See the picture? That's the view out my friend's living room on the 45th floor of the Trump Tower in Chicago. Floor 45 is only halfway to the penthouse. I took this picture at just before 5 a.m. Central time Sunday. Pardon its poor quality. See the moon though? Cool, right?
Patrick Kane lives in this building, and so does Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose, who I saw at valet parking getting one of his cars. Rose bought his joint -- either on the same floor or the 84th, I've heard both -- for a reported $2.7M last year. My friend's place is incredible, and this here is just one of its many stellar views. I saw beautiful sunrises, looked downon fireworks at Navy Pier, even could make out the stage and hear the music from Lollapalooza at Grant Park a mile and a half away. The Killers, Mumford and Sons, The Cure, Nine Inch Nails -- they all played concerts out my window last weekend.
Oh, I'm not bragging or anything. I have no claim to this place, I just am lucky to know the guy who owns it. And neither am I going to waste any more of your time telling you about staying at the Trump Tower, at least not directly.
The point is that this building is a symbol of perhaps the biggest obstacle standing between Buffalo and sports supremacy:
After a week in this palace I don't see how the Sabres could ever convince a top player to come to Buffalo. There simply is no place in our area remotely like this building and its surrounding scene.
Now I offer the nervous, ostensibly unnecessary disclaimer that I love living in Western New York. When I got home Sunday I cherished the green grass outside, and the lack of continuing sirens that for the previous five nights had disrupted my sleep.
But I'm not a 26-year-old single millionaire athlete with a seeming neverending supply of great restaurants and attractive women at my disposal. You know, if that's what you're into.
Sure, a married guy with a young family is perhaps better suited to suburban life and less tempted by a pad in a chic skyscraper. And those guys are out there. Players will have different tastes.
But to win in free agency, you have to beat all the other teams to get your guy. And right now, if we're talking about a star for the Sabres that feels to me simply impossible.
Maybe this will change someday. I do think the ever-increasing respectability of the local hockey scene can play a key role in the Sabres' fortunes down the road. Kane being from our area is a great feather in our cap, and perhaps someday will manifest in his playing here, working toward capturing that elusive Stanley Cup for his hometown. The better our facilities and resources, the better our odds of churning out more players like Kane.
Another strategy we could employ has been offered in this space before: the idea of Hockey Hell. In my opinion the Sabres got it really wrong when coining Hockey Heaven. In retrospect, if not at the time, the idea seems naive and absurdly lofty. We have great fans and a nice community. Other places have that too, with greater amenities.
Hockey Hell means to go make Buffalo a hellish team to play against. We're never getting the glamour-types, and we need to know and embrace that. We know as sports fans that glamour often loses. This mentality, one of building an ultra-competitive team of hard-workers, would be my guiding principle.
Back when athletes didn't make ridiculous sums of money, Buffalo had a much more level look at its big-city counterparts. Athletes weren't living so far above their fans anywhere, so we didn't, so to speak, have to pay the price. But that's a long time ago now. Our cost of living is much cheaper than, say, Chicago's, but when you're making millions a year does that really matter?
I don't mean to be fatalistic. I want Buffalo to have more than simply a membership in major-league sports; I want Buffalo to have a realistic chance to be winners.
My trip last week has me thinking a lot about whether this will ever happen.