It’s the gift-giving season so Malcolm Gladwell and Bill Simmons have a discussion about all things sports in order to get their names and their new books on your minds. It’s not as skeevy as it seems because they specifically say they’re doing that at the very beginning!
It is interesting throughout and touches all the major leagues in the US. They left the NHL to the end, and basically re-iterated the same thoughts that were in the minds of all Canadian hockey fans.
Speaking of crazy theories, what about the idea that Stern planted Bettman in the NHL knowing he would screw the league up? Follow this timeline.
Fall 1992: Stern sees the NHL coming on strong: Gretzky in Los Angeles; a potential Lemieux/Jagr dynasty in Pittsburgh; Lindros looming in Philly, Messier leading the Rangers back to prominence; three other potential superstars (Alex Mogilny, Pavel Bure and Steve Yzerman); and four major markets (Detroit, Boston, Montreal and Chicago) contending for the Cup. Well, he has to sabotage this immediately. When the NHL owners come to him for a recommendation, he pushes his assistant Bettman on them. It’s like Michael Corleone convincing Moe Greene to let Fredo run his casinos. No, really, he’ll be great!
Feb 1, 1993: Bettman takes over. At this point, he is saying all the right things and not hinting at his desire to overexpand, lower the number of Canadian teams and effectively destroy the soul of the league.
June 1994: The league finishes its greatest 18-month run ever — Montreal beating Gretzky’s Kings in the ’93 finals, then the Rangers ending a 54-year drought by winning the ’94 Cup — and if that’s not enough, Jordan “retires” (sorry, I have to use quotes) and baseball has its damaging strike. Sports Illustrated cements hockey’s coming-on-strong status with its memorable “WHY THE NHL’S HOT AND THE NBA’S NOT” cover. Even in video games, the NHL was crushing it: That year, “NHL ’94” became the single biggest time-waster other than the O.J. trial. There was no cooler/hipper/hotter sport.
Looking back, how can you screw that up? Bettman did it. Forget about all the other reasons the NHL fell off a cliff for 12 years (only recently have there been signs of life) and concentrate on this one: The league had 24 teams when Bettman took over, including eight in Canada. Now they have a whopping 30 teams, including more warm-weather American teams (L.A., Phoenix, Nashville, Carolina, Tampa, Florida, Atlanta, Anaheim) than Canadian teams (only six). Here’s Canada, the country that loves hockey more than anyone loves anything … and it only represents 20 percent of the National Hockey League. This is the single dumbest true fact in sports right now. And it happened on Bettman’s watch.
Still, it is comforting to see these words written in public by influential writers!