Questions That Keep You Up at Night

Roger Rubin's nagged by questions about Michael Jordan, Baseball Hall of Fame voting and the demise of the ABL.
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The New Year is barely two weeks old and already the true sports fan finds himself or herself lying awake at night. If you thought you were alone with your sleeplessness, take comfort in knowing there are many of us trying to figure out some of the events of the past month while the resting hours fly by.

Last night I found three questions nagging at me and gave them some thought. I only hope that sharing my impressions will help all of you get a little more rest.

Has Michael Jordan really lost his passion for basketball?

I don't believe this for even one second, and there are so many good reasons not to. For one thing, the guy already has retired once. That would have been his departure from the game to try playing professional baseball -- a failed experiment.

But consider this: Jordan, if not the greatest player of this generation, certainly has been its greatest competitor. There have been all sorts of challenges thrown his way and each time, the man responded. It was said in the late 1980s and early 1990s that Jordan and the

Chicago Bulls

could not find a way past the

Detroit Pistons

, but as we all know by now, they did.

And he was constantly compared to the other two colossal greats of the generation,

Magic Johnson

of the

Los Angeles Lakers

and

Larry Bird

of the

Boston Celtics

. When the Bulls started to win

NBA

championships, many conceded that Jordan might be the greatest individual player in the sport's history. But they thought he never would be able to surpass the number of NBA titles won by either Bird (three) or Johnson (five). Well, after the defeat of the

Utah Jazz

in the finals last year, Jordan has six crowns.

We all can take a lesson from Bird and Johnson when we hear Jordan proclaim that he has lost his passion for roundball. Retirement didn't sit well with either. Johnson attempted comebacks, as both player and coach. Bird has returned to the game to coach the

Indiana Pacers

, something he has proved he is very good at.

I think that driven people crave success and that once they have succeeded at the highest level, there aren't many more satisfying feelings. Jordan may be the most driven person basketball fans have seen play the game; they haven't seen the last of him.

Do the right guys always get the votes in balloting for Baseball's Hall of Fame?

Did anyone ever doubt that

Nolan Ryan

belonged in the Hall of Fame? I think not. When Ryan received votes from 491 of 497 balloters to gain entrance to the Hall, it was well deserved, as well as expected. But the thing about the balloting process that is nagging at me is the guys way down on the list. In particular, I found myself concerned with

Dwight Evans

, the onetime

Boston Red Sox

rightfielder. He got 18 votes and lost his right to appear on subsequent ballots.

Okay, a concession. I don't think Evans belongs in the Hall of Fame, even though I grew up a BoSox fan. He was never THE star of the team. He was never talked about as an incomparable player or worker the way

Ted Williams

and

Carl Yastrzemski

were.

But 18 votes? Come on. The guy was better than that.

Humor me a moment as I draw you a statistical comparison.

Brooks Robinson

played 23 years -- all for the

Baltimore Orioles

-- and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1983. For his career as a batter, he hit .267 with 268 home runs and 1,357 RBI (59 per season). More important in his being elected was that Robinson had some 14 Gold Glove Awards, given annually to the best fielder at each position in each league. He was the dominating fielder at his position.

Evans played 20 seasons -- 19 with the Red Sox and one with the Orioles -- and he batted .272 with 385 home runs and 1,384 RBI (69 per season). Evans, too was the dominating fielder at his position, right field. He won eight or nine Gold Glove Awards.

It's pretty close between the two of them on paper. But Robinson always was a lock for the Hall. How is it possible that Evans should get so few votes that he isn't even allowed to appear on next year's ballot? For that, he was good enough.

Has style become more important than substance in women's basketball?

I just don't understand how it's possible that the

ABL

folded like cake batter. On some fundamental level, I would have said that the ABL was truly a better women's professional basketball league than the

WNBA

. It paid the higher player salaries. It landed the better players. It played basketball in its natural winter season. Heck, there were players on WNBA rosters that wouldn't even have made a team in the ABL. Not anymore, not since it shut down play last month.

The ABL, it turns out, did a few things wrong. One was trying to play in the natural season. Because the WNBA plays in the summer, it essentially only competes with baseball. The ABL was going head-to-head with the NBA, college basketball, the NFL and hockey; too much competition. Another was choosing where to locate its franchises. The ABL did not go for major cities as the WNBA did, it went for smaller cities where women's college basketball had flourished and there already were fans of the sport. It might have been smarter not to go up against teams with established fan bases.

In Hartford, the ABL had the

Blizzard

. Less than 25 miles away is the

UConn

women's team. If you had been a fan of UConn the last 10 years, would you spend your money on UConn tickets or Blizzard tickets?

But neither of these were fatal flaws. The reason the WNBA is still alive and the ABL isn't is marketing. Pure and simple.

With the big bucks of the NBA backing it, the WNBA had a great advertising blitz when it started, replete with the infamous "we got next" commercial. The relationships the NBA had established, helped the WNBA land television contracts and gain exposure on

NBC

as well as

Lifetime

. And because of the exposure, the women's players became celebrities. I can't speak for other cities, but in New York, if you saw

Rebecca Lobo

of the

Liberty

on the street, it was worth talking about with your colleagues at the office. That's why the Liberty was drawing more than 15,000 fans per game.

It's a shame the ABL won't be around anymore. It was playing a better brand of women's basketball. It just didn't let enough people know about it.

Roger Rubin has covered sports in the New York area for the past 10 years. He currently is a staff writer for the New York Daily News, covering high school and college sports.