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There Are No Morals in These Stories

Was sport always this crazy? Did basketball players 30 years ago think they needed a bigger arsenal than Wyatt Earp?

Did football coaches leave town faster than a guy being chased by a sheriff and then get a royal welcome the next place they put down their clipboard?

Did people accuse their onetime team of throwing games so they could get the first draft pick, who everyone knew was going to be LeBron James?

Did a player who hit a ton of home runs shed tears while only shedding light on a few secrets, conceding he did the wrong thing (use steroids) but for the right reason (his health)?

Our games tell us who we are. A man wrote that once. So, who are we, a group of gun-toting, contract-breaking, doubt-creating, truth-evading individuals without a stitch of character or responsibility?

One might make that suggestion.

You'd have thought Plaxico Burress drilling himself in the leg with a firearm tucked inside the waistband of his pants would be adequate warning for the rest of the jocks who think they have to carry guns. But nobody ever learns.

Gilbert Arenas shows up at Washington Wizards practice with his own hardware. He's suspended and now charged with felony gun possession. That he may avoid serious jail time is not the issue.

He's lucky, in this atmosphere of shoot now, ask later, he or someone else didn't incur serious injury. And to those who mouth the platitude, "It won't happen to me,'' well it damn sure happened to Burress.

Lane Kiffin is guilty of a different charge, making a mockery of college sports and contracts. If you want to follow the trail of breadcrumbs, here's the Kiffin route to infamy:

Leaves Pete Carroll's USC staff in 2007 to become head coach of the Oakland Raiders, where bravely - or stupidly -he challenges the man who hired him, Al Davis. Early in the 2008 season Davis fires Kiffin for cause, with the addendum, "I picked the wrong guy.''

It takes a rare individual to make Al Davis seem sympathetic, but Kiffin manages to do just that.

From a brief period of unemployment, he finds work as head coach at the University of Tennessee, telling everyone it was his dream job. But after a 7-6 season in '09, Kiffin flees back to the Coast, filling the opening at USC created when Pete Carroll goes to the Seattle Seahawks.

At least he didn't say the people in charge hoped the team would be awful. Which is what we heard from John Lucas about management of the Cleveland Cavaliers when Lucas was head coach, a claim that very management says is nonsense.

Lucas is one of a kind. He was an All-America in both tennis and basketball at Maryland, was the No. 1 pick in the NCAA draft, played doubles alongside transsexual Renee Richards in World Team Tennis, ruined his career by snorting cocaine, went through rehab and then in word and deed worked his way back into the NBA as a coach.

He told AOL's Fanhouse that during the 2002-03 season, when he was in charge of the Cavs, team executives tried to lose enough games to finish at the bottom, which at 17-65 it did, and have the best shot a the No. 1 draft choice and the kid down the road, LeBron.

"They trade all our guys away,'' Lucas, now a Clippers assistant, told Fanhouse, "and we go real young, and the goal was to get LeBron and to sell the team.'' Sounds like a hoops version of the film "Major League.'' Or an encore of what the Houston Rockets did back there when they bottomed out in consecutive seasons and thus picked Ralph Sampson and the next year Hakeem Olajuwon.

Of course, after Hakeem the NBA created the lottery, in the attempt to end questions about throwing games. Gordon Gund, then principal owner of the Cavs, and now a minority owner, made that very point to refute Lucas' assertion. Yet, the team with the worst record does have the best chance of the No. 1 pick.

The suspicion about Mark McGwire was that he used steroids or other illegal substances to build a body capable of breaking the single season home run mark in 1998. But nobody had any proof, and when his time for retirement arrived, McGwire disappeared almost as quickly as some of the balls he hit at Busch Stadium.

McGwire has stepped into the real world once more, hired as Cardinals batting instructor, and in a conveniently orchestrated 48-hour window of redemption, said, yes, he did use steroids. But only to keep his body from breaking down. Oh?

Believe what you will. What happened of late in sports might make non-believers of us all.

 

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was recently honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.

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