BOSTON — As June bursts out all over and we sit poised on the cusp of summer, we once again have the key seasonal road signs: It's championship playoff time for our two biggest and best winter sports, basketball and hockey.
So as the notoriously cold-weather averse sunflowers finally peek their heads above the ground, we know precisely where we are on the sports calendar.
Yes sir, we have stretched the hammock between the ponderosa pines, prepared a shade cover for the television set, and mixed the iced tea. We have put on our drugstore sunglasses, the exquisite flowered Bermuda shorts, and the T-shirt that says: "I live with Fear 24 hours a day, but sometimes she lets me go fishing."
Gershwin got it right when he wrote, "Summertime, and the livin' is easy."
We definitely are ready to take in the soaring victories and crushing defeats of the two sports created to give athletes - and us - something to do when weather in much of the country won't reasonably allow the likes of football, golf, tennis, fishing, cycling, and baseball.
So do June championships make sense? Of course not.
Ideally, there should be blizzards outside while the Knicks and Pacers heat it up inside. And all you have to do is look at hockey and its accouterments to know when it is supposed to be played. You should be frozen to the core by the time you get to your car after the game to drive home. Scraping ice from windshields is part of the hockey and basketball experience.
But, you know what? There are so many things that need correcting in sports that playing winter sports championships in summer, while a bit peculiar, isn't one of them. Conversely, we routinely freeze at the World Series in October. We're a seasonally challenged nation. That's all.
The reason it doesn't matter that hockey and hoops championship finals come at this time of year is that, for the most part, the dates and the calendar are not important in athletics. Example: Jan. 1 used to be the day for college football bowl games, but now it can be Jan. 2 or a variety of other dates stretching over weeks. Doesn't matter.
However, firm dates are very important in real life: July 4, Dec. 25 and 31, Feb. 14, Oct. 31. Then there are the individual dates of note, including birthdays and anniversaries.
Not so in sports. The tradition is in the people and the games, not in the when. So while it is true that these two winter sports have their roots in howling winds, we need to reflect on W. Somerset Maugham's sage observation: "Tradition is a guide and not a jailer."
It did seem better, admittedly, when pro hoops got off the national stage in April. For example, it was April 9, 1959, when Boston completed its four-game sweep of Minneapolis to win the NBA crown. But there's no need for unbridled grumpiness about hot-weather playoffs for cold-weather sports.
Who's to say a warm June evening is better for, say, baseball watching as opposed to hockey watching? It's not, especially if you have the misfortune to watch baseball teams like Florida, Minnesota, or Montreal.
Too we often get caught up in and rail at things that don't matter. In Boulder, Colo., for example, the populace is in a white heat over the gassing of prairie dogs and the installation of speed bumps on local streets. It's a town where people need to have more important things on their minds, like the basketball and hockey playoffs.
In sports, what matters above all is the talent and performance of players. It's impossible to watch San Antonio's David Robinson and Tim Duncan play basketball without a sense of stunned admiration and towering delight. These guys are good. Anybody who has ever tried to shoot a jump shot marvels watching the Pacers' Reggie Miller do it. And when Avalanche goalie Patrick Roy is on his game, it's a feast for amazed eyes.
That these skills of extraordinary dimension are exhibited in June instead of March matters not.
Russian writer Anton Chekhov noted long ago that "people don't notice whether it's winter or summer when they're happy." Correct. So just be happy that athletes of these capabilities are available to entertain us - summer, winter, spring, or fall.
And no more whining.
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