Do we still like the NBA?
By – Sean Haley
Temperatures are dropping, falling leaves are screwing up everybody’s gutters, and we’ve put away our “good shoes” for a while. If you’re a cranky old man like me, that also means you have a sweatshirt on…indoors. You know what all this means, right? Yep. It’s NBA season. Unless you’re a fan of a REALLY crappy team (no need to throw insults…you know who you are, Pelicans fans), then it’s the time of year where you get excited, because you still have a shot. If you’re a Bulls fan like me, then you’re aware we’re in the hunt until at LEAST Thanksgiving. But as I sit here looking through rosters and TV schedules, I have one question: Do we still like the NBA? No, not “do we still watch NBA Basketball”, but rather, “do we *like* it?” Oh boy…here I go again, right? Yet another Old Man Rant. Nah, actually, we’re probably on the same page. I mean we can all appreciate a LOT of things about the NBA. But there’s a lot of things that make me wonder if it’s still that giant that it became in the Jordan Era or at least the one that immediately followed it; known as The “That Bastard Finally Retired. Now WE Have a Shot at a Title” Era. Let’s talk about it.
What do I like about the NBA? Plenty of things. Of the four major sports, the NBA tends to keep the pageantry to a minimum during the regular season. No Military tie-ins, no horrible concerts, and not too many gimmicks. Not to say that the NBA doesn’t do some of this stuff. They DO, but they usually save it for special games though, like The NBA Finals, or maybe a holiday game. All Star Weekend is exempt, because we know All-Star Weekend is pretty much a free-for-all, and it ain’t NO telling what goes down behind the curtain. I also like the fact that everybody has a shot at the post season (Sixers fans, ignore that last part). Eight in each conference, for a total of 16 teams qualify. You GOTTA love those odds. If your team misses the playoffs, they must really suck. (Sixers fans, focus on that last part.)There’s a decent about of parity in the NBA; as far as the regular season goes. Any team can win or lose on any given night; it keeps you watching most of the season. Another thing I like is the fact that most of the TV guys are well informed and have firsthand knowledge of the game. This is a double bonus (no pun intended), because this ALSO means that Joe Buck has ZERO involvement in ANY NBA telecast. Sure, there are a few annoying announcers (I’m looking in your direction, Stacey King), but for the most part, watching an NBA game is fairly pleasant. (I miss “The NBA on NBC”, though. Especially the theme song.) One thing I especially like is the NBA Playoffs. Not only is this the best part of the season, but generally speaking, every round is pretty good. There’s plenty of drama from one game to the next, especially in the later rounds. Hell, if you ask ME, that’s when the season starts. I’m not a rabid NBA fan (I touched on that in another piece that none of you turkeys bothered to read), but I’m a step above ‘casual fan’. I love that the league is ‘user friendly’ for people like me. No overabundance of silly rules, and meddling by league officials. (Since I wrote that last sentence, Darelle Revis was flagged eight times for Pass Interference, and fined $5 million by Roger Goodell for having on the wrong colored shoes at the postgame press conference. No word on how much Cam Newton was fined for that pink suit.)To sum things up, there’s enough good stuff here to keep us coming back. The NBA is Fantastic. (See what I did there?)
As much as I want to *love* the NBA, I just can’t seem to do it. Why? The same reasons as everybody else, probably. We’ll explore them in the extremely long and boring paragraphs to follow. For one thing, since the days of the worldwide explosion of the NBA game in the mid-to-late 90’s, the league has become a league of villains. What do I mean? Think about it. Aside from your local team (unless you live in, like Wyoming or whatever…) who do you root for? Nobody. You root *against* somebody. Ironically, this is probably Michael Jordan’s fault. Think of all the Hall of Famers he ekpt from winning a title. He was pretty much everybody’s nemesis from 1990-1998. ( Those years with the Wizards don’t count.) When I was a kid, when my Bulls were eliminated (usually 6.7 minutes into their first playoff game), I’d cheer on some of my favorite players; Dr J, George Gervin, etc. Nowadays? People just watch the playoffs to see somebody lose. I get it, but that doesn’t make it less terrible. The fans who watched 2016 Finals were horrible in this regard. GREAT games being played, but people either rooted for Golden State because they hated LeBron James, or they rooted for The Cavs because they were mad that the ‘Dubs broke the Bulls single season wins record. (This was the most childish thing I’ve ever seen, by the way). You follow what I’m saying? Outside of Cleveland and The Bay Area, people were rooting against one team or the other. Not FOR them. I don’t like how that works. LeBron is a crybaby, but simply put, he’s one of the most dominant players to ever lace ‘em up. You wanna be the best, you gotta BEAT the best. Golden State had a historic season. Should they not follow it up with a title run? How could a person root against that? Sidepost: How jacked up is it the Golden State walked away from a season like that with almost nothing to show for it? Before you say it, being crowned “Western Conference Champions” is meaningless. It might as well be a ‘Participant’ ribbon and a trip to Little Caesar’s after the game. Being a Conference Champion has NO value. You think I’m lying? Ask Karl Malone. (Truth be told, I rooted against him when he played with the Lakers in the Finals. My hands are just as bloody as anybody else’s.). Oh, and before I forget; how lame are all these “used to be my teammate” feuds? Looking for a new villain? Just lose a guy to free agency, and he’s public enemy #1. The Russell Westbrook vs Kevin Durant ‘feud’ is surely going to last for this season, and maybe into the playoffs, depending how things play out. Wanna hear some world class booing? Wait until KD visits OKC for the first time. Let’s be fair though. Who WOULDN’T leave Oklahoma? No disrespect intended. I’m pretty sure they have some kick ass steakhouses there. But yeah…he probably didn’t even bother to move his things out. Just went straight to the airport.
