When NHL commissioner Gary Bettman stepped onto the ice a couple of weeks go to present the Tampa Bay Lightning with their hard-fought-for Stanley Cup, there was something missing. Well, there was a lot missing, not the least of which were the fans. To its credit, the NHL pulled off an excellent season, given the complexities involved. It all worked out as planned, their whole bubble-infrastructure held together, and even virtual fan experience was so well-executed, you’d forget there weren’t sold-out arenas surrounding the play. The lights, the sounds, the announcers, the crowd noises – as genuine and convincing as possible.
But what was missing were the boos. It’s a well-known tradition… Bettman steps onto the ice, and the fans boo. Loudly. Like the monkeys pulling each other back from reaching the banana, most people might not even know why they’re booing… but everyone else does it, so you do it too. And, for what it’s worth, there are plenty of reasons to boo the guy; pretty-much every team has a reason to, thought it occurs to me that Arizona might be the only exception… and further to that, Arizona might be the only place on the planet that cheers Bettman and boos Wayne Gretzky.
I’m sure the NHL and the broadcasters thought about it. I’m sure they had the recorded boos all queued up ready to play, and left it to a last-minute decision. I’m sure Bettman wouldn’t have cared; he always laughs it off. And/or knows, to a great extent, that he deserves it.
It was a missed opportunity though… just one little bit of normality that could’ve been implemented, but wasn’t… and that’s too bad. I guess the politics and implications of it outweighed the humour and fan appreciation of it… but these days, when all of us are looking for evidence that, as crazy as things are, there’s some normalcy lurking in the background… it would’ve been nice to see.
I hope the next time he’s awarding the Stanley Cup, Bettman is showered with 20,000 real-life boos. I can’t wait. It will long and loud and powerful. I’d love to experience it. And, considering what that implies, I think we'd all love it. Even Bettman himself.