It's a Basketball Battle, Not a Culture War

Mike Thomas, Orlando Sentinel columnist, does what any game columnist would do when facing a cultural challenge from the global center of glitz: He puts his game face on, and he pipes up for the local scene.

It's on the cover of today's paper.

He does a funny job of mocking the stereotypes of Central Florida "That's us -- a bunch of goobers in our stained white T-shirts, whacking at roaches with a rolled-up Hustler because the kids have gotten too darned fast to hit."

But then things just get weird.

There's this line:

We may be getting our butts kicked in basketball, but we are winning the bigger war.

We are replacing California as the center of the universe.

I jogged all over Orlando's downtown as the sun set last night. Global traveler Adonal Foyle swears Orlando has all kinds of first-rate experiences at the ready. There's more than enough to be proud of here -- it's a great looking city.

But we're not really going to hang Orlando's sense of pride on being the center of the universe, right? Have you been to Los Angeles? Or, for that matter, New York, London, Beijing etc.?

I know, I know, it's a tongue-in-cheek little joke. Just a little sideshow of a sporting contest, as confirmed by the next part of the article, where Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's flabby pectoral muscles are trotted out as proof that California is on the decline.

It's funny.

Or at least, that's what I thought until I got to the part of the column about how dreadfully hard the recession has hit California:

This is what Joel Kotkin, executive editor of NewGeography.com and a presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University, had to say about the place:

"Now L.A. seems to be fading rapidly toward irrelevancy. Its economy has tanked faster than that of the nation, with unemployment now close to 10 percent. The port appears in decline, the roads in awful shape and the once potent industrial base continues to shrink."

The City of Angels has become the City of Ember, slowly falling apart, its inhabitants desperately seeking an escape.

Here is a headline from an NBC Web site in Los Angeles: Cost of Living Sucks; Everyone Leaving California. ...

L.A. has more gang members than Orange County has public-school students.

It goes on in that vein, and loses a lot of fun and credibility along the way.

My first thought: L.A. may be in a rough patch, but going to a Laker game is proof that there is nowhere near a shortage of super rich and powerful people around. It is almost literally an embarrassment of riches.

And more to the point: Unemployment and violence are not all that funny, no matter who's in the NBA Finals, right?

One of the things I really enjoy about living in 2009, as opposed to say, 1200 BC Greece, is that we don't have warring city states and all that. Thanks to things like widespread education, we know that we are all pretty much alike, and we don't have to use geography as a reason to club each other over the heads.

Instead, we act out our old urges to war against each other with fairly safe sporting contests among players who generally hold each other in high regard. That's progress! Sure, there's a little saber-rattling and all that. But let's be honest, the regular working people of Orlando have nothing to fear or hate from the regular working people of Southern California.

The players are in the same boat: Are we really supposed to believe current Magic player Tyronn Lue has undergone some personal transformation since he was a Laker?

I'm all for standing up for your team and your city, wherever you're from. It's admirable to take pride in where you live. But when you stand up, watch your feet! Don't want to step on anybody who might have fallen down in this bad economy.