Of playoffs and basketball

Catching up on the last few weeks …

This certainly can be an exciting time of year for area sports fans.

While the Pirates are not even a month into their season, the Penguins have started their playoff run, but that’s not unusual. Fans in our area have come to expect the Penguins to be regular participants in the National Hockey League’s annual post-season marathon, which should end sometime in the middle of June.

Likewise for the Steelers, who find a way into the National Football League playoffs more often than not.

We also have heightened expectations from the Pirates, whose playoff appearance last fall broke a string of futility that began after the 1992 season.

Which brings us back to some interesting numbers that have popped up about the playoffs.

As the quest for the Stanley Cup and the winning spot in the Finals got under way not too long ago, it was reported that the Detroit Red Wings had made the playoffs for a 23rd consecutive season, the longest stretch in all of the major sports in the United States. In the NBA, San Antonio has the longest stretch at 17 seasons.

Those numbers are impressive, no doubt, but they also speak about the way the playoffs are structured in the major U.S. sports. To be blunt, because so many teams (read that half) make the playoffs in the NHL and NBA, it’s relatively easier to make the playoffs in hockey and basketball.

Look for yourself – when the Pirates made the playoffs last year, they were one of just 10 out of the 30 teams in Major League Baseball to advance to the postseason. The Penguins, meanwhile, were one of 16 teams out of 30 teams in the league to advance into the playoffs. It’s the same set-up in the NBA, where 16 of the 30 teams are in the playoffs.

In the NFL, meanwhile, as of last season, 12 of the 32 teams make the playoffs.

Consistency is a virtue, in sports as in life, and for that, the Red Wings and Spurs are to be congratulated. But, relatively speaking, their road to the playoffs is a little easier than is that of the Pirates or the Steelers.

One team that I’m pretty sure would never make the playoffs in almost any league would be the Steel Valley Tankers. Made up of coaches, teachers, celebrities, politicians and other community-minded individuals, the Tankers were ceremoniously served up as the latest victim when the Harlem Ambassadors brought their brand of show basketball to Steubenville High School’s Crimson Center on April 16.

While the competition was not real, it was fun to be involved as a member of the Tankers in the event, which benefited the education programs at Historic Fort Steuben.

The show the Ambassadors, who are led by Lade Majic Prophete, put on was entertaining, and everyone in the audience seemed to enjoy it. The Ambassadors performed the expected slam-dunks and comedy routines, but their presentation also had a a serious side, as they urged the young people in attendance to stay in school and be drug-free. Those goals are shared by members of the traveling squad, who all attended college, played college basketball and have made a commitment to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

That message was delivered to many area children that night and, according to Jerry Barilla, president of Historic Fort Steuben, that alone made the event a success.

It’s important for children to have the opportunity to be able to have a safe place to go where they can be entertained and hear something positive, he explained during a break in the action.

That’s an important message, and one we all need to be reminded of from time to time.

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)