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Goal v. goals

Dayvid Figler
Dayvid Figler
Opinion
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I'm gonna keep on the run

I'm gonna have me some fun

If it costs me my very last dime

If I wind up broke up, well...

— “Viva Las Vegas”

       Doc Pomus & Mort Shumer

       (Both from New York)

Perhaps I’m one of the last few Las Vegans to jump, but I am firmly ON the bandwagon. Heck, let’s call it what it has become — a band train. And there I am, maybe in the caboose, but still blasting my Alphorn every time the Vegas Golden Knights score a goal. Suffice, I’ve never been a sports guy. Still haven’t figured out the majority of hockey rules. Have watched multiple, entire games of hockey on television for the first time, ever. Bemused that there’s an apparent penalty for “embellishment?" Like when a player receives a foul (are they called fouls?) and the other player makes TOO big a deal about it. The victim goes into the penalty box along with the offender? Wild, man. I even found myself at a live game at T-Mobile arena screaming my head off. And after the “embellishment” call was made, I found myself steadily yelling at various times to no particular person on the ice below. “Hyperbole!” “Prevarication!!” “Dangerous Rhetoric!!!”

And while it would be nice if I could just enjoy the sporting event and the impressive winning streak of the “home” team, I cannot help myself. This idea of a big time professional sports team and all the baggage that comes with having such a franchise seems overshadowed by the effusiveness towards and gushing about this collective of international athletes who skate and play under our hometown banner. I need to unpack it. My curse is to ask questions like ARE WE READY FOR THIS? And then following that up with the now very usual, THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS.

See, until last year, Las Vegas was primarily a betting community that took a wonderful, profitably and coolly detached view of sports. Sure, fans from other places relocated. A Browns bar here; a Cubs bumper sticker there. But ultimately, no collective attachment. No obsession. No team sucking all the air out of the room all the time. No hopes and dreams rising and falling on something as unpredictable as a sports team. No trading in the house edge for a gut desire. Now, we’ve suddenly become a rooting community, and I’m simply not sure we’re suited for the instant transition – and for hockey, of all things! (For now. More questions and columns coming with WNBA, NFL and whatever that soccer league that’s here now is all about).

I have written about the persistence of hockey and its seeming anomaly in Las Vegas since at least 1998 and even published a poem about it (“Zamboni”) in an anthology of Nevada writing. I’m fascinated by it — and by the many things we have that don’t naturally belong in the Mojave desert. The extravagant Bellagio fountains. Pai Gow. People. And yet, we have and do it all. I sometimes refer to Las Vegas as “replicant city” with our Eiffel tower, multiple Statues of Liberty, lesser Kardashian hosts at the nightclubs, etc. Hockey has every right to thrive along with all the rest, but a professional sports team is a whole new deal and it’s changing the community.

All good, right? Well, maybe. But for this non-sporty fella, I still haven’t wrapped my head about the toll or residual outcome of living vicariously through a pro sports team as many real fans seem to do. I see the gear everywhere (wearing some right now, to be honest). I catch the hashtags on Twitter when talking about the team. #VegasStrong. #VegasBorn. #VegasPride. I hear people lavishing accolades like, “It’s brought our community together.” “It’s healed us from 1 October.” “It’s the most remarkable, historically significant thing to ever happen to our city!”

The concept of “Vegas Pride” is a slippery one, indeed. Prior to the sudden and relatively unexpected arrival of the Golden Knights, the question of what are you most “proud” of as a Las Vegan was at best a struggle. To come up with something definitively unambiguous, ubiquitous to any western city and…worthy of pride? The weather? The people? Convenience? Siegfried and/or Roy? My answer was usually something along the lines of “Las Vegas is an etch-a-sketch city where anyone can start anew, and no one has the audacity to say ‘don’t do that, it’s too stupid’ and sometimes it even works out.”

Oh, pride. Lest we forget, it’s one of the Seven Deadly Sins. And now come the Golden Knights of Vegas. Insta-pride. But why? What is it about Las Vegas that has so quickly and fully allowed itself to be vicariously enthralled? Why have we hung our collective hopes and dreams on the relatively inconsequential outcome of a sporting event between mostly Canadians and Scandinavians? And are we ready for the crash? The inevitable time when the team (like every team in the history of teams) isn’t winning so much and the perseverance of disappointment follows?

The short answer, of course, is that they’re winning! SHUT UP, MAN! And true, time has shown Las Vegas loves a winner! We are well known for lavishing heaps of rewards on the winners in order to keep them around long enough to get everything we can out of them. Another take is, well, the ups and downs are the whole point of sports. I’ve heard people point to the rise and fall of UNLV’s 1980s men’s basketball squad as evidence that we’ll all be fine. But there are differences. This is professional-for-pay Sports. And before you pull out pictures of a certain notorious hot tub, UNLV was still amateur, college athletics. There’s a whole machine in pro sports, and a different demand of devotion and, well, a bit of fanaticism to keep it all oiled. This isn’t a quaint Triple-A baseball team that switches affiliations like a candidate looking for a better angle; this is a high profile hockey phenomenon.

