We Can Take Brilliance for Granted Again!
It’s always been popular to compare basketball to jazz, and sometimes that comparison is dead-on accurate. Sometimes it truly is frenetic and kinetic and free. But regular-season pro basketball is usually more like “Riders on the Storm” or “Born Slippy” — a hypnotic drone that goes on forever, punctuated by semi-electrifying moments that evaporate within the same moment we recognize their right to exist. There are 150 possessions in an average NBA game, and 135 of them don’t seem to matter at all. You can watch the entire second quarter of a Kings-Pacers game and somehow miss it entirely; it’s almost like having your eyes float over every line of a paragraph without registering a single word. This, I suppose, is a criticism. But if the lockout had never lifted, I would have spent a lot of late nights wishing there were a West Coast NBA game to passively take for granted. It’s an unbelievable thing, really: A 4,700-square-foot floor populated by 82-inch superhumans, all of whom are exhibiting such insane, nonchalant athleticism that I consciously ignore it while I unconsciously absorb it. I look at Derrick Rose and I think, “Oh, the Bulls are on.” And then I watch him explode while daydreaming about a hundred other things. And that’s so crazy. That’s so sick. Because what I should be thinking is this: “It’s amazing that we are the same species. It’s amazing that what he’s doing has any relationship to who I am and what my life is (or could potentially be). It’s amazing that this is happening at all.” But I don’t, because I’m used to it. We’re all used to it. — Chuck Klosterman
Mark Titus’ Top 15 Things to be Excited About Now That the NBA Is Back
• Finally getting to watch Kyrie Irving, Enes Kanter, and Ricky Rubio (and maybe even Greg Oden) play
• Whether or not Cavs fans will be just as crazy as they were last year when the Heat play in Cleveland this year
• If announcers and writers will actually recognize Ron Artest as Metta World Peace
• Jimmer Mania
• The possibility of Lamar Odom defending his sister-in-law’s honor by Laimbeering Kris Humphries for calling her a fat ass
• Blake Griffin, Jamario Moon, and Travis Leslie on the same team
• Hearing all the new jokes about LeBron disappearing in the fourth quarter and not laughing at them because I’m bitter I didn’t think of them first
• Petty feuds between players (like Kevin Garnett’s calling Charlie Villanueva a cancer patient) starting on Twitter and getting blown out of proportion by the media
• Shaq and Barkley together on TNT
• Having to be reminded at least once a month that there’s a team in Toronto
• The realistic possibility of Gilbert Arenas being the first player in NBA history to play in more than half of his team’s games and make more than a million dollars for every minute of playing time he averages
• Skip Bayless inevitably saying with a straight face that he’d rather have Tebow on his football team than LeBron on his basketball team
• Whether or not Simmons will continue to make 6-for-24 jokes about Kobe
• The Cavs winning the exact same number of games they would’ve won had there been a full season
• Brian Scalabrine
The Rookies, Overmatched or Otherwise
One of my favorite things about the start of any NBA season is the way the storylines from the previous year in college ball wake up in the big league and sort of look around blinking in the light. Unlike the NFL draft — which involves 11 million players, 10 million of whom are defensive backs — the NBA draft is quick and mean: just 60 players, mostly dudes you’ve heard of. It is going to be enormously fun, and probably also hilarious, to see whether Kyrie Irving’s 1¾ games of NCAA experience have honed him to be the spear of Dan Gilbert’s vengeance, and how the Morris twins handle being separated, and whether Shelvin Mack is a point guard, and whether Jimmer can … Jimmer … so Jimmerishly on a team where he’s allowed to have sex. (The Maloofs are in favor of this, right?) Had the season not happened, all that stuff would have gotten squashed in the middle of whatever happy nonsense the NCAA churns out this year, not to mention the hot, wet media frenzy to catch up with Kobe and LeBron. Now, though? It can take its proper place at the end of the bench of the narrative, and maybe a couple of the kids will manage to surprise us. Either way, it beats the hell out of labor decertification, as Dr. Naismith used to say. — Brian Phillips
The Mavs’ Victory Lap
Speaking on behalf of Dallas Mavericks fans, we would like to thank you all for your solidarity during the Finals. (Actually, we’d like to thank you for picking the Mavs to lose to the Blazers in the opening round, to lose to the Lakers in the semis, and to lose to the Thunder in the Western Conference finals. Really, that helped.) We were proud to be the team the world could rally behind in toppling that diabolical squad with the two transcendent players who occasionally looked preternaturally dominant on the court. We were happy that all you fans of every other team stood alongside us in sports bars, whooping at every shrug of D-Wade’s shoulders and every furrow of LeBron’s brow. We were glad we could do that for you.
