Welcome back, NBA

Posted: November 28, 2011 by shawnfury in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

A few years ago – long before I joined with Terry to form TVFury – during a live blog conducted during a horrifically lopsided women’s basketball game we attended in Newark, N.J., Terry quipped that I was the last NBA fan in the country. That comment came after I remarked on an NBA game from the night before and Terry looked at me with a mixture of horror, disdain and pity.

Terry’s come around a bit. He enjoyed last year’s playoffs, which were filled with buzzer-beaters and saw young teams like Oklahoma City, Memphis and Chicago make runs while the Heat made enemies of everyone.

But plenty of people actually are anti-NBA and not simply NBA apathetic, as Terry was when he blogged about my love for the league from a tiny, empty gym in New Jersey.

The five-month-long NBA lockout has – apparently – ended. Training camps will open December 9, the season begins on Christmas and the league will have a 66-game regular season. Online, NBA fans greeted this news with excitement, tempered by the frustration caused by the delayed opening. Many others, especially fans of other sports, but even many basketball fans, greeted the news with yawns or sneers.

You have to be a bit careful of the company you keep when admitting to a love of the NBA. People might react as if they’ve actively misjudged basic beliefs about your character. I imagine the same reactions greet those who profess admiration for the novels of the Kardashian sisters, or anyone who admits to enjoying meals that include a substantial serving of horse meat.

A small sampling of the reactions – or at least the sentiments – of those who were asked my fake man-on-the-street question, “What do you think of the NBA’s return?”

“The NBA? Didn’t even know it was gone.”
“Wish they had canceled the whole season. Hate the NBA.”
“I could care less about the NBA’s return.”
“I couldn’t care less about the NBA’s return.”
“Which is right, could care less or couldn’t care less about the NBA’s return? I’m trying to explain how much I loathe it. I hate it with such a passion it makes my eyes bleed.”
“They’re all overpaid, selfish idiots.”
“I watch college basketball, not the terrible NBA.”

More than any other league, the NBA seems to attract people who want to go out of their way to tell you how much they either dislike or don’t care about the product. I suppose soccer attracts similar attacks, though at least those only come up every four years. (Sorry, soccer. See, I know how it is.) They go out of their way to tell you they haven’t watched an entire NBA game since Bill Bradley was a Knick. They stopped watching the league after Bird retired, or maybe they at least held on until Jordan called it quits a second time, but they weren’t there when he did it for the third time.

They hate…well, I sort of know, but not completely. They hate the long regular season – compared to, say, the equally long NHL season or the 162-game MLB campaign. They hate the halfcourt offenses, yet have no problem championing the college game and its 50-42 Big Ten battles that have been known to cause people to bludgeon themselves with chairs once thrown by Bobby Knight. They complain about lazy defense while ignoring the fact the teams that play the best D in the league usually win the title. They hate alleged showboating while pining for the days of Showtime. They sometimes complain about all those things while saying with pride that they haven’t watched a TNT or ESPN game in 10 years, a statement that defies physics, along with logic.

There’s little use debating these folks. I love high school and college basketball as much as anyone, but the NBA remains my favorite. The NBA has superior shooters, ball-handlers, defenders, rebounders, dunkers and passers. Yes, college basketball has superior atmospheres, but when you’re watching the game on mute, trying to keep Dick Vitale or Tommy Heinsohn from invading your brain, does it really matter what the crowd’s chanting? Is it that strange to enjoy watching the best players in the world at the highest level of competition? Apparently.

But this is a time to celebrate the return of the NBA, not complain about those who complain about it. This season – much like last year, except with another year added on to the old guys’ legs – the most interesting part is watching the experienced, title-winning teams trying to hold off teams led by young superstars.

Can the Mavericks possibly repeat, with a fossilizing Jason Kidd back at point? Can the Celtics trio of Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett stay healthy for one more season and does it even really matter if they can since they aren’t nearly as dominant as they were when they first joined forces four years ago? Last year’s first-round loss to the Grizzlies proved the Spurs are done, right? Please? Except people thought they were done before last season and they finished with the best record in the West. And my beloved Lakers, can they adjust to Mike Brown? Can Pau Gasol again play like he did for three years and not like he did last season, when he looked overwhelmed mentally and overmatched physically? Can Kobe still be one of the Top 5 players in the league? Can Matt Barnes stir up more trouble on Basketball Wives?

