Sports teams that succeed have the ability to unite a community — but an upset loss, like Cal’s NIT home defeat Tuesday to No. 8 CSU Bakersfield, can likewise hurt a whole community.
This was no upset, with all signs pointing to this being a deliberate tank, and that’s why Cal is hurting even more.
Cuonzo Martin’s resignation Wednesday all but confirms that Cal (to say the least) didn’t care about Tuesday’s game, dare I say for the purpose that Martin could ink his new deal with Missouri one day later instead of waiting for a potentially long tournament run to end.
Upon accepting a bid as a top seed in the NIT on Sunday, the Cal Athletics department sent an email to the student body advertising $5 student tickets to the game, below the range of $8-$20 for nonconference weekday up to marquee games.
Quite frankly, if I had known how poorly the Bears would play Tuesday night, Cal would have had to pay me to attend, let alone watch the putrid display of basketball.
Then at 7 p.m. Tuesday, just an hour and 15 minutes before tipoff, Ivan Rabb was announced out with a foot injury, along with Jabari Bird with a concussion sustained in the Pac-12 Tournament.
Without its star big man inside or Bird to lead the attack from the wings, the team floundered, down 44-19 at halftime. The only entertainment this game provided was a comical attempt at losing, with Cal shooting 16.7 percent in the first half to go down 25 points.
We have seen them succeed without Rabb and Bird early in the season, as so many Cal basketball followers can distinctly remember Charlie Moore’s breakout 38-point performance against UC Irvine. But Martin decided Moore, a freshman ─ not a likely departing future NBA player or a graduating senior ─ apparently wasn’t worth playing either, benching him for the majority of the second half.
Postgame, Martin responded to a question about which foot of Rabb’s was injured by saying, “I’m not sure. Off the top of my head, probably both of them, but I’m not sure.”
Despicable. Shameful. At least continue the facade to respect the fans.
If I was Moore, I would be furious. That freshman is so talented he probably could have taken down Bakersfield on his own, but he wasn’t even given a chance, all because of what looks like his coach wanting to skip town as quickly as possible after not making the NCAA tournament.
At the very least, the fans deserve their money back. Cal could have announced Rabb’s “injury” when ticket sales opened. But more appropriately, UC Berkeley deserves an apology from Martin.
This was a sham.
What a brilliant way to end a season. What a brilliant presumptive final home game for Rabb, a Bay Area native, who at every game was introduced as “Oakland’s own.” What a brilliant way for Moore to end his stellar freshman year, with the coach who recruited him departing.
The worst part is, Martin could have resigned without taking his team or the fans down with him, as many football coaches do between the end of their regular seasons and bowl games. But that wasn’t the case.
It’s one thing to not care about a (relatively) meaningless tournament or game. It’s another thing entirely to tank a game on your home court.
Such is our embarrassing reality here at Cal.
Vikram Muller covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].