Now we have a new season — thank god — and you will all go back to rooting for your real favorite teams, and that’s fine. (And sportswriters nationwide will hit ctrl+V and out will come “Dallas’ window is closed,” and that’s fine, too. Some teams thrive on that sort of thing.) The Mavericks will have their valedictory run, and that’s why we’re most excited. Winning the championship is glorious, but the real spoils come during the following season, when your team is introduced at every stop as the defending champions, when television crews roll out Finals footage during every game, when Dirk is called the reigning Finals MVP, when opposing teams get up for your visit — when it’s a big deal, what your team did, every night they play. We Mavs fans are thirsty for that. If the season had been canceled, we would have been robbed of that nightly triumph. If it’s 66 nights instead of 82, that’s OK. We just want our recognition, and now we’re going to get it. It’s narcissistic, sure, but it’s part of the deal.
You’ll get tired of it, probably, and that’s natural. But when the Mavericks play your team, remember Wade and LeBron with their heads hung in defeat. Remember the times we shared. — David Shoemaker
The Coming Chaos
I’m psyched that the NBA season has finally been called to order; now it’s time for some chaos. It’s impossible to choose the one thing I’m looking forward to. So in no particular order and with no effort to feign coherence, here are the first things that pop into my head: Jan Vesely, Jan Vesely’s girlfriend, the upcoming Day of the Locust-style free-agency period, Nick Young putting up 56 points one night and then disappearing for the rest of the season, watching Evan Turner and Andre Iguodala stand in the exact same spot on the court for 66 games instead of 82, Jan Vesely, the Rubio-to-Derrick Williams alley-oops, and, most of all, finally solving the mystery that haunts our society: How fat did Tyreke Evans get? — Chris Ryan
Hating Kevin Garnett
I was thrilled with Dirk taking down LeBron last year — the perfect showcase of dignity over arrogance — and I’m happy that the Knicks might be decent again. But if I’m being honest, the core of my relationship with the NBA revolves around a deep hatred of one man: Kevin Garnett. There’s nobody like him in sports. He’s the epic, quintessential, biblical son of a bitch. Garnett is a great player, but he’s an even better performer. He’s mastered the theater of basketball intimidation, and his stylized Kabuki-technique perfectly casts him as the villain in any Celtics game. Most sane NBA fans probably don’t buy into the shtick — or see him simply as an aging cog on a successful Eastern Conference team — but I’m convinced that Garnett is locked into the role, like some kind of method actor who long ago forgot he was on stage. And the first time I leap in fury from my couch on Christmas Day, shouting, “Shut the fuck up, Garnett!” I’ll be grateful. Grateful in my sad, angry, lonely American way. — Shane Ryan
Shaquille O’Neal: Analyst
What I’m most looking forward to has nothing to do with any player or team: It’s Shaquille O’Neal starting his second career (or fifth, if you count his subpar acting, subpar rapping, and law enforcement ventures) by joining TNT as an analyst. I am convinced no NBA insider knows where the bodies are buried with greater accuracy than O’Neal. Pair him up with Charles Barkley for an entire season? I am positive there will be some NBA tidbits we did not know before — and probably didn’t want to know. — Jonathan Abrams
The Arms (Yes, Arms)
I suppose I could have said Amar’e Stoudemire’s goggles, the increasingly hilarious shooter sleeve, or no longer worrying about where the Baller Wives’ next
Marc Jacobs bag meal would come from. What I’ve missed during this obnoxious professional basketball drought, though, is the main event, and the main event is arms. Yes, yes, the NFL has work-of-art arms, too — lots of tattoo sheathes and sculpture — but they always feel beside the point. Professional wrestling provides more arm than is right. And what’s happened to tennis? We still have Serena Williams and Sam Stosur, but the men, at least, have gone back to holstering their guns.