I always viewed sports on all levels as a fun, low-risk distraction to let others battle and suffer for our amusement. To place our emotions (with the lowest actual stakes) into a controlled environment with rules and a display of skills most of us could only wish we had. To have a definitive outcome. A conclusion to the investment in every game, playoff, season. The hockey rink, here, is an alternate reality where our emotions rise and fall with every slap shot and fist fight and oh, what a ride this team has given. Much more satisfying than even Nevada politics and whatever it is those “teams” are trying to accomplish. Of course, in the hype of this unprecedented season of VEGAS HOCKEY, does the bandwagon ride require us to wholesale accept everything handed to us about this team — or can the locals still have a say into this home team? 

So I’ll say this

Here’s one big (new) Golden Knights fan’s modest thoughts about keeping this thing, whatever this thing is, real and valuable well beyond the remarkable, winning season and not just a flukey weirdness that gives stings like the hazy aftermath morning of a great Las Vegas night.

ACKNOWLEDGE THAT OUR “HOME TEAM” AND ALL ITS ACCOUTREMENTS WERE THRUST UPON US BY A MONTANA MAN 

If he doesn’t move the franchise upon a whim, Bill Foley like so many non-Nevadans before him, has planted something in our caliche that has taken root. I mean Clark County where the Golden Knights play, is named after wealthy Montanan, William A. Clark. A man who never really lived here. And even though his maneuvering had a major, lasting impact on Nevada, many people including Mark Twain famously called him out as a corrupt politician and a self-serving jerk. 

But I digress.

Not much is known of Billionaire Majority Owner Bill Foley, but he is probably well-loved for the moment by the local populace because of his remarkable experiment. And the winning! He put a lot of money into making this happen. He had the foresight to realize, despite what were probably his sweetest dreams, that this wouldn’t have worked in a place like Billings or Butte.

Additionally, we should all be very happy that he followed suit with most professional sports teams and created an organizational philanthropic foundation, and I want that to be thoughtful and thrive and be emphasized even more. (If you’re a fan of the team, go ahead and give to them, too). But just like the city has gone all-in on the Golden Knights, I think the time has come for Mr. Foley to truly go all-in on the city. That means make this his primary residence. Get the Nevada driver’s license (if he hasn’t already). I want to see Bill Foley in the produce aisle at Smiths. I want Bill Foley to actively serve on local nonprofit boards. This way, he will “get” what we are.

He’s made some goofs that are easy enough to forgive as the team heads to the Stanley Cup Finals. The “Golden Knights” moniker was a silly folly, albeit totally his prerogative. Unwittingly, he owes more to the Tournament of Champions at the Excalibur or Spamalot than his beloved West Point, which I understand is located in New York State. And while somewhat fitting that the non-native Gila Monster is the mascot, c’mon, man. It also looks like a styrofoam Eddie Munster as the Thing after a bender without sunscreen at a Rehab Pool Party. And while I appreciate that most sports teams are made up of non-natives, the Golden Knights are ostensibly about as “hometown” or “Vegas Born” as Mr. Foley himself. It takes time. It can happen, but it’s not right off the bat, er....stick.

Also, how do you miss the ability to somehow work Don Rickles into the program? He was a definitive Vegas guy and “hockey puck” was his catch phrase. With your financial service technology money (whatever the heck that entails) you can certainly make a schvitzy Don RIckles hologram or robot replete with tuxedo and untied bow-tie to stand by side by side on the ice with a Knight. Juxtapose and anachronize away. The rink is your playground! And speaking of excellent shlock…

EMBRACE THE 80s VEGAS, 86 THE ELVIS CRAP

I know Jeff Kutash had nothing at all to do with the pre-game, intermission and/or in-play ice show and visuals, but they owe a lot to the impresario of the notoriously over-the-top stage show SPLASH of Las Vegas 80s lore. Kutash produced a show at the recently demolished Riviera that somehow merged a water show with synchronized swimmers, a motorcycle globe of death, a Michael Jackson impersonator and well… whatever else he had available. A Vegas-only show and that’s what the Golden Knights live and taped performances have become. In a word, it’s amazing. Not necessarily because they are substantively innovative or frankly that intriguing, but they are wonderfully Las Vegas. They celebrate our unique, mishmash culture of endurable cheese, talent and an aesthetic that never stops giving.