Then there are the young teams: Oklahoma City with Durant and Westbrook; Chicago with Derrick Rose; and the Heat with Chris Bosh and two other guys.

And for the first time in seven years, there’s at least a sense of excitement with the Timberwolves, as new coach Rick Adelman brings professionalism and a winning record to a losing franchise that often seems amateurish. And…Rubio.

What else am I looking forward to in this abbreviated season?

Kevin Durant’s three-point stroke; Derrick Rose’s drives to the hoop and finishes off the glass; Kobe Bryant’s footwork in the paint, as fundamentally perfect as anything Hakeem Olajuown pulled off down low; Kevin Garnett on the top of the Celtics’ zone, one of the best defenders in NBA history, disrupting another offense; Mark Cuban’s T-shirts; Dirk Nowitzki’s impossible fadeaway; Steve Nash’s forays into the paint and trips back out to the 3-point line and back again; Blake Griffin doing Blake Griffin things; late-night games in Golden State, that always end about 1:30 in the morning and always end with a score that’s something like 120-119; Zach Randolph scoring without being able to jump off the floor; Kevin Love’s double-doubles; and, yes, LeBron and Wade dominating, flying up and down the court, locking down on defense and then in the fourth quarter…

Last year’s playoffs were as exciting as any postseason’s been in any sport for a long time. It drew in the famous “casual fan,” the most unknown species since the famed “independent voter.” Many of those fans will now, allegedly, ignore the league. Maybe. There could be some sloppy play early in the year and tired play late. Yet the playoffs will almost certainly thrill. Maybe the casual fan will return.

I’ll be there for the playoffs. But I’m also someone who will watch a Bucks-Kings game at midnight in the middle of January or a Wizards-Wolves game at 7 p.m. in March. I know that’s not normal behavior for all basketball fans.

But it is if you love the NBA.

  1. Jon says:

    Here’s what I find strange: the tendency of NBA fans to feel alone and maligned despite the fact they are talking about the third-most popular league in America. Being an NBA fan I feel this way too, even though I am clearly not alone.

  2. Tony says:

    Love the NBA, but most of my friends prefer college. I find that people stereotype the NBA players as lazy or whatever, without actually watching the games. But I feel the sentiment that I am alone on my NBA-fandom even though I do know other NBA fans.

  3. Tim Ward says:

    Question on Rosen Sports Sunday last night: Will you PAY to attend a Timberwolves game this year? As a former 15 year season ticket holder, NO.

    • shawnfury says:

      Come on, Tim, Rubio! Adelman’s offense could be pretty cool with the young talent they have. You’ll be back. You’ll be back in that upper bowl, or next to the guy with the program in the first row.

      My dad had season tickets he shared with people from work, so he’d go to a few games a year. But he hasn’t been in several years. I think he’d go back if they started winning but even if they actually competed and looked like they had hope.

      Jon, I do think NBA fans have a bit of a persecution complex and I sort of like wearing the martyr’s hat at times. I think it is because it seems like (maybe this is paranoia) people do go out of their way to actively talk about how much they dislike the league or product. I don’t watch the NHL much at all, but I don’t take to Twitter or NBA boards and brag about how the league is terrible compared to when Gretzky was in Edmonton. People complain about baseball but mostly something like the length of games. And the NFL? You’ll be shouted down by the masses for talking against the king.

      The NBA it’s often specifically against the players for, as Tony said, being lazy or whatever. Part of that probably is because basketball is more dependent on individual stars and they’re just more prominent than in the other sports. So reactions will swing both ways.

      Just on a journalism board I’m on, people take glee in talking about how much they hate the NBA and also diagnose what’s wrong with it – while later saying they refuse to watch. It’s odd.

  4. Mark says:

    Great post shawn, agreed that people look at you like you are a leper when you say you think the NBA is superior to the college game.

    I used to be a college hoops junkie too, but somewhere in the last 5 years or so, I swung towards the nba.

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