As a sport, the best arms are basketball’s. And without realizing it, I’ve been miserable without them. From late October to mid-June, they’re the ideal of athletic function dictating form — perfect proof of work in a sport that requires a lot of it. You never talk about the aesthetics of arms, because the way the arm looks seems secondary to what the arm is doing — dribble, pass, shoot. But even more than women’s tennis and track and field, basketball invites you to survey the arm to see why it looks the way it does (you used to be able to admire legs, too, but those days are over). To wonder what some of these guys were thinking as they sat in the tattoo-parlor chair. I mean, as fun as it is watching Derrick Rose the player, it’s more of a relief to know we’ll get a partial season out of two arms whose ink rivals most highway underpass walls. — Wesley Morris
The Unresolved Storylines (and Not Just the One Unfolding on South Beach)
The best sports memories revolve around unlikely endings and unbelievable performances: the Miracle on Ice, Kirk Gibson’s one-legged homer, Lorenzo Charles’ buster-beating dunk. Most seasons don’t end quite that dramatically. But they do end with one team clutching the trophy. All we ask is that we get to see that ending, without interference from outside forces. As the NBA lockout intensified, it seemed that ending would be stolen from us. We wanted to know if Dirk and Kobe had another title in them; if Boston’s Big 4 and San Antonio’s Big 3 could make one more title run before they scattered to the wind; if the up-and-coming Bulls and Thunder could finally break through. And yes, as loathsome as it is to imagine, we wanted to see if the Heat could make good on Year 2 of The Experiment, so LeBron could write a thank-you note c/o Dan Gilbert, entirely in comic sans. No one had cheated the way, say, the Black Sox did — but we felt cheated anyway, deprived of the chance to watch a season’s worth of team and individual glory. With the lockout over, we’ll finally get that chance, the disaster of a canceled season averted. As these guys will tell you, better later than never. — Jonah Keri
The Russian, the Rapper, and the Move to Brooklyn
I love my job. I love Grantland. I love working with the geniuses and borderline geniuses every day. If pressed, I’ll even admit that I love living in Los Angeles. But I’m going to be honest: One of the very hardest things about leaving Brooklyn was sacrificing a front-row seat to how the Nets move played out. The real estate battles, the simmering class warfare over the Barclays Center, and the arrival, as if from space, of the gangly billionaire from Russia was the greatest drama we had going in the borough. The storylines were ready-made: The return of professional sports to the County of Kings! The Deron Williams contract debate! Jay and Bey courtside every night!
These things were (obviously) media crack in the only city in America that has its own 24-hour cable news channel. But to me and my 30-something peers, the Nets move was more than that. Brooklyn is a borough rapidly filling with children. Schools are bursting at the seams. Teachers can’t be hired fast enough. The parks overflow with new parents who were themselves moved out of NYC as children by overprotective fathers and mothers. As someone who was very recently one of their number — the father of a son just now old enough to understand what goaltending means, and maybe even to comprehend the importance of inside positioning — I can tell you how much that move to Brooklyn meant to those parents. See kid, look! Look at how Deron throws the outlet pass! Watch how Lopez keeps those hands above his head! Listen to the goddamned crowd roar! How can you possibly not love this game? — Dan Fierman
The Unanswered Statistical Questions (and the Nerds Who Love Them)
After the 1998 lockout, scoring fell off at a pretty dramatic level, as teams went from averaging 95.6 points per game in the 1997-98 season to 91.6 points per game in the abbreviated 50-game season following the lockout. It wasn’t that teams got sloppier, since turnover rates stayed the same (14.6 percent of possessions ended in turnovers in 1997-98, 14.5 percent in 1998-99). Teams just shot worse (.450 field goal percentage in 97-98, .437 in 98-99) and played at a slower pace, as the average team used 1.4 fewer possessions per game. So if that happens again, will it benefit defensively minded teams by turning their already stout defense into something unworldly? Or will it aid teams with poor defenses when players miss shots that are already open? And will the guys who went and played in Europe shoot better than the ones who didn’t? These are important nerd questions, and we nerds demand answers! — Bill Barnwell
Joe Johnson, Scourge of Atlanta
Most NBA players have to be thrilled about the end of the lockout. I’m sure there are a few who make enough money to enjoy a year of relaxation, but for the most part people seem to be happy to be getting back to business. And then there’s Joe Johnson. I don’t think “furious” even begins to describe what’s going on in Joe’s head right now. I’ve watched Joe play in my hometown for six years now, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a man who despises his profession more than Joe. (Perhaps Peter Gibbons in Office Space or Wes Mendell in Studio 60 could give JJ a run for his money, but it’d be a tough battle.) It’s not just the basketball that Joe hates, it’s the other things that come with it. You know, like smiling on the occasion. Or pretending to enjoy the city that he plays for, or even its inhabitants, the ones who occasionally come and see him play. Don’t be fooled by October 30 tweets like “i sure can’t wait till them Hawks start playin … Hint Hint!!” This is simply Joe attempting to make you forget that he got a $119 million contract and is completely lockout/recession proof. It also creates the illusion that he’s more interested in basketball than in his diabolical plan of buying Atlanta from Tyler Perry. All of this is to say, dearest Joe, I feel your pain. I know you had a trip planned to visit the DuckTales vault you recently completed on Pandora for Christmas, but I’m sure there will be time once we lose to _____ in ____ games in the playoffs. To everyone else, congrats. I can’t wait. — Rembert Browne
Jenny Johnson’s Top 10 People (and Brands) Who Would Have Been Inevitably Hurt By a Lockout
10. Sprite (NBA guys love Sprite)
9. The Black Eyed Peas would have no place to Get It Started
8. The Kardashians
7. Condom industry (j/k LOL!!!!)
6. Mark Cuban wouldn’t have anyone to yell at
5. The flat-brim cap industry.
4. Michael Jordan’s Hitler mustache
3. Spike Lee couldn’t pretend he’s the coach of the Knicks
2. The person who makes those weird sock things players wear on their arms for some reason
1. The maker of the 15-button, peanut-butter-colored suit
The Role Players: An Ode to Will Bynum
I love Will Bynum. Love the guy. Love him. Whenever the fiery reserve guard checks in for my hometown Detroit Pistons, the pace and tenor of the game changes. He pushes tempo relentlessly, and he’s fearless; he’ll drive the lane against anyone is always looking to score. He once dropped 26 points on the Bobcats in the fourth quarter alone; another time, against the Wiz, he racked up 20 assists. I’ve met the guy once — in Chicago after watching him playing a high school game — and if he’s taller than me, it’s by an inch, and it gives me an exhilarating satisfaction to watch him slay the NBA’s giants.
