Thursday, October 05, 2006

NBA Thoughts

I've stated this before, but my number one sport is basketball, always has been, and specifically NBA ball. Maybe it's because I was young and impressionable when A) the Cavs were actually good and B) Jordan ruled the Earth and the NBA was everywhere. I don't know why, but the NBA has always been no. 1 for me, with everything else coming in tied for 2nd.

But I'm one of the few left. Bill Simmons always joked that there are only about 12 NBA fans left on the planet and that he gets a lot of emails lamenting his Celtic/NBA columns, and I believe him. People don't like the Association. Why?

Sports Illustrated's Jack McCallum (a writer I enjoy by the way), tackled this issue in a recent
column and I'd like to discuss it.

Telling some people that you cover the NBA must be like revealing that you collect equine sperm samples for a living. They find it interesting but can't believe you do it. There are variations on a theme -- I used to watch the NBA but not anymore; all the players are gangsters; there is more teamwork in college -- but the theme is consistent: dissatisfaction with the players, the game or both. Anyone associated with the league gets accustomed to it and dons a kind of armor. One veteran official, Bennett Salvatore, says that when someone recognizes him and starts babbling away, he says, "Oh, you got the wrong guy. That's my twin brother who's a ref."

The anti-NBA feeling is particularly irritating in the fall, when King Football sits on the throne, surrounded by adoring handlers. During a round of golf last week with three men I had just met, there were the customary murmurs of discontent when they learned about my NBA connection, followed by a question: "Hey, did you ever interview T.O.? I know he's a little crazy, but he seems kind of interesting."

So there you are. The NBA sucks, and Terrell Owens, one of the most judgment-challenged people on the planet, has something to tell us.
He's right about the gangster argument, I've heard that one before. People who I'm friends with, smart people, have told me that they won't watch the NBA because it's full of thugs.

As McCallum righly points out, the NFL (the most popular league) isn't exactly issue free. Just this year the Bengals have had a ton of arrests. And he points out that we even have a coach (Joe Cullen) who drives around naked (honestly, what will it take to get Matt Millen fired? Seriously?)

But there's more. Ray Lewis was involved in a murder trial, Rae Carruth actually ordered a hit on his girlfriend. Leonard Little drove drunk and killed woman! Then got another DUI! And yet no one cares that he suits up for the Rams every Sunday. Albert Haynsworth stomped on Andre Gurode's head! This isn't a leauge full of angels.

But the NFL can basically do no wrong. Members of the Panters get caught with steroids? Who gives a shit? I don't know how many times I've seen a self righteous sports writer go on Around the Horn and spout off some bullshit about steroids and baseball and "protecting teh children!!!"But when's the last time you've heard Jay Mariotti or Bill Plaschke go off about Panther players juicing up?

But back to the NBA. Gangsters? Thugs? Is it simpley race? Is the NBA simply too black? McCallum points out that the NBA 73% black, while the NFL is 65%. Is that it? Is the NBA too hip-hop? To a certain extent the NBA has embraced the hip-hop culture much more than the NFL. The NFL is way buttoned down; you wear your socks wrong? Fined. You wear the wrong colored shoes? Fined. You put Pat Tillman's number on your helmet as a fucking tribute? Fined. The NFL is much more controling than the NBA.

The NBA is much more "in your face". Fans sit closer to the court and subsequently to the players. You can see the corn rows and the tatoos. And while you can see almost every inch of NBA players, NFL players are literally covered head to toe with their uniform. Everytime we see a NBA'er protest a foul we see their face, we see what they're saying. And boy howdy, do they look angry. But if a player protests a flag on the field, what do we see? All we see is some dude in a helmet waving his arms around. That's it.

You may think I'm going overboard here, and maybe I am. But let me ask you this, would you classify Darius Miles as "gangster" or "thug" player? Ricky Davis? My answer would probably be yes. They embody the 'me first', tatooed, cornrowed, hip-hop culture that people dislike about the NBA. But how many times have those two been arrested? Zero. Not saying that the NBA doesn't have problem players (*waves at Reuben Patterson*) but the biggest crime most of the thug and gangster players have committed is not showing the proper respect to their coaches (or dunking too much and not being able to hit a 12 footer).

And what about all the age limit shit? People get freaked out about basketball players going to college but no one seems to give a shit about baseball players. Why is that, race again? (Personally? I like the age limit cause I think it will make players more NBA ready once they enter the league, making a better product for me, the fan. But I can understand how one could question the moral outrage directed at highschool-pro basketball players but not to their baseball brethern).

But that's just it. I think, for whatever reason, the NBA gets more heavily scrutinized than the other two leagues. High school kids going straight to the pros? In the NBA? For shame! Baseball? Meh. Ron Artest attacks a fan (after he was hit with something) and the NBA has a black eye. But Albert Haynsworth stomps on Andre Gurode's head (with his fucking cleats!) and Albert Haynsworth suffers scorn, not the NFL. Why is this? How come the NBA if full of thugs because of Ron Artest and others, but the NFL has had players who've killed people (why isn't Leonard Little booed everywhere he goes!?!) and it doesn't hurt their product. How come?

And why do I love the NBA so much? I'm a white kid from Hudson, Ohio and I'm about as out of touch with the hip-hop culture as you can be (as I write this I'm listening to the Decemberists' new CD. Baroque pop! Song cycles!) I'm that guy who runs around during pick up games setting picks and throwing bounce passes. Shouldn't I be bitching about all the thugs and proclaiming college ball is better on account of all that plucky hustle?

I know some of these answers. Basketball was the first sport I played, it's my first love. And the NBA? With the NBA, I know I'm watching the best of the best. I know I'm watching the greatest, most skilled athletes on the planet. Don't believe me? How come a decent college basketball player can become an all-pro tight end?

I like the fact that I can see the emotion on the players faces. I like that Antoine Walker looks like he's about to cry (and I hate that he's overweight and jacks up threes all game, but at the same time, I love it). I like the characters, there's only 15 guys on a team, so you can follow these guys easily. Plus, what other league does a star player get covered in sweat before the game even starts (who doesn't miss Patrick Ewing)?

Here's the thing, I hope that the reader(s) of my blog will be able see my love for this sport as much as I do in others writings. Seriously, read the Sports Guy's NBA column, Free Darko, Basketbawful and Yay! Sports. I read these guys and I can tell that they love this league. That's why I love the internet and the blogosphere, you don't really get that great of NBA coverage from the Plain Dealer (sample Roger Brown: your favorite Cavalier player sucks).

So, have I rambled again? Yes. Am I saying that if you don't care for the NBA, you're racist? No. Do I think the league gets some unfair criticism that other leagues don't recieve? Yes. Should I stop doing this poor ass Donald Rumsfeld impression? You betcha.

Anyways, I guess I'm getting at this: one of the biggest reasons that I'm grateful for LeBron James is that he has revitalized basketball in Cleveland. People are interested in Cavaliers basketball (again?), plus I don't get weird looks for yelling and making noise at the arena. It's just too bad that it took a super-duper-mega-hometown-god-star to do so.

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