Last Shot

Last weekend, I went golfing for only the third time in the last year. I think this probably goes without saying, but it was a goddamn train wreck. I shanked balls left and right, into the sand, the water, the woods. Everywhere but the grass, basically. It was depressing and like most golfers on a bad day, I started contemplating things I’d rather be doing around the 14th hole. Things like, ‘watching a Kevin James movie’ or, ‘fixing anything around the house’ actually sounded somewhat appealing. Anything other than being shitty at golf. And then the last hole happened. I lucked into one down the middle off the tee, stuck it on the green from my approach and two-putted for par. And I’ll be damned if I didn’t want to toss my ball to some kid standing nearby as a souvenir to my one-hole brilliance. Of course I didn’t, because when you’re as bad as I am at golf, you don’t waste $2.00 golf balls. That shit adds up. But the point is, I FELT GOOD. To the point where I’m actually looking forward to getting out again, but can’t because it’s Wisconsin and swinging a golf club in October is like dipping your arms in liquid nitrogen and taking a sledgehammer to them. Ever hit a golf ball off the heel of the club when it’s 35 degrees? IT WILL END YOU.

Nevertheless, I’m eager to golf again despite the fact that I know my success won’t carry over. And once again probably midway through, I’ll be regretting not just staying at home and getting plastered. This is the ebb and flow of golf.

And it’s just like sports in general.

Like an amateur golfer (or a blind one if you’re me) you get used to defeat in sports. Every year, you get excited, you get emotionally invested and then as soon as you get expectations — you get stabbed in the heart. This is the vicious cycle for 99% of sports fans every year. And yet, we come back. Just like in golf we have glimmers of hope that keep us thinking that maybe — just maybe — this is the year we get our shit together. And there you go all over again, starting the perpetual process of thinking one thing, only for reality to creep up from behind you when you’re least expecting it, and kick you square in the nuts.

After awhile though, you get used to it. You become a little more numb to the heartbreaking defeats, the boneheaded decisions, the moments that leave you crestfallen and believing that ‘Fate’ is just some evil cat lady that has it out for you. Basically, you learn to roll with the punches. So for sports fans to become so jaded, so monumentally upset and so betrayed that they felt compelled to swear off an entire sport they once loved for good, you know things had to go really fucking wrong.

And for the NBA, they did.

For the better part of the last ten years, asking someone what they thought of the NBA could elicit only a handful of responses. They are:

  • Fuck the NBA
  • I’d rather watch soccer

And that’s pretty much it. No sport has evoked a more spiteful, more vitriolic response than professional basketball. And who can blame the people who abandoned ship? The sport at one time considered VINCE CARTER a premiere on-floor product. It had games that were fixed. It had an image crisis that crested with Ron Artest hulk-smashing his way through the stands. Not to mention, a commissioner who’s been about as trustworthy (and likable) as one of those seedy ticket scalpers you find outside the arena.

So it’s understandable that people have been reluctant to give the NBA another shot. But if you’ve found yourself even a little curious as to what the NBA is offering up today, read on. Because if you enjoy basketball and you’re not watching, you’re missing out. Here’s why:

TEAMS HATE EACH OTHER AGAIN

Part of what made what many consider to be the golden age of basketball (mid-80’s to mid-90’s) so popular was that there was legitimate disdain between teams. L.A. and Boston. Chicago and Detroit. Later on, Chicago and New York. Teams didn’t stand around circle jerking each other after a loss.They left the floor, went to the locker room, and circled the next time they play on a calendar. That’s what bad blood is. And it’s back. It may not be to the same extent as before, but Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett spent five seasons together in Boston. Achieved more together than either had in their long and storied professional careers, built a new culture in Boston around the ‘Big 3’ moniker. And Tuesday night, when Ray Allen (now in Miami) came over to say hi to his old friend, Garnett treated Ray Allen like a traitor, giving him the cold shoulder and essentially saying: YOU ARE FUCKING DEAD TO ME.