I also love Will Bynum because he’s all mine. He’s my favorite player and no one else’s (that I know of). In this way, he’s like that indie band you caught in a small club your freshman year of college that played the best show you’ve ever seen, and even if they never broke it big, you still count their debut album (which you bought a copy of that night) among the best albums ever made. Bands like Tapes ‘n Tapes or NOMO — who most people nod and say they’ve heard of but can’t quite recall any of their songs or where they’re from. The NBA has fine stars who deserve the fanfare they receive, but what I love most about the League is that close viewing is rewarded by a blossoming appreciation for the role players and bench warmers — the Shannon Browns, Brian Scalabrines, and Earl Boykins — and for each of us, we’ll find that a different little-known player will speak to us. The rest of the world can have their Dwyane Wades and Bon Ivers — me, I’ll take Will Bynum. — Davy Rothbart
Jimmer: The New Tebow?
It’s not that I’m actively wishing for Jimmer to fail, and it’s not that I actively dislike the NBA, although I cannot say I will miss those first 16 games any more than I will pine for the return of The Playboy Club. It’s that, for those of us who enjoy college sports just a little bit more, there should always be a clear line of demarcation between our game and the pros, and just as Tim Tebow has become polarizingly indicative of where that line is drawn, so should Jimmer. I hope he averages 18 points a game, and I hope he puts up 56 in a mid-January contest against the Wizards, and I hope he plays terrible defense and seems hopelessly outmatched on certain nights and infuriates purists for reasons they are too outraged to rationally explain. That, I believe, is why the good Lord gave us Jimmer in the first place. — Michael Weinreb
The Emo Sixers
My favorite team of all time is the 2000-01 Philadelphia 76ers. Perpetually underrated and continually overmatched, it was a squad of role-players and hangers-on carried to the mountaintop by the insane, fiery charisma of Allen Iverson, a soft-eyed assassin who thought the entire world was out to get him and was mostly right. Somehow, AI took all the weight onto his scrawny shoulders — the expectations of an angry city, the disapproval of an entrenched media, the roster presence of Kevin Ollie and Jumaine Jones — and led the Sixers on one of the most improbable playoff runs of all time. Of course they didn’t win, but somehow it didn’t matter. For Philadelphia fans of a certain age, the point was never to take home the trophy. It was to stand in someone else’s way for as long as humanly possible.
It’s been almost 30 years since the Sixers have won the NBA championship and, Iverson aberration aside, most of those seasons have barely been competitive. So basketball fandom in the city of Brotherly Love is forced to survive outside of the traditional metrics of wins and losses. For me and my friends, the 2000-01 Sixers — and even the diminishing returns descendants of that team that featured Iverson’s cycling through able-bodied balling partners faster than a Kardashian at a speed-dating event — were the perfect reflection of our 20s: the chips on our shoulders, the forced swagger, the surprising highs, the all-too-familiar lows. They weren’t winners, but they weren’t exactly losers either.
In the years since, a lot has changed, of course, but one thing remains constant: The Sixers aren’t going to win any championships in the foreseeable future. But if the Iverson Sixers embodied my 20s then, the team that will take the court next month is a pretty good fit for my 30s. The new ownership may have banished hip-hop, but god are these guys sweater-rap: It’s a crew coached by the overly huggy Doug Collins and filled with amiable, compelling dorks like Evan Turner, who waxes philosophical on Twitter about The Notebook and Jrue Holiday, who spent his offseason in Germany cheering for his girlfriend in the Women’s World Cup. The post-lockout Sixers are a softer squad for a softer era, a pleasant group concerned with the little things — team defense, the decline of the Hollywood rom-com — not big statements. They’re more likely to steal each other’s BlackBerrys than their wives. They’re not winners, but they’re far from losers. And one thing you learn in your 30s is that sometimes in sports, as in life, that’s enough. — Andy Greenwald
The Sweet Pain of the Orlando Magic Fan
This lockout ended just in time. As soon as college football winds down, I’ll need the NBA to help me manage my annual January-to-August depression. I’m nonplussed about pro basketball at the moment because I’m an Orlando Magic fan, but I guess losses are better than canceled games. You’ll recall last year Otis Smith slept in, and his mischievous 11-year-old nephew who was visiting from out of town stole his office keys and e-mail password and started propositioning all the other NBA GMs. By the time Otis woke up and grabbed a Bloody Mary and got downtown, the rascally little dude had traded away chemistry and youth and energy and defense and rebounding and coachability and whatever else had contributed to the Magic’s winning ways, and in return he’d gotten a couple of aging scorers who you’d want on your side in a game of H-O-R-S-E but not in an NBA game. Otis gave his nephew a good-hearted scolding, explaining to the boy that running a fantasy team was a lot different than running a real team. Problem was, when Otis got in touch with the other GMs and explained what had happened, they refused to undo the deals. What a bunch of jerks! Let me ask you readers a question. Is there anyone out there who could root for Gilbert Arenas? Get invested emotionally in his success? Like when there’s a sweepstakes, if you’re related to Gilbert or employed by the Orlando Magic ,you’re not eligible. Out of the rest of you, can any of you look me in the face and tell me you could be a staunch supporter of Gilbert Arenas? You don’t have to answer right away.
