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Originally published Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 10:00 PM

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Steve Kelley

Overdone sports celebrations getting silly and dangerous

The celebration by the Angels' Kendry Morales last week after a walkoff home run against the Mariners ended with a broken leg, making him an instant member of the Stupid Celebration Hall of Fame. When will it all end?

Seattle Times staff columnist

The Los Angeles Lakers had beaten the San Diego Clippers 103-102 on opening night, and rookie guard Magic Johnson — all smiles and unrestrained joy — leapt into the arms of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and celebrated like it was June in Philadelphia.

The look on the face of the Lakers' wise, Hall of Fame center was priceless.

While Johnson couldn't contain his happiness, Abdul-Jabbar appeared as uncomfortable as a teenager getting a hug from his grandmother in front of his pals.

Abdul-Jabbar had this "are-you-kidding-me-it's-the-middle-of-October-and-we're-celebrating-this-win-over-the-flippin'-Clippers?" look.

It was almost as if Abdul-Jabbar knew, in 1979, what was coming next, as if he had an inkling that this was just the beginning of a new wave of game-winning hysteria.

Now, 31 years later, celebrations have morphed from the sublime to the dangerous, from the spontaneous to the cliché.

Today even missed free throws are rewarded with hand slaps all around. And, after dunks, players pose and pound their chests as if they'd just accomplished the impossible.

It reminds me of the old Harlem Globetrotters routine, where Meadowlark Lemon scores on a layup against a hapless Washington Generals defense, then swaggers to the sideline, picks up a camera and takes his own picture.

Today celebrations are out of control and out of context.

The latest casualty is the Angels' Kendry Morales, who, as we've seen over and over and over again, broke his leg Saturday when he jumped on home plate after hitting the game-winning home run off Mariners reliever Brandon League. Morales is out for the season.

The thing is, Morales' home run didn't vault the Angels into first place. All it did was inch them closer to .500. And, while players have every right to be ecstatic, these scenes are beginning to feel more perfunctory than spontaneous.

I'm wondering how long it will be before a player suffers a detached retina or is placed on the disabled list with temporary blindness after getting smacked with a shaving-cream pie during a postgame TV interview.

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It's great that players can share their joy after a win, but when the Pittsburgh Pirates dance like it's New Year's Eve in Times Square after they win a game in September over the Milwaukee Brewers, doesn't it all seem a little forced?

And speaking of the Brewers, what was that all-fall-down celebration that followed Prince Fielder's walkoff home run last September. In the old days, he would have gotten a fastball in his ear flap the next day.

Terrell Owens has celebrated touchdowns with Sharpies and pompons. Joe Horn had a cellphone hidden in the goal post's padding.

Why don't players pay attention to the admonition by Darrell Royal, former Washington and Texas coach: "When you get to the end zone, act like you've been there before."

Morales joined a celebrated list of merrymaking mis-adventurers. That list of players who have been hurt during celebrations includes Gus Frerotte, Ted Ginn Jr., Denny Hocking, Dave Dravecky and, of course, Bill Gramatica.

At least Hocking, who broke a finger in the Twins' 2002 divisional series celebration dog pile and Dravecky, who rebroke his arm during the melee that followed the Giants' 1989 National League pennant clincher, had titles to celebrate. The rest just chose the wrong time to party.

None of the injuries was more ridiculous than former Arizona kicker Gramatica's. He tore his ACL, leaping into the air, after doing what he was paid to do, kick a field goal. And that field goal came in the first half and didn't even give the Cardinals the lead.

Where does this end? Does a pitcher throw such a nasty slider on a 2-1 pitch that his catcher runs to the mound and leaps into his arms like Yogi Berra after Don Larsen's perfect game?

Will U.S. keeper Tim Howard make a save early in the World Cup game against England and rumba along the touchline like Erin Andrews in "Dancing With The Stars?"

The thrill of victory should be celebrated, but enough with the clichés and the choreography.

Players are getting hurt and their teammates, owners and fans are getting punished.

Kareem was right. Save the major celebrations for something truly special.

Like a world championship.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com.

More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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