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The Last Angry Man??
OAKLAND — The fabulous women of UConn basketball, the latest practically perfect team in sports, come to our turf next week, and they’re bringing their ball and chain.
That would be their coach, the brilliant Geno Auriemma, who has an annoying habit of using his ego and mouth to share the stage with the accomplishments of his players.
And what great players he has — great enough to win their 89th consecutive game Tuesday night to surpass the all-time Division I record set by the UCLA men in the early 1970s under legendary coach John Wooden.
Led by star forward Maya Moore, the Huskies are great enough to be prohibitive favorites to win their third consecutive national championship, great enough to raise the relatively modest profile of women’s hoops, great enough that it would surprise no one if they win by 40 next Tuesday at Pacific and by 20 a week from tonight at Stanford.
Yet they are not great enough for Auriemma to simply enjoy the magic and ignore the angry little man within.
Seeing the increased media attention on his program for its 88th consecutive win, at Madison Square Garden, Geno seized the postgame spotlight, careening from sarcasm to indignation to, eventually, hissy fit.
“I just know there wouldn’t be this many people in the room if we were chasing a women’s record,” he began. “The reason everybody’s in this room, the reason everybody’s having a heart attack the last four or five days, is a bunch of women
are threatening to break a men’s record. And everybody’s all up in arms about it.
“All the women are happy as hell, and they can’t wait to come in here and ask questions. All the guys that love women’s basketball are all excited. And all the miserable bastards that follow men’s basketball and don’t want us to break the record, they’re all here because they’re pissed. That’s just the way it is.”
Inspired and misguided and blunt as a hammer to the groin. It was classic Geno, offering his middle finger to all who dare not cheer for his team.
This calculated tantrum by a lavishly accomplished 56-year-old may have gotten applause from a segment of his fan base, as well as fellow blowhards. Wooden, however, would have been embarrassed by it.
Auriemma is a magnificent coach, a Hall of Famer with seven national titles and an astounding overall record (746-122, .859 win percentage). Geno and UConn are Coach K and the Duke men, except more insanely driven and more consistently excellent.
Maybe that’s the problem, that he’s so invested, so focused on the details and goals of his team that he can’t see straight when his view drifts beyond his kingdom.
Auriemma seems to believe the sports world is filled with sexists and misogynists and other haters who don’t want to give credit where it’s due.
“If we were breaking a women’s record,” Auriemma added, “everybody would go, ‘Aren’t those girls nice? Just give ‘em two paragraphs in USA Today.
Give ‘em one line on (the video ticker of) ESPN and send ‘em back where they belong, in the kitchen.’ But because we’re breaking a men’s record, we got a lot of people paying attention.”
He has a point, to a point. Increased coverage surely is attributed to breaking the mark set by the Bruins — which happens to have been the standard for both genders.
Auriemma is wrong about most everything else.
The more evident truth is not enough fans care enough about his program or its streak or women’s college hoops to form informed and definitive opinions.
It’s not that people don’t like women’s basketball, though some don’t. It’s not that people don’t like powerhouse programs, though some don’t. It’s not that people believe women belong in the kitchen, though a few cling to this flat-earth concept.
What Geno doesn’t seem to understand, or accept, is that women’s basketball generally has smaller audiences than men’s, generates less revenue and, therefore, does not consistently receive equal attention.
It’s not a gender thing, it’s a demand thing.
Not that this diminishes UConn’s achievement. The Huskies annihilate opponents. Men’s record, women’s record — either way, it’s the longest win streak in the history of Division I basketball. That’s historic, deserving of the special call from the White House.
Though Auriemma’s look-at-me rant brought attention to a sport that craves it, not all publicity is good publicity. His approach was so strident that some won’t see past the whine.
If Auriemma really wants to score a basket for women’s hoops, there is a way. Go to the dark side, to the men’s game.
Kicking rump there would be a big, loud, myth-shattering statement for himself and for equality in sport.