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No asterisks*

The NBA season going forward is a real season.

New York Yankees v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

The sports asterisk.

The sign of “not quite right” or “something was different”, or outright illegitimacy in the eyes of many.

The asterisk’s career in sports began, to my knowledge, when Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s single season home run record of 60 homers set in 1927.*

Maris topped Ruth’s record with 61 home runs in 1961 (a relatively low year for offensive output overall, compared to 1927.). But Maris did it in a 162 game season, rather than a 154, like Ruth. So a friend of Babe Ruth’s, sportswriter (later MLB commissioner) Ford Frick, suggested Maris’ achievement should be indicated in the record books with “a distinctive mark”, to distinguish, but really, diminish it, from Ruth’s.

So the sports asterisk was born.**

Now, it was in general easier for anyone to a hit home run in 1927, versus 1961, but asterisk makers usually don’t peer that deeply into their subject. They gaze just closely enough to make their point, which usually isn’t, at heart, about fairness. They are instead defending the past, or a beloved team or player of the golden days of yore from being eclipsed by the by the present day.***

That’s a lot about baseball, for a basketball blog. Why? Because the asterisk is coming for this NBA season, and it seemed worthwhile to set the stage. At its core, an official season is an official season. This year’s champion is as good as any other year’s champion.

Whichever team wins, all of them are struggling with the same conditions that afflict the rest of the world, and the NBA. There’s no special advantage for any team, unless slightly nicer hotel rooms in Florida are an advantage.****

Look at it another way.

What if you met the love of your life on a Zoom call in April, 2020? You decided to meet in person, and quarantine together thereafter. You got married in July, with guests attending the ceremony virtually. You then lived more or less happily together the rest of your days. Is this an “asterisk” spouse? A person who is somehow not quite as good as a “real” one? An “asterisk” life, because the world wasn’t operating normally when you met?

The world of COIVD-19 is the world of reality. It’s not a pretend world, and it can’t be wished away, or swept under the rug. We certainly want to return to the bigger, brighter, world of pre-COVID, and I believe we will.

In the meantime, this is the NBA, and no asterisks are necessary.*****


Pro * ?

This poll is closed

  • 62%
    (66 votes)
  • 14%
    (15 votes)
  • 10%
    It depends.
    (11 votes)
  • 13%
    You’d know if you bothered to read the footnotes.
    (14 votes)
106 votes total Vote Now

* 1927 is one of the high-water marks for offensive output in “modern” era baseball, by the way. The Original 1920s Rabbit Ball’s great-grandchildren take the field now.

** The asterisk is a very old typographic symbol, so it wasn’t really “born” then, or at all. Some say it as “star” when used in certain contexts. There was no official asterisk added to Maris’ total, which is well, since it was a legitimate record.

*** Sometimes the present day is tawdry or unworthy in some fashion, but generally, so was the past. Are anabolic steroids morally better or worse than amphetamines, for example? Or a racial bar? Each defined different eras of baseball; purity is elusive.

**** The Rockets would be staying in what is considered by many to be the nicest of the Orlando Bubble Disney resort properties if they hadn’t had their losing streak before the season was halted. Now they are in the Grand Floridean, which some claim boasts slightly worse amenities, and also is modeled on an old Florida hotel, rather than, evidently, a luxury casino.

***** Unless they are, which is entirely up to me.