Slow Dance in Rap Town
By Hunter S. Thompson
Page 2 columnist

I have abandoned all hope of winning at this amateur farce of a game by now. How low the mighty have fallen. This is like watching a pick-up game between convicts in a federal prison: shoot & miss, shoot & miss, shoot & miss -- even the CBS gents are sneering as these bums ignominiously kill the clock. These are clearly not championship teams that we are watching.

It has been this way from the start. Where is the confident precision of Duke last year and the year before? Where is the fabled speed of UCLA, or the kinky muscle of Stanford? We miss these things. Nobody is going to get excited about Kansas-Maryland or Indiana-Oklahoma -- especially when they are playing lame basketball. These are routine neo-annual clashes between high-profile, big-budget basketball programs, like Ford vs. General Motors. They are embarrassing.

Ed Bradley called on Friday and tried to bully me into another one of my famous doomed bets on Kentucky, but he failed. "Never in hell," I told him. "Not unless I get 11 points." That is precisely the spread that I predicted last week in this column, and I refused to take anything less.

Indeed. This is what my new maturity has done for me. I have learned to never make hysterical last-minute bets on big-time sporting events -- unless it is necessary, rather than lose the action.

That is exactly the kind of rat-brained, junkie thinking that makes gambling dangerous. You bet. There is a gigantic, life-and-death difference between betting the underdog plus nine points and the underdog plus 10 or 11. It is the difference between winning and losing, between victory and defeat -- between fun and pain, on rainy nights in some cowboy towns -- so you want to be thinking clearly when you start dealing in numbers like One or Two.

The final spread in the Kentucky-Maryland game, for instance, was an evil, humiliating 10 -- which would have been perfect, if I had stuck with my original eleven. But I didn't. I allowed giddiness to take over my brain, just before tipoff, which caused me to get mushy and settle for nine.

How long, O lord, how long?

***** ***** *****

Surely I was not the only rabid basketball fan to feel joyous at the sight of a taxpayer-funded Marijuana message on all of our TV sets last week, in conjunction with the CBS broadcast of the annual NCAA championship tournament. It was relentless -- popping up, as it did, at what seemed like every other timeout or crowded commercial break.

Joe Zielinski
Only Jayhawks and savvy gamblers will be jumping after the tourney's over.
The message itself was terrifying: Marijuana means Death, for You and many others, including the judge and who knows how many U.S. Marines. It is a truly frightening thing to see on your TV/basketball screen. One toke over the line is no longer a harmless joke. No sir, it is Felony Terrorism, under this brand-new American Patriot "law" that came in with the new century, the new president, the new morality, etc., etc. ...

College basketball is riddled with harmless dope-smokers, of course -- no worse or better than any other segment of American society. Wow! Maybe that explains the diminishing quality of play in the Big Dance every year. Hell, yes. These freakish young brutes are too stoned to compete in anything more serious than a public sex contest. They are addicts. Their brains have been fried. They are doomed. We have spawned a whole generation of lazy, brain-damaged showoffs.

That is the view from the White House and most of the U.S. Congress these days. It is World War III forever, by the look and the language of it, and the Meanness quotient of the U.S. image in the world is growing logarithmically with every passing day.

Whoops! No more of that stressful gibberish, eh? Exactly. We don't need it. Our world is full of exciting options -- the Oscars, spring training, the NBA playoffs, heavy golf, the Gonzo beauty pageant, the War, the Stock market. ... We are blessed.

The NCAA Tourney is always a time of visions and confusing hallucinations. It is spring and the sap is rising. Every dawn is another righteous challenge, another test of faith, another fateful notch in the national TV ratings.

There is a lot of happy talk on the great American street these days about the "amazing jump" in ratings for the NCAA games this year, but none of it is true. The TV numbers are the same as last year and the year before, which were mediocre.

Click here to buy Hunter S. Thompson's new book, Fear and Loathing in America : The Brutal Odyssey of an Outlaw Journalist.

So rest easy, folks. We have nothing to fear but Fear itself. The Kentucky-Maryland game is cheap history now, and good riddance. Maybe you remember this: 11:43 p.m. Friday. We are nearing the end of the game now, the Terps are up four, Kentucky has croaked, and this may be the sloppiest college basketball game of the year. The shooting is miserable, the passing is rotten, and so far we have seen 28 turnovers. This is embarrassing. "Very uncharacteristic of teams of this caliber," says Jim Nance as Kentucky throws the ball away twice in 30 seconds. I will not watch it on tape or anywhere else. It sucked.

But today is a new world. We are coming up on another Final Four, and I feel the urge to gamble. My pre-Dance bracket sheet shows me with two out of four teams still alive -- which is nothing to brag about, but it beats the dim performance of one longtime gambling antagonist (whose name I dare not speak aloud), and I feel vaguely happy about it.

I see Kansas uber alles, with Oklahoma as runner-up. Maryland is eminently beatable, and Indiana can't possibly continue to hit all those 3-pointers like they did against Duke and Kent State. The joke is over for those people.

That is how it looks from out here in the Rockies, sports fans. A pretty slow weekend, all in all.

Dr. Hunter S. Thompson's books include Hell's Angels, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, The Proud Highway, Better Than Sex and The Rum Diary. His new book, Fear and Loathing in America, has just been released. A regular contributor to various national and international publications, Thompson now lives in a fortified compound near Aspen, Colo. His column, "Hey, Rube," appears each Monday on Page 2.



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