MUSINGS FROM THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST QUARANTINE – APRIL 27
By David Alexander
MUST SEE TV
First of all, and I will start EVERY article with this paragraph, sports pales in comparison with what is occurring with the Coronavirus. Hopefully, the columns that I, and the rest of our correspondents, provide you is a momentary escape from the trials and tribulations that Americans, and the rest of the world’s population, are experiencing. The COVID-19 is not a video game that you can press reset and get a new life. This is real and dangerous so, above all, be prudent and stay safe.
This has traditionally been my favorite time of the sports year. If this were a normal year, we’d have watched the Final Four of the NCAA Basketball Tournament and getting ready for The Masters. But we all know there is nothing normal about this year.
After you finish watching “Tiger King,” I’d recommend you find “The Scheme” on HBO. It’s the story of Christian Dawkins, who was the centerpiece of an attempt by the Federal Government to set up a sting operation involving illegal payments to college basketball coaches. Dawkins is in many ways a prodigy – he grew up in Saginaw, MI, the son of a high school basketball coach and was actively involved in the game from the time he was 12 years old. After realizing he didn’t have the talent to be a star player (unlike his younger brother, whose death at 14 is a touching moment in the story), he helped put together a topflight AAU team at the age of 16, and was working for a prominent player agent in identifying and recruiting players in his early 20’s. Then, to start his own agency, Dawkins got immersed in a plan involving a number of shady characters and undercover FBI agents.
The makers of “The Scheme” had access to a great deal of evidence surrounding the sting, including extensive wiretapped phone conversations. Dawkins was encouraged to use his contacts in the coaching ranks to set up a system of paying top-flight college coaches. From the beginning, Dawkins was suspicious of the scheme, because he knew the success in getting players was paying them directly instead of going through the coaches. But the money is too easy to ignore and soon Dawkins finds himself facing 200 years in federal prison.
But, like “Tiger King”, there are no heroes in this tale. Christian Dawkins is no angel, and the assistant coaches he had contacts with understand exactly where the money was coming from and what it was for. Even as he was trying to convince the undercover agent of the failure of his idea, he still took the money. One of the undercover Federal agents is accused of stealing money used in the sting. There are scenes where Coaches Sean Miller of Arizona and Will Wade at LSU deny even knowing Dawkins. Those scenes are followed by phone conversations between Dawkins and the two coaches discussing possible payoffs to players. (Wade is particularly bold in suggesting how much players should be paid. In a phone conversation, both Miller and Dawkins admire Wade’s “big pair.”) After the undercover operation came to light, Wade refused to cooperate with the NCAA or even give information to LSU about his involvement. He remains the coach at LSU today.
The real villain in this is a system of “amateurism” for a young, predominately black labor force that generates billions of dollars. A system that allows coaches to make large sums of money from their schools and sneaker companies. A system that allows colleges and universities, many of them public, to ignore their responsibility to students and society for a piece of the action. A system that allows fans like me to mourn the absence of a tournament this year, even though we are aware of how unfair it all is.
There are similarities between Christian Dawkins and Joe Exotic. Both are interesting characters, with a certain charm that makes you like them despite their faults. The major difference is that Christian Dawkins is not deceiving himself about what he’s doing. When he’s asked if he did anything wrong, the normally forthcoming Dawkins hesitates before answering. He can’t lie because he knows what he’s done. But he’s aware of the larger forces at work. When you watch the show, stick around to the end. Dawkins’ last remark gets to the heart of the matter.