PLAYERS HATE EACH OTHER AGAIN

Maybe hate is a strong word, but rivalries are most definitely back. What made Jordan so great was that he relished the opportunity to vanquish everyone gunning for him – Drexler, Isiah, and even Magic later in his career. Players need their arch enemies to push them to another level. And because of the animosity that’s been brewing between teams, it’s translated to individual players as well. Rajon Rondo nearly decapitated Dwyane Wade the other night. Dwyane Wade broke Kobe Bryan’ts nose in an All-Star game for Christ’s sake. And perhaps the most glaring example I can think of, came at the conclusion of last year’s Finals. After the Heat finished putting the Thunder at the kid’s table, Kevin Durant made his way to the locker room, stopping to embrace his Mother who was waiting for him. Durant, with his head in his Mom’s shoulder wept like a child for a solid five minutes. And then he was done. As Durant turned to head into the locker room, the camera caught his face. The tears and sadness were gone. Replaced by anger and the look of someone who had just grown up a lot more than five minutes should allow. His face showed a hollowness. A cold, singularly-focused expression that could only be read as one thing: Revenge.

TALENT IS HERE AGAIN

A friend of mine swears that today’s NBA players are nothing more than glorified track stars, relying on their considerable physical abilities, but with no real knack for shooting, passing, and “playing basketball the right way.”  Yeah, he’s wrong. Like, really fucking wrong. I detest LeBron James as much as anyone, but his Game 6 versus Boston last year was undeniably one of the top 20 virtuoso performances in NBA history. He absolutely manhandled Boston, crushing their spirit in a way we haven’t seen since Jordan. That’s not accomplished without talent. Especially when it comes against a team as seasoned and intelligent as Boston. And while LeBron is the cream of the NBA crop right now, there are plenty of others with transcendent talent – Durant, Bryant, Garnett, Rose, Rondo, Duncan, Love, etc. Maybe they’re not as engaging as Magic or Bird, or idolized as Jordan. But they’re every bit as talented and in some cases, even more so.

POINT GUARDS ARE IMPORTANT AGAIN

There was a time when the NBA went big and behemoths like Shaquille O’Neal elbowed and shouldered and ass-checked their way into 30 points a night. For the most part, those days are over. And we’re in a far more interesting era of basketball – the point guard era. Even my favorite PG of all-time and legendary prick (Isiah) would be impressed with the play of today’s small ball. And while some of the value of having a talented point guard can be chalked up to the slash-n-dish style of play (relying on a guard to break down a defender and find an open man waiting behind the arc), watching the creative genius and floor generalship of guards like Nash, Parker, Rondo, Chris Paul and Deron Williams (not to mention athletic freaks like Westbrook, Rose and Wall) is something to behold. And unless you’ve got a super hybrid type of player like LeBron, it’s something most teams these days can’t do without.

THE EXPERIENCE IS GOOD AGAIN

Did you know that 2012 is the 10-year anniversary since John Tesh’s amazing NBA on NBC theme song was replaced? While that’s something I’ll never forgive the NBA for doing (Jesus, just listen to that beautiful symphony. Makes me want to put on my Dan Majerle jersey right now), the league and teams themselves have done a lot in the last decade to improve the fan experience. No league, including the infallible NFL, has embraced the digital age more – giving fans access to thousands of NBA clips on YouTube. Pre-game shows have actual analysis (the NBA blows the NFL out of the water in this regard) and with more modern amenities going into arenas, going to games is fun again.

Back in the 90’s the NBA’s slogan was, ‘I love this game.’ Since then, the league has done almost everything it can to cause people to hate it. But believe me when I say this: The NBA is fun again. Obviously, It’s by no means perfect. Doctor Claw is still commissioner for two more years. Athletes will continue to do stupid shit. And your team will inevitably do something to make you shake your head in disgust or set you up for optimism only to take you out at the knees. But like Paul Rudd said in the 40-year old virgin: “That’s just love.”

It’s safe, people. You can love the NBA again.

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