Another thing I dislike about the NBA is the concept of ‘getting calls’ and ‘flopping’. Two separate phenomena…we shall explore both. The whole ‘getting calls’ notion pretty much admits that at best, officials play favorites, or at worst, the rules don’t apply to all players, or beyond THAT that there’s no consistency in the rules from one official to the next. The idea that “Rookies don’t get calls” is absurd. A foul is a foul, right? Same goes for players who the refs don’t like. (Word to Rasheed Wallace) My point is, officials shouldn’t be allowed to decide that something is a foul ‘sometimes’. Either it’s a charge, or blocking foul, or it isn’t. It’s unfair that a players’ time in the league factors into the equation. Imagine if NFL officials didn’t throw Unsportsmanlike Conduct flags because rookies should be ok with getting punched in the head, or somehow haven’t ‘earned’ it. (by the way, I think Darrelle Revis just got another PI flag thrown against him…). Which brings us to ‘flopping’ (and by extension, ‘crying to the refs’…) I can’t stand it. A player goes up for what would normally be a wild garbage shot hoping to draw a foul, then they come down flailing limbs and hit the hardwood as if they’d been run over by a herd of elephants. I get the “drawing a foul” strategy; it sometimes works. But laying on the ground like a murder victim, waiting for a whistle? C’mon man. Notice how they miraculously recover when it’s time to shoot free throws. When they DON’T get a call, they bitch and moan like a 5 year old when it’s nap time. (I don’t have kids…is that the right age for tantrums? If not, fix that analogy for me). The ONLY players worse at flopping are soccer players. They like out for what seems like 10 minutes at a time, sweating and hyperventilating…and then they jump right up like nothing ever happened. You’d know what I’m talking about if anybody actually liked (or even watched) soccer. Your kid’s Saturday Morning ‘we don’t keep score’ league doesn’t count. (Don’t take it personal. Sean luh da kids.) We’re talking about basketball, though. Let’s stay on topic.
I touched on it earlier, but as I said earlier, the NBA is a League of Villains. Sure, some people like the guys on their team. Well, except for me; I’m a Bulls fan, so I have NO idea who plays for us from one year to the next, but you get my point. (I hear we’re in talks to bring Artis Gilmore back). But from what I’m seeing and hearing, more people focus on the bad guys. I personally watch OKC to see Russell Westbrook scowl. What good is a GSW game if Draymond Green doesn’t kick somebody in the junk? Tell me that meme of Carmelo shaking his head at the sucktitude of the Knicks isn’t one of the all-time greatest things on the interwebz. Any game where Dwight “Kryptonite” Howard is playing is entertaining just to hear the chorus of boos in the background. (Who does he play for this week? I forget…) To add to my point, who likes the Spurs outside of San Antonio? NOBODY, because they’re a bunch of upstanding nice guys. They probably stay late and help clean up the empty beer cups after the game. Tim Duncan still shows up to help. I’m sure of it.
As far as the sport itself goes, I HATE how slow the NBA pace seems at times. Watch any random NCAA game and compare how quick the players move up and down the court. It’s almost as if NBA players are walking back on defense. Unless it’s a breakaway dunk, where upon completion, they immediately strike a pose for SportsCenter (usually they opt for the Scream/Chest Thump combo) There’s good ball being played, but pick it up, man. I got stuff to do.
Celebrity Fans. Annoying. I hate it. Yeah, put the guy who’s already on TV up there on the jumbotron. He needs the exposure. These folks take seats from people who’d actually love to be that close but can’t afford it. Actually, it’s pretty ironic in sports that the die-hard fans can’t afford the best seats. The more you like the game, the crappier your seat is. It’s always the corporate guys who have a company box, and rich people who get the best seats for their clients and fellow douchebags. I’ll gladly retract that statement if one of you fine people would like to prove me wrong and bestow unto me a courtside come-up. (Hit me with that parking pass too, while we’re at it.)
As far as the regular season goes, it’s WAY too long. Not ‘game-wise’; 82 games is fine. I’m talking about how it seems like NBA season is 11 months long with a week off, and then Training Camp starts. Think about it. Team workouts (or at least Summer League ) Starts in July, and the regular season ends in June. What? Do they take a water break and come right back to start the next season? Aside from trimming a couple of games off the schedule, there’s really no way to fix it, but I think it’s too long. Another thing that sucks about the regular season is that good teams phone it in once they’ve locked down a high playoff seed. I’m not saying they throw games or anything, but toward the end of the regular season, we see a cavalcade of bums on teams with high seeds, as they want to rest starters for a playoff run. That pair of tickets you got from your girlfriend at Xmas for the Clippers game in May? Congrats. Rookies and second tier washouts from Europe will be filling the stat sheet that night. As the old saying goes “The regular season doesn’t count”. This is especially true in the NBA. Unless your team is playoff bound or in the hunt, that last month of the regular season absolutely sucks.
I know I’ve done a lot of complaining here, but my purpose was to be honest. I’m not saying anything is broken and needs to be torn up and rebuilt. The last thing the NBA needs is to be over-marketed, or dumbed down for the fans. I’m just standing back, and taking a bigger look at it as a whole. I actually do like the NBA, and I think I’m going to make a concerted effort to really dig in and enjoy the whole 2016-2017 NBA campaign. The Bulls are off to a 3-0 start*. That helps. You have NO idea how much that helps. Aside from any ol’ random West Coast stinker that comes on too late, I’ll try to watch more national games. This doesn’t mean I’m going to try to earn an “Expert” rating or anything. I’m strictly here as an observer. Well, if there’s a good game on…or the playoffs, that is. We’re talking about whether or not we still *like* the NBA, remember? Ah screw it. Count me in. We still like the NBA. Don’t we?
*- by the time I finished this, they lost three games in a row. See what I’m sayin’? I don’t deserve this…