New York Woulda Been Nice

A look at the flip side of speculative journalism: analyzing what could have once come to pass, years after the fact.

I frequently rail against speculative journalism that goes nowhere. Tuesday, the Detroit News provided an example of the flip side of that: analyzing what could have once come to pass, years after the fact.

“Chelios drawn to the Rangers,” read the curious headline carrying second billing on the sports page of the News’ Web site. Lest you think the Red Wings’ surefire Hall of Famer is drawn to the Rangers now, the subhed to the piece elaborated, “Defenseman says he likes Madison Square Garden and talked with management in 2002.”

“If things would have broken differently some years back, the Red Wings might have been playing Monday night against Chris Chelios (as well as Brendan Shanahan) and the New York Rangers,” wrote Ted Kulfan. “Chelios always has been intrigued by the idea of playing with the Rangers. He talked briefly with the Rangers several years ago when he was an unrestricted free agent, and the Wings were facing a salary crunch before the lockout.”

This tidbit might have been hot then, but four and a half years on? Come on. But because the ironman defenseman was in New York for a game Monday night and spoke about this what-if-scenario at length, Kulfan was able to fill the bulk of his Red Wings notebook Tuesday with the rearview-mirror speculation.

It reminded me of a similar piece inside the New York Times’ sports section last Wednesday, entitled “The Interest Was There, but Not the Money,” which began, “Kobe Bryant’s only Madison Square Garden appearance of the season was nullified yesterday by a suspension. Had the Knicks managed their payroll better, Bryant sightings at the Garden might not be so rare.”

Yes, once upon a time Bryant, like Chelios, was intrigued by the possibility of signing with a New York team. Alas, “All the Knicks could offer was the Garden’s mystique and New York’s marketing appeal. It was enough to make Bryant listen. Had the Knicks been able to make a competitive offer, Bryant might be wearing blue and orange today.”

A probable Hall of Famer himself, Bryant, like Chelios, was in New York for a game and spoke about his what-if-scenario at length, allowing the Times’ Howard Beck to write a 444-word article about it. The piece was finely crafted, but what’s the point? Is reporting on what could have happened two and a half years ago news?

Fact is, these alternative-universe possibilities could be rehashed endlessly. They are easy. And even though I understand the difficulty of cranking out fresh copy on a daily beat, is it too much to ask for sportswriters to stick to this world? You know, reality?

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Edward B. Colby was a writer at CJR Daily.