildcat men’s basketball team. They’re playing exceptional basketball at a small-market school in a small-market city in a small-market state.

And let’s all admit it: When people think about college sports in Utah, which doesn’t happen very often, they think of three other schools first. And if you were to ask someone who they thought was the best B-ball team in Utah, they probably wouldn’t say “Weber State” first. But Damian Lillard, the team’s point guard, leads the nation in scoring at 25.5 points per game, and the Wildcats are 14-3 overall and 6-0 in the Big Sky Conference.

So, here’s the situation: Do we get angry? Do we write huffy letters to our favorite ESPN anchor to show more highlights of Lillard’s magical scoring abilities or of the Jazz’s Paul Millsap embarrassing national stars like Blake Griffin and Pau Gasol? Do we leave venomous comments online when the Jazz, who are sitting happily at 9-4 and are second in the Western Conference by winning percentage, get “power-ranked” in the high teens by NBA experts who golf with Lebron James on the weekend?

Or is that just pride-looking-up?