So as a casual baseball fan who pulls for the Rays, I can admit that seeing the Yankees and Red Sox flame out is every bit as satisfying as seeing the Rays succeed. In fact, I dislike the Yanks and Sox more than I like the Rays. And so it’s easy for me to admit, with only fleeting shame, that what interests me most about the upcoming NBA season can’t really occur for several months. Otis Smith’s nephew may have divvied up my heart and sent it to the desert and to parts north, but my dark soul is still right here where it belongs, and all it wants for Flag Day is to see LeBron go frontal lobotomy again in the playoffs. When Terry and Dirk and that little point guard made fools of the Heat, that was oddly, oddly fulfilling. It wasn’t 52-20 Sugar Bowl fulfilling, but it was damn close.
I don’t have any champagne on hand, but I have leftover Tempranillo, which hails from the home country of the Gasol brothers. Here’s to you, Association. And now I have a date with a turkey sandwich and the Iron Bowl. — John Brandon
Not Having to Fake-Care About the EPL
Late last week, after months of persistent prodding, my buddy Bryan had just about talked me into the Premier League-for-nonexistent-NBA swap. I wasn’t resisting because of any particular distaste for high-class international soccer; in fact, having opinions on stuff like Aston Villa’s transfer-window activities still seems like a very alluring thing. It’s just that I had actually managed to convince myself that all those hours I’d have free from basketball would pour, seamlessly, into making me a better, more learned person, the kind who understood the financial crisis and knew about experimental new restaurants and had seen The Bicycle Thief. The other problem with the Premiere League thing is that my only real knowledge of it was that it involved getting up crazy early to get watch games at bars, and getting drunk before noon would have been an even greater hindrance to my new era of productivity and cultured-ness. (Technically, I guess I could have sat quietly at the bar during games with a scone and hot milk, but, if I’m being honest with myself, I didn’t really see that happening.) Now things are, blessedly, back to normal; all attempts at self-improvement will have to work themselves around the NBA schedule, and all day drinking will remain the domain of mornings when I’m not worried about feeling like an alcoholic. So: Here’s to getting wasted at normal times of the day, and to not being forced to entertain unrealistic expectations, and to having basketball back. — Amos Barshad
The Return of the New Fans
This was the year I’d resolved to watch basketball. I’ve never actively disliked the game or purposefully ignored it. I’ve just never understood it. It’s as though I’ve had a block when it comes to basketball, the way some people find physics or middle-aged women inscrutable. Practically speaking, my basketball illiteracy has represented a big hole in my range. I wanted to learn it so that I could write about it. But I wanted to learn basketball more because I’ve long felt like I’ve been missing out. The people who love the game — and I know a few of those people — love the game in a way that makes me jealous of their love.
I’ve tried to undertake this kind of passion acquisition before, always with disastrous results. I tried to get into wine a few years ago, because people who love wine seem to live for it, but I will just always prefer beer. Another time, I bought a bunch of David Foster Wallace books because his fans seemed to know something I did not, but if he wasn’t writing about lobsters or porn, I had a hard time getting into it. Now, after I watched my first NBA Finals ever — there’s nothing more accessible than such a pure, triumph-over-evil plot — I’d decided, once and for all, that this was the year that basketball would be mine. Then it got locked the fuck out.
When I heard this morning that it was coming back, my first thought was: Now I have more homework to do. Basketball’s absence had released me of my basketball envy, my basketball guilt. It was one less thing for me to worry about. I wasn’t missing out, because nothing was going on. Now that it will be back, I have to get my head back in line, too, ready to tackle this new calculus. I have to convince myself that it’ll be worth the effort, that this quest won’t end like the others. I know in my heart that you can’t force love, but come on, Kevin Durant. Come on, Blake Griffin. Give me just one reason. — Chris Jones
Nothing Will Ever Stun and Amaze (Stunaze?) You Like the NBA
We get this note that is all, “Hey Grantland, write us one paragraph about what you are excited about now that there is going to be an NBA season” and I said to myself, “No problem, there is so much that is exciting about this NBA season I should be able to bang that out in no time.” Way wrong.
First I wrote a thing about how excited I am about the Sacramento Kings this year, but it came out all wrong because, really, I am excited only about whether or not Jimmer Fredette is J.J. Redick or Stephen Curry. Then I wrote this thing about how excited I am about Jan Vesely and his girlfriend being on the inaugural season of Basketball Wives DC, but that came out all wrong because I was just trying to be funny and not succeeding. Then I wrote a thing about how excited I was to track what Miami’s Big 3 would wear in postgame press conferences, but that came out all wrong because I quickly realized they would all just fall back into the standard NBA press-conference wear de rigueur of suits with pocket squares, or cardigans, or endless items with epaulettes that shouldn’t be epauletted. Then after three swings and misses I realized what I was really excited about this upcoming NBA season — the fact that I don’t know what to be excited about.
I know, I know: That reads like a clichéd cop out, but ride with me for a second. An entire offseason’s worth of stories, scandals, rumors, trades, signings, predictions, injuries, inquiries, and locker room drama will be crammed into the next three weeks. By tomorrow there will be a few rumored free-agent destinations, several “surprise playoff contenders,” and dozens of big stories cited to “NBA sources.” (I love stories from “NBA sources.”) While considering this, I realized what really excites me about the NBA — the inevitable drama. By the time you are sitting on a patch of wet grass, watching the first firework on the fourth of July, LeBron James will have oscillated from hero to villain at least five times, and there will have been four franchise-devastating injuries and a minimum of one inter-player “so and so slept with so and so’s ex/mother/wife/daughter” sex scandal. I am sure the excitement of what will occur in between the 94×50 lines has been well represented among the rest of this group that answered the question, “What excites you about the NBA season?” What excites me is arguing with my friends about the spectacle that is the NBA before tipoff and after the final buzzer, and the NBA’s uncanny ability to provide perfect fodder for exactly that 24/7/365. — Dave Jacoby
The Knicks Revival: Part 1
I have a confession to make, and you’re not gonna like it: I got a little bit sad when I woke up to find out that the NBA lockout was over. Not because I enjoyed watching my Twitter feed flooded with the bored and borderline delirious dispatches from NBA writers staked out in hotel lobbies, and not because I’m covering hockey and know that now SportsCenter will show the sport even less. No, it’s because I moved cross-country this summer and the return of basketball will be the first thing to truly make me long for New York. While the pizza and cab situations out here in SF pale in comparison to the City (and there is only one “the City”) I can deal with those things: I ride my bike a lot more, and we have better burritos. But out here we don’t have the New York Post and the Daily News competing to see who can be more cutting the day after a loss. We don’t have the mania of Penn Station on the day of a game, with folks pausing amidst the frenzy to offer an appreciative head nod to someone wearing Mason or Oakley. We don’t have the circus of will-we-get-Carmelo or the upcoming will-we-get-CP3. After being so bad for so long, the Knicks were and are just on the brink to returning to being the kind of team that’s the toast of the town, that has cab drivers honking and floor traders complaining and bartenders forgetting to pour. It’s self-centered, New York and the Knicks, and it’s probably super-annoying to everyone else. But, really, that’s why it’s so great. I missed the NBA this fall, sure, but that was basically nothing. The real missing is only about to begin. — Katie Baker
The Knicks Revival: Part 2
GO NEW YORK GO NEW YORK GO NEW YORK GO! Too much? Too soon? Coming off the newly minted CBA, and Knicks fans are the biggest winners here. Chris Paul. It will be abbreviated, but this is the first full season of Melo and Amar’e decadence, and boy are we Chris Paul about it!! This is a franchise full of intrigue whether you’re interested in the major-market business-economics angle (c.f. Chris Paulonomics), a coaching theorist curious to see if D’Antoni’s selling snake oil with no medicinal Chris Paul value, or just want to watch a couple of the NBA elites do their thing, maybe RedRum the Heat locker room (All Melo and no Paul make Amar’e a dull boy).
Questions abound of course: Can we find a center? What does Billups have left in the tank? Landry? Iman Shumpert? Defense? And, oh yeah, will we name an official replacement for Donnie Walsh? But there’s one question with one answer that will start the apocalypse and render everything else irrelevant. Still, whether we get Chris Paul or not (haha), with the Knicks officially out of the dark ages, along with the up-and-coming Rangers, the clock has started on the Occupy Wall Street movement relocating to Madison Square Garden permanently. With a pit stop in New Orleans first. — Patrice Evans
The Gambling Options
I, for one, am ecstatic about the return of the NBA. I mean can you imagine the dire consequences had the stupid lockout shut down the ’11-12 season? For one thing — Grantland editor-in-chief/pro hoops guru Bill Simmons and I would never have been able to place an extremely legal bet on a medium-range long shot (let’s, for argument’s sake, say Oklahoma City at 7/1 odds) to win the NBA title. Then we would never have been scared off by Memphis’ 14-1 start, causing us to make a hedge bet on said Grizzlies. And then, when it was announced that Kevin Durant was going to miss three to 15 weeks with strained tendons in both middle fingers, we never would’ve been able to place a panic hedge bet on three other teams to win the NBA title — let’s say New Orleans, San Antonio, and Boston. (It’s at this point in the season when the Sports Guy feels bad that we’re essentially betting against his beloved Celtics, and talks himself and me into believing they’ll still be around in mid-June). Then, after the Durantless-Thunder Ewing-theoried their way through the playoffs, we never would’ve been able to place a hedge bet on each of their first three opponents. And then, after OKC went up 3-0 on the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals, we would never have been able to pass up the opportunity to hedge the Bulls at 20/1 to sweep the final four games — which would of course then happen, causing me to let out a scream louder than all of Craig Sager’s jackets put together. Welcome back, NBA. Now excuse me while I search for a second effing job. — Cousin Sal
Satisfying the Nuggets Craving
I can’t wait to start watching the Nuggets. I’m claiming them. It’s not because I’m from New York and I miss Danilo Gallinari’s flopping — he does it on offense, too! — or the terrified furrow that spreads across Timofey Mozgov’s brow — “They do not move like human! They move like flying machine!” — when the speed of the game starts to leave him behind. I thought I might miss Wilson Chandler, but I really only miss the lines he shaves into his head. Besides, he’ll be plying his trade in Hangzhou for the foreseeable future, unless he has a problem with that, in which case he may be plying another trade on an iPhone assembly line. I do have a homer angle in Denver, however, and that’s Gary Forbes, a reserve forward who starred for a high school — Benjamin Banneker Academy, in Brooklyn — that I played against back in the day. Forbes is a jack-of-all-trades-type forward, a Swiss Army Knife guy, except he’s the basic version of the knife that has only a toothpick and a tiny pair of scissors. I love him all the same, though, because of our shared PSAL lineage (and since he’s a restricted free agent, I hope the Nuggets keep him). So what if Nene signs somewhere else, and J.R. and Kenyon will also be unrestricted free agents if they can extract themselves from big trouble in bigger China. Kenneth Faried is on the way in, and he’s already begun establishing his global brand with two-handed dunks and his line of “Manimal” T-shirts. Ty Lawson will get minutes, finally, and now that Andre Miller’s long summer of Fatburger will have to end, they’ll provide two very different, equally entertaining takes on the point guard position. Tiny bolts of lightning or smooth molasses. Call it “Duo of Floor General,” plated by executive chef George Karl. There’s probably no way the Nuggets will be great, but they could be great to watch.
And you know what’s best about the NBA’s return? I could have written something just as enthusiastic about any team in the league. Sure, the doldrums will arrive in Detroit, but I’ll keep my soft spot for Austin Daye. A shitstorm may be brewing in Charlotte, but I’ll still knock on wood for Kemba Walker and hope that he can flourish where his recent NYC forebears like Andre Barrett, Omar Cook, and Kenny Satterfield fell short. As long as NBA teams are on the floor, I’ll convince myself to love something about them. — Rafe Bartholomew
The Re-Running of the Bulls
Considering I grew up near Chicago in the ’90s, the answer to this question should be pretty simple. Last year, the Bulls were must-see TV for the first time in a long time. As my college roommates can attest, I used to change the channel when Rose went to the bench back in ’08. Six months ago, I was legitimately excited when Omer Asik checked in. It was safe to say that times, they had a-changed.
The problem is that all those D-Rose buckets that made me thankful for DVR, all those moments when it was fun as hell to watch Taj Gibson play defense, they all made the hard truth of the Eastern Conference finals that much harsher. What LeBron and the Heat did to the Bulls wasn’t just merely exploit a few tiny faults; they exposed a series of inherent flaws that showed just how far Chicago still is from a championship-caliber team — most notably that its only offense comes from its athletically gifted but range-limited point guard, and that Carlos Boozer’s rich corpse is even worse than Carlos Boozer on defense.
Hope does loom in the free-agency flurry. A Rip Hamilton would certainly help. But for some reason, it feels like this is a team more than one veteran piece away. The Heat aren’t going anywhere, and the image of LeBron James draped over Rose has a depressing air of permanence. So, excited? Of course. But, sadly, not nearly as excited as I should be. — Robert Mays
Never Having to Hear the Words BRI Again
If I’m being honest about the NBA lockout, I think it would be most accurate to say I didn’t follow it. Or, that I couldn’t follow it. Not for a minute. Every time Billy Hunter showed up on TV, I turned the channel. Every time David Stern went anywhere near a microphone, I hit mute. Every time I heard the phrase “basketball-related-income” as it relates to how much of it the players should get, I threw up just a little in my mouth. Hearing it abbreviated as “BRI” was even worse, conjuring some medical procedure involving anesthesia and a tube down my throat. Admittedly, I did follow Ron Artest’s tweets, but that’s more about literature or comedy or, maybe, mental health.
Now that the thing is finally over, what I’m going to be doing is my best to forget it ever happened. For a while, the now-settled labor disputes are, without a doubt, going to make games harder for me to watch. Not only because the season will start with players and plays in preseason form — but because all the negotiating has left me feeling sour that being a fan now pretty much means it’s not good enough just to follow the sport anymore, you have to follow the business of the sport, too. Maybe I’m naive, but I think that’s a little too much to ask.
I started going to games as 7-year-old kid in Pontiac, Mich. The Pistons played at the Silverdome then. The team wasn’t yet the Bad Boys, and plenty of nights, it was actually just bad. My favorite player was usually a 7-foot-5 bench-dweller named Chuck Nevitt — primarily because he was 7-foot-5, looked like an illustration from my dinosaur books, and, also, I had somehow come into owning an autographed pair of his New Balance high-tops. I did not know how much Chuck Nevitt got paid in a season or game or quarter. I felt badly for him because he hardly got to play. I also spent a lot of time wondering if he felt badly for not getting to play. I remember wanting to buy his jersey at the concession stand to show the guy some support, but there were never any Nevitt shirts on sale. Point is: Empathy became a part of basketball viewing for me almost immediately, and caring about the stories of the game — while being amazed with the game itself — has carried me through watching it for the past 26 years.
The problem with the lockout, ultimately, for me is it tested that empathy in a way that felt unfair. The way I had to wonder about labor conditions and fair pay and rights in the workplace — it all made me uncomfortable that I didn’t know more about labor conditions and fair pay and rights in the workplace as they pertain to jobs and industries where those issues are actually serious problems. It made me think that the news should be covering those things more. It made me feel guilty. It made me think that all that money that the players and owners make, which of course, is way too much money, could really be put to use elsewhere.
These are not the things I want to think about when I think about basketball. Morality is always part of watching the game, but the sides I take, the way I develop my rights and wrongs, they’re to do with primal and physical things. That’s what I’m most excited to get back to. No more money talk. No more sanctimony. No more guilt or “BRI” tubes thrust down my esophagus. No more impressing on me that I have to analyze the NBA’s financials like an eager associate at Goldman Sachs. It’s over now, and I shall be my 7-year-old self again, looking toward the end of the bench and wondering whether some Chuck Nevitt type will ever get his ass in the game. — Howie Kahn
The Heat Is On, Season 2
I always thought the best NBA teams were like the best television shows: They have their own unique identity and at least one Hall of Fame character; they can last for as little as two years and as many as 12; they (hopefully) provide a few twists and turns along the way; and at some point, they slap together one “transcendent” season that we’ll always remember. Maybe their run ends too abruptly (like Walton’s Blazer teams). Maybe they hang on a little too long (like The West Wing). Maybe they stay the perfect amount of time (like the Showtime Lakers or The Wire). But as long as they keep us hooked along the way, and as long as we say afterward, “I can’t remember seeing anything quite like that before,” ultimately, that’s all that matters.
Which brings us to the Miami Heat. Even without a title, their 2010-11 season, from beginning to end, was one of the most compelling things I ever witnessed as a sports fan. Had it been a television show, we would have called it a masterpiece. Think of what makes a great drama work. You need conflict. You need obstacles. You need compelling characters battling for their survival, looking over their shoulder, melting down under pressure (or conversely, coming through when you least expect it). After wearing a pulsating collective bull’s-eye for 11 solid months, the Heat imploded at the worst possible time, in front of the biggest audience possible. (I will never forget sitting in the stands for Games 4 and 5 and watching LeBron slowly check out. Ever.) And then, the lockout happened. Instead of wondering what would happen with the Heat, we wondered about BRI, contraction and antitrust suits for five frustrating months. So it’s easy to forget the following fact: Season 2 of Miami’s show will be more compelling than Season 1. A souped-up super-team led by one of the most talented basketball players ever … only it’s the same guy who checked out of crucial playoff games in consecutive years and, for all we know, can never be trusted when it truly matters? Now that’s getting a DVR pass from me. The Miami Heat might not be great basketball team — yet — but they certainly make for great theater, and maybe that’s all that matters. — Bill Simmons
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