I also love the use of a wide range of existing Las Vegas performers and folding them into the mix. Brilliant. One suggestion has been to not forget the inclusion of Las Vegas sports teams and individual legends to explain how this success is not in a vacuum but part of a long journey. And another thing — traditions. We are new to this as a city. We can make whatever traditions we want. We don’t need no “We Will Rock You” in the arena; we can do whatever we want to pump up the crowd. I hear some teams throw seafood on the ice. Octopus? Catfish? Maybe someone can smuggle in a hundred bucks worth of .99 cent shrimp cocktail and toss that? The cocktail sauce can represent blood on the ice! Or maybe we throw something uniquely Vegas. Dice? Escort cards? Giant sagebrush? Let’s not limit how we do hockey to how every other city does hockey, let’s just keep the Las Vegas going! They’re doing a great job so far.

And now for the Elvis crap. Just stop.

It’s a bad joke. It’s not cheese; it’s moldy lactose toxicity. Elvis may have been a hero to most, but here is a chance to finally detach from the tattered, fat, sloppy, Elvis invokers to steal the thunder and pretend to represent all Las Vegans. It is not a tribute to Elvis; it is a derision designed to draw attention to the bearer. But it reflects on the city. Even the Elvis lover amongst us has to cringe when they see another goofball trotted out or featured on a national broadcast of the damn hockey game. I get it. That’s VEGAS thinks the broadcaster, but in reality, it’s an easy way to blow off any semblance of Las Vegas as a sometimes serious place with regular people and fans. Elvis does draw the eye, but guess what, this team is headed to the Stanley Cup. Elvis has NOTHING to do with this team. Just stop.

Likewise, I strongly advise against adopting “Viva Las Vegas” as the team’s unofficial anthem. I have long held the belief that the New Yorkers who wrote that song were being ironic. Apart from the catchy hook, the song is about how the glam city takes your soul, drains your resources, encourages problem gambling and tosses in a little misogyny about the available devil-may-care ladies. It’s not a nice song. It also doesn’t represent the glory that this team has suddenly come to represent to many. If you have any doubt, listen to the Dead Kennedys cover version. They get it. Also, they insert references to speed and cocaine and well, yeah, it doesn’t change the song at all. Maybe something off of “Sam’s Town” by the Killers might be a better fit.

Thank you. Thank you very much.

LET’S KEEP THE EMOTIONAL EMBELLISHMENT TO A MINIMUM

I was in a bar watching the Vegas Golden Knights win their entry into the Stanley Cup Finals and a patron screamed out, “Yeah baby, this is for the massacre!” I mean, wow. I get it. Sports wins are exhilarating, and we don’t have a comprehensive language or a measured response to this latest insertion into our landscape, but all things in perspective, ok? It’s major league sports, and I’m understanding it’s cool, but it is not a panacea to our woes, nor should it be.

We have a way to go to be the city of our aspirations. As long as I’ve been alive, the line has always been that having a pro sports team is a necessary stepping stone. Perhaps. But hey, we need so many things ahead of sports to heal even from this one event. We need to keep our eye on the ball. Fight for mental health access. I mean it was severely lacking for the citizens before we endured a tragic madman and his bullets. It’s nice and all that the team has been very respectful and even engaged in acknowledging this event in very earnest ways, but retiring a jersey isn’t a substitute for action. In fact, with such a platform, I’d hope that the soon-to-be legit locals of the hockey squad might want to parlay their celebrity to move the needle on a lot of things. After the Stanley Cup madness, perhaps a Las Vegas boot camp with actual leaders from the nonprofit world, UNLV and government. Maybe recruit these new stars into the service of addressing and inspiring the societal challenges that have been stinging our community for a long time. They’ve got all the heat — maybe we can redirect it with the intensity of a Vdara Death Ray!

But then again, that’s my idealized version of a sports hero. Apparently, the tradition is to marginalize the political warriors of the fields when they try to make a statement. (Hi, NFL.)  Who knows, instead of just being boring, old predictable sports fans, we can take the sign of success as one to lead to a better Las Vegas, after all. Not just because the team is winning, but because the winning team is getting all the attention right now. And since fervor for this team seems to cross municipality lines, and the city and county seem to even be talking of cooperation regarding the justified parade… maybe that can be a forum for actual cooperation in a host of other things of perhaps slightly more importance like homelessness, education, supervision over the police, etc.

I might be making too much out of it. I’ll be interested, though, to see how it all plays out. I’m just worried as always when the fun stops in Las Vegas, we’ll be just as unprepared as we are for having such a thing fall into our laps. Pinning such deep hopes to a team would seem to come with its risks. Then again, it is just like betting on a game. If we wind up broke, well…

Dayvid Figler is a private criminal defense attorney based in Las Vegas. He previously served as an associate attorney representing indigent defendants charged with Murder for the Clark County Special Public Defender's office. During his legal tenure, he served a brief appointment as a Las Vegas Municipal Court Judge. Figler has been cited as a noted legal expert in many places including the New York Times, National Public Radio, Newsweek, USA Today, Court TV and the Los Angeles Times. His award-winning radio essays have appeared on KNPR as well as on NPR’s All Things Considered Program. He is a Nevada Arts Council Fellow in Literature and has written extensively about Las Vegas culture. 
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