Had to watch my two favorite teams, the Cavs and Jazz, both go down in flames last night, which was painful. The Cavs just didn't look like they were ready to play, while the Jazz looked like maybe they thought they had the series won, before it was won. In any case, both teams looked a bit discombobulated.
But, hey, can't win em all.
I'm sure that many of you, my fascination with the NBA might seem a bit perplexing. The League isn't exactly known for fans who are a) white, b) middle aged, c) who live in the heartland b) in a town where no NBA team is present. There really haven't been many of those kinds of NBA fans since legions of pasty white guys broke their ankles jumping on the Michael Jordan band wagon (only years after the same poseurs were saying he couldn't win it all cause he was too much of a one-man show.... people forget this).
But my love for The League developed at an early age. Even though by the end of the 70's I remember articles in SI, the old Sport Magazine, and others openly wondering if a league with a serious drug problem dominated by black players would even survive into the 80's, Dad would yell at me on Sunday afternoons to go outside and play instead of watching "The NBA on CBS". I remember my favorite team was the 76ers when Moses manned the paint and Dr. J took flight. I remember loving watching the Nuggets run Doug Moe's motion offense, featuring Kiki (The Great White Hope) Vandeweigh and Alex English firing up shots from all over the floor. While the college game was (except for a brief period in the late 80's and early nineties when UNLV, Oklahoma, and those glorious Loyola Marymount started pushing the ball up-tempo) all about ball control and defense, the NBA was about offense.
Scoring. Putting the ball into hole. Which is a heck of a lot more fun to watch. Lose the crazy kids with their faces painted and the pep bands, and college basketball is a poor man's CBA or D-League.
By the time we moved to Lima in 1980, and a subsequent trip to the Richfield Colosseum to see the Cavs (led by World B. Free) in action, I was hooked. Pretty soon, those same Cavs would do a great job of drafting some great players (like Brad Dougherty, Mark Price, and Miami's own Ron Harper), while at the same, out west, another team - like no other - would begin to rise.
The Utah Jazz
The Stockton-to-Malone era, in my opinion, has got to be one of the finest in all of basketball's history. The way those two ran the pick-and-roll - which is as essential to pick-up basketball at the Y as it is to the game on its highest level - was a work of art. But the Jazz did everything. They moved the ball well. They played solid D. They could run with anybody or also beat you in a half-court-slow-em-up game. I remember staying up late at night to watch the NBA playoffs just to watch the Jazz do battle with the Lakers in what are still some of the best series ever.
And its been my release ever since.
But on a more fundamental level, there's something beautiful about being a pasty-middle-aged-white guy rooting on a league that is still predominantly urban, and made up black players. For race or background or locale isn't what will compel me to get very little sleep watching late-night west coast games. It's the chance to watch Steve Nash play basketball like a soccer player, Chris Paul and Deron Williams establish themselves as the two best new point guards playing the game, and Dwight Howard becoming a new (although more polite) Moses Malone. It's a chance to witness a long-time bad guy (Kobe) with a rep for being selfish look for help from a French center, two Slavic sharpshooters, and a guy from the Caribbean to get him back to the NBA finals.
And its a chance to watch a guy - LeBron James - who will be one of the greatest to ever play the game, take another step toward that end.
It's not about all the artificial stuff - race, culture, language, economic class - that separates us from one another. It's about talent and the ability to play well with others. The world would be so lucky if we judged one with those values.
Let the NBA playoffs continue. It's fannnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnntastic!