I have been tasked to give the viewpoint of how a hockey fan views the NBA as part of our preview series. It was intended by the Watts brothers for this to be a “hate” piece but since Calabrese likes the NBA the task has fallen to me.
There is only one problem, I do not hate the NBA. Instead I just really don’t care about the NBA and I will explain why this is the case but also talk about certain things the NBA does well that I wish the NHL would implement. (You know, like have a real commissioner.)
There are some things I don’t like about the NBA which I will get to as well but lets start with the reasons why I don’t care about the NBA…
No Rooting Interest
Let me get this out of the way now, I do not root for the Philadelphia 76ers or anything from that city. While living in Ann Arbor and Chicago I got asked this on multiple occasions during any NBA discussion and I do not root for them in anyway. If I would root for a team it would have been the Pistons because I have family ties there and they were good when I was in college living in Michigan. But root for the 76ers? Not a chance.
My hometown Pittsburgh has no NBA team so I never grew up watching a particular team. My only real memories involved Jordan because he was at his peak as I was developing my sports consciousness as a kid. So the only memories involve a guy and not a team that I lived and died with like the Steelers, Pens and Michigan football. All three of those teams provided memorable moments both good and bad that entrenched my sports fandom with them that is still present today. (They left too much of an imprint obviously.)
So 75% of the reason I don’t care about the NBA is I never had a team to root for and only really watched Jordan. (Even that felt more like watching history than just watching a sport.) I never even had a chance to become a Bulls fan because after Jordan retired they fell apart and weren’t worth watching unless you were from Chicago.
It is almost impossible to maintain interest in a sport where you have no rooting interest at all. Especially with such a long regular season like the NBA if you aren’t a fan of a team or player then I won’t follow the detail of day in day out regular season. We will get to the postseason later but not having a team is the primary reason I don’t care about the NBA.
I don’t want to invest time to pick up a team
I know what you are thinking, well why don’t you just pick a team and start rooting for them. This makes sense but not only is picking a team more difficult than you think I also don’t want to invest more time following and caring about another sport. I already obsess too much over my other teams and I am not ready to make anymore commitments right now. (I make this excuse with the ladies too.)
I have some buddies who are into soccer and the EPL and have tried to get me into that as well and I tell them the same thing; I can’t commit to becoming a fan of specific team. If I am going to root for a team I am going to go all in and learn its history and spend way too much time learning as much as I can about them. I understand just how much time and effort that takes and I know I don’t want to put anymore time or potential heartache into following a team.
The other problem is if I did decide to follow a team is the pressure of choosing the right team. I can’t just pick the Heat because they are the champs and you never know if Lebron is going to leave them next summer. I am not going to pick some shit 76ers team either just to show how “cool” I am to root for some horrible franchise. That is stupid.
The two teams it would make the most sense for me to root for based upon my little interaction with the NBA would be the Pistons and the Bulls, who are rivals. I half followed the Pistons growing up because I have family from there and I watched them in college since they were in the playoffs every year. Recently they have been terrible but with recent acquisitions have been dubbed “America’s team” by Andrew Sharp. Add to the fact they have Rasheed Wallace as a coach and it is hard not to think they will be entertaining. Still, they will probably just be entertaining in the comedic sense and not an actual contender which brings me to the Bulls.
If I still lived in Chicago I could see this becoming feasible. They have a superstar in D Rose, a good coach in Thibodeau and have some history of winning I remember. Plus they are a contender in the East to take down the Heat. (Well, maybe.) I actually tried to follow them last year with the hockey lockout but without Rose it was like watching Wisconsin basketball with all defense and no scoring. Unfortunately I no longer live there and I am not paying for league pass so my chances of becoming a Bulls fan are slim.
I would sarcastically root for the Grizzlies if they were still in Vancouver but sadly they are no longer north of the border and I can’t actively choose to root for the Raptors. I am not insane.
So I am open to any suggestions for teams I should root for if you have sound reasoning. I take my sports fandom seriously so those saying I should root for the Timberwolves need not apply.
College Sports> Pro Sports
This is just personal preference. I understand the pro game has better athletes and is normally better played (unless the Jaguars are involved) but the atmosphere at a college game is 100% better.
While I am not a huge college basketball fan, like most people I get roped in by March Madness and all the chaos that is the NCAA Tournament. Add to the fact Michigan basketball has had a resurgence under John Beilein and I have a reason to pay attention to the game from the beginning of the season all the way until the good stuff in March. Add in the fact all the unique traditions and cheers playing on an on campus arena and it makes me want to go to Crisler right now for a big game.
I went to my first NBA game last year and it was weird. I felt like I was more of at a circus than a sporting event. There will be people riding unicycles and 45 Bull mascots everywhere. It was as if they thought everyone had ADD and couldn’t keep focused on the game itself. If I was an actual Bulls fan it would drive me insane as I just wanted to watch my team and not be told to cheer or dance or watch some guy try to walk across a tightrope every five seconds. Now I am sure playoff games are different but my regular season experience was weird.
Things the NHL Does Better
1. NHL Playoffs> NBA Playoffs: This is also personal preference because each is different. NHL playoffs are like March Madness in that anything can happen. Any seed can beat anyone and this leads to chaos. Take for example the LA Kings who won the Cup two years ago as the eighth seed out West and no one batted an eye. Add in OT hockey being the most exciting/stressful moment in professional sports and it really isn’t close.
On the other hand, the NBA playoffs feel like manifest destiny. All of the storylines seem written prior to and we are just watching the lead up the final act. The NBA does have an advantage when that final act lives up to the hype (Heat/Spurs final this year) but the rest of the playoffs seem like a prelude to one good series.
The chaos can also hurt the NHL in terms of the Finals because if anyone can win you can end up with series like Ducks/Senators in ‘07. So in that case I must give the NBA the nod: NBA finals living up to hype> Potential for Sharks/Lightning final.
2. NHL Crazy> NBA Crazy: Ron Artest is for sure a crazy person, no one can dispute that. He changed his name to Metta World Peace and can say anything at anytime but the NBA makes it too easy for him to show off his crazy. When he went into the stands in Detroit it wasn’t as if it was hard for him to do so.
In the NHL though, you have to work in order to show just how crazy you are. Tie Domi not only fought everyone on the ice but would fight with fans in the penalty box. When the Bruins wanted to fight the fans, they did it as an entire team. And someone thought it would be a good idea to give Ron Hextall pads and a stick. And he will try and use that stick.
3. NHL Toughness> NBA Toughness: A lot of NHL fans will pinpoint this as their main reason they don’t like the NBA and there is a lot of truth to this. (Like Paul Pierce getting carted out in a wheelchair for nothing and then came back. Ryan Malone got hit with a puck in the face and then came back.) I understand Jordan played through the flu (or a hangover) but he didn’t play through a broken rib, separated shoulder and collapsed lung like Patrice Bergeron. That is actually borderline insane so NBA players are for sure smarter about their health.
4. Olympic Hockey> Olympic Basketball: Much like the playoffs both of these are good but just have different expectations. USA basketball is the best in the world and has the best player and the 1992 Dream Team was one of the coolest things to ever happen to American sport. But because of that impossible expectation that team set it is hard to enjoy USA winning in any way other than relief. If the USA doesn’t bring home gold then it is a major disappointment and for how well the US team gutted out wins over Spain the previous two Olympics I feel like their accomplishments will never be given their due because of the enormous expectations bestowed upon them.
Meanwhile USA hockey is in some ways an underdog. They were for sure an underdog in 1980 at Lake Placid but even now their is no expectation of gold or bust. Canada is the country with unreasonable expectations and USA hockey enjoys the role of spoiler. Don’t tell me you didn’t go insane when Zach Parise tied the game in Vancouver and then died a little inside when Sid scored the winner.
Add in the fact that their are four other countries that can field all star teams and the olympic hockey tournament feels like playoff hockey in February. It is the only reason February doesn’t suck every four years.
5. Goalie Fights: No one hates goalie fights. (Or Patrick Roy getting the shit kicked out of him)
6. The Stanley Cup and NHL Players are accessible: I am sure most NBA players are cool guys who would be fun to hang out with if you could. But I doubt it is easy to hang out with NBA players other than seeing Derrick Rose at the VIP section at Paris Club.
Meanwhile NHL players just blend right in because, well, the sport isn’t that popular. You could see an NHL player or team out tonight and party right alongside them and not know it till someone told you afterwards. Even big stars like Patrick Kane don’t mind if you talk shit to them all night as long as they can drink Jameson at the bar with you like a normal person. Or even party with the team’s owner like these idiots from Vancouver.
Also the Stanley Cup is like the people’s trophy. You can find endless photos and stories on the internet of people who have been able to touch and even drink out of Lord Stanley’s Cup. It is hockey’s great ambassador.
Things the NBA Does Better
1. NBA Pregame shows> All Other pregame shows: Other than College Gameday, I try to avoid every pregame show for the NHL and NFL. Their personalities suck and they suck all the fun out of the game. But in the NBA it is the opposite. The guys keep it light and give you actual insight as to what might happen. I think I watch the NBA mainly for its pregame show and Barkley to be honest.
2. Has Lebron James: I know many a Chicago fans reading this will hate me but I enjoy watching Lebron play. He is like Tiger in his prime or watching Usain Bolt run 100 meters, there is just no one better on the planet at what he does. Add in the fact he is a physical freak and you have to watch him because he might do something amazing that you will have to talk to someone about. Plus he broke Cleveland’s hearts so that means I like him even more.
3. Gregg Popovich Interviews: I love sarcasm so anytime Gregg Popovich does an interview I will watch. I find courtside interviews to be ridiculous so I enjoy a coach who agrees with me and does something about it.
4. Promoting its product and superstars: The talking heads of the NHL will find a way to bash any of its superstars (Ovie and Crosby) and Bettman puts NHL teams in Arizona and TWO in Florida. Its ridiculous mismanagement from a league that has a good product and fans yet refuses to put teams where those fans are. (Bring back the Whale)
Meanwhile the NBA pumps up it superstars and when it puts a team in a horrible market (Vancouver) they move it. Its not that hard. (Although they should put a team back in Seattle.)
5. No Don Cherry: While Craig Sager also wears absurd suits he isn’t a sexist old Canadian who thinks the only good things in life come from Western Ontario.
Enjoy your NBA season to all the fans out there. I will ignore your regular season all together and I am sure you will do the same to the NHL. See you in April for playoff though, should be a fun time.