This is a weird time to be an NBA fan. Hard-core hoops fans normally follow the free agent transactions that take place in July, but even in a normal year most other sports fans ignore the league between June and the start of the season in October. Its draft doesn’t have the mind-numbing hype that accompanies the multi-day draft orgy the NFL puts on, and there’s no cool name like “Hot Stove” to describe the transactions that take place in the offseason.
The start of NFL training camps is a secular holiday while the beginning of spring training is practically a religious experience for millions. NBA camps? No one really knows when they begin – could be September, maybe October – and there’s nothing romantic about watching 20 tall, sweaty men run wind sprints and go through the Mikan drill for two hours a day in some college gym in the suburbs. People just want to know when the NBA’s regular season actually begins, so they’ll know when to start complaining about how it never ends.
But now, with the league locking the players out? It’s an even stranger time to be an NBA fan. Judging by the league’s website – nba.com – it’s an even odder time for the league’s online staff. Because of the lockout, you’ll find hardly any official news about any official NBA players on the league’s official website. There are probably references to be made here about dictatorships and Pravda and Big Brother and about how it’s easy to manipulate history, if not simply erase it.
Those discussions are for another time. For now, the NBA would like to remind you about its storied past and, perhaps more importantly, invite you to gaze in wonder at the beauty and brains of the gals who serve as cheerleaders and dance girls. As I type this, the lead story on nba.com is a story on the 1989 Detroit Pistons, who won the title that year with a four-game sweep over the Lakers, a victory they achieved only because Byron Scott and Magic Johnson injured their hamstrings and missed most of the series (those are the facts; your interpretation of them may vary, depending on whether you, like me, owned official Lakers underwear when you were 6 years old). Those Pistons were the Bad Boys, a highly successful team that was so good the league – according to many – did everything it could to downplay their success, or at least their roughhousing ways, out of fear the entire league would devolve. Now, 22 years later, they’re featured prominently on the NBA website.
Other items on the homepage include riveting headlines such as “BRI audit for 2010-11 NBA season finalized” and “Gas company inks naming rights for OKC’s arena.” The NBA isn’t totally ignoring reality – David Aldridge has a report on injured players and some lockout updates. There’s a Serge Ibaka story.
But for the most part it’s all about what did happen instead of what is happening. There are stories on Tim Hardaway’s killer crossover and a video on Charles Barkley’s killer girth. NBA TV is promoting the 1987 NBA Finals and the 1991 Western Conference semifinals, a pair of series involving the Lakers that I would surely watch again except I already have videotapes of each one.
That’s on the main homepage. Things get a bit more bizarre when you visit the homepages for each franchise. Take the Timberwolves, for instance. Right now, at 11 p.m Tuesday in New York City, the main story is about the lovely “Alisa,” a T-Wolves dancer who tells fans about “her pregame rituals, how she spends her free time and her goals as a member of the dance team.”
To be fair, Alisa – whose favorite movie is Tommy Boy, loves pizza and is a communications major at the University of Minnesota – might be the lead story on the Timberwolves’ site during a non-lockout year as well. What else would they promote? A column called “Kahn’s Korner?” If they stuck with the present, they’d try selling Rubio, of course, and anything involving the past would have to focus on the 2004 season, the only season in team history when the franchise won a playoff series. Otherwise it’d be stories on how the triangle offense came to Minnesota to die and retrospectives on the early years of the Timberwolves, when the team took Felton Spencer and Luc Longley with their top picks in back-to-back years, events that somehow foreshadowed twenty years of draft-night futility.
The Timberwolves are hardly alone during the lockout. Even a glamorous franchise like the Lakers promotes the women who entertain during the games instead of those who actually play in them. Currently the main story on the Lakers’ site highlights auditions for the famous Laker Girls. For those wondering, the audition process started with more than 400 girls and will be whittled down to 22. There will be cheers, and there will most certainly be tears. As for how Mike Brown will integrate an aging Kobe Bryant into an offensive system that, in the past, centered around five words – Give The Ball to LeBron – that type of information is nowhere to be found. Not during the lockout.
The world champion Dallas Mavericks have a lot to celebrate this offseason. It seems like a great time to brag about their remarkable title and the incredible career of Dirk Nowitzki. Maybe a heart-warming story about the 25 ugliest three-pointers of Jason Kidd’s career would be in order, along with a 1,000-word essay titled “How in the hell does Shawn Marion ever make a jump shot with that form?” Instead, the main “story” is a link to the 2011-12 schedule, which at least showcases a bit of optimism. February 7 – big game for the Mavs, at Indiana. Mark it down. By NBA law, the site needs to have a video about the team’s cheerleaders, so there are multiple pieces about how the Mavs dancers do that thing they do.
The league’s coming off a highly successful season. League rosters are littered with new talent and legendary veterans. Yet no one knows when we’ll see those players on the court again, or even be able to read about them on the league’s website. Strange times.
I love NBA history. I have dozens of books about the league’s past and just as many old tapes. I actually do enjoy reading about the 1989 Pistons, even while I continue to curse their good luck and the bad luck that doomed the Lakers. Charles Barkley videos are always entertaining. But as much as I love the league’s past, if the players and owners don’t figure things out in the present, its future looks awfully shaky.
And perhaps most importantly, if there are no games…what happens